Lessons learned at UXIndia 2017

Stefan Ivanov / Wednesday, December 13, 2017

An independent overview of the biggest UX conference in India

Back in August I was sitting at my desk when the following thought struck me: I am more than halfway into 2017. I’ve done a lot of work but haven’t learned very much. With just a few months until the end of the year, for a UX designer and researcher aiming to be at the top of his game, this didn’t seem very promising. I spent a rigorous few hours searching for a high-quality event at a reasonable price and came across UXIndia.

The 2017 edition of the conference was held in Bangalore, India and offered an amazing line up of speakers, sharing their teachings in four parallel tracks over the course of four days. Day one offered full-day workshops. Day two presented us with morning and afternoon half-day workshops. Days three and four were dedicated to the seminar part with a few keynotes and panel discussions, many 30-minute talks and lightning talks, findings from a survey on the UX industry in India and a design awards competition. In this blog, I will let you see the conference through my eyes and learn from the talks I was able to attend.

Speaker answering questions during one of the sessions

More than 50 speakers, offering 12 workshops, 8 keynotes and more than 20 seminar sessions were featured at UXIndia17. Image attributed to https://www.flickr.com/people/uxindia/ .

As a speaker, I was able to attend all four days of the conference, and on Wednesday I was with Steve Fadden to refreshing my knowledge about research. During the course of the day, we went through a myriad of different techniques and had the time to practice them within small teams. We practiced user observation and listening skills before diving into interviews and CIT – the Critical Incident Technique. Our team loved another exercise called the reaction cards technique, for which we picked a problem, the organization of a bachelor party, and one available solution for it to evaluate through the emotional reactions it evoked in a user coming from another team. The fun part was that we didn’t have to explain the problem because the other party had picked the same one. Afterwards, we spoke about the Kano Survey, Delphi Methods and Feature-Cost Tradeoff techniques. We ended the day with some techniques and research tips to help UX designers organize workshops:

  1. Get real data from real people
  2. Use proxies when the real user is impossible to get
  3. Use agencies to run your study according to your design when you cannot be physically with the user
  4. Be careful when ordering techniques and exercises to avoid potential bias
  5. Always pilot test your study
  6. Don’t forget to debrief after each user as soon as the session is over
  7. Triangulate opinions when doing qualitative research

Our team sitting around the table and working with reaction cards

Our team working with reaction cards in Steve Fadden’s workshop. Image attributed to the author.

My second day began with a little bit of sweat as I had to run my Measuring Usability workshop before lunch. I provided an overview of different approaches, focusing on Controlled Experiments - hypotheses, dependent and independent variables, experimental design, running a usability study and analyzing its results. The parts that people loved the most, however, were the unmoderated usability studies with Indigo Studio prototypes and the Indigo Designed Cloud The afternoon was more relaxed for me in the hands of Mario and Oon from Foolproof, practicing storytelling through understanding the user and using established storytelling frameworks such as Pixar’s 22 rules. The nice thing was that we were able to use many of the interviewing techniques from day one to collect user insights about a problem and then apply what we learned to craft a story depicting their experience.

Friday offered a few exciting keynotes and many interesting lightning talks. What stood out to me was the keynote from Christopher Noessel offering a framework for agentive technology. His prediction that we will change perspective “from tool users to task managers” still echo in my mind. Later that morning it was again time for Steve Fadden to share his insights about the role of the designer, touching on the ethical aspects of our job and the responsibility we bear. A lightning case study by Rob Varney demonstrated how they designed an online experience for purchasing a car in the UK that included all the necessary paperwork with the exception of signing the final papers at the car dealership. In the afternoon, I also listened with excitement to Yuseung Kim, who, before joining Salesforce to work on data visualizations, was contracted to design the heads-up display for the Iron Man movies. The last talk of the day that struck my interest was a local speaker, Hetal Jeni, a design manager at TATA consulting who paralleled the internal design processes to DevOps under the name DesOps. She also told a little bit of the story of their internal Design System, which was really interesting given all the noise around this topic lately. If you are new to design systems, I warmly recommend Alla Kholmatova’s book on the topic.

Panelists on stage giving their ideas about the necessary skills for a UX designer to be successful

One of the panels which caused everyone to burst in laughter but at the same time touched serious topics like the need to unlearn certain things to be successful in UX. Image attributed to the author.

The final day offered a few different types of sessions. The morning keynote, by Kevin Cannon, described smart homes and the IoT through the eyes of a UX designer. I’d summarize his talks in his words saying that “we need to have empathy for the machine” in order to design in this area. In order to be successful when it comes to wider adoption, we have to follow the simple formula: HAPPINESS > MONEY + PAIN. There were some really interesting panels that day with people sharing how they avoid falling into silos and personal design strategies and attitudes. Interestingly, the topic of continuous learning was brought up and immediately countered with the suggestion that we need to also continuously unlearn certain things to be successful UX designers. The final keynote for the day was so honest and emotional that it made a deep impact on many in the audience. Caitlyn Phillips told us the story of her life and how she eventually lost her way before finding design as her true calling. It was a very nice ending of the conference for me when she asked us, as designers, to “create experiences that impact and change the world for the better”.

In Bangalore this fall, I developed skills I didn’t possess before, dusted off some rusty, almost forgotten strengths, and made tons of friends. I love attending such events and meeting people because I feel richer in many aspects every time I return home. Stay tuned for my next blog, where I’ll explain my reasons for being so interested in conferences.