On March 27, 2018 I attended ExConf in Bratislava. Being just 1 day long, the event had talks given by world leading UX experts from such companies as Google, Smashing Magazine and OpenIDEO, to name a few. It was held in The Old Market Hall in the center of the city, which allowed for strolls (and scooter rides) in the beautiful old center during lunch.
The organization was great, as well as food and catering, and I think the organizers did a great job at making people feel comfortable and engaged at the venue.
Our host, Vitaly Friedman of Smashing Magazine, opened with a shorter and transformed version of his talk from AmuseUX, this time called “Personality-Driven design”. He was talking about making the design stand out by giving it personality. As always, he had a lot of examples and presented a very engaging talk. Vitaly was also the conference host, and we got to see a lot more of him during the day.
Next was Jenny Gove from Google, who talked about transforming mobile experiences. She started by taking us back in history to 1997, when web was declared dead by Wired magazine, and went on to talking about the same thing happening to mobile web multiple times since then. Which brings us to today, when 12% of mobile usage is spent on web and the rest is apps.
So in every particular case, businesses have to figure out for themselves, on what to focus – whether to build an app or design a good mobile website, or if their users are primarily desktop users, and what to do about mobile in that case. Jenny gave a good example of a shop selling sofas – people tend to buy sofas once maybe every 10-20 years, so there is no need at all for them to create an app.
She also shared some principles for mobile web: it has to be fast, reliable, integrated and engaging. More in-depth principles can be found here. Some of my favorites: “Let users explore before they commit” and “Let users purchase as guest”. Both of these save users precious time, reduce unwanted and possibly useless registrations and increase conversions.
Next was Nathan Waterhouse from OpenIDEO talking about Asking better questions, and how it will benefit the designs. This skill is, in fact, crucial to designing the right thing. For example,when Amtrak asked them to design a new seat for the train, they didn’t jump to the task right away. Instead, they decided to dig deeper and went on a whole journey from buying a ticket to riding the actual train. They found out that it was not the seat that needed improvement, but the actual experience, starting with the ticket office.
Another example was about a hospital in Boston, where one of their employees went in the name of research and filmed from the patient’s PoV. Result of this experiment changed the hospital management’s perception of what their patients actually go through.
A couple takeaways from this talk:
- ask for some time to investigate the problem you are given and don’t jump to doing what is asked right away.
- a good way to start a discussion is with “How might we…”. How opens possibilities, might frees from judgment and we says ‘let’s do this together”.
- good questions are human-centered, focused on benefit, invite everyone to participate, inspiring, at the right level.
So a perfect question will be based on design thinking principles: focus on user and empathy.
I can’t agree more: we do need to listen to our users, but not necessarily agree with the solutions they propose. Sometimes it’s necessary to dig deeper and get to the bottom and the actual problem, that needs to be solved. In these cases usually laddering technique can be involved (repeatedly asking Why?).
After lunch we started with Hannah Pileggi talking about Airbnb Experiences. She is a research manager, so naturally she was talking a lot about testing and evaluating their product. Although I am not the biggest fan of the whole experiences idea, I see how for some people it may be a great way to explore new cities and meet locals. Some good principles that she mentioned:
- you aren’t your (only) user
- feel hunger for insights
- non of users are alike
I also liked the comparison of guerrilla testing to fast food – it’s as quick and satisfying, but not really “nutritious”. And I was happy to find out that they, too, do remote user testing through video calls and screen sharing.
Andrew Doherty was the last to speak and I really enjoyed his talk about Designing the Future. He is really passionate about AI and its development. Apparently it’s advancing very quickly and will give us design superpowers. Not only that, but also will take most of the jobs and here are some other professions Andrew said we could learn while it’s not too late 🙂
One fun takeaway from his talk: he asked the audience if anybody used personas, and nobody raised their hands. Just as well, as he is convinced that they are a waste of time and effort and shouldn’t be used anymore. (I kind of agree).
All in all, the conference gave a lot of food for thought, as well as insights. It also had some fun little moments, like a plank challenge for prizes (including a Sketch license), using sli.do for fun polls to interact with the audience and questions, and UX pitches that we could vote for. I would be absolutely happy if it was a 2 day event, it was so good.