The Digital Pond answers "what's next for UX?"


The latest instalment of our popular event series brought speakers from two British media giants to the packed Goldsmiths’ Centre in Farringdon. We covered user experience trends, the evolution of designers’ roles, and what’s on the horizon for the discipline.

Article by Cyber-Duck, Posted 16 months ago

When I settled on the theme for this event, I had in mind a very conceptual evening. Our industry is pushing hard against the boundaries of responsive design, bracing for the Apple Watch wrapping itself around every wrist in the world, and finally seeing the growing user experience discipline get its due from the greater design world. It’s within this content that I expected our speakers to share grand predictions of the trends and challenges edging just around the corner.

After Helene Sears (The Guardian) and Josephine Lie (BBC) accepted my invitations to present, however, they surprised me. Both came back with very practical ideas about process and workflow. They interpreted the theme’s question not at a high level, but a fundamental one: what’s next for the way user experience professionals work? I was excited to hear the insights they had to offer from implementing radical ideas in such large organisations.

It seems I wasn’t alone. Around 150 designers, developers, project managers, marketers, and everything in between joined us to hear what Helene and Josephine had to say.

Helene Sears, Senior UX Architect at The Guardian

Quoting usability expert Susan Dray, Helene brought us back to the fundamentals of user experience design: If the user can’t use it, it doesn’t work. User experience should be a conversation with your audience. You should bring the content they’re interested in to the places they’re getting content from. This is the philosophy around which media organisations are embracing social media.

Helene then swung the topic around to “creative sprints”, an approach The Guardian has been using to quickly decide and create new features for products such as their mobile app. She walked us through their three-day sprint workflow.

On day 1, the challenge is set. The team researches user personas to determine what they can do to improve the experiences of those users. This results in a common understanding of the objective.

On day 2, they come up with as many ideas as possible. To push past the obvious, one of The Guardian’s app design sprints generated over 100 ideas to narrow down. One way to do this is to “come up with the worst possible experience and reverse engineer it to create a good one”. They decide which ideas to take forward by weighing usefulness against development difficulty.

On day 3…

Helene and Josephine interpreted the theme at a fundamental level: what’s next for the way user experience professionals work?

Josephine Lie, User Experience Designer at the BBC

Josephine started by introducing us to Newsbeat, a BBC outlet that covers topics tailored to a youth audience, such as entertainment and social media trends. Within Newsbeat, they decided to create a small, dedicated design team and gave them freedom for innovation. This team takes a similar sprint approach to that of Helene and The Guardian, though there are some key differences.

Newsbeat’s design sprint process:

  1. Challenge assumptions by talking to actual Newsbeat users. Understand their needs by speaking to them firsthand, as opposed to using personas.
  2. Diverge for idea generation, brainstorming the best ways to meet the objectives identified in step 1.
  3. Converge to share ideas, discuss benefits and feasibility, and determine which ones to take forward.
  4. Use paper prototypes to model concepts for the final product and boost stakeholder engagement. Bring in outsiders, such as Newsbeat editors, to experiment with them.
  5. Test prototypes with real users. Adapt the session format and physical space to suit your needs, and test in a pub if it helps!


Q&A Session

Following Josephine’s insights, Helene and I joined her for some audience interaction, taking lots of questions from the audience in the room and on Twitter.

Asked what size clients “have the budgets to pay for these beautiful processes”, Josephine assured that “the smaller the team, the more free and responsive you can be.” Helene added that it doesn’t have to be expensive; the three-day creative sprint is one iteration of a framework that can scale.

One attendee looked for some clarification on industry jargon, wondering if the speakers see a future merging of the terms UX design, service design and strategic UX as digital phrases continue to evolve. Helene put it simply: “Job titles are nuts.”

Finally, a designer in the audience asked if the panel could offer any tips of getting actionable insights from research. The main suggestion was to recruit for tests carefully. Discover whether users really don’t like elements of the product, or whether the testing environment has created pressure that is affecting the outcomes.

 And when all else fails…

With that, the speakers, organisers, and several attendees headed to a nearby pub to continue the discussion over drinks.

Thanks again to Redgate for partnering with us and making another successful Digital Pond event possible. Please contact us if you’d like to get involved as a sponsor for future events.

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