An inspiring day in Manchester underlined the importance of remembering the human beings at the heart of our work.
Earlier this month, I travelled down to Manchester for NUX8 – a conference organised by Northern UX.It was a great value conference that I’d recommend to anyone, and I had trouble picking a top three from the speakers, so here are my top four!
Vimla’s talk discussed the word ‘design’ and its different connotations:
- Design is something that needs to be embedded at all levels, not something that’s brought in at the end.
- Design is about putting humans before tech, and making data driven decisions for good.
The concept of design needing to be ‘good’ emerged as somewhat of a theme for the day, first coming up in the opening keynote by Dan Saffer, of Twitter, as well as in Sarah Parmenter’s talk (see below).
Good design is responsible design…I could design a great handgun, that kills people really efficiently. But is that really good design?
It’s not always about finding out people’s problems and solving them. It’s about finding the right people’s problems and solving them in the right way.
Bringing your whole self
Vim opened up her talk by discussing her anxiety, as well as highlighting Black History Month, which was such a fantastic start. It was inspiring to see a conference with speakers – 5 of whom were women – discussing their individual identities and the impact they have on their lives and careers in an incidental yet important way. We don’t need more talks about accessibility and diversity as much as we just need to make the diversity of professionals in the sector more visible. She herself put it best when asked what she wanted her legacy to be:
I want to shine a light on what inclusion means… How we can create cultures that embrace openness inside and outside of work… so everyone can bring their whole selves into the space.
Vimla has also summarised her talk on Medium.
Amy Hupe of GDS (Government Digital System) was there to talk about their work on the Design System, so I was particularly interested to see how this feeds into our own project.
I was relieved to hear the challenges we’re facing are so similar. I sometimes wonder if it’s just me that can’t get people to agree what terms mean, but was both comforted and horrified by Amy’s story about a room of designers who came up with 186 different suggestions for a name for a new element in 5 minutes.
Naming things, and agreeing on consistent names, is hard.
We confidently concluded that no-one agrees on bloody anything.
So how do we move forward when this is the case? Using the Design System principle for this: Clear, Consistent, Useful, Honest.
- Clear: You’ll often need well-written documentation alongside live examples.
- Consistent: “If you can’t get a consensus, at least be consistent.”
- Useful: “When we can’t make people use a design system, we have to make them want to.”
- Honest: Don’t paper over the cracks where you need more research. Be honest about gaps.
Amy’s talk was as useful as it was reassuring and I’ll be watching the ongoing project with great interest.
Although I didn’t know it before her talk, Sarah was responsible for one of my favourite UX stories, purely in her capacity as a customer.
Last year the florist Bloom and Wild sent their newsletter subscribers the option to opt out of Mothers’ Day emails, in recognition that it’s a difficult time for a lot of people. Having lost my own mother last year, this campaign really touched me. It turns out Sarah instigated it, by emailing them the year before after being upset by a Mothers’ Day newsletter.
The company listened to her feedback, and actually took it forward to add the opt-out option. As huge storm of social media love erupted from that one, fairly simple act.
So it was great for the company. But it was also just the right thing to do, which is what a lot of Sarah’s talk focused on. Design for human beings having human emotions; not for data lines on digital applications.
The final keynote came from Indi Young, who had some great things to say about the use of ‘research theatre’:
- doing research so we can say we have done research
- coming in with preconceived notions to prove, rather than an open mind
- extrapolating conclusions from quantitative data.
Always ask probing questions. Always listen to what people are telling you, rather than what your research plan decided they would probably tell you.
I did disagree with Indy on some points – I think if you spot clear trends in quantitative data when you split by gender, wealth bracket, or other social factor, you need to probe that more. However, she had some important points about practising real empathy and the emic perspective: letting go of your own goals to understand someone else’s approach.
Real humans doing real tasks
Overall, the conference underlines what I think is key to UX: we are all designing for human beings, in all their forms and all their messiness, and we need to truly listen to them to do our job right.