November was a busy month at Leighton, with a few new faces and lots of project work… however, we still like to encourage our staff to take a day away from the office to keep up to date with the industry. The perfect opportunity to do this was to attend one of the UK’s leading tech conferences for designers and developers which returned to Newcastle this year.

On Friday 10th November, we attended the ‘DiBi’ (Design It; Build It) conference, which featured eight inspiring talks from industry thought leaders who all presented their take on the subject of  ‘play’.

David Bailey – UXD Creative Director at the BBC

David shared his experiences of maintaining and developing the look and feel of the BBC’s entire online output by introducing us to their shared design framework: Global Experience Language (GEL), which enables the UX & Design teams at the BBC to create consistent and delightful user experiences across all of their digital services.

He also focussed on the importance of learning about your audience; what they need, how they think and behave, as building empathy for your users helps you to make better decisions and develop services of real value and what we learn about people helps fuel the design process. This clip that David shared with us shows how the BBC go about understanding their users in order to provide great online experiences.

David Baily speaking at the DiBi Conference

David’s talk has inspired us to step away from digital experiences and play with design. We’d definitely recommend seeing David talk and watching the above films, if you get the chance. To round-up, his take-aways were:

  • Play gives us the chance to practice what we’re learning.

  • Never stop learning about your audiences.

  • Design to the needs of your audience.

  • Provide recognisable and delightful experiences.

  • Give users the confidence to explore more of online content.

  • Patterns evolve over time.

Aleksandra Melnikova – Experience Design Director at Radley Yeldar

Alex’s talk taught us that sticking to pre-defined design concepts can sometimes lead to stagnation and the trouble with “pre-set” and “pre-defined” is that no one accounts for newly formed teams to sync, poor briefs, little space to experiment and running against time and creating patterns without proper consideration often leads to thoughtless design.

Alex showed us “the fun theory”, a staircase in Stockholm, Odenplan that was converted into a piano, which was a way to get members of the public to use the stairs, by “playing” with their curiosity. If you search this on the internet you’ll find this – “We believe that the easiest way to change people’s behaviour for the better is by making it fun to do. We call it The fun theory.”

What we learned from Alex:

  • Design exercises enable you to model scenarios and practice without risk of failure.

  • It’s important to enable play within your teams.

  • Play is a natural escape to imaginary worlds which can be used to learn and grow.

  • Play is the ultimate learning by doing.

Ade-Lee Adebiyi – UX/UI Designer at Oak

During Ade’s talk, he asked – “can you make someone who is afraid of (or doesn’t understand) technology understand what your product, service, or idea is?” He also pointed out that “a joke is bad when you have to explain it” which can be translated into the products we design and build.

Ade is also working on a thought-provoking game that encourages you to make more than Dribbble redesigns of Apple and SoundCloud: Make it Pop, coming to Kickstarter in 2018!  

Take-aways from Ade’s talk were:

  • Don’t use empathy as a buzzword. Build it as a skill to create understanding and trust.

  • Make your emotions secondary.

  • Take a step back and reframe the problem when you’re stuck; take your time.

  • Listen to others.

Johannes Ippen – Designer at Thanksalot Design collective

Johannes talk was very insightful for designers, as he demonstrates ways in which we can use the power of design to improve experiences and increase users commitment. He demonstrated how gives feedback to the user – when you’ve entered your name into the signup form, the message underneath the input box will be personalised with your name e.g; “Nice to meet you, Kate.” He also showed us how makes users curious by cutting off half of the image you want to see, making you click for more content. He also mentioned that it’s important to build trust for your product by showing the humans behind it, which can be achieved by prominently displaying a phone number for fast customer support. He also used MailChimp as an example of inspiration for conveying personality in your product with their Voice and Tone  

Take-aways from Johannes talk were:

  • Remember to use the power of design with intentionality.
  • Engagement-focused growth hacks shouldn’t be abused.
  • Remember the tiny details that make a difference to our experiences.

Catt Small – Product Designer at Etsy

Catt shared her experiences of developing games to teach us how UX designers can “borrow” from game design. Catt covered methods in which we can make our digital experiences more engaging – and even game-like, in order to keep users engaged.

One way in which we can achieve this (other than using points/achievement systems) is by offering “easter eggs” in our experiences, which are those surprising pleasures, e.g: when you discover something or figure something out. Brains love to play, it helps them learn, understand and connect.

We really enjoyed Catt’s talk as she really focussed on how we can incorporate play into our everyday work. We learned how to:

  • Make experiences more engaging for users.
  • Make designs game-like without coming off as gimmicky.
  • Make your work sustainable – starting from documenting it well.

Mark Simpson – Distinguished Engineer at RBS

Mark made us realise that it’s easy to get absorbed by focusing on the processes we know instead of focussing on the end goal. In order to not get absorbed in process, we were told that we need to widen our perspective by taking a step back and trying new things instead of using the “same old.” He shared his experience when it was challenging for him to find a place to be creative, as he had to rent a hotel room for two days to use as a recording space. The lesson we learned from this is that if you can, improvise when it comes to working space – it may increase your focus.

He also said that balancing improvisation with structure can help with creativity, and flexible process provides useful constraints.

What we took away from this talk:

  • Creativity only happens when you leave a space to play.

Liam Hutchinson – Experience Design Consultant at Thoughtworks

Liam told us an interesting story of how people with different skillsets and a shared understanding of the value of good customer experience come together to deliver delightful experiences. This story taught us that having a clear vision, members of our company/ team will understand how their actions contribute to the larger picture, and a diversity of team members’ backgrounds ensures that we can come up with more inclusive ideas. Liam also added that “we are all designers” – even engineers (who affect product load times) and finance directors (who control the budget), as decisions that are made outside of designers’ control can heavily affect the customer experience.

What we took away from this talk:

  • When you take your team on the journey, they understand that UX is more than drawing boxes.
  • Good designers have ideas; great designers encourage ideas in other people.

Ros Lawler – Digital Director at Tate

Ros’s talk explored the ways that TATE Britain works to figure out ways to bridge their physical experiences into the digital space. During her talk, she showed us “After Dark” – a project created by London-based designer that involves robots giving art fans a ‘night at the museum’ with a series of after-hours tours around TATE. Last year, TATE also collaborated with Microsoft to create a gallery comparing modern photos from news stories into historical art pieces, which you can see more of here:


DIBI 2017 was a great event with some fascinating speakers, which left us feeling excited about the work we do and how we can incorporate ‘play’ into our processes.