Friday, June 22, 2012

Careering around at the UK UXPA


“He’s actually really nice”

Notwithstanding the fact that any address that ends in ‘Canary Wharf’ seems to disappear into the Bemuser Triangle the closer I get to it and that on this occasion I wasn’t alone in trying to locate an enormous shiny building that was right in front of me, I made it along to the UK UXPA careers event yesterday at the Thomson Reuters building somewhere in, well, Canary Wharf, along with a number of extraordinary colleagues from Foolproof who I can only describe as infinitely more approachable than myself. And Matt.

I had initially registered as an attendee, just because I was interested in the event anyway, but somehow become part of the official delegation, which mostly meant I had to carry Karen’s popup banner from Goswell Road to Canary Wharf. Either way, I’d really come to attend the panel discussion with Leslie Fountain, Andy Budd, and the most charming man in the world™, Giles Colborne, who were going to have a stab at discussing the vagaries of UX in the boardroom and what that means to business, businesses, management, aspiring management, new hires, prospective new hires, clients, projects, practice, vision, values, mission, goals, and how things smell.

At the same time as the panel, there was to be several rounds of speed-dating for prospective employers/recruiters and candidates/people of interest, which, as it turns out, would consist of some rather loud whistling, CVs, portfolios, elevator pitches, business cards, raised eyebrows, knowing glances, ticks in boxes and, by the end of the evening, more or less passing out on the corporate carpet. Taking part in one of these events requires a strong constitution and boundless enthusiasm. I wasn’t part of it.

And if that wasn’t enough, there was also some splendid UX booth kinda action in the main foyer, where I noticed Jason Mesut was delivering the kind of folio advice that can leave unsuspecting hopefuls in that curious state of super encouraged and mostly terrified about their future. That man knows what he’s talking about, children.

And if that that wasn’t enough wasn’t enough, there was more pork product than I think I’ve ever seen in one place and buckets of cold Prosecco, which would later be the cause of my Downfall-like self-castigation wandering rather too close to very deep water whilst frantically searching for the underground station that would take me to the train back to Norwich via Stratford, the official travel centre of the London 2012 Olympic park in association with A SHOP or something. For UX events at Canary Wharf are not your UX events in Shoreditch. I mean, I like hot lofts and crisps and everything, but corporations do hospitality as a core practice and they mostly do it very well. Thompson Reuters didn’t buck that trend.

But back to the panel. Leslie opened proceedings with some discussion points about what it means to provide leadership in UX businesses and, specifically, used the example of how this is manifest at Foolproof. Core to her proposition is that vision and values are critical in describing what your business is all about and enables internal stakeholders and staff to deliver toward that and understand why they do what they do in context of what that means to the company. Crucially, it also describes to the outside world – clients, customers, partners, candidates, friends – what the culture of the company is, what their aims are, and how they intend to pursue their goals, so that it becomes a shared imperative at the point where relationships are formed and ongoing engagements are managed. In other words, it enables you to say “this is who we are and this is where we’re going. If you like the look of that, lets have a conversation”.

I like Leslie. I like hearing her talk. I like her style. We’re going to do a double act.

What followed Leslie’s opener was a nicely animated discussion, which, in a nice touch, had Andy, Leslie and the most charming man in the world™;, Giles, perched on stools, like some awesome UX Westlife. There was even a spare stool next to Andy and I was sorely tempted to join them for an impromptu cover of a Jared Spool ballad or something, but resigned myself to kicking things off with the first question, which went something like “yeah, you say vision and values but really, people just ignore that stuff, innit?” Needless to say, it was pointed out that yes, that might often be true, but what we try and do is…

I only trailed off there because I can’t remember the answer correctly. But over the next 40 minutes or so, an awful lot of sense was spoken. I was particularly drawn to the passion and sincerity in Andy’s descriptions of how he makes his business decisions, runs his company and decides what to do and why. He was very honest about the learnings made from his mistakes and how he used those to make better decisions and, in particular, learn how to say no, which was a bit of recurrent theme. As ever, Giles was thoroughly entertaining, but because of the most charming man in the world™ thing, every time he spoke, I just kind a gawped at him like a headlit rabbit as the words came out and consequently missed a lot of what he actually said. He does tell a good story though.

And then I was done. I did get to speak to a number of people during the course of the evening who commented, as I felt, that this wasn’t like a normal UX event, because you get to speak to each other throughout, rather than at the end, which was all very convivial. I hope those bright-faced young prospectives got as much out of it as the gurn-faced old miseries (that’s me, by the way, just to be clear) did. Curiously, I also had a couple of people make the comment at the beginning of this post. That was about Andy. I’ve no idea how they might have thought otherwise.

Thanks to the UK UXPA for organising. Canary Wharf is sometimes a bit wrong, but last night there was a little place in the middle where everything was right.


Monday, June 11, 2012

Waiting for the train that never comes

hepworth 1

"Here’s my platform. I’m stood on my platform, waiting for the train. But the harder I wait the less the train comes. It’s a paradox. The train will never come if I wait for it, however hard I wait.

So I go to my park. Here’s my park. It’s got grass and trees and things. There’s places I can go and just not worry about trains. So I stand on a pole and start not to worry too much about trains. Soon I’m not worrying about trains at all.

And then my feet leave my pole and I ‘m lifted to the sky. I’m flying. I look down at my park and there are other people in my park. They’re not worried about trains. They’re just doing whatever it is they do.

Before I know it, I’m way, way up in the sky. I’m so far from worrying about trains that I’m playing with the planes. The planes are orange and Easy. Not like the trains.

Oh, the trains. I need to get a train. I’ll never get a train up here. I need to get a train. We all need to get a train. Where are the trains?

So I’m back at my platform. I’m stood on my platform, waiting for the train. But the harder I wait the less the train comes. I know there are trains. I’ve been on trains before. They took me right where I wanted to go. But there’s no train here. Maybe I’m waiting too hard.

Wait, here comes a train! I think that’s a train I can use. Let…Oh. It’s gone. Still, there’ll probably be another one. You know, wait hard enough for one train and they all come at once.

<pause>

No. No more trains.

But wait. It’s not just me. There’s other people here waiting for a train. Other people trying too hard to wait for a train. I wonder if they have a garden? Or a pole? I wonder if they fly? I wonder what kind of trains they’ve been on? So we talk. We talk about gardens. We talk about poles. We talk about flying. And we talk about trains. It turns out we’re all waiting too hard for our trains and those trains just never seem to come. Maybe we should stop waiting so hard.

And you know, as we’re talking…a train arrives. We’re not sure where it’s going, but its there, all the same.

And then another arrives. We’re not really sure where that’s going either, but it looks kind of interesting.

And more and more trains arrive. Until there’s so many trains that we just don’t know which ones to ride on. But it’s alright. Because we’ll just try a few and see where they go. We don’t have to go all the way, but it might be interesting so see what happens. How about we just take a train each? We could meet back here and tell each other how it was. If we really like one, let’s take it all the way together.

Here’s my platform. I’m waiting for the train. But I’m not waiting too hard. Seems to me, the harder you wait the less the train comes. Anyway, my friends will be here soon. We’ll not wait too hard and just see what happens."

Thursday, June 7, 2012

Why I submit

A couple of years ago I’d not spoken out loud to a room of professionals that I didn’t actually work with notwithstanding the fact that I have worked some places where there was about 75,000 people on a WebEx patiently waiting for you to load up those slides about the global web platform that your boss said was going to completely change the business but which you seem to have mislaid or simply written over with an amusing powerpoint checklist for what colleagues should do when they’re stuck in the corridor between the buildings on campus when security have gone home and your only recourse is the fire alarm.

In the last couple of years, however, I’ve been throwing stuff up all over whatever UX calls for submissions are available just to try and get my face in front of a room of professionals and talk about thinking time in experience design or designing mobile wallets or my face or my bike or how to design for a room full of stakeholders keenly anticipating a shift in their business model based on a globalisation proposal you’ve just lost.

Some of what I throw up sticks, some doesn’t. Well, a lot doesn’t actually, but when it does it’s pretty exciting. And then I just have to say stuff and be interesting and actionable and have a joke or two and preferably a drink or two as well and if somebody comes up to me afterwards and tells me they liked it and it was interesting and that actually it was really relevant to what they are doing and could we talk some more about it, then that is what it’s all about. And that’s why I do it.

I’ve been around a while and I’ve done some interesting stuff and maybe if you’ve made the effort to come and see what I’m talking about and I’ve made the effort to come and talk to you then we’ve already got something in common and it could be the start of a beautiful relationship where we can think about changing the world through design one conversation at a time. Or you’ll think I’m a bit of an arse. Either way, I’m not going to pretend to you that I’ve redefined user experience or discovered how to bend the UX time continuum with my new method or practice[tm]. To be honest, I don’t know what I’m talking about half the time. If you’ve seen me facilitate a workshop, you’ll know what I mean. But I do at least know what I’ve done and I can tell you about that. You might have done it too. You might not have. But while I’m up here and I’m telling you about it through the haze of a slide transition and a stumbling near-dad-dance in front of a projector disco light, if I see you curling a smile and nodding your head slightly or even inexplicably writing something down, then, you’re welcome. It was a pleasure.