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FreshEgg at UX Brighton 2011

Alex G

For those designers and user researchers lucky enough to attend the second UX Brighton conference, last Friday proved to be a feast of ideas. A few of the FreshEgg crew were in the audience and thoroughly enjoyed a day of insight and inspiration.

The range of the day’s topics was broad, from Robin Dunbar's  sometimes delightful - sometimes startling - data about our global village, to Mike Atherton's rethinking of information architecture, through to Cennydd Bowles' vision of the wider web. The common thread among the talks, if any was to be found, was limits; those defined by our physicality, cognition and ability to form social bonds, and those we place, often artificially, on technology.

Some highlights from the presentations follow below.

For many, Robin Dunbar's talk on the boundaries of our social networks was the standout event of the day. Dunbar's hard data put a very real cap on the number of meaningful humans bonds and showed how these can be nurtured - through laughter, music, ritual and shared traits. The anthropologist framed his presentation as a challenge to the designers and technologists in the audience: to consider the realities of human relationships when building interfaces meant to develop and strengthen them.

Andrea Resmini and Mike Atherton rounded off the morning’s talks. Using creative metaphors along the way, Andrea shone light on how users’ goals are often fragmented by product designers across channels - websites, mobile apps, call centres. Using creative metaphors, Andrea defined some high level principles for creating successful cross-channel experiences: correlation, reduction, place-making, consistency and resilience. Mike’s talk on domain modelling, framed around his work at the BBC, underlined the importance of starting any UX project with an understanding of users, experts and the canonical nature of the “thing” we’re trying to represent.

Using beautifully illustrated slides, Simon Johnson set out to undermine the clichés of technology usage among older adults. Simon noted that despite certain attitudes and physical limitations, older adults are enthusiastic consumers of technology, and see it as a way to remain relevant and included in society – and should therefore be considered in the design process.

The next slot was heroically filled by John Mildinhall, a last-hour replacement for Hubert Anyzewski, who was unwell. John spoke about the return on investment in design and took us through some impressive challenges his team at Electronic Ink have tackled. Maria Ana Neves followed, introducing us to the Thinking Hotel, a new way to drive innovation through collaboration between industries and disciplines.

Giles Colborne, meanwhile, reminded us that the ability to multitask is a myth; and that while random-reward systems like Twitter and email are often the most successful, they fragment of our users' limited attention and make them less productive.

When building UIs, we risk splitting the web into its mobile and desktop editions, assigning artificially fixed traits to each -so noted Cennydd Bowles in the final talk of the day. Cennydd argued that rather than becoming bogged down in bandwidth and screen size, we should focus on content and context of use instead. This is the only way we can ensure we’re designing for the wider, future web.

And with the final applause, the after-party beckoned. Hats off to organisers James Page and Danny Hope for a fantastic, varied day. We’re already looking forward to next year.

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