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UX Brighton 2012

Guest post by Carlos Saba, Spook Studio

A fascinating and mind expanding day, this year’s UX Brighton was a popular affair with at least 300 attendees. From the physical to the cerebral, it was an all encompassing UX fest with a touch of Lean and a bit of Jazz. Here are my own personal summaries of each talk and my understanding of what these cats were jiving about…

The Web That Wasn’t: Forgotten Forebears of the Internet

Alex Wright (@alexgrantwright)

Before Google and the Interweb there were visionary information scientists who were trying to tackle the problem of how to collate, organise and provide usable access to the vast accumulation of human knowledge. These people, such as Paul Otlet, Vannevar Bush and Doug Engelbart faced challenges and generated ideas that are yet to be properly tackled. Properly linking, curating and discovering relevant information is as much of challenge now as it was in the past. The key message from Alex appeared to be that by knowing our history we can better tackle the challenges of the future.

Designing for Natural User Interfaces

Mark Backler (@MarkBackler)

It was really interesting to hear about the practical challenges games developers face when creating games for the Kinect interface. It appears there’s nothing really natural about trying to manipulate a computer by waving your arms about.

One key challenge is providing adequate interface feedback. Without the user being in actual physical contact with a keyboard, mouse or controller it is even more important to be able to provide visible feedback to any action.

Another specific challenge is how to navigate around a simple menu system. There’s the “point and push” approach where your hand moves a cursor around the screen and you push your hand forward to select an option; or the “scroll and swipe” approach where the position of your hand dictates the direction of scroll and a swipe motion indicates a select action. Both appear to have their advantages and disadvantages.

All in all it was a fascinating insight into the intricate challenges these interfaces pose, which personally had me running for my mouse and keyboard…

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Mind Control Your Computer

Guy Smith-Ferrier (@GuySmithFerrier

I was really fascinated by this talk. While I had heard a lot about this type of technology I hadn’t realised it was readily available off the shelf. Donning a Cerebro* type headset Guy provided some live demonstrations (some more successful than others) of manipulating an object on screen using his thoughts. Guy also demonstrated how the same headset could read his mood, in this case how his mood and engagement changed while attending a Jazz concert.

The software needs to be initially trained (which apparently required the user to be able to blank their mind…!) and so it doesn’t just work out of the box. However the potential for this type of interface is fascinating, ranging from helping people afflicted with Locked in Syndrome to being used as a “Neuromarketing” tool (scary!!!).

* X-men reference

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All is Full of Love

Bashford (@bashford)

I really enjoyed Bashford’s talk about innovation, new products and Future Shock! The value of his “hacker” type approach to innovation was best summarised by these three quotes:

▪ Thinking by making is the only way
▪ Learn through controlled mistakes
▪ Tangents tend to yield the best results

Another theme of his talk seemed to be that product success was only possible if you avoided Future Shocking the user. I was introduced for the first time to the concept of MAYA (most advanced yet acceptable) and that any idea that is too radical and advanced is not only unlikely to be adopted but will potentially scare users away. While early adopters are more resilient to the effects of Future Shock in order for a product to obtain wider appeal it needs to be designed to draw and empower users so that they intuitively understand it from the beginning.

Beyond Multitouch: Ultrahaptics & Multi-view Displays

Sriram Subramanian (@sssram

Sriram’s talk was a peek into the future of interfaces. We learned about some really interesting approaches to touch and display technologies with novel applications. His “ultrahaptics” work involves using ultransonic transducers to create the sensation of touch without any contact. Using an array of such transducers it is apparently possible to mimic a textured surface above a flat screen. An illustration of its possible application would be where a cinema viewer could physically experience what they saw on screen (i.e. a snake wrapping itself around them). Another application would be manipulating physical objects placed on top of a touch screen device (i.e. moving chess pieces across a virtual board).

Another technology that Sriram described was the multi-view display, which shows different images depending on the position of the viewer. For example, when viewing a window display up close a shopper could be reading detailed information about the product while passers by would see more generic advertising on exactly the same display.

A really cool view into the real possibilities of future interfaces.

Human Factors in Innovation: Designing for Adoption

James Kalbach (@JamesKalbach)

I felt James’ talk was closely related to Bashford’s: the need to think about the effects of innovation on normal people. The key message I got was that the true goal of the entrepreneur is not the creation of innovation but the adoption of innovation. Unless people accept and understand the new product then it won’t succeed. I was introduced to the Perceived Attributes of innovation:

1. Relative advantage – Is it better?
2. Compatibility – Does it fit in?
3. Complexity – Is it understandable?
4. Trialability – Can it be tested?
5. Observability – What does it look like?

Another key point James made was that innovation is an iterative loop that can start either with technology or with user needs. But the key is iterating to achieve user adoption.

“Good UX is good business: it is essential for innovation and growth”

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How designers will reinvent manufacturing

Mike Kuniavsky (@mikekuniavsky)

Take the Internet of Things, RFID, Cloud Computing and analytics and you get an environment where we can start using the principles of digital product design to create physical products. One of Mike’s key points was that it should be possible to use analytics data sent back from physical products connected to the Internet to inform design decision of future versions of that product. Much like Google Analytics data can help site designers optimise their websites the data from the Internet of Things could help with the optimisation of physical products. Here we have the effect of “bits moving atoms”!

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Deep Interaction

Karl Fast (@karlfast)

We ended the day on a cerebral note (in more ways than one). Karl posed the question: does thinking only happen in our minds? Using the examples of how: scrabble players physically rearrange tiles to find the best words; expert Tetris users rotate and adjust the falling shapes more than novices; and even blind people use their hands when they talk; the process of thinking is a much more physical process than we think. “Interacting is part of the thinking process”. Our physical environment is actually an extension of our minds since we manipulate our environment to refine our thoughts. Therefore any object, whether it is a pencil or an iPhone is actually an extension of our minds. Give “mind f$ck” a whole new meaning…

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