What we learned at Pixel Pioneers Belfast (Part 2)

As mentioned in the previous post What we learned at Pixel Pioneers Belfast‘ we covered speakers such as Chris Murphy @fehler and Harry Roberts @csswizardry. Chris taught us the value of ‘retaining a beginner’s mind’ so that we are constantly learning every day in this industry. Harry expressed the importance of efficient speed and performance considerations by developing for legacy devices to ensure our products function at lightning speed on modern devices.

Visual Literacy and Visual Fluency

After the midday break, we attended a fantastic talk by Eva-Lotta Lamm @evalottchen, a user experience designer, illustrator and visual thinker. Besides her UX work, is found doing sketchnotes at hundreds of talks and conferences and has self-published her notes in several books.

Her talk for Pixel Pioneers was to encourage us as designers to express our thoughts more visually through sketch noting as opposed to simply taking standard notes. My initial thought after seeing her work was ‘how does someone get the time to sketch that fast, that good an get a coherent message across”? It’s not about how well your sketches are drawn, but rather how recognisable they are to you and how open-minded you are to being creative.

Eva-Lotta Lamm Pixel Pioneers Belfast 2017

“The creative process has ambiguity built-in, and creative people tend to be more comfortable with ambiguity.”

Concept recognition happens in a split second. And with this in mind, we can create patterns to make things more memorable. For example, sketching a truck for delivery, a ball for sports, a light bulb for an idea or a book for further reading instantaneously acts as a trigger. While these sketches may not paint the entire picture, they act as a trigger mechanism to invoke a memory or cognitive action.

Eva-Lotta Lamm Pixel Pioneers Belfast 2017

Using this method can illustrate emotions to add context to situations. For example, sketch noting during a user interview could be much more in depth due to the ability to not only write down the person’s direct answers but in addition include sketches of ‘smiley faces’ to illustrate a happy experience. While maybe a ‘lightening bolt’ could be an indication that the user was frustrated by the product at this point.

Eva-Lotta Lamm Pixel Pioneers Belfast 2017

Remember not to be too critical of your sketches, and just get stuck in. They may appear messy to others in your team, but you are able to follow the story or scenario it will fall into place. This new visual method of note taking will help us become greater visual thinkers and soon we will be able to illustrate relationships between content and context with greater ease.

“Sketching is thinking made visual”

Communicating with Empathy

Another astounding speaker on the day was Sharon Steed @sharonsteed with her talk on Cultivating Community: Building Powerful Relationships by Communicating with Empathy. Sharon is an empathy and communications consultant, a position I personally would aspire to achieve in my career. She’s spoken at companies on improving team communication and collaboration; at tech conferences on vulnerability as an asset; and has given a TEDx talk on empowering insecurities.

Everything about this talk was inspiring, especially after the surprising revelation that Sharon is a lifelong stutterer. Yes, this person on stage speaking in front of hundreds of people has a stutter, yet she uses her speech impediment to teach us both what empathy is and how to be empathetic. Personally, I was blown away by her story and how she had grown to overcome this barrier. Astounding!

Sharon Steed Pixel Pioneers Belfast 2017

Communication is chaotic

Sharon explained how everyday communication is chaotic, which hinders building a community. It takes real effort to instil real empathy into our scenarios and conversations. How do you communicate with empathy you might think? It all stems from how you approach your conversations. To do this effectively we must not only speak our user’s language but above all listen to their language. Using this knowledge we can better communicate on the same wavelength, and understand user frustrations or their positives experiences, with less confusion.

A great explanation of Empathy was to compare it to love.

  • Love is amazing when it’s BRAND NEW
  • Love as a noun is a great IDEA
  • Love as a verb is a CHOICE

Sharon Steed Pixel Pioneers Belfast 2017

Empathy is also an extremely powerful tool to have when working with your team. To fully understand those you collaborate with, we must create transparency. This allows greater ease for people to join the conversation and even those who maybe don’t have the loudest voice in the room.

“Powerful people empower their teammates”

Sharon Steed Pixel Pioneers Belfast 2017To wrap up this quick addition to our fantastic day at Pixel Pioneers Belfast, we at i3 Digital would just like to thank all those who put a great deal of work into bringing the event here. Huge thanks have to be given to all speakers for divulging and bestowing their knowledge and experience on us all. And in addition, I must give extra thanks (and apologies) to the speakers and fellow designers who I personally ‘interrogated’ over a pint at the after party. I do love an old yarn about this stuff.

Finally to those who I may not have had a chance to chat with this time around, roll on Pixel Pioneers 2018. The first pint is on me.


Stephen Currie - Ux Designer

Stephen is one of our UX & Front-end Designers.
Chat with him at @itsmecurrie

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