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UX Camp Sticking Power

What stuck with me after attending UX Camp Brighton 2022 #uxcb22

What I did

On the 26th of March 2022 I attended UX Camp Brighton for the first time in three years. In 2019, I could not attend due to other commitments and for the past two years the event has not run due to the pandemic. The momentous return of UX Camp gave me an opportunity to refresh my in-person presentation skills by hosting a talk about my new found career as a Learning Experience Designer1. The talk took a metacognitive approach by first looking at what a Learning Experience Designer (LXer) does. I then applied my discipline by using a LX lens to deconstruct the UX Camp format. Specifically, I provided a short demo of Cathy Moore’s Action Mapping method as it would apply to the event. From an Learning Experience (LX) perspective, UX Camp can be seen as a chance to learn about and, most importantly practise, UX and user research skills in a safe space.

I used the talk as a testbed for new ideas; some worked well, some need further reflection. This approach of testing with an audience was inspired by Natalie Nixon who was recently interviewed on The Curious Advantage Podcast. Nixon noted the use of public speaking to prototype ideas and get fast feedback. This was a liberating idea for me as for years I have felt that I cannot speak if I do not first write. But perhaps I can speak to write and write for speech. This is something that I need to develop and hone, but Nixon’s career is certainly an inspiration to me. Like me she has traversed and art and creativity within her career, yet she has also successfully applied these diverse experiences within business. But enough about me and my UX Camp talk, you kind of had to be there.

What stuck?

Taking the base idea of the talk forward, after two weeks, what of my own learning? What has stuck with me from UX Camp Brighton? By revisiting my recollections in this blog post, I am going to embed those concepts through the act of reflecting on them. Bonus!

The format of UX Camp means that I could only attend some of the sessions. The format has sessions running concurrently and they are not repeated. You also have to race to the session rooms and if the room is full, you find another session to attend. Of the sessions I attended the following had sticking power for me:

Applying 80/20 in UX @Foolproof - Tehreim Arif

This session was based on the Pareto Principle, when applied to UX, in that…
“80% of your user’s experience could be affected 20% of your product.”.

Unexpectedly Obvious - Chris How @chrishow

This session provided a series of examples where design solutions were both ingenious and obvious. This was summarised by Chris How as:

“Understanding the problem + Imaginative thinking = Unexpectedly obvious design”

Are you at the table or on the menu? - Laura Yarrow @laura_yarrow

This session focused on the issues with the mystique surrounding UX purpose and process. There can be a notion of feeling hard done by and misunderstood as a UXer and Yarrow offered something of a growth mindset for UX designers and researchers to adopt. Yarrow deftly summarised the role of a successful UXer as a “Trusted Agitator”. A simple concept which really resonated with me across my career, both now and during my time as a Learning Technologist with a UX specialism.

Presenting presenting - Alliterative Alphabet Aerobics - Rebecca Hugo @becstex

Always one of my favourite speakers, Rebecca Hugo served up a session with poise, candour, humour, and genuine knowledge. Only the likes of Sandi Toksvig can compete in terms of creating a delightful and creative verbal universe during a talk.

Why Lorem Ipsum sucks and what to do about it - Sam Steele

Some great tips for using authentic text and content when prototyping in Figma and why that is important, especially when testing designs.

Why did it stick?

So what made these sessions successful from an LX perspective?

Applying 80/20…

In ‘Applying 80/20…' Tehreim Arif gave us an authentic opportunity to practise with a scenario where we had percentage-based data from a fake employee survey. The employees had been asked the following:

“If you could change one of the following things about your organisation, what would it be?”

We were given the findings as percentages and asked to arrange them from highest to lowest on a piece of paper. We then needed to slice the data based on the figures that got us closest to 80% cumulatively. Alternatively we could look at the figures that made up the top 20%. Figures represented action items like: office location (28%), progression roadmap (25%), salaries (23%)

Having found the action items to work on, we were asked to look at these as a percentage of the number of items that were reported in the survey. So, say you had 10 action items in your quantitative survey question and each was selected by some of the participants. Then if three of the items made up close to 80% of the opinion (e.g., the list above which equals 76%), then that would be 30% of overall items where action was needed.

So, you get a measure of the areas to focus on to get the maximum value from the user perspective. You also get a way to communicate that concisely to stakeholders via the following like the following statement.

“76% of employee experience can be improved by focusing on 30% of the organisation.”

This session gave us an opportunity to practise and apply this method. Arif also gave us a series of scenarios where she had found the concept useful in her own work.

Unexpectedly Obvious

Chris How is a master storyteller and this session was no exception. The thing about stories is, they stick. These stories were told through evocation of different eras using slides based on single photographs with rich verbal narrative in accompaniment. Yes, the design solutions where compelling, but the context and route to ‘said’ solutions was even more interesting. My favourite story was Van Halen’s use of a proto ‘easter egg’; a bowl of M&M’s leaving out the brown ones, nested in their long menu or rider of requests for gigs. This was use as a test check if the rider was being read and that the safety protocols it specified were being followed. For more on this check out Ruling Note Music’s video on this piece of rock history.

Are you at the table or on the menu?

Laura Yarrow held up a magnifying glass to all of us in the room. Laura used relevant examples which were designed to reflect the experiences and needs of the specialist audience at the session. This meant that when the reflection was triggered it came from a place of experience and authentic mentorship directed towards us as audience members.

Presenting presenting - Alliterative Alphabet Aerobics

Rebecca Hugo’s session was perfectly placed. Many of us had already presented that day or were about to. Those experiences were fresh in our minds. We had also attended other sessions that day which were still ripe for internal critique. Then there was Hugo’s presentation itself with a tinge of Lewis Carroll-esque humour phrased as an alliterative alphabet of tips, Hugo knowingly self-critiqued while engaging us in levels of metacognition.

Why Lorem Ipsum sucks and what to do about it

This resonated because it bore resemblance to my own recent experience as a tester giving feedback. Nothing takes you out of a demo like copy and content that shouldn’t be there and Sam Steele provided some compelling visual examples, showing how to create prototypes with the right level of detail.

What am I using now?

  • I am using 80/20 as part of a research project supporting a page redesign.
  • After Yarrow’s talk I reflected on how easy it is to play the role of the misunderstood artist/designer/researcher (speaking for myself here). What is harder is to bridge the communication gaps between your work, your colleagues, and your audiences. That is something that I am actively working on, so this talk really resonated with me. It is not enough to do the work, you also need to be able to explain the work and know where and how to collaborate. If I am doing my job properly I should be the gossamer that brings things and people together, not the hunting spider sulking in the corner! I am indeed a “trusted agitator” and I also loved the way that Laura used a simple graph to explain this relationship. I have taken inspiration from the graph to build a basic scoring system for a prototype learning game that I am building.
  • Hugo’s talk hastened me to reflect on my own speech patterns (the section entitled, “understand unruly utterances”). As a result I have resolved to try and solve a verbal tick borne out of my own occasional social anxiety. Starting questions with, “I don’t know if…". I wouldn’t dream of phrasing a question like this for research, so it is time to fix it! Stop, think, speak.

Thank you UX Camp Brighton!

In spite of having two years away, this year’s UX Camp Brighton was one of my favourite events branching all the way back to 2014 when I first attended. Being part of the UX community in Brighton means so much to me personally, to my career, to my practice, and to my abilities as a designer and researcher. The learning journey never ends and it is nice to have help along the way.

Bonus feature

Al Power’s session, UI Design Tips for Success also had sticking power (pun intended). However, officially I saw it two days prior to UX Camp Brighton at our practice session as part of UXUp. Al has posted some great resources related to the session, so do take a look at his blog post as well.

  1. My new title is Learning Experience Specialist but I feel like a designer and I worked hard to occupy a design space. So practice-wise I consider myself a designer. ↩︎

Fiona MacNeill

Fiona MacNeill

Learning Experience (LX) and UX

Passionate about creating inclusive and accessible experiences, tools, and services for learning and doing.