Usability in China: Encore

By Daniel Szuc and Paul J. Sherman

Published: January 8, 2007

“The leaders of the China chapter wanted to raise the profile of usability engineering and user-centered design in China and create the biggest usability conference in the region.”

Our story starts in late 2004, at the Make the World Simpler event in Shanghai, China—a modest-sized meeting of UX professionals that was organized by the China chapters of the Usability Professionals’ Association (UPA). At this meeting, leaders of the mainland China and Hong Kong UPA chapters met to discuss organizing a usability conference in China. We decided to call the conference User Friendly.

Our objectives were simple yet bold: The leaders of the China chapter wanted to raise the profile of usability engineering and user-centered design in China and create the biggest usability conference in the region. We also wanted an event that the China usability industry could call its own. We figured that the best way to do this was to target people who are passionate about integrating usability into their products and give them a chance to meet, network, and attend talks and tutorials by leaders in user experience.

In just three short years, the China chapter—now a single organization spanning Hong Kong and mainland China—has accomplished these objectives and more. Here’s a quick retrospective that shows where we started and where we’re at now:

  • User Friendly 2004 attracted 180 attendees. Some of the companies with representatives at the conference were familiar names around the world such as Yahoo!, Nokia, Motorola, Siemens, and IBM. Others were companies headquartered in China like Sohu, UTStar, and Baidu, as well as several others.”
  • User Friendly 2005 drew more than 300 people practicing usability in China, with several attendees coming from neighboring countries such as Korea and Taiwan. Invited guest speakers hailed from North America, Europe, and Australia.
  • User Friendly 2006 brought over 500 people together, with the conference expanding from 2 to 3 days. In addition to the talks and tutorials by invited speakers, the third day added roundtable events, giving participants time to cover topics in more depth and ask speakers questions in a more intimate setting. More companies than ever had representatives at User Friendly 2006, with first-time attendees representing Philips, Yahoo!, eBay Korea, HP, LG, Hitachi, Cathay Pacific, Lenovo, and GE Health Care.

Robert Barlow-Busch, an invited speaker in 2005, was prescient in his UXmatters article “A Glimpse of China’s Future at User Friendly 2005” when he stated, “They’ll certainly need to host a larger event next year, as the UX professions continue to grow rapidly in China.”

User Friendly 2004–2006

On the first day of User Friendly 2006, Jason Huang, President of the UPA China chapter, kicked off the conference with his presentation “User Experience in China,” charting the growth of User Friendly over its three-year lifespan. Some notable statistics:

  • Attendance has increased from 180 people to over 500.
  • Participants’ backgrounds have included design, design management, and academia.
  • The number of companies participating has grown from 35 to 112.
  • Topics covered have included graphic user interface design, usability, information architecture, conceptual design, user experience, user-centered design, the W3C (World Wide Web Consortium), and recommendations for accessible, well-designed Web sites and applications.

Friends of User Friendly

User Friendly 2006 was very much about the people who attended. So, we decided to ask some people who were at the conference what User Friendly 2006 meant to them. We spoke with first-time conference attendees and repeat attendees, as well as both new and returning invited speakers.

New Participant: Douglas Xiaoyong Wang

Douglas Xiaoyong Wang

Senior User Interface Engineer at Trend Micro Incorporated, Nanjing Development Center, China

“This turned out to be a great occasion where I’ve made friends with many designers from other regions and cultures and learned a lot from them. Absolutely fantastic!”

 

His expectations:

  • meeting peers and friends from China
  • seeing the latest growth trends in usability and interface design in China
  • looking for potential candidates for our design team

What he enjoyed most:

  • the variety of speakers from different regions
  • making friends with designers from different regions and cultures
  • the beauty of Hangzhou

Learnings:

  • China is getting more attention as an important center for promoting product usability and design excellence.
  • Designers and usability practitioners who received their training in China are learning very fast.
  • In large corporations, the usability profession is becoming more specialized.
  • There is increasing awareness of diversified usability methods and tools.

Hot topics in China for 2007 and beyond:

  • In China, how to adjust business strategies to add value to manufacturing- and technology-based operations?
  • How to establish professional standards for designers and usability practitioners?

UPA China Member: Nan-Xiang Sheng

Nan-Xiang Sheng

Human Factors Engineer at Hewlett-Packard, China

“It’s awesome! As a member of the DDF (Dragon Design Fund) UPA China team, I hope people liked and enjoyed the conference arrangements; were able to get new information, knowledge, and tips; and made new friends—in other words, that UF2006 was a successful conference.”

What he enjoyed most: Working with team members and meeting old friends.

Learnings: How to handle and organize a huge conference.

Opportunities for usability in China: Huge! Usability or Total Customer Experience (TCE) is going to be one of the key factors that influence any company in the near future. China is still in its changeover process, and there will be more and more job opportunities. However, practitioners had better do a good job and keep their customers and bosses happy.

Past Speaker: Gerry Gaffney

Gerry Gaffney

Director at Information & Design, Australia

“China is about to come of age.”

His expectation: That the conference would be friendly and bigger than UF2005.

What he enjoyed most:

  • meeting lots of interesting people
  • practicing my Chinese
  • meeting old friends

Learnings:

  • People all over the world have similar usability issues to deal with.
  • China is no longer happy to be just a market or just a manufacturer of goods.

Hot topics in China for 2007 and beyond:

  • all sorts of user research
  • dealing with organizational issues
  • how China can understand the Western market—a bit of a reversal

Opportunities for usability in China: China has a huge percentage of the world’s population. As it develops, the market for usability in China will be correspondingly large. We can see that already from the growth in the size of the User Friendly conference.

New Participant: Liya Zheng

Liya Zheng

Interaction Designer at Liquidnet Inc., USA

“I’m coming back for more!”

Her expectations:

  • learning about the state of the UX community
  • learning about cross-cultural design challenges
  • meeting and greeting colleagues in my motherland

What she enjoyed most:

  • the people
  • the beautiful scenery
  • brave souls who are working and living overseas

Learnings:

  • I can share my interaction design experiences in China!
  • The cultural backgrounds of UX practitioners pose different challenges in China than in the US.
  • China is an amazing place to work.

Hot topics in China for 2007 and beyond:

  • interaction design
  • developing soft skills to enable organizational change
  • advanced topics in research
  • integrating usability and design

Opportunities for usability in China:

  • mobile application design
  • cross-cultural research techniques

Returning Participant: Rex Hon-Chung Wong

Rex Hon-Chung Wong

Interaction Designer at Yahoo! HK, Hong Kong

“Encore!”

His expectations:

  • knowing more about the field of user experience in mainland China
  • seeing presentations by speakers from China, Korea, and India
  • meeting people working in UX on the mainland

What he enjoyed most:

  • Hangzhou and the West Lake
  • seeing old buddies and meeting new friends
  • exchanging ideas with other researchers and designers

Learnings:

  • how to address cultural differences
  • how user research can fuel design, especially in Asian markets
  • the growth of the field of user experience in China

Hot topics in China for 2007 and beyond:

  • Web 3.0?
  • Web trends originating in China and Asia
  • design that addresses the cultural differences among different countries in Asia

Opportunities for usability in China: Perhaps there could be a hub for the UX community in Asia.

New Speaker: Paul J. Sherman

Paul Sherman

Director of User-Centered Design and Usability at Sage Software, USA

Vice President, Usability Professionals’ Association, USA

“UF2006 was by far the most enjoyable, educational, and exciting conference I have attended since I began my career.”

His expectations: I expected that attendees would be eager to learn, share their knowledge, and actively participate in the conference events. I also expected that many students and people just getting started in their careers or interested in getting involved more deeply in the field of user experience would attend the conference.

What he enjoyed most:

  • seeing old friends and colleagues and catching up with them
  • meeting new friends and colleagues
  • seeing the beautiful scenery and surroundings of West Lake in Hangzhou

Learnings: I learned that UPA China has done an incredible job of organizing the UX community across China. I learned new ways of creating and presenting personas and user profiles. Lo-fi and collaborative is the way to go. I discovered that my Mandarin is not nearly as good as my Chinese colleagues’ English.

Hot topics in China for 2007 and beyond:

  • growing usability and UCD groups in more companies
  • moving from usability to utility and desirability
  • concepts or aspects of usability that don’t originate from Western European or US-centric concepts

Opportunities for usability in China: Oh, many—endless opportunities.

New Participant: Yogesh Tadwalkar

Yogesh Tadwalkar

Project Director at HFI, Singapore

“Just when you thought you knew everything about doing usability work, UF2006 happened and woke you up!”

His expectations:

  • meeting usability folks in China
  • discovering market trends for usability in China
  • learning what companies are doing to localize products and services

What he enjoyed most:

  • the variety of topics speakers covered
  • the enthusiasm in the air
  • winning the lucky-draw first prize

Learnings:

  • Usability awareness is bigger in China than one might imagine.
  • There is a tremendous shortage of usability talent in China.
  • Every UPA chapter would benefit from trying to be as enthusiastic as UPA China.

Hot topics in China for 2007 and beyond:

  • comparative consumer-behavior research—global versus Chinese, especially for middle-class user segments
  • mobile usability
  • eGovernment usability

New Participant: Ivan Yuen

Ivan Yuen

Intranet Manager at Cathay Pacific Airways, Hong Kong

“It is my first time attending the User Friendly conference. I’m amazed by the rapid development of usability in China. An eye-opening experience!”

His expectations:

  • learning how to conduct usability tests
  • learning about the latest usability developments in China
  • meeting usability practitioners working in China

What he enjoyed most:

  • the one-day workshop on “Conducting a Hands-On Usability Test,” by Daniel Szuc and Robert Barlow-Busch
  • “Beyond Usability,” by Jin-Soo Kim
  • “Practice of User-Centered Design and Research in China,” by Baidu

Learnings:

  • Learning about the basic skills of conducting usability tests.
  • Don’t over focus on usability. Product quality as a whole is the most important thing. Usability is only an enabling factor.
  • The best usability design is full integration and automation, so users do not need to think—the deconstructionist paradigm.

Hot topics in China for 2007 and beyond:

  • how to integrate Web 2.0 capabilities with good user experience in Web site design
  • application interface design for 3G mobile phones 

Opportunities for usability in China:

  • With China being the world factory, there is a lot of demand for usability in product design for manufacturing.
  • China has the largest number of mobile phone users, so mobile phone usability is a big market.

Past Speaker: Jianming Dong

Jianming Dong

International User Research Lead at PayPal, USA

“User experience is hot in China!”

His expectations:

  • meeting with leaders in UX design and research
  • exchanging information and practice in the field
  • understanding new trends in UX design and research

What he enjoyed most:

  • roundtable discussions, with their high level of interactivity
  • presentations that had high relevance to the audience
  • dinners and socializing, which were fun

Learnings:

  • User experience is a fast growing area in China.
  • Local talents are catching up quickly on basic techniques.
  • Attendees were more into experience sharing and collaboration.

Hot topics in China for 2007 and beyond:

  • evangelizing usability in oganizations
  • design and evaluation of mobile products
  • designing methods and practices for the Web

We look forward to seeing everyone at User Friendly 2007!

Acknowledgements

Thank you to the following people, who contributed to this article:

  • Douglas Wang
  • Josephine Wong
  • Liya Zheng
  • Ivan Yuen
  • Jianming Dong
  • Yogesh Tadwalkar
  • Jason Huang
  • Gerry Gaffney
  • Paul J. Sherman
  • Rex Hon-Chung Wong
  • Sheng Nan-Xiang
  • Robert Barlow-Busch
  • Whitney Quesenbery

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