MidwestUX Report: Day 2

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Day Two started bright and early with a full day of talks, panels, and workshops. With Dan Willis as the morning keynote the room was crowded with coffee–and–ipad–in–hand designers.

Keynote, Dan Willis

Technology is the application of scientific thought to practical application

Dan (aka @uxcrank) opened day two with All You Really Need to Know About Users You Learned in High School and his presentation was anything but traditional (and there is video proof). He introduces this as the Hangover Keynote, being day two and the show didn’t stop there. Before starting beach balls fly through the room and a dance party starts getting the entire room moving and shaking. And after a few minutes of displacement, Dan starts his talk or as he puts it, his Sermon on Demystification.

Dan demystifies UX and our profession and shares that a lot of what we do we learned in grade school. This includes:

  • Hall passes are bullshit, control is an illusion.
  • The cool kids liked you for your car.
  • You can’t trust new friends, online friends are not ‘move your couch’ friends.
  • You’re wearing what? People group and act like sheep.
  • People go to parties to get drunk and have sex with strangers, sometimes superficial is good.

Dan closes his talk debunking myths of runaway technology, the cutting edge, Web 2.0 and human to human connection, and mobile web. He drives up to be a designer and to have meaningful goals with our products as well as to drop the adjective adjacent to design and to focus on the work as a holistic problem solving process.

Agile’s Secret Step: Discovery, Lis Hubert

Lis opens by defining what she means by Agile as a project execution method that is, simply, different than waterfall. Then, after a quick survey of the room level sets that we have all had some form of exposure to the methodology. She moves to discuss that Agile’s secret steps are discovery and planning. Sharing her stories with a large financial services company nicknamed The Titanic and others she discusses the challenges of UX fitting into Agile.

Lis Hubert

Lis reminds us Agile is not the enemy and communicates how we can have UX coincide as a defined element within the Agile process. Lis equates a product backlog to the bottles of beer coming down an assembly line and the need to be informed what is next to run an efficient system. This comes not from an iteration zero but rather a strategy team in charge of the overall plan. Agile must continue to move forward and balance of discovery and appropriate planning can keep UX involved and balanced throughout the project life cycle.

Influencing Business Using a Wall of Knowledge, Heidi Mucn and Derren Hermann

Heidi and Derren, working at Nationwide Insurance, share their methods and experiences influencing business. They step away from corporate samples though and share personal stories that use their methods.

What is the Wall of Knowledge? In Nationwide, its the large spaces to hang up and present information relevant to the current discussion. Much like an affinity diagram, it collates and organizes in a fluid manner information for the team to be aware of only unlike an affinity diagram it can include facts, inspiration, and any other form of content. When in practice, the Wall is used to obtain unified by in and collaboration earlier on so that the large stakeholder meetings are more around head nodding and less around discourse of a direction and decision. Make the information public and social and everyone is more engaged.

Taming a Nine-Headed Stakeholder Monster, Geoff Alday

Geoff defines the nine headed stakeholder monster, its a shared challenge that we all face, and it is our responsibility to synthesize and understand stakeholder needs and opinions. He immediately arms us with his tips on how to manage the beast and defines nine archetypes:

  1. User. The myth is they don’t know what they want but they do.
  2. Customer. The myth is the customer is always right, but they really want goals to be accomplished.
  3. Sales. The myth is all they want is more sales, but address their pain points.
  4. Marketing. The myth is all they care about impressions, but they truly do know how to market a product and ask marketing for content support.
  5. Support. The myth is they only hear complaints and they can offer a unique understanding of users.
  6. Executive. Geoff admits all these myths are true.
  7. The Others. While not stakeholders the myth is their opinion doesn’t matter and is dismissed.
  8. Developer. Debunk the myth that developers can’t design. They might not have the visual skills but they can contribute conceptual and functional designs beyond a designer’s skills.
  9. Designer. The myth is the designer is they can only make it pretty, but there is more thought behind it.

Geoff close with tips to speak to the monsters language and to not use jargon for jargon’s sake, to listen to the stakeholders, and to consider all angles before disagreeing with something. His final thought is to admit mistakes and to get over it, don’t take everything personally.

Winning Big in UX: Changing the Problem–Solving Culture in Organizations, Jay Morgan

Jay defines his cognitive science background as his kung fu grip. He discusses how we can succeed more in UX by interpreting motivations and behaviours, not only of users but of stakeholders. Jay shares a few heuristics, is A like B (representativeness, Start here, get to there (anchoring and adjustment), and How likely is that to happen (availability). Ultimately Jay charges that we as designers must do more than design and must leverage cognitive and social sciences to be ambassadors and to build relationships more than build things that simply look good or behave well.

Working Lunch: Every UX Person Needs a Portfolio, Abby Covert

The UX community discusses a lot around how to present work, what level of a portfolio is needed, and how to best present work, especially given constraints around NDAs. Over lunch Abby had the audience go through a series of exercises intended for self reflection to understand how we can communicate what we do. Abby communicated three key criteria a portfolio should have:

  • Pride not Proof — have pride in your work.
  • Quality not Quantity
  • Passion and Process — what you do, how you do it, and why.

Abby stresses the need for an ‘About Me’ that is real and tangible. Ignore buzz words and companies, focus on what you do in layman terms. She continues to discuss format (readable, presentable, printable) maintenance and growth, and distribution. In the end the audience left with new contacts to continue the exercises and a completed workbook with the building blocks of their own portfolio.

Abby Covert

“This Product Sucks!” A Sampler of Product Design Issues, Darren Kall

Darren tells a story of a product he created that, after conversations with a client realized that parts of it sucked. Darren communicates how to tell if products suck and then, if they do, how to mitigate the issue. What makes a product suck is not if it is unattractive, broken, or tasteless but rather if there is a conscious design or business decision that reduces the ideal experience. We conclude with a series of different non web-based samples of sucky products and what, from our UX toolkit needs to be done to avoid the issue. Comical and lightweight, Darren reminds us all of what not to do and how to approach design.

The Nature of Information Architecture, Dan Klyn

IA/UX is a dated term and IA should stand alone. As a professor with the University of Michigan Dan communicates how IA needs to and deserves to stand alone and that it is not an IA slash UX (IA/UX) connection.

They learn about this thing Information Architecture and they enter a world that does not have IA by itself.

Dan breaks down the ontology, taxonomy, and choreography of things and reframes what information architecture is at a root level. Using the iPad and Apple’s taxonomy as a basis for the conversation, we analyze language and how different product are organized well or poorly, and the resulting effect on the overall experience. Taking a step back away from the deliverables (site map, product map, etc) we are left to evaluate where IA fits as a larger part of design and an equal level, not a slash to UX.

Thinking with Your Hands, Karl Fast

“An experience designer walks into a bar…” And with that Karl opens up with the simple observation that we all talk with our hands. But why? Our gestures help convey additional information about our story. Sharing research around how and when people talk with their hands Karl discusses the learned habits around gestures, and the rate and reasons for gestures.

Karl describes the three types of gestures: adapters emblems and gestures, and the different use cases for each of them. He realigns the meaning of gestures and by introducing the term emblems aligns the audience to what we actually mean by gestural interfaces. Tying the conversation to affordances Karl stresses that we need to understand and design for the implications and details around gestures. They are just as important as the details of a door handle, and it is our role to understand the connection between what we do with our hands and how we interact.

Destroying the Box: Experience Design Inspiration from Frank Lloyd Wright, Joe Sokohl

Joe uses Frank Lloyd Wright as a basis to discuss design. It is not the material and tools we make but what is the experience and purpose. Joe references memes that came out of Interactions 11 in Boulder and by discussing architecture addresses the framework of design.

The reality of the building odes not consist in roof and walls but in the space within to be lived in. — Laotse

Some main theme Joe covered:

Content. Frank Lloyd Wright destroys the box and brings ‘the outside in and the inside out’. How can interaction designers break the bounds of the technology we use and still work within the constraints of our technology.

Clients. Frank Lloyd Wright knew what his clients needed and built homes specific for the people who would live in that space. As designers we must know our audience and design for them.

Ultimately Joe’s talk takes us beyond the screen and reminds us what is important when we design, and that other disciplines have much to give to IxD.

Keynote, Jesse James Garrett

Jesse’s closing can best be seen as a reflection with a call to change perceptions. Sharing popularized samples of web design Jesse paints his vision of where design and interaction across all media is moving. He communicates that UX can be applied to anything, not just the web and we need to continue to push those limits.

The user experience mindset is an acquired condition for which there is no cure

As we move forward with design we are challenged to answer how UX can capture so many different media. But what Jesse defines as design as is simply a mastery of a media, or mediumism. We are too focused on the tools and should not define UX as specific to a tool. Instead we should design beyond medium at which time we can focus on experience and engagement.

Jesse moves across emotion, interaction, and brings the conference to a close as he discusses perceptions of design and our need to get out of the interaction design echo chamber and to seek for more inspiration across all artistic tracks.

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Top Image: Stephen A. Wolfe’s photostream.
Youtube Clip compliments of brevadude.
Additional images compliments of @ixdiego

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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