Recap: Lean UX Conference 2015

by Rick Damaso
Let’s face it. We have become a “Google it” society. We can answer almost any question in .00012 seconds (according to Google’s search results page) and get a pretty accurate response. So, before attending the LeanUX15 conference in Brooklyn, NY, I wondered what would Google’s response be for UX’s impact on modern day Systems Development Life Cycles (SDLCs)? Was it even possible to wrap terms like DevOps, Kanban, Lean or Agile into a neat package with a UX bow on top?
More importantly though, does this matter? Or were these terms just the buzzwords from the “The Valley” that larger companies all around were simply talking about emulating? Do new philosophies really only announce themselves when blue chip companies start adapting them?
To say it depends is a boring answer. But, of course, it depends. As a researcher, however, I wanted a straight and narrow answer.
I thought it would be prudent to first set the stage. Here are some quick snippets of what a quick Google Search will give you relating to these new SDLCs and UX.
Agile- Developers focus on sustainable development. Sustainability is about good estimation, effective branching strategies for managing code, automated testing to protect quality, and continuous deployment to get fast feedback from users.
DevOps- DevOps is a software development method that emphasizes communication, collaboration (information sharing and web service usage), integration, automation, and measurement of cooperation between software developers and other IT professionals.
Kanban- Technique for managing a software development process in a highly efficient way. Producing software is a creative activity and therefore different to mass-production (Kanbans’s roots are in auto manufacturing) allowing us to apply the underlying mechanism for managing “production lines”.
Lean UX- Lean UX is a set of principles that may be used to guide you to better, more desirable solutions for users. It’s not a process in which each tool is rigidly applied. Instead a group of ideals and principles to guide you in the design process.
So, that makes sense. If I was a designer sitting in a room with other designers, communication and putting this philosophy in practice shouldn’t be that difficult in theory. But, when you take these practices out of Silicon Valley and introduce it to the landscape of companies like Microsoft or Spotify with teams of designers on separate continents, it can make your head spin. How could you package what looks and feels like a startup mentality and scale it up effectively?
LeanUX15 took this challenge head on during a four day event in Brooklyn, NY. This conference was not all that different from any other, unless you consider flamingo colored windbreakers and Paul Bunion beards different. But, all “hipster” jokes aside, the usual laid-back vibes you find in the heart of Brooklyn’s Williamsburg neighborhood was noticeably different. Product managers, Lead Designers, Software Engineers and representatives from some of the world’s most iconic brands were buzzing with excitement on bringing these results driven practices to companies everywhere.

As UX researchers, we encounter organizations along all stages of the UX maturity cycle and work on projects from formative to summative stages, so I was pleased to hear that UX research is taking a prominent role in these SDLCs. As opposed to traditional validation testing, we were now seeing rapid production of software married with UX researchers, architects and designers alike.
So what does this force us to do? To borrow from one of the themes of the conference, it means we are now in the age of Designing for Service, Not Just Software.
Here are some quick hits as to how UX is impacting development and strategic vision:

  1. Visualize your work, in knowledge clusters. Ideas are then disseminated to users as solutions in terms of their problems.
  2. With a UX lens, setting realistic Work In Progress limits for each stage of production is critical. Accounting for time slots within stages for user testing as opposed to piecing it together at the end.
  3. Manage flow to clearly identify bottlenecks and accurate metrics. When infusing UX research into your design process, you are hedging against expensive “revamps” at the tail end of your SDLC.
  4. Make Policies Explicit. Stick to your design, research and implementation policies! However, the #1 policy should always be, “If one of your policies does not work, change it”. By first following your process and analyzing what is wrong, you will be in a much better position to fix it.
  5. Implement Feedback Loops. Communicating accurate measurement with your target market is key. Measurements need to be relevant to the timing of your project, not “at the end of each quarter” or when “you have time for it”.
  6. Empowering yourself and your team to think- you are allowed to think and change processes. These SDLCs are not recipes, instead they are thought of as disciplines. Every question you ask yourself must be phrased as, “is this a driving force to consider design for servicing users or just designing software?”

The message for us as researchers when entering a new frontier of rapid development and testing can be wrapped up with a quote by Prof. Barbara Adam:
“The message for research is unambiguously clear: learning is a process with a history and a future; it is thus not containable within observable moments. It entails a joining of life-worlds, a drawing on collective and individual past knowledge as well as projected vision, all of which are brought to bear on the interactive present.”

Big Design Dallas Day 2 Recap

Overall words to describe the Big Design Conference 2014: Jam packed, smart people, memorable and, of course, Phil freaking Tippett. In case you don’t know this legend by name, he’s been the visual effects creative mind behind on Star Wars and Jurassic Park! Here’s the highlight reel on Day 2 to close out this exciting two day conference.

Do You Trust Me Now?: Content Convergence in the Age of Social Media  by Rahel Anne Bail @rahelab

Rahel talked about having a content marketing strategy. The quicker your company realizes that everyone is a brand ambassador, the more successful you’ll be. A couple takeaways:

  • Unless we’re creating content meant for social validation and social interaction, we’re not doing it right.
  • Social media is not the same as social business. One-way communication is not social. It’s advertising.
  • Customers may claim that they don’t care about social in business context. They’re in denial.

Give a hoot! Mapping (and caring for) the Semantic Environment by Jorge Arango @jarango

This lively (and academic talk) had audience members shouting “Give a Hoot!” throughout the presentation in order to confirm salient points. Jorge taught us how human beings react to and derive meaning from language and the nuances of context. For example, responsive has a different meaning for web designers vs medical device developers. Be thoughtful about the semantic environment in your writing.

The Design of Content: Strategies for Lasting Impressions by Keith Anderson @suredoc

Keith argues the point that the design and reading experience has been improving since the 1450s. He takes his theories from Gestalt psychology, the idea of what the eyes take in the mind will process as a whole. Takeaways from the presentation include:

  • Content strategy can be defined as the art AND science of controlling the creation, storage, maintenance, and dissemination of words and their associated assets and context to be congruent with an organization’s goals.
  • The User Experience movement has simultaneously helped and hindered how we communicate.
  • Our job as content writers is to anticipate readers’ expectations and provide them with quality content within a context perspective.
  • Take your content seriously. Write and design with a purpose.
  • Take the time to conduct reader research. Build profiles, conduct surveys, and make sure you understand what they expect from you.

Body Language: Hidden UX Insights from Body Language by Brad Nunnally @bnunnally

Brad cited scientific examples that included the fact that human beings make decisions 7 seconds before they physically communicate them. If we can focus in on body language we’ll get an early indication and non-verbal confirmation from our qualitative work.

Lights, Camera, Interaction: Design Inspiration from Filmmaking by Adam Connor @adamconnor

We’re not filmmakers but in the interest of broadening our horizons we decided to take a closer look. What a treat to step outside the walls of marketing and UX-concentrated workshops to learn more about design in film-making. Adam took his passion for film and his experience in design to share his unique perspectives. Fun fact: Designers with a creative vision are often not put in the position to manage. There is a big difference between leadership and management. Here are some facts we came away with:

  • Leadership is about vision and inspiration towards the future of that organization.
  • Management is to keep things together and MANAGE the organization, not necessarily lead the creative path.
  • Scenarios are the interaction between a persona and a use case.
  • Mise en Scene: All of the tools other than dialogue, used by a filmmaker to tell a story (everything to design the scene that does not include any actual conversations).

Lessons I Have Learned from Leading UX Designers by Russ Unger @russu

This talk was brimming with great leadership advice that can be applied to any process. For now we’ll just share our favorite quote:

A leader is best when people barely know that she exists

when her work is done and her aim fulfilled they will say – we did it ourselves –  Lao Tzu

You’ll have to wait for the blog post for the good stuff.

Headlines, HBO, and Harry Potter: A Case for Context by Justin Smith @xenoabe

Justin can win the award for most compelling topic title. Yes, he did briefly discuss Harry Potter and HBO and how they relate to compelling context. The audience also got to watch a very touching TD Bank commercial, which proves the case that meaningful context can really draw the emotions you are seeking for from your viewers.

  • Context is the circumstances that form the setting for an event, statement or idea, in terms it can be fully understood.
  • Context is like a green screen.
  • Sometimes you don’t want to give it all away in your headline. You want to be mysterious It’s ok to play with the user and some fun with your messaging.

Mitigating Scope Creep: Useful Tips for Project Peace by Michael Vaughn

Another good tactical approach presentation. Our top takeaway here centers on taking accountability when you start a project. Accountability for  your company AND for your client. If you have a clear understanding of your roles then it’s easier to maneuver the project segues when they happen….cause they WILL happen.

Why Photos Rule The Internet by Tony Cecala @tonycecala

Companies like Target, Starbucks, UPS and Fedex have such a strong brand image that their logos can do all the talking. From passing a billboard in Times Square or swiping through your newsfeed on Facebook, you’ll recognize the logos of these brands. It’s a brilliant visual communication tool….once you have that kind of brand recognition.

  • When building an identity for your logo and image, put a fair amount of consideration in to the design and colors you choose.
  • Memes have become a popular way brands can communicate with a younger audience.
  • Text and image-based posters used for political campaigns were memorable prior to the internet and can be considered a “meme” (think Uncle Sam).
  • Facebook beats out Instagram, Snapchat and Flickr as the #1 outlet for photos and images to share your life with your friends.
  • Tweets with images get 150% more retweets
  • Tweets with images get 18% more clicks

Produce Like Picasso by Brian Sullivan @brianksullivan

We have one word for Brian’s presentation to close out the workshop portion of the conference: INSPIRATIONAL. Brian delivered a compelling presentation on the much-admired artist, Pablo Picasso, and showed us how to apply Picasso’s work ethics into our daily lives. Here is the secret, it is 5 Ps:

  1. Passion
  2. Purpose
  3. Proficiency
  4. Persistence
  5. Partnership

Our keynote closer was Phil Tippett and for this crowd it was quite a treat. Phil is best known for his VFX work on some of Hollywood’s most beloved movies including the Star Wars triology and Jurassic Park. It’s no wonder he’s crowd favorite at Big Design. We were struck by his opening statement that he isn’t a digital designer at his core but a student of art history. He loves making things with his hands and is still committed to stop motion animation. It was a nice ending to a great conference.

We’ll be sharing more opinions over the next few weeks so stay tuned if you want the inside scoop on BigDesign Dallas 2014.

Big Design Dallas Day 1 Recap

If you haven’t been following our Twitter feed, then you have been missing out! Our Key Limers, Kelly Nercess, attended Day 1 of the Big Design conference in Dallas. Wish you were here soaking up all this UX knowledge? Do not despair. Here’s a brief synopsis of our day.

Opening Keynote: Building a Culture of Innovation by Jeff Gothelf @jboogie

Jeff had lots of great tactical advice on how to build a culture of innovation. We’ll write more about that later but the short answer is 

Give Your Team A Meaningful Busines Goal

An example might be to increase repeat site visits or decrease shopping cart abandonments. Send back and let them figure it out. Give them a problem to solve not a solution to implement.

Real-Time Content Marketing in a Connected World of Search and Social by Rob Garner @robgarner

Rob shares his insights on the way real-time content marketing has changed the way we relay information. Content marketing has emerged as a marketing budget line item and new digital discipline. You MUST have a strategy in order to make content marketing successful. There’s no flying by the seat of your pants in this approach. Real-time marketing is the extension of real-time communications across other outlets. Social media content is more than a simple tweet. You need relevant meaningful content, strategy and planning to make it all work.

UX of Voting by Elizbeth Rozenweig  User Experience at Bentley University

The single most important UX issue that we as a nation face is the design and usability of our voting systems. Only since the 2000 election has this become a prominent issue. We’ll be writing more about this later but we encourage you to get involved at the Voting Information Project

101 Different Amazing Engaging Content Ideas by Bernadette Coleman @berniecoleman

CONTENT IS KING. In this engaging talk Ms Coleman took things one step further and crowned a “King of Content” to illustrate the importance of real-time communication. You can check out his photo here. She also broke down 21 secrets to leverage your content. We’ll give you the first 5  and save the rest for a later blog post.

Step 1: Publish The Article On Your Blog

Step 2: Publish It In Your Newsletter

Step 3:Submit Industry Blogs & How To Articles

Step 4: Post The Article On Google +

Step 5: Offer To Post The Article On Somebody Else’s Blog

ABCD of UX: – Understanding, establishing and sustaining human-centered design by Matthew J Doty @matthewjdoty

Generally speaking we’re talking:

A = Awareness

B = Basics

C = Change

D = Discipine

Again we’ll cover this topic in more detail later. Our main takeaway? In order to effect true change your team needs to be able to answer “YES!” for two important questions.

  1. Can I do it?
  2. Is it worth doing?

You can’t move forward without that level of consensus. You’ll also need an  awareness of what good UX can really do. If you can explain that value to others, you’re on your way.

Introverts & Extroverts: Extreme UX Personalities  by Mike Townson @miketownson

As a self-described introvert, I loved this talk. The idea of the introvert and the extroverts has been a fundamental component of our personality development. Key takeaways from the workshop:

  • Can you be a little bit of both an introvert and an extrovert? Yes, they are called ambiverts.
  • “Introvert while sober, extrovert while drunk” is a reasonable and common occurrence.
  • Create an amazing team by combining one extrovert and one introvert. They can be a deadly combination and extremely competitive. They naturally compliment each other. Yin and yang anyone?
  • Extroverts will easily tell you all about their lives and what they ate for breakfast, lunch and dinner that day. Introverts tend to be more internal and bottle up their thoughts.
  • Introverts are typically perfectionists, while extroverts may be procrastinators.

From Scientist to Storyteller: How to Narrate Data  by Eric Swayne @eswayne

What is the best definition of an insight?

  • Something I don’t know AND
  • Something I should know AND
  • Something I can change

Inspiring Confidence: 5 Strategies to Establish Users’ Trust In Your Website by Tom Bowen

Everyone has the goal to have a trusted and and welcoming website so what drives users away from a website?

  • Only 3% of visits to the average website result in a conversion so anything more is good.
  • Make sure the overall look-and-feel of your website is up-to-date. Follow current design trends. Websites from the 90s send a warning shot to users. It appears no one is minding the store. Literally.
  • Competitive pricing is key. Be realistic.
  • Neglected ‘About Us’ pages can be a red flag that the website is outdated. Keep this data current!

CDO vs SEO: Why Content Discovery Optimization is the new SEO by Dan Sturdivant

Let’s start thinking in terms of great content instead of great keywords. Create an experience. In terms of Twitter, your ratio of content should be 9 informational tweets to every 1 self-promotional tweet.

What People Really Do On Mobile and How to Design For it by Pamela Pavliscak @paminthelab

Are you addicted to your phone? Do you take it to bed with you? Typical mobile users check their phones 150 times a day and 44% of users sleep with their phones (No, not like that. Get your mind out of the gutter!). Pamela ran several tests to learn how people interact with their mobile phones. Key takeways:

  • 80% say that their phone is the first and last thing they look at every day.
  • 74% overlook or just ignore bottom navigation options
  • 53% of mobile phone users have had a distracted walking encounter (being so involved in your phone that you walk into another person or fall off a stair)

That’s all for Day 1. We’ll be back tomorrow with a recap of Day 2. We’ll also be posting more robust content and links in the coming weeks.