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Lessons from the 2016 UX Strat Conference

Developing & Delivering UX

The Biltmore Hotel. A rustic landmark, styled in ’20s Prohibition era decor, sits on a bustling corner in the heart of Providence. The conference itself is being held in a large ballroom of sorts that looks like it has been graced by the presence of many eminent people in its day. The room serves as a unique, yet contrasting meeting place of modern technological minds. Old meeting new.

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THE PROOF IS IN THE PROCESS

A slender, well-spoken woman by the name of Leah Buley, was the first to take the stage. She gave an in-depth look at the perceptions surrounding CX (customer experience) and UX (user experience). In her research she has found that the distinction between the two titles are beginning to merge and at the end of the day, trying to define the specific functions of these titles isn’t terribly useful. Instead she turns her attention to how these similar minded areas of focus hone in on the digital world that is increasing at a rapid pace. And despite how a person is labeled in this realm, she stresses both of them to rethink data sources and to incorporate ways to measure research in useful ways for any new undertaking.

Up next was Ha Phan, a lead UX designer at GoPro. She outlined her process for developing new ideas within the company. She began by looking at the current consumer needs or barriers they were currently facing. In the case of GoPro she saw this as being their lack of editing software. As of now, GoPro users have to download files and go through other editing software such as Adobe Premiere or iMovie. After studying these types of existing software, she determined they were more time consuming than their users were looking for. Phan then proceeded to walk us through her process and a variety of prototypes they tested. Instead of mimicking current software that focused on trimming clips (at the start and end), they wanted to focus on specific moments of any given clip and make cutting these moments together as easy as possible. The final product is still in the works, but it was interesting to see the steps taken and the thinking involved to get to an idea that fits so well with their end user and product offerings.

Beverly May opened up the afternoon session with an excellent presentation as well. Her talk focused largely on what made UX good and how teams could get it to great. There was a good deal of research she had done through creating an awards show for UX work in order to determine some concrete/common elements that exist in great UX. A substantial amount of detail was displayed as to the criteria that she used to come to many different points, but the main features of great UX, based on her research, were that UX needed to be intuitive, simple, of high quality, impactful, and impressive. She also stressed that a common trait among the teams that won high honors at the awards were people that strived to be exceptional at their craft.

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The presenters at the end of the day came from two very different companies, the Federal Reserve and Microsoft. However, both stated the importance of developing and building the right team for the tasks being presented. And not only did the teams need to be diverse as to skill sets and opinions, but they needed to have an “endorser”, someone involved in upper management that supported their findings and encouraged them to continue pushing forward with innovative new work.

Day two focused a bit more on the theoretical and research driven aspect of UX. For someone relatively new to this world, Ben Babcocks’ presentation really stood out. This was mainly due to seeing the tools being implemented for a start up company, Jet.com, and getting a glimpse at what data comes out of his research. He gave examples of where he liked to get quick user tests, such as on ferries and trains, as well as how he holds weekly rolling user tests at their offices to continually optimize their site.

STRIVE FOR GREATNESS

The main takeaway, as to be expected from a UX conference, was truly focusing on the end consumer of anything created, whether it be a product, service or website. A few presenters quoted Steve Jobs where he stressed that with any product you have to start with the customer experience and work backwards from there into the technology. The more teams research and focus on a user’s real world needs and problems, and fully understand them, only then can any meaningful solutions can be tackled.

Applications for the Small Agency

Many of the presenters were coming from large companies with vast resources and financial means to invest in UX. So a question arises as to how this information can be scaled into a smaller agency. Based on presenters’ feedback during Q&A sessions, the first step is recognizing the benefits investing in UX can bring to a project and the end user. Second would be to start small. If there are not vast resources available, start by testing with people in your own agency. Then work up towards remote user testing or implement some of Babcock’s methods of interacting with people out in the world. After that, it would be a matter of building up a team with diverse areas of focus dedicated to the user experience. And lastly, in the words of Beverly May, strive to be exceptional, for good is the enemy of great.