The conference was a great success and engendered much excitement and enthusiasm among its 625 attendees, representing the business, marketing, Web design, and HCI communities—most from The Netherlands. After several years of economic decline and many company reorganizations in The Netherlands, people thought the event marked a kind of turning point for the UX community.
Although the audience at this conference mostly comprised locals, two of the three keynote speakers were from the United States: Jesse James Garrett, of Adaptive Path, and Jared Spool, of User Interface Engineering. The third keynote speaker, Steven Pemberton, though originally from England, now lives and works in Amsterdam. Another American, Bill Scott, of Yahoo!®, presented the Yahoo! Design Pattern Library. Jeroen van Erp, of Fabrique.nl, chaired the conference.
Between the keynote addresses, there were several parallel sessions. Most sessions were in Dutch and addressed the conference theme of Web 2.0 within the Dutch context. Speakers addressed themes like technology, users, business/marketing, design, and society.
Keynote Address: The Brave New World: Usability Challenges of Web 2.0
Speaker: Jared Spool
In his characteristically humorous and entertaining way, Jared Spool spoke about the usability challenges of Web 2.0 applications.
According to Jared, shown in Figure 2, many RIAs (Rich Internet Applications) suffer greatly from usability issues, but “we do not know how to design for this!” he said. For example, lots of people still have a hard time understanding the concept and usage of RSS feeds. And what about the usability of APIs? Ultimately, the user experience determines the success of Web 2.0 applications, not the technologies themselves.
Experience design has now become a boardroom conversation, but is the community ready to deliver? Jared posed this rhetorical question regarding whether the design community is ready to participate at the C-level management table.
Jared talked about the success of the iPod®—which results from its compelling user experience and integration with iTunes® and the iTunes Music/Movie Store—versus the lack of success for the feature-rich SanDisk®. Competitors of the iPod need to match its user experience. In the same way, Blockbuster™ needs to match the user experience of NetFlix™, where people talk about movies, not about its great Web 2.0 features.
The most successful Web 2.0 companies such as Flickr™ and YouTube™ are now completely about user experience. With features like RSS feeds, APIs, and folksonomies, Web 2.0 companies can deliver compelling user experiences. Most Web 2.0 applications have fewer features than earlier Web applications, but the features they have are very powerful. For example, Flickr started as a chat room for games, but morphed into a photo-sharing site. Jared was critical of the usability of folksonomies. Tags can have multiple meanings and are often very idiosyncratic.
According to Jared, the problem with Web 2.0 today is that it is still very much the arena of programmers, whereas it should also be the arena of UX designers, because we’re designing for user experience, not for features or technology. Currently, not much attention is paid to the usability of user interfaces for Web 2.0 applications.
During the Q&A session, Jared discussed the future of personal tags. With some future controlling mechanisms, these “tag sets will morph into something more useful than they currently are,” said Spool.
Keynote Address: The Frontiers of User Experience
Speaker: Jesse James Garrett
Jesse James Garrett’s talk focused on three key areas of user experience as practiced within Adaptive Path: field research, information architecture, and interaction design.
Jesse spoke about trends in user research at Adaptive Path. The limits of conventional usability testing in the lab have become apparent. An important trend is the increasing awareness of the value of field research and ethnography. Adaptive Path does three kinds of user research. They do research in usability testing labs, conduct phone interviews, as shown in Figure 3, and go into the field to observe and interview users in their natural habitats at work, at home, or at play. Jesse showed us how Adaptive Path researchers take pictures in the field, then make a kind of documentary of product usage. His advice is, “Show the context, do not tell it!”
Regarding information architecture, Adaptive Path addresses issues such as user-defined keywords in metadata. Tags and folksonomies are difficult, because of misspellings and the problem of knowing which tags people are using for what meaning and content. A conventional method for information architecture is card sorting, but now tagging and folksonomies are gaining popularity. Tagging is tantamount to outsourcing the information architecture to users. With folksonomies, the information architect does not have to choose the metadata. These bottom-up structuring principles do not come for free. Phenomena like tag spams and tag bombing are occurring as people game the system.
Interaction design activities now relate directly to Ajax. Within the Ajax paradigm, it is no longer necessary to wait for page refreshes. A new application model has emerged, having as its basis technologies like XHTML/CSS and the Document Object Model (DOM). Two applications from Google™—Gmail and Maps—have put Ajax on the map. Two kinds of revolutions are taking place:
- Ajax is a paradigm shift for both designers and developers. Ajax makes design problems technology problems and vice versa.
- Ajax demands closer collaboration, both within teams and across communities.
During the Q&A session, Jesse addressed the issue of search-engine findability in Ajax implementations. In general, we must see Ajax applications more as pragmatic solutions rather than perfect solutions.