Highlights from UX Brighton 2017 – Designing for Complexity (Part 2)

In a previous post I explored some of my highlights from UX Brighton 2017, specifically exploring the Cynefin framework and Systems Thinking. In this blog I’d like to give my thoughts on 2 more of the talks I saw, the first a methodical approach to the ordering and prioritisation of user tasks, the second an ethical look at the role played by designers in the modern world.

Top Tasks Methodology

Gerry McGovern is a bit of a personal hero of mine since reading his book, Killer Web Content almost 8 years ago. It changed the way I thought about website content and copywriting, putting me on a path towards the consultancy role I’m in today. At the risk of sounding like a fanboy, this talk on the Top Tasks Methodology was my biggest takeaway from the day, not only due to the content, but also because of Gerry’s exuberant presenting style.

The Top Tasks methodology provides a way to strip away the noise with usability and really hone in on what matters to your users. It is based on a deceptively simple premise, collating all the tasks you expect users will or may want to perform on your website and then ask users to rank them in order of importance.

At a more detailed level it requires a significant amount of stakeholder engagement with as much of the organisation as possible. This means working with teams across the business using mediums such as the corporate strategy, social media, customer feedback and on-site behaviours to identify the tasks.

The next step is to shortlist the tasks, a process that requires a careful use of language to strip back tasks to their essence and ensure each is robust and concise. Some explanation of the task is allowed, but the main emphasis is on creating tasks that can be instantly understood, and easily rated by users.

The task list survey, by Gerry’s own admission breaks all the rules of survey design.  50-80 tasks in one long list and having users rank only 5 on a scale 1 to 5 shouldn’t work, but it has been successfully used over 400 times in the past 10 years. The argument is that because it is so overwhelming, the user responds with their gut instincts, rather than with the answers they think they should be providing.

Put simply, the resulting data is a prioritised list of tasks which can shape the user experience, allowing users to quickly and easily undertake the tasks they have come to the website to complete. Not only does it result in a website that is structured around statistically significant user goals, it also removes internal opinion from the decision making process leading to better outcomes. It is a methodology that I would definitely like to trial in the future.

Design Activism

The final talk I’d like to cover was from Daniel Harris on Design Activism. In a thought provoking talk, Daniel highlighted the ways in which the internet and technology is permeating all aspects of life, and not always positively.

A stand out statistic for me was that a quarter of all girls show signs of depression at the age of 14, and it has been said that the pressures of social media have contributed to this. Daniel’s argument was that the design of some social media platforms and the way they encourage us to return continually to check updates and notifications have played a part in this. Ultimately, as designers, we have an ethical responsibility to consider the consequences of our designs.

Daniel went further, stating we (as designers) also have an important role in shaping the future, influence over what these new systems and technologies can do and ultimately what impact they have upon our society. It was powerful stuff and certainly a point that resonated.

This year, UX Brighton balanced the practical with the theoretical and while there was too much to run through in a couple of blog posts, hopefully this has given a little insight into what was covered. I look forward to 2018’s event to see what the team can throw at us next time.

Photo credit: Siobhan Harris