UX-LX: Key Notes

Séamus Byrne

Director of User Experience

It was great to be back in Lisboa for my second UX-LX. The last time I attended UX-LX I was a speaker, so it was nice to experience the event without having anything pressing in the back of my mind.


Yesterday’s experience was a pure plenary day with no workshops, featuring 10 speakers presenting their slides back-to-back in a single track. This format is super rich in information provision and by the end of day my brain was feeling super saturated (in a good way) with UX knowledge. The icing on the cake was a visionary keynote by Mr. Alan Cooper, complete with a standing ovation.

In this blog post, I have captured my notes from the speakers that I saw. I hope they provide some context into the flow and content of the event.

Co-Create: Creating Better Together

Creative evangelist, Denise Jacobs started off the day. She was positively electric and enthralled the room with her charm and audience participation activities. Denise is author of “Banish Your Inner Critic

    • Creativity is really important – it’s the “new black”
    • Creativity is most valued by co-workers
    • We must create as we are hard-wired to create – it drives us forward through life
    • It’s also a business imperative
    • There is a myth of the lone creative genius who generates a lot of brilliant ideas.
    • This myth isolates us and keeps us in silos. It supports hierarchy and slows the passing of information from one person to another. It means you won’t share ideas!

People on the stage of UX-LX

Info on where to get the slides

  • Working together towards common goal. There are several steps:
  • Great ideas come from blending ideas and concepts

1. Unblock

  • Ask what blocks individually and collective creativity? It’s usually fear of being criticised, of not being perfect and making mistakes, fear of not being “enough” and fear of having too unique ideas.
  • All of these fears are forms of the Inner Critic. This is the main block to letting creativity flow. The “mind-body” connection can help dealing with fear. Check out Amy Cuddy’s Ted talk: Your body language shapes who you are
    • Try it the Power Pose hack – like superman or wonder woman or wolverine
  • Develop an experimentation mindset by exploring different possibilities with no right or wrong we are just learning.
    • Ideas will start to flow.

2. Connect

  • Creativity is social
  • Creativity is superlinear. The more people you have the more ideas you have.
  • None of us are as smart as all of us
  • Don’t’ keep ideas to yourself
  • Share ideas and Listen
  • Don’t over talk because it mutes others.
  • 3 steps to become an adept listener:
  1. Be Present
  2. Pay attention
  3. Relax your own agenda

3. Combining

  • A diversity of people = Diversity of ideas
  • Creativity thrives on diversity
  • You need everyone
  • You need Complementary roles and responsibilities
  • Respond and adapt to create
  • Creative exchange

4. Play

  • Improve with Improv techniques
  • Instead of saying “yes, but” in meetings. Amplify the ideas of others by using “yes, and…”
  • Accept the offer and fully commit

5. Construct

  • Provide proper outlets
  • Public Space for ideas
  • Tap into the collective brilliance

Semantic Noodling and Meaning Machines

In this talk, Chris Noessel delved into the different analog and physical ways humans have used a variety of activities, methods and devices to think of new things. He refers to these techniques as “Meaning Machines”.

Over the course of his talk he inventoried an impressive laundry list of new idea generating techniques from all areas of human endeavour. They are not just for fun and Chris has used these machines professionally for inspiring clients during brainstorming.

Question on screen How do you think new things?

His talk ended alluding to the new digital meaning machines we have at our disposal to help us think of new things.

  • Aldous Huxley took drugs to see “new” things
  • In general, the locus of attention we apply to the world around us is limited
  • We can’t see beyond our own success and failures
  • We find what works, and do it again and again
  • This doesn’t work in the creative practice where its critical to come up and create new ideas
  • Since the invention of language, we have devised “machines” to do this.
  • Meaning machines feature a deep structure with signifiers, randomised in a fixed grammar and read for new meaning. They let you do “Semantic Noodling”

Perception: These machines produce new meaning(s) which Chris classifies as follows:

1. Divination (reasons, forecast)

  • Haruspication: divining by sheep’s liver
  • I Ching: produce random numbers
  • Tarot: series of cards

2. Entertainment (surprise delight, novelty)

  • Mad Libs
  • Musikalische Wurfelspiele
  • Aridanes’s Thread (Latourex)

3. Creativity (flow, inspiration)

  • Poetry
  • N+& (Oulipo)
  • Scrabble
  • Story Generator: Machine of Death
  • Force Fit Grid

Answer Semantic noodeling and meaning machines

How We Talk and Machines Listen

In her talk Abi Jones deconstructed how humans greet each other and initiate conversations. Then she delved into he science of how speech recognition and interpretation technology actually works.

Creating Consistent Experiences with Design Principles

Adam Connor focused on the importance of good Design Principles when working on a project.

Calm Technology

Amber Case says we are in an era of interruptive technology. We need calm technology. This term was coined by Mark Weiser and John Seeley Brown at XEROX PARC in the mid 90s. Amber is reviving and championing the concept. A good tool is an invisible tool that doesn’t intrude. Here are some principles to help ensure a technology is calm.

Calm Technology We are all Cyborgs

Calm Technology by Amber Case

  1. Technology should not take over our attention
  2. Technology should empower the periphery. E.g. Lumo Back Smart or the Program to provide directions at Emtronic.co.uk
  3. Technology should inform and encalm. e.g: Heat Sink: Colour coded water
  4. Tech should amplify the best of tech and the best of humanity. Machines shouldn’t act like humans and vice versa
  5. Technology can communicate but does not need to speak. Rooba Robotic Vacuum Cleaner which does “duh duh duh noises” when it’s complete instead of speaking
  6. Technology should consider social norms. The arrival of the smartphone camera was initially controversial. Google glass failed because its recording feature caused paranoia. Too many things were released at once which caused distrust with a new expensive piece of tech. The opposite effect was witnessed by the iPhone Launch which improves one thing at a time over releases which brings about excitement and widespread adoption.


  1. Explanation for Calm Technology

See Calmtech.com and her O’Reilly book Calm Technology

Watch Amber’s very popular Ted Talk “We are all cyborgs now“.

See What I Mean

Brad Nunnally‘s talk focused on body language. Decisions are made up to 7 seconds before they are verbally communicated. This can help us predict what users are feeling – good or bad. As designers, we deal with a lot of people and if we are not on top of communication it can have negative impact on the project, so reading body language can be of great benefit including:

  • Helping you see signals.
  • Helping you collaborate better
  • Helping you deliver bad news better
  • Connecting with voiceless participants

See what I mean nonverbal communications statistic

Trust and acceptance from peers can be read from positive body language. Some things to be aware of:

  • Presenting you core: your chest in body language talk.
  • Confidence can be shown through body language: power poses
  • Don’t clench your fists it shows aggressiveness
  • Don’t fold your arms its defensive, tense and closed off

The Emerging Global Web

Stephanie Rieger says, since the inception of the www, most of the internet’s users came from developed countries as did all the traffic on the Alexa top 10. This is radically changing as Internet penetration nears saturation in developed economies and traffic from fast growing emerging countries such as China, India and Russia makes up almost 3 billion global users have never used the internet (mainly due to poverty). Yet thanks to a few devices such as China’s cheap and cheerful Xiaomi Redmi 2, the last 3 billion are coming online straight to mobile and social media.

The emerging global online world statistic map

This leads to small business in emerging economies using new multichannel forms of online e-commerce and marketplaces. For example, Instagram pages are pretty popular in Kuwait. Businesses such as these provide a glimpse of a new, digital and mobile fuelled informal economy.

These services don’t offer “a great experience” but are “good enough” and offer a good balance of reach and effort. Most of these pages see the largest growth out in the countryside. China is growing and the largest global marketplace is Alibaba’s Tmall. It charges an entry fee and a commission for each sale but in return provides a high visibility, high traffic, customisable, social media and mobile optimised e-Commerce. Event Apple have a virtual storefront on Tmall. There’s also Taobao, which is kind of like ebay for small merchants but different to ebay in that you can sell services.

Online shopping neighbourhoods are online destinations created by social media where consumers can explore a curated selection of choices. Similar to an online travel agent theses sites get a cut for each outbound transaction. Part of the reason these services work is what feed into the virtuous circle of mobile and social media adoption. This is demonstrated by China’s Wechat with its 700 million plus users.

The web is changing. Emerging new world economies are defining new marketplaces and behaviours that will influence how the web works. Watch this space.

UX vs. Algorithms

In his talk, Giles Coleborne controversially questioned the future role of UX Designer, in a world increasingly relying on clever algorithms that impart user delight. If algorithms are doing all the heavy lifting, it’s important to define what agency designers will have to creatr the user experiences of the future. The behaviour of these algorithms such as Spotify’s Discover Weekly, which recommends music you may like based on your previous behaviour and other criteria, are defined in a large part by software engineers and not designers. However, limiting the amount of Discover Weekly recommendations was a design decision based on usability testing.

There are broadly four types of algorithms:

  1. Ranking
  2. Sensory Input
  3. Anticipation and Agents
  4. Natural Language

Some Takeaways:

  • Machine learning is not magic it’s engineering
  • Designers do have knowledge and skills that can help users mediate interacting with agentive tech like chat bots by understanding, interpreting  and translating the context of the user behaviour.
  • Making tech work well is what counts
  • Ensure users know they are interacting with a bot rather than a human
  • Understanding human-to-human interactions is key to informing and designing human-to-technology interactions.
  • UX Designers should learn more about algorithms whilst continuing to plan services, design tools and understand the foundation of designing behaviours.

Ranch Stories

Alan Cooper‘s final Keynote had a philosophical slant, part career reflection and part impassioned plea for designers to take a stand against injustice and opportunism in software business! I will be writing a separate special blog post about it. Stay Tuned.