UX Camp Europe 2013

By Jan Srutek

I was in Berlin this past weekend for the fourth European UX Camp. As in previous years, it was two great days filled with talks, workshops, and discussions. But most of all, it was again a great gathering of passionate UX professionals from various countries.

The event now seems to have outgrown the European boundaries, as we had peers from US, Australia, and China joining us this year.

There were more people than ever, more sessions than ever, more grilled currywurst, and even an ice-cream stand. What a treat.

With so many sessions lined up, one had to choose and prioritise what to attend ruthlessly. And even so, I would have liked to attend at least twice as many talks than I actually managed to.

Two sessions stood out for me, both looking at experiences much further beyond the web:

Wearable sensors

In his session on wearable sensors and context-aware adaptive content, Mark Melnykowycz spoke about the importance of writing content that scales for all possible devices and platforms. This means we need to think about content containers with fixed physical dimensions and also virtual canvas-less containers.

Machine to machine interactions will become more pertinent too. For example, your smartphone should tell your coffeemaker to start boiling the water as soon as it wakes you up in the morning.

Sensors built into personal devices could allow us to present most relevant content, and format it appropriately. We can take into account not only time and the user’s location, but also data such as their heart rate. We could then deliver content suitable for consumption in the user’s stressful environment full of distractions, as we can assume their decision-making capabilities might be temporarily degraded as a result of a high heart rate.

In the subsequent discussion, some even suggested we could change the delivery medium dynamically to suit the context, e.g. from textual to auditory, or even tactile (for ‘eyes-busy’ situations where sound is not inappropriate).

Next generation user interfaces

Eray Basar presented a good overview of the next generation user interfaces that are either already on the consumer market, or hitting it soon.

We first looked at novel ways of facilitating user input. Leap Motion sparked lots of interest last year when it launched its first product, the pocket-sized gesture input device. Myo is another interesting product – a gesture control armband that already picked up more than 25,000 pre-orders and plans to ship in early 2014. And finally, Meta-View, which currently tantalises us with a concept video, promising an immersive gesture-controlled 3D augmented reality.

For novel output methods, we looked at the much discussed Google Glass, and a virtual reality gaming headset Oculus Rift. Both of them should be available in just a few months.

A new era of interaction design challenges is certainly upon us. Exciting times.

Although, to cool down the excitement a bit, there are still a number of design problems to solve. Unintentional hand movements, input disruption and noise, suitable navigation controls and menus, discoverability of gestures, and facilitating text input, are some of them.

Overall, Eray expressed some scepticism around the ability of these devices to deliver on the exciting future painted vividly in the promotional concept videos. Having tinkered with some of them, apparently the experiences are still very much experimental and ‘slightly disappointing’.

It seems like we need to wait a few more years before we will be able to witness some truly immersive and seamless experiences. Lots of fine-tuning needs to happen to enable wider consumer adoption.

The future of the user experience industry

Many other themes emerged in the excellent sessions that took place over the weekend.

It seems like UX practitioners themselves have started to specialise even more, and most of us are working on a much wider range of platforms and devices than five years ago. Even the job title User Experience Designer has become slightly uncomfortable for some, who felt a need to describe their unique skillsets more precisely.

Various sessions focused on the difference between usability and UX, customer experience and UX, and influence of the agile movement on UX. Let’s see what the future holds. We might find out at the next UX camp.

In the meantime, you can explore the Twitter hashtag #uxce13 for tweets, slides, and photos.

Written by former Foolproofer Jan Srutek

What do you think?