UX London Highlights

Posted by Trent Mankelow in conferences and events, statistics and trends on June 30, 2010

In May I was lucky enough to attend UX London. I thought I’d share some of the notes I took from four of the sessions I attended. (More speaker slides are available.)

Design for Engagement (keynote) – Jesse James Garrett

  • The difference between UX and other forms of design is that our work doesn’t take shape until the thing that we designed is used by someone. Use is what makes our work have meaning
  • It used to be that as a designer you used to have to really know your field, your medium. UX is about moving beyond the medium and thinking about the broader experience. The experience IS the medium
  • But experience is subjective, ephemeral, and intangible
  • Great experiences are about engagement, and engagement starts with the senses
  • Engagement of sight – the field of cinematography has a lot to teach us here
  • Engagement of hearing – this can take lots of different forms e.g. ‘Music for airports’ by Brian Eno engages without demanding the listeners attention, unlike Beethoven’s music
  • Engagement of touch – this is a bit alien for web designers
  • Engagement of smell – there is interesting potential here, especially for creating engagement in physical spaces
  • Engagement of taste – taste is subjective and ephemeral too
  • We also need to engage our sense of balance and motion. For example, the designers of Halo 3 made the decision to have very fluid player motion, compared with Mirror’s Edge which was designed to be have natural, jerky motion. But even hardcore gamers became violently ill playing Mirror’s Edge because it was so jerky
  • Engagement of the mind, through cognition, is well understood by most UX designers
  • Engagement of the heart – theme park designers have long understood how to engage the heart
  • We need to take into account the capabilities of the user within four realms – perception, action, cognition and emotion
  • We need to take into account the users’ constraints
  • We need to take into account the context
  • To understand what makes up experiences we need to do meaningful analysis
  • But we should also focus on synthesis and orchestration
  • “Music is the spaces between the notes” – Claude Debussy

Search Patterns – Peter Morville

  • These days, browsing simply doesn’t scale
  • Search is one of the most disruptive innovations of our time
  •  When searching for something important, it’s almost always a back-and-forth process
  • Search should evolve over time, it should be adaptive
  • Auto-complete is a good example of helping users before they get to their results
  • Real time search of Twitter lets users know when new results have appeared since they started
  • The results interface needs to be better designed
  • To create good quality content the creators need to have the right tools, processes and incentives
  • Cross-media integration (where one channel acts as the controller, like the iPod/iTunes combo) is going mainstream
  • We are seeing a collision between user experience & service design. For example, Zipcar turns cars into services
  • Service blueprints are necessary but not sufficient
  • Search is a “wicked problem”, it’s never done


The Art & Science of Seductive Interactions – Stephen Anderson (Slideshare)

Seduction is the process of deliberately enticing a person to engage in some sort of behaviour, like using the stairs instead of the escalator. Why does this video work?

  • Sensory integration appeals to all senses
  • Social proof
  • Novelty

“I’m a great application, if only people get to know me”. What if you have a great product, but

  • there is a high bounce rate
  • low adoption
  • no difference to the competition
  • not enough registered users


iLike is a great example of a seductive sign-up process (update: iLike was purchased by MySpace and is now offline)

  • It has a nice, usable registration form
  • But instead of asking you to name your favourite bands in a comma separated list, they show you a sample of artists you might like
  • At the bottom of the page, they say “show me more artists”
  • Stephen clicked on the “show me more artists” button 10 more times
  • iLike got lots of valuable data as a result

Why did this work?

  • Feedback loop – our actions modify subsequent results
  • Curiosity – what bands will show up next?
  • Visual imagery – big iLike button
  • Pictures of artists – this is important because we think visually (quick, how many appliances on your kitchen bench? Did you picture where they were?)
  • Pattern recognition
  • Recognition over recall

They also have the iLike challenge, a “Name this song” game where you have 30 seconds to identify the artist or the song title

  • The more quickly you answer the more points you get
  • They track your stats like “points to next rank”, average answer time and “best streak” and your rank ranges from “music intern” to “musical deity”
  • Stephen showed his to his wife – she was addicted

Why did this work?

  • Sensory experience
  • Status – how am I doing compared to others, compared to me?
  • Feedback loops
  • Appropriate challenges
  • Need for achievement

Try this exercise – in 60 seconds write down things you know about people. For example:

  • We’re curious
  • We don’t like to make choices, but we like choice
  • We’re lazy
  • We perceive people who are more attractive as more credible
  • We all have different capabilities
  • We’re intensely self-centred
  • Etc



  • Hot Wheels offer a blacked-out mysterious version (kind of like Wotif’s Wot Hotel)
  • California Pizza Kitchen have a “don’t open it” thank you card (which has a voucher for anything from a free drink to $1000). If you open it, it is void – you need to bring it in the next time you dine
  • LinkedIn teases you with “who’s looked at your profile”
  • Netflix have a ‘Rate your recent return’ before they reveal two new picks for you


  • Gmail launched with a private beta (and combined it with “social proof” which created something very powerful)
  • Scarcity is evident in Twitter, with only 140 characters to post a message
  • Sabre Town
  • Sabre employees earn karma points for being a good citizen and participating in their knowledge sharing tool, but the tool doesn’t reveal how much karma you get for each action
  • Some parts of the system are locked until you have enough karma e.g. “earn 80 Karma points to unlock this photo spot”
  • Unlocking things is very powerful
  • 60-70% of employees use the system each month
  • 60% of questions are answered within an hour
  • 30 page views / employee / visit

Why this works:

  • Limited duration
  • Rewards
  • Reputation
  • Foodspotting – allows you to take photos of food, but the limit they number of nominations

There is an Outlook plug-in uses up points whenever you send outgoing email

Delighters are fun things that aren’t crucial to the experience. e.g. Mail Chimp, Dopplr
Making Movies is Hard Fun – Michael Johnson

Michael Johnson has been at Pixar for 17 years. When he first started, he asked around about what Pixar meant and got told that it was a moon near Yoda’s home planet. (It’s actually two words mushed together, PIXel ARtists). That seems to be a good summary of the Pixar Way.

Pixar was spun out of Lucas Film [40 people] in 1986, and it merged with Disney [800 people] in 2006. Today they have 1,100 staff.

Pixar philosophies:

  • Casting, casting, casting. Because they are doing “Art as team sport” they are very careful about who they hire. “We’re all artists, we’re all film makers”
  • There is a peer relationship between creative and technical people. They like and inspire each other
  • They are a director-driven studio. The producers are there to be the adult
  • They have a culture of constructive criticism, but try to ensure that they “give a good note” (point out the problem but also propose a solution, and give the criticism when the person can still use it)
  • “Quality is the best business plan” – John Lasseter, Chief Creative Officer
  • “Pain is temporary, ‘suck’ is forever” – Jason Deamer
  • “Well, do something, so we can change it!” – Gower Champion, famous director

Making a movie in 3 steps:

  1. Design a rich, believable world
  2. Create engaging characters
  3. Tell a compelling story

It takes about 4 years and between 50,000 – 100,000 storyboards to make a Pixar movie. Pixar actually make the entire movie twice – once as a storyboard, once as an actual movie

  • The voices are done first, then they animate the storyboard
  • The animated storyboards (with sound effects and voices) can take years
  • But animating the storyboards is important, in order to fail faster

What makes a great story artist?

  • Draws fast
  • Draws well (poses, composition, pacing)
  • Always has another idea
  • 51%  is “plays well with others”

(Incidentally, what makes a great developer?

  • Codes fast
  • Codes well
  • Always has another idea
  • 51% is “plays well with others”)

Someone has done a much better job of summarising another one of Michael’s talks

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