The conference was held in the Hungarian Railway History Park — Europe’s first interactive railway museum. Although a bit remote (which is a downside if you're a first time Budapest visitors), Hungarian Railway History Park is an impressive venue. Along with many tracks, carriages, diesel and electric locomotives, the two multi-road turntables are a sight to see — even if you’re not a rolling stock enthusiast. Next to that, in a 3000 sqm Orient Hall, Amuse UX was taking place, as well as its sister conference, Crunch.
The conference lasted for three days: one reserved for workshops and two for talks and networking. Sadly, we missed the workshops but participated heartily throughout the next two days. The cool thing about Amuse is the one track (the other track was Crunch) with enough coffee breaks between talks, so you can exchange impressions with colleagues after each talk. By focusing on one track, Amuse UX ensured a great program. All of the talks were relevant and on-point, with diverse themes, ranging from AI and its emotional intelligence to design systems and team organisation.
👩🏫 Day #1
Registration and breakfast — everything went smoothly. The breakfast was really good, and we didn’t have to wait too long for the registration.
Since there were many good talks, we’ve highlighted some of our favourites.
Building Trust with UX Design by Ame Elliot
Ame started by pointing out how privacy and security are always discussed from a militaristic point of view, which is not relatable to most people. You don’t have to be a cryptographer to work in security, the UX community can lead in this industry too. To illustrate this, she used WhatsApp’s read receipts and how such a small UX pattern changed the behaviour of users. Imagine if we designed such patterns to keep us alert when sharing our data with companies!
The talk also focused on IoT devices and bad design choices that lead to smart homes being exploited, like the iKettle situation. The emphasis was on how security is a pressing social issue, that designing for security implies consistency and building trust with users.
AI is Your New Design Material by Josh Clark
As well as being a great speaker, Josh made some really good points about AI — how we use it in everyday life and why UX/UI designers have a really important role in this field. He touched on the issue of products like Juicero and the already mentioned iKettle (click on it, it's a different link) as examples of processes not working as they should. On the other hand, he gave examples of products that work perfectly, like Quick, Draw. Josh pointed out that the system can predict behaviours because people mostly use the same patterns.
According to Josh, the main job of UX designers would be to point AI at problems worth solving. Designers should use the benefit of predictableness to make their products as good as possible.
His main takeaway was that machines are weird because we are weird. If people are so unpredictable and sometimes difficult to understand, can we expect machines to do a perfect job? The designer’s task should be to set expectations and channel behaviour. So, to quote Josh, let’s make good decisions with new powerful tools for meaningful changes.
Code-Based Design Tools and the Unified Design–Engineering Workflow by Marcin Treder
It was the only talk that focused on specific tools and techniques. However, it failed to evade the tiring “Should designers code?” discussion. There is always room for improvement with the tools that we use and they will continue to evolve, but as designers, we shouldn’t be worried about the output format of our work. Be it vector images, or code, it’s a matter of consensus with developers and other stakeholders, not a matter of trends or “better” tools.
“This Design Sucks” and Other Anecdotes by Camille Gribbons
Camille talked about how design challenges differ from market to market and from one country to the other. She started her career in BookingLokal, which is a localized branch of Booking.com, offering rooms in Indonesian hotels to domestic travels.
Differences between cultures, ways of thinking, and behaviour globally are some of the topics she touched upon, describing how they are reflected in apps and websites. The advice she gave was to visit whatever country your clients come from to truly understand cultural behaviours and expectations. It makes perfect sense when said out loud.
A great analogy would be food, like spaghetti vs. noodles. They have similar ingredients but are completely different dishes, used in different ways and from opposite parts of the world. The same goes for apps — how you assemble them is what matters.
Camille’s conclusion: fulfil user’s basic needs and expectations… and THEN innovate.
An Identity that Unites Oslo by John Aurtande
The last but not the least interesting talk that day! It was a story about a new visual identity for Oslo, about a cooperation between the government, the city, and an agency. It was very cool, definitely not something you hear about every day! They started with the logo and went on to street names, signs, icons, and even made a unique and recognizable Oslo font. After that, they began using shapes in motion design and connecting shapes and sounds in movies. Eventually, they create an Oslo Design Digital System where, and we quote, any of the city’s 53,000 employees can choose from one of several templates, input information, upload photos, and receive automatically designed and exportable layouts. Well done Oslo, well done!
👩🏫 Day #2
Although we liked the first day better, there were some gems to be found on the second day as well.
Navigating the Hurdles of Conversation Design by Jon Bloom
In his performance, Jon emphasized the value of conversation in design and in life. We are usually not aware of the importance our words and sentences have. Jon gave a few examples of why we, as designers, should focus on the issue. The right word or word order can prevent lots of confusion. We live in a world of virtual assistants and have to see the importance of conversational technologies, to be the ones who prevent potential errors.
Expressive Design Systems by Yesenia Perez-Cruz
The talk illustrated how much creativity and mutual ownership come from a flexible design system, how much it can grow with the product for which it was designed. We can’t predict all possible uses when designing products and this is where mutual ownership of the design team can come in. It's foundation is designing and tweaking new or existing design components while respecting a shared base. I also enjoyed the levers and dials metaphor. We can adjust the scale, density, size and weight but we can also dial up a trait — parts of the design system can be either more functional or more expressive. The talk was very well prepared and she has a book on this subject coming soon, should be a great read!
To sum it up...
Amuse had a fantastic service, called Sli.do, helping crowdsource questions from the audience. The QA sessions instantly got more inclusive as people could ask questions anonymously and vote which questions should be asked. It kept things far more interesting than usual because QA’s can get awkward pretty easily, especially in big crowds like this. Kudos to the conference for having this thought out so well!
At the end, the organisers briefly talked about how much Amuse has grown over the years and shared how they achieved some of their long term goals. One of them was the 50-50 gender ratio, for both the speakers and the attendees. They achieved the speaker gender ratio a few years ago and have conquered the attendee proportions this year. Since usually more men attend tech conferences, this must have been a challenge. The other one was to significantly reduce the carbon footprint of the conference and they admittedly still have a long way to go. Although, this year had reusable cups and the food was donated to the ones in need.
The food was also a highlight of the conference since it catered to vegans, omnivores and people with a gluten intolerance. Coffee was being served all the time, refreshments and snacks were readily available.
When we summarize, we’re very happy with Amuse! Great speakers ✅, relevant topics ✅, good food ✅, learned a lot ✅. We would definitely go back and we think that says it all!