Last week was UX Cambridge 2013, mark three. I don’t know if three years is enough to establish a conference, but If I didn’t know, I’d never have guessed it was only in it’s third year. The whole event in the lovely grounds of Churchill College went without a hitch (as far as I know)!


Wednesday was Workshop day. I might be biased by the fact that my project was chosen on our table for the duration of the morning, but I found Tyler Tate‘s workshop on Designing the Search Experience so good I went out and bought his book right away. Of particular interest I thought was the framework for examining The Information Needs of Mobile Searchers (PDF), which serves as a great basis on which to start thinking about the people who are going to use your search tools.

Meanwhile Mike Atherton‘s workshop on Content Modelling in the afternoon was similarly engaging and could easily have been extended to a day or two. Adrian Howard’s table tried to apply the basics of content modelling relationships to Twin Peaks – something of a challenge possibly?!


Thursday started with a keynote by John Thackara about ‘Doors of Perception‘. John started by saying that 5 minutes into giving the talk at a previous IxDA event, someone tweeted ‘What’s this got to do with my job’. Bad form, what!? I kind of see where they were coming from, but just because the message wasn’t written in 200pt Nexa XBold with a <blink> tag on the first slide doesn’t mean that the message wasn’t there, or relevant to us all. In fact, in a way, his talk was probably the most inspiring of the whole event, because he (indirectly) not only asks us to look inward at what we do in our jobs, but also asks us to look outward at our place in the world and see how we can connect the two in order to benefit as many people as possible. My interpretation was that of context – that there is always a bigger picture to the bigger picture. What I couldn’t immediately rectify in my own mind however, was how to expand my comfortable little world so as to benefit others – maybe some sort of geographical based matching of not-for-profit projects against skills available from volunteers?

Next up for me was Michele Ide-SmithGetting Started with Sketchnoting. OK I thought – I can draw, a bit. I can take notes. Therefore I can sketchnote – all I need to know is the methods. How wrong was I! I was rubbish. Everything blended into a homogenous mess where nothing stood out and everything gravitated towards one corner of the page. Oh dear, this is more tricky than I expected. Samantha Hosea however, put everyone to shame. So the key here for me obviously, was practice, practice practice.

Lee McIvor‘s session on The Art and Science of UX and Responsive Design was riddled with tips on responsive design – but tantalisingly we didn’t get to see the results of his most recent project where all this had been applied.

Bonny Colville-Hyde talked about Content, Clients and Responsive Design. Whilst she partly perpetuated the fact that there are a lot of bad UX agencies out there, she also stood up for the good agencies who do things right. A lot of what she was saying was clearly resonating with many of the people in the room. Bonny gave away cool pencils at the end. Free swag is always good.

Paula de Matos and Jenny Cham rushed through their tutorial: Survival Guide for Complex UX reminding us that you can’t rush the simplification of complexity! I was sad though, to miss Alberta Soranzo‘s overlapping workshop on Taming Taxonomy.

Lightning talks followed and speakers were not to be hurried despite Ryan practically hopping up and down in front of them when their time was up!

A wonderful punting and BBQ evening rounded off a great day.


Friday started with Stephanie Rieger‘s keynote on the Designing for [mobile] Diversity. This was a fresh talk but it came across like it was being delivered for the 100th time. Crammed with bite sized facts and figures, this was an awesome awesome keynote.

I’m something of a fan of Caroline Jarrett, so her workshop on Design Tips for Forms and Improving the UX of Complex Transactions was always going to brilliant. I was not disappointed. Caroline was also giving out wooden spoons for deserving comments. I was proud to get the only spoon for lying [it was obvious], although Caroline said it was for (ahem) creativity. She was also extolling the virtues of Ginny Redish‘s book Letting Go of The Words (Second edition mind!) which was my second immediate purchase after the conference. I heartily recommend it if you write words. Anywhere.

Jessica Ivins gave a wonderful case study of Introducing the UX process into a Culture, describing how in the first year of being in her current role she introduced UX research, methods and analysis to the company and her colleagues at AWeber.

The day was rounded off for me by the great Whitney Quesenbery talking about Creating a Web For Everyone, extolling the virtues and outcomes of properly considering not just accessibility, but purpose; structure; interaction; wayfinding; presentation and plain language.

There’s lots of coverage of UX Cambridge on Lanyrd.

An apology

I don’t live far from Cambridge, so it’s a bit embarrassing not to have been supporting a local UX event until now, since UX is my passion, but nevertheless, this was my first UX Cambridge.

Earlier in the year, I heard Mark Dalgarno say someone had said UX Cambridge was better than UX London. Why, I nearly snorted in my cider as I exclaimed WHAT!! Not possible. I really really enjoyed UX London 2012. The speaker list was second to none: Buxton, Spool, Kolko, Rubin, Wroblewski, Anderson, Buley, Reichelt, Halvorson, DeRouchey, and many more. So hearing this made me chuckle in disbelief.

Well, I take my hat off and openly apologise for my apple flavoured outburst. UX Cambridge was better than UX London. Sure, UX London had the names, but UX Cambridge had names too, good ones. But UX Cambridge also had a dose of reality – workshops and case studies, tutorials and lessons learned in environments that more people will find relevant and useful in the real world. And that’s way more important.

But UX Cambridge was not just about the speakers, it was about the people who attended. UX Cambridge was smaller, more friendly, more social, more manageable, more comfortable. Just more.

To all the wonderful people who attended UX Cambridge 2013, I raise my glass to you and hope to see you there next year.

I thought Mark, Ryan, Jacqui, Cara and everyone else all did a wonderful job. One thing though – the swag bag – maybe next year a little packet of delight with my lanyard – a bag of pork scratchings maybe?!