The first week of this month, I attended my second An Event Apart conference. Impressed by the quality of their event, I returned after experiencing 2014's conference. This time, it was their Decade Apart year in Orlando: Special Edition.
There were many amazing talks and I found relevancy in every single one. I’ll be elaborating on them in the coming weeks. For now, I wanted to pull it all together into a theme that I experienced throughout the event.
While attending the Disney VIP tour, I learned about the measures Disney takes to create a seamless experience for their guests. The fact that they use the term guests says something in itself. When you visit most places you are referred to as a customer or attendee. When you are in Disney World, you truly enter a holistic experience. Thus why it’s worth staying in one of their resorts.
Following the tour was three days of learning from leaders in the web industry talk about how we can do better work for more people. We learned about everything from creative branding on the web, to new and major css techniques and accessibility. We even revisited the history of the simple markup language and rekindled our appreciation for our abilities. We absorbed inspired on what to do with these powers.
The theme for me was perception. I’m not talking about the smoke and mirrors kind (hacks) where things aren’t as they seem and it doesn’t matter as long as users don’t know the reality. I’m talking about reality that permeates the experience. Perception that influences perspective and perspective that influences perception.
Perception is at the heart of user experience. At the end of the day, what matters is how a user identifies with a product or service.
While there were many, here were a few places this important principle popped up during the event.
In Dan Mall’s talk about Presenting Design, he quoted Jared Spool saying design is the “rendering of Intent”. He focused on removing the expectations we designers have for presenting our ideas. He spoke about how to and do a better job of “setting the table” for those who will be gathering around it as we share. This talk was not about how we design. It was about the perception around which we communicate and focus on getting useful feedback.
During my stay, I had interactions with event coordinators, attendees and resort staff. This is definitely one of the most well-thought and planned events in this field. They care for the people who come to learn. The presentations are beautifully produced. The value you get is incredible, and the passion from the event planners shines through. The way you feel as an attendee is professional and motivated.
Another part Disney that raises the quality of the experience is the Disney Magic Band. Jared Spool went into more length about how this was developed to elevate their brand while providing better service to guests. It’s another piece of the magic Disney offers that makes guests feel cared for and care free. Not having to remember a room key sounds like a small thing, but with so much on my mind it was a time saver. More than that, it was peace of mind.
In Lara Hogan's talk on Designing for Performance, she referred to the trust that brands create when they execute performance well. She shared some ideas on how to design where loading happens and encouraged us to learn about offline states. The thing about performance is that when optimizing a system, you are not only making it function faster but your users feel better.
If they don't think about how fast a product is while using it, you’ve done your job. Sometimes people don’t notice how great something is until they use something worse. Absence of waiting is still an emotional state. Allow people to feel this way more often, and you'll create value.
Another point in Lara's presentation that I thought well-represented the principle of Perception was the use of communication. When employees feel the pain of poor performance, they react faster and with more empathy. When users can publicly see that a company is working on a specific issue, it grows trust. Communication assists with perceived value.
Since elements on the web are digital, Val Head’s talk about animation is all about perception. We take cues from the analog world so our brains think that pixels are bouncing, fading or easing. These subtleties pull from understood mental models to provide an animated perspective. The reality behind this is simple mathematical equations. Applied correctly, animation provides meaning.
I don’t think there was a talk that didn’t mention mood or emotion in some capacity. We often get bogged down with technicalities. But as we make decisions on methods, the most important perspective we can keep in mind is that of a user. How will this decision affect the rendering of a design, and how does it feel when applied? This is one reason that Google created the HEART metrics framework; to measure these soft data points.
On the second day of the conference, lunch time was a viewing of the documentary: Debugging the Gender Gap. This topic all comes down to women's abilities being obvious to others, and building internal confidence. It’s not that women lack the skills or even the history in our field. In fact women have long been programming and part of enormous efforts on the technology front (think NASA). It’s the perception we need to work through; both in society and in ourselves.
I loved the video example that Josh Clark showed where technology was helping a blind woman be more independent. It spoke directions into her ear; providing information about her surroundings in real time. That’s valuable. It's also an empathic way to use technology. He made a great point about how IoT can be creepy, but that we need to step in now to make sure it’s used for good. Prevent dark patterns by doing good.
The way an experience feels is most important. There are times where technology decisions may come at the cost of experience. There are also times where experience decisions may come at the cost of technology or actual business expenses. Let’s prioritize smartly. Make the perception be the reality. Do things right and the experience will be organically great. Design for accessibility and everyone will receive a better experience. Perception is influenced by design.
When we keep users on the forefront of our thinking, this elevates trust. And as Jaimee Newberry said in her talk, "When you have trust, you have freedom. And it's amazing!".