UX Salon – Tel Aviv, Israel

Caitlin Sullivan

I was on the hunt for a conference, as I failed to buy tickets to Interaction 14 before it sold out, and I needed a replacement. The UX Salon, as it was curiously named, boasted perhaps the most navigable, simplified website for a conference I can recall. I was sold.

The two-day event included one conference day and a second day devoted to a workshop of choice, either Service Design or Emotional Design. The conference lineup was impressive, including Jesse James Garrett, co-founder and chief creative officer of Adaptive Path, and Aarron Walter, MailChimp’s lead UX designer, followed by a solid mix of global speakers.

The well-structured conference day included seven remarkably varied talks: from anthropology’s role in design to our predictable behavior based on psychological sexual attraction (yes, it applied to design), and one passionate designer’s argument for Universal Design. The last was perhaps the most thought provoking, in an age where accessibility is at the forefront of our profession.

We certainly need to be asking how we can best design for as many people as possible, including those with reduced sight, hearing, and even dexterity. UX designer Andrew Zusman made some interesting points with clever examples. He highlighted the ubiquitous beeping or chirping crosswalk lights in many cities and towns, which were first designed for the blind, yet most of us with decent vision would say they’re a positive addition to the experience of waiting on a corner and knowing when to cross. Though I still believe there are few examples like this, it illustrates the lasting impact of considering a minority while simultaneously benefiting the ‘typical’ user through great design.

On the other end of the spectrum, the anthropological lessons from Elad Ben Elul highlighted the importance of local cultural understanding when developing a service. This was of particular interest as Fjord work from region-focused offices. Though not the focus of his talk, his exploration of Israeli people’s association of WhatsApp with family communication struck a chord. For those of us further west in Europe, we use the app with friends above all. Without living in that society or studying it, I wouldn’t have guessed the app’s particular significance.

On day two, I attended the Emotional Design workshop, held by MailChimp’s Aarron Walter, getting the opportunity to hear about the process of a company whose thoughtful design has driven more holistic thinking about services.

MailChimp has succeeded in presenting their service with incredible consistency in every detail, from the natural flow of their service’s structure to their in-depth analysis of voice and tone. I was eager to learn from Walter.

While their process was not so far from Fjord’s, I picked up some pointers about involving more voices earlier on in a project. Walter emphasized posting preliminary sketches and half-baked ideas on walls in public, everywhere, not just in one project team’s little corner. One of his team’s design breakthroughs came from an unlikely team member who passed Walter’s sketches on a common area wall and sparked a suggestion from a different perspective. Walter’s team had understood, and solved, a common challenge: it’s too easy to get swallowed by our daily projects and one-track thinking. Getting an outside perspective can change the game. We tend to ‘know’ this but too rarely act on it.

For such a short trip, I was exposed to many perspectives in quite a different world. And while this was only UX Salon’s first year, it was a smooth, structured conference with a fantastically varied line-up of talks, and plenty of opportunities to pick up something new.

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Image from UX Salon

Caitlin Sullivan

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