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UX New Zealand 2017: A recap

A team of SilverStripe designers and developers recap their time at the UX New Zealand conference for 2017. Discover their favourite talks from the two day event, which brought together local and international speakers with a shared passion for better UX.

Posted in UX/Design

Tagged user experience, UX, design, conference

Dani Smith

by Dani Smith, James Ford, Mikaela Young, Paul Clarke and Sacha Judd

Posted 19 October 2017

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UX New Zealand is the annual User Experience conference in New Zealand, organised by Optimal Workshop. It is one of the few conferences held in Wellington and the community here is thrilled that it has remained in the creative capital. Common themes throughout the conference this year were ethics, inclusiveness, accessibility, humanity, improving the world, caring about people, influencing others to do right and leaving a positive mark.

Open Night

Opening night kicked off at Optimal HQ, giving attendees a chance to meet and greet with speakers as well as other UXers from around NZ and the globe. Networking might not be everyone’s favourite activity, but the folks at Optimal, plus a few key personalities, made the night a fairly smooth social launch for the conference to come.

Let the talks begin

First Alessandra Millar from Google spoke to us about the context and culture in which our designs will be interacted with. We sometimes make assumptions about our audiences but we should instead try to understand the underlying context. She spoke of people in developing country using maps who only had very old mobile phones and who could never update the app past the very first version. And culture—language can a barrier. Could you replace words with images?

This point contrasted the next talk from Kah Chan at Flick Electric, which was one of the standouts on the day. It was called The Importance of Crafting Language in UX (affectionately named ‘Why we need to write well for other people’). Kah spoke of how integral language is to UX Design. There are no excuses, we cannot say ‘we’re designers not writers...’ We need to consider the users feelings, how they relate to a product, rather than just its purpose. Our words should convey empathy, simplicity and clarity. Language is a craft we all need to learn.

A slide from Kah Chan's presentation

Another pick for favourite was A Cocktail of Painkillers and Vitamins – Adding Positive Complexity to Your UX from Ian Howard. The most memorable takeaway from Ian’s talk was that we need “more flowers on roundabouts”. Designers should not be slaves to data and best practice. We need to add some pleasure or interest so that our designs don't all become homogeneous best practice lookalikes.

Photo of meat cleaver door handles from Ian Howard's presentation

He used the image above as an example of positive complexity. It may not be a standard door handle, nor may it be the most functional, but it creates delight for people. Sometimes, that delight can be the difference between good design and great design.

Although unexpected, one of the most informative talks centred around effective form design, delivered by Julie Grundy at Bronto. She made us understand that forms are essential, they are everywhere, and so they must be effective. We should design our forms to ensure they incite feelings of simplicity, to reduce cognitive load and follow basic usability best practice. Julie talked about the importance in making accessible forms. There are “hidden benefits in accessibility” and equal access is better for everyone.

Ash Donaldson from Tobias incited us to create our own ethical frameworks and decision making tools. These can help us answer sticky questions when they arise, stay true to our humanistic values and feel confident in the knowledge that we’re consciously working to make the world a better place. We need to be thoughtful with our design—our designs last beyond us and can affect future generations.

We're not remembered for our intentions, we're remembered by our actions.

Conference Day Two

Jon Bell from Twitter started day two, introducing us to ‘wicked problems’, the big issues. Issues that will change but will never go away. He wanted us to understand just how much impact social media has on society. Jon said this for his time of the Twitter Abuse team:

I had a very hard time on the team—I saw too much.


Ruth Keiry and her interactive whiteboard presentation

Ruth Keiry from PWC sandbox had an incredibly unique approach to presentation. With help from her artistic sidekick Aaron, she presented in a tactile form, as Aaron sketched her ideas in real time as she spoke. The talk was A Collaborators Guide to the Galaxy and hinged on the idea of collaboration over cooperation.

Ask yourself “Why are we doing this?” Everyone needs to understand the ‘why’ for collaboration to work.

Dave Hockly from Springload spoke to us about measuring the success of a project. He taught us that go-live is just the start of the journey and we should invest in post go-live testing to quantify if what we thought was going to work has actually worked, and to not be afraid to make changes. He taught us that "user experience starts with asking smart questions. UX Design is answering those questions." As designers we need to keep digging deeper and asking why—data allows us to tell a better story.

Special mentions and quote gold

There were many many thoughtful and empowering talks at UX New Zealand, more than we could mention, so here are some of the standout quotes that stuck with us:

“Compelling isn’t comfy” –Ian Howard, Little Giant.

“Do by design, not by default” Anna Lee Anda, Zendesk.

“Walls don’t work - so we build rivers” Serena Chen, Bank of NZ. Serena is on the design team and urged us to care about our own security and privacy.

“There is no ‘right way’ to do UX” Greg Nudelman, GE

We’re not “decorators” merely concerned with ‘making the thing right,' but architects, ‘making the right thing’. Krispian Emert, UX Researcher. Krispian wanted us to keep learning, and always measure.

“Not only can what you design be inclusive, but it can also be empowering.” Andrea Bates, Wellbeing Wellington. Andrea spoke earnestly about her struggle with mental health, and how important it is for design to be accessible to all audiences.

Slides from Ian Howard

Left: Hierarchy of needs. Right: A demonstration of how taking a UX best practice approach to snakes and ladders might just ruin the experience

Final thoughts

To close, our team would like to share some insights from the conference in general, which turned out to be quite good user experience. Why do we attend conferences? Well it turns out that being in a room full of likeminded people with the same passions is crucial to furthering our understanding. Sharing ideas through a conference like UX New Zealand is so important to figure out whether we’re on the right track or if we’re having the same thoughts or doubts about the industry in general. One thing we knew for sure—that room was “Full of people that genuinely gave a shit.”


About the author
Dani Smith

Bridging the gap between design and marketing, digital and print. 

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