26 August 2016

In case you haven’t heard: I’m going to join UXSG Conference 2016 from 7 – 9 September in Singapore. Well, when the UX community in Vietnam is still young and inactive, there’s no choice but to find learning opportunities from other countries in the region

UXSG Conference, organised by UXSG Community bi-annually seems to offer a good chance to learn from practitioners and enthusiasts across different disciplines and industries beyond UX. The conference theme of 2016 is Transformation (on Society, Communities, Product & Services, and the Self).

With limited budget, I go for normal conference pass of 550SGD and do not register for any workshop (as it costs 250SGD extra). So in 2.5 days I would have access to: 6 keynotes, 1 unconference and 2 lightning talks.

However it’s UXSG 2016’s Design Principles what makes me looking forward to attending the conference the most. As the organiser put it, “We applied UX to design our UX conference”.

#1: Making the conferences feel personal again

#2: Investing in things that matter to people

#3: I feel at home

#4: I know what I signed up for

#5: I feel guided all the time

#6: Approachable, inspiring, engaging

#7: Delight in the details

This is the first time I see an organiser (other than AIESEC) puts effort in making sure the delegates enjoy the conference to the fullest, which requires them to go further than just having a lineup of famous guest speakers and some intriguing workshop topics. More importantly, they seem to think about how to better the connection among delegates and more or less help introverts to get the most out of the conference.

I remember my personal experience in Spikes Asia 2013 and 2014 where I learnt so much from the sessions but gained so little from people in the network, as the conferences were designed without any activities that require pairing or grouping for discussion (which normally creates more ease for introverted people like me to expose themselves and connect with other delegates). Off the stage the guest speakers were hard to approach and the conference staff left me no particular impression. At the end of the day, apart from the session content I believe it is the people element that creates the strongest conference experience.

10th September 2016

I never expected to have post-conference syndrome (PCS) in a non-AIESEC conference but UXSG 2016 was so great that it left me enormous energy and motivation.

For such a long time after leaving the youth organisation, only until now I’ve got back the the sense of belonging to a community that share common interests and aspirations, which is one of the best feelings in the world.

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UXSG 2016 “Transformation” | Image Credit: UXSG

When I share my UXSG 2016 experience, there are several points that I would compare to AIESEC Conferences and Spikes Asia. However the nature of these 3 conferences are different, especially in terms of conference objectives and the type of community (audience) therefore I have no intention to conclude which one is better than the others.

So what’s there in UXSG 2016?

#1.  Conference Volunteer Team (AIESEC term “OC”)

25 people, 3 sub-teams and 16 roles. By looking at the structure you can clearly see the team really sharpened their focus on the experience of every stakeholder (including themselves).

Operations (Project Management, Marketing, Logistics, Customer Support, Media Management)

Experience Design (Website, Physical / Space, Speakers Experience, Volunteers Experience, Local Attendees Experience, Foreign Attendees Experience, Sponsors Experience)

Lead Quality Assurance (Experience Planner, Operations, Tech, Look of the Conference)

Most of the volunteers are experienced UX practitioners and there was even a guest speaker from UXSG 2014 who worked for Ministry of Manpower in the team.

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Morning Briefing | Image Credit: UXSG

Apart from fulfilling their volunteer roles in such an amazing way, they also joined the sessions and mingled with the delegates therefore I didn’t really see them as a separate entity (the same thing happened with sponsors and guest speakers).

Between sessions, they shared with delegates about what’s going on behind the scenes, from the guest speakers “blind selection process” to the prototyping of conference registration and live Q&A platform.

“Be like a duck. Calm on the surface, but always paddling like the dickens underneath.” I believe this saying from Michael Caine described the conference volunteer team well.

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Volunteer Team Photo | Image Credit: @RuthEllison

This photo was taken during conference closing time when the whole volunteer team introduced themselves and presented together on stage. There was no “so proud of you” and 2-2-1 hand clapping like what we normally do in AIESEC but a big round of applauses from delegates did speak volumes about how thankful they were towards the team who crafted such a great conference experience.

#2. Networking and Connecting

Before conference started, I was added to a UXSG 2016 Slack where delegates introduced about themselves and the volunteer team made announcements. Via this channel I was able to chat directly with people with shared interests and scheduled short talks with them in person.

Networking was never this enjoyable. I had my very first conversation with Grace from Thailand while we were washing our hands in the toilet and couldn’t find the electronic hand dryer. Then she introduced me to her colleagues and we got along pretty quickly.

During breakfasts, tea-breaks and night drinks I met quite a lot of people and we talked about the sessions we had attended, the state of UX in our country, our current UX projects and some other random topics like solo travelling or Grab and Uber competition. The atmosphere were cozy and people seemed to have so many great conversations while standing around the cocktail tables or waiting in line for coffees and ice-cream cones.

In UXSG, we had 2 hours for lunch and talking while eating was everyone’s favourite.

While lunch-in experience was similar to AIESEC conferences where buffet was served in a big hall, lunch-out were a unique highlight of UXSG 2016 and this conference tradition had started since 2013. Upon registration, delegates were asked to choose from a list of 10 partnered restaurants nearby conference venue, the main course choice were made available for better decision-making and there were various types of food from Thai, Japanese, Vietnamese, Korean, French, American as well as vegetarian and halal.

Khai Seng from volunteer team said that the logistical preparation for this lunch-out experience was very exhausting, but I think their efforts were well paid off.

In summary, despite my natural aversion to networking, I was feeling extremely comfortable in the whole conference and had the pleasure and advantage of engaging in many one-on-one conversations with not only delegates, but also volunteers, speakers and even sponsors. From those substantive dialogues (rather than the usual small talks) I received a handful of work advice and food for thoughts.

#3.  Conference Keynotes

The 2016 UXSG theme was Transformation and the conference flow started with Society (Day 1), then moved to Community, Product & Services (Day 2) and ended with Self (Day 3).

There were 6 keynotes sessions, each lasted 1 hour 30 minutes and I personally enjoyed all of them. Knowing the slides and session records would be provided later, I focused 100% my energy on the speakers’ presentation and jotted down important notes for myself.

As I already shared on my Facebook, every keynote was nicely summarised by a SketchPost hand-drawn visuals.

Those interested in psychology might know about Serial Position Effect –  the tendency of a person to recall the first and last items in a series best, and the middle items worst. In UXSG 2016, I don’t know if it was planned or just a coincidence when we had the best speakers for the first and last keynote.

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Visual Summary of Mr. Tong Yee’s Keynote

Mr. Tong Yee (Director of The Thought Collective) was a great public speaker. He told us 4 stories of the demon child, the political sex scandal, the varsity school camp experiment  and the Hong Lim Park event on May Day. In every story, there was an aspect of emotion that could only be recognised if people had listened more carefully and with empathy. “Singapore is facing an emotional deficit”, said Tong Yee. And I believed it’s true as in 2012, Singapore ranked as the most emotionless society in the world, beating out Georgia, Lithuania, and Russia. That’s why the title of his keynote was “Emotionally connecting Singapore to the next 50 years” (the country celebrated its 50th birthday in 2015).

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Visual Summary of Venerable Chuan Guan’s Keynote

Monk Venerable Chuan Guan delivered the conference last keynote “Emptying Ourselves”. Being so wise and witty in the whole sessions, he has officially become my most favourite guest speaker. Simply talking about “Laksa” (a popular spicy noodle soup in Singapore) and its tastiness, he led the delegates to a realisation that we were empty of any inherent, permanent and substantial nature. This brought a great transformation within any designer and allowed them to bring meaningful changes to the world.

#4.  Unconference, Lightning Talks and Workshops

I knew about Open Space Technology (OST) a few years ago and attended several events of this type (e.g. Barcamp Saigon). The unconference usually “began without any formal agenda and could go beyond the overall purpose or theme”.

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Great seating arrangement of unconference | Image Credit: UXSG

UXSG 2016 used Pigeonhole platform for delegates to write down and vote on their favourite discussion topics (this platform was also used during keynote Q&A session). What delegates need to do was simply to access pigeonhole.at via their phone/ laptop browsers, type in event code and start writing questions or proposing topics.

The TOP10 voted topics were divided into two rounds and the proposers received quick brief from the volunteer team on how to facilitate their discussions. Everything went very smoothly and there were many thought-provoking questions such as “As designers we design for other people. But how about designing our own lives?” and “Is transformation just another buzzword? If not, what does it mean?”

For lightning talks and workshops, their formats are well-known therefore I would not go into details. In UXSG 2016, I think the main differences between the two were the duration, the engagement and the depth of topics.

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Board Game in “UX In The Jungle” Workshop | Image Credit: @nadiajfr

#5.  Conference “Chairs”

So UXSG 2016 had Khai Seng and Ruth Ho being the conference chairs who facilitated plenary sessions. They did a good job in providing overall understanding about the conference for the delegates, engaging sponsors and guest speakers, highlighting conference theme, connecting all sessions, leading fun activities like UXSG stretching and finally, adding some more cool personalities to the conference.

#6. Conference Sponsors

The engagement of sponsors in the conference determines whether people will love or hate them. Conference sponsors of UXSG 2016 won the favour of all delegates just by providing free flow of coffee, drinks and ice-dream for the entire conference.

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Ice-cream (Foolproof) and artisan coffee (Jimmy Monkey) | Image Credit: @rhoarrr

They were supported by the volunteer team to:

  • Co-design the drinks session experience (e.g. games, fun activities) to help attendees create opportunities to become better industry friends, and start the conference in an energised mood
  • Co-design the coffee experience, including the flow and interaction moments with the attendees
  • Co-design the ice-cream experience, including the flow and interaction moments with the attendees

This is a cool thing that AIESEC Business Development can consider doing so that our partners have better brand experience.

#7: Small Great Things

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Charging Station | Image Credit: UXSG

The phone ran out of battery and I didn’t bring along the charge cable or pocket power bank. But there was a charging station at the back of the conference hall for delegates to use for free.

The check-in was literally 60 seconds. They asked my name, checked the delegation list, handed the delegation badge and told me to go for lunch as it was still one hour before conference opening.

The Singapore Standard CP 13 (Code of Practice for mechanical ventilation and air- conditioning in buildings) specifies that thermal comfort is achieved when the indoor temperature is maintained between 22.5 and 25.5 deg C, which is kinda cold. It was very kind of the volunteer team to remind the delegates to bring something warm to wear.

In 2008, I had my first AIESEC conference which was Singapore NLDS. I remembered myself being a 3-month member looking up to the seniors who had years of experience in the organisation and confidently inspired people on stage. 7 years later I became MCP of AIESEC in Vietnam and even had the guts to run for PAI.

In 2016, I had my first UX conference which was UXSG. Same old story with me being a junior designer looking up to influential people in the industry and their big scale impactful projects. By working hard today, I will make sure the me in 2023 have something great to say (*•̀ᴗ•́*)و ̑̑

Feature Image Credit: UXSG