User Experience in one day

I think it was on the last day of the UX in Libraries conference back in March that @JamesAE asked me whether I thought it possible to deliver the core of the material we had covered over three days in just one day. I replied quite quickly that I didn’t think it was, either because I was a) very tired; b) on another planet by that point in the event; or c) because I find I can’t help myself saying ‘No’ before I say ‘Yes’ (ask my former colleague @angefitzpatrick). Anyway, it turned out that I almost immediately had cause to eat my words.

Sweets, flowers and lots of groupwork (the UX in Libraries conference)

I was asked the same question a few days later by someone who had missed the conference and although I was still on ‘No’ in my head I said ‘maybe’ out loud and subsequently started to seriously think how it could be achieved. I knew that practical engagement and interaction with the topic by actually carrying out some UX research methods (ethnography, human-centred design, idea generation) would have to be a key part of such a training event, but might that be too overwhelming in a day?

I thought back to the time when I first properly engaged with ethnographic techniques back in late 2013 and remembered that I was all too ready to learn as much as I could about them in a very short space of time because they were so different to anything else I’d encountered and – to me at any rate – completely compelling. Perhaps others would feel the same and be happy to engage intensively? Besides, I reasoned, the methods themselves are very different to each other and,  just as importantly, a lot of fun to try out and therefore perfect for a practical day’s course.

Taken just before my opening keynote

What about a keynote talk? Well for a variety of reasons I didn’t keynote UX in Libraries – mainly because I had more than enough to do managing the conference’s overall organisation, but I felt sure I could kick off a day’s course with a decent keynote  –  which would introduce new ideas, ask some difficult questions, and set the scene.

Some weeks later I found myself in the happy position of having to work out the remaining problems associated with translating three UX days into one rather quickly, because I found myself hired by Lancaster University to deliver a day’s training on the topic for their entire library staff! After saying ‘yes’ (I always get to ‘yes’ eventually!), my biggest concern became how to include an observational fieldwork element especially as we would be out at a remote conference centre away from, well, anyone!  My solution was to bring people to the conference centre, not in person, but via a video on the web of 11 minutes in the life of a busy shopping street. I didn’t know it then but this would become my favourite part of the event.

During the How Now Wow!  idea generation session
During the How Now Wow! idea generation session

Thankfully @senorcthulhu was available and willing to join me on this new ‘UX in a day’ venture. Her involvement was vital as after my keynote the day was structured into three parallel workshops so we could each work with 20-25 people at a time. I would never have agreed to dealing with 45-50 people alone especially given how interactive I was planning the day to be.

I planned for six break-out team and individual activities in all, peppered throughout the day to keep the energy up throughout and to ensure true engagement with the subject matter, as follows:

  • direct observation (of the aforementioned busy shopping street) – recording of fieldnotes and reporting back on the experience (thanks to @DonnaLanclos for the inspiration), including discussion of how their experience would have been difficult had they actually been observing and recording in that street (participatory observation);
  • writing love letters or break-up letter to products, services or spaces (for which the audience was encouraged to find space outside the conference centre to pen their efforts);
  • directed storytelling practice in threes with a participant, a researcher, and a recorder;
Groups having a go at directed storytelling
Groups having a go at directed storytelling
  • drawing cognitive maps of day-to-day working lives;
  • a creative idea-generation post-it note exercise to focus on improvements to library services;
  • and using the How-Now-Wow! and How Might We design techniques in order to frame and consider ideas for new services based around how original and achievable they were.

After all of the above, the two groups came back together at the end of the day for a plenary discussion of the value of UX methods and to hear what each participant had got out of the day. A great deal it transpired, and as well as hearing about which methods they hoped to try out back at base, it was particularly gratifying to learn that through trying out these new techniques together they also felt closer and more united as a team.

Lancaster University Library staff at the start of the day
The Lancaster University Library team at the start of the day

What were my own personal takeaways though? Firstly that I should have included an active photo studies element as I’d originally planned, to further ward off the inevitable post-lunch slump. Secondly that attendees loved the observational elements and discussion around what was objective and what was subjective far more than I expected and that the video option was a very viable substitute for actual fieldwork. And finally given the feedback I’ve received that @JamesAE was dead right… it is possible to teach UX methods meaningfully in one day.

This was my second gig up in Lancashire in the same year and both experiences were great, largely thanks to the warm welcome I was given on both occasions. I hope to be back up there again soon.

I’m going to end with the same photo I ended my introduction with on the day – a sign from in front of the conference venue presumably left over from a recent wedding:

happilyeverafterAll the tweets from the day can be found under #UXLanc



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