how to take your baby to a design conference

I had the privilege of attending the UX London conference earlier in the month. I was accompanied by my then 5 week old baby. I’ve not taken a baby so young to a conference before, and you don’t tend to see many of them at conferences.  I thought you might be interested in what the experience was like in case you’re considering it for yourself.

When contemplating the event there were a few things I was concerned about:

  1. equipment – what gear to bring and what to leave behind
  2. noise and disruption – how bad would it be, how can I minimise it
  3. effort v return – would the hassle and hard work of taking a baby to a conference allow participation make it worthwhile
  4. is it appropriate to bring your baby to a professional conference?

With the benefit of hindsight, here are my thoughts.

Travel light but invest in the right gear

Having as little gear as possible but the right gear is, I think, key to giving you as much flexibility as you can possibly have with a babe in arms. Personally, I find a buggy to be high risk for hassle – it makes it difficult to do public transport in peak hour (which you’ll no doubt have to do) and it makes getting from place to place, often up and down stairs, more difficult. I used a Moby Wrap sling most of the time I was at UX London and found it fantastic for moving around, for hands-free holding while attending talks (allowing me to tweet through the sessions when my baby slept or was sufficiently settled), and for relatively discreet feeding.

The other essential piece of kit was the Samsonite Pop-Up Travel Bassinette which gave me somewhere to lay him down when he was settled in for a good sleep (and when I wanted to participate in the workshop activities). The bassinette fits in my small backpack and weighs less than a kilo (more than can be said for my MacBook which I had to swap for my husband’s tiny netbook on this occasion!). It was quick and easy to put up and take down and gave us both a bit of a break from each other!

Don’t forget to bring your own decent changing mat – the chances of finding a changing table in the bathrooms at a conference centre are pretty remote so you’ll probably find yourself doing rapid changes in the field (often at the back of conference rooms in my experience!). You can get those great clutch style mats that are sufficiently robust but small –  Isoki is my clutch changing mat of choice.

Minimising noise & disruption

The younger your baby, the more likely they are to sleep all day and make hardly a peep, thus nearly-newborns make ideal conference companions. I tried to sit close to an exit point so I could get out the door really quickly if we were going to be making a disruptive amount of noise, but found that the close cuddly sling meant that he did sleep quite a lot and when he woke, giving him a quick feed (yes, in my seat at the conference, apologies to the squeamish) worked most of the time. We did miss bits and pieces of a few talks throughout the days, but saw the majority of proceedings.

The biggest tip I have is to get to the conference room early to stake out and secure the ideal seat in the house for you (usually closest to the door!) You *really* want to get this seat and, although it’s far from the best vantage point in the house, you’ll be surprised how quickly it seems to get snapped up.

Effort vs Return: was it worth it?

It was really very hard work taking a 5wk old baby to a 3 day conference and, I confess, we did sneak away early on the afternoon of the second day for an afternoon nap. (Having said that, we were at the conference from 9am until 9pm the previous day attending the UX Bookclub in the evening).

Personally, I found that I was able to attend many of the sessions and actually pay attention to most of them, I was able to meet with lots of people who I haven’t seen for a while and to meet some new people as well, and – most importantly – I was able to escape from the relative isolation of maternity leave, to keep in touch, to feel active and engaged in my community and profession, all of which are very rewarding. So, on balance, I did find that it was worth the effort and, if needs be, I’d do it again and encourage others to do likewise.

It’s certainly very different from doing your conference solo, and you’re not allowed in the bar for drinks because you’ve got an underage drinker with you (yes, even at 5wks they’re still apparently worried they might accidently be served alcohol). I think it’s important to keep your expectations pretty low – I was prepared to turn around and head home without seeing a thing if it came to it – then hopefully you’ll be pleasantly surprised.

Is it appropriate to bring your baby to a professional conference?

I have to say, this is actually the issue that plagued me most of all. I don’t bring my baby to my meetings, but I do take on work while I’m still at home with him and often do phone conferences with him on my shoulder and many of my clients are aware that my working schedule is sometimes impacted by his sleeping (or not) schedule.

I didn’t experience any negative feedback whilst at the conference or since then, and I had several people approach me to tell me they thought it was great to see a baby at the conference and that they’ll do it themselves or tell someone they know etc. I’m very aware that I’m probably the last person to hear any negative feedback though… so I’m not assuming it didn’t exist.

Ultimately – tiny babies are very portable and very sleepy and much less noisy (mostly) than you’d imagine. They’re also far to young to be separated from their mothers. If said mother particularly wants to attend a conference and has a very small baby, I think there’s no reason why she should feel that it was inappropriate for her to attend. So, it is appropriate and perhaps even necessary. I look forward to helping other mum’s at conferences in the same way that others were able to help me at UX London.

Meanwhile, interested in your thoughts, experiences & tips…

UX London – Designing for Content Rich Sites Workshop

Here’s a dump of tweets i sent during Jared’s workshop.

  • sitting up the back of @jmspool‘s workshop – Why Good Content Must Suck: Designing For The Scent of Information
  • Jared is talking about the Scent of Information and why it is more effective than designing for navigation
  • humans = informavours
  • Jared says: the best websites have a lot of content
  • conten sucks the user towards it (this is why your content has to suck… like a vaccuum cleaner)
  • every link gives off ‘scent’ that users follow. As scent gets stronger, people are more confident they’re headed the right way
  • we can only tell from users behaviour whether the scent is working or not. If you’re not watching users, you won’t know.
  • “trigger words” are the words that cause users to act
  • our eyes go straight to trigger words.
  • @Suw no videos from #uxlondon as far as I know
  • Jared says the 3 click rule is ‘complete bullshit’. Tell your boss.
  • the only time users complain about clicks is when the information scent has gone
  • good design is like air conditioning. You don’t notice it unless there’s something wrong.
  • @Suw I’m in the process of posting dumps of my tweets session by session to my blog right now :) www.disambiguity.com
  • when the user comes to the page they scan for trigger words, if they find one, they click on it. If they don’t, they go to search
  • the search box is users creating their own links by inputting the trigger words they’re looking for
  • most of the time BYOL (bring your own link) via search doesn’t work
  • users don’t like to scroll ‘that’s complete bullshit too’ @jmspool
  • iceberg syndrome: people assume the most important stuff is at the top. If ‘marketing fluff’ is at the top, don’t bother scrolling
  • nobody goes to a website without a purpose. except web designers.
  • information masking:when users look at a page they focus on only the portion of the page that has consistently given them good use
  • navigation panels are often scentless. Scent is specific, navigation is often not.
  • short links don’t emit scent
  • the best links are 7-12 words in length
  • @atownley 12 words is too long :)
  • short pages reduce scent. The best pages are *really* long. ref: CNN, Yahoo, Amazon, NYT
  • things that stop ppl from scrolling 2. Design elements that *look* like the bottom- white space, text that looks like a disclaimer
  • cute/brand/marketing type links don’t work (mystery meat)
  • homepages should look more like sitemaps in @jmspool‘s opinion. It’s not clutter. Link rich homepages do better than sparse pages
  • @jmspool on baseball – it’s 15mins of excitement jammed into 2.5hrs
  • the only people who care about what ‘section’ of a site something is in is people who manage the site. Users couldn’t care less.
  • graphics for information = v useful. decorative graphics are less easy to correlate to good user outcomes
  • the no.1 thing that users base the quality of their experience on is whether or not they complete their task
  • Navigation Graphics communicate scent. Content Graphics convey information. Ornamental Graphics do something else #uxlondon PRT @Wandster
  • yes, in case you’re wondering, I’m tweeting a @jmspool workshop at
  • designing for scent – make sure every click makes the user more confident
  • what makes users confident – ‘i know where this link is going to take me’
  • on click show desired content OR even stronger scent = happy user
  • if you’re not spending time watching people use your site there is no way you’re designing a good site #uxlondon ( )
  • you need to know – why are users coming to your site? what are their trigger words?
  • users look for blue & underlines. yes, it’s ugly and hard to see but we’ve trained users to look for that.
  • Target Content Page = the page the user is looking for to solve their objective. The most important page on the site for that user
  • you only have to worry about information scent if you have more than one page on your website
  • Gallery Page = a list of links to content pages. Scent comes from the content page thru the links on the gallery page to the user
  • @jmspool does research on ecommerce sites because they’re easy – easy to measure if users have achieved their goal.
  • 3 scent failure predictors: use of the back button, pogo-sticking, use of search
  • wireframing 2.0 #uxlondon goodies http://tr.im/uxlondongoodies (via @solle)
  • the back button is the button of doom (repeat after @jmspool)
  • pogosticking = when the user bounces between levels of the information hierarchy seeking their target content page
  • when people pogo-stick we see a huge reduction in users achieving success on a site
  • the more users pogo-stick the less likely they are to find the target content. When you see it it, tells you there’s a problem.
  • you are *much* more likely to find what you’re looking for if you DON’T use search
  • only if you have Uniquely Identified Content (like Amazon) do you get an exception to the searching = predictor of problems rule
  • people type very generic terms into search – this is the main reason search fails (behaviour not technology)
  • your users are telling you every day what trigger words they’re looking for and on what pages. Look at your search logs.
  • users are telling you every day what is wrong with your site and what you need to do to fix it. Are you paying attention? @jmspool
  • to stop people pogosticking, you need to put as much information on the gallery page as possible
  • “Changes in the web don‚Äôt change the fundamentals of human behaviour” (@jmspool) #uxlondon (via @Paulseys)
  • alphabetical order is the same as random order in 99% of cases @jmspool
  • Department Pages = collections of gallery pages. Separates gallery pages into logical groups.
  • Department pages are for winnowing, gallery pages are for selecting. Users get this.
  • More on “pogosticking” on UIE: http://bit.ly/NuY6W #uxlondon (via @bashford)
  • You can always have that much space for your gallery page because you have an infinite page length @jmspool
  • people do NOT learn the structure of your site by using it. They have no sense of the organisation of your site, nor do they care
  • When users comparison-shopped using pogosticking techniques:purchase = 11% . Compare to 55% when product lists used. #uxlondon PRT @Wandster
  • seducible moments – at the end, once users have *achieved* their goal say ‘by the way, would you like to do this?’
  • Store pages = groups of department pages. Helps users tell the system what they *don’t* want to see (eg. business or sports)
  • people who choose a ‘Store’ page tend to never choose another ‘Store’ page in the same session.
  • Do you need store pages? Look to your competitors. If they have them, you probably do. Use the same terms as they are (generic)
  • Homepage purpose – to get people to other pages, usually to a category page. Divide real estate accordingly
  • anyone who tells you that your homepage is for brand, to learn about your products/your business etc. They’re wrong @jmspool
  • the best way to solve arguments is to have everyone watching users actually using the site @jmspool

UX London – Quick Sketching for Interaction Design Workshop – Mark Baskinger & William Bardel

Here is a dump of my live tweets during this excellent workshop at UX London. If you like it, you should buy their book when it comes out later this year.

  • wondering about the easiest way to export my tweets from yesterday and get them into chronological order
  • sketching workshop kicking off, hooray! ‘and we’re going to get kind of sweaty’
  • ‘how many of you guys are IxDs? And how many are UX Designers?’ Cue chaos
  • showing people your sucky drawings is part of the growing process
  • squeak squeak squeak, explain explain, squeak squeak (how many of you use a whiteboard?)
  • why are we here (in this sketching workshop)? to become better communicators
  • design drawing is useful in the planning process, can help to see the world differently, heightened awareness of how things work
  • drawing can help you tell your story to others, its honesty can be v compelling
  • why draw by hand when we have computers? Mice suck.
  • why draw by hand – direct with the pencil is more direct, more expressive than via mouse
  • thinking is a fast paced activity, the pencil is simple & immediate, a good, fast tool for capturing thought
  • ‘Pencils Before Pixels’ – Mark Baskinger
  • we’re going to start off with really simple things like straight lines …
  • ‘i’d love to sit down and draw cubes with you after the workshop’
  • we’re grabbing pencils and paper…
  • starting with pencil holding technique. @ashdonaldson & @cennydd are getting some remedial tips
  • if you can’t see the tip of your pencil you can’t draw. You need a v loose grip to avoid fatigue
  • your bellybutton is very important for vertical lines. It’s like a visual landmark. Pull the lines toward it #uxlondon (seriously!)
  • (feels like sketch pilates)
  • @keeran of course I’m participating! my vertical lines are much better than my horizontal!
  • correct each others squares. what do you see? either ‘my squares suck’ or ‘the person next to me is blind’
  • you have to warm up before you can sketch properly.
  • techniques for better hand drawn wireframes: use non-repro blue for underlay drawing (it disappears when copied)
  • carry a sketchbook all the time. practice sketching all the time. practice straight lines, squares, using hatching for tone
  • ‘it’s all about pulling some lines’
  • use lines in various intervals, not scribble, for adding tone.
  • being purposefully rough, like overlapping corners, makes sketching look more sketchy
  • sketchiness = this is not a finished idea, I’m still thinking about this. Sketching holds the conversation back to the big picture
  • avoid crosshatching in wireframes, starts to ‘pop’ too much. Use various weight of diagonal or vertical lines instead
  • build your sketches up sequentially, add weight and tone onto the skeleton
  • uh oh. perspective! (moving shapes in space)
  • perspective – make sure your back vertical is a little shorter than your front vertical
  • try to finish your line with the same weight as you start it
  • if you can do curved planes, you can do arrows. (v pretty arrows, that is)
  • @alexjamesmorris you might think all UX people draw, but unfortunately not true, and many of us would love to draw better!
  • move the point of your arrow back just a tiny bit off centre and it will look better
  • i can recommend Trio Scribli pens #uxlondon (via @solle)
  • ‘these are all ‘ungood’ ways of drawing a circle’
  • the only useful thing your pinky does is stablise your hand when you want to ‘drop in’ a pencil
  • the trick to drawing a good circle is to do a few practice circles before you ‘drop in’ your circle (it works!)
  • @freecloud agree that blog posts are like word sketches, but there’s nothing like drawn sketches to communicate some ideas
  • @alexjamesmorris i agree. you can’t copy and paste sketched wireframes. I think that’s incredibly important.
  • I’m realising that my biggest problem with sketching before is not visualising what I am trying to sketch before starting to draw
  • realising sketching is a lot more deliberate than I thought. Resolving to *really* do the sketchbook thing from now on
  • ‘sketching becomes a magic trick. I can draw this and you can’t. That’s a powerful thing’
  • @alexjamesmorris absolutely – pencil before pixels as Mark said at the beginning :)
  • ok. drawing people. If I can leave this workshop with people drawing skills I will be stoked.
  • if you have an element in your sketch that is weak or less deliberate, it attracts attention & detracts from your entire sketch.
  • notational sketching = the act of recording things that you see in the world. Mostly for your sketchbook, less so for sharing
  • analysing visual input (what you see) and deciding what to record is a particular kind of drawing skill
  • @leisa sketching is physical thought in my book #uxlondon (via @Snowbadger) > i agree :)
  • notational sketching tips: fast & loose, use icons, images & symbols, portability is important (in context), date your pages
  • more notational sketching tips: respect the borders (esp. the gutter), print neatly (annotations), white space is ok
  • moving onto visualising functional relationships – communicating how things interact together so it makes sense to others
  • Bill: I like using watercolour because it is less controlled, it forces you to work with mistakes
  • if notation is aimed at recording, diagramming is aimed at explaining
  • tips for explanatory mapping & diagramming: balance style and substance, think about how to direct attention where you want it
  • The Don: ‘How do you draw a blur?’ Mark: ‘You lick your page’
  • @jonbho this is an unusual glut of tweets due to #uxlondon. I can assure you I’m usually much quieter! Apologies for the noise.
  • getting to the end of the sketching workshop. My sketching is still rubbish, but I have a v good idea of why and what to do
  • sketching workshop wrapped up with a gentle critiquing session. Great workshop, recommend it.