UX Burlington 2016

April 15, 2016

I attended UX Burlington, a conference on web and user interface design last Friday in Burlington, Vermont. It was a wonderful experience. Many of the speakers were excellent, and the never ending waterfalls of exotic fair-trade coffee and espresso, and trays of delicate pastries and creatively-cut sugary confections had me feeling pampered and hyped. Each speaker was given 30 minutes for their presentation. Ethan Marcotte was the opening keynote while Karen McGrane left us with the closing. And at the end, mingling.

Ethan Marcotte spoke on building one’s own personal design pattern library. Why? Because having a library is a repository of designs and code that powers your interface, it’s a living breathing document of your evolving style, it facilitates in-browser testing, and assists onboarding new teammates. Marcotte outlined the process:

But before that, comes honing the intuition of when to reuse a design element and when to create a new one. And before that, a consideration of design for the adverse conditions of the web. We talk about responsive design in reference to ideal environments, but not the harsh reality of unideal conditions – slow networks and un-supportive browsers.

Ethan Marcotte gave the examples of The Toast, AirBNB, The Guardian and A List Apart as having pattern libraries to emulate.

Everette McKay’s presentation focused on the definition of usability: the motivations of users and how an interface should aim to meets their needs without frustration. He defined nine traits that suggest that a user interface is usable: it’s learnable (without reading extensive documentation), discoverable, comprehensible, predictable, efficient, responsive, explorable, forgiving and affording. He exclaimed, “People don’t read user manuals anymore,” on the topic of user habits, “users don’t expect Ford to look like Ferrari, but the steering wheels to work the same.” Modern apps have set the expectation of ease, users want immediate results and they expect interactions to be consistent from app to app. If you think they’ll act differently on your app, they probably won’t, because they spend most of their time using software other than yours. Ouch – reality bites. But it’s good to be humble.

Marguette Dibble discussed how using principles of game development can motivate users to take action, and guide users to complete an action with their own natural inclinations rather than demands. She advised to break user tasks down goals into small steps, and at the end of each step offer a reward and gradual increase in challenge. This keeps users engaged. I’m interested in learning more about her process, as it seems that gamification guides behavioral change. This is important, considering that many websites have a persuasive element to them (informing, raising advocacy, promoting, selling, etc).

Karen McGrane explained adaptive web design. Adaptive is a user experience that tailors the information and design to the device or context. The device could be desktop, laptop, tablet or smartphone. The context could be the environment (velocity, temperature, air pressure), date and time, geographic location or personal profile (age, gender, relationship status, language, life stage). It requires getting the server involved to detect the attributes of the device or context and deliver the best results.

So how does it differ from “responsive design” or “ websites”? Essentially, with adaptive, it’s the same URL but the content and design vary. Wheres with responsive, all content is the same but the design fluidly scales in size, and with the mobile site sits an another URL. Adaptive is a new word running around. But McGrane spares us the hoopla: “Responsive should solve 95% of your problems, adaptive solves the remaining 5%.” Above all, users want a seamless experience across all of their devices and access to content the way they want it.

UX Burlington left me with a lot to consider. I’m glad I went, and plan to again in 2017.