Day 1 of MEX sets the UX agenda with sell-out attendance

MEX 2007, WallaceSpace, London

Our PMN Mobile User Experience (MEX) conference opened in London today to a sell-out attendance of 100 industry executives. With participants from throughout the mobile business – operators, manufacturers, content providers, software developers, user experience consultants and analysts – MEX provides a unique opportunity to drive change.

The event is structured around our 10 point manifesto and we asked 10 of the world’s leading speakers to respond directly to these statements. Their presentations are intended to inspire and provoke a series of panels and breakout groups, where everyone attending the event works in small, facilitated teams to answer specific questions relating to the manifesto.

This unique approach, where everyone has an opportunity to contribute to the agenda, was extremely well received by our participants and led to some fascinating debates during the day.

Our team of analysts will be compiling a full report for publication after the event, which will available to delegates as part of their attendance and as a premium purchase for those who weren’t able to make it to the conference.

I wanted to highlight a selection of the key themes which emerged in the presentations and breakouts:

Complexity of simplicity

Inevitably a lot of the discussion centred on how we can make it easier for users to do more with their handsets. Al Russell, Head of Mobile Internet & Content Services at Vodafone, talked about the challenges they’re facing extending online communities such as YouTube and MySpace to mobile devices. They are seeing enormous demand, but are having to balance that internally with a steep learning curve for ensuring a simple interface and a consistency of experience across the various ‘community’ services they’re offering.

Cliff Crosbie, Global Director of Retail Marketing for Nokia, talked about the need to educate customers to ensure they got the most out of the advanced features and emphasised Nokia’s commitment to training sales staff so they could deliver that kind of service at the point of sale. It was an important reminder that from the customer’s perspective, user experience is about much more than just what they see on their screen.

Pricing was also a major issue. When we asked our breakout groups to go off and discuss what they’d change about the way devices are sold to encourage greater usage of mobile services, almost all of them pointed to tariffs as a major stumbling block. There was a consensus feeling, even from the tier one operators present, that the industry needed to break with the tradition of pricing in a way the consumer struggled to understand.

It was clear from very early on in the day’s session that delivering simplicity for users was a task of considerable complexity for the industry, spanning everything from design to commercial strategy.

Understanding context

During the afternoon Christian Lindholm, often described as the ‘godfather of mobile experience’ for his pioneering interface work at Nokia and more recently Yahoo, set out his vision for a new, contextually aware operating platform. Lindholm, who is currently taking a break from mobile and was speaking as an independent consultant, suggested that the environment, the user’s community and their own behaviour could be translated into a form of ‘contextual RSS’ allowing the operating system to adapt the interface to suit particular conditions.

One example was increasing the size of on-screen fonts when the device sensed it was in motion, assuming the user was walking down the street and needed greater visibility. Another idea was automatically reading out SMS rather than showing them visually when a handset is connected to an in-car handsfree kit.

The breakout groups, however, voiced concern over how users would react to this kind of technological leap and how we could build the sort of trust required to make this type of adaptive interface second nature. There was also a big question mark left over who would be prepared to pay for these features and how much they’d cost for the industry to implement.

Demonstrating the return

Paul Nerger, Senior Vice President of Marketing for Argogroup, followed this session by exploring some of the ways the industry can measure the impact of user experience issues and use the metrics to demonstrate return on investment. The breakout groups were asked to consider mobile services they used and how they’d go about definining metrics to quantify their experience.

With numerous usability specialists present there was no shortage of suggestions for quantitative and qualitative observation methods (ranging from one-to-one interviews to counting number of clicks, time-to-complete and success rates). However, a wider problem was identified: how do we use these date within the industry to prompt action on user experience. There was a general feeling that those within the industry who have direct customer touchpoints, such as operators, content providers and retailers, needed to become better at sharing this information with their partners to drive change.

An opportunity for change and a need to balance

In the final session of the day, Matthew Menz, head of interaction design at Motorola, reminded the delegates of the privelege of opportunity they enjoyed to influence the next generation of communications and computing. He was joined by panellists such as Markus Grupp, Handser User Experience Manager at Canadian operator Telus, Graham Bradley, Product Marketing Director for SurfKitchen, and Pim Van Meurs, Director of Innovation at AOL/Tegic.

The panel explored some of the practical issues around making new services more accessible, particularly whether the 12 button keypad was fundamentally incompatible with next generation mobile data services.

It quickly emerged that this was an area where encouraging maximum competition and diversity of choice for the user was key: some would prefer touchscreens, others would want trackballs and myriad other input and control mechanisms. The challenge would be balancing some sort of consistency of approach with personal choices.

The conference concludes tomorrow and you can view the full agenda on-line.

If you’d like to be notified when the full MEX 2007 report becomes available for purchase, please send me an email at

My thanks for our sponsors, TAT and Tegic Communications. Also to the user experience facilitators leading the breakout groups: Mike Beeston of Fjord, Ken Blakeslee of WebMobility Ventures, Gus Desbarats of Alloy, Mike Grenville of, Jo Rabin, consultant and co-founder of MoMo, Sofia Svanteson of Ocean Observations, Ian Volans of Volans Consulting and Scott Weiss of Usable Products Company.

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