Comments from the IPG Conference

Here at the IPG Conference I was thinking about user experience design in the bathroom this morning (more later). Yesterday afternoon’s rapid fire-start to the conference, articulated what look set to be the overarching themes of this meeting: the need for a story to inform a business trajectory; the multiple opportunities that working with content provide us and the impact and process of change.

Hal Robinson* asserted from the platform that as publishers we have the skills we need for what lies ahead. I find I agree and I disagree. We have experience with content, yes, but new ways of publishing that content affords opportunities for many markedly different user journeys than the traditional print book, journal or ePub. During my recent sojourn in the world of HTML5 and tech start-ups (care of my friends at Contentment), what I’ve been discovering is that although publishers understand content, they are less good at understanding user journeys, and the commercial opportunities they create. We have to get much better about thinking in more dimensions than the printed page and more business models than the one-off sale. Doing this requires new tools, new skills and new perspectives.

So why was I thinking about this in the bathroom? Because my room is fitted out for use by people with disabilities. So? I’ve stayed in ordinary rooms here too – and I am intrigued to discover that the designers appear to think the disabled (a) don’t need a shower and (b) need far less shelf space to put things down on. I’m no expert – so there may be very sound decisions for both of these – but my gut feeling is that the designer should have been tied into a wheelchair, given a bad dose of the tremors and made to use the bathroom many times over. (S)he might have discovered that designing for disability is about more than ticking boxes about the requisite number of grab rails. It’s about easy, enabled use. My point here? As I was brushing my teeth and wondering where to put down the tube of toothpaste, I was thinking that publishers have to learn to think about usability and user journeys. It’s one of the things being often alluded to here at Heythrop…

* I discussed this with Hal a few moments ago. We reached agreement on the fact that publishers have the instincts if not the skills – those instincts ought to make the skills easily acquirable if we are prepared to think a bit differently. Or as Iain Dale just said – beyond our comfort zones.

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