A Day at the 2019 UX Salon

By Eowyn Dean

Have you been to the UX Salon? Let me show you around.

Experience is everywhere — UX Salon 2019 theme

There’s the couch where the 2019 host, Vitaly Friedman, chats with the speakers — and we get to listen in.

UX Salon 2019 Intro Video — Experience is Everywhere.

Let’s begin with sound. Our first talk of the day:

Sensory Design

Matthew Bennett studied music from around the world. His range shows in the unique emotional language he creates as Head of Sound and Sensory Design at Microsoft. Subtle. Non-intrusive. Powerful.

We hear touch

Sound is haptic. More physical than vision; we feel sound with our bodies as well as our ears. The experience is visceral. If we think of designing touch we can design sound with more sensitivity and feeling.

Sound is a powerful way to communicate information about our environment. Bennett challenges us to be aware of its emotional impact and use it responsibly.

Video produced especially for Matthews presentation

Read more: Beyond Vision: Sound Design as Sensory Design

Inclusive Design

Marie van Driessche is a deaf interaction designer, which makes her lecture a strong contrast to Bennett’s.

She introduces inclusivity as a practice which helps everyone. For example, in writing:

  • Use headings and subheadings
  • Make one point per paragraph
  • Use bulleted lists
  • Avoid unnecessary jargon and slang
  • Include simple definitions of specialized vocabulary
  • Use images, diagrams or multimedia for a visual translation of the content
  • Use blank spaces

And don’t be like the Dutch government and include only a phone number to follow up in a letter intended for deaf people. (True story.)

Friedman, our host, asks how we can improve on the usual audio alerts to make notifications for the deaf, particularly phones. Her answer: ‘You can use more variety in haptic feedback’.

It’s striking to me that haptic — touch, in other words — allows us to connect such separate fields as sound design and inclusive design for the deaf.

Insights like this come from working with people who interact differently with technology. The World Health Organization now refers to ‘mismatched human interactions’ rather than ‘disability’. Van Driessche points out that no matter how well-meaning we are or how hard we try, we are all biased to create interactions that match the way we sense the world. She urges us to include people who interact differently in solving design problems:

‘Nothing for us, without us’.

Global Design

Let’s chat with Alastair Somerville, who wants us to stop designing for W.E.I.R.D. (White, European, Industrialised, Rich, Democratic) men like himself. He brings an unexpected kind of diversity to UX design, often a web-focused field, because he specializes in the physical design of museums and public spaces for accessibility. It’s a perspective that helps him step away from the tools and jargon of UX design to focus on what’s important: people.

Alastair Somerville talks about how to stop designing primarily for his own demographic: W.E.I.R.D. (White, European, Industrialised, Rich, Democratic.)

He creates space in workshops (the following day) to explore and invent; to discover for ourselves the problems to solve and solutions that make sense to different people with different perceptions. There are no prescribed solutions for this or that predefined problem. For me, Somerville’s ability to step out of the way and allow just-right space to learn and to listen is an inspiration.

Age Friendly Design

Rina Naor adds a temporal dimension to the conversation about inclusive design. She begins by resetting our expectations of ‘old’. We look at pictures of young hippies at Woodstock; the old people of today. A short video shows us what ‘old’ looks like.

The impairment that comes with age brings multilayered emotional loss. Design can provide a sense of control and dignity. Two points to remember:

Make it empowering.

When technology doesn’t work young people, confident in their ability, tend to blame poor design. But older people blame themselves, their loss of ability from age.

Make it delightful.

No one want to wear helpful devices that look ugly. Design solutions that you would be happy to wear.

Age Friendly Design ~ Rina Naor, ageCulture

Age Friendly Design Principles:
- Don’t patronize
- Emotional needs
- Simplify
- Augment existing behavior
- Design inclusively

Machine Learning

Allie Vogel designs user experience with machine learning (ML) for Booking.com. She sees data collection and ML/AI as a way to understand and then communicate with users.

Practical Machine Learning ~ Allie Vogel, Booking.com

But it’s easy to cross the line into creepy behavior. So:

  • Be transparent. Transparency creates trust.
  • Enable users to control what they tell you.
  • Deliver what the user needs at the right time for them.

Machine learning should always be for mutual benefit.

Behavioral Economics of Engagement

Alex Shilman specializes in the intersection of behavioral economics and design. He starts at the psychological level: we create a world to match ourselves. We are both limited and enabled by the way our brain filters and makes sense of everything we experience.

Behavioral Economics of Engagement ~ Alex Shilman, VP Product at Mmcubit & Behavioral Officer at The Human Factor

He talks about how we make stories out of random data to create meaning: images in the stars, areas of disaster like the Bermuda triangle. These are the result of pattern-making shortcuts we take using System 1 thinking.

Designers who understand how we process the world around us can influence user behavior. A few examples:

The need for closure keeps our focus. The gap between Adam and his Creator in Michelangelo’s Creation of Adam holds our attention. Progress bars (though more mundane) operate on the same principle. They can incentivise us to finish a task.

We depend on cues to change what we’re doing. When Netflix auto-plays the next episode there’s no cue to stop, so people keep watching. The lack of clocks and natural light in casinos make people forget to stop playing. With the endless data in many apps, if we let people know they’ve seen everything new or remind them to take a break, we can encourage beneficial behavior.

As designers we have the power to manipulate patterns and influence meaning. Friedman asks Alex about the ethical implications of manipulating users this way. His answer is simple:

The context we build always changes user perception — it’s up to us to understand the effects and choose how to use that responsibility.

Emotions in Digital Experience

Dr. Liraz Margalit is a web psychologist at Clicktale, an experience analytics company. Her fusion of data analytics with professional psychology provides useful insights into customer engagement. It starts with asking the right question:

How do we make the digital experience of a business memorable?

The problem: a flood of info, products, services makes the brands that provide them hard to distinguish in memory.

‘Loyalty lives in long-term memory, as does brand awareness’. The good (or bad) feelings we have about a business are rooted in the emotional experiences we remember. Strong emotions create long-term memories. Ease is forgettable. Better to design a few exceptional experiences than to simply meet expectations and create a forgettable experience.

How? Non-verbal signals like scrolling, touch points, and mouse movements tell us a lot about a customer’s state of mind. If we respond appropriately at just the right moment we can fix a negative experience before it solidifies, or reenforce a positive experience.

We can detect a user’s emotional state based on ‘digital body language’.

See Introduction to Mindsets by Dr. Liraz Margalit for more detail.

The Future Is Kid Stuff

Ricardo Vazquez’s talk is a delight. A call to remember how we saw the world when it was new; to create with fresh, childlike eyes, cultivate curiosity, see wonder in the mundane, and unpack our imagination from the back of the cupboards we shove it into as the pressures of adulthood take the front.

Ricardo Vazquez — The Future Is Kid Stuff — Play, Curiosity and Wonder in Design

Play unlocks better solutions. It doesn’t matter if the end product is deadly serious or full of fun. We can bring all our ‘kid stuff’ to the process and — together with the knowledge we’ve gained from years of experience — who knows what wonders we can create?

When Copy Becomes Design

Benjamin Hersh is clear, friendly, and expressive in the last talk — like the copy he wants us to write. His background in neuroscience and art add a new perspective to old exhortations.

How to Write Products: When Copy Becomes Design ~ Benjamin Hersh, Product Designer, Dropbox.com

Be clear. Subvocalization and rhythm make copy that’s easy to read aloud easy to understand.

Be friendly. We process copy as another voice in our head, so address with your reader as a friend: with ‘you’. And say thanks!

Be expressive. The way you express yourself creates a personality for the product. Make it consistent and appropriate.

Our words determine what users understand, what they believe, and how they feel. That power is more than aesthetic; it has ethical implications when people agree to share data.

Words matter.


Enjoy wandering through a day at the 2019 UX salon? There’s so much more — music from Choke Beat Orchestra, scrumptious Israeli food, brilliant designers from all over the world to talk to, ad hoc dinners arranged by Avi Itzkovitch (the man who makes it all happen) and a guided tour of Jerusalem to round it out.

Were you there? I’d love to hear your perspective in the comments. Hope to see you at UX salon 2020!

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