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Maps, Shoes and gov.uk: UX Scotland 2014

A review by Vicky Teinaki

It was fitting that UX Scotland took place in a stunning piece of architecture housing new ways to help people understand the world around them. Over two balmy days in Edinburgh, Our Dynamic Earth held host to both local and international UXers (as far as I found out, the furtherest travelled award went to Sebastian Mitchell of Nairobi-based disaster management platform Ushahidi).

Over the course of the two days, several themes emerged:

Challenge the stakeholders, and use research to help your case

Several speakers talked of challenging briefs and stakeholders. Perhaps the biggest challenge of all came from kick off keynote speaker Eewei Chen, who challenged the current state of computing and design “making us stupider” and instead encouraged designers to consider mindfulness, creativity, and context.
Also, I really liked his conference call in real life video.

Paul-Jervis Heath suggested that “if you’ve already got a brief, it’s too late”. It’s actually not dissimilar to people losing all their bargaining chips the second they accept a job offer. There were several mentions of Jess McMullan’s UX maturity model, which helps designers consider at what level they can enact change.

Several speakers explained how they’d battled internal differences of opinion until they could verify their hunches with testing. Alex Humphry-Baker from social shopping app Mallzee ran guerilla usability tests to prove a feature, and Lorraine and Mike from investments firm Royal London (formerly Scottish Life) had to wait a long time to get to customer tests …that showed that their proposed new UI was exactly what they wanted. Abi Reynolds also provided a wonderfully in-depth explanation of different ways to carry out UX research based on her work at Paddy Power.

Start from the user needs out rather than channel or accessibility.

Two speakers highlighted how accessibility should be considered at the core. Joshua Marshall showed how if gov.uk can take accessibility to its core, so can other sites. David Sloan continued this with his workshop that explained that by the time people ask for accessibility reviews, it’s usually far too late.

More broadly, Alberta Soranzo spoke of the changing nature of the web and how it affects our content: as we go mobile, and multi-channel, we need to be thinking about goals rather than channels. I also liked her quote of “content shouldn’t be king, it should be queen… since the king isn’t really that powerful in chess”.

Look outward to learn inward.

Several speakers looked at other disciplines in order to help enrich what we do in UX. Richard Ingram looked at how we could use maps in UX, and had a key point to remember: maps are political, and say as much in what they leave out and what they put in. (Look at the map of seemingly perfect 1700s London that pointedly left out all the impoverished areas). That said, they can also be used to surface relationships you wouldn’t have been aware of beforehand (he used the example of a corporate CMS to show how a previously unnoticed workflow bottleneck could be discovered and resolved).

Tin Kadoic (who I interviewed before the conference) took on the journals and rules of famed Noma chef Rene Redzepi to see how his rules of creativity could be applied to interaction design. Redzepi’s story is similar to that of artists such as Paul Simon who felt they were becoming stale creatively and needed some new way to explore. For Simon, that meant going to South Africa and starting work on Graceland. For Redzepi, this meant creating journals.

Think global, hear from the locals

As silly as it might sound, I always appreciate a good conference for making its local talent known. I hadn’t been aware that both UX company Uservision and successful shoe retailer Schuh were based in Edinburgh, and was impressed to hear about the (yep, Scottish) Scottish Life, even if it was now becoming part of Royal London.

For more on the conference, check out: