Head of Experience Design
One of the themes connecting many of the talks this year was the role designers can (and should) play in addressing big, tricky and pressing challenges facing society.
This call to activism spanned the ethical choices we make when creating products and services, developing deep empathy for our users and colleagues, and the ongoing need and benefits of increasing diversity, access and inclusion.
The climate crisis was another of these critical issues. An interesting one with digital designers being both part of the problem and a route to creating solutions.
Hannah Smith, Director of Operations at the Green Web Foundation, articulated the scale of the challenge with some shocking statistics. The Internet has a larger carbon footprint than the aviation and travel sectors combined. If the internet was a country it would be the seventh biggest polluter. ChatGPT (and other AI chatbots) are thirsty consuming 500ml of water to cool their systems for every 20 to 50 questions answered. For a product that has a user base of 100 million users and 1.8 billion visitors per month, this is an issue of impending importance.
The Green Web Foundation has a mission to move toward a fossil-free internet by 2030. Hannah asked the audience to come together to collectively help achieve this change.
In thinking differently about sustainability an idea that resonated deeply with me was “the internet as always on and always publish just doesn't fly anymore”. With a CO2 cost that comes with every byte of data uploaded, downloaded or stored we need to consider the environment as one of our key stakeholders.
I've attended Clearleft events in the past, but UX London 2023 was my first as part of the team. Getting stuck in and ensuring the event was enjoyable for the attendees, speakers and workshop facilitators was a blast. Of course, being there to help out came with the added benefit of getting to see some thought-provoking talks. Some of my key takeaways include:
A reminder of the importance of listening intently and being empathetic throughout the design process, from Imran Afzal. David Dylan Thomas built upon that mindset, telling us to disregard vanity metrics and instead create products and services that serve a genuine purpose.
Hannah Smith delivered some hard truths about the scale with which the web contributes to the climate crisis. Luckily, she also introduced some ways of measuring and combatting that. I'll definitely be employing those methods in the near future.
I also enjoyed Paul Lloyd's talk, in which he introduced the concept of a design history – a journal for your design thinking, if you will. An idea which I think could be particularly useful in the handoff between design and development (and vice versa).
Finally, the conference was also a great opportunity to raise awareness of our newly launched jobs platform: the UX London Jobs Board. It was really exciting to see the interest in the platform, and I cannot wait to see it lead some of the talented people I met to jobs they'll love.
Events Operations Manger
It was a real pleasure to spend time immersed in the UX London crowd. It was hot, and it was busy, but there was a great buzz around Tobacco Dock for those couple of days. Seeing old pals reconnecting is always heartwarming and I got a real sense of how strong the ties are within this community.
I'm delighted that so many people engaged with our new UX London Jobs Board - it was great to see opportunities being posted live and appearing on the digital display. The hope is that we can provide even more value for attendees and the people in our wider network by helping talented folks to find their next opportunity.
My favourite recollections of this year's UX London were the stimulating conversations I enjoyed around the edges, in the breaks or in unexpected places. Inspiration in the interstices, if you will. The night before the conference started I found myself in the aptly named ‘Apples and Pears’ cocktail bar (we were in the East End, after all), hosting an informal meet-up for any delegates or sponsors keen to make early connections. It really struck me how global and diverse the event had become.
It was humbling to hear from two Ukrainian UX designers, Anastasiya and Galyna who had only met because of the conference. As Anastasiya wrote afterwards, ‘It felt like connecting with a kindred Ukrainian spirit in the big city of London’. This theme of powerful human connections really resonated with me as the conference unfolded.
I learnt of Askable’s journey from Australia to set up their UK office and how important meeting delegates face-to-face was for them. I was impressed by Natalia, a UX engineer at a US identity security firm who had endured a ten-hour delay to her flight from LA and still made it to the meet-up. As she explained, she was a ‘team of one’ in the UK and craved the opportunity to meet like-minded folk face to face. Again and again, I was reminded of the value of having so many different perspectives and opinions together in one place. It was also fascinating to hear from a Government department whose team of ten had never actually met in person, or even seen each other's faces. They were using the conference as a place to not only learn and to be inspired, but to truly bond as a team. As their leader posted later, ‘Can we do this once a month?’. If only…
UX London always serves as my UX top-up in the year – a chance to get my head out of the day-to-day and focus on learning from others’ perspectives.
For me, an underlying theme this year was empathy. It’s an easy word to throw around, but one that requires mindful attention. It’s easy to forget an ‘audience’ is made of individual people when you’re looking at design files. The best products, services and teams don’t just know their audience, but they embrace their nuances and individuality. This year’s conference gave both inspiration as well as tactics to bring back to my desk.
Looking at internal teams, Vimla Appadoo discussed how once you know your team and how they like to work, you can form a design process to suit their needs. Mansi Gupta discussed how ‘genderless’ doesn’t necessarily mean equality – you may be overlooking basic, and sometimes essential, needs. Equality is not only having barriers taken down but also having an equal opportunity to thrive.
These themes continued into Trine Falbe’s ethical design workshop where we explored perspectives and how one group’s vulnerabilities can be vastly different but just as important as another’s. Amy Hupe and Ignacia Orellana’s workshop assessed a design system’s varying audiences and explored their needs. There are more stakeholders than designers and developers alone, and this session was a good reminder of that and how to get everyone involved.
Breaking down the vast term ‘audience’ and gaining tactics to better empathise is a key takeaway for me this year.
Cofounder (and curator of UX London)
All credit goes to Clearleft's cofounder Jeremy for bringing together and curating this event. He shares his thoughts here - 'That was UX London 2023'.
As we wrap up another year, a big shout-out goes to the entire Clearleft team for their exceptional hard work and tireless effort towards organising this year's event. It's a real treat seeing everyone work together on event days. Their dedication has been instrumental in ensuring that everything ran smoothly and that the attendees had an unforgettable experience.
We look forward to seeing you all again next year!
Sign-up and be the first to hear when dates are confirmed for UX London 2024!