UX Bristol 2014

I was really pleased to be back in Bristol on July 18 for UX Bristol 2014. I’ve been a couple of times before, and I might have enjoyed this one the most. I learned a lot, and there are various topics and discussions that I want to follow up on. I enjoyed sessions on estimating, repertory grids, design sprints, and brand-building basics.

A photo of Bristol's harbour and the M Shed

Participants have a selection of four one-hour workshops to attend, and the day wraps up with a few short talks. I have sketchnotes for the things that I attended, and I’ve included those below. There are also great live blogged notes online, too… quite by coincidence, I seem to have attended the same sessions as the live blogger!

Estimating Projects

Why do things take longer than expected?

Nairn Robertson (@nairnski) of E3 got us off to a great start. Estimating doesn’t sound all that sexy… OK, it isn’t sexy at all. But the room was full. Any of us who work in UX day-to-day, perhaps have to pitch for work, and think at all strategically need to be able to estimate – duration, cost, impact, value… You name it.

I was particularly interested in this session, since it ties in with how I’ve been thinking about project management and team dynamics.

Sketchnotes for estimating projects

Anyway, aside from what you can see in the sketchnotes, there were a few outstanding bits for me:

  • really, estimating is easy. The deal-breaker is project management, and actually keeping things on track. That is a whole other topic.
  • while the estimation games are a fun approach, you really need data / experience to come up with numbers. If you’re into lean and kanban, then this is obviously where metrics and cycle & lead times come in. Something to chew over.
  • Nairn pointed out that estimation often only happens with the best case scenario in mind, and we should really balance that with estimates around the worst case scenario. I felt that this point neatly echoes the similar sentiment in design – design to handle things when they go wrong, not just when everything’s OK!
  • While over-estimating runs the risk of pricing you out (if you’re pitching for work) it is a LOT safer than under-estimating. In some ways, this is less of a concern for me, but I think it could be very relevant for people in other situations
a photo of number cards for one of the estimation games

Lining things up for one of the estimation games

This session was also live blogged – read the summary.

Repertory Grids

Paul Matthews (@paulusm) and Henry Osadzinski (@HenryOz) introduced us to repertory grids as a UX tool. I thought this looked like an interesting framework by which to capture information, and having been doing a lot of user research in my work at the moment, I was keen to see what I could get from this session.

Repertory (or just “rep”) grids are a method for exploring and mapping people’s mental models. Originating in clinical psychology in the 1960s, Paul and Harry suggested that in UX design, they can be very useful for evaluation of a product, and for getting inspiration.

sketchnotes for repertory grids

It certainly was interesting, and Paul and Harry were good about coming around to the groups who were working on their own rep grids, and answering all the questions. Still, I was left with questions. I’ve seen other things like this, maybe taken from a more academic environment (activity diagrams, for example) that look really interesting but I can’t quite see yet how they’d fit into day-to-day UX design work.

a photo of a sketchy repertory grid

The sketchy repertory grid that I played around with in this session

Rep grids do seem pretty clever, but it wasn’t altogether clear how one could aggregate unstructured data and make both sense and use of it in a project. Is it laborious? How have people outside psychology used them? I’m not sure, but I’d like to hear more from Paul and Harry on that. It was certainly worth hearing about this approach, though.

Have a look at the live blogged summary of Paul and Harry’s session.

Design Sprints

Jon Fisher (@ergonjon) has always got something interesting to bring to a UX discussion. He and Paul Richardson (@pixelnibbler) acted as a sort of tag team, very smoothly going through their talk and leading the audience through a few simple activities.

If you’re familiar with group activities like design studio, design sprints are like a smaller, two-person version – a way to rapidly develop, critique, discard and refine design solutions. Jon and Paul were keen to stress that this work needs to be built on solid foundations. It assumes that you have user research understanding and that you’ve figured out core aspects of information architecture. It was also interesting to hear the guys’ comments on how to fit this in with Agile development – the advice being to stay ahead of that and decouple to some extent. There still needs to be communication, but don’t try to fit design sprints into the dev sprints.

All-in-all, a simple, practical approach to getting things done. Something I hope to use with colleagues on projects.

sketchnotes for design sprints


Read the live blogged summary of Jon and Paul’s session.

Brand-Building Basics

Full-time UX teacher and nice bloke, Mike Atherton (@MikeAtherton), touched on some of the key things we need to consider about a brand, right away emphasising that it is about a lot more than just name and logo. We need to figure out vision, values and voice. My sketchnotes are admittedly a bit flaky for this one – there was a lot of information coming our way, and we had exercises to be getting on with.

mike atherton speaking at UX Bristol 2014

Mike Atherton explains brand DNA

I’ve heard Mike talk before about brand. He manages to pull together a lot of information and give a series of coherent messages. I don’t work in a commercial environment but over the last 12 months or so, workshops like this have made me think a lot more about brand, and how it applies to the scientific services I work on.



Read the live blogged summary of Mike’s session.

Mikes slides:

Short talks

As usual for UX Bristol, the day is rounded off by four or five short talks from conference participants. Having spoken there once myself, I know if can be a bit stressful to be the last thing standing between the audience and the free bar!  🙂  But these talks are often really fascinating little nuggets of UX goodness, too.

Kathryn Hegarty

Kathryn explained that we shouldn’t fret about UX killing the art of communication. Instead, we should concentrate rather more on concepts of permanence, findability, verifiability, and who gets heard. She also gave a shout out to library science and information architecture as being the backbone of what we do.

Jon Spanton

Jon gave us some more insight into the UK Government Digital Service. Quoting Lisa Reichelt, we learned that “well-understood and clearly articulated user needs are the bedrock of good service design“. Amen.

Joe Leech

Joe got us all to agree that UX design can still be a force for good, even if we have put high street kite-sellers out of business. We have the skills to help people be part of the internet.

Nic Price

Nic did a bloody good job of introducing systems thinking in 3 minutes. The key is to consider what we make in terms of what it is connected to and where it may fit into a larger system, rather than as isolated, orphaned things. I was really pleased to be able to discuss complexity, systems thinking and the Cynefin model a bit more afterwards. Fascinating stuff.

sketchnotes of UX Bristol 2014 short talks


You should also read the live blogged summary of these short talks, which is really good.



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