Unicorns, Hippos, Accessibility and UX Strategy - Interact London Day One

Lanyards at UX conference Interact London


Interact London 2015 was a huge success with speakers and delegates from around the world joining us to discuss user experience design in the prestigious British Museum. Across two knowledge filled days we asked one of our UX colleagues, Ana Crespo to share with us her thoughts and observations of the event and here is her account of Day One.

This year’s edition of Interact London concluded after two days of talks filled with UX wisdom on a range of topics, from accessibility and UX strategy to unicorns and hippos.

Vanessa Kirby, Head of UX at Argos, kicked off the conference by making a strong case against UX Unicorns, which she believes are mythical creatures.

“I don’t believe they exist at all... I’ve never found a unicorn that will build the product I want, it has always been the combination of people with different skills”.

Vanessa argued that while in the changing digital landscape there are many different and elaborate job titles; essentially a sound UX department needs to have an Information Architect, a Front End Developer, a Visual Designer, a researcher and a copywriter. Rather than trying to be excellent in many different areas, she advised practitioners to become good at what they do best and reminded the audience that in other fields “people don’t expect to find unicorns”.

Watch Vanessa's talk

The second speaker was Jim Kalbach, Head of Consulting and education at MURAL, who delivered a talk focused on strategy.


UX strategy talk by speaker Jim Kalbach at Interact London


For Jim, a business driven only by profit won’t work.

A business needs to think about social benefit and create shared value” In this way, Kalbach echoed Michael E. Porter’s ideas about shared value. Jim stressed that industries need to find out about their value chain, but in a way that works for their customers. He believes UX and its tools can help businesses to focus more on their customers and to visualise value.

Alastair Campbell, Director of Accessibility at Nomensa, delivered a talk entitled: Where UX fails Accessibility. He emphasised that while in the last 15 years websites have improved in terms of usability, there are still many accessibility issues to be addressed.


UX fails accessibility talk by Alastair Campbell at Interact London


He recommended designing by interaction method rather than by disability to overcome some common problems. For instance, ensuring that keyboard only users can access all the elements of the page by tabbing. In addition, displaying feedback near the point of interaction can help users of screen magnifiers, while a good source code makes a big difference for screen reader users. Finally, users with learning difficulties benefit from pages that make a good use of visual elements to convey meaning. Campbell remarked that accessibility should be tackled during the early design phase, not rushed towards the end of a project.

On a different note, experiences that deliver a high impact using relatively simple technology were the central point of Oliver Blank’s talk.



This Senior Designer at Google described art projects that can inspire designers. These artworks require practitioners to think about how to build and deploy their ideas and they employ the same principles: just like any other design project. He shared some examples: an art installation in which he transformed an empty warehouse with a handful of iPod shuffles and a few candles; or a project that asked people to share emotional messages with lost loves or missed connections - The one that got away. He emphasised  “The experience, the feeling we convey, is the point”.

Pete Trainor, Founder & Director of Human Centred Design at Nexus CX, started his intervention with an experiment: he asked attendees to unlock their phones and give them to the person sitting next to them, triggering feelings of uneasiness and discomfort. What are the applications we use doing to our minds?”  he wondered.



They trigger emotions, and these have physical effects on people. Therefore, designers have the responsibility of putting more consideration into their creations. Although they are not a substitute for therapy, Trainor argued that designs could contribute to our happiness by engaging us in non-linear problem solving. Research shows that this kind of problem solving has a positive effect into the hippocampus, a part of the brain that is thought to be the center of emotions. As designers, we should aim for happy hippos.

The next speaker was Amanda Neylon, Head of Digital for Macmillan Cancer Support.



Amanda made a case for incorporating user experience practices in charities, with the goal of developing better digital products. After all, charities are customer-focused organisations. She described how Macmillan employed user-centred design techniques to make their website more engaging and improve navigation. This is particularly important for Macmillan, as 50% of people’s interactions with the organisation are digital and their site contains 1,600 articles. Drawing from her experience, she recommended sharing videos from user testing sessions with stakeholders, as that helps communicate what users feel and need.

Jane Frost CBE CEO of the Market Research Society, stressed the relevance of being aware of belief and emotion when conducting research, as emotion plays a big role in people’s perceptions.



Research can help redefine systems and define markets, but it is necessary to ask the right questions. “It doesn’t matter how much data you have, if the questions are not right the data won’t be”, she pointed out.

The following speaker was Sarah Morris, the User Experience Director of Wolff Olins.



Sarah spoke about the relationship between user experience and brand. If every online experience becomes similar, it is very hard to differentiate brands, she argued. Wolff Olins employed user centred design techniques to streamline the booking journey of Virgin Atlantic. The decision of showing clearly different prices and categories was a choice that communicated the confidence and transparency of the brand, while helping users to accomplish their goals.

Simon Norris, CEO of Nomensa stepped in for Todd Wilken who unfortunately couldn't make the event due to a family emergency. Simon delivered the last talk of the day, focused on the relevance of UX strategy. “Having a bunch of UXers is not necessarily going to deliver great UX”, he stressed. Norris argued the case for organisations to become digital first, to place digital at the centre of their activities. Organisations need to develop their UX maturity, a process that goes from first becoming aware that UX is necessary to having it embedded in their company culture.

Watch Simon's talk

Day One delivered a mix of speakers from the both the commercial and charity sectors that entertained, inspired and educated us all.  A sumary of day two can be found here.

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