UXCamp Ottawa Redux: Dancing in Heels Backwards

The American actress, dancer and singer Ginger Rogers did “everything Fred Astaire did, except backwards and in high heels.” Throughout her career, the talented Ms. Rogers made twirls and leaps look effortless, and for us lesser-coordinated mortals, could generate breathless awe.Ginger Rogers and Fred Astaire

Creating experiences for other humans, be it acting a part on stage, designing a mobile phone, or developing a government website, requires a tremendous amount of effort to make people feel it was easy. When done right, creating a successful user experience can assure people that all is right in the world and they can move on to the next thing. The audiences for our architected experiences might even feel a bit of elation for having been witness to something truly delightful.

Some 450 people converged in Ottawa this past weekend at UXCamp to hear the clarion call of user experience (UX) professionals. With slightly different frames of reference, the call to action from the impressive group of international speakers asked the community of interface designers, content strategists, developers, graphic designers and marketers to consider the following:

  • Recognize the power of constraints (Shay Howe, Chicago) – Rather than a set of limitations, constraints help us focus our energies on solving problems. If we can’t buy a new search engine for example, we can at least make the current engine work better by delivering results that are actually usable (such as focusing on creating keyword-riddled titles and descriptions).
  • Architect the possible (Russ Unger, Chicago) – Muppets creator Jim Henson was able to breathe life into his puppets by using humans to move their arms and legs. When he needed to create this illusion for a movie scene set in a marsh, he realized that he needed his team to build a submarine so he could produce a realistic performance by Kermit the frog. The scene worked (and we learned a new song).
  • Love your team as you do your users (Samantha Soma, San Francisco) – Our slavish devotion to our users’ needs sometimes doesn’t carry over to our daily interactions with our colleagues. We need to have the same intense connection with the people we work with as we do on design problems.
  • We’re about user-centred design (Leisa Reichelt, UK) – UX is the new(er) buzzword for our profession. But the head of user research for the Government Digital Service said they avoid this term because the things that can impact user experience may have nothing to do with the interface. It might be about having the right policy or standards to support a government service. (And you can’t interface away bad policy.)
  • Failure is part of the process (Anton McConville, Ottawa) – The first two years spent trying to create a mobile application for Shelterbox did not yield the desired results. Anton learned that for his project, 80% was about perspiration and only 1% was about output. In other words, getting it right for users takes a great deal of thinking and planning.
  • Talk amongst yourselves (Daniel Szuc, Hong Kong) – Great conversation is the currency we need to create great user experiences. The more we explore the possibilities around our constraints, business goals and user needs, the richer the approaches that can be tried and tested.


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