Macadamian Blog

3 Recurring Themes from UXCamp Ottawa III

Barbara Spanton

Looking back at the 3 major themes discussed at UXCamp Ottawa

UX Camp Ottawa 2012

If you weren’t among the 400 lucky people who filled the Ottawa Little Theater this past weekend for Macadamian-sponsored UXCamp III, then I’m afraid you missed out on a rather epic event. It would take a dozen blog posts to capture all the ideas that were shared (a lot is covered in 10.5 hours of UX talks) and the theatre was still packed at 6:30pm when Steve Portigal wrapped up the long day with his laughter-and-insight-filled talk.

Looking at the program, it would seem that each speaker was discussing entirely different areas of the UX field – and there was a huge range of topics covered. But their observations and conclusions seemed to focus around a handful of recurring themes that are really at the core of what’s happening in the UX world today.

Theme 1: The shift from features to experience
Almost every speaker touched on this topic, and it’s a hard one to not discuss these days. It’s no longer good enough to design a perfectly glossy set of tabs, or even the most fabulously intuitive mobile app. Even if every touchpoint with your customer is well-designed, the experience between those touchpoints needs to be considered as part of the experience a user perceives.

Nick Finck talked about making the cross-channel experience more seamless, and how we need to get beyond the notion that sales are won or lost in a single channel. Dana Chiswell similarly noted that we need to look beyond the digital experience, and look all the way from the call centre to the CEO.

Jared Spool put up a great slide, mapping the common trajectory of a product. Starting with an initial release with a few core features, through subsequent releases where additional features are added with reckless abandon and with no regard to the user’s experience, and finally to a streamlined product, optimized for real use, and with a strong focus on the user experience. Sadly, this final, great product is often released by a competitor, who isn’t weighed down with legacy issues and their own biases regarding what’s important.

Theme 2: Even the most boring things are getting attention from design, and that’s good
We’ve all noticed this – design is no longer reserved for the elite, or even for high-end products and services. Some of the most amazing examples of good design are in the most mundane areas of life, and perhaps that’s where we (designers) can have the most impact.

Dana gave a few good examples. The Swacket app really doesn’t do anything more than a standard weather app in terms of the information it provides, but it interprets the information to the delight of its users, and perhaps puts a smile on their face on a rainy day.

Gabor Vida had us look at the design attention given to ‘small problems’, solved by apps like Shazam, and Instagram. These are barely problems, in fact, but suddenly something as simple as finding out “Who sings this song….” is a treat for the senses.

Jared brought our attention to the Nest thermostat, and an income tax-filing app. Who would have it’s possible to bring delight to problems as mundane as regulating the temperature in your home, and filing your taxes?

Theme 3: We need to stop designing in a vacuum
There has been a lot of talk in recent years about integrating design with the other disciplines of product/service development, and that has certainly improved how we work. But it seems that we need to apply that kind of holistic approach to our own teams, and perhaps break down our own silos. Perhaps instead of compartmentalizing our skills, activities and roles, we need to just be ‘designers’.

Jared mapped out all the skills we need as ‘user experience designers’ and insisted that we’re doing ourselves, our customers (and ultimately, our end-users) a disservice if we’re only applying a few of those skills. He urged us to stop doing what we’re good at, to pick up the skills we’re lacking, and share our own strongest skills with our teammates.

A number of speakers talked about the power of co-design and collaboration. Jess McMullin encouraged us to do this not only within our teams, but also with people outside our design teams. He shared examples where Vancouver and Edmonton invited citizens to build their vision of the future of their cities, and how this allowed an individual’s model of reality to leave one’s head and be shared with others where the team as a whole could make better decisions, faster.

Finally, Steve Portigal ended the day talking about the Power of Bad Ideas. He had the attendees do a (hilarious) exercise where a bad idea was turned into a good idea. He shared how stepping out of what’s familiar and comfortable (in a safe and supportive environment) is the best way to challenge our assumptions and biases and to allow ourselves to be creative.

So, what does that mean for design these days?
It sounds like we need to become big-picture-thinking, generalist designers who bring delight to the most mundane aspects of everyday life by creating stellar end-to-end user experiences.

Who’s ready to take on the challenge?


Author Overview

Barbara Spanton

UX designer, runner, off-grid-cottager, wine drinker... not in any particular order. Schooled as an industrial designer, Barbara has spent the last 15 years in the software industry, designing interfaces for every user, platform, and industry imaginable. In recent years, her work has focused healthcare software. She has led the design (or redesign) of several EHRs, both desktop and mobile, and other health-related applications, while keeping the needs of the end users at the center of all discussions. Highly active in the UX community, Barbara teaches mobile design to the next generation of UXers, has been co-chairing Ottawa's wildly successful UXCamp for the past 5 years, and has a few other initiatives simmering at the moment. There is absolutely nothing else Barbara would rather be working on these days.