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Summary from MEX/16: insights, photos & podcast
...and how to stay in touch with future events!
Summary from MEX/16: insights, photos & podcast

This much was clear from MEX/16: we must prepare for a future quite different from today's world of smartphone primacy.
Emerging technologies such as virtual reality, artificial intelligence and multi-sensory interfaces are changing the skills required for good user-centred design. The impact will be felt throughout, from organisational strategy to the crafts of interaction design and user research.

Although the agenda for the 16th international MEX in London had been designed in advance around these assumptions, I was unprepared for just how rapid the change could be and how significant its implications.

We started with a simple and bold premise: if one continues limiting oneself to established experience design techniques one at best stands still and at worst risks irrelevance. Instead, our conference mission was to uncover hidden, less travelled paths towards a future of experience design five years hence.

The community was diverse: from agency CEOs to those leading experience design in-house at global brands; industries ranging from healthcare to financial services; practitioners spanning copyrighting, motion design, user research and brand management. This diversity informed and elevated the working sessions, equipping the combined gathering to see beyond the echo chambers of narrow roles or industry silos.

It is impossible to cover all of the valuable insights from 2 days of intense collaboration. Instead, I've picked five moments you might find especially thought provoking:
  1. How does your app smell, taste and sound? Tom Pursey and Peter Law of Flying Object took us on fast-paced journey through pioneering work they'd done for the internationally renowned Tate Gallery in London. Their project engaged Tate visitors in a multi-sensory experience inspired by four paintings, combining elements of taste, sound, smell and tactile effects. At MEX/16, their workshop challenged participants to examine how emerging technologies like VR and haptics might broaden digital experience design. Their methods of breaking experience down into its elemental, sensory building blocks and identifying unexpected pairings of colour, sound, tactility and motion were inspiring. This isn't about a clichéd path to 'smell-o-vision', but rather a wake up call: digital experience teams which limit themselves to the narrow sensory dimension of visual effects will soon be left behind in a world already changing with Apple's 3D Touch, voice UIs like Amazon's Alexa and full body experiences such as the HTC Vive.
  2. Why does the bullshit gap persist? UX, digital transformation, user-centred design...there's never been more lip service paid to these terms. Yet despite this, and budgets being at an all time high, the 'bullshit gap' - the difference between what organisations say and do - remains painfully and obviously wide. Giles Colborne, managing director of cx partners and someone who has literally written the book on usability, asked participants to consider the most effective strategic tools for closing this gap. Citing an example of work they'd done for the financial services organisation Nationwide, Giles shared methods for understanding culture, quantifying appetite for different types of change and adapting project strategy accordingly so as to deliver measurable impact. It brought into focus a new role for agencies - and the new skills they need - as they become educators for increasingly large in-house teams.
  3. When does artificial intelligence deliver meaningfully better UX? Understanding and responding to user behaviour at scale through machine learning has the potential to open up whole new areas of digital experience. In the case of Ed Rex and Jukedeck, it means they're able to compose music on-the-fly to suit the mood of any video or moment. However, the nebulous term of 'artificial intelligence' is far from a panacea. Ed explained the practical challenges around processing speed, interface design and managing user expectations which they've had to overcome to ensure Jukedeck's smarts feel magical to users. It left me wondering how service providers of all kinds will identify the balance between digital elements which thrive on dynamic, artificial intelligence-powered response and those which benefit from remaining static, immovable totems of the brand?
  4. Is the day coming when we can all experience the same programmable emotion in the same instant? Apala Lahiri Chavan, President at Human Factors International, shared her deep experience of conducting user-centred design across diverse cultures. She asked us to consider a multi-decade timescale of behavioural change and the influence of digital. If virtual reality and other forms of emotionally engaging digital services continue to advance, we must accept the possibility of an increasingly direct channel between digital providers and users' most powerful feelings. At the fringe of technological advance, transhumanists are already experimenting with ways of augmenting their physical movements and emotions through digital devices. Too much, too soon...or too significant to ignore?
  5. How do you find the hidden truths which illuminate user research? Aaron Garner, Director at the Emotional Intelligence Academy, talked about his work with security services around the world, employing an understanding of micro-expressions to gain deeper insight into human behaviour. These flickers of movement, which might occur for just a fraction of a second, provide a glimpse of a users' true feelings before they begin to modulate their response according to social context and expectations. In Aaron's day-to-day work, this might mean detecting a security threat or averting violence, but the lessons are equally applicable to user research. No matter which new technologies emerge on the interaction side, improving understanding of user behaviour is fundamental to improving overall experience design. Aaron's engaging talk, where he had all of our MEX participants contorting their faces into amusingly amplified versions of micro-expressions, showed how effectively tangential learnings can be utilised to improve the practice of experience design.
The process of distilling all of the results from MEX/16 continues.  Follow @mexfeed or sign-up to receive the MEX newsletter for updates.

In the mean time, you can also listen to a special summary edition of the MEX podcast, where Alex Guest and I discuss more sessions from the conference.

Stay in touch!

Contact Marek Pawlowski (mp@pmn.co.uk or +44 7767 622957) about speaking, sponsoring and participating at future MEX events.

MEX/16 was supported by our partners Brunel University and Wallacespace; and, of course, our sponsoring patrons Flying Object, Human Factors International and Tribal Worldwide.

Special thanks to our expert speakers & workshop leaders:
Rachel Liu, UX Lead, Pearson
Rachel Liu
Multi-stakeholder design and cultural nuance in China's education market
Apala Lahiri Chavan, Chief Oracle and Innovator, Human Factors International
Apala Lahiri Chavan
Human Factors
Balancing global and local approaches to user experience
Giles Colborne, Managing Director, cx partners
Giles Colborne
cx partners
Unexpected techniques for teaching user-centred design culture in large organisations
Aaron Garner, Director, Emotional Intelligence Academy
Aaron Garner
Emotional Intelligence Academy
Reading users' micro-expressions to improve insight and reveal unspoken truths
Rob Graham, Global Head of User Experience, AstraZeneca
Rob Graham
Interview and Q&A focused on UX in pharma, facilitated by MEX founder Marek Pawlowski
Ana Moutinho, Lead UX Designer, Holition
Ana Moutinho
Research strategies for a user-centred approach to augmented reality
Emily Tulloh, Service Designer, Mindwave
Emily Tulloh
Using novel research methods to find unique design direction
Pete Law, Creative Producer, Flying Object
Pete Law
Flying Object
Building user experiences across all 5 senses
Thomas Foster, Head of Experience Design, Schroders
Thomas Foster
Mobile design in finance and establishing a community of practice in complex organisations
Patrizia Bertini, Senior Strategy Consultant, Lithium Technologies
Patrizia Bertini
Lithium Technologies
Creative approaches to experience-centred design process
Ed Rex, CEO, Jukedeck
Ed Rex
Exploring user experience at the intersection of artificial intelligence and musical creativity
Jonathan Chippindale, Chief Executive, Holition
Jonathan Chippindale
Embedding UX culture in luxury brands and creative agencies
Alexa Shoen, Associate Creative Director, The Dots Creative
Alexa Shoen
The Dots Creative
Strategies and tools for better user experience through better copy
Jonathan Lovatt-Young, Head of Service and Experience Design, Tribal Worldwide
Jonathan Lovatt-Young
Tribal Worldwide
Strategies for managing user interruptions
Tom Pursey, Founder, Flying Object
Tom Pursey
Flying Object
Building user experiences across all 5 senses
Marek Pawlowski, Founder, MEX
Marek Pawlowski
Founder and host of MEX
Alex Guest, Facilitator, Independent
Alex Guest
Co-hosting MEX and facilitating creative challenges
Photos from MEX/16