Last week we upped sticks and left for the big smoke to host UX London 2022 at Tobacco Dock.
It was a real treat to have the whole team together for three fun-filled days, and they didn't just attend the conference – they greeted, they supported, they entertained, they tidied- they generally just rolled their sleeves up and got stuck in!
With so many different skills and interests, there were many highlights and key takeaways – each different from the next:
Events Operations Manager
Having recently joined Clearleft as a permanent member it was an absolute joy to spend these few days working so closely with the wider team. Every single person threw themselves into it with gusto - I couldn't have asked for a more supportive group of colleagues. We worked long days but had a lot of fun together. There's always room to learn and improve but I'm really proud of what we achieved together for the UX community. I just wish I'd had more of an opportunity to listen to the talks!
Aleks Melnikova told a story when she was running her workshop on day 1 of the conference that resonated with me.
As a product designer, the start of a project can often feel daunting. Aleks' story has helped give me a bit of focus at this time. Her story was about when she was climbing up Kilimanjaro - a truly impressive task! When it got very tough her friend would pick up a stone and throw it ahead of them. Then they would focus on walking just to that stone. Her friend would then pick it up and throw it again, and the cycle continued. Break down that massive project into smaller steps and it will get you there. Just keep throwing that stone! Thank you, Aleks.
Having worked both in-house and agency as a Product Designer, Laura Yarrow's talk on Day 3 hit home a lot. I've been faced with the problem before with organisations not understanding design or don't understand what I am doing. Laura said, "It's hard when no one knows or trusts you". And she is right. Her talk gave me some great pointers and tasks I can take forward to help me be a better designer and also improve relationships within a project. So glad I got to see this talk.
UX London was a reminder that attending events in person are remarkably different from those hosted online. There was a buzz of excitement during the talks, workshops and in-between moments of conversations over coffee, ice cream and doughnuts.
The content this year was exceptionally high. My main takeaways from the talks and workshops I attended and the conversations I had with attendees included:
Make time to understand our audiences and cultural differences (Chui Chui Tan), explore how best to tell stories and craft them for our stakeholders' needs and challenges (Steph Troeth), and use these insights to design and deliver great services (Lou Downe).
Focus on people, whether that be our audiences, stakeholders, clients, colleagues or ourselves. We have a duty as designers to build knowledge around our differences and actively challenge the status quo to bring about more ethical change and inclusivity in our industry and organisations (Kat Zhou).
Beyond what I learned, it was an absolute pleasure to spend time with all of my Clearleft colleagues in one place, working toward a common goal of putting on a memorable conference. A conference worthy of the Japanese term Omotenashi (to wholeheartedly look after guests)
Without getting too deep, UX London felt like a hug that I didn’t know I needed. A reminder that we are all part of this turbulent tech era where change is continually happening at a rapid rate – but now more than ever, we can (and must) all be a part of the conversation.
My biggest takeaways were that we (and the world) are evolving and this is a continuous journey of growth. We don’t have everything figured out and that's absolutely fine. Having a growth mindset is essential for success and inclusivity, diversity and accessibility are an absolute non-negotiable.
Heldiney Pereira reminded us that unicorns don’t exist (something I often forget) and “We are measured on our impact…. It’s ok that you can’t do everything.” Lean into your strengths and collaborate with others.
Candi Williams gave some home truths around “non-sexy jobs” that are critical for having an impact. Such as focussing on the adoption of processes, not just the existence of them and selling the benefits of strategic work because “Who doesn’t like efficiency, consistency and insight?”. Candi empowered us to be curious whilst reminding us to be considerate and how “You will nurture culture change much faster than you will dictate it”.
Kat Zhou highlighted how our “Privilege and tech diffusion equates to amplified power”. As designers we need to continue to develop our thinking, creating experiences that pose no significant harm and consider the ethical consequences of our decisions whilst trying to keep up with the moving times. With great power comes great responsibility.
As digital products continue to remove physical barriers, the world is essentially becoming borderless. A message that rang true from Chui Chui Tan’s talk about international audiences and growing your international markets is that it’s important for those of us designing for global audiences to build experiences that consider cross-cultural design as well as help shift design thinking and practices – and to be even more inclusive.
To conclude, I feel energised, inspired and grateful that I get to be a part of an industry where the possibilities for innovation are infinite.
I had the most inspiring and creative-fuelled experience attending the “Writing for people that hate writing” workshop with Giles Turnbull. Plenty of ideas and golden tips for approaching and thinking about content in a completely different way. He also had some top tips for unlocking yourself and getting anyone excited about content. Such as “Write on a notepad, not a laptop” – the kind of small but super powerful suggestion you only get from a seasoned veteran like Giles. Such a brilliant and insightful workshop. I came with so many notes (written on paper, of course) and couldn’t wait to share them with all my copywriter friends, my content designer and UX colleagues and even friends that don't write.
Giles also talked a lot about the power of drafts. We’re so obsessed with polished, pixel-perfect design and perfectly crafted copy that we forget it’s all about the process, not the deliverable. He taught us how the Lord of the Rings came to be: through many, many revisions. By looking at Tolkien’s first drafts, we could see a completely different story, one that was definitely not as compelling and beautiful as the story we came to know and love. The final result was only possible through endless reworks and revisions (thankfully we got Frodo and not Bingo as the protagonist!). Drafts have this power, they help us collect as many ideas as we can and give us an ever-growing base of inspiration to use for the final result. Write the first draft, then write the second, then all the way to the 50th. Then give yourself time to let it sit, let it simmer, look away and then, hours or even days later, look back at it. You’ll immediately be able to spot what’s wrong (and what’s good!) – And keep your drafts, even the ones you think are absolutely worthless. Keep them in a drawer for years, then look at them. Guaranteed you’ll find something so valuable in them, even just the right word or idea.
So remember: all first drafts are bad drafts – even for Tolkien.
Head of Experience Design
I always enjoy design stories told by folk who might not immediately describe their role as a digital product designer. Videha Sharma is one such person. A surgeon working in a renal department carrying out kidney transplants. In trying to improve outcomes for patients he came across and embraced user-centered design and design thinking.
There are plenty of parallels between the medical and design worlds. They both start with the need for consultation and diagnosis of the situation, they lean on analysing data for insights, and any interventions benefit from iteration based on close monitoring and feedback. Videha had many practical tips for using design for enabling change. Three that resonated with me and are relevant for all internal service design projects are:
Draw the data model. Showing the whole system and complexity within it helps people to see beyond just their part in the process.
Take the prototype out to where it’ll be used. In this case, taking a laptop on ward rounds to road test concepts and spark conversations with colleagues.
Talk about the outcomes enabled by design rather than the design process. Change happens when people can see how it will positively impact service users.
“Does design have an image problem in your organisation?”. This was the provocative question underpinning Laura Yarrow's talk ‘At the table or on the menu’. A deftly delivered reminder that to create change a designer's craft skills need to be augmented with communication and collaboration skills.
The talk included a hilarious run-through of some of the jargon us designers readily use and expect everyone to understand. This monologue perfectly proved how easily and inadvertently we can become ‘the clandestine and mystic church of UX’.