IA Summit 2009 report: day 2

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Day 2 rolled around far too fast, after a late night and some really engaging conversation. A leisurely breakfast at the famous Arcade Restaurant removed the cobwebs and prepared me for the day ahead. I missed the first session as a result, but we made up for it by having a round-table discussion on personas: how we use them; how we go about creating them; and when they are(n’t) appropriate to the project. There were a lot of good insights, and we managed to get through breakfast without setting up opposing camps.

The famous Arcade Restaurant in Memphis.

The famous Arcade Restaurant in Memphis.

Richard Anderson & Craig Peters: Strategies for Enabling UX to Play a More Strategic Role

This working session was run over two timeslots, the aim being to allow participants to arrive at strategies that would work within their own context. Richard and Craig introduced a series of strategies commonly used by UX practitioners to help elevate the awareness and importance of the practice within their organizations. Participants then discussed each strategy, looking at why it might or might not work for them.

The first strategy presented was the “Just Say No” approach. Essentially: decline any project that doesn’t advance the prominence or importance of UX within the organization.

Participants generally felt that, whilst this approach may work for some organizations – busy agencies, for example, or internal UX teams already overburdened with work requests – however it works less well for UX teams attempting to build a presence. The counter approach – to take on all projects and over-deliver – seemed to be the preferred approach in building a UX culture.

Additional strategies discussed include: Evangelizing UX; the ROI approach; organizational structure and placement of UX.

Most participants were attempting at least one or more of strategies discussed, with varying degrees of success. By exposing people to a broad range of tactics, and hearing the success and failure stories from peers, participants would have gone away with a new appreciation for the challenges they face in raising the profile of UX within their organization; but would also have been better equipped to meet that challenge.

Nathan Curtis: UX Design & Deliverable Systems

Nathan Curtis talks documentation systems. Photo courtesy of Dan Brown.

Nathan Curtis talks documentation systems. Photo courtesy of Dan Brown.

During this session Nathan Curtis – of EightShapes – presented the Unify design documentation template system, based around Adobe InDesign.

The primary object in the 8SUnify system is the template, with the main example being a wireframe. However, Nathan went to lengths to make it clear that the system can be used to create just about any type of design documentation.

Below the level of templates sit elements – standard, ‘atomic’ objects – and components – reusable page ‘chunks’. These standard elements provide both efficiency and flexibility.

The system comes with a range of page libraries – standard types of design documents – which are made up of components and allow for very rapid production of documentation.

Nathan explained the choice of InDesign as the foundation software. Namely, it was chosen due to its:

  • Cross-platform
  • Great for vector-based drawing
  • The most/better modular system available
  • Powerful support for styles
  • Familiar to most/many UX designers.

Jared Spool: Revealing Design Treasures from the Amazon

In this funny and engaging session Jared ran through a behind-the-scenes look at Amazon: it’s scale, scope, and fundamentals. Along the way the audience gained an insight into Amazon’s thought processes and evolution. More valuably, Jared distilled lessons from Amazon’s approach into four key concepts to help with those “Why can’t we just do it the way Amazon does it?” moments.

1. Engaging through content

Amazon’s product pages present visitors with a wealth of information about the product, much of which is provided (free of charge) from customers. Jared gave the example of Amazon’s brief foray into the sale of milk through the site – which attracted over 1,000 reviews, ranging from the mundane to the down-right literary.

The reviews for Harry Potter & the Deathly Hallows (the final book in the HP series) attracted 3,900 reviews. To help sort the gold from the dross, Amazon introduced the “Was this review helpful?” question, allowing them to promote most helpful, and most helpful critical reviews. In this manner they’re able to manage the quality of the reviews without actually imposing any editorial controls themselves: it’s all user-driven.

2. Don’t fear new ideas

Amazon has, over the years, introduced a range of innovations to the site. Analytics on buying patterns – “People who bought this also bought…” and “People who viewed this went on to buy…”; user-submitted lists; discussion areas; and the recommendation engine all being successfully tried and implemented. But then there’s tagging: a failed idea.

Given the size of Amazon’s customer base, and the volume of orders that goes through the site, they have a large incentive to try new things. Introduction of new ideas is tightly controlled, however, so that the impact of a bad idea is minimised, and recognised early.

3. Reduce tool time while delivering confidence

Tool time is that time spent performing tasks that don’t advance you towards your goal. Time spent directly working towards your goal: Goal time.

Amazon uses a three-tiered security model in the delivery of functionality to avoid asking you to do unnecessary tasks – like log in – unless it’s absolutely necessary.

4. Never forget the business

Jared’s last point is well worth remembering: never lose sight of your business (model) and your purpose. Whatever else you’re doing, don’t drift away from your core through little, tangential ‘improvements’.

Russ Unger: Heuristic Analysis for the Pitch Process

Russ Unger – co-author of Project Guide to UX Design – presented the case for the use of heuristic analysis as a method of quickly and cost-effectively demonstrating value to potential clients during the business development cycle.

Heuristics – those ‘best practices’ or ‘rules-of-thumb’ – are a convenient way of evaluating the quality of a user experience without recourse to user testing methods. They can also be applied quickly to an existing design, along with several competing (or competitor) designs, to produce a set of recommendations for ‘quick wins’.

Russ argued that provided potential clients with a small set of such recommendations can demonstrate expertise and establish a rapport that increases the likelihood of success in winning further business.

Russ’ was the last presentation I attended on Day 2. During the late afternoon I was happily ensconced in a hotel room with a talented group of folks (Todd Zaki Warfel, Matt Milan, Jeff Parks, Joe Lamantia, Joe Sokohl, Will Evans & Jon Tirmandi) discussing ubiquitous computing for a Boxes and Arrows IA Podcast.

Title photo courtesy of Jonell Gades

Steve Baty

Steve Baty, principal at Meld Studios, has over 14 years experience as a design and strategy practitioner. Steve is well-known in the area of experience strategy and design, contributing to public discourse on these topics through articles and conferences. Steve serves as Vice President of the Interaction Design Association (IxDA); is a regular contributor to UXMatters.com; serves as an editor and contributor to Johnny Holland (johnnyholland.org), and is the founder of UX Book Club – a world-wide initiative bringing together user experience practitioners in over 80 locations to read, connect and discuss books on user experience design. Steve is co-Chair of UX Australia – Australia’s leading conference for User Experience practitioners; and Chair of Interaction 12 – the annual conference of the IxDA for 2012.

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