A few of us at Dusted had the opportunity to take a trip to Brighton for the dConstruct 2007 conference. The conference was extremely interesting and covered some topics that will definitely encourage great design for the user experience!
The impressive line-up didn’t disappoint! I had been looking forward to listening to Jared Spool and Cameron Moll speak but the lively and hugely amusing Tom Coates was a welcome surprise and took home my award for most entertaining! All of the speakers were very good but I have decided to discuss the topics which I feel will be most relevant to the way we work at Dusted.
The Dawning of the Age of Experience – Jared Spool
The day started with Jared talking about experience design, he is an entertaining speaker who gives great examples and magic tricks. He spoke about the simplicity of the iPod and how the technology behind it isn’t the greatest, yet it still runs the show in the MP3 player market. This, he explained was driven by simple design, iTunes functionality and the Apple store features… I guess it’s not all about having the fastest, most durable hard drive!
Jared also spoke about NetFlix and how cool they are, it seems that they run rings around Blockbuster without spending much on marketing. Because of this they can afford to spend big on creating a great user experience, which encourages users to recommend them to friends and family. It is interesting to note that the web site Ajax features are not even noticed by users, which is a sign that “Good design is invisible”.
Experience Strategies – Peter Merholz
Next up on Stage was Peter Merholz from Adaptive Path. Prior to this event I hadn’t heard or read too much about Peter but he spoke about some very interesting topics. One such topic was the Target Pharmacy drug bottle ‘ClearRX’, which had been designed by a student who’s family kept mixing up their medication. Her design is based on a colour coded panel and clear instructions. As simple as it sounds, this really has had great impact on the user experience, which I can vouch for as my wife is a Target Pharmacist!
Another great topic example was the Palm Pilot, which was designed to fit into the shirt pocket. In order to achieve this goal, the designer created a block of wood that fitted in his shirt pocket and carried it around with him to get and idea of how the user experience should feel. In meetings he would pull it out of his pocket and make notes on it as if it was a real device!
Waterfall Bad, Washing Machine Good – Leisa Reichelt
Leisa Reichelt followed on from Peter and spoke more about the project management side of things. She spoke of the waterfall model, which refers to a strictly linear process where there’s no going back through each iteration until you’ve finished. The obvious problem with this one is that you regularly run into unexpected outcomes during development. Results showed that people like to work simultaneously on the problem and the solution, flipping back and forth again.
The suggested alternative to this approach was the washing machine model which is more of an iterative process which involves end users. Agile development is along these lines although lacks some user testing and iteration whereas the UCD approach sometimes needs to be slightly more agile. Mix the two and you may just come up with something the works for your development team!
Good vs. Great Design – Cameron Moll
OK, onto Cameron Moll now… Great, calm speaker, who described some interesting personal experiences which were witty and full of meaning. Other topics included typography, interface bloat, good advertising, bullet-proofing, accessibility, and thoughtful testing. Cameron described how developing more features doesn’t necessarily improve the software, in many cases it just over-complicates things. One example was the Firefox web developer extension and how simple tasks had become more difficult to complete as they were hidden away under lots of new functionality.
Cameron also detailed a good way to test the effectiveness of an interface. You need to grey scale and blur it, and then look to see if the page hierarchy still “works.” One grey scale example was to compare a redesign of a particular TV remote control handset. On one model you could still see the controls on the handset, on the other, they were completely obscured by the blur. Simple yet effective tip!
Designing for a Web of Data – Tom Coates
Tom Coates was another speaker I hadn’t heard much about before dConstruct. He landed the last spot of the day and it really was worth the wait. His talk was full of interesting ideas and great humour. Entitled ‘Designing for a web of data’, the content was targeted at developing future concepts of web applications, plugging into the huge amount of data available and doing interesting things with the data.
Tom discussed how the product does not stop with your web site – it extends to the entire user experience, derivative sites, data from your site used in Mashups, and even physical objects. His example looked at Twitter and how a large percentage of Twitter data is not entered or viewed using the Twitter web site. There are any applications, which interact with the Twitter site, which is acting like a data storage unit rather than an interface.
A new Yahoo product, which Tom mentioned was FireEagle. This product collects your current location information from location-enabled devices or services that you authorize. FireEagle allows developers to hook into the data and create some cool Mashups. Examples included Mac dashboard widgets, which used FireEagle data to show you where your friends were located.
One of the last topics Tom introduced was that of large datasets. He highlighted how they do present a scalability problem. Although it’s a slightly boring topic for you designers out there, Tom’s example may add some perspective. Flickr has 1.88 billion photos, which is a huge amount of data to store and the best way to deal with this is by adding more data in the way of Metadata. Metadata will give the data more context allowing more efficient and more powerful data manipulation. Bottom line: Metadata is good!
All-in-all the conference was great, very popular and we all had a good time. The only disappointment was that Matt and I had to leave Jack in Brighton to enjoy the after party alone as we had prior engagements (couldn’t get our passports stamped!)
Next Dusted web conference outing – Web Directions North!
- Web Design.