UX Brighton 2012

Last week we headed along the coast to UX Brighton to soak up all that the event had to offer from a wide range of informative and engaging seminars looking at all aspects of UX, design, product and, more conceptually, what actually makes us tick.

The morning was a perfect balance of mind, body and soul, focusing on the history of what we know as the Internet and demonstrations of technology in our homes that can track our movements and even read out thoughts.

Alex Wright began the proceedings with a fantastic account of ‘The Web That Wasn’t’, focusing on periods in history where inventors and thinkers essentially created the Internet or networking as a concept. One of the most engaging accounts was of Paul Otlets ‘World City’, a mathematically devised city layout that encapsulated his Mundaneum concept and, with it, the aim to record and classify the world’s documents promoting a world community and information network… The Internet!!

Later in the morning, Mark Backler talked us through how developments such as the Kinect have brought new experiences into the home, whilst creating new challenges and opportunities for the designer. This was particularly interesting as it was an example of technology moving from the home back into industry; for example, surgeons now use them to manipulate body scans on screen while allowing their hands to remain completely sterile.

This was teamed nicely with a talk from Guy Smith-Ferrier, revealing how neuroscience is now an affordable tool, and apparatus can be purchased and experimented on by people outside of the medican industry. His powers of mind control showed the UX crowd how he can manipulate an object on screen to follow his thoughts, and how certain frequencies within the brain can be used to monitor how excited, attentive and happy a subject is while interacting with a source of input. This is surely something that we will be seeing more and more of in user testing in the coming years? It would be fantastic to see real-time subconscious reactions to a website or app, giving us an ‘access all areas’ view on the user experience.

In the afternoon session, the subject of behaviour, thought and interaction were explored to discuss how the production process – and design world as a whole – is moving forward.

Ben Bashford kicked off the afternoon with the thought that we are no longer designing ‘it’ but we are designing ‘they’. He made the interesting point that products are interacting with us, our pets and and our environments like never before. Because of this we are now having to think about them as a personality as there is no longer a passive link between the product and the owner; there is now a two way relationship that needs to be accounted for to allow the product to thrive. This was strengthened by a demonstration by Sriram Subramanian from the University of Bristol showing us the next generation of multitouch screens, allowing users to get unique experiences while all viewing the same screen. This concreted the ideas that the output of the device and its adaptability is almost more important than how we use them.

Jim Kalbach and Mike Kuniavsky then transported us onto the point of production and the risk involved in users adopting the product itself. Kalbach explained how following a simple ‘checklist’ throughout a project and looking at customer needs can help you invent faster. A prime example of this was the Segway; to some degree a failure, we looked in detail at the key points that have contributed to its demise. Questions like ‘is it better?’ and ‘does it fit in?’ quickly make it apparent that it was a nice idea that perhaps wasn’t developed to its full potential.

Mike Kuniavsky then presented how manufacturing is now at a point where producing a single unique product is to some degree more cost effective than the mass production techniques that we, as a society, have come to accept as the norm.

One of the highlights of the day for us was definitely Karl Fast’s exploration of deep interaction. It was a subject thaat designers, user experience experts and developers could all relate to, as it stripped back the ideas process to the most simple of parts. Although you could argue that there is not a right or wrong way to ‘think’, when looking at some of the world’s greatest thinkers and inventors they were constantly surrounded by scraps of paper, scribbles on blackboards and essentially rubbish! All these things, however, don’t point to untidiness, but the deep relationship between the thought process and any source of output. It is essential for the thought process to manifest itself to work – quite the opposite to the idea of the professor sitting quietly just thinking.

All in all, we gained a lot from the wide ranging and highly useful set of seminars, most importantly the impetus to carry out further research to develop our own internal processes.