The past two days I had quite a positive experience at this year’s UX Australia and I cannot recommend how important that everyone next year attend. This is not your normal conference; I mean I have been to many conferences ranging from your barcamps, webjams, adobe maxs, techeds, techreadies, sxsw, mix, wwdc and so on. Sure, these conferences have different pockets of value but in the end, I would confess they were mostly good drinking and social gatherings rather than brain candy. UX Australia for me was 100% street university, where I walked around and felt like I was the dumbest person in the room (which for me is rare thing - after all I am humble ) and I loved it.
Here are some take-always from the conference regarding the art of being a User Experience practitioner.
Trust is still broken.
A few years ago, the Silverlight team spent a tidy sum of money to figure out what the word “designer” actually meant. The main aim of this was to not only size the market but also get a better understanding as to what roles exist under this broad term and how we could position Expression and Silverlight into their wallets / hands.
The research that we got back outlined that the concept of a designer is not merely a person who creates pixels day in day but someone who goes beyond that – information architects, accessibility experts, prototypers, animators and so on. Their role in enterprise corporations either can be an embedded entity within a cluster of developers, or centralized away from developers.
At the time of the research the initial thoughts were that this was part of the designer evolution, that somehow over time this would blur away from its current state into this mutated “devigner” style creation which in turn would have the bloodlines of both design and developer (segregation shall be removed!).
The last two days, the more I listened to speakers and various conversations the more I started to realize it is probably had the opposite effect. Trust is still not in place and one would say that designers are the ones who are now soliciting developers & management to embrace design. I found that thought the most profound of all as in 2008 we at Microsoft were sending guys like Shane Morris (amazing presenter & UX thought leader) into agencies to solicit them to help developers.
Throughout the entire conference, a theme emerge where it was essentially based around the idea that designers in large corporations need to have a central rally point, stop duplicating work and form a gang. Designers also need to pick small fights and build out from there, ware your opponents down through design based pestering power initially. Lastly educate the developers, as on the basics of design in the hope they will come around to our way of thinking (as if you were missionaries preaching the gospel of Christ to a tribe of engineers).
Trust is still is an ongoing battle between business owners, engineering and designers. For instance, I had noticed that at times speakers would talk about their experience with developers, but in a way that often sounded like “so I showed the natives fire, get this, they made me their god”. The tone was in a little way a bit offensive but at the same time I did chuckle as when I go to developer conferences they also talk in the same way – it has as if both gangs cannot agree the other is smarter or just as talented. Until both sides can look each other in the eye as equals, I sadly see developers being treated like children prone to irrational decision making and designers as being premadonnas who procrastinate on unimportant things – just make it look pretty.
Note: Not everyone thinks like this, it is just my voiced summary of what I see before me.
Developers and Designers are not the ones at fault.
Continuing with the trust issue, the other noticeable theme I saw emerge was that there was a lot of discussion about how does one get developers to slow down and work with designers. That is to say how to ensure developers value the work of a designer in an office more rather than looking for ways to bypass them unless being told to work with them.
Here is the problem here that I see; firstly, developers and designers are not the ones that need convincing to work on great product(s) – a developer in a cubicle or a designer does not decide Deadlines. Secondly, a Product manager or Product Owner is the ones who typically hold the two entities purse strings and are the ones who decided the said deadline(s). Having a product owner on the side of design is critical no matter what organization you sit in as it not only ensures you have designer buy-in but you also take the pressure off developers from running the shipping gauntlet (agile really only helps you break up the pressure in ‘chunkable’ pieces – yes I made that word up).
In my experience, I have always been able to win hearts & minds with design by focusing on the future instead of today that is you sit down and think about what would make a product owner convert to your cause. The answer is fantasy user interfaces which in turn set the goal posts on “what if we had unlimited time and money, how would we change the world”.
A fantasy user interface can provoke a product owner to think beyond their current limitations, it provides them with a vision of what could happen if they relaxed their tight grip on shipping. A Fantasy User interface could also be used to help sell others both internal & external on what could happen vNext.
My point is everyone is rushing around dating each other in the developer <-> designer cubicles when in reality a designer who paints a vision of the future can in turn create a sense of purpose that transcends beyond what they see before them today. It creates an atmosphere of winning team mixed with “I so want to work on that idea” – assuming the design is good. Lastly if you have everyone thinking positive about design, the laggards or negative jaded souls tend to fall back into line or better yet make themselves known with “cant or but” responses. As once they show themselves, you know who they are and can start to formulate a plan to contain their negativity or resistance.
The conference was amazing, I did learn a lot and there was only one negative, which was that the conference only ran for two days instead of say five. I think there was a lot of intelligent and useful data that floated around within the room that was untapped furthermore it wasn’t a case of the usual echo chamber speakers that pretty much tell you the usual “web accessibility / usability 101” rules. The speakers were insightful, funny, energetic, presented flawlessly and lastly but most importantly trustworthy. I never once questioned their credibility or integrity as it was if you were sitting down with someone at dinner who then shares a story with you about something they learned yesterday.
I absolutely enjoyed every minute of it and I would urge anyone in Australia or internationally to jump on a plane and hang out with these cool kids.
Tomorrow I am excited about some new ideas that I want to execute on for my work and I am in a fortunate position where my manager believes in the importance of design already whilst at the same time the developers in all cities are also excited to see what we can all achieve.