Web Expo Guildford (WXG) is a web design and developer conference hosted by local agency Kyan.
This is the second year of the conference and there were two streams of speakers for the day: One developer stream and one design stream, with a total of 12 talks. The full list of speakers and subject can be found here: wxg.co.uk/schedule/
Proof in the Prototype
Kat’s talk centred around her experiences of prototyping (both software and design-based) and the value it can bring in ensuring the success of projects, rather than focusing on the tools available to help prototyping.
Kat challenged the traditional definition of a prototype, which is to build and test a process or concept; she instead defined prototyping as being a process through which designers could answer the most important questions in the shortest amount of time. Prototypes help us move from the abstract to the experiential, tangible and real, and could help to fight designer ego and allow teams to see clearly what the function of the prototype is.
Using examples from her own experiencing in launching an iPad game, Cold Claim, Kat spoke about the importance of prototyping at the “pencil and paper” stage and the dangers of moving quickly into the technology phase. Be it a game or app, prototypes allow teams to iron out any major issues in the earlier stages of development that could lead to further delays, tensions and inevitably expense at later stages. Paper also allows for greater freedom, you are not unconstrained by any technical limitations. She also stressed that the context of the product is really important and the Houde & Hill model – the role, the look and feel, the implementation – can help to inform prototyping. The Cold Claim team was structured according to the Houde & Hill model, so that roles and responsibilities were clearly defined in what was an internationally collaborative project.
Prototyping is good for trailing crazy ideas and even very simple, low fidelity prototypes can quickly help identify real issues. For example, Tom Chi, of Google Labs, has shared his experiences in rapid prototyping for Google Glass (video of TED talk can be viewed here: http://www.mindtheproduct.com/2012/12/rapid-prototyping-google-glass-by-tom-chi/). There are thousands of iterations of augmented reality glasses available on the market, but why have current designs not taken hold in the market? Using only a piece of paper, wire and clay, Chi was able to quickly determine that AR glasses are uncomfortable if the bridge of the nose is the main support for the glasses. Resting on the ears, however, users were able to wear them comfortably and for much longer. This simple test helped to inform the well-known design of the Google Glass we see today.
So is there is a defined methodology for prototyping? By nature, it has quite unique processes but there are some ground rules that can be laid and basic models followed:
- Scientific method – simple is best
- Desired outcome model – helps to first define success criteria
- Backplan – start with the desired outcome and then start at the beginning
- Wing it! – Kat’s preferred method, which allows for creativity but:
- timeframes are necessary
- discuss take-away points
- have a content curator who manages all the ideas
- icebox most of the ideas
When does prototyping fail? It is easy to get false data from prototyping but this is where it is important to use a prototype like one a customer might use to get real results.
Classic reasons why prototypes fail:
- Trying to test too much at once
- Fidelity is wrong from what you are testing (e.g. high or low – functionality is not clear)
- Too many assumptions (on user behaviour)
- Prototyping too late on in the developmental process
- Holding onto preconceived ideas
- Test only with experts or knowledgeable users
Another challenge could be convincing other teams or staff that prototyping is valuable. How do you get your boss on board?
Boss Cheat Sheet
1) Best way to get a complete logical interaction loops that make sense (especially for complex interactions)
2) Whittles out crap ideas
3) Gets everyone on board and understanding what will be happening early on
4) Can iterate through 10 concepts a week
5) Can address risks and problems early on before they become dangerous for a business
Kat closed by stressing that usability and prototyping go hand in hand and that iteration can be both expensive and counterproductive in the long term. Her advice is to get out pieces of paper and draw well before you get to the technology phase.
A thousand words: Why strong imagery engages customers
“The iphone is the snapshot camera of today” – Annie Leibovitz, photographer
As Senior Director of Creative Content at Getty Images, Paul spoke about how he leads the research and planning teams who define content strategy. With such an enormous rise in the volume of visual content being created, distributed and shared online, the power of images is greater now more than ever. So how do brands ensure they keep up with changing consumer perceptions and behaviour in visual communication?
Figures Paul shared reveal the extent to which images are a huge part of our social activity:
- 1.5 billion monthly active users
- 80% of daily users outside US
- 300 million photos shared/day
- 150 million active monthly users
- 60% of daily active users are outside the US
- 55milliong photos shared each day
- 7 billion images
- 200 million contributors
- 4,700 images uploaded in the last minute
Bearing in mind all this data, to analyse communication trends on the most basic level, Paul and his team can look at top keyword search terms and most used Getty images. This data can help indentify social and demographic movements and which images resonate with consumers and across different verticals. “Families” is one of the most searched terms on Getty images, but the most popular image of that family has continued to evolve with social trends.
But what makes a powerful image? Before the explosion of smart phones, it would have boiled down to the craft of photography, lighting, photographic treatment, models, and so forth. But nowadays, it is a level playing field, as non-professional photographers can create and share their images and distribute them widely online. Images are a lot more candid, with a strong trend towards capturing real moments. With more images taken with mobile phones that cameras, anyone who has a phone has the potential to share that moment. Paul stated that a study had claimed that photo tweets are 95% more likely to be shared, indicating that we are all becoming creators and consumers of imagery.
Previously, the power of images for brands lay in their ability to communicate a message simply and with emotion. Now, it is not just emotion but also authenticity of that emotion. Following the psychological axiom “the more you are like me, the more I will like you”, user generated content (UGC) has particular strength compared to brand or commercial content, in that it is seen to be trusted and gives an air of unpretentiousness and integrity.
The strong influence of UGC is now being reflected back into professional shoots and brand campaigns, with grittier, simpler, imperfect images being more common place. This is trying to get consumers to trust brands by appealing to that psychological axiom and the movement towards what Paul coined as sensory currency. As technology takes over more of our lives, we take on a desire to see things that are more real – a desire to go back to the craft – and brands try to echo that sentiment with the images they chose to use.
Richard Banks from Microsoft Research said that “the act of taking a photograph is no longer about the image at all, it’s about participation.” Paul stressed that we largely take pictures in order to share them and not print them. It follows then that photos allow people to tell stories, to express emotion, identity and culture, and in doing so, it is a new mechanism of participation within social communities.
Getty’s research into trends in imagery and across different verticals (e.g. travel, health care, etc) can be found here: curve.gettyimages.com
Putting users first
Frances spoke of her experience as front-end lead for the award winning www.gov.uk project at the Government Digital Service. The project to overhaul and re-design government online services – from the MoD to the DVLA – followed the findings of a white paper by appointed strategist Martha Lane Fox. It recognised that the government service sites were largely failing, in both their usability and function, the inefficiencies of which were costing the tax payer millions of pounds.
With a new team of developers, government content writers and a blessing from “the powers that be”, their task has been to overhaul 2,000 government websites so that they all follow the same design to form one consistent user experience – from design through to navigation and content.
The team Frances worked with restated the mission for the government’s digital services using a set of Design Principles, which acted as a foundation for the whole programme.
The list is available on the gov.uk site https://www.gov.uk/designprinciples. but Frances went on to explain them in more detail:
1) Start with user needs – what is the user trying to achieve? By putting yourself in the user’s shoes, you are better able to understand from the very start the basic task at hand.
2) Do less – in relation to both on-site functionality and content, have only what is necessary and relevant. Frances gave the example of the previous government site containing content that blurred the boundaries of the government’s function: “the government should only do what the government can do”.
3) Design with data – generally, people do not know how to navigate or search for things. Only by recording user sessions and seeing what users are doing are you better able to design based on use behaviour. Take that data and run with it.
4) Do the hard work to make it simple – The roles of developers and designers should be to do the hard work for the user, so they don’t have to. Simplicity aids user experience; in a recent Telegraph interview, Apple’s design chief Jonathan Ive said that “The quest for simplicity has to pervade every part of the process. It really is fundamental.”
5) Iterate. Then iterate again – the importance of testing and prototyping, learning and repeating all over again.
6) Build for inclusion – accessibility is key for the government sites as they need to be accessible for all users. The final www.gov.uk is quite a stripped back site but accessibility was at the foundation of the project, and they worked closely with Leonie Watson to have accessibility and inclusion beyond box-ticking. The team also found that user research was of much greater value than any academic ideals or papers on accessibility.
7) Understand context – in the way you work and what you produce. When, where and how will content be viewed? By what audiences, at which times and on what devices?
8) Build digital services not websites – the government website is not the final destination. It is important to think about the bigger picture and journey. It is likely that users are coming to access specific information or carry out a specific action with an end result that is exterior to the site. For example, when buying a gig ticket online, the end experience is going to the gig, not buying the ticket. Effective site design should consider at what stage in the consumer journey the site will play a part.
9) Be consistent, not uniform – it is necessary for the sites to be consistent in tone of voice, design and usability, so that they can be recognised as being part of the same family of sites but still distinct in their own way. There’s enough regularity that the brand is protected and seen as trustworthy, but there is still some flexibility in both function and form.
The content was all re-written from scratch and based around a well-defined house style, so that all the different sites and teams could have the same brand tone of voice. The bespoke ruby CMS built from scratch for each site had a built in functionality called “Second Eyes” where content would be vetted by another individual for consistency and accuracy before going live. This ensured continuity in the language, tone and style, which is very important for user experience but also trust.
10) Make things open, it makes things better – In line with the general open source culture, there is a whole Github for the government site code (https://github.com/alphagov). Frances pointed out that anyone could request visibility through a Freedom of Information request, so why not keep it open anyway and uphold principals of transparency?
Her closing lines encouraged developers and designers to commit to better user experiences for real people. Keeping the user at the heart of the project challenged the perceptions of what it is that users wanted and needed.
A significant consequence was that the re-designs actually changed the culture at the government offices through having to challenge and re-affirm their function and purpose. Through having their design principals to remind them of their purpose and task, they have been able to successfully manage this rather monumental project, which is still on-going.
Positive for Conkers
Self described as a “Jack of all trades and master of flip all”, Gavin’s talk centred around attitudes towards creativity and the freedom and success that can come by being dedicated and passionate but also unafraid to challenge convention and to try new things. Largely self-taught, he has tried his hand at making movies, building toys, publishing books and designing clothes, amongst a myriad of other things. Along with tenacity and curiosity, he stresses the wide range of digital tools and software available allow for greater accessibility to be creative. But it is also through connections, collaboration and bringing people together that great things can happen.
Designers and developers work in a field of creativity which is something that is easy to lose sight of when staring at spreadsheets and lines of code – “you can’t make fun unless you’re having fun!” As creators of creativity, designers and developers should be unafraid of playing around, teasing and twisting ideas and convention. Being a cynic, waiting to be asked or working only within your remit all stunt creativity and reduce the possibilities open to us – Ninja Turtles meeting the Power Rangers is a glorious example of somebody, somewhere, saying yes.
He quoted that “you’re only as good as your last piece of work, so give your work your absolute all.” From designing 5ft Gromit statues to filming the spray painting of a Boeing 737, from organising fixed gear bike races around Bristolian fish and chip shops to designing band posters, there seems little that Gavin has not tried and succeeded in due to his ambition and energy.
His parting advice was that we should all say yes more and look for to be inspired by the greatness around us; for example, Sir Ken Robinson and his TED talk on nurturing creativity and Jiro Ono on a quest for perfection.
Guest Author Bio
Briony Gunson is an SEO Client Manager at Resolution Media, part of Manning Gottlieb OMD, a London based Media Agency.
Having previously worked across PPC, SEO and Social, Briony is passionate about integrated SEM strategies and handles accounts for a wide range of UK clients. She enjoys the challenge of working with multiple teams, agencies and stakeholders to develop holistic digital strategies and is always looking for ways to improve and tailor processes, relationships and practices.
When not burning the midnight oil at work, she’s tearing about on a netball court, cycling to dance classes or bopping about at a gig. You can come say hello @BrionyGunson