Top 5 UX tips stolen from Bill Buxton

Having recently attended Channel 4 Online’s UX x SW event at @Bristol , I was lucky enough to witness a keynote presentation from Bill Buxton, UX guru, Principal Researcher at Microsoft Research and generally all round amazing human being. He encouraged the attendee’s to steal his ideas, but rather than steal them I thought it would be more altruistic to share some brief highlights with you. And then you can steal them.

Bill Buxton in dots

1. The Long Nose

Everything that is going to be revolutionary technology in the next few years has already been invented, and about 20 years ago. It takes 20 years for a bit of tech to go from invention to billion dollar productisation. For example, capacitive multi-touch screens were invented around 1984, but didn’t become widely used/popular till the iPhone/Microsoft Surface in 2007. Bill should know, being one of those involved with working on the systems at the University of Toronto back in 84, but even they weren’t the first.

2. A change by an order of magnitude is a REAL change

To change something by an order of magnitude really changes the thing. So, Apple taking capacitive multi-touch, pinch gestures etc and making them accessible to everyone was creating a new thing. Taking an existing idea and making it faster/smaller/cheaper/DIFFERENT is how we can invent new tech. But the tricky thing is imagining an innovative order of magnitude. Consider Twitter: changing the FB status idea to be an independent thing with very limited space transformed it into a revolutionary idea. What can we take and change slightly to make it amazing?

3. We suffer from change blindness

Humans are blind to small changes that take place slowly but constantly. Is a child perceptibly taller one day than the next? No. But as we are blind to them we adopt mechanisms to measure these small differences e.g. the book on the head and make a mark on wall at the end of the year. Think on this when you are looking at how technology is changing.

4. Changing a device can change everything

The first remote control was a relatively simple device. However, in one fell swoop it revolutionised the TV industry; suddenly people could change channel without expending much effort. The remote control lowered the transaction cost of changing channel, so that people could easily switch when adverts came on. This meant that networks for the first time had to work together to make sure all their adverts were on at the same time, meaning people wouldn’t flick as soon as the ads came on and the companies paying for the adverts would still get goggle eyed viewers.

However, the remote changed more than this; now TV really had to keep the attention of viewers from the program start to prevent them wandering. Editing became faster and snappier, shows would lead with something designed purely to pique peoples’ interest and stop them switching over. The really interesting thing is that these changes in TV then influenced the pace and narrative of cinema!

5. Context is key

Something for all UX designers to remember. Doing a task on a Saturday at 2pm in Barcelona is very different from doing it in Wisconsin at 5pm on a Monday! Peoples’ interaction with the telephone has markedly changed from when it was always tethered in the hallway to being something you take everywhere. This ties in with the API we developed for Magic Tate Ball and our mission to understand the emotionally resonant triggers in our surroundings.

Now, go forth and produce!

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