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9–11 September 2015

McGrath Centre, St. Catharine's College, Cambridge

Stop trying to paint the hallway through the letterbox! UX techniques that help teams help themselves.

Chris Atherton Equal Experts

Session type: Experience Report
Session duration: 45 minutes

About this Experience Report

Too often, as software people and as human beings, we try to tackle huge projects through tiny viewports. Typically in UX, a 'viewport' means a specific device - but sheets of A4 paper are viewports; working memory is a viewport. Small viewports stop us from being able to apprehend a whole project in one go, and prevent us from working effectively. Symptoms of this include information overload, lack of shared understanding when tackling a new project, and finding it difficult to get started.

As UX professionals, we have found our own ways around the viewport problem: we routinely firehose all available surfaces with stationery and visual media, and we use large canvases, physical and virtual, to realise and process our ideas. But could we do more to overcome these cognitive bottlenecks? And might we use our knowledge of UX techniques to rescue our software colleagues from letterbox hell?

In this talk, I'll explore the cognitive psychology underpinning the viewport problem, and some reasons why we might get stuck. I'll also discuss examples of where using common UX techniques like card sorting has improved a team's understanding of the work to be done, and helped them work more effectively.

Session Slides

About the Speaker

Chris Atherton is a partner at Equal Experts, where she supports software delivery teams in a lean UX role. Chris led the UX on Equal Experts' award-winning Home Office Visas exemplar project for GOV.UK, and has contributed design and user research to a raft of smaller projects in the financial and academic publishing sectors.

A former academic researcher and lecturer, Chris holds a PhD in cognitive neuroscience; she remains obsessed by the successes and failures of visual attention. Accordingly, she tweets at @finiteattention


Session Types

Need help planning which sessions to attend? We've provided a breakdown of our various session types below.

Case Study/Experience Report

A presentation and discussion of real-life (not theoretical) experiences of the application (or mis-application) of service design techniques. Case studies and experience reports include some discussion of lessons learned and an indication of how novel the work is.


Participants learn a new approach, tool or technology through using it to solve one or more practical exercises. Any software/hardware requirements are disclosed in the session description.


A session focused around some specific tool, technique or issue. Primarily led by the speaker, tutorials usually include some elements of interactivity or individual / group exercise.


An in-depth working session on a specific topic. May include paper presentations.