Writing is design’s unicorn skill: UXNZ conference report

November 2017

Writing is design's unicorn skill

The recent UX New Zealand conference in Wellington was stunningly well attended – with well over 400 delegates drawn from NZ private enterprise and government, and a great line-up of local and overseas speakers. Claire Nicholson and Cindy Staudt report on the proceedings.

For the third year in a row, our good friends and business partners Optimal Workshop welcomed us warmly to UX New Zealand and generously supplied TechCommNZ with a prime exhibition space. We were able to say hello to existing TechCommNZ members, promote membership to others, spread the word about the value of good tech comm, and make new friends using our UX-themed interactive game!

So, is writing design’s unicorn skill? The general consensus from this year’s UX New Zealand conference was that, yes, writers play an integral and highly valuable role in successful UX. In both the presentations and conversations we had with attendees during the breaks (and between bouts of beanbag tossing), it was reiterated that even amidst the rock-star flare and quirky creativity of the UX world, content matters and the people who write clearly for their users are a key part of the process.

This year’s conference featured a number of engaging speakers and strong themes:

Kah Chan, head of product design at Flick Electric, gave an insightful talk about ‘The Importance of Crafting Language in UX’. We were cheered that almost right out of the gate, the emphasis was on how language helps shape a positive user experience. Kah emphasised that choosing the right words is an absolute must in UX, and reminded us that words do our job for us when we’re not there to interact directly with our end users. They can provide empathy, simplicity, clarity, reassurance – and if we’re really doing things right, boost and elevate users to a “joyful” interaction with our products.

Amy Stoks and Tania Hockings discussed the process for creating a more human-centred version of the ACC website. They advocated a paired writing process, which puts a SME and a writer together to consider what users need to do, how to help them do it, and define some acceptance criteria to evaluate the success of the effort. We really liked the idea of creating meaningful interaction between SMEs and writers: the SMEs get a chance to see how difficult it is to convert complex ideas into user-centred language, and the writers can better understand what the SME knows and how they’ve approached their side of the product. It all results in an improved experience for the users when both sides work together.

Even some of the more-design focused presentations reiterated understanding user needs and being able to articulate them clearly. Lisa Jansen’s ‘You Can Sprint!’ presentation discussed developing clear and useful “How might we…” statements at the beginning of the sprint process, to help get the most bang from your design buck. John Bell, staff product designer at Twitter, noted that good design is about problem-solving – and you need to be able to articulate those problems so that you’re addressing an actual user need and not just making things simpler or more consistent. And Ian Howard discussed the ways that data and creativity can work together to make user experiences that are functional, reliable, usable, personal, and pleasurable.

We encourage you to go and watch the UX New Zealand presentations yourself. They’re all 20 minutes or so, and many are highly entertaining. The videos are available online, along with the slides, so if you didn’t manage to make it to the conference, you can still check out the talks. You’ll hopefully get a feel for the positive energy and enthusiasm attendees had for the topics and their work as well.

If you’d prefer a quick overview, check out these summaries of the talks from Aakansha at Razzbri and from the team at Silverstripe.

We’re looking forward to another UX New Zealand conference next year, and it would be great to see a technical communicator presenting on content usability and accessibility. Could it be you?

And, if you’re looking for ways to improve your content, don’t forget to check out the awesome range of Optimal Workshop usability tools.