UXCamp London 2012

This weekend I attended UXCamp London 2012, which is an annual one-day barcamp where UX practitioners create their own ‘conference’ or ‘unconference’ in a grass root manner by sharing their thoughts, skills, knowledge, and projects in a series of talks, workshops, and discussions. I find this way of creating events brilliant, as it’s an open environment conducive to discussion across hierarchies, disciplines and experiences, as well as gives people a chance to interact with UX people in an informal setting.

As my coursemate Kathy is one of the co-organisers of UXCamp London, she asked if I wanted to volunteer, which I was very happy to do. Since I was put responsible for ticketing, I woke up at 6.30am on Saturday morning in order to arrive at SapientNitro’s offices at 8am to help set up the event – suffice to say, copious amounts of coffee were involved. Putting names (from ticket-holder badges) to faces was definitely helpful for me to recognise people, especially since a good 50/60-ish (or more?) people attended, despite it being Saturday and London in the summer (i.e. pouring rain).

The sessions I attended were all very interesting and covered quite varied topics in UX, from redefining context in UX to using virtual reality in the treatment of psychological disorders. My favourite talk is definitely Mark Parnell’s rant against using neuroscience in UX, as one of my major pet peeves recently is the neuro prefix trend where people from various industries try to explain their fields by including neuroscientific explanations, e.g. neuromarketing and neuroadvertising. Most likely it is because people think this adds authority and intellect to their arguments, and it makes them sound cool and awesome, when it probably is just fluff they don’t actually understand.

The problem with this trend in UX, as Mark argued (and which I agree with), is that neuroscience contributes nothing to informing UX design. UX design needs to be explored and substantiated at a level of expression appropriate to generate useful recommendations and guidelines – and that level is arguably that of cognitive psychology and behavioural/user research, not their biological underpinnings. That is not to say that neuroscience is superfluous (I think neuroscience is one of the most fascinating fields there is, especially cognitive neuroscience which I studied a lot in my first degree), but it’s important to understand where it is needed and where it is not. (I was also very impressed with Mark’s homemade Arduino-EEG).

I am definitely attending UXCamp London next year as well, then hopefully as a practitioner rather than as a student, and hopefully with a session of my own. I did contemplate doing a session on my MSc project as I conveniently had presentation slides from my visit to Google 2 days earlier (the Google canteen is epic, catering for paleo foodieness and being overall magnificent), but with my 4 hours of sleep, I didn’t think an impromptu talk would be very ideal from any listener’s points of view.

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