UX Brighton  - Designing for Complexity

August 1, 2017

Recently a few of the few of the Furthermore gang were lucky enough to take a jaunt down to Brighton to catch the annual UX Brighton conference. And you couldn’t have asked for a nice place to learn what’s next in UX, we’re big fans of conferences that include a lunchtime stroll on the beach!

The focus of this year’s event was ‘complexity’. However the format was simple, 8 great talks from UX masters delivered in the absolutely stunning Brighton dome venue. Where we were reliably informed ABBA had won Eurovision in ’74! Complexity is a rather large topic to discuss in a day but we were really impressed by the diverse range of talks that were presenting. From the academic and theoretical to the pragmatic and practical. Here are a couple of our favourites…

Measuring customer effort with top tasks

Gerry McGovern

 Gerry was on right before lunch and if you can hold our attention whilst our stomachs are rumbling then you’re probably delivering an excellent talk. 

The talk had a simple premise, measure which tasks your users really want to accomplish with your system and prioritise your time on improving the UX for those tasks. But what set Gerry’s talk above the the rest for us was the vast amount of examples and actionable advice he was able to impart around this simple idea. 

The talk highlighted that without testing, it can be difficult for designers and stakeholders to accurately evaluate which sections of a site or app are going to get the most use. A personal favourite quote was “In a world of complexity your gut instinct is the worst thing you can really on”. The data presented also showed that for most systems there exist ‘super tasks’ on which the vast majority of user time is spent. In the example below you can see that 4 tasks out of a possible 70 were chosen by 25% of polled users. 


As well as explaining how to measure what your users top tasks were Gerry also talked about how to develop testable metrics to show how successful each task was. Highlighting that not only do users need to be able to complete the task but that it should also be a quick and easy process for the task to be considered successful. 

This talk really made an impact on us and by the end of the day we were already discussing a couple of client projects that we’d love to try these techniques out on. If you’d like to know more there’s an excellent A List Apart article on the subject. 


Situational Awareness: A superpower for UX designers

Simon Wardley


Probably the most entertaining talk of the day Simon Wardley took us on a lightning paced exploration of his own ‘Wardley maps’ process. This took a few charming detours on the journey, with examples based on chess, Greek battles, Sun Tzu and my favourite the vikings. 

But the message was clear if you want to succeed in your chosen market you need more than to understand your own value, you need awareness of the whole business space. Or as Sun Tzu might have put it "Know thy self, know thy enemy. A thousand battles, a thousand victories.”

Simon started by pointing out the weaknesses in several common business strategy document types. Picking apart SWOT analysis, and mind maps among others. Then we learnt about the difference between maps and diagrams. In case you were wondering maps have visual cues, contextual information, anchoring positions, movement, direction, components. Using these attributes Simon has developed his own type of strategy document called Wardley Maps. Designed to encourage situational awareness. He showed how this tool could be used to map out where an industry stands right now, where it might go in the future, and where the opportunities to provide value might be. 

This could have been a very dry talk but the lessons have really stuck with me. I think that’s really down to Simon’s charisma as a speaker. I think the slide above gives a good example of how much fun we were having during this talk. 

As well as these specific examples of excellent talks there was a wealth of other great information to digest at UX Brighton. 


Certainly there were a few common themes around complexity that many of the talks touched on. The most prominent for us was the complexity is usually an organisational problem. Either in the the organisational structure is in itself complex or in that differences in options across organisations brings forth complexity. 

It was also evident that the answer to the difficulties of complexity is to implement a process for dealing with it and to continuously evaluate your progress. There were a few approaches put forward Wardely Maps, Systems Thinking, Cynefin, Measuring customer effort, and many more. I don’t think any of these approaches is a silver bullet but having more understanding on each of them and when they’re best implemented was certainly worth the ticket price. 

We had a blast at UX Brighton. Early bird tickets are already on sale for UX Brighton 2018. Maybe we’ll see you there! 

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