As the name alludes, this was the second UX Day run by Generator NE, this time out and about in sunny Sunderland. Condensed down into a manageable half-day session, our Tuesday morning was split between 3 presentations, discussing everything from accessible design to information architecture and immersive technologies.
Helena Hill @HelenaHillUX
Helena began the event with a talk on The Organisation of Information, be it labelling systems, navigation systems or search systems. Explaining that, whilst UX (User Experience) can relate to the emotive way a user interacts with a website, Information Architecture (IA) is based in more physical attributes; words, graphical elements, physical objects and time. Information Architecture is rooted in facts, gathered via data research.
Helena went on to demonstrate the LATCH method of organisation. A handy acronym thought up by Richard Saul Wurman (https://www.wurman.com), an American architect and graphic designer. LATCH stands for Location, Alphabet, Time, Category and Hierarchy. The premise being that everything can be categorised in one (or more) of these five ways. Helena demonstrated this method by asking us to look at a visual of the BBC iPlayer landing page. It was clear to see how they had organised their content using all five methods:
- Location – Which TV channel
- Alphabet – A to Z of TV programmes
- Time – Daily schedule
- Category – Comedy, Drama, Children’s, Factual, Films, etc.
- Hierarchy – That week’s most popular shows
Following Helena’s talk, Hedgehog Lab gave a brief session on Immersive design, specifically relating to Augmented and Virtual Reality.
Luke Medlock of Hedgehog explained that to fully immerse the user in these technologies they are focusing on the audio experience that is incorporated alongside the existing visual experience. Traditional solutions have focused mainly on the visual experience alone, but background chatter, or white noise, often distracts the user and prevents them from becoming fully immersed in the virtual experience.
Luke explained that new pieces of software such as ‘The Sound of the Mountain’ (https://mntn.rocks/) not only help them create a fully immersive experience, but also enables them to better describe these augmented environments and keep storylines moving. The software creates 360-degree sound experience for the user rather than the more traditional stereo sound, this also helps the user believe the situation is more ‘real’.
The session then went on to describe the user testing process for VR and AR systems, specifically focusing in on the challenges of testing outputs when a user is fully immersed in the experience and unable to provide ongoing feedback on the software being tested. Interestingly, testing AR and VR also throws up unexpected challenges around motion sickness and the expectations of users who may not have any previous experience of the technology.
Hedgehog admit that whilst AR/VR is currently a niche market, it is perfectly suited to training professionals such as firefighters (putting them in dangerous scenarios without the danger!) or learning situations such as university lectures or art gallery exploration. They see the technology on a 2 to 10 years upward curve in popularity as equipment becomes more affordable and better suited to the general market.
The final session of the day was by Stephen Proctor (@mrstevenproctor) on Content Design. In a good-humoured presentation, Stephen spoke about content being an essential part of design and user experience. He emphasised that without content, design is merely an empty framework.
Working for a large government department, Stephen also focused in on accessibility and the frequent faux-pas that large corporations and big businesses make online. From the simple things such as colour contrast checking and avoiding underlining text, to the big mistakes such as designing calendar pickers that don’t work with screen readers – ‘because blind users are always more likely to drive than book a train…’
He highlighted how tone of voice can be taken too far, often becoming off-putting for users. He specifically picked out Virgin Trains (again!), who appear to be too keen to be the users’ friend, when often they had no knowledge of who the end user was. This lead onto a comment that whilst we all talk about ‘the average user’, there is in fact no such thing, as every user has their own specific set of requirements.
Stephen highlighted a quote that says, “the main aim of a content strategy is to deliver the right content, to the right person, at the right time, in the right place and at the right way.” He contextualised this by showing us a list of obscure words the government agencies wanted to use online, when alternative words, more commonplace in our daily vocabulary, make more sense to many more people.
With that, the half day conference ended. Short but sweet, it was an enjoyable morning with some snippets of valuable knowledge we can use in our own work moving forward. I’m looking forward to the next one!