I am relatively new to user experience. My colleague, Stuart, is a keen advocate and a lot of what he says makes undeniable sense. I have therefore started to dip my toe into this new world. I began by reading The Elements of User Experience by Jesse James Garrett. His name made him sound like a cowboy. Not a cowboy as in someone who does building work badly, but a cowboy as in Henry Fonda and this was good enough for me. The book was a good read and gave practical advice for staging and managing the design and implementation of a product; any product but particularly a web site. It included easily accessible process management principles which resonated with my Master’s in software management I completed years ago.
Last November I had my second toe dipping into UX when I attended the Brighton UX conference, and it was an absolute hit with me. It confirmed what I thought. UX covers a lot of the bases of successful software design, implementation and management and is easily accessible.
The first talk, “The web that wasn’t” was given by Alex Wright. This talk gave an overview of Alex’s thought on some technological ideas that got left behind. He premised the conference with three philosophical ideas.
- First, that a software developer engages with problems which require them to make novel decisions to reach novel solutions. Arguably from a subjectivist epistemology our decisions are always novel but perhaps those made by software developers can be more earth shattering
- A second, that history does not plot a trajectory of human progress, it simply plots time when things happened and those things things often affect other things
- And a third, that our society is based on planned obsolescence. As human logic dictates when you shoot you shouldn’t shoot yourself in the foot, so capitalist logic dictates that when you build something to sell you shouldn’t build it to last
Ben Bashford gave a talk on future shock. He argued that technology was moving so fast that it is scary to many of us. And that as designers of new technologies we need to make our systems less scary by giving them human traits. Ben proposed we design technology with the traits which we would like our users to think of it, giving it emotion and character.
Karl Fast talked about models of learning. He argued in favour of theories of learning that describe the importance of tools and environment to our learning, such as embodied cognition, distributed cognition and activity theory (a personal favourite I am using in my doctorate in Education).
He gave a number of examples to make his point:
- Its easier to make words in scrabble when we move the letters around to make words
- Its easier to do a jigsaw puzzle than to think about it
- Experienced and capable Tetris players over rotate the pieces more than those inexperienced and poor at it. Over-rotation is a pragmatic and epistemic action that is faster, simpler and less prone to error
- Brainstorming is easier when using sticky notes than retaining the information in our heads
- When we talk we use our hands. Our hands help express things. This is independent of the person we are talking to. We do it on the phone, we do it when talking with the blind and even blind people do it. The hands are a tool which help us think
He made the point that a phone on its own is useless but a phone in someone’s hand is powerful. Turn this on its head and a person with a phone is more powerful than one without.
We wouldn’t get rid of iPhone, iPad, Facebook or youtube – its the infrastructure for much of our knowledge; information is cheap – understanding is expensive.
Other talks included Mark Bachler, games designer, who discussed issues that came up when designing natural user interfaces such as the Kinect interface and Guy Smith-Ferrier gave a very amusing talk on neuro headsets which could literally read your brain waves.