UX Brighton 2011: what stuck
Two words: cross-platform
This was the dominant theme for this year’s conference – the need to design for the whole user experience across devices and contexts, and avoid getting stuck in a silo mentality. As @resmini pointed out, users don’t notice channels, only the (cumulative) experience. UX designers must help them move seamlessly across channels, making sure experiences are connected and relevant in each particular context. He encouraged the audience to think of information architecture as a foundation, a connecting ‘layer of meaning’ into which we plug touchpoints and interfaces.
From a practical point of view, @MikeAtherton talked about his experience at the BBC of implementing ‘domain-driven design‘. For him, websites are less a strict hierarchy of information and more an ecology of individual bits of content. These bits persist but can be recombined with others around domains of interest or subject matter. He gave the example of episodes of Sherlock whose context (e.g. series number, distribution channel, format) are dynamic. How do you orgnanise this content so that users can continue to find it as these contexts evolve? Having TV episodes as re-combinable bits with permanent URLs (e.g. http://www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/b00tffft) means that they they can cope with fluid contexts without breaking any links (something Tim Berners-Lee would consider ‘un-cool‘) and be combined with other elements to form clusters of content.
ROI of design
@johnmildinhall parachuted in as a last minute replacement but provided a useful framework for evaluating the value of design. It may be a challenge to get the client data necessary to establish an ‘as-is’ level of value, but by doing your own benchmarking it’s something that can inform project planning and success evaluation. It is also useful when demonstrating the value of design-thinking verus traditional management consultancy approaches.
Here is his model for evaluating design value:
Designing for distraction
Giles Colborne gave an interesting counter-talk on the dangerous by-product of seductive interfaces. We are addicted he says, and things like email, Twitter, and device notifications suck up our attention, reduce our productivity and even kill us (if, say, we are driving distracted by our mobile phone). The audience ‘oohed’ in recognition when a screenshot of TweetDeck was flashed up.
Providing less seductive interfaces won’t work as users won’t buy them, but providing incentives to be less distracted might. The example of the email client that forces you to use it for 15mins was a great, if admittedly un-sellable, example. Things like switching notifications off as default might help ween addicted users off their devices. But it’s also about providing the means for people to pick up on what they were doing after an interruption. With distracted users designers need to design for context, not task completion.
Designing the wider web
Finally @cennydd spoke about his view of the Wider Web. This tied off the day’s theme of cross-platform design neatly. For him the web is finally becoming its own medium. Available on a slew of different devices, designing for the wider web is not just about different screen sizes but the context in which it is being used. These include challenges such as variable connectivity, offline modes, what content is relevant at a particular moment. He advocated a modular approach, with different modules of content able to be switched on and off as appropriate to the prevailing context.
While this makes perfect sense to me, it seems that designers suddenly have a whole lot more on their plate. This extra work is fine if there is budget to pay for it. We will have to help clients prioritise, perhaps by bringing context or user scenarious into the equation more and working out which are the most important.