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Last week, I flew out to Berlin for user experience conference UX Camp Europe. Several hundred UX professionals and students attend the two-day event each year, making it one of the biggest of its kind in the world..
The conference has a ‘barcamp’ style structure where the attendees give talks, rather than a having pre-planned line-up of invited speakers. This meant that the multi-national audience were all there to share their user experience knowledge and experiences.
The conference began with self-nominated speakers describing what their sessions would be about before booking a time slot and a room for their sessions, on the ‘grid’.
Attendeees posted details of their sessions on the grid
With around 50 different talks on offer each day there was a whole lot of UX knowledge to fit in, and I was spoilt for choice. While I can’t cover all the sessions that I attended in this post, I’ve chosen a few of my highlights from each day.
The schedule for Saturday was packed, with nearly all 50 session slots quickly filled. The two sessions that stood out for me during the day were on ‘Remote usability testing’ and ‘How effective CRO requires great UX’.
Remote usability testing
Here at Fresh Egg we do quite a lot of usability testing. Some of this is run in person, with myself or one of the team asking a user, who is in the same room as us, to complete tasks on a website. We also run remote testing, where the user is in another location. Generally these remote tests are ‘unmoderated’, meaning that the user takes part in the test on their own using written instructions, with no facilitator.
The talk at UX Camp focused on moderated remote testing.. In this type of testing the user and facilitator are in different locations but are in communication during the test, either by phone or through a service such as Skype.
The session was run by usability consultant Holly DeWolf, who shared her experience of remote testing, both on computers and with mobile devices. Holly shared a useful table that she had created showing the effectiveness of different communication methods and tools. This table showed whether the different options were able to provide screen recording, how easy they were to use, and what level of cost was involved.
Remote mobile usability testing can be particularly challenging due to the lack of mobile friendly alternatives to established user testing tools. Holly spoke about the ‘hug’ method of user testing, popularised by MailChimp, where the user positions their laptop camera to record them using the phone by ‘hugging’ it, as demonstrated in the photo below:
The session concluded with some useful tips for recruiting users and scheduling usability testing, no matter where in the world users are.
How effective CRO requires great UX
Another stand-out talk from the day that appealed to me was about ‘How effective CRO requires great UX', a session hosted by Giles Thomas. It was the only CRO talk of the weekend, which naturally made it a session that I didn’t want to miss. The session covered five areas:
I was fairly familiar with the misconceptions that Giles talked about. Perhaps the most common being that ‘CRO is just about A/B testing’. The next section covered what CRO is really about, and concluded with the following definition:
“Conversion optimisation is the process of increasing profits through a better and deeper customer understanding”
It was interesting to see that the process that Giles follows is quite similar to the one we use here at Fresh Egg. This starts with understanding business objectives before moving onto collecting and analysing data. An effective CRO campaign should use both qualitative and quantitative data to get the best results.
Giles reiterated the importance of understanding the ‘motivations, wants and needs’ of the users. With the data analysed, the next step is to create hypotheses for A/B tests and then design and build those tests. Learning from the results of those tests, whether positive or negative, is obviously crucial to the ongoing success of a CRO campaign.
The session finished with some case studies of campaigns that Giles had worked on, showing some impressive uplifts in conversions for his clients.
After the presentation finished we were asked who in the room worked within the field of CRO. Surprisingly I was the only person to raise my hand, showing that despite the clear crossover of the two disciplines CRO is not an area that many UX professionals are currently working in.
Saturday’s proceedings finished with a keynote talk by UX Camp Europe veteran Eric Reiss. Eric is a business and information architecture theorist, consultant and author who uses his experience from working as an actor and musician to deliver thoroughly engaging talks. This year he spoke about ‘Five UX questions in search of answers’, covering a wide range of issues that the industry faces. His talk ended with the following words of wisdom:
Eric’s entertaining, inspiring and informative session was the perfect way to end a busy first day.
With most attendees nursing hangovers from the UX Camp party, day two began with attendees giving outlines of their talks and then putting them up on the grid. My stand-out sessions from Sunday were a talk on ‘Business model generation’ and a workshop on ‘UX Camp app feedback & ideation’.
Business model generation
The session on business models stood out from the other talks on traditional UX techniques. Hosted by Silvie Daumal, the talk focused on the book Business Model Generation, which was written by Alexander Osterwalder and Yves Pigneur and looked at how Business Canvases could be used to map out key digital business elements.
Silvie session covered the business model canvas
A digital business model diagnostic kit can be used to show examples of ways in which businesses could think differently for huge gains. One suggestion was to look at game changing cost structures. Examples of this were Airbnb, who are the world’s largest accommodation provider despite owning no real estate, and Uber, who are the world’s largest taxi company but own no vehicles. Another area of value was ‘getting others to do the work’, where companies like Facebook use third parties (i.e. us!) to create the value for them.
All of these techniques require a strong understanding of the end customer, and user research plays a big part in this.
UX Camp app feedback & ideation
Another excellent session was hosted by Dee Scarano, who is a UX and service designer at Futurice. Dee facilitated a workshop that looked at ways to improve the UX Camp mobile app. The app offered attendees the ability to plan which sessions they’d like to attend, as well as giving them a way to stay up-to-date with the latest news about the conference.
The workshop was aimed at identifying and prioritising improvements for the app. Everyone in the room was asked to write down three suggestions for improvements on Post-it notes (UXers love Post-its!) and to take part in a prioritisation process.
The process was:
At the end of this process each team had three prioritised ideas which they presented back to the group, giving a somewhat democratic approach to design improvements and combing the wisdom of around 20 UX professionals.
Sunday finished with a panel session which covered the highlights of the event as well as looking at what could be improved for next year. The panel discussed the recurring themes from this year’s UX Camp and focused on the skill sharing aspect of the UXers. There were over 500 people present for this session, representing a range of skill levels: from beginners to mentors demonstrating a willingness to learn and share that’s so prevalent in the UX community.
The event was impeccably run by a team of hard working volunteers who ensured that not only was there a lot learned but that we were also well looked after during our time in Berlin. Free Currywurst and lagers were the icing on an excellent UX cake, and I’m already looking forward to heading back to Germany for UX Camp 2016.
If you’ve not been to a ‘barcamp’ style event before, then I thoroughly recommend them. Having the option to pick and choose from several different sessions means you’ll always find something that’s useful and relevant to you. There are UX Camps all across Europe. If you’re based in the UK then you might want to attend UX Camp London, or UX Camp Brighton.
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