Ben Holliday

Speaking at UX Bristol 2021

Photo shared by Jess Bird

On Friday I was part of the UX Bristol conference. James kindly invited me to speak at what was an entirely remote conference this year.

It was great to speak at an external event again. One of the things I’ve missed during the Covid pandemic is events and conferences. The chance to get out a meet people, share ideas, and visit new places. The last in-person event I spoke at was Create Leicester back in October 2019, and I’ve spoken remotely at a few internal events in the meantime (like the first DfE Design community of practice meet up back in December 2020).

The remote format worked really well at UX Bristol with really good engagement and questions from people following the live feed on YouTube and via the community set up on Slack. In the end I opted to pre-record my talk a few days before which I think turned out fine (even though it’s a strange experience presenting into the void) – the Q&A at the event was then live following the playback.

I’ve always struggled rehearsing talks without an audience and one observation here is that pre-recording my talk was a great way to practice – filming and having the camera on adds focus if you know people are going to see the playback. This is also a great way to share versions of a talk with your team, or people you trust for feedback before an event. I think this is something I’ll now try and do more, if and when we get back to in person events (the recording process itself was pretty simple using Zoom).

As well as speaking, it was also great to have some time on Friday (which is usually my non-working day at FutureGov) to attend the rest of the conference. I particularly enjoyed the opening talk by Chui Chui Tan, looking at the challenges of ‘culturalisation’, understanding and working with global/local and cultural context in design. Chui explained that to work with global users requires a “holistic approach building and constantly understanding and gathering insights and knowledge”.

My other highlight during the day was the talk by Kat Husbands about imposter syndrome in design. Kat (who works for Scottish Government), impressively ran live polls during the talk while also presenting back her research with designers on imposter syndrome. My main takeaways here were self acceptance and not putting pressure on yourself. Kat talked about letting yourself be vulnerable, and seeing the live poll results from 150+ people on the live conference feed gave me a sense that we’re all in this together. It’s worth saying that I’ve always had anxiety and imposter syndrome – I’ve written about this before here – especially since moving into leadership and more senior design roles. Having not done as much public speaking over the last couple of years, I was definitely feeling some of this pressure and imposter syndrome while preparing my talk last week.

Kat’s talk also reminded me of Gavin Elliot’s work on Imposter Syndrome – I’ve seen Gav presenting and talking about his own experiences with imposter syndrome to a number of design and public service teams over the past 5 years.

You can watch the recording of my talk here, and the full video feed has the Q&A and all the other talks from the conference day.

To introduce my UX Bristol talk, ‘Asking Design Questions’ was a mostly new set of ideas that I’ve been developing and thinking about (slide deck shared here).

I’ve been wanting to pick up on my previous questions for framing the problem work. The premise of this new talk, and building on that work from 6 years ago, is that anyone can ask design questions. In the talk I covered some of the history of my original thinking, and the challenges of the early work I was doing as Head of User Experience at the Department for Work and Pensions (UK Government). I then used the rest of the talk to consider what other design questions we need to be asking, and the types of design questions we need to start asking more, and why (with examples). This included a set of new questions covering the following themes:

  • Direction
  • Impact
  • Inclusion/exclusion 
  • Breakpoints
  • Design doing

I’m already talking to some other events about repeating and developing my ‘Asking Design Questions’ talk further. Please feel free to get in touch if that’s something you would be interested in, or if you’re putting together a future event (remote, or maybe even in person).

This is my blog where I’ve been writing for 18 years. You can follow all of my posts by subscribing to this RSS feed. You can also find me on Bluesky, less frequently now on X (formally Twitter), and on LinkedIn.