My 3 top takeaways from UX Australia

By: Kat Ekberg
Date: October, 2016
File under: Articles

In August earlier this year, I attended my first UX Australia conference. I was impressed at how many of the talks involved research topics. I was also impressed at how engaging all the talks I attended were. To be honest, coming from a research background, most presentations affirmed what I already knew. However, there were some that were far more thought provoking.

As such, I wanted time-out to think about what I learned – and how U1 Group can apply some of the key trends discussed at the conference. Now that I’ve had a month to reflect, here are my three top key takeaways from UX Australia.

An extension of taking a holistic approach

Many Aussie UXers have been working with a more holistic view of the user’s experience. One specific talk I enjoyed was ‘Crafting Purposefully Distinct Experiences’. It discussed how brand interactions can influence a user and how a user influences a brand.

In my last post ‘Context is crucial: Where anthropology meets UX’, I wrote about the implications of having a narrow focus and only looking at user’s journey stopping when it’s no longer digital. Including a brand’s story in the approach was an extra level of inclusion that I hadn’t explored too deeply. This added some nice depth to my understandings of ‘holistic.’ A brand story that is influenced by customers’ stories was a nice flip for me. It was refreshing to visualise the user as the main protagonist with the brand assisting them on their journey, instead of the brand dictating the terms of the story.

This reconceptualisation of a brand being what the user needs it to be was really interesting. It also added to my understandings of how we can strategically help our clients better understand their role in their users lives. Importantly, I’m now considering the types of brands our clients are and how they align with what users want them to do (or be) and, excitingly, how can we help them to align better.

Take it back to basics

I’ve been doing a lot of concept testing with our banking clients recently, where we’ve needed to tackle some interesting abstract concepts. I saw some really great parallels with Gabriel White’s presentation ‘Sending money home: Designing for financial inclusion’ in that, the best way to explain a concept is in the simplest and basic way possible. Not because the user isn’t smart enough to understand the concept, but because it is so open to personal interpretation and relies on implied knowledge.

One of Gabriel’s core questions was, ‘How do you design for people who are not familiar with financial concepts?’ This really struck a chord with me. Although his question was in the context of people who have never heard of a bank account (or understand what we would consider fundamental banking concepts), it made me think of the increase in complexity of the tasks we’re looking at helping our clients with (most obviously, how we communicate new concepts in finance).

I agreed with three key points raised by Gabriel.

  • Firstly, words matter (language). We can’t rely on conceptual understanding on what we think a word (or a series of words) means. Sometimes words in different contexts, can mean different things.
  • Secondly, ensure you are enforcing learning through doing. The user needs build knowledge and experience as they work through a task or revisit it.
  • Thirdly, focus and reassurance is crucial (i.e. tell the user that they did it right/that it worked).

What Gabriel’s presentation highlighted to me was that although concepts in banking are getting more complex, we still need to ensure that we cover the basics which include: language, learning through doing and focus and reassurance. By doing so, users will be better able to grasp the more complex concepts they’ll face in the future.

We need to slow down if we’re really going to get to the “whys”

Lastly, but also importantly was Michael Palmyre’s ‘Ethnographic methods don’t make an ethnographer: Looking past the quotes’. The presentation was a timely reminder to me to slow down. Michael, a fellow anthropologist, reiterated to me that only when we slow down and take the time to do methods (like ethnography) do we get to the deep-seeded ‘slow culture’. This is where you understand concepts like value systems, deep influences and embodied knowledge, which are far more powerful and have longer relevance.

There is a constant push in UX to do our research quickly, however in doing so we can only capture ‘fast culture’ things like surface activity, fads and pop culture. The nature of fast culture means that the interfaces we test will only have short-term relevance. I think that there is great scope in slowing the process down to assist our clients to be more strategic and have longer-term relevance in the fast moving realm of UX.

There were many interesting presentations at UX Australia this year. However, the three highlighted above were the ones where I saw the most potential to be beneficial to the type of work that we do at U1. They’ve helped me think about how I can better approach my work and help to solve client problems. I’m really excited to tackle more complex and strategic UX and CX issues with these takeaways in mind when dealing with my projects going forward.


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