Reporting from MEX 2013

I recently struggled to get back into writing, whether for lack of time or for the ability to focus on one single subject. And that’s why it took me so long to report back about my experience at MEX, last September.

MEX is a conference about mobile user experience that happens periodically in London. As they put it themselves:

MEX is an event focused on user modes as the raw ingredients of digital experience across phones, tablets, PCs, wearables and more. Learn from expert speakers, develop skills & ideas in facilitated creative sessions and gain lifelong access to a network of fellow pioneers.

I applied for a scholarship and, luckily enough, I was granted a place.

The round of speakers was pretty impressive and I was looking forward to find out more about the latest in the field.

My goals

Since I have only recently started to approach UX in a more didactic way rather than instinctively (Finally! You say, I agree), I wanted to find out:

  • How much of what I do by instinct is right and how much is wrong
  • How do you sell UX to a client?
  • How much psychology is involved?
  • Tips on how to approach UX

The talks

★★★☆☆

I enjoyed Sofia Svanteson and Per Nordqvist‘s enthusiasm while presenting their ‘Explore’ talk, on how task based interactions are becoming limited, they only work when a user has a specific goal to achieve. James Taplin told us how technology and focus on UX can help improve the world promoting the ‘Principal Sustainability’. I learnt how much easier could the process of learning be, when you get the UX right, as Arun Vasudeva showcased some examples of rich content integration in education.
The interesting concept of co-creation was mentioned by Lennart Andersson, while Ben Pirt showed us how badly UX is implemented in hardware design! Where is the power button?
Jason DaPonte talked about his Sunday Drive app and hinted at the still unutilised potentials to integrate UI with existing devices (car navigation systems in this case).
Then we learnt how the majority of young users don’t listen to digital music in a ‘traditional’ way anymore, they prefer platforms like YouTube, Spotify, Grooveshark and how this generates an opportunity for developing a new design and offer a different experience. As Brittney Bean introduced us to her new project Songdrop between a joke and the other.

After all this information in one single day I wasn’t sure I could absorb more on day 2, but I did.

I discovered my inner (Forrest) Gump, as James Haliburton put it. How our receptive mode depends on context and spontaneity and how indeterminate and non-committal it can be.
Amy Huckfield intends to improve the life of children with ADHD with her research ‘Children with ADHD: The untapped Well of Future Creatives’, basically helping the child re-engage and re-focus after losing attention through an interactive wristband.
Rich Clayton explains how his Travel Time app could help business analyse their geographic data in an affordable way, because time could be more important than distance.
And finally Davide “Folletto” Casali tells us that 70% of the projects fail because of lack of users’ acceptance. We tend to adapt the tools we have, rather then look for the right ones to satisfy our needs, even when developing. To quote Bruno Munari:
“Complicare è semplice. Semplificare è difficile.” (To complicate is easy. To simplify is difficult.)

The ‘Creative sessions’

I didn’t particularly enjoy the Creative Sessions. Attendees were split in groups and were supposed to discuss and explore different topics. I was in the Create group and to date I am not sure what our objectives were. Maybe the topic was too broad. We ended up starting various interesting conversations on how to define a currency other than money to help potential users (we had set our target on students as an example), but we ended up with few ideas on a platform that could help with this currency exchange rather than an idea on how to enhance creation through user experience.

Conclusions

I find myself using a fairly common approach to user experience design, although I wasn’t aware I was doing it. That means there is a lot of room for improvement and definitely UX is becoming a conscious part of my design since stage one of sketching from now on.

Is UX changing?
Yes, it is. User are getting ‘smarter’ and UX needs to adapt quickly and continuously. Fairly obvious, but it’s because it’s obvious that it’s easy to forget. It’s not just the devices that are changing, users are too.
People want rich(-er) content, they look for it, feeling like they are making their own choices, but they do look for guidance and good UX design can be that guide.

Off topic things I learnt

The th sound is really a challenge for us Italians (I hope Davide “Folletto” Casali won’t get offended by this comment).
But I also learnt that the letter j makes Scandinavians struggle.

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