Collaborate Bristol is a conference that brings together the best minds in design to talk about superior digital User Experience (UX) and Information Architecture (IA). Touching on some of the trends and themes emerging from 2016, the talks centered around how UX needs to keep pace with the needs of consumers in 2017.

How to be compelling and appropriate

Head of UX at Yell, Graham Beale highlighted the need for generalists, not specialists in an ever-changing digital landscape. Customers are getting great experiences through social networks, but they’re not getting it through products and online services. So how do you forge that transformation through a business?  Clients want someone who knows the solution to their digital problems immediately. However, those who work in strategy and UX will know that their work requires an iterative discovery and research process which enables them to test and learn to find the best solution.

Graham argued that more forward-thinking rather than traditional thinking was needed.  Typically a thought process that makes brands think they understand their users intuitively.” An ongoing research, test and learn process is paramount if a brand is to understand how their users are changing, where they are now and where they will want to be in a few years time. Citing the theory writer, Malcolm Gladwell espoused in his book Outliers that to become an expert in anything you need 10,000 hours of practice. Graham also quoted Mark Kawano, Apple’s former User Experience Evangelist, who pronounced that you don’t just need  the input of UX experts, in a business ‘..everyone should be thinking about UX design all the time.’

UX designers should have many skillsets. They walk a fine line between design and science, their work needs to be both compelling and appropriate. However, specialism can lead to myopic thinking. Specialists can lack the broader scope, and can’t always see the bigger picture. Therefore, in isolation they cannot create comprehensive experiences. Diversity is key.

Harry Beck Tube Map UX


A good example of someone who wasn’t a specialist in UX is Harry Beck, a technical draughtsman who designed the London Underground Tube map.  He wasn’t a designer, but you now see the tube format all around the world. It was immediately popular because the design was so simple and the information easy to understand.

Graham highlighted the need for Bricoleur thinking: meaning someone who is adept at performing many diverse tasks, but unlike an engineer, Graham does not espouse subordinating each item to the availability of raw materials and tools conceived and procured for the purposed of the project.

Most organisations work off the back of specific policies, based on the proper procedure and execution; whereas a Bricoleur working will use whatever is to hand, and is:

  • Focused on outcome, not process.
  • Not constrained by models or mindsets.
  • Awareness of environment.
  • Resilient to change.
  • Exploratory and expansive.

A healthy balance of Bricoleur thinking and UX is essential however. In an agency setting there must be a place for both policy and bricoleur thinking: with the latter potentially taking  the form of disruption or innovation.

Your Digital Soul

Pete Trainor, Head of Nexus Digital, began his talk by announcing that: while digital innovation is fantastically exciting, there is a danger of it is leading to the loss of the human part of ‘human interaction. Simply put, ‘Digital built an escalator and when it stopped, we didn’t know how to continue moving’.

Nexus have been working with Artificial Intelligence to explore the growing issue of male suicide. Using the Collaborate audience as guinea pigs, he asked all iPhone users in the audience to go to their Settings>Privacy>Diagnostics and Usage> where they would discover packets of data and code and a checkbox on whether they had agreed to send information to Apple. Most the room had, but had no idea what they were sending. In fact, it was everything they had ever done on their phone: a scary thought for most consumers.  People in general seem happy to give this information over, our ‘digital soul’ if you will, if we think it will help us – or someone we know.



Using the popular 2014 sci-fi film Her as a trigger, Trainor wanted to see how much information people would be prepared to divulge to a machine. He emphasised that men especially don’t feel the need to talk to a person about their personal issues and would, on balance, actually prefer to speak to a chatbot. He referenced Xiaoice, a chabot that is immensely popular in China, with millions of Chinese men picking up their phones every day to exchange messages with her, drawn to her knowing sense of humour and listening skills.

Trainor also spoke about the tests they ran for the banking app they designed in order to enable people to talk about their financial worries. Drawing from that data they looked at their other project, tackling male suicide.  The male volunteers who thought they were talking to a computer engaged in less ‘impression management’ and displayed emotions and frustrations easier. Trainor also spoke about some of the third-party applications they used to ‘flesh out’ their chatbot even more.

  • A banking app that Nexus created, was developed with IBM Watson. Using integrated sentiment analysis right into the heart of AI, it learns from tone and cognitive biometrics. Emotional Analytics from Watson also gives the AI the potential to learn about passive behaviours.
  • Beyond Verbal – Voice biometrics analyses the nuances in peoples’ voices so they understand their emotional state when they are speaking.

Another aspect of AI which makes it more three-dimensional, Trainor explained, employs Lewin’s personality theory that your environment also impacts on your mood. The chatbot therefore uses multiple sources of data to start learning about the world, what’s happening that day, the weather and so on, rather than just the specific customer query.

Trainor went on to explain that all this information was essential when they considered male suicide. There was a specific marker that highlighted when someone was seriously thinking about ending their life. That marker was a sense of burden. Using some techniques to look at the data on the phones of suicide victims, it was clear this was the outlier in the data.

So, the big question Pete Trainor left us with was, can digital save a life? Based on the evidence, the answer is a resounding yes.

Collaboration by Design

Chris Chandler has had an exceptional career, with over ten years’ experience at Walt Disney, one of the largest creative organisations in the world. It’s safe to say he understands the challenge of collaborating in business.

Chandler began his talk with the idea that big organisations can learn from start-ups. There is an openness and togetherness, he explained, in collaborating at a new, small company. We all want to make things fast, but it’s much harder when you have 14 different departments to consult. Call it innovation, disruption, collaboration, he said but the point is, collaboration is different and different is invaluable to the creative process. He recommended that businesses start by:

  • Reducing barriers and removing handoffs
  • Focusing on making decisions and testing our ideas
  • Sticking with the same team if it works

Anytime something gets handed off to one person in business, he said, it creates waste, so remove that waste – stop thinking in siloes and you’ll go far.

Chandler also dispelled some myths. Collaborating, he advised, is not about inviting a bunch of different people to a meeting. Collaboration is not slack or open office plans. Collaboration is the process of two or more people or organisations working together to realise something successfully.

Quoting from The Neuroscience of Sharing by Jessie Poquérusse, “A plethora of studies have shown that collaboration can be a powerful tool towards higher achievement and increased productivity since collective efficacy can significantly boost groups’ aspirations, motivational investment, morale, and resilience to challenges.” However, a four-year study of interorganisational collaboration by Fischer and colleagues at the University of Oxford, found that successful collaboration can be rapidly derailed through external policy steering, particularly where it undermines relations built on trust. This perhaps reinforces why start-ups typically do collaboration best due to the lack of red-tape within the organisation.

Chris also went on to discuss the New York Times article, Why Some Teams are Smarter Than Others by MIT Professor Thomas Malone and Carnegie Mellon Professor, Anita Wolley. This article looked at the reasons why some teams work better than others. Simply put, the teams that were the most successful were the ones that:

  • Communicated the most.
  • Communicated the most easily.
  • Possessed good emotional reading skills – a theory of mind, to consider and keep track of what other people feel, know and believed.

Summing up, collaboration is about networks, not hierarchy. The most effect way to block it is to create barriers that are protocol for protocol’s sake, rather than an effective time management or efficacy management tool. Collaboration is not consensus. It can be hard to get credit for being a good collaborator.

Chandler concluded his talk by emphasising that companies must intentionally foster collaboration and address alienation to create a functioning and successful team, understanding what causes us to act separately:

  • Doubt or fear about our path and role.
  • Anger of inner conflict which can lead to selfish behavior.
  • Temptation to lapse into indifference. 

Do not underestimate the ritual, he emphasised, doing something small every day can have powerful effects.

Collaboration 2016 led to some new interesting ideas amongst our team, but what about you? Are you having trouble fostering collaboration or creating excellent User Centered Design? Get in contact now to speak to us about creating engaging digital experiences.