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Reflections on the UX Scotland conference 2014

Last month Bruce and I attended the UX Scotland conference, held at the Dynamic Earth Centre here in Edinburgh. (UX is shorthand for ‘user experience’). In this post, I’m sharing a few thoughts about what I got from attending, resources you can check out for yourself and we also have a contribution from Bob Carr in the Office of Lifelong Learning who was there too.

This is the second year a UX Scotland conference has been held. Bruce and I also attended last year. For me, it was interesting to see the growth in attendance from colleagues in the public sector. Last year there seemed to be just us, plus one or two from Edinburgh City Council. This time round local and national government were well represented, a few people from not-for-profits and a few from higher education.

As well as ourselves, we met Bob Carr from the Office of Lifelong Learning (read on for his thoughts on the conference) and Angela Laurins from the Library. I was also chatting with a couple of guys I know from the web team at the University of Aberdeen.

It’s great to see attendance and interest growing beyond UX consultants and the finance sector who are always well represented at any UX related events happening in Edinburgh. The whole conference and in particular this interest in UX in our sector gave me a lot of food for thought as I prepare to present on the topic at the upcoming IWMW conference in Newcastle.

Many of the presentations are available via their Lanyrd site, alongside various write ups, commentaries and reviews. I recommend you do a bit of exploring. For the rest of the post, Bob and I pick on our highlights from the conference and what we got out of attending. This might help you prioritise as you plough through the wealth of material!

UX Scotland presentations and resources (Lanyrd event site)

Bob Carr’s view of the conference

My reasons for attending

I have become increasingly interested in UX design for a number of years now, having studied design for my undergrad degree and through continuous involvement in web content development and systems design.  However, as I transitioned into a new role at The Office of Lifelong Learning, I became aware very quickly that my knowledge of up-to-date UX design practices was limited.

The UX Scotland 2014 conference was suggested to me at a time when I was looking for a better understanding of research methodologies and how this should feed into UX design.  I was attracted to the programme as it offered a number of tutorials and workshops, mixed with experience reports from some high-profile companies and UX teams.

Overall impressions

The main points I took away from the conference were a more comprehensive grasp on UX fundamentals, as well as Lean and Agile project management.  Hearing from some well-established UX professionals really inspired me to continue studying UX, to assist with my current work, as well as allow me to explore future career interests.  I was pleased to learn of so many organisations who really valued UX as a vital part of their continued operations, but I also got the sense that there were still some frustrated practitioners in the audience, sharing their stories of challenges and roadblocks they had faced along the way.

Favourite presentations

I thought the most inspiring presentation came from Joshua Marshall, the Head of Accessibility at the Government Digital Service.  His keynote focused on the task given to the GDS in updating the government website, which eventually won numerous awards and accolades when re-launched.  Given the politics involved, the project seemed like a very complex and constant battle but through the strengths and confidence of the development team, they were able to achieve exceptionally impressive results in addressing the governments’ online accessibility issues and content publishing processes.  His honest and dauntless attitude was refreshingly reassuring.

I also attended a number of workshops which offered engaging and insightful techniques for UX testing.  These included ‘discount’ testing, for UX research on a shoe-string budget; and ‘Gamestorming’ for injecting fun and motivation into group test environments.  Every presentation I attended gave me some sort of food for thought, whether this was more practical skills in UX testing or further direction into the applications of UX research.  I learned much more than I was expecting to in a two day conference, and only wish I could have attended more sessions in the parallel tracks.

About Bob

Bob Carr

Bob Carr: Project Manager in the Office of Lifelong Learning

Bob joined the University of Edinburgh’s Office of Lifelong Learning in 2008 and worked as an events manager for six years, coordinating conferences and short courses for professionals on behalf of academic faculties throughout all three colleges.  During this time, he was involved in a number of new systems development with IS, Learning Technology Section and the HSS Web Team including conference management applications and course booking systems.  In 2014, Bob changed roles to Project Officer and is currently working on new systems development for course booking and management, tutor recruitment and a staff intranet.

The Office of Lifelong Learning is a University provider of short courses, on behalf of the College of Humanities and Social Sciences.

Short courses offered through the Office of Lifelong Learning

Neil’s view of the conference

My reasons for attending

In my role as UX Manager for the University Website Programme, it’s important that I keep up to date with activity in the field. UX is still an emerging discipline and learning about new techniques and approaches is essential if I’m to continue to promote and embed user centred practices in how we develop websites, applications and services. Plus, it’s great to meet others working in the same area (particularly in large organisations) and to hear informally about their successes and frustrations.

Overall impressions

The message I heard again and again in different ways is that successful UX strategy implementation in big organisations requires culture change. And this needs sponsorship at executive level. Designers and developers can create nice interfaces and improve the usability of a system or website, but fundamentally we all need to become more customer-focused. This is how companies like Google, Ikea and Amazon are able to set such high standards. This gave me a lot of food for thought, and influences what I’m going to plump for as my favourite sessions.

Favourite presentations

Like Bob, Joshua Marshall at the Government Digital Service created a real impression. His keynote was both inspiring and daunting. The standards he is setting in terms of service accessibility are fantastic and I loved his line on how he pushes things through – “…if you don’t like it, speak to the Cabinet Office!”. Project sponsorship and endorsement doesn’t come much higher than that.

And in a similar vein I found the sessions from Royal London (“ How To Embed UX In Large Organisations: Teaching The Elephant In The Room To Dance”) and Microsoft (“Lessons Learned From Adopting Lean UX”) particularly good. Both sessions were talking about changing process and culture with stakeholders at a range of levels to achieve more user centred processes.

In conclusion…

That’s twice I’ve been to UX Scotland, and twice I’ve left it both inspired and challenged. It’s an excellent event that we’re really lucky to have in Edinburgh. I strongly recommend it to colleagues who are looking to enhance their understanding of UX techniques and learn from others working in the field.

UX Scotland website

UX Scotland presentations and resources (Lanyrd event site

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