UX Conference: Collaborate Bristol 2015 - Jazzing up your collaboration

"If you've got a problem, yo I'll solve it" -  Vanilla Ice, 1990

What a way to open a UX conference!

On 13 November, 200 of the finest digital minds in the South West descended on Bristol's iconic Arnolfini for a day of talks delivered by some of the leading minds from the UK and USA's creative industries. As a relatively new employee here at Nomensa and someone who is always eager to further my knowledge, I went along to see what all the fuss was about...

Jason Mesut

In his opening talk, Jason Mesut, spoke about how designing solutions to challenging problems is largely due to effective collaboration, and yes, there is a cost that comes with that, which is important to recognise, but NOT collaborating makes the cost even bigger. Jason took us through a framework for better working together within complex team setups - simple little things that can have a big impact. And remember - don't be the Vanilla Ice of UX! 

Jon Hadden

Jon Hadden followed with his talk on ‘Flexible Documentation’, based on a brilliantly told story about driving in San Francisco while trying to interpret badly designed road signs. Good design can be used to reduce cognitive load and that’s important as heavy cognitive load has a negative impact on how/if we complete tasks. When it comes to collaborative design processes this means that we should aim to make life easier by simplifying the process of interpreting, understanding and building the final product. Jon suggested prototyping in code whenever possible as a simple solution to this.

“Every degree of abstraction away from the product in its finalised state carries cognitive cost.” 

As designers we should keep that in mind.

Matt Corrall & Matt Chequer

“The Two Matts” (Corrall and Chequer) from renewable energy giants DNV GL were next. Mostly, I have worked at places where UX is understood, prioritised and lovingly nurtured, so what was especially impressive about The Two Matts’ work was how patiently and efficiently they came to introduce UX into an environment where UX was largely a new concept. Their passion for good design has definitely paid off though, bringing a positive culture change where UX is now an established part of their organisation’s everyday process. Matt and Matt explained which approaches really worked for them, namely:

Creating personas with the whole team

  • Task mapping
  • Sketching sessions
  • User testing
  • Getting domain experts involved
  • Passing on UX skills to developers
  • Story mapping

They also shared what didn’t work for them. It’s always good to see people that are not scared to keep trying new things but are also able to stand back and recognise when certain things simply don’t work.

Gavin Strange

From one inspirational talk to another with Gavin Strange on after the morning coffee break. Gavin is one of the most inspiring and energetic people I’ve ever had the pleasure to see speak. Gavin’s talk: Graft, Craft and being Daft started a bit like this:

“I want to know everything! I want to make everything!”

There was excitement and positive energy and most importantly one of those big complicated Greek words: “Autodidacticism” (=self education). Gavin was passionate about learning just because you’re excited. There were so many points to take away from this talk and I wish I could remember every single word (ed: luckily we had it filmed).

There were so many take-ways it but these are what I want to draw attention to:

  • Learn anything you want. You don’t need a purpose or a reason
  • Work can and should be fun. Enjoy it
  • Be yourself, your truly honest self, not the kind you’re faking really hard to be
  • Love life

All those and so much more, sprinkled with the magic fairy dust of Gavin Strange’s enthusiasm. Now, I’m not the kind of person to go around saying things like “This talk changed my life” but I honestly feel that if anyone can truly take on all those points, how can their life remain unchanged?

Lauren Currie

Lauren Currie’s talk “Not Guilty by Association” was another inspirational gem. Lauren talked about the great role design can play in making the world a better place and contributing towards the greater good (follow #NotGBA to contribute your ideas and see others). It really struck a chord with me, who at 18 entered the world of psychology with a romantic goal of doing nothing less than saving the world. 15 years and a career in UX later,  I sometimes feel I skewed from my pathway. But I do also agree with Lauren about how good values can be sneaked in everywhere and have a massive impact. UX is all around us, informing design in every sense: products, services, interfaces, they’re all part of our world. In my opinion it’s a simple equation:

Good values + Products/services/interfaces = better world

Women on stage: how can we help?

I also admired Lauren for speaking about the lack of women on stage at the conference. We need to talk about problems in order to find solutions and it is upsetting that in 2015 the lack of women putting themselves out there (in comparison the the number of men) is apparent and sadly still very much a thing. I feel it’s not always due to lack of opportunity though. My questions are: What can we do to support bringing more women into the spotlight? How can we make 50:50 gender balances the norm for speaker line-ups at events? How can we inspire more women with stories to tell to take to the stage? I know, I know… not easy problems to solve, but as designers, solving problems is what we do best, right?

I believe that as an industry we need to lead the way by encouraging those providing a plaform for speakers to be mindful of gender balance and to support those with a story to tell to fearlessly speak about their work. I certainly want to hear their stories and promise to one day be one of that fearless bunch too!

Keep a look out in Bristol in 2016 as Nomensa are planning some events which will provide a platform for those wanting to build the confidence to present and kick-start their public speaking career.  

In her blog, Lauren also mentions a few more ideas on this.

A more UX-specific support network comes from Ladies that UX and I’m particularly excited to say that Ladies that UX Bristol is in the process of getting up and running again. If you’d like to hear more about it, please follow @LadiesThatUXBRS.

Mike Atherton

Mike Atherton’s talk:‘The road less travelled’ followed, which was a great reminder of the importance of understanding who we truly are and what we stand for. Branding is about core values, personal missions and personality. Ultimately, how we treat people every day defines our brand. And “our brand is our compass in navigating the road less travelled”.

Jim Kalbach & Mode Shift

Jim Kalbach's keynote talk came next. I was lucky enough to go to Jim’s workshop on Mapping Experiences the day before Collaborate Bristol, it was a fully hands-on day about the value that systematic, visual representations add in aligning business strategy with user needs.  We talked, we mapped, we learned. It was great.

Jim’s approach at the conference was totally different and good fun too. He quite literally jazzed up Collaborate by presenting us with a solid model for radical collaboration led by his passion for jazz. What can jazz teach us about working on UX projects? It turns out that kick ass jazz collaboration largely depends on these elements:

  • Empathy between team members
  • Embracing uncertainty
  • Relying on patterns 

Jon Fisher

Nomensa’s very own Head of UX, Jon Fisher was next, with his talk about ‘Structured UX thinking’, a timely topic about why structure should be a priority. Jon recognised the contrasting (and confusing) advice out there over what to prioritise in the design process. Mobile first? Customer first? Everything first?! It makes sense to focus on structure as it allows a project team to ultimately put everything first, running different project streams in parallel. Fuelled by previous work, this was a practical talk on getting the most out of a structured approach.

Ian Fenn

And then came Ian Fenn with a humorous talk on ‘Getting UX Done’ to close the conference. I really enjoy hearing about serious problems and real solutions presented in a fun way, it makes me approach those problems more lightly, and that’s a good thing. Useful advice to take with me:

  • Listen
  • Lose the jargon
  • Be passionate
  • Don’t be defensive
  • Bring cake

 I found Collaborate Bristol a great place to learn about practical advice on collaboration, get inspired by some really cool and experienced speakers, have a good day and make new friends. Oh and the lemon meringue cakes were AMAZING too.

…and in case you missed it, there’s Collaborate Bristol 2016 to look forward to – a two-day event taking place on 10 & 11 November 2016. I can't wait!

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