UX Brighton 2010 in review

If further proof were needed about the strength of the UX industry, yesterday saw 270 attendees crammed into the Sallis Benney Theatre for a largely homegrown UX Brighton lineup.

Opener Eric Reiss channelled Lars von Trier with his own vow of design chastity. In doing so, he urged us to ground innovation in its true purpose of solving problems. Taking aim at some well-known UX targets, Eric bemoaned the fact that his Web Dogma is still as relevant in 2010 as ever.

Claire Rowland offered a fascinating managerial viewpoint on creativity (in spite of technical problems), dispelling myths and instead focusing on the roles of personality and intrinsic/extrinsic motivation in creative work.

Julian Hirst and Graham McAllister showed the application of UX and usability practice to the less publicised areas of B2B service design and games testing, with Graham’s galvanic skin response measurements forming an intriguing (if slightly impractical) measure of user enjoyment of a digital experience. Keeping the focus on research and testing, James Page and Sabrina Mach dismissed lab-based approaches as lacking context, instead pointing the way to remote ethnographic approaches that no doubt include their own.

The day’s theme of Designing for Behaviour paved the way for a strong marketing and advertising focus. Bunnyfoot’s John Dodd pulled the audience into David Ogilvy’s world of communication and research, ending on the ever-controversial eyetracking, while Johnny Holland chief kahuna Jeroen van Geel drew on the field of branding to demonstrate how products and services can become imbued with personality through tone of voice, microcopy and interaction design details. [See Does Technology Need Personality?]

In the light of such a focus on behaviour modification, Harry Brignull’s exposé on the seedy underbelly of Dark Patterns was a welcome adjunct. It was the ethical call to arms I’ve long espoused, and admirably demonstrated the shades of grey that lie between the poles of positive and negative influence. [See Harry’s slides.]

Headliner Rory Sutherland wrapped up eloquently, floating through obliquity, Austrian economics, the torture of weddings and framing in advertising. Putting one-dimensional metrics to the sword, Rory implored us to focus on the intangibles that abound in “cloud-like” human systems that resist numerical analysis. We must “cherish the small things” and focus on the details of experience and value. Rory’s dream of a Minister of Detail, with enormous power but no financial clout, goes sadly unrealised to date.

UX Brighton was an enjoyable addition to the conference circuit, although there was much material that, however fascinating, I don’t view as user experience. Personally I can live without the blunted popular science that abounds in the persuasion marketing field, and I’d be delighted to never again hear of Predictably Sticky Nudge Swans (or whatever it’s called). But this just reflects my personal framing of design, rather than any flaws with this entertaining and promising conference. Kudos to Danny and the team, and here’s to 2011.

Cennydd Bowles