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June, 2012:

Why No One Has the Right Answer: UX

I don’t really know where I fall in any sort of spectrum regarding my opinion on this, but I do know what I think; how I interpret things. I have a fairly firm belief in a balance in all things creating a better whole.  As such, I expect any field I work with to have some percentage of both ends of a spectrum, and the shades of gray between them.

I work in a User Experience group, but I fully believe in the idea that User Experience, by itself, isn’t *really* a discipline.  I’m of the mind that it’s a group of disciplines.  I don’t think this is my thought. I don’t think it’s an original idea. I can cite multiple charts that attempt to explain what disciplines make up this elusive thing called User Experience.

The wonderful thing about these charts is that they tend to all be true.  The answer tends to be appropriate to the organization.  What a UX Strategist, or Architect, or Designer, does, exactly, and who they belong to as a group, is more a function of how a particular company envisions the role.

Mostly, I believe User Experience professionals should share the common goal of being an advocate for a user’s positive experience (Crazy. I know.).  I also believe this is a deliberate business strategy. There cannot be someone in an organization responsible for User Experience, unless someone, somewhere within the business has made a conscious decision to make that an important part of what they do.

If you have “User Experience” in your title, you have a responsibility to adhere to the user’s needs. That means passionately, but diplomatically, speaking on the user’s behalf and ensuring that the correct testing is completed to meet the needs articulated by the users.  And to redefine strategy on how to achieve those needs if current business and/or technical restrictions prevent a full solution from first release.

One day (and arguably some apps & sites  are already evolving toward this) a UX professional’s role may be to exceed just a positive experience for the user and to create environments that the user wants to return to, when they have need of the environment, because they recall it as an exceptional experience. We’re on a path to make experiences positive between technical sites and physical spaces.

I’m motivated by a need to what is right for the user. I believe in design as problem-solving. I believe people working together are more effective than people working with their heads down, in cubicles. I believe in empathy. I believe human needs and business needs can both be met.   I believe that a focus on user needs and positive experiences are going to define the next era of business.  Unfortunately, I don’t think there’s a one-size-fits-all approach to shepherd the business world into this brave new era.  I think there’s a lot of brave, empathic, intelligent people who are willing to come up with creative solutions to meet business needs without dehumanizing users.  I believe that’s what UX is.

“I invented the term because I thought human interface and usability were too narrow. I wanted to cover all aspects of the person’s experience with the system including industrial design, graphics, the interface, the physical interaction, and the manual.” – Don Norman

http://www.adaptivepath.com/ideas/e000862

What I Heard (or Thought I Heard) at MidwestUX 2012

There’s a great collection of other write-ups, slide decks, hand-outs, sketch notes & notes and photos at http://lanyrd.com/2012/midwestux/

This is… wow, a lot to read. I’ll forgive you if you don’t make it all the way through.  I’m not sure I would.  This is mostly based on my tweets (and retweets I grabbed from other people who can pay attention better than me), so if you were following during Midwest UX, you can probably skip reading this altogether.  Seriously.

First of all, the good people at the Midwest UX staff outdid themselves in a big and serious way.  I honestly didn’t think they could top their inaugural year, but I believe they did.  It’s worth noting they added 100 people in the process, without losing any of the intimacy of the first event.  So I say, thank you to Erik Dahl (@eadahl), Denise Philipsen (@theguigirl), Pam Haaser (@pamhaaser), Lindsay Ramhoff (@lkramhoff), Imran Riaz (@docux), Brandon Stephens (@bpstephe), Ian Smile (@endashes), Keith Instone (@keithinstone), Eric Wiley (@ericwiley) and all of the others that I didn’t get to meet.

Aside from the rich, rich learning, I was able to catch up with old friends and meet more than a bit of new faces.  My only regret is that there were quite a few people I didn’t get as much of a chance to talk to as I’d have liked.  If we met, and I don’t reach out to you, please drop me a note christian.manzella ( at ) gmail.com. & to presenters: sometimes I get stuck on a tweet and I miss other, more pertinent points.  If you have something you want to add to my bullets, please reach out and I will.

Without further ado:

Workshop Day

What I heard from Laura Creekmore (@LauraCreekmore)
during Content Strategy 101

  • Content Inventory isn’t something that should be done just for the sake of doing it. It’s a lot of work.
  • Content is a vehicle for information AND emotion; Communication of emotion is a big part when looking more broadly at the User Experience
  • Determining what content to use or lose should be based on business & user goals, not emotions or attachments by those who created it
  • No one listens when you’re saying you need more people, a bigger budget, or that people need to care more. Find a pain point for others, and address that
  • A card sort on adjectives that describe what the company wants to be is a great stakeholder activity for determining tone

What I heard from Livia Labate (@livlab)
during Experience Design Practice Development

  • The setting (most important thing) shapes your decisions whether you like it or not; you have to understand your setting to figure out what the active role is that you can take
  • “An Experience Design practice is a professional activity performed by humans; teams are at the core of developing the practice.”
  • How we talk about people in today’s business culture as capital, or resources, is dehumanizing.
  • “A finite game is played with the purpose of winning, an infinite game is played with the purpose of continuing to play”
  • It’s difficult to have a common sense of purpose if we only participate in little points along a much larger process.

Thursday night there was a great mixer in the below-ground floor of Barley’s Brewing Company (http://instagr.am/p/LT0B6UrtCK/). It was a bit loud as the evening wore on; perhaps a result of basement acoustics, but it was a great opportunity to catch up with a lot of people that I had seen throughout the day, but hadn’t been able to talk to.  The bar crawl was after, and there was a heck of a lot of bars to cover, going back and forth on the main road.  We walked more than we drank, to see all those good sites.  After a bit, we joined up serendipitous-ly with some of the Midwest UX crew and checked out Barrel 44 and Sassy Girl.

DAY 1:

In between things

  • Erik Dahl (@eadahl) kicked things off  instagr.am/p/LVRzzhLtC8/
  • Noted that Lowe’s is hiring UX people to help in the next step of the Lowe’s Experience Evolution. lowes.com/hireme
  • Overheard an observation that comparably the seats in the Galaxy Theater were “like a cloud for my butt”
  • Ian Smile (@endashes) was hoping for coffee with Sara’s (@sara_ann_marie) talk and mixed drinks with David Farkas’s (@dafark8)

What I heard from Peter Morville (@morville)
during Ubiquitous Information Architecture

  • We need to keep broadening, redefining, and re-framing what we do; interwingularity is a good thing.
  • Give me a fulcrum and a place to stand and I will move the world – Archimedes. I enjoy this as a great quote & great general philosophy
  • “Just because you can doesn’t mean you should.” (regarding a digital scale that automatically tweets your weight for you)
  • At REI Samantha Starmer (@samanthastarmer) brought the content producers together to better build the cross-channel relationships
  • Practice what we’re not good at and learn from those who are

What I heard from Lauren Colton (@laurentgc)
during Your English Teacher Was Wrong: Plain Language for Digital Environments

  • Was willing to do her presentation as an interpretive dance, but the microphone started working, so there was no need
  • Kicked off with a quote from Neil deGrasse Tyson (@neiltyson)
  • Lauren wants “… to correct people who incorrectly correct other people’s grammar.” #meta
  • Avoid jargon and minimize abbreviations (even if you understand them) “… calm it down.”
  • Visual aides (lists, columns, tables (for tabular data), illustrations and infographics) are part of plain language!
  • Plain language is not dumbing down the content it’s elegant precision (via Ryan Cummings @Ryan_Cummings)

What I heard from Jessica Ivins (@jessicaivins)
during On ‘Shrink it and Pink it:’ Designing Experiences for Women

  • When we design for extremes, we tend to resort to myths & stereotypes. This just isn’t productive.
  • We don’t make authentic connections with our customers when we stereotype them
  • Women pay attention to all aspects of your brand. If your store is great but your website sucks, you’ll lose them.
  • Research by Happy Cog (@happycog) found women tend to extend help to others even when not closely or at all related
  • Instead of classic (antiquated) binary gender question, Bag Check (@bagchk) used “preferred possessive pronoun” with more than just “he” and “she” options (plus credit hat-tip to Livia Labate @livlab and Luke Wroblewski @lukew)

What I heard from Matt Grocki (@mgrocki)
during Digital Hoarding: How Information is Suffocating Your Audience

  • Digital Hoarding  instagr.am/p/LVy7q8rtB0/
  • Standardized file naming isn’t (fun) but it cuts down on customer confusion.
  • Let the PDFs go. Your customers will thank you.
  • Hoarding (digital and physical) starts with the excessive acquisition of useless artifacts.

What I heard from Sara Wachter Boettcher (@sara_ann_marie)
during Building Bendable Content: Why the Future Needs Content-Focused IA

  • Content audits, sitemaps, wireframes are useful but (in the future) they aren’t going to be enough
  • Content is more like peanut butter than water; it’s meaningful, rich, chunky… and it gets stuck
  • Flexible content needs to have structure. It becomes more relational than hierarchical (parts not pages)
  • Learned about content creation for an Arizona visitors site and the reluctance to do what makes sense (via Jess Ivins @jessicaivins)
  • Sara has a forthcoming book, Content Everywhere, from Rosenfeld Media (@rosenfeldmedia). (via Jodee Jernigan @jodeejernigan)

What I heard from David Farkas (@dafark8)
during Interaction Design Thru Mixology

  • IxD through Mixology instagr.am/p/LV-jYHLtI2/
  • Understanding of a discipline coupled with random exploration can produce serendipity (and russian mojitos)
  • The most important thing to remember is that the user is not like you (or like David Farkas) (via Ian Smile @endashes)
  • Good design should be integrated; it shouldn’t hit us in the head
Unfortunately, I missed both the afternoon panel on Women in UX, which I really wanted to get to, and the Ignite-style talks later in the afternoon.  Friday night, there was a mixer redux of Huntington Park bar, overlooking the field, from last year.  This year, there was the added benefit of a game going on, so it added to the atmosphere of it all.  From there, I caught dinner with my co-workers that were at the event with me, Jesse Haynes (@JesseHaynes), Mark Pappalardo (@markpappy) and Parvez Daruvala, and then made it an early night.

DAY 2

In between things

  • Everything is great about Midwest UX (even when you wake up at 5 am. That’ll teach me to make it an early night)
  • If you have to check out early, the COSI has lockers that fit travel bags (we were able to get 4 in 1 locker)
  • Rosenfeld Media (@rosenfeldmedia) was offering up to 60% discounts at the UX Bookmobile
  • Matt Grocki (@mgrocki) dropped note about the good times vibe at Midwest UX: “Engaging folks dropping & absorbing ideas in a welcoming environment.”
  • Ian Smile (@endashes): Rule 1 of both Zombie Apocalypse and UX Conferences: Cardio

What I heard from Nathan Martin (@deeplocal)
during Design and Development of Post-Digital Experiences

  • “I hire for people that have a need to learn and evolve”
  • Nathan Martin was in Creation is Crucifixion (via Jason Mowery @radiculture)
  • Erik Dahl (@eadahl) interviewed Nathan Martin about design, culture and innovation
  • Deeplocal uses the term “gutter tech” to describe using what’s appropriate, not what’s shiny. This.
  • UX people are really fond of robots. And reindeer.
  • Transparency, exposing the process, corresponds well with today’s cultural movements. This, too.
  • #noego #respect #trust

What I heard from Jay Morgan (@jayamorgan)
during Negotiating Your UX Career

  • We (UX people) are bad at negotiating
  • Reframe what you’re negotiating & pace yourself. Use what you know from UX; prepare, plan, design.
  • People adjust to a Final position from an initial Anchor, so you need to establish what their anchor is, First
  • “Every single cognitive bias hinders you when you don’t plan.”
  • Insist that the results be based on objective criteria. #negotiate (via Kaleem Khan @kaleemux)

What I heard from Chris Risdon (@ChrisRisdon)
during Mapping the Experience

  • Mapping the Experience path.com/p/4CPEWW (via Haig Armen @haigarmen)
  • An experience map is a generalized experience; a customer journey map is a specific archetype journey. both apply, depending on the context of use
  • Touchpoints aren’t just where people interact; they are any interaction of a specific human need in a specific time and place
  • Chris used Charles Minard, Edward Tufte, and ubiquitous in one sentence without stumbling.
  • Experience mapping must address: Feeling, Thinking, Doing, Time, Place (context)
  • You need dr. jones the archaeologist first before indiana jones becomes plausible (via Dan Klyn @danklyn)
  • The 5 (or 6) important Components of an experience map are: Lens, Journey Model, Qualitative Insight, Quantitative Information & Takeaways (& cite your sources)

What I heard from Amelia Campbell (@aplusbplusc)
during How to Rapidly Prototype Multi-Touch Applications

  • The way we’ve been prototyping for the desktop will continue to work through mobile/multi-touch
  • I need to learn origami for working with paper prototype… asap
  • For prototyping “Go with whatever creates the most effective suspension of disbelief”

What I heard from Boon Sheridan (@boonerang)
during Customer Journeys: Designing for Disagreement

  • What Boon (the Kevin Smith @thatKevinSmith of UX, via Rachel Nabors @crowchick) does, what we do.  instagr.am/p/LYbwKoLtAI/
  • “I don’t know what wrong design is. I know what design that doesn’t fit a need is.”
  • “Illusions of agreement” ~ there was a requirements document, sign-off, we got out of the meeting and then the design was wrong
  • Iterating over the same stone in your shoe isn’t iterating. it’s still a stone. in your shoe.
  • Customer Journeys, mystical and magical as they are, can actually be more effective than visual design
  • “Site Redesign” is the worst goal ever invented by man
  • Blowing something up huge on the wall where everyone can see it & comment creates a sense of equity & conversation
  • Handing out workbooks that people can write in, and collecting them at the end, gets feedback from the introverts who may not speak up during collaboration

What I heard from Dan Klyn (@danklyn)
during Establishing What ‘Good’ Means with Performance Continuums

  • 1 Valuable insight = a free ride (or at least a $10 ride) on #crawcab
  • Architecture is the tool you use to make the cuts, name the parts, and create good society
  • Architecture isn’t a metaphor. It is what we do
  • In order to know what’s good, we have to establish what’s true.
  • Continuums help establish how true on one end of a spectrum (or extreme) from the other a given performance is

What I heard from Richard Buchanan
during Experience, Human Interaction, and Service Design

  • Be Human. First.
  • The great manufacturing center of the U.S. for decades was the midwest; more than half of the great design schools are found within a 500 mile radius from Cleveland, OH
  • The great design achievement of the 20th century is Organization
  • The future lies in how we provide information and services to fellow human beings
  • How do we shift the Culture of our Organizations to appreciate User Experience? (we should always be thinking about this)
  • Human to Computer interaction gives way to Person to Person interaction as we move toward Person to Environment Interaction.
  • There’s a fourth experience we (UX people) are not embracing; that of participation & becoming part of the whole
  • It’s one thing to talk about design; it’s something else to talk about what information Means to people in their use of it and interactions
  • Why do we do it? What principle should guide us? Answer as an individual, but answer in terms of values and principles
  • Why does Richard Buchanan do it? Human Dignity. Human Dignity
  • “Design is more than a set of tricks and gizmos. If design isn’t married to a set of principles, we have troubles.”
  • (via Boon Sheridan @boonerang): Seriously, I love this talk from Richard Buchanan. If you’re gonna swing, swing BIG.

And again I say, again and again(@midwestUX)

Midwest UX 2012 was amazing. Better than last year. And I didn’t think it was possible.  The value of this event is incredible. Just as I did last year, I left energized to write and pontificate and make good thing after good thing from having met so many people and heard so many great ideas.  The @midwestUX crew really did outdo themselves and the 2011 run. I’m looking forward to 2013.

IAS12 Tweets

Still haven’t done anything with that file.  No objections if someone else wants to do something with it.