John Cowen

John Cowen

User Experience • Design • Creativity

WIAD Bristol Notes


On Saturday I attended World Information Architecture day in Bristol - and in a break with convention - thought I’d actually write up my notes.

Jon Fisher

Errors Experience and Structure

The crux of Jon’s talk is that if the value a user can take from using your website/app/device/service etc - is greater than the pain involved in using it, it’s considered acceptable.

Users will engage with something as long as the value is greater than the pain involved.

Early SMS messages with letters accessed though number keys is an example of this in practice.

Errors are predictable.

Humans fail in predictable ways.

Errors are manifestations of pain on a website.

This had been studied since the 1940’s though HCI and similar disciplines.

Website errors can be split into two types.

Interface errors

  • User doesn’t see something
  • Struggles with an interaction
  • Frustrating form inputs

1 by 1 these are OK and can be dealt with. But in volume they will cause a user to leave.

Understanding Errors

  • The user fundamentally doesn’t understand, or know how to use, the site.
  • Stems from a lack of knowledge
  • Using the wrong language
  • Using a different model to what’s expected
  • An orientation error - user doesn’t know where they are in the site

These are the big killer experiences and will quickly end any user engagement.

UX research should identify errors and identify as

  • Control - If a problem really can’t be fixed - can it be ring-fenced to have no risk on any other activities
  • Mitigate - If the problem can’t be completely fixed - can the risk of it happening at least be reduced
  • Eliminate - Fix the problem completely

To architect happy experiences - we have to eliminate pain first.

James O’Brien

Wireframes Must Die

If what you build doesn’t enhance the experience - you’ve wasted your time.

Few people really understand wireframes. Stakeholders end up making design judgments made on a non-visual layout.

Designers have experience and can add value through design process - but wire framing removes their input.

We shape our tools - thereafter our tools shape us.

wireframes have become a default go-to tool, despite the fact they’re not right for most jobs

Wireframes don’t work for designing experiences

The best early project phases should be

  1. Education
  2. Discovery
  3. Not immediately selling a deliverable

These are all very much against the agency model.

Through workshopping - stakeholders get involvement with the project and will defend design decisions much more strongly when debated later in project.

Charles Martin

You Hum it I’ll Design It

Look out for site ‘triangles’ - things that really don’t need to be on the page. If something deserves to be on the page - give it visibility, space, value or don’t bother. It’s an opportunity to remove confusion & clutter on the page.

‘Throw 1 ball and I’ll hit it throw 5 balls and I’ll miss them all

Clear focus is important.

Wall of sound musical approach doesn’t work when applied to websites. ( vs )

As humans we can’t stop tinkering Iteration and optimisation is the way for us to optimise online experiences

Things work for a reason and thus common patterns emerge through convention.

Music uses:

  • Lyrics
  • Chord progression
  • Instrumentation
  • Dynamics
  • Rhythm
  • Arrangement
  • Lead component

Our equivalent:

  • Words
  • Journeys
  • Components
  • Interaction values
  • Design language
  • Depth, breadth of IA
  • key message/ CTA

Many hit records have used the same structure. We like the familiarity this convention brings. The same is happening online, particularly within industries.

Across the finance sector - sites are using, fundamentally, the same structure.

Emily Heath

Cards for Discovery

Card is a piece of portable micro-content presented in a consistent and recognisable format.

They need to be

  • Easy to scan (visually)
  • Tactile and recognisable
  • Easy to flip through
  • Can be saved or shared
  • Can be a platform to serve up 3rd party content

BBC considering them to aid content discovery across different verticals (News, iPlayer, Sport, Childrens etc).

Part of replacing ladders with ropes for more flexible and natural movement.

Cards need:


  • Cognitive ease and fluency
  • because beauty is averageness - an amalgamation of averageness
  • Once we see a brand 7 times - we start to trust it. Brands can further leverage an association with a design format on cards to enhance familiarity with their message


  • Like a shipping container - designed to be used across multiple transport: train, ship, lorry.
  • easy to ship with no modifications
  • For a card: easy to share. Acrosss section, websites, devices.


  • Can be consumed on the go
  • Might be a free taster - enticing to come back later

Dan Ramsden

Is Everyone an IA


Despite Dan’s being a great talk - I made almost no notes.

I think I was representative of many at WIAD where I would never describe myself as an IA - and probably struggle to give you a comprehensive description of what an IA’s job involves.

I do however have a lot of experience doing IA work - and know its importance. So Dan’s talk seemed to validate my own background where I’ve found it essential to apply IA to almost any work I do. To produce good design work, it has to work in symbiosis with the IA.

Design and UX is not magic. Design is not intuitive. It is from process, experience and application. And a critical part of this is thinking about the IA.

Alastair Somerville

Accessible Storytelling

To be accessible, people want an experience to be

  • Perceivable
  • Intelligible
  • Mutual

And gaps matter. Not just white space, but personal space.

They put people back in control.

Give self control - to assess and formulate thoughts based on previous experience.

Gaps are happy - our best decisions are made when given lots of content and then given the opportunity to process.

Gaps are creative - before creative thought (breakthroughs) the brain shuts down for a moment and stops processing sensory data.

You made it to the bottom! Thanks for reading.

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