User experience for social change at the UPA

By Tim Caynes @timcaynes

Only the UPA can succeed in combining user experience, social change and sausage rolls in a way that means you take away from the evening much more than you came with.

I say the UPA, but, of course, I mean the UK chapter of the UPA. The event was really a micro-conference; a smaller, UK-slanted, speaker event that mirrored the theme of the larger, worldwide speaker event taking place in Atlanta later this year (which, incidentally, Elsa and Dan will be speaking at). This is a good thing. Because the UK UPA folks put on a good event, thank you very much.

Perhaps reflecting the difficult task that ‘user experience for social change’ represents, I got the impression that a number of people who had turned up were not entirely clear on why they had. Many conversations included the phrases “it sounds interesting” and “I don’t know much about it”, but not many included the phrase “I’m hoping I can use this in my client meeting tomorrow”. For myself, I didn’t have any great expectations that what I would hear would enable me to increase any clickthroughs, or immediately improve any customer satisfaction ratings, but that wasn’t why I was there. I was there simply because I thought “it sounds interesting”. As it turns out, it was very much more than that.

I actually don’t need to describe to you in great detail the content of the talks, since you have a number of ways to see them for yourself, courtesy of the speakers and the organisers:

What I will say is that all the talks had something unique about them, that, at least from where I was sitting, provided inspirational examples of how gaining insights and applying user experience design methods really could do good in the real world. Of course, when I say it, in a pithy, rambling, run-on sentence like that, it doesn’t really sound that compelling, so I’d encourage anyone to check out the videos and slides for themselves, to see what I’m trying to say.

Whether it was Dan Lockton describing the failure of deliberate design in public seating and how we can use that insight to consider designing for human behaviours, or Melanie Findlater showing us how tablets (well, iPads specifically in this case) can radically improve the lives of individuals previously dependent on specially designed and helper-dependent communication tools, the talks were engaging, informative and often eye opening (and eye-watering, thanks Melanie).

Similarly, whether it was Patrick Jordan’s excellent proposition for how we can understand and use positive psychology in user experience design, or Elizabeth Kessel, Will Hardy and Clara Teoh’s insider view of the steady progression of JustGiving.com and some of the key milestones that have made it so important to so many people’s lives, the presenters were very obviously deeply committed and passionate, which, for a free event on a Thursday night, is as much as anyone could wish for.

It should be said, just for a balanced view, there were some who questioned the value of the evening on the basis that there wasn’t much to ‘take away and use’, but really, a workshop this wasn’t, and the event description kind of gave that away. I travelled from Norwich specifically to attend, and, in my opinion, it was a great event based on a theme that is frankly quite a difficult one to pitch. A big thanks to the organisers and volunteers and particularly the speakers that made it such a success.

Tim Caynes

I’m a Principal Designer at Foolproof which means I’m responsible for the integrity of the design thinking that shapes the work that we do.

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