I draw boxesA blog on user experience & design

May 9, 2010

My review of UX Intensive Amsterdam 2010

UX Intensive - WelkomLast week I got back from the UX Intensive training course run by Adaptive Path in Amsterdam. It was a four-day training course covering a variety of topics in user experience. Day one was on design strategy, day two was design research, day three was information architecture and day four was interaction design.

My knowledge of Adaptive Path started a number of years ago when I first heard about Jesse James Garrett’s famous diagram entitled The Elements of User Experience (which has since become a book). In the diagram Jesse compares informational web sites against web applications and the processes that are involved in creating both. I used to have it up on my wall (at work!) back in 2004 when I first started reading about IA. JJG founded adaptive path soon after publishing the diagram in 2000.

So this was an exciting opportunity for me – the chance to learn from the best in the business, from a company who’s founder was one of my first influences in IA and user experience.

We flew out to amsterdam on the Sunday night and had a great seafood meal at Lucius to start the trip. As someone who was vegetarian for 25 years and only recently started eating meat the meal was an amazing experience. The food was so fresh and pulling out all the winkles, cockles and snails from their shells with all sorts of tools was really fun.

Sticky note creativityThe next day the course started and we were welcomed into a nice venue with a comprehensive pack containing all the printed slides for the course, as well as a notebook, stickers, post-it notes and a sharpie pen. This was a nice, professional touch. Good hygiene.

Day one started with design strategy presented by Henning Fischer, the head of Adaptive Path’s new Amsterdam office. He began by introducing the ideas of Michael Porter, a professor at Harvard Business School. He focussed particularly on the business strategy of Swedish furniture chain, Ikea. Key elements of Ikea’s business strategy that he highlighted were:

  • Self-selection by customers
  • Low manufacturing cost
  • Modular furniture design
  • Limited customer service

Henning then went on to describe the process of putting together a business strategy with the following steps: focus, definition, customer value, and scope. We also completed a variety of exercises to put together a design strategy for a fictional hotel.

Amsterdam canalOverall the day was good but I would have preferred a bit more of an interactive style (involving the audience), some background to Adaptive Path to kick-off the course, and some examples that were more up to date than flickr, blogger and nike+. On the plus side the Michael Porter work was interesting and there was a great exercise on prioritising business opportunities – a scoring system to force clients to make informed choices and tradeoffs when defining strategy.

After the day ended we stumbled across a fairground in Dam Square so had a go flinging ourselves around on a ride ridiculously high in the air! Fun times.

Day two was design research with Paula Wellings, and was all about interviewing users and finding out what they like and dislike. We did a number of exercises noting down our thoughts on post-it notes as the interviews took place, and then grouping the common themes and ideas to form concrete deliverables such as personas and user experience diagrams.

Things started to hot up on day three with Kate Rutter talking about information architecture - Kate had a real rapport with us and her energy pulled us through a genuinely intensive day. For me personally it took me back to when I first started learning about IA 4-5 years ago, with references to the polar bear book, Jesse James Garret’s original diagram, and discussions about metadata and organising information.

Delegates listen intentlyThere was also a welcome nod to the present and the future with a quote from the recent Richard Saul Wurman keynote at the IA Summit, as well as some great slides at the back of the presentation on future trends in IA. These included the firefox operator toolbar which locates metadata within a page, an innovative classification system from wine merchant Best Cellars, and ideas around ‘fluid data’ including Moritz Stefaner’s revisit (for displaying tweets) and Tom Taylor’s Boundaries which uses user generated photo tagging to help define neighbourhoods.

On the final day we were taken on an interaction design journey by Andrew Crow. He took us through a process of first opening up ideas during the research phase and then closing them down, before moving in the the interaction design stage which also involves opening up during ideas generation (or ideation) and then finally closing down when developing a prototype.

I was surprised by the variety of outputs that are possible in interaction design. Andrew showed us not just prototypes but mental model diagrams, venn diagrams, matricies, pie charts etc. etc. I’m going to try to be a bit more creative in the way I think about diagramming my ideas.

Overall the course was a great experience and I learnt a lot. I’m going to follow up on some of the ideas in the future of IA. It also reassured me about my readings and practices over the last few years – I have been reading relevant publications and considering may of the right aspects of my work. The only thing that would have topped it off was a visit from JJG!


  1. Good overview of the week, Chris. I also found UXI really good, and have already started making use of what I learnt around Research and IA. I’ll write something up myself soon when I have time. Thanks for sharing!

    Comment by Jamie Neely — May 10, 2010 @ 10:06 am

  2. Apart from the seafood dinner, it sums up my view of the week as well! :)

    Comment by Thomas Lavergren — May 10, 2010 @ 11:25 am

  3. Great write up Chris, I think everyone had their favorite day on this one, which only shows the dept and breadth of the course AP delivered. Rather sad that “positive cats” didn’t warrant a mention though.

    Comment by Mairead White — May 11, 2010 @ 6:20 am

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