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Careering around at the UK UXPA

“He’s actually really nice”

Notwithstanding the fact that any address that ends in ‘Canary Wharf’ seems to disappear into the Bemuser Triangle the closer I get to it and that on this occasion I wasn’t alone in trying to locate an enormous shiny building that was right in front of me, I made it along to the UK UXPA careers event yesterday at the Thomson Reuters building somewhere in, well, Canary Wharf, along with a number of extraordinary colleagues from Foolproofwho I can only describe as infinitely more approachable than myself. And Matt.
I had initially registered as an attendee, just because I was interested in the event anyway, but somehow become part of the official delegation, which mostly meant I had to carry Karen’s popup banner from Goswell Road to Canary Wharf. Either way, I’d really come to attend the panel discussion with Leslie Fountain, Andy Budd, and the most charming man in the world™, Giles Colborne, who were going to have a stab at discussing the vagaries of UX in the boardroom and what that means to business, businesses, management, aspiring management, new hires, prospective new hires, clients, projects, practice, vision, values, mission, goals, and how things smell.
At the same time as the panel, there was to be several rounds of speed-dating for prospective employers/recruiters and candidates/people of interest, which, as it turns out, would consist of some rather loud whistling, CVs, portfolios, elevator pitches, business cards, raised eyebrows, knowing glances, ticks in boxes and, by the end of the evening, more or less passing out on the corporate carpet. Taking part in one of these events requires a strong constitution and boundless enthusiasm. I wasn’t part of it.

And if that wasn’t enough, there was also some splendid UX booth kinda action in the main foyer, where I noticed Jason Mesut was delivering the kind of folio advice that can leave unsuspecting hopefuls in that curious state of super encouraged and mostly terrified about their future. That man knows what he’s talking about, children.
And if that that wasn’t enough wasn’t enough, there was more pork product than I think I’ve ever seen in one place and buckets of cold Prosecco, which would later be the cause of my Downfall-like self-castigation wandering rather too close to very deep water whilst frantically searching for the underground station that would take me to the train back to Norwich via Stratford, the official travel centre of the London 2012 Olympic park in association with A SHOP or something. For UX events at Canary Wharf are not your UX events in Shoreditch. I mean, I like hot lofts and crisps and everything, but corporations do hospitality as a core practice and they mostly do it very well. Thompson Reuters didn’t buck that trend.
But back to the panel. Leslie opened proceedings with some discussion points about what it means to provide leadership in UX businesses and, specifically, used the example of how this is manifest at Foolproof. Core to her proposition is that vision and values are critical in describing what your business is all about and enables internal stakeholders and staff to deliver toward that and understand why they do what they do in context of what that means to the company. Crucially, it also describes to the outside world – clients, customers, partners, candidates, friends – what the culture of the company is, what their aims are, and how they intend to pursue their goals, so that it becomes a shared imperative at the point where relationships are formed and ongoing engagements are managed. In other words, it enables you to say “this is who we are and this is where we’re going. If you like the look of that, lets have a conversation”.
I like Leslie. I like hearing her talk. I like her style. We’re going to do a double act.
What followed Leslie’s opener was a nicely animated discussion, which, in a nice touch, had Andy, Leslie and the most charming man in the world™;, Giles, perched on stools, like some awesome UX Westlife. There was even a spare stool next to Andy and I was sorely tempted to join them for an impromptu cover of a Jared Spool ballad or something, but resigned myself to kicking things off with the first question, which went something like “yeah, you say vision and values but really, people just ignore that stuff, innit?” Needless to say, it was pointed out that yes, that might often be true, but what we try and do is…
I only trailed off there because I can’t remember the answer correctly. But over the next 40 minutes or so, an awful lot of sense was spoken. I was particularly drawn to the passion and sincerity in Andy’s descriptions of how he makes his business decisions, runs his company and decides what to do and why. He was very honest about the learnings made from his mistakes and how he used those to make better decisions and, in particular, learn how to say no, which was a bit of recurrent theme. As ever, Giles was thoroughly entertaining, but because of the most charming man in the world™ thing, every time he spoke, I just kind a gawped at him like a headlit rabbit as the words came out and consequently missed a lot of what he actually said. He does tell a good story though.
And then I was done. I did get to speak to a number of people during the course of the evening who commented, as I felt, that this wasn’t like a normal UX event, because you get to speak to each other throughout, rather than at the end, which was all very convivial. I hope those bright-faced young prospectives got as much out of it as the gurn-faced old miseries (that’s me, by the way, just to be clear) did. Curiously, I also had a couple of people make the comment at the beginning of this post. That was about Andy. I’ve no idea how they might have thought otherwise.
Thanks to the UK UXPA for organising. Canary Wharf is sometimes a bit wrong, but last night there was a little place in the middle where everything was right.

Watching the prospectives at London IA

I was lucky enough to talk at the May London IA event a few days ago. Even better than that, I got to share the stage, well, I say stage, I shared the bit of floor at the front of the loft, with the most charming man in the world, Giles Colborne, and the most charming woman in the world, Johanna Kollmann. Unfortunately for them, they had to share the small walk around in front of the projector area with the most charmless dancing dad Soho misfit in the world, me. I’m prone to a bit of self-depreciation, but really, it was as much as I could do to breathe in for 30 minutes while I was up there before collapsing into a Stella at The Endurance and a subsequent face full of Ginsters on the steps of Centre Point like a lost corporate team-builder from the M4 corridor.

We’d gathered for a redux of the IA Summit, which took place in New Orleans earlier in the year. Johanna and I had presented at the summit at the same time – 8:30 on Sunday morning – and hadn’t seen each other speak, so it was great for us, and Giles had very kindly offered/volunteered/I dunno, been threatened with something to do a recap of a few of the highlights from the conference. It was going to be a good night even if nobody else turned up.

But turn up they did, and based on a quick show of the hands that people showed when asked, it seems that the vast majority of the attendees had never been to a London IA event before, which was very inspiring. Either that or they just didn’t like Martin waving his iPad at them saying “who’s been to one these before? Hmm? Matthew and I organize these you know! THEY’RE FREE!’ Either way, a lot of new faces is, to me, a very encouraging thing. Let’s be honest, you can go to events in London that are the physical manifestation of the echo chamber and although the people are extraordinarily nice and I would like many of them to be real friends that know what the sound of my voice is like, these events are excellent places to learn things you don’t know and see people you may have read say things out loud. Far be it from me to sound like some kind of curious Werthers Original style UX granddad shedding a small tear into my slippers when the young uns look up at the stage that isn’t a stage with those beady eyes of youth, pondering your gibberish like some unbounded grasshoppers, but it’s encouraging to see them sat in that loft, just BEING KEEN. *sniff*

So thank you to Martin and Matthew for organising and inviting me along, and thank you to Giles and Johanna for being charming and fascinating, and thank you to everybody who turned up and was polite and keen and asked lovely questions, and thank you to the weather for hailing on my legs as I cowered under a newsagent awning just before arriving, and thank you for listening, etc.

Slides from the IA Summit (On Slideshare):
Making sense of messy problems: Systems thinking for multi-channel UX by Johanna Kollmann
Designing the Mobile Wallet: A Case Study by Tim Caynes

Learning workshops at a workshop workshop

Last night I plodded through the rain from a full day of usability testing to attend the latest UXDO practical session at Fortune Cookie in Clerkenwell. I took a lot from the previous better writing session with Martin Belam and Cennydd Bowles, and was looking forward to this session on better workshop facilitation. A workshop workshop, if you will. One of the main draws of the event was, again, the quality of the speakers that Sjors Timmer had managed to line up. This time, Leisa Reichelt and Giles Colborne were leading the session. Any time I’ve seen them speak, either on a stage, or at a bar, they always have something valuable to pass on and have a great, engaging style that really draws you in.

Having scribbled my twitter name on a post-it note and stuck it on myself (UX event protocol these days) I joined the session a few minutes late and notwithstanding Jonty’s assertion that he was drinking all the beer, I managed to pick one up and get stuck in. Which is the point of the UXDO sessions – to just get involved with your peers and learn what you can from each other. As Leisa mentioned, many of us have run successful workshops and are happy facilitating, but there’s always an opportunity to share those experiences, listen to others and discover new techniques and approaches that might take you just slightly out of your comfort zone and help make you a more well-rounded practitioner.

The thrust of the evening was, for the 25 or so of us, to identify what the barriers are to us being successful in facilitating workshops and how we might come up with solutions to help us overcome or address them. That was done over a 2 hour sprint of a workshop by way of brainstorming, affinity sorting, defining problem statements, comparing, ranking and collating, discussion and identifying solutions and rolling it all back together again. We threw in a bit of KJ method and shared tips and techniques along the way and, in the end, came away pretty satisfied with our outputs. At least, I was pretty satisfied. I mean, it was a pretty unrealistic workshop set up, but it was really successful in exposing methods, focusing objectives, setting expectations and understanding the kind of issues that might need considering in most workshop scenarios.

Leisa and Giles are even writing the whole thing up, which is an admirable commitment to the UX cause. Thanks to them for facilitating a great evening of learning and sharing. I even managed to crash the UX after-party (pub), since I didn’t have to travel back to Norwich, and had a rather nice conversation about the UX of allotments with Leisa and shared a ‘we seem to be the last ones here’ moment with Boon and Jeff before heading back to the hotel in Euston to watch an extraordinary football match between FC Barcelona and Real Madrid on Spanish TV, which was rather less well facilitated than the workshop, it has to be said.