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A discover journey for redesigning UX London

UX London 2015 was fun, highly thematic and bold in terms of design. Previous designs were somewhat “MEH”. I wouldn’t say they were badly designed but they lacked anything special and certainly do not reflect the capabilities of the Clearleft team.

When briefed with the re-design of the 2016 site, I began to go down my usual design process. I explored some themes, sketches and tried to find a hook to hang the design from. I was quite happy with my initial exploration and felt confident that I could carry on the design. However when I started looking back through the information architecture (IA), of previous years and even the content, I felt that it lacked cohesion and didn’t embody or represent the actual event.

I stopped.

I recruited the help of Ben Sauer who kindly had some time to help me with this. He too agreed that if we should do this at all, we should do it properly and get to the heart of this event.

Back to basics

Treating this as a brand new project forced us to break away from our prior knowledge and look upon this problem with fresh eyes. Using Andy Thornton’s take on the project canvas we were able to outline the essential details needed:

  • What are we doing?
  • Who is it for?
  • How will we achieve it?
  • Why are we doing it?
  • Andy’s project canvas identifies the four “pillars” and includes “Altitudes”, three rows which offer different levels of detail from top to bottom. This allows you to get an overview of each pillar at the top row and delve deeper into detail as you go down.

Essentially lots of post it notes.

We used these notes to write a value proposition and then create some unifying traits. From these traits we identified that at it’s core UX London curates an event which brings together five elements:

  • People
  • Speakers
  • An incredible venue
  • Quality Street food
  • Special events

A little visual communication

Through the product definition process we identified specific event qualities we felt embodied the event, things like inspiration, atmosphere etc. Thinking abstractly we grabbed our whiteboard markers and began trying to conceptualise what these qualities could look like visually. It’s worth pointing out that this is NOT a reflection of any final design, rather a technique which explores whether our thoughts and ideas can be communicated visually.

Discussing our conceptual scribbles we soon developed the notion of a structure core built by intersecting elements, these elements being the five I’ve just mentioned. But how could we better define the relationship between these elements, moreover represent them in a visual way?

Back to our event qualities. Looking through our myriad of post-its, we identified common themes and whittled them down to healthy six. So we now had this core idea built from these six qualities, which are intersected by 5 elements.

Let’s get layering

Thinking visually why not take an element e.g. “People” and plot the six qualities against it on a diagram, in the hope that each element is unique enough to produce a different shape.

As luck would have it…

And then get a little fancier…

I tend not to use graphics packages this early on, however at this point, it was actually quicker to visualise the next steps in Illustrator. By creating the different shapes and layering them on top of each other we could hopefully communicate the idea of overlapping or intersecting elements which combine together to create a whole.

The rigidity of the the lines are aesthetically pleasing however they don’t reflect the free-flow nature of the event, the idea was always that at the core is structure but at the peripherals it’s more organic, so we experimented with softer lines and rounded edges.

Finally, mostly because I can’t help myself, I explored this further to incorporate the branding to see if it feels right. Like I said this is really only to satisfy me, as we haven’t yet solidified our thinking, but hey why not have a little fun.

This is where we are so far. Trying to ignore the fun we had with visuals for a second, what was interesting about this process, was to take a product that we all thought we knew, strip it right back and start from scratch. It certainly solidified some of our preconceptions but actually surfaced far more. When you live with something for long enough you can sometimes take it for granted, you think you know it well, but messages get lost over time and edges dull. This process has allowed me to care about this product again and understand it more than I ever had.

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