Last week I had the privilege of attending and speaking at my first UX Australia conference. This year it was held at the Grand Hyatt in Melbourne.
UX Australia is the largest conferences in Australia for our industry — there were 850 of us running around apparently — so it was only appropriate for the keynote speakers to be industry heavy-hitters.
With big names like Steve Portigal (California), Lauren Currie (NOBL Collective) and Alan Cooper (The "Father of Visual Basic") floating around, the bar was set very high and it did not disappoint.
My Top Talks
There were a lot of engaging and inspirational talks across the two days. Among them, these three presentations were my stand-outs.
Lauren Currie: Designing Tomorrow
Lauren isn't shy about her dissatisfaction with the current state of the world; she believes that tomorrow should be better than today and that design is the way to make that happen.
Throughout her presentation she provided insight into how she actively (and continuously) works towards influencing positive change both in her professional and personal life.
What I took from that was a simple message. As designers, we have the power to influence change in the world. The change itself can be large or small, the message she was communicating was that it's our responsibility to be proactive and push forward together towards a better future.
Krystal Higgins: Onboarding for the Long Run
Onboarding is a topic I'm very passionate about and I've only heard great things about Krystal's presentations. Needless to say, I was really looking forward to this one.
"Where does onboarding end in my product?"
This is what Krystal asked the audience as she challenged us to question what onboarding actually meant. Because contrary to what most of us think, onboarding isn't just about introducing a user to a product experience.
The point she was making (and continued to reinforce) was that onboarding is more than just a single event; it covers multiple events and supports users throughout their entire relationship with the product. And while it may have a heavy influence when initially educating a user, it doesn't end there.
"Don't design onboarding for the first run, design it for the long run."
Boom. What a perfect way to wrap up a solid presentation (the only thing that was missing was a mic drop).
Jon Kolko: Creative Clarity
Jon spoke about the importance of unlocking your team's momentum through the creation of artefacts. The first artefact presented always serves as a starting point for his team to engage in a discussion around.
The point he enforced was that this artefact could be completely wrong (in fact, it most likely would be). The purpose of this exercise is never to present a solution to further refine, it's more about presenting something the team can rally around and talk about. That's what's important.
What I often advocate for in the design process is direction over details; I place a great deal of value on aligning the team around the problem we're solving and what our position is on it. I'm not precious about my ideas or the criticism of the initial designs, just as long as the feedback (and the discussion around it) is in the spirit of collaboration, alignment and clarity. This presentation really resonated with me as there was so much overlap with my design principles.
While not an official theme of the conference, I felt many of the presentations referenced the concepts of "Responsibility" and "Collaboration" in some way:
- Responsibility. As designers we're in a unique position of power to influence change. In our work (and our personal lives), it's our responsibility to ensure that whatever we're creating influences positive change in our community and the world.
- Collaboration. Whether it was as a rallying cry for us to be responsible about the world we're leaving for future generations, or the role design leaders play to foster momentum in their teams, working together as one towards a common goal was also a powerful, underlying message throughout the conference.
…So, I did a thing.
Another first for me at this conference was that I was given the opportunity to present a talk (…which is partly why all of my top talks were from the day I wasn't presenting!).
My presentation was about Microcopy and how it influences user behaviours and the overall experience. In it we covered what Microcopy is, where it can be found and how it can be used. The goal of this talk was not only to raise awareness about Microcopy, but to encourage design teams to consider how their choice of words can impact the user and the decisions they make.
Being my first time on stage, it was as nerve-wracking, stressful and intimidating as you'd expect. Surprisingly, my nerves didn't eat my alive and I actually enjoyed myself in front of a packed room of (mostly) strangers. And for all of its challenges, it was such a rewarding and fulfilling experience and I'm very grateful for the opportunity to get up there.
Wrapping it up
I had an absolute blast at UX Australia 2018. Collectively the presentations were both inspiring and powerful but what I appreciated most was how relatable the content was. And typically with conferences, it's just great to socialise with industry peers and people you've only met in Slack groups or forums.
And lastly, it will probably be my most memorable conference. Public speaking is something I've always wanted to do, and I'm really grateful for the support and encouragement from my team to follow through with it. I'd encourage anyone else to give it a crack.