This year's UX London event was different for quite a few reasons. Back in real life for the first time in two years. Hosted at London’s impressive Tobacco Dock for the first time. And after legendary curator and host Jeremy Keith tested positive for the dreaded Covid, it was time for yours truly to step up to the plate as MC!

Chris P opening speech

It was an absolute pleasure to introduce and meet an amazing array of international speakers. Here are a few of my standout memories.

Day one

The perceptive Chui Chui Tan opened the conference with a passion for understanding global audiences. Her three levels of ‘culturalisation’ were not only inspiring but codified the many pitfalls of operating globally. Here they are:

  1. Respect establishment/culture - e.g. don't incur the wrath of China by listing Taiwan and Hong Kong as separate countries on brand websites (As the likes of McDonalds, Zara, Delta, Calvin Klein all managed to do, leading to temporary shutdown of their Chinese web presences).

  2. Manage cultural expectations - e.g. anticipate that loading times for Japanese characters will take longer than Western fonts or that French speakers in Canada or Switzerland will expect different date formats.

  3. Experience enhancement e.g.take the lead from Pixar who routinely swap out relevant cultural images. For example, ‘ice hockey’ becomes ‘soccer’ and 'broccoli’ becomes ‘green peppers’ depending on where the film is being released.

What stood out above all, however, was Chui Chui’s determination to really understand a given audience in the context of their own environment. Her ethnographic style work for the Kenyan health system was exemplary.

Emma Parnell’s incredibly personal talk took us through the painful journey to get the NHS Digital Covid vaccination booking system to be inclusive for people of any sex and gender. (While pointing out that so many organisations still conflate the two). Her call to arms will stay with me. She noted we already know how to make inclusive front ends. What we really need is to make the case for changing outdated infrastructure.

Sticking with the healthcare theme, it was an honour to listen to NHS surgeon and Doctor of Philosophy Videha Sharma (a double doctor, no less!). As he outlined the extraordinarily manual, siloed and paper based process to register a patient for a kidney transplant, Emma’s call to arms regarding outdated infrastructure seemed ever more pertinent.

Day two

Day two brought the effervescent Candi Williams. She spoke from the heart about ideas and techniques for navigating tricky organisational relationships. What I particularly loved about her talk was the use of Tarot cards as a compelling storytelling device. Every point was referenced using different card persona’s. I think we can all relate to scenarios like ‘The Fool’ and his journey or ‘The Burning Tower’.

My personal favourite?

‘The three of cups’. It signifies people coming together with open hearts and looking forward to happy events!

I couldn’t neglect to call out our very own Chris How’s enlightening talk, ‘Unexpectedly Obvious’. Chris took us on an eclectic journey through time and across the globe, sharing stories of designs that solve problems in elegant if unusual ways. I was mesmerised by the example of farmers in Northern Botswana, who discovered that painting large eyes on the rumps of cattle prevented the herd being attacked by lions. It's a simple, cheap, safe and extremely effective solution.

Chris had three very relevant guidelines for supporting such breakthrough ideas:

1. Concentrate on the problem to solve, not the solution to implement

2. Give space, time and support to explore ideas (not just execution)

3. Measure delight, not just productivity

Day three

Day three was a whirlwind of Design System inspiration led by the likes of Adekunle Oduye who literally co-wrote the book on Design Engineering (DesignBetter.Co by InVision)

Laura Yarrow kept us entertained with some satirical observations regarding the amount of jargon we all use; while Amy Hupe battled food poisoning to deliver a quite outstanding recording. Her reflections on Design Systems for Humans were sobering and relevant but delivered with much charm and humour.

I cannot possibly do justice to the full, three-day experience here. I can, however, reflect with much pride on the outstanding performance of the Clearleft crew.

As one of the speakers kindly remarked, ‘it was a joy to witness first hand the trust, the camaraderie and hard work of the lovely Clearleft crew’.

Just like Candi Williams’ tarot card, my Clearleft colleagues brought me not one, but ‘Three Cups of Joy’.

Chris Pearce, Managing Director, Clearleft.