Last month, the two of us attended the User Experience Professionals Association (UXPA) conference in London, UK. In addition to giving some presentations ourselves (Elizabeth on the psychology of color perception, and Kathi on design psychology and “bulletproofing” UX research methods), we had a great time watching our peers’ presentations, connecting with old and new friends, and of course, exploring the city!

Couldn't join us in London? We have you covered. In no particular order, here are our 10 favorite ideas and experiences from UXPA 2014:

1.    One of the big ideas that came out of Matias Duarte’s opening keynote was that creating great experiences is not limited to a single product, interface or channel. This got us thinking about the organization-level challenges that would face such a “holistic” UX approach, such as sharing information about users across the organization, and implementing management structures to enable prioritization of efforts across projects. UX professionals know how to design across products and channels, but companies don’t – perhaps it’s time to turn our UX design skills on our own organizations.

Matias Duarte  delivers the opening keynote at UXPA 2014.

Matias Duarte delivers the opening keynote at UXPA 2014.

2.    Is “liking” people necessary for being a good UXer? This heated debate erupted in Samantha Yuen’s ‘Anatomy of a UX Practitioner’ session. Opinions ranged from believing that liking people is necessary for understanding users, to seeing it as unrelated to our jobs as UXers, to believing that it is actually a hindrance to unbiased UX research. Our opinion? A UXer who likes people is like a vet who likes animals: it’s not strictly necessary, but it makes for better outcomes.

3.    Janel Blattler demonstrated that you don’t always need fancy software (or even a notebook) to capture your ideas—you can jump right in with sticky notes, which might be the perfect medium for creating quick, simple storyboards to communicate your vision to stakeholders.

Janel Blattler  demonstrated how to whip up a quick storyboard using sticky notes.

Janel Blattler demonstrated how to whip up a quick storyboard using sticky notes.


4.    In the ‘Future of UX’ Ignite session, Lija Hogan described her view of how our field will adapt to accommodate the challenges of climate change and population growth. She proposed that the humans of 25 years in the future will rely far more on natural, easily accessible materials and do-it-yourself production strategies, which will push UXers to focus on enabling the average person to build and create on their own. What a thought-provoking session!


5.    UX recruiters Amanda Stockwell and Heather Young shared some great strategies for landing your ideal UX position. They highlighted the importance of structuring your application materials in a way that really emphasizes your value, by choosing the most memorable projects to showcase, describing your process in a clear, compelling way, and quantifying the impact of your work when possible. They say that only about 20% of the 3500 candidates they have reviewed do this effectively!


6.    The team from Spotless set up a fun brainstorming activity to get our creative juices flowing. Passers-by built 5-minute Lego sculptures illustrating why they do UX. Check out Elizabeth’s masterpiece:

"I do UX because I want to use my unique skillset to solve users' & companies' problems."  --  Elizabeth Allen

"I do UX because I want to use my unique skillset to solve users' & companies' problems."  -- Elizabeth Allen


7.    The “Controversial Beliefs About Usability Testing” panel had audience members take sides on a number of issues and hear supporting and opposing arguments for each. One that drew a particularly strong reaction was Steve Krug’s assertion that only the three biggest UX issues should be reported out to the client, with the rest of the issues only shared after those problems are fixed. We (and most of the crowd) soundly disagreed—research is as much about illuminating the problems as it is pushing people to solve them.


8.    The Amberlight-sponsored Thames Pub Crawl was a fun social and networking event on a beautiful afternoon for a walk. We even got to learn a little London history along the way…for example, at one of the pubs we stopped in, Charles Dickens had offered his insurance policy as a guarantee for payment, and then never returned!


9.    In “Getting A Grip On Stress”, Yotam Sahar presented evidence that grip strength can be used as a measure of stress. In his study, Yotam showed that people who were put in stressful conditions maintained a strong grip for a longer time than people who were not. The real-world implications of this could be big—imagine if cars in the future could keep tabs on drivers’ stress levels through sensors in the steering controls, and use this information to adjust their speed and performance?


10.    The conference closed with an inspiring keynote presentation by Anna Kirah, Chief Experience Officer at the Norwegian company Making Waves. Anna expertly wove touching personal stories with lessons about designing with users rather than for them, ending the conference on a warm, positive note and earning a well-deserved standing ovation.

Juan Felipe Caro 's fantastic sketchnote of Anna Kirah's keynote presentation.

Juan Felipe Caro's fantastic sketchnote of Anna Kirah's keynote presentation.

A huge thanks to all the conference organizers for putting on a stellar event. As usual, UXPA was a great success, and we are excited to return again next year!