Tag Archives: UX Week

We are all human

Kat Husbands
Digital Content Officer
University of Glasgow

Reflections on mental health from this summer’s conferences

Our users are humans, and so are we.

Inspired by some of the heartbreaking, challenging and thought-provoking stories I read on World Mental Health Day, here’s a breakdown of one of the themes that emerged from the conferences I attended this summer: UX Scotland, IWMW  and UX Week (the latter funded by a UCISA bursary).
These were my takeaways from the talks, case studies and throw-away lines that tugged at my heartstrings, and reminded me that before we can truly take care of our users, we need to take care of ourselves, and each other.

From Kevin Mears’ sketchnote for ‘10 Things I Wish I’d Known Earlier (In My Career)’

Know yourself and own it

“Introverts are ace​”

Half way through opening IWMW with her talk ‘10 Things I Wish I’d Known Earlier (In My Career)’, blew me away. Her voice cracking, she confessed to just how difficult and uncomfortable it was for her to stand up in front of us and talk. But here she was doing it anyway, and she’d done it hundreds of times before.
Her experiences were so much like mine it was uncanny: she’d faced crippling social anxiety, low self-esteem and depression; she was convinced there was something fundamentally wrong with her, and embarrassed by that, so the whole thing became self-perpetuating. She’d rarely dare speak up in meetings, so how did she transform herself into an articulate public speaker, and become Head of Digital then Head of Marketing?
The answer: someone believed in her enough to send her on a leadership course, where she learned from a speaker she respected and admired that he also struggled with nerves every time: turns out his distinctive relaxed-but-confident pose was actually his way of dealing with the discomfort and getting through his talks.
Alison took this revelation as evidence that, while it wouldn’t get easier, she too could find ways to put herself across clearly and inspire an audience. That self-belief led her to success.
I took three lessons from this:
  1. Believe in your introverted colleagues: shy-and-quiet doesn’t mean nothing-to-say.
  2. There’s value in being able to recognise yourself in others you admire and are inspired by, so look for it and be open to it.
  3. There’s value in openness: share your struggles and you will inspire others.
“For those of you that are introverts, I’ll not see you in the bar later!”

“Humans are cursed with human brains”

When stress overloads the human brain, it can become “deeply focussed, to the point of distraction” and reverts to pattern-seeking behaviour, as Laura E. Hall  explained in her UX Week talk on ‘Caring for Players in Real World Spaces and Beyond’ (which I briefly covered).
As designers, if we observe our users enough we can predict their stressors and mitigate them. And if we listen to them enough we can come to understand their behaviour and design for it.
It’s the same in self-care, with mindfulness — thinking about our thinking — as the key. Whether we’re intro-, extra- or ambiverts, and whether or not we’re also affected by poor mental health, the more we develop our self-awareness, and the more objectively we review and reflect on our actions, their causes and their outcomes, the less our brains can hijack us.

The problem of perfectionism

“It’s good to have ideals, but don’t be an idealist”

This was no. 4 in Alison Kerwin’s ‘10 Things’. Working in digital, we have access to an enormous amount of user data that isn’t available in other areas. Understanding this data helps us identify problems and what we might do to fix them but it’s just as important to understand the politics of our organisations and the interweaving priorities of our stakeholders.
For our sanity’s sake, we have to accept that we can’t fix everything. Instead we must be pragmatic and learn when to push and when to let things go.

“You will make mistakes”

And that’s fine, as Andrew Millar made clear in his IWMW talk ‘Stress…and what to do when everything starts falling apart. He pointed out that, whether the drive to achieve perfection is internally generated or the result of external pressure, the very concept of perfection is an illusion anyway.
Book-ending his moving personal story of learning to cope with a panic disorder, Andrew called for a culture change. There’s a lot we can do for ourselves, and for each other as teammates and managers, but employers must also take active steps to tackle work-related stress and its underlying causes.

One of many zingers from Steve Jobs’ 1997 WWDC talk

Beating imposter syndrome

Award-winning Hollywood Production Designer Hannah Beachler gave the opening keynote at UX Week. Hannah was headhunted by director Ryan Coogler to bring to life the Afro-futuristic nation of Wakanda for Marvel’s Black Panther. The $200 million movie was of course wildly successful, not least because of the entire civilisation she built, that persists in imagination beyond the edge of the screen.
How could someone who moves in those kinds of circles, and whose work is sought after and celebrated by so many people possibly doubt herself? But she did, and she talked inspiringly about faking it ’til she made it.
Meanwhile, another great point from Andrew Millar’s IWMW talk on stress highlighted the importance of both getting and giving an outside perspective: so that’s another vote for keeping yourself open to favourable comparison with your heroes, and for sharing your truth.

Possibly my favourite slide of the summer, from Andrew Millar’s talk on stress.
As for me, I’ve previously written about my in-the-moment tactics for beating imposter syndrome. I’m less affected by that now but still an introvert so, while keeping an eye on my energy levels and letting myself flop when necessary, I actively look for ways to trick myself into socialising.
For example at UX Week, where delegates get a notebook with a blank cover and there are prizes for the best designs, I decided to crowd-source mine by asking at least 20 random people to draw me a dog 🐕 It was a great conversation starter and I ended up with 27 dogs, a load more friends and contacts, and a runner’s-up prize — woot!
If you please, draw me a dog!

In summary

  • Know yourself and own it
  • Accept that perfection doesn’t exist
  • Share and share and keep sharing
  • We are all human.
This blog post first appeared on the UofG UX blog.
Interested in finding out more about a UCISA bursary, then visit UCISA Bursary Scheme.

Communicating with brains in survival mode

Kat Husbands
Digital Content Officer
University of Glasgow

UX Week 2018: Tools we can use

An early contender for my favourite talk of UX Week 2018, which I attended courtesy of a UCISA bursary, was Laura E. Hall’s on ‘Caring for Players in Real World Spaces and Beyond: Lessons from Escape Room Games’.
I’m a huge fan of online puzzle and room escape games, and loved hearing about Laura’s work designing real-world ones.
For starters there were so many crossovers between escape room game design and web design: the need to manage users’ cognitive load, minimise stressors, and communicate story or message, and the importance of accessibility.
Further, I’m writing this during University of Glasgow’s registration and enrolment period: one of the most stressful and most digital-centric times of the year for students. If we could apply Laura’s ideas on how to communicate with the brain when it’s in survival mode, maybe we could smooth this out…
I highly recommend watching the whole of Laura’s 34 mins talk below, or for just the ‘survival mode’ chunk start at 15 mins in.

Phew

All this just from 1 talk and 1 workshop?! More soon…in the meantime, you can watch many of the other talks at the official conference recap.
This blog post first appeared on the UofG UX blog.
Interested in finding out more about a UCISA bursary, then visit UCISA Bursary Scheme.

A new way to build personas

Kat Husbands
Digital Content Officer
University of Glasgow

UX Week 2018: Tools we can use

Thanks to the UCISA bursary scheme, I was lucky enough to attend UX Week 2018 in San Francisco.
The best thing about going to conferences is meeting and learning from lots of lovely people who are trying to do the same things I try do to. UX Week surrounded me with hundreds of such lovelies, from all over the world, for 4 full-on days of talks, workshops and social events. It was big, bright and — in the best possible way — exhausting!
The other best thing about going to conferences is picking up new ideas and methods I can apply in my work. UX Week certainly lived up to its fantastic reputation for delivering ‘new tools you can put to use immediately’.  I took so many notes that I’m going to have split up my write up across several blog posts.
I’ll start with the ideas that lodged themselves the deepest; the ones my jetlagged brain still churns through at 3am.

Ditch the demographics: segment users by thinking style

For prospective applicants, instead of: ‘Lower GPO’ / ‘Higher GPO’ / ‘Older Student’ / ‘Low-Income’, Indi proposed: ‘Passionate About The Topic’ / ‘Means To An End’ / ‘Looking Forward To The University Experience’ / ‘Exploring Paths’.
Indi Young proposed this new way of building personas in her workshop Paying Better Attention to the Problem.
The idea stuck with me because I’ve really struggled with persona-building. Also because, marvellously, one of her slides covered the thinking styles of university applicants, making it instantly relatable.
During the University of Glasgow UX project, I don’t think it ever occurred to us to categorise our users as anything other than students at different levels of study, and staff in different job families. But when it came to assembling our ‘Digital Life’ interview findings into personas, we found it almost impossible to generalise within these broad categories.
Worse than that, in hindsight I see that personas based on these categories wouldn’t actually help me! I produce internally-facing content for our current students and staff, much of it quite technical. When I’m rewriting, for example, the instructions for connecting to campus wifi, how can I consider the need of First Year UGs vs. Final Year, PGRs vs. Professional Services Staff? They all just need to get connected!
But what about the needs of ‘Help, This Is My First Smartphone’ vs. ‘I Got This, Just Tell Me The Settings’? Now there are two groups I can work for 😃.
I’ve made up these thinking styles, but I fully intend to go back through the interviews we’ve done so far (you know, when I’ve got a spare month…) to identify our users’ real ones.

More tips for demographic-free persona building

  • No photos: Sophie Dennis has observed “One client used a photo of a young blonde-haired woman. That persona would get dismissed as ‘The Blonde.’”
  • Use gender-neutral names, or no names at all, and write bios in the first person
  • Phrase the thinking styles so that users would be happy to identify with them
  • Understand that one person can switch between multiple thinking styles depending on the circumstances.

Empathy = listening

Indi also went into great and fascinating detail on the concepts of cognitive bias, empathy, separating the problem space from the solution space, and how a UX designer should aim to be “woke”:
  • Try not to fall prey to cognitive bias
  • Recognise what systemic bias is
  • Aim for more goals than only ROI
  • Avoid using demographics to refer to a user
  • Be aware that your own culture is one of many.
More on UX Week to follow.
This blog post first appeared on the UofG UX blog.
Interested in finding out more about a UCISA bursary, then visit UCISA Bursary Scheme.

Seeking user experience design inspiration

Kat Husbands
Digital Content Officer
University of Glasgow

UX Week 2018, San Francisco

Thanks to the UCISA bursary scheme, I’ve come from Glasgow to San Francisco for UX Week 2018. It’s awfy pretty here, though I have been accused of bringing the Scottish ‘summer’ with me. 
UX Week is a ‘premier’ annual conference, now in its 16th year, with a fantastic reputation for delivering ‘new tools you can put to use immediately’. As a self-taught user experience researcher, and leader of a grassroots project to build a UX Framework for my University, I like the sound of that very much. 
In my work on internally-facing websites and digital systems at the University of Glasgow, I try to employ the UX mindset and methods at all times. This helps me defeat my assumptions and produce data-driven content that solves our users’ actual problems in ways that are intuitive to them.

Levelling up and sharing the love

Over the next four days, I aim to level-up my UX skills and toolkit, and pick up lots of tips on how to communicate the benefits of UX, especially to senior management.
I will channel my new knowledge into my University’s drive towards user-centred services, and share it with other universities through the Scottish Web Folk group, the HE-Digital Slack channel, and here on the UCISA blog.

Learning from the best

The range of speakers looks amazing: as well as UX researchers and designers we’ll be hearing from academics, authors, project managers, CEOs, founders and futurists. Content themes include accessibility and inclusivity, the ethics and social power of design, and how we might imagine the future into being.
As well as two full days of talks, I’ll also be attending four half-day workshops. These promise to be practical, hands-on and pretty intense:
• Maps & Markers: Enacting a Strategy to Transform Your Design Team
• Paying Better Attention to the Problem
• We’ve Done All This Research, Now What?
• Just Show the Data! How to Design Better Data Visualizations.

Community of practice

As much as all the scheduled stuff, I can’t wait to be surrounded by user experience professionals from loads of different backgrounds and industries; in my experience so far, UXers are utterly lovely people.
And of course the organisers of a conference about human-centred experience design, have designed in plenty of fun, human experiences: amongst other things, the social programme includes trips to a street food festival and SF’s Exploratorium…I think it’s going to be a good week.
Interested in applying for a UCISA bursary? Then visit UCISA Bursary Scheme.