Teaching At Hyper Island – Week 1

I’m lucky enough to be participating in the first ever cohort taking the new Digital User Experience course at Hyper Island in Manchester. My official role is ‘Industry Leader’ but i’m learning a lot myself, anyone who uses the phase ‘those who can’t do, teach’ has obviously never taught.

Digital Experience Design – find out more in the Hyper Island website.


We’ve just started the second week and it feels like a good point to reflect on the things that generated the most discussion in the first week. The course aims to get designers better set to work in the rapidly evolving digital/design/creative workplace, where traditional universities are struggling to keep up with the ongoing change in industry Hyper Island is looking to close the gap. This is a good thing. It’s also vital that Industry is actively invested in the designers of the future. Which is why i’m getting up at 5:30am every Monday and taking the train to Manchester.

Week One – Designing Your Research

At the heart of every great IDEO project is a great research programme that has inspired a design team to do great work. Research isn’t just about discovering opportunities, it’s also about building empathy for your users and getting a design team excited by the prospect of fixing a real problem for real people.

In depth user interview

The heart of our research process is getting out of the studio and going to meet people in their homes and offices. Great design starts in the context of the people you’re designing for. Not at your desk. We meet a small group of carefully selected users to meet in person for 1-2 hours. We want to meet them in their own context to observe the way they behave, to make them comfortable and ultimately to see the things that they take for granted.

Conversations are highly structured – we use ‘discussion guides’ to keep us focussed – and we prefer one-on-one as it lets us build up a rapport. At most we take three interviewers to meet one person. A ratio of 2:1 or 3:1 interviewers to interviewees is best to make people feel comfortable.

In home interviews are a great opportunity to have you preconceptions and assumptions tested. When you walk into an interview you must respect the participant and keep in mind that they are the expert. You are just the designer.

Analogous Experiences

Analogous Experiences

When investigating a new area you can often find inspiration in adjacent or equivalent industries. Analogous experiences will often reveal solutions to the same problems you are encountering in your project, for example the medical industry can learn a lot from the hospitality industry. The world of health and fitness can often be inspiration to the finance industry.

Most importantly it’s good to remember that the best examples of user experience may well be defined outside of your industry. How often have you heard the phase “we want to the be the Uber of x”? It’s a great example of the best UX coming not from your client’s competitors, but from an exciting startup.

Get out away from your desk and try things out, if you can take your whole design team along you’ll find even more as each of you spots different things. The picture above is from a design team who went scuba diving as inspiration for a healthcare project investigating anaesthetic gas.

Guerrilla Research

Guerrilla Research

As a more open ended suggestion I also shared some thoughts on Guerrilla Research as an area that needs more investigation and is ultimately defined by the designers testing it out. I wrote more on this on Medium is you’d like to get into the detail a bit more.

In short, this process (or more accurately, collection of processes) looks to tap into existing platforms and systems to carry out inexpensive quick research. Inspired* by Tim Ferris’s approach to selecting the ideal cover design for the 4 Hour Work Week, he simply printed the various options and put them in a real book store to see which one people gravitated to.

Take this mentality and seek out other way to quickly test. We have used Google Adwords, and the Google Adwords: Keyword Planner to understand which proposition people are more interested in. Setting up real adverts and seeing which generates the most clicks is a good approximation of future engagement. I’ve also seen people have success using Reddit, Craigslist and Task Rabbit to recruit people for example. Get scrappy and see what you can do quickly and effectively.

Next Week

The teams will be preparing for interviews

* The designer in me winces at the thought of using this process to select a ‘good design’, the researcher in me admires the reality check that it gives me

One Million Signs

Day one

Image: StunningMonochrome

For quite a long time now i’ve been planning on starting some sort of blog or website to gather my thoughts about information design.

I work as a graphic/information designer for Applied Information Group (AIG) in London (www.aiglondon.com) where we specialise in world leading wayfinding systems. We also work on interactive, online, exhibition and print jobs. I also have a somewhat undefined role at dynamo london (www.dynamolondon.org) ranging from flash developer to writer/editor.

I’ve also got a podcast called Internet Music Programme (www.internetmusicprogramme.com) as a bit of a hobby. Have a listen if you like. Its free.

So, here we go…