MidwestUX Report: Day 1

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It’s conference season. And we welcome MidwestUX to the mix, brought to you by IxDA Columbus and COUPA. A two day event, hosted in Columbus, Ohio, MidwestUX follows a two track program full of four keynotes, lightning round talks, workshops, and panel discussions. As always, Johnny is there to deliver a daily write-up for those who weren’t able to attend.

I should start by noting, while we had a jam packed first day and an equally full Day Two planned, the conference didn’t start Saturday morning. The conference organizers organized quite the welcome reception with a self guided pub crawl for Friday night for any of the attendees who planned to be there early enough for the pre conference festivities.

Keynote Jared Spool

Jared kicked off the morning with The Secret Lives of Links and shares with us the story of his daughter’s ‘secret’ live journal and evolved the conversation to the findability and secret nature of information on the web. Jared points out that we don’t talk about links, and that they are one of the most important parts of a page and how we communicate information. We discuss the nature of links and search, which as Jared puts it is BYOL, or Bring Your Own Link, as people type in the words they expect to see as links elsewhere in the page.

We never talk about links, yet they are the most important aspect of our sites.

Jared continues through various news sites, university sites, and turns his attention to marketing, ecommerce and other popular samples. He shares the history of links and breaks down why blue underline links don’t work and stresses that links want to look good. He leaves us with the thoughts of how we balance the presentation of links and their actual purpose; on how the power of a link is much more than what we present and how we often mix metaphors to confuse the purpose of links and navigation.

Follow Jared at @jmspool

UX Research in the Real World: Stories from Rwanda, Veronica Erb

Veronica shares her story of travelling to Rwanda to perform UX research around teachers. Three specific lessons were shared.

1. No schedule. When you can’t or don’t schedule your research in advance you think in chunks, not in specific time slots. Work with what is available to you.

2. No Recruiting. Working without a schedule at a new site each day, it was important to know your criteria for who you would like to research and who would be most beneficial gven the constraints provided.

At some point the director is going to come in and start using his filing cabinet and you can’t care.

3. No Lab. When conducting mobile research you are working in any space that is available. Working in a principal’s desk or classroom it requires additional fluidity and the ability to ‘roll with the punches’

Veronica closes with her perceptions on the success of the project: the passion of UXsters, the alignment with the stakeholders, and the willingness to always push for more. She also reminds us not to worry with the Rwandian phrase nta kibazo.

Follow Veronica at @verbistheword

Cooking UX with Cultural Leftovers, Erik Dahl

Erik takes the stage to discuss culture in design and the mutual impact culture has on our designs and design has on culture. We define culture as being more than context. It includes people, activities, context, emotions, motivations, goals, and more. It also includes an abstraction of patterns and stories.

Erik discusses how to suss out culture through observation, empathy and openess to stories and abstraction of differences across people and the world. He moves through definition to examples of where culture and stories are misaligned and it takes time and attention to recognize the effects a decision might actually take. With samples from America and Brazil, expectations and differences in culture help us realize the decisions we make have broader effects and require more focussed attention and thought.

Follow Erik at @eadahll

From Cancer to Bankruptcy, Brad Nunnally

Brad picks up where Erik left off – discussing the need for empathy during research as it helps build relationships as designers. With experience working with cancer survivors and working with retirement savings during the 2008 market turmoil, Brad shares how empathy and relationships are vital in emotionally tense environments. Sharing some advice with the audience, Brad communicates to:

  • Never go alone, use the buddy system.
  • Always show up on time. Be five minutes early but never late.
  • Send a welcome packet, let people know who you are in advance including photos, bios and references.
  • Humanize yourself and don’t be a stoic researcher.
  • Take the glass of water offered to you and truly be a guest.
  • Remember the user is just as scared as you are.
  • Be honest.
  • When the interview is over, leave. Do not debrief in people’s driveway.

Brad concludes by tying these relationships to different movies — suspense, horror, comedy, and anything else. Research isn’t a scripted science and like a film you have to follow the rabbit holes and follow the user’s stories while maintaining a focus. Brad also shares that it is OK to cry, laugh, and befriend your participant, and to be sensitive that some stories might haunt you beyond the duration of the interview.

Follow Brad at @bnunnally

Empowering Teens through Design Education, Larissa Itomlenskis

Larissa talks about her experience teaching architecture and design to teens in Columbus. Showing samples of work, Larissa communicates the constraints and implications of teaching children in a limited time and what we as designers can take from this experience. Larissa shares the inspiration she found by educating young students on design and by sharing the samples of their sketches and concerns left the room refecting on our practice and the influence we can have on youth. Children want to throw something away if it is not perfect and it is our job to communicate how to iterate and critique effectively, how to encourage discovery in an environment without failure.

In a proffessional environment you can’t just point to something and say that’s dumb.

From Mega Website to Mobile Experience, Edward Stull and Marty Vian

Edward and Marty share their perspectives on mobile experience design with their unique roles: Edward as a mobile app designer and Marty as a current client. Putting the addage to ‘Design for Mobile First’ on end, the duo shares ther story of developing the mobile application Manta based on the rich and extensive online presence. Slides illustrated the translation of functionality from web to mobile and the implications around reolution, environment, and controls. More a showing of their work, the talk acted as a catalyst for the later presentations on design for mobile and showed additional perspectives to a lot of the conversations on how and when to approach mobile.

Follow Edward at @esdc and Marty at @mvianl

Adaptive Mobile UX Design, Jen Matson

Jen shares her story of shopping for a space heater. Navigating the Sears website with Google’s support and through the mobile version and sharing her frustration when the information and experience is sub par. The sub par experience has led, in part, to the notion of Adaptive Mobile UX Design which may be defined as:

Creating web sites and applications that try to give each user the best possible content and experience tailored to their device and browsing context.

This need and definition isn’t new as tailored advertising often employs this as large billboards and targeting marketing spreads adapt to their audience and the context. Jen stresses the canvas or varying size, capabilities of what is available, and the context of the experience as the key items to consider around adaptive mobile ux design. Jen closes by highlighting technologies and methods currently available to employ and support adaptive design including HTML5, CSS3, geolocation, dynamic device orientation and more tools and kits.

Follow Jen at @nstop

Mobile Design Thinking Beyond Apple, Brad Colbow

Brad immediately changes pace from the mobile application design and shares a story of community and social interaction at a modern camp site. After sharing his story he moves back to mobile devices and communicates how the nuanced differences across platforms can be most critical in the overall success and failure of interactions. Sharing samples from Android, Apple, Blackberry and Windows Mobile Brad compares interactions across different platforms. With different hard and soft key placement and different menu paradigms mobile app design is not a one and done process and is not a standardized process. Brad concludes with a review of the different UI Style Guides and best practices of different interactions and motivates us to understand the differences across platforms and the opportunity to build interactions with care.

Don’t let your UI hinder the user experience.

Follow Brad at @bradcolbow

Don’t Watch TV – Experience It, Brian Stone

On avereage there are more televisions in a home than number of people living there

Brian introduces us to some stats: there are more televisions in many homes than people, televisions are more ubiquitous than computers in the home, television is used as a channel to more noise and a venue for social interaction. Yet despite 97% of homes in the US having a television it is wholly ignored from a user experience stance.

Brian calls out the lack of development for televisions wether it is the interaction, the applications, or supporting the experience while exposing the growing number of web-connected systems over the next few years. By sharing samples including Boxee, Hulu and other players he leaves us with three questions around user experience and television: What can it do, How does it do it, and How will it be different?

Users want more meaningful content on demand with a great experience when it comes to tv viewing

Keynote: Marc Rettig

Marc closed out day one discussing Design for Life and brought the theoretical and practical discussions of the day into his presentation. Marc immediately confronts the breakdowns around professional definitions and just as quickly assures us he will not be sharing those thoughts and ‘defining the damn thing’. Instead he uses that as an opportunity to spring board to the need not to define our work but to understand where it fits in the greater landscape. Marc discussed some of the history of user experience and placed us in the context of where we stand in today’s business; both geographically and socially with the amorphous seat at the table.

Marc defines our current status as the ‘UX Era’ and discusses how we communicate within our community and to the broader audience at large. He charges us to determine how to bridge the gap between human society and technology with business. Sharing his journey, there is much that resonated with the audience as he left no tangible action items but rather opportunity for further conversation. If anything Marc’s talk about connections and networks inspired attendees to reach out of their comfort zone and to meet new people during Saturday evenings events.

Follow Marc at @mrettig

Top Image: Stephen A. Wolfe’s photostream.

David Farkas

David is an interaction(s) designer working in the online and mobile realm. He focuses on the relation between the digital and the physical. Usability, goal oriented design, and consistency are key.

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