I had a great day at UX Bristol, it was a great mix of workshops and talks with plenty to keep you interested. This is a little roundup from the sessions I took notes in. Not all of them I’m afraid, but hopefully it provides a taster.
The first workshop I chose was Designing geo-located apps with Jo Reid and Tom Melamed from Calvium.
Tom & Jo have been exploring the area of geo-located apps for quite a while, I think mostly in the form of enhancing walking tours. Having tried the decrepit hardware audio tours you tend to get at various venues, I’ve wanted this sort of thing on my phone for ages.
In some cases the story you hear through an (iPhone) app is based on your location, to the point where you control it by walking around rather than tapping buttons, the ‘pocket’ experience.
What they found works best is a simple and polished app to that helps give some depth to the experience. For example the City of London iOS app.
Some practical tips I noted were:
- A lot of this comes down to content design, e.g. starting with most interesting facts and then providing an extended description for people who are interested, i.e. don’t walk away.
- Geo-fencing is a bit hit and miss, as iOS only checks every 10/15 minutes, so you could miss things. Android checks more often but can kill the battery.
- These days, you need marketing budget equal to dev budget to get your app recognised, finding these apps can be an issue.
- You still need a good (browse) experience when you are not there, the ‘arm chair’ mode. E.g. have a timeline version.
As part of the workshop we tried to create our own concepts for an app for the Bristol Harbour. We had some interesting ideas, but I have a feeling some of them were less than practical!
There were a few unanswered (or unanswerable) questions, such as:
- Could you create an app that would work in groups, e.g. families? Could you sync it across devices, perhaps with one person leading it?
- What more can we do to this genre to make it more accessible?
- Would alternative triggers work for within-building tours like museums, e.g. bluetooth, QR codes or NFC?
Overall it seemed like the biggest problem is people knowing they are available, the physical-digital disconnect. It seems as though a pre-built framework or meta-service might solve this problem? I.e. the user downloads one app (e.g. “Walking tours of Britain”) and venues like City of London subscribe to the service and add their content in a pre-defined way.
A bit like WordPress.com for walking tours!
Rock, paper, scissors: Multimodal information design
Alastair Somerville works in physical accessibility, tactile design, tactile formats, mapping, graphics, and he brought us into that world.
Alastair outlined some of the difficulties in using other modalities (i.e. touch, sound, smell). Confusion is an issue, e.g. a square with a rounded edge can be interpreted as a circle, and vice-versa. In fact, the body deliberately tries to ignore a lot of touch.
Sound is very good for enhancing, but easy to confuse people with.
Vision is the most dodgy of the senses, where we have the most stuff being blocked in automatically by the mind simplifying it’s life. The majority of what you see is filled in from previous data.
Our exercise was to use touch and/or audio to communicate a message, ours was “you think your boss is an idiot”. One team member was a ‘listener’, and the rest of us had to use objects on the table to communicate our message. We tried it out with the listener, and then we had to communicate our message at the show and tell.
Metaphor is often the key to the communication, language is essentially a metaphor, but here we are using the language of objects, e.g. softness/hardness. It is a lot harder than language.
A major (and needed) clue was the context Alastair setup: All the messages will be in the context of office life.
The major lesson from the workshop was confusion, highlighting the complexity of communicating with alternative senses. Some of the teams were pretty successful, unfortunately we were not:
The task is very difficult, the senses are not strong enough to sustain the concepts, even with some context.
Communicating emotion through touch is doable, but information is almost impossible unless you add audio.
There are huge advantages to multimodal, but you will encounter confusion so it needs a lot of testing.
- Watch timing of events
- Understand hierarchy of senses
- Allow for distraction
- Realise user have different sensory preferences
- Watch out for culture specific metaphors.
- Augment UX through many senses
- Add new emotional levels
- Enable to doors to experience
- Create new journeys
We can learn a lot from the experience of people with impairments as alternative modes is used more for them.
UX and physical products
I was very interested in this talk from Mathias who works at Volvo.
Why is he at Volvo? Because of the merging of physical and digital. There is a team of 18 UXers there now, although initially it seemed to be grafted on, he outlined how there was overlap with the traditional methods in the car industry.
The car industry has traditionally been about shaping things, e.g. clay modelling. However, these days most of the dials are going digital, rather than physical. They use all sorts of sensors: cameras, laser, radar, ultrasonic and more.
He stressed that you have to master the whole domain, the UX of the dashboard doesn’t matter if the safety system fails!
They do tend to start with a typical brief, although, they have some different KPIs…
Typical benchmark in a brief: “Will less people be killed”!! E.g. on a long journey from Sweden to France.
One of their goals is to keep people in optimum driving performance, not bored and sleepy, not distracted.
They often use Kano model for how to choose between features.
Volvo often we involve ‘users’ (drivers?), even before the UX team was added Volvo already did some forms of user-evaluation, e.g. building clay models that people evaluated.
However, there are so many variables just when driving around a parking lot, any sort of comparison is very difficult.
Mathias outlined the four common things that kill people in a car:
Speed, drugs (alcohol), boredom, and distraction.
They have been exploring some interesting ideas to prevent this:
- Speeding: solution is control. I got 3 tickets because the car is so quiet and feels like you are in control! The car should tell me I’m speeding, we can show the speed signs in the UI, or the speedometer could have a red bar when you are over the speed limit.
- Boredom: There could be face recognition to detect sleekness, and display coffee icon! But, would you buy a device that tells me to get out and stop using it?
- Distraction, e.g. texting is an awful thing, but we need to design around this and prevent people from needing to do it, as just telling them doesn’t work.
Launching probes and releasing trojan mice
Note that UX people often go into the ‘how’, the experience, rather than whether we should do something. Sometimes you need to define the right problem.
Different people involved see things differently, how to we de-mystify? (Known-knowns quote from Rumsfeld.)
In the early stages you are an explorer, you can only see a certain amount of the scenery. How do you probe the map?
From a UX point of view we might use cultural probes, e.g. diaries, ethnography.
We need business probes as well, in various forms. Could be after information, innovation, discussion, even disruptions.
Technique: go from a mission statement (for the project) into a tweet.
Ideally people from each dept & stakeholders. Get them to read it out in turn. Then you move to elevator pitch, and you start seeing a pattern emerging.
Then in a tweet, you see the nub. It’s great for aligning people.
Technique: 5 Whys.
Technique: Reversal, e.g. suggest Macdonalds for lunch, everyone agrees that’s the worst idea, and they come up with better ones quickly.
Technique: The Van Halen test: ask for no brown M n Ms. It wasn’t rock n role excess, it was a probe to see if they had read things, as they might have missed important things to do with the sound system and lighting.
Concept by Peter Meyer, they are a kind of probe.
Trying to change an organisation can be very slow (shows picture of a large tanker).
Sometimes you need to change the organisation to sustain the product you’ve created.
A trojan horse is big. Often get change form top-down, e.g. going from waterfall to agile.
They launch at scale, but then often don’t gain enough traction.
Trojan mice are from complex adaptive systems. E.g. weather systems.
Lots of agents to change the system (variables?). At best you are estimating what would happen. Organisations are like that.
Lots of moving parts.
It is about doing small, focused, inconspicuous things. (See slide)
- Visibility: put it on a wall and getting people in to see it, invite them in.
- Co-creation / co-location.
- As said by others, guerrilla user-research videos edited together and put in front of stakeholders.
- Or way of showing what competitors are doing.
Guerrilla tactics to get things going.
Always be asking: is this the right problem to solve?
Change the organisation to make a better product, or support what you’re making.
Clare Reddington presented this, she’s from the Watershed’s Pervasive media studio:
Playable city is our answer to future/smart cities, it’s our anti-efficiency drive!
We wanted to make something that wasn’t a city-centre game for hipsters.
You text an object to wake it up, and have a short conversation.
Pan studio created it, I exec-produced it, but it is mostly their considerations.
We went with the simplest mechanism possible: text message.
We did consider other methods, but each involves too many steps.
Certain ‘game’ mechanics worked better than others, e.g. not trying to (fake) answer questions. We also gave the street furniture personalities, e.g. the post boxes are administrative.
We also found it was better to say nothing that the wrong thing. For example, the weather terms cloud and clear are not useful, as they don’t work at night. Using those terms at night would make it seem stupid.
It was designed to be best for the one-time player, and you have to design for biggest audience.
We thought about who the competitors to this game are. Essentially it was things like eating ice creams and looking at Gromits. Therefore we needed to get it right the first time.
We also found that people’s relationships are not with their device, but with their billing system! Therefore we kept it to 3 texts as the standard interaction.
Important to test this in the city, as things always break and behave differently.
We were not sure what success looks like, we thought if 1,000 people play that would be great. In a few days there have been 1,100 plays, 4,500 messages, 650 players, 420 objects woken up.
People have been playing with kids, on the way to work, etc.
in 4 days, people are already hacking the system. Someone was using it to speed the word about libraries, so now someone is using it for marketing!
That kind of emergent behaviour is important.
We get questions about funding, and it is mostly sponsors money that is paying for it.
We may have also (unwittingly) created a city analytics tool. People say how they are feeling in different areas of the city. There are plenty of yellow banners around, and some bill boards are more effective than others.
We could even do a playful ‘fix my street’?
Recently we signed a deal with Brazil to take it out there.
From a small delicate project, this make me very happy.