Archive for the ‘Conference reviews’ Category

Euro IA 2010 – ‘Strong IA feels real’

Friday, October 1st, 2010

Last week I was in Paris for an entertaining, yet equally perplexing Euro IA. The majority of talks were a thought provoking foray into the usual domains of information architecture but also service design and co-creation.


The opening keynote from Oliver Reichenstein was a strange experience, part personal take on the field and part philosophical reflection on how he personally arrived at his own professional destination.

I am an admirer of his work and yet elements of those great data visualizations and experiments (the web trend maps) were not mentioned here. He did attempt to explain his user experience diagram but after claiming metaphors were only useful to a point, he then likened IA to ‘the recipe for user experience’. This gastronomic reference, was a recurring theme throughout the two days.

Contradiction seemed to be the order of the day. On the one hand stating that he found IA used too many ‘bullshit’ terms that were unhelpful, he then described his own design process as ‘dialectic’. I find philosophy in alignment to IA has never been helpful to our profession. It doesn’t resonate with me as thought-through – ‘the architecture of the mind’ that Reichenstein holds up as one of his views is unhelpful to a layman and really only strengthens the opinion of those who feel that IA is intangible. Even Reichenstein says that ‘if you stretch metaphors they break’.


image   Ian Fenn wrote a fictitious tweet, and yet ironically it was exactly what it felt like after he delivered his keynote.

It was a shame that this opportunity was lost of convincing the group that he didn’t just use the term because he liked the phrase. But unfortunately that seemed the real reason if you take the talk at face value.


His comment that ‘strong IA feels real’ was ironic, as this ia felt unreal, unrealistic and abstract. Even if it works for him and his company, I felt he didn’t tell the whole story.

I think therefore IA…
Other talks also reflected the philosophical aspect. Koen Claes focussed on designing for memory (enjoyable but try selling that to a CEO). Peter Bogaards talked about the similarity with gastronomy to aspects of what we do as UX people.

All thought-provoking stuff but really it had the feeling of some in-joke that only UX people would get, and that those from other communities who were present, the product managers, marketing and developers would look on and question.

This is not a practical application or useful in my opinion and after talking to a few attendees after day one they felt the same. These talks gave more attention to the experience of being human than the thing that we design. Though the two are obviously connected, it becomes too indiscernible from existentialism.

Lean IA, service design and Ubicomp
The second day proved far better, more real  and more tangible. More useful to talk about how to design in an agile way, using co-creation and the methods and skills found in the scrum processes of product development teams.

Here Jeff Gothelf, Johanna Kollmann and Franco Papeschi proved that the application of our skill set is the most important thing in our domain. The tools and methods are fine but not as important as engaging the team, working collaboratively and transparently and being an agent for change.

Their approaches were the exact opposite to the mysterious design master. This is the future of UX, with Claire Rowland and Chris Browne representing service design and ubicomp in a very comprehensive, fascinating talk.

Christophe Tallec also talked about how the theory of the wisdom of crowds, has usefully been applied to a product. These emerging fields becoming more relevant every year, and I guess in the not too distant future these fields will become facets of the same discipline.

Aimless ends
The closing plenary was given by Paul Kahn where he stated that Facebook was not important to him. But with its 500 million users and a previous slide stating how the biggest sites are user generated it just seemed he was being provocative for the sake of it.

As he ambled through several sites that he liked, it was similar to surfing a smashing magazine post of cool dataviz sites. The structured and non structured aspect of metadata is well documented but the talk really just seemed to meander without purpose.

His closing message that user-centred design is best tackled by saying ‘you can lead a horse to water but you can’t make it drink’ was uninspiring. Did this statement derive from too many failed projects?  One he showed – though it used a neat UI trick it was where he openly admitted he didn’t have numbers to know if it was effective or not. Who knows?

Summing up
There were a lot of great presentations and Martin Belam has gathered the talks on his site and are well worth a look. But keynotes are from thought leaders. Surely they have a responsibility to not use the platform as a casual debate (or product promotion) with throw away comments?

Or perhaps that is their call, but I do ask as an attendee for the speakers to prepare the material and avoid being self-indulgent or misleading. Give us something real. Give back something tangible to this community.

I remember last year being at a talk where a student pleaded – ‘give us something we can use’. From the keynotes, I was left with the same feeling…

UX LX 2010 – 3 days in Lisbon

Monday, August 16th, 2010



You can measure the value of an event once the dust settles – what are you left with that can inspire and motivate you for the future? There are many thorough and well written reviews already online from the event but I want to take a retrospective view of some thought-provoking presentations from UXLX Lisbon.

It was a conference that introduced me personally to some brilliant minds, and most surprisingly, they were not the minds already known within the UX field.

There is something unique about this community which is obviously born from it’s professional inclination. That of helping people do things better, solving problems and encouraging one another. It makes for a great atmosphere and the various actors on this set made for interesting viewing.

The largest collection of familiar names from any UXer’s bookshelf were assembled. All mingling, showing interest and generally being open to conversations whilst suffering from jet lag.

The format was intense and relentless – one felt at work for sure and the breathless nature of the schedule left little time to collect thoughts. But the most interesting talks were conducted by the new generation  of practitioners who have read the headliners’ books and are now taking their craft to true cross-discipline thinking and application.

Silvia  Calvet – CV&A Consulting

Silvia Calvet explained her approach to cultural change by combining the worlds of knowledge management, learning and UX to produce a system that a government department felt they owned. Anybody who has worked in the public sector knows that this is not easy but her enthusiasm and approach produced an outcome with some useful takeaways. View her slides to gain a fuller picture of her process for engaging a workplace to take ownership and be actively involved in improving working practices.

Seamus Byrne – Graphic Mint

Another enthusiastic entertaining speaker was Seamus Byrne from Graphic Mint who convinced us about storytelling being the best method for engaging users. This (as UX storytellers will no doubt testify to) is a sound logic and one that we know works, but applying the thinking in UX gives an interesting angle and one that Seamus is exploring over at the Graphic Mint blog.

Sarah Bear – LBI

Sarah Bear from LBI artfully looked at seduction as a subject for user experience design. Casanova’s three stage seduction was used with great effect as a metaphor for the UX journey. Carefully introducing social media in her talk, Bear made a plea to those in UX to get involved in the advertising world to ensure quality experiences would occur. ‘Be included or be ignored’ and this is true enough in certain firms and was echoed by the Interaction director of RG/A.



Karri Ojanen – RG/A

Karri Ojanen had a different take on this – that the advertising world is changing and that the old broadcast way of messaging is no longer valid within today’s society. User experience design he argued, lay at the heart of the shift in this well known, century-old paradigm. It was another great presentation that helped galvanise the keynotes by providing a relevant and useful backdrop.

All the small sessions I attended were well delivered and very interesting. The slides engaging and informative, the personalities likeable and eager to discuss their ideas. The tweets backed this up and it’s always amusing to see the flow from the audience – judging, commenting and evaluating statements and throwing them back to the floor.

Bruno Figueiredo organised a great conference, it was professional and enjoyable. But the selection of these less well-known speakers really provided an excellent focus and possible view into the future of this profession.

This conference gave me a reminder that this discipline has some excellent practitioners, whose work is truly inspiring and yet largely unsung. It was a great reminder of how many talented people there are in this evolving community.

UX-LX Lisbon, Portugal

Thursday, May 6th, 2010


uxlx   Next week I will be hitting the road again and this time it is Lisbon where I am attending UX-LX.

Hello Group is a sponsor and we are bringing UXBASIS to the community with a tool that aims to promote UX amongst other disciplines – especially project and product managers.

This conference has an amazing line up of speakers (the best I have seen at an event like this), and it really promises to be a unique experience.

I will be posting a summary of the highlights, after the event.

Secrets of a viral superstar – Evan Roth

Monday, May 3rd, 2010

Concerned with the intersection between art and viral media, Evan Roth gave the audience a tour of the projects he has been involved in recently. Also teaching in Paris, Roth is interested in a demographic that we often forget about – the BAW (bored at work) network. He suggested that this is the group that drives viral marketing, and the ability to get people to interact at their work is what drives viral success.


  He harnesses the power of crowd collaboration to produce the Michael Jackson hand video where a group of people plotted the co-ordinates of every frame of Michael Jackson’s glove in the first moonwalk video.

The results are (predictably) interesting and fun. Crowd sourcing by asking people online to undertake a small task to achieve a greater goal.



Music plays a role in Roth’s work, and he showed a video that took 3 days to produce for Jay-Z – Brooklyn Go Hard.

The last few frames of the video show the source code to the Flash animation, this was due to a rush to publication and it remained in the video.

The code has since been used in a multitude of ways by many different people. The viral effect of the code’s popularity going beyond the immediate attraction of fans of Jay-Z and the music.


Gaining a lot of traction in user experience is the design to delight point of view. Roth told how recently he was paired with Matt Mullenweg (creator of WordPress) at the 7 on 7 event. Here they worked on a few elements inside the WordPress blogging dashboard – elements they say that are now live and ready to use. Putting their collaboration in the admin section, the fun mode allows a user to publish with a difference.



Photo courtesy of Julia de Boer 
  Roth stated that often the publish button is such an anti climax, the culmination of hours of carefully crafting a post, seemed to them to be launched without fanfare. By adding a library of video clips they have changed this sacred moment, so when the publish button is pushed, a full screen video is played of motivational video moments. They also looked at the stats component and compared visits to populations of real towns in the US, and symbolised the size of traffic by photographs of the town. This humanised the data, and provided more visual interest.


Roth is particularly interested in how little effort one can put towards the maximum amount of impact. Roth says;

…if you are in viral – swing the bat as many times as you can

The tip he gives is to create viral that gives spikes in traffic through enjoyable and non-political content.


  His most visually impressive project is Graffiti Analysis, where a marker pen is tracked and it’s motion path redraws in code and renders on the screen. Roth believes graffiti is free speech and not dissimilar to the web. The web have the same peer systems working together for common goals. In this work the digital system is where the interface is the marker, the thinner the line the faster the speed all rendered in the 3d space. The effect is something unseen before and this project has resulted in GML (Grafitti Markup Language) which is available for download.



  Eye writer was the last project he showed, that took the code from GML and paired it with eye tracking software to create a drawing application that worked from movement of the iris. This enabled those artists who could no longer paint or tag, the ability to draw again. To draw using only their eyes gave something meaningful and satisfying back to those who have lost so much through paralysis and provided a fitting end to this interesting talk.


Roth was humble when going through his projects and seemed nonchalant about the impact of his work. He is a true artist, prolific and determined, irreverent and seemingly mistrustful of those organisations (Google) who have so much of our data. Or those governments (China) who censor the access to freely available information. Roth’s work has meaning and he stated that you should not strive for a following but rather ‘surf the waves of memedom’ to produce the best work. But as far as an artist who stands in the intersection of viral media and art, you would have to argue he is one of the best.

Everything is Social – Mark Earls at The Next Web

Friday, April 30th, 2010

This talk proved to be one of my favorites, not only for the style of presentation which was energetic and humorous, but the way Earls exploded a few myths from his research findings and the findings of others. He started by looking at football crowds, making sure the audience participated in a few Mexican waves. He said that the research that is being conducted is showing that the theories of social behaviour are being revealed by technology. The web is forcing us now to see ourselves as social creatures.

Earls stated that we think of ourselves as individuals, thinking and feeling what is done to us from external forces. In the last two hundred years history, economics and recently, marketing affecting our behaviour. The web has shown that we actually are highly connected and copy each other much more than we realise or would like to think. Individualism and originality were immediately set up here by Earls to be questioned. We find great pleasure from doing things together and collaborating. The idea of the individual is actually an internal mode of thought, not acted out in reality and this is proved by our online interactions.


  Showing this popular video, he asked us to consider Colin, the hero who starts the dance, as an innovator, his second friend the early adopter. He then proved that the idea of influencer is wrong, this is not what happened in reality. In truth, he tried several times to get people to dance around him but it was the crowd who decided. The change that occurs is when momentum is the change agent, not people in the crowd. It is not the influencers, it is the influence. Not individuals but the collective. Earls reiterated; we are fundamentally social, we are fundamentally like that. It was not Colin’s actions but the crowd (look carefully and you will see Colin leave the crowd).


1. Everything is social 
Social first and foremost. Our minds are fundamentally adapted to be social, we naturally seek security from each other. We instinctively know when something dangerous happens from the behaviour of others. From the moment we are born to when we die our lives are with other people. Our inclination for co-habiting means that isolation is the greatest punishment. This even affects how we think, we think before action but in reality we act and think in that order. Thought following action a millisecond behind. We also think together in a way that is subliminal or tacit, a common understanding revealed in the popularity of tagging and memes.

2. Copying not originality rules
The ‘I’ll have what she’s having’ effect (from When Harry Met Sally and Meg Ryan’s restaurant scene) is what shapes our decisions. We take opinions and referrals on trust. We copy behaviour if we think it is good or desirable. Here, there was another myth exploded:- independent agency is a fallacy. The success of Amazon can be attributed to the taste selector, and it’s recommendation engine. He remarked that opinion polls are banned in some countries before an election because of this power to persuade.

3.Sailing on social soup
Earls said there was a missing element that Chris Anderson missed in his book The Long Tail. If a lot of traffic appears here, it is likely that it means you have social influence. He moved on to the anti-social problem of binge drinking in British culture. No individual influences people to do this, but a cluster mentality develops. This structure is the most  important thing, and a dynamic that can only be changed by changing the group’s perception about their behaviour collectively. You can not make people do something but you must work with them. His last mention was Tweenbots, an experiment by Kacie Kinzer into a theory of letting humans do the heavy work of data input through their sense of compassion. Tweenbots lets the humans put down the paths, that services can use for other purposes.



Photograph courtesy of Julia de Boer

Everything is social
This was a fascinating talk, mainly because it changes the perceptions that we may take as defacto from marketing gurus and experts. Earls’ points are based in ethnographic study and social science. Behaviour of the individual is influenced greatly by the crowd. Earls’ findings are important; expelling the myth of the individual, the missing element of the long tail and originality as not the main factor for success represents a shift in thinking.

He has moved the conversation on from landmark books such as Groundswell and into another area of consideration. We cannot control the crowd, we must go with the flow. Drawing parallels with sailing, Earls stated that we all must learn to navigate the stream, but the tides are out of our control. Momentum in crowds can not be anticipated or created but exist due to many smaller factors that we can only react to. I think realizing this fact will help us build better experiences and help us realise our goals realistically in social media.

Mark Herd is author of the book Herd: How to change mass behavior by harnessing our true nature.

The future will be physical – Alan Richardson

Thursday, April 29th, 2010

Frog design’s creative director, showed some of their cases and how he sees the future of the web developing into something more tangible. Coming from a UX point of view, he gave examples of physical (and 20th century) technologies that we use and that we conform to (trains) or that conform to us (cars). We adapt to technology or it adapts to us.Though he didn’t remark on it, I guess the latter is the preferable and optimal use of technology from a human point of view.

Computers are a type of technology that we have had to conform to, the web is a good example of this. Browsers and operating systems are prohibitive but Richardson believes that the browser will become less important relative to other access points. This convergence of the web and the physical objects we find in our world, is the next phase. He highlighted the Times Square take over for GE where stepping inside the browser was the concept – allowing the interaction of people around the world to the advertising screens.

He made clear that phones and computers are on a collision course. Merging together, resulting in communication devices that are mobile, enabling content creation and real time reporting. Before objects and the web were separate, now they begin to intersect and in the medical area it is a pragmatic blend.

He showed a concept relaying health data in real time to doctors. Monitoring patients with heart problems, motion, heart rate and body temp being wirelessly transmitted to the cloud via smart phone to electronic devices. The benefit – allowing a patient to alert the doctor or healthcare workers when certain points have been reached through monitoring. Giving more freedom to the patient and more time to the healthcare practitioners. This seemed an excellent use of technology, and one you can imagine being used widely.


Richardson then showed the webjects – his word for completely blended physical objects with the web. There are two types. The first is the object inside the web – a wrapper of services around the object. Zipcar was the example of an ecosystem of a physical product with a wrapper of touch points of the mobile, website and service to create a car sharing business. The ecosystem formed of physical objects meshed with web software and services.

The other type is the web inside the object using the object as a portal with the object interacting with the web it as it is used. He gave an example of this with a multi-touch in-store augmented reality device for Intel. Here uses would be scanned by a camera, their gender and physical attributes then pre-loading the shelves with the right sizes and styles for that person. A demo at the moment it did give a view of how the digital experience will become placed alongside the real physical objects, with the benefit of closing sales faster.

No relevance, no point

Richardson closed the talk by stating that technology creates needs, but without relevance, solutions will not develop or be adopted. This statement seemed particularly apt with the amount of startups we had seen that day, some of them having no clear relevance at all. Apple’s success is a strange firm to follow or replicate, but what they have understood is the power of making connections between their products and the creation of their ecosystem. Of course the problem that is becoming apparent now is that ecosystem is invite only, and a closed shop…

See the presentation here

Building blocks in the cloud – Werner Vogels

Wednesday, April 28th, 2010



Photo courtesy of Julia de Boer


Werner Vogels (@Werner) gave a passionate talk about the new way of building applications by making use of the cloud. He highlighted how the old model of Push, where a solution is designed, built and launched is being replaced by the Pull model.

Here products are defined by finding a service that is lacking, connecting to that user base, innovating to answer their needs or wants and reflecting on the outcome (and I guess refining it).

The idea of infrastructure being a service in itself has been solved and he backed this up by highlighting key service providers who operate in the cloud. This he said, is now an established world and the loop of a holistic range of services can now be seen in a variety of really interesting services.

He listed a range of characteristics and existing startups which will enable the development of services that will transform the next five years of application development. 

The characteristics include multi-device capable, the social graph, user generated content, virtual goods economy,  recommendations and premium support. From the outset these applications need to be infinitely scalable and must give the api user the ability to walk away without being bound to the technology and must be immediately ready. Servers, Vogels stated, are no longer the issue and this has been solved as a potential problem. The cloud has given us a range of new opportunities to build apps now and into the future.

Some of the highlighted services included; – allows any content to be dropped into a shared environment and converted into real time

simpleGEO – location service working from the GPS co-ordinates of a mobile device giving contextual information such as demographics, changes over time, physical objects and relevant information to make decisions.

animoto – videos on the fly from location based information

twilio – voice and sms – speech to text. Once closely guarded by Telcos, but now this company has simply enabled voice and text into existing applications quick and simply using an XML file. Enables you to be called and instructed from a website update.

Directed Edge – a service where you can upload data and move down social connections, a recommendation engine with available connections

Social Gold – ways of making money by selling virtual products with real currency (or virtual) They will also maintain the inventory and charge the customers – multiple currencies are supported throughout Europe

Chargify – crowd service allowing real payments

github – version control of your web development handled on the cloud8

8k Miles – project management and development teams provided for projects you submit for tender

Vogels said the new music industry (eg and spotify) has already got the power of this and are using it in the right way. All modern apps need or will need the tools above, the good news is that they are available and out there. His excitement about the possibilities were certainly infectious – architect it right, allocate the percentage of the income to the infrastructure and produce something relevant quickly with adaptability. Great talk, and giving a lot of ideas here.

Start up rules of engagement

Wednesday, April 28th, 2010

Andrew Scott (@andrewjscott) from Rummble, gave us his insights into the pitfalls and perils of running a start up. His most valuable experiences notably coming from his failures. This is something that made for a great talk, and his 12 tips are pretty much core to creating of a successful business.

The name – his first tip was not to choose ‘a crap name’. He illustrated this with playtxt, all too close to the bra manufacturer Playtex in the UK with obvious problems there.

Pick the right co-founder – not having the right partner will result in major problems

Location – the right place is so important to where you start the business. He highlighted the valley as the place that illustrated this well but also Clerkenwell in London where over 80 businesses are in the same area. The reason is that you can call on others when resources are needed – particularly skills that are not needed regularly but are specialized.

Hire slowly, fire quickly – particularly important Scott said when your intuition tells you somebody isn’t quite right you should follow it. Time and again he said that when he had made a decision to fire he regretted not doing it sooner. But of course, making the right hire should take time, as it is such a commitment.

Delegate – if somebody can complete a task to 70% proficiency  compared to yourself, then delegate the task

Have a one line pitch – the ability to be able to tell anybody your idea with clarity in very powerful and helps solidly your proposition to potential investors, journalists and the man in the street

Beware of the bubble – You as a start up founder are not normal, you live in the tech bubble and be aware of this. Many people still do not know what Twitter is, and we should remember that.

Stop building, but measure what matters – it is very likely that the things resulting in revenue may not be your main focus initially. Be aware of what is in the offering and remember to analyse performance thing form the start

Time flies – building something in Scott’s experience takes twice as long than predicted, gaining funding from investors takes three times as long

Practice – Quoting Malcolm Gladwell’s book ‘Outliers’, it takes 10,000 hours to gain real expertise, so practicing is the basis of excellence and this also goes for pitching.

Help others – giving help comes back to you , its a circular function

Time out – unplug from the web and get out of the echo chamber.

The location point was particularly interesting, and Scott said there was a bias towards start ups from the US over those from Europe. I think I share his view but wonder if it is because they have a different culture and density of population to ensure momentum is created and ideas take flight…

Social wayfinding and spending – Waze and Hyves

Wednesday, April 28th, 2010

Waze is a wayfinding app with a difference, in that it’s maps are crowd sourced and are updated in real time (certainly something that Nokia and Google struggle to keep up with). Their approach is to ensure that their maps become generated by their user’s GPS trace as they drive. Their platform is drawing the maps from where their user’s go. They even encourage further exploration of unchartered territory by building games to find prizes and gain points, even having a badge in Foursquare. Its a fresh way to look at mapping and the community of users are apparently really engaged with the product.

On the face of it it looks a good way to ensure accurate maps and you can see municipalities and fleet management companies benefitting from an app that tells users of traffic jams in real time and can divert them to quicker routes. However when asked about safety, legality and the environment (encouraging users to drive for no other reason than to find cherries and gain points) the answers were a little vague and evasive. No blame there, but something they need to be well aware of with these issues creating real concerns from media focus and government concerns.

Hyves has been aware of Facebook moving in on all countries and threatening to dominate the social space. They have realised that their unique selling point is their ability to talk locally. In the Netherlands it is currently outperforming Facebook by providing relevant and timely local information. Their aim is to integrate this into society as much as possible and a very good place to start is to enable e-payments through profiles that have been cash-enabled by a user depositing an amount in an account. By pre-loading an account linked to the Hyves profile, one can easily pay for a bar tab or order food in a restaurant that accepts these payments.>The payment is linked to the user’s bank account that asks for verification through SMS before it is processed. This ensures a degree of security but also convenience. The system enables a user to order food and pay for it before going to a waitress. The concept here sounded really good but unfortunately we couldn’t see how this would operate in practice due to video problems over the network.

However Rabobank is backing it and it seems an excellent idea, and moves us even further towards the cashless society. Next up it’s the Web of Impulses, Mobile health made social and Ebay Classifieds….

Going mobile at The Next Web

Tuesday, April 27th, 2010

Today will be the start of The Next Web and the themes are Mobile and Real Time, in a two track afternoon. I have opted for mobile, as my interest in contextually aware devices will no doubt be focused on. If you are up for a flavour of the day check out our blog for the video and posts around the event.