What you missed at UX London: part one

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At the end of last month we were lucky enough to go to our first in-person conference since the pandemic. UX London was hosted by Clearleft and brought together some of the industry’s most prestigious experts and UX teams from all over the world.

UX London is the first conference we’ve been to as a team, and it was great to get back into the thick of it. We met loads of interesting people and enjoyed the unbridled enthusiasm of all attendees — every day saw a mad dash for workshop tokens. Clearleft had put together a diverse and inclusive panel of speakers who spoke about — you guessed it — diverse and inclusive topics…funny how that works!

I enjoyed nearly every talk and workshop I attended over the three days, but unfortunately I can’t write about them all here. So, I’ve whittled it down to my top four highlights for this article.

The top four things I learnt at UX London

1. UX in healthcare, with Videha Sharma

Videha Sharma gave a brilliant talk on UX in healthcare and did an excellent job of ‘showing the thing’ by sharing screenshots and photos he had taken along the way. ‘Showing the thing’ is a term commonly used to remind people to show visual examples to give context to what they’re speaking about. For example, he walked us through some of the pain points of being a surgeon and showed off one of the many forms you need to fill in for a kidney transplant, as well as a data journey model to emphasise how complex the system currently is.

A photo of a slide from Video Sharma’s talk with the text “Current state” and a photo of a complicated form

Videha reminded us that we often forget about the benefits of pop-up or guerilla research, even when we have easy access to our user base. In a hospital a surgeon carrying a laptop is an unusual sight — so Videha took advantage of people’s natural curiosity and gathered opinions and feedback whenever he was stopped and questioned. Early on in the design phase, pop-up research can give us quick feedback with little time, effort, or cost required, allowing us to iterate quickly.

2. Designing with the autistic community, with Irina Rusakova

In one of my favourite talks of the conference, Irina Rusakova spoke about the importance of inclusive design, and in particular how to design for the autistic community. Her seven principles for designing for people with autism were super thought-provoking, and I reckon they’re good guidelines to follow whoever you’re designing for!

Do no more unexpected pop-ups sound good to you? Take a look at the principles yourself in this blog post.

A photo taken from Irina Rusakova’s talk of a slide with the text “Normal is diverse”

3. Service design, with Lou Downe

Lou Downe took us on a familiar journey in her talk — a journey where we don’t question things for the simple reason that no one wants to look stupid. But in protecting ourselves we risk our business, and our services, looking stupid. This struck a chord with me as someone who creates an acronym cheatsheet whenever I work with a new company. I’ve noticed that often company employees are using the very same acronyms without knowing what they stand for.

This creates a cycle of miscommunication that can hold back good service design. When we’re afraid to ask questions, people assume everyone is on the same page. When we assume everyone is on the same page, we’re afraid to ask questions because we don’t want to look stupid and so, nothing changes.

A cycle diagram with the text We don’t know something, We don’t ask questions, Everyone assumes everyone is on the same page, Nothing changes.

This leads to issues for users down the line. My takeaway was to ask questions when you don’t understand something — and remember the age old adage, there’s no such thing as a stupid question.

4. Designing for human perception, with Alastair Somerville

To round off the third and final day at UX London, I went to a workshop on designing for human perception hosted by Alastair Somerville. We had a great time trying to piece together a tactile way to get a blindfolded volunteer to ask us the question we wanted them to ask us, which was “What’s the wifi password”. We succeeded in case you were wondering — plasticine came to our rescue!

A photo taken during Alastair Somerville’s workshop of a blindfolded man trying to guess the phrase “What’s the wifi password” by feeling moulded plasticine

The story that really drove home the importance of designing for human perception for me, was one that Alastair told us about a ‘check engine’ message popping up on his dashboard when he was driving along the motorway. Could he ignore the message for now and get it checked out later? Or did he need to immediately pull onto the hard shoulder? The message caused confusion and panic because it didn’t give him any indication of what to do next. The workshop taught me how critical it is to never ‘induce emotion without providing direction for action’.

All in all, we had a great time at UX London. All of the talks were brilliant, and we came away with lots to think about. Plus, after the devastation of missing out on a Figma t-shirt on the second day, I am very pleased to announce that I snagged myself a hoodie on day three and yes, I’m still feeling pretty smug about it.

Check out part two of ‘What you missed at UX London’, where I look at some of the tips and tricks I picked up over the three days.

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