I’m normally one of those people who doesn’t win anything. Having said that, I’ve now had TWO big wins in the last couple of years.

My first big win was last year, when my team won the 2015 London UX Hackathon. That literally changed my life as I was given a CareerFoundry UX Design Course scholarship!

The second big win occured on Monday. One minute, I thought I was spending all week in the office, the next I found out I’d won a ‘best Tweet’ competition on Twitter!

The main sponsors, mobile payment company Pushpay, were giving me a free ticket to UX New Zealand - the biggest UX conference in New Zealand. So here I am, after amazing 2 days, ready to share my trip diary!

The UX New Zealand conference is held in the capital, Wellington, and this year it attracted 26 speakers and over 300 attendees from across the globe. I work as a UX Analyst for New Zealand’s largest IT firm, Datacom, who really kindly allowed me to take the two days as training, and paid for my travel and accommodation. To say I was excited is an understatement!

Day one: Sunny Wellington and front row seats

Right from the offset I knew it was going to be a great conference. Unusually for the ‘the windy city’ or ‘windy Welly,’ the sun was shining and the weather was calm as my taxi pulled up outside Shed 6, the venue on Wellington’s beautiful waterfront. Not wanting to miss anything, I sat down in the front row. Unbeknownst to me this was where most of the speakers were sitting.

Sat next to me was Phil Balagtas, founder of San Francisco-based startup Speculative Design. He spoke first and gave a fascinating speech on designing with the future in mind and making sure we proactively design for the next generations, rather than just being reactive.

Also sat close to me was Ruth Ellison, Principal UX Designer for PWC’s Experience Centre in Canberra. She spoke about cognitive bias and the importance of not just believing our assumptions, instead making a real effort to prove our hypotheses wrong - definitely food for thought!

Content Strategist, Stacey Seronick (Photo courtesy of TAG The Agency)

Tomorrow. Today.

The theme of the conference was: Tomorrow. Today. This lent itself to some fantastic talks, all with an emphasis on the future and how best to design for it.

The most mentioned speaker on Twitter was Cornelius Rachieru, who runs Canada’s UX conference, CanUX. His talk titled ‘Designers are from Mars, BA’s are from Venus’ was aimed at improving relations between UXers and Business Analysts.

The main take away for me was: You should treat other team members with the same respect you would treat your users in order to get the best out of them - all too often it is easy forget this when tensions are high and deadlines are tight.

Breaktime entertainment

During each break, we were ushered into a break out where lots of delicious food was laid on. There were stalls dotted around the room to keep people entertained, including a brilliant agony aunt stall, where people could ask any UX-related questions that they needed help with.

UX software company, Optimal Workshop had a competition where people could win a drone by successfully flying it into a box.

Pushpay had a fancy dress stand where people could dress up as the persona of their choice. The persona with the most likes on Twitter would win a Polaroid camera.

There was also a cart with great free coffee - the queue was literally constant, as attendees lined up to get their caffeine fix.

Evening activities

For the first evening’s entertainment, attendees were encouraged to submit event ideas onto a wall and then people could sign up for the event of their choice.

Options ranged from a boat ride around Wellington harbour, to dinner and drinks to a sunset stroll up Mount Victoria. I chose the sunset stroll, as a good opportunity to stretch my legs and also check out the fab views over the city.

The walk was organized by Cornelius, and we were also joined by another speaker, David Montero, UX lead at augmented reality company Blippar.

David had spoken earlier that day about designing for emerging technologies. In his speech he mentioned that science fiction works are great way of looking at prototypes for the future. As an example, Star Trek was first aired in 1966 but was well before its time in featuring tablets and people being able to talk to their computer.

Considering both Cornelius and David are really great speakers who spend a lot of their time flying around the world to different UX conferences, they were both incredibly down to the earth and great company. After the walk we met up with various other attendees for drinks and pizza.

I had to drag myself away to go to bed - I was having so much fun I could have easily stayed up a lot later. However I knew it was important to get my beauty sleep for day two.

Before going to bed (and after a few glasses of wine) I had agreed with the lovely Jas Wilkinson and Phil Howie from Pushpay’s design team that I would help man their persona fancy dress stand the next day. As I fell asleep I wondered if I would live to regret it…

At the persona fancy dress stand (Photo courtesy of TAG The Agency)

Day two: Keeping my promises

Day two arrived and I got to the conference just in the nick of time. As I entered the packed auditorium I was surprised to see that all attendees were stood up, animatedly chatting and walking around. I soon realised they were playing a game.

I liked the unexpected delight of this - something that didn’t have to occur, but added to the fun of the conference. The game involved swapping cards from UX Mastery with UX techniques on them. The first ten people to get ten cards won prizes and as an extremely competitive bunch, it didn’t take long for this to happen at all.

The speakers were of a similarly high standard on day two. One notable performance in the morning was Diego Cibils from KONA who gave a brief talk on the UX of chatbots. I found his talk particularly interesting as we are developing a chatbot at work at the moment.

His number one tip was that personality is key - his company even employ psychologists to make sure they get it just right. He described chatbots as ‘the new apps’ and said that we are reaching a saturation point with mobile apps, so the best way to get into people’s phones is as chatbots in third party apps, for example, Facebook or Skype.

Persona fancy dress: Stop-Go Willie

We were extremely well fed throughout the whole conference, but my favorite option had to be the street food on Friday - I sampled every mini dish: a burger, fish and chips, pizza, hot dogs, and nachos!

After lunch, as promised, I went to help out on the Pushpay stall. There was a great selection of clothes to choose from and a big chest full of fun accessories. My first victim was a guy called Peter from TechComm, the technical communicators association. Before long we had him dressed up as his desired persona, Stop-Go Willie, in a fetching hi-vis jacket, wig, baseball cap and sunglasses!

The final speakers

Rounding off the conference on Friday afternoon were six more great performances. Self-proclaimed UX Expert, Boon Sheridan, from Rosenfeld Media described himself as the ‘fluff’ of the conference. He compèred a hilarious UX quiz where he got members of the audience up on the stage to answer questions relating to the future of UX.

UX expert, Boon Sheridan (Photo courtesy of TAG The Agency)

Also in the afternoon was a presentation from Stacey Seronick, a Content Strategist for Wells Fargo, who was the most inspiring speaker for me by far. She spoke about the importance of being a UX generalist; a T-Shaped Person who can join up skills and experience from a lot of different areas and apply them to any project.

She also spoke about how there are elements of UX in everything, e.g. when she was a housing officer she spent a lot of time looking after tenants and making sure they were able to live comfortably - so people transitioning into UX can take their experience from anywhere.

Throughout her life she has had many different careers ranging from real estate to working for record company. With all of her jobs she has worked out how to add extra value - offering to do more tasks than in her job description in a bid to learn more and better herself. She never settled for second best - moving companies often when she wasn’t satisfied and knew she could do better.

In fact she got the job she is in now, as a content strategist, by showing up to meetings she wasn’t invited to and offering opinions in a respectful manner. Eventually she ended up getting invited to all the meetings as people started to really value her input. I thought she had great spirit and would be a great role model for younger people who are nervous about breaking into UX.

Web Designer and author Jason Cranford-Teague rounded off the conference with a talk on Temporal Design Thinking. He said that most UXers need to think beyond static screens and interactive design as we know it today. Instead we need to think of the “world as our stage and the users as our actors” and look at how we can add change, progression, control and context to our designs.

Again, this was really fascinating stuff which made me think more about the ‘big picture’ rather than just the current project I’m working on, as often happens in the office.

Web designer and author, Jason Cranford-Teague (Photo courtesy of TAG The Agency)

Is it home time already?

Sadly the end of the conference rolled around in no time. My flight was leaving at 7pm so I had time for one free beer from trendy brewery Garage Project but sadly had to skip the after party. I heard down the grapevine that the fancy dress went down a storm at the after party - unfortunately I’ll have to wait until next year to find out!

On the plane home, exhausted but happy, I though about how I couldn’t wait for next year, and how I might even apply to speak. I’d had so much fun over the last two days, met many inspiring people, and heard fascinating stories and ideas.

And the award goes to…

So, as I think back over UX New Zealand, here are three of my absolute conference faves:

  • Fave use of tech : All attendees were encouraged to download an app for the conference called Show Gizmo. It was so useful as it showed people the schedule ahead of time, allowed all attendees to upload a bio and picture of themselves and also had private messaging, polling, and text Q&A features. It can also be used for up to a year after the conference is over. I have already dipped into mine quite a few times to check who people were or remind myself about some of the great talks.

  • Fave piece of advice : Natalie Kerschner, a senior UX specialist for BNZ gave some great advice on how the role of the UX designer is changing from being more design-focussed to being a facilitator. As UX becomes more and more important and recognized as a discipline, we need to become enablers - enabling the rest of the team to think UX. This includes helping them make UX decisions and empowering them by teaching soft skills such as how to talk to people and how to run codesign sessions.

  • Fave speaker : The highly inspiring Stacey Seronick. She has such an interesting past and I love that she got up on stage and told people all about it - much more unique than a speech on UX processes or something I’d heard before.

Big thanks to: _ _

Conference Master Jimmy Sutcliffe for organising such a fantastic event and supplying me with the photos for this article.

Pushpay for my free ticket - t__hey are hiring UX Designers now!

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