Collaborate Bristol inspires a future of human-centric tech
This month 200 user experience (UX) and design experts and enthusiasts sprung to life at Bristol’s creative hub the Watershed for a jam-packed day of inspirational talks from a series of local and international speakers.
Covering everything from giving digital brands true personalities to improving the accessibility of the web and technology and digitising healthcare in the NHS, the event proved to be a beacon for those at the forefront of future technology, inspiring insights and visions in making technology work for all.
An accessible future
Amongst the speakers, conference organiser Bristol-based UX agency Nomensa‘s own Director of Accessibility, Alastair Campbell (pictured right) explored the importance of web accessibility – introducing the audience to the WCAG accessibility guidelines which define how to make your website accessible for a whole range of disabilities.
“Take the action to integrate accessibility into your web and technology projects right from the start”
Given that technology has advanced dramatically since the last set of guidelines came out 10 years ago, with the main culprit being mobile technology, Alastair shared some key insights into the next WCAG update which is expected to be released in June 2018.
Chatting to him after the talk about what inspired him to focus on the accessibility of the web, he said: “I was originally inspired by the book ‘The Design of Everyday Things’ by cognitive scientist and usability engineer Donald Norman. It fascinated me to see how the design of everyday items plays such an integral part as to whether the end product is open to all.”
To anyone looking for one key thing to take away from his talk, he urged: “Have a look at what’s going on around you, try to understand things from others’ perspectives and take the action to integrate accessibility into your web and technology projects right from the start. Don’t leave it until the last minute.”
One of the main themes that came up time and again across the day was the emphasis on humanising technology. Taking the focus off profit as a means to an end and more on to how we as technologists can harness the power of user experience to improve lives.
“Redesign systems, not people”
NHS Digital‘s Chief Nurse Anne Cooper (pictured left) walked the audience through some of the projects she’d been involved in, in empowering the UK’s population to use technology to take charge of their own health and the complexities involved in this monumental challenge, emphasising that in order to be a success we must: “Redesign systems, not people.”
She added: “Design without empathy, that’s what we need to avoid.”
Hany Rizk who works on User Experience Strategy and Design at Volkswagen Carmeq continued the theme with his talk on ‘Mindful Design’. He connected with the audience with a short film that demonstrated much of our addiction to things like social media and a culture which presents us with excess information.
It’s not all bad though and Hany put forth a case for utilising existing and future technology as a means in itself to tackle these issues, bringing together communities and helping us to reduce negative distractions.
Testing the water
Aside from speakers, there were a number of Bristol-based companies keen to connect with the user experience and design community.
People for Research, a Bristol-based market research company that recruits participants for user testing and who recently ran a campaign to encourage companies to carry out more accessibility testing to make their tech more available to disabled people, were running advice drop-ins where attendees could go and find out more.
“It’s important in user testing to increase your reach by testing your product with a wide range of different people”
Catching up with its Business Development Director Jess Lewes and Managing Director Paul Gooding they told us how People for Research had been collaborating with the conference organisers for a number of years now.
Expert advice: Jess and Paul offering advice to conference attendees on the types
of participants that would work best for user testing their tech
Jess added: “Our growth is down to being based in Bristol with companies like Nomensa on our doorstep. They’re interested in our growth as we can play a part in their development as well.”
Offering one takeaway piece of advice, Jess tells us: “Companies often recruit within their existing customer base or within their own base of employees. It’s important in user testing to increase your reach by testing your product with a wide range of different people.”
“Collaboration is a team sport”
Bristol-based game studio Play Nicely also set up at Collaborate testing live reactions to the HoloLens (pictured right) – a self-contained, holographic computer – ahead of the release of their latest augmented reality experience designed to share stories and celebrate the 125th anniversary of Agatha Christie.
Commenting on the collaborative efforts of the attendees, speakers and exhibitors at the conference, Nomensa’s Founder and CEO Simon Norris (pictured in main image, top) said: “Collaboration is a team sport. Teams who collaborate have more fun and, as a result, produce better designs. The sum of a project’s parts is much greater when combined from the start.”
You can find out more about the conference and its speakers by heading to the Collaborate Bristol website. If you’re keen to attend next year’s event, stay up to date with the event’s latest news by following them on Twitter here: @CollaborateConf.