UX Camp Brighton 2011

I got along to my first BarCamp event last weekend, and it was a wonderfully energetic and enlightening day.

Last Saturday was the hottest October day on record. Instead of lighting the barbecue on this unusually balmy Autumn day, I opted to spend it in a design studio with fifty other geeks to debate, sketch, and share knowledge across the many facets of user experience design; it was well worth the sunny sacrifice!

UX Camp Brighton was the closing event of the Brighton Digital Festival, and the first BarCamp focused specifically around the subject of user experience design to have been held in the city. Kindly hosted by the friendly folk at Cogapp, the schedule would see sessions ranging from the history of camera UI to debate around the meaning (and usefulness) of the ‘UX designer’ job title.

The BarCamp format itself is wonderfully simple.

  1. Get in early to grab a free ticket (this inaugural event sold out in under thirty minutes).
  2. Think of a topic for presentation or discussion.
  3. Turn up on the day and jot a description of your session on a Post-It.
  4. Add your session name to the time/room grid (there are typically 5-8 rooms available per time slot).
  5. Attend sessions that catch your eye outside of your presentation slot; contribute, share and discuss when invited to.
  6. Present your own session at the time on the grid, making sure not to overrun.

I’d never been to a BarCamp before. Although often tempted, questioning whether I’d have something original enough to present had always held me back from taking part. However, with some encouragement from a colleague who was co-organising the event that my idea sounded suitable enough, I decided to bite the bullet and set to work on some slides.

It was great to see such a diverse range of talks on the board after the scramble for slots; choosing is the only tricky bit with the BarCamp format. With five sessions running concurrently throughout the day, attendees are encouraged to spread themselves around, perhaps taking a punt on something they wouldn’t typically select.

I’d already earmarked a couple of sessions to try and catch from the Lanyrd schedule, including Alex Goluszko‘s presentation about camera UI (which included a fantastic selection of vintage equipment to play with), and Andy Hume‘s ‘The cult of friendly URLs’. Very different topics, both equally enlightening.

Alex and Andy’s talks were the bookends of my day, so in-between sessions I took a quick glance at the grid to choose which room to hop to next. I managed to catch a couple of open discussions, including one focused on the continuing debate around the definition of UX itself, hosted by Cennydd Bowles. It proved just as tricky to conclude as it has on Twitter for several months, but Cennydd’s belief in the value of Digital Product Designer on our next batch of business cards feels like a comfortable and confident step in the right direction.

My own slot arrived just before lunch. For my first BarCamp I decided to combine two areas of interest I would feel comfortable I could speak convincingly about – interaction design and the automobile industry; I’m a bona fide car geek. My talk discussed some of what the automobile industry does well in the area of user experience (service design, engineer/designer relationships), picked off a few easy targets as examples of what it does badly (dangerous dashboard design, iDrive), and ended by discussing some of the opportunities for UX designers in an industry which is changing rapidly.

I really enjoyed the experience, particularly the brief Q&A which followed in which several other examples of successes in automotive UX were explored. I hope to write up some more thoughts around the subject of my talk at some point, but If you want to take a look at what I discussed on the day my slides are available on Speakerdeck.

From a practical point of view, one of the standout talks for me was by Rob Pearson, who presented some fantastic techniques for quantifying subjectivity. As a designer who spends the majority of my time focused around the visual end of the spectrum, I know this can be a particularly tricky area. The methods Robert presented to place some metric around the emotional response to visual design are simple. The client completes a questionnaire made up of opposing pairs on a scale (e.g. contemporary vs traditional), and by choosing values either side of the ‘neutral’ middle for existing and proposed designs, a visualisation of this data can be plotted against the client’s ‘ideal’ value to measure the success of our work. UX designers are in the business of providing evidence to support decisions, and this simple solution brings just that to an area of design where taste and subjectivity can too often make or break success. I highly recommended checking out Rob’s slides from his talk.

My first BarCamp experience was an entirely positive one. Not only was the friendly and inclusive atmosphere great for meeting new people, it also fostered a comfortable environment for discussion and debate, and I left with a head full of ideas and techniques I’m eager to share.

Roll on UX Camp Brighton 2012.