UX London 2015 – Kill your PDF’s

June 12, 2015

Read time 4 min

It was my first time visiting UX London, a three-day conference that was promised to be “three days of inspiration, education and skills development for user experience designers”.

They kept that promise! Afterwards my head was full of information and ideas of what I want to do and where do I stand as an UI/UX designer. UX means so many things these days.

I am glad they had only one track at the time: just the main stage. I hate when I have to choose between speakers – you always want to hear the ones who are speaking at the same time in different locations. I ended up picking three presentations to write about, among the many, many, good presentations.

The conference gave me more than just the presentations and workshops. It is always nice to meet colleagues from all over the world and hear about their insights and challenges they meet. It feels like I am not alone. Interestingly, I talked to more people than ever, because neither the Wi-Fi nor GSM network worked at the conference.


Day 1: Des Traynor

Des Traynor from Intercom spoke about designing a good product and keeping it viable in the ever-changing it market.

Good user experience doesn’t only demand good designers, but a good product manager and stategy too. A good project manager kills features which are not used and focuses on those ones that are used the most. Otherwise the product is starts to resemble a garden without a gardener: it will end up to be just a field full of weeds.

Des also talked about how good design is about making the end users look successful. The more the product has features, the worse the user experience usually gets. Des showed many weather apps that all had features like barometric pressures and hygrometers (what even are they?!), when the only question the user wants to ask is “I want to have an barbecue party in the evening. Please show me if it’s going to rain or not.”

The best design is often not the best decision. If the product looks beautiful but it does not fill the actual user needs, it is not going to be successful.

Day 2: Stephen Anderson

Stephen Anderson started the second day with a talk on “sweating the UX details.” As the title suggests, design is much about thinking about the finest details: details that end users do not necessarily notice when using the product, but will experience as an ease of use and joy.

The sweat does not come from the design process itself, but more or less from the organisation saying “it is already good enough, we have met our goals and budget”. Most organisations desire to create well-designed, high-quality experiences, but many team members and project managers don’t really understand the cost or the value of quality.

Quality is easily scoped out in product design and development processes, because “you are overdoing it, that would be nice to have, but we really don’t need that.”Here’s a demonstration:


One dangerous, yet trendy concept is the MVP. Why is it dangerous?

Because MVPs are not really viable.
Because MVPs mean so many things to different people.
Because MVPs give an excuse to drop out all the cool (and necessary) features that are usually not added later on.

The MVP thinking leads to reducing instead of adding quality. We want outcomes more than values, because outcomes are something we can immediately measure and see.

The solution: the whole organisation needs to align around experiential needs of the customer and put more trust on design-led thinking: you don’t ship the product when you need to meet the deadlines, you ship it when you are proud of it and when it feels right. Celebrate shipping the right thing, not meeting the deadlines.

Day 3: Karen McGrane

Karen McGrane’s talk was all about content modelling, how you as a designer can’t control anymore which device people use when they consume online content. And that’s why you should not use any WYSIWYG’s or templates to define how your content looks on different devices, the content should define the layout.

“The WYSIWYG is dead,” Karen said. DEAD!

The concept of printable A4 paper (the page metaphor) still has a strong impact on how we think about content. It constrains our design thinking. Karen shows us how much money it does take to “shovel” your content from one platform from another. She puts it like it is: “nobody’s reading your pdf’s!”

So, how does this content modelling work? By giving up the page metaphor and understanding content has different types, attributes and relationships. By visualising these relationships and describing the attributes of content types.

The problem is that people use editing tools like Word that are not capable of doing this kind of content modelling. But it just has to be done, otherwise “the bad content zombies and blobs are going to eat the good, structured content.”

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