Last Friday was a chilly and early start for all of us here at CWS. We crowded into Euan’s car, munching on a Mcdonald's breakfast and made our way up to Manchester for the day, for the 7th annual Northern UX and Design Conference.

With a focus on how a better understanding of people can help us to design and develop better experiences for our users; NUX7 offered a range of talks throughout the day from international speakers from a variety of backgrounds across the design sector. We were excited for the chance to listen and learn more about wider issues designers and developers can face, as well as some practical tips we could apply to our own working practice.

After the necessary consumption of a caffeine and pastry, we kicked off with a fast paced thought provoking talk by Christina Wodtke. An author and speaker who has worked to grow a number of major companies throughout Silicon Valley and now lectures at Stanford. Entitled ‘It’s Complicated: Designing in The Age of Emergence’ Christine’s talk examined the questions we need to be asking and what frameworks we can adopt to help interrogate our design process, understand how our users and our designs will interact to create the final outcome and think about the detail in order to demystify the processes and outcomes. It emphasised that design is an ongoing process, involving iterations and learning.

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We have to be braver as designers and stop debating UX & UI.

Christine Wodtke

Next we were treated to ‘How to Re-Shape Projects (without antagonising people)’ from Kate Tarling. Kate shared with us strategies gathered from 15 years of user centred design experience for untangling exactly what a client really needs you to create, especially when they are not really sure themselves. She focused on how we can explore a brief, get to root of what is really required and then how to successfully redefine a project, even in the face of challenges from management or stakeholders.

Another quick break for coffee and biscuits before we were treated to really practical talk by Bracket founder Alison Coward on how to run great workshops, or turn meetings into stealthy workshops and get the best out of your teams. A great talk for anyone in business, that explained the importance of getting everybody's voice heard, why Sharpies and Post it notes are a meeting must and how to avoid Groupthink.

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Workshops have three parts: the preparation, the facilitation and the follow up. The part that people seem to struggle at is the follow up.

Alison Coward

With possibly the most exciting title, we were all interested to find out what Jane Austin’s talk ‘10 Easy Ways to Irritate You Design Team’ was about. Experienced in building high performance design teams, Jane’s talk was a fun and engaging look at how to get the best out of your design team by doing the exact opposite of her list! It covered pretty much every aspect of a design teams life from getting hired, career pathways, creating a culture that breeds creativity and how designers work best to get the optimum results.

With so many interesting points already it was time for lunch, a breath of fresh air, more caffeine and some yummy chocolate eclairs. Then back into the theatre of the Royal Northern College of Music for further insights from Christopher Murphy. He shared some wisdom on designing for connected ecosystems using some core principles he had learnt through his own experiences working as a design strategist. He emphasised the importance of stories, taking risks and encouraged us to learn the rules so that we could break them.

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The opportunities ahead are exciting*

* if we choose to embrace them

Christopher Murphy

Lisa deBettencourt then gave us a lot to think about with her talk ‘Good Intentions and Bad Actors: Unleashing Our True Design Superpowers’ She challenged us to help design the kind of world we would be proud to leave behind. With a background in emerging technologies for health care, her focus was around the ethics of UX design, reminding us that whilst intentions may good, excellent design means risk mitigation for possible negative outcomes, so we can try to safeguard against possible bad outcomes. Lisa inspired us to design for long lasting change for the better.

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We spend so much time thinking about our design processes...so how is it that we aren’t really thinking about the impact we have?

Lisa deBettencourt

After one more short pause, (more biscuits, more caffeine) we were treated to our final Keynote speaker, Steve Portigal. Host of Podcast, ‘Dollars to Donuts’, author and a consultant who helps companies to think and act strategically, Steve focussed on the importance of mindfulness for designers. His talk entitled ‘The Designer is Present’, encouraged designers to grow in self awareness and mindfulness in order for us to really gain insight of users without colouring our findings with our own baggage or bias.

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Not being present impairs our ability to empathise with the people we engage with.

Steve Portigal

A great finale to a thought provoking day of balancing practical tips that could be immediately outworked, and more complex questions that we could each take home and mull over on the journey back to Leicestershire.