So, my talk at NUX in Leeds is done and dusted. You can catch the slides at the bottom of this post. The summary of the whole thing was captured by Claire Gibbons in her photo above.

A couple of people have dropped me a line to ask why I didn’t cover in detail everything that was on the initial “spec” for the session (which you can see on the NUX website).

While I tried to touch on everything, a lot of originally planned detail didn’t make the cut, and some of the stuff that was dropped I felt was vital nitty gritty, at least against the original spec.

A quick brain dump on just that. I apologise in advance if the flow and rhythm of this is a bit all over the place. Think of it as freeform jazz.

When the NUX team dropped me a line a month back about talking at the next event I had already been toying with creating a brand new session around misuse of “brand” or misuse of “prototype”, but, y’know, audience.

I already had a talk that was fleshed out - around “collaboration”, the concepts, the definitions, and also the misuse. Collaboration is a buzzword at the moment — but it’s still had a traditional definition, collaboration a key component for a team. It’s all around a team that functions well. (Not unlike love, and a bit like the Force in Star Wars. And I am sure there are plenty of other movie references.)

The existing talk on collaboration I had previously used in a half day workshop a few months before. I’d used it as a session opener and an eye opener, and had some learnings to feed back in to revising the talk.

One of the best things about my current role is I dip into all sorts of places, some for a day, some for longer, some just to help out, others to be a project member over a longer period. By going everywhere I get to see a variety of approaches, some working, some not working. On top of that is all the stuff I had done previously in my career. With my experiences over my career there could be some fun to be had talking about collaboration in a UX centric session.

Despite the UX focus I wanted to make sure I could deliver something that just about anyone could get into - I didn’t presume that everyone at the session would be a hardcore UXer.

In the first week of May I was working on cutting the session down, shaping it (mainly in my mind with the odd page of paper).

I was getting some notes via email, Twitter, and LinkedIn off the back of the NUX team publicising the talk. This helped to get some focus, show where to cut stuff out and distil the previous workshop session I’d done. The “What I learnt from ‘traditional agency’ way” seemed to raise some interested eyebrows. (I’d had some similar feedback on my Forefront talk back in November.) I thought it was a good chance to “reveal” and draw upon the six years I spent in the design and advertising bit of a big agency in Leeds (Brahm). (As sad fact not so widely known, as my slide said.)

With a bit of an audience led steer I took my existing talk on collab and rated slides on a scale of 1 to 5: 1 being essential, 5 meaning dumped. I worked with what was 3 and above, and then tried to knit a story together around it. I found even by doing this I was working on something that more in the region of 90 minutes. I’d lost a quarter of the talk, but not enough to make it focused enough to fit into an NUX session. So I started to look at threads, and reevaluated the content.

Framing “collaboration” in the context of my experiences working in and with organisations that see themselves as - or are seen as - “traditional” and “digital” seemed crude, but a good starter for ten.

Early on the idea of “clients” and “agencies” as a focus rose, to make the session easier for the audience to get into. Again I couldn’t presume everyone would get this, but it provided a simple focus. To be sure I checked right at the start of my NUX session if everyone got what “clients” and “agencies” were — and apologised for this lazy banding. But it helped get across the idea of a body with a need and a body that could provide a needed service - and then look at how they work together. It saved time.

But still I was casting stuff aside. I found early on I was jettisoning some of the stuff I found really interesting.

The role of research and planning in the “creative process” seemed a killer area to explore for me. In “traditional” agencies the planning department writing the brief and the crossover period with the creative department (for the most part) isn’t that massive. But the point there is a thought through, usually research brief seemed my summary point. I kept that in, even if ditching the detail.

Compare that with the amount of research a number of digital user experience designers are involved in. I recognised though that this was a good session in its own right, especially when I folded in the idea of bringing “creative” into wireframes (example: I like to placing imagery styles in wireframes when I feel it will provide an enlightening response). So while I lost a good chunk of detail, I at least touched upon it - and have put the cuttings to one side for another talk, another day.

I made sure I kept in the flow what happened on ad accounts. Starting off as a digital person and then switching to “non-digital” I found this awesome. We created ads, got them out there, analysed the response, and then responded based on that response, either with iterations on those ads or starting again, over and over again. It’s the lean loop, yo!

Leaning back on the way “planning” contributed to the work, I also folded in something a friend had raised recently: How does the designer know they are doing “good” research? Does a UX designer doing research know how to “test the test”? How do you know? I planted the seed for that with an anecdote about a flawed piece of research that was the basis for quite a big project I was brought in to evaluate.

Also sharing your thoughts with a “wing man” is a small thing I wasn’t seeing much of in UX arms of agencies. In the ad department we had at Brahm there was frequent “shows” with the rest of the team, exploring ideas, taking on board feedback to improve - or enhance justification.

It seemed too obvious to bring in the debate the crossover between UX and UI, coder and designer, search marketeer and UX designer and so on. That happens elsewhere and regularly. (Although is fascinating - but again this stuff was cut.)

While roles and the people who carry them out are key tenets of collaboration, by concentrating on the detail around these roles muddled the session. A shame as I really wanted to spend that time looking at the traditional agency roles of “planner” and “designer” and see how they compared to a “UX designer”. But again, cut and stored.

I found myself circling the clash of “traditional” and “digital”, the seeming ignorance, the one-man-upmanship, and wanted to geter across “Does traditional and digital matter? Can we just forget all that and concentrate on creating user experiences wherever they manifest?” UX is a phrase “owned” by usually digital designers. “Traditional agency” briefs put such a focus on capturing an audience and understanding the audience’s response - and what we have to do to understand how we can can make this happen.

To contrast with that, I’ve been a participant in some user experience sessions recently where the facilitator just didn’t take into account the people in the session, how to connect with them. I felt like an outsider. After one of the sessions, a facilitator told me “this is the way we do sessions”. No room for maneuver.

I got into a chat with a fellow experience designer and we shared separate similar experiences, being in someone else’s session and it just not clicking. It seemed to go against the grain of collaboration between the facilitator, the people in the room, and the knowledge/insight he must have been seeking. It struck me as framing the process(es) we go through as a service and we have to think more about how we get the right responses ourselves, examining the user experience of user experience design.

I had to throw in George Gallop. I like to chuck in one of “my heroes”. Usually they come from way, way back and I get pulled up for this, “Why does it matter?” and all that. I think that in the 1930s they were doing research, studying effectiveness of work on audiences, using AB testing, without computers is a point unto itself. It strips away the “digital” and emphasising your methods and having the time to feed your learnings back in. It also dispels the notion thrown about that this sort of thing is a “digital thing”.

There’s a great interview with Joe Stewart (now co-running Work & Co., previously at Huge) where he talks about how he didn’t train to be a designer, he learnt to be a designer, and he made up for that lack of perceived “formal design education” by using his own time to study, to learn.

It’s not a new thing, but it is increasingly rare to find people who work in design, communication, whatever you want to call it, that know stuff like who Gallop is, let alone studied to work their way into “the industry”.

Sure, we are not beholden to the past, but the past has shaped where we are. It’s worth spending a night just digging in and seeing where some reading up on this takes you. Many of us didn’t study this sort of stuff in our days jobs at school. And while we’re always reading, saving stuff away in Pocket and Evernote about progressions, there’s still some learning we can look back at, some theories, some characters.

The shift in relationship between client/agency created chances for us as experiences designers to put the focus on the reasoning and the design construct.

My point was that increasingly agencies are brought in for the “first half”, bringing external perspective to research, create a strategy, and work on the design nailed before the client takes over to deliver with their internal dev teams (in my lazy scenario). It’s an increasing shift that creates intrigue around the perceptions of the “traditional” client/agency dynamic. It’s a fascinating change, how the agency stays involved, ensures that quality is assured in this different level of collaboration.

While I littered references to the lean loop throughout my hour, “do school reports on your work” also seems a fun way to end, especially after I’ve asked you think about working like being in a school class. I’ve worked in plenty of places where there is the intention of folding learnings from how we worked (ie. not the actual output that users/audiences/consumers see, but the actual methods we go through to achieve that work) back into working practices in a “lean” way, so we’re constantly learning, constantly improving the way we work.

But in most of those places there is intention only. There is rarely value on taking some time out to formally openly share these thoughts, to recognise flaw, improvements, and what is done right. As participants and contributors to the design and creation process “improvement” of the way we work is everyone’s responsibility.

Think about this: How would you feel if you or your child didn’t get an end of term school report?

The thought that’s part of the user experience of creating a user experience and a UX designer could lead that review and report back in (rather than, say, a project manager or producer) just tickled me.

Thanks to everyone who came along to the session - and thanks to the NUX team for inviting. As always, feedback welcome!

NUX Leeds - 28 May 2015: The shared creating experience from Simon Wilson

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