Conference Review: UPA 2007: Part II

By Joi L. Roberts

Published: August 20, 2007

Wednesday: Designing Designing Interfaces: How Not To Write A Pattern Catalog

Presenter: Jenifer Tidwell

Jenifer Tidwell, author of Designing Interfaces: Patterns for Effective Interaction Design, shared her motivations and the lessons she learned as she wrote her book.

“As a repository for design wisdom, pattern catalogs are important, because they can serve as job aids and teaching or learning tools for both novices and experienced designers.”—Jenifer Tidwell

One of the few conference sessions that actually related to patterns, this session promised to be interesting. Given everyone’s varying definitions and usage of patterns, I think it would have been helpful if Jenifer had started off this session with a clear definition of what a pattern is and how designers can use a pattern catalog. Afterward, when I spoke with attendees, I found not everyone was on quite the same page with the speaker when her talk began. Well into the session, Jenifer finally did define what she means by a pattern:

  • a suggestion, not a requirement
  • a product, not a process
  • able to capture relationships among elements
  • usable across platforms
  • able to clearly improve the user experience

Jenifer’s guidelines for preparing to write a pattern include the following:

  • Notice a recurring design element.
  • Work up and down the abstraction ladder.
  • Understand why the pattern works.
  • Figure out the appropriate context for the pattern—when you should or should not use it.
  • Name the pattern.

As a repository for design wisdom, pattern catalogs are important, because they can serve as job aids and teaching or learning tools for both novices and experienced designers. Jenifer shared several important tips and techniques for creating design pattern catalogs, as follows:

1. Design the pattern catalog for use.

  • Prefer the concrete to the abstract.
  • Use a simple and accessible organizational model. The organization doesn’t have to be perfect, just functional.
  • Provide examples—what, use when, why, how—as well as context, problems, forces, solutions, resulting context, diagrams, and notes.
  • Help users find the patterns they need. Make sure patterns link to each other, showing relationships such as is a, leads to, alternative to, and works well with.

2. Focus on your users.

  • Not all designers will use the pattern catalog. So don’t try to create a one-size-fits-all solution. Focus on one audience.
  • Use the vocabulary they know.
  • Use familiar examples.

3. Do not try to capture all design knowledge in the form of patterns.

Others types of information include

  • principles
  • heuristics
  • style guides and standards
  • components
  • genres and idioms

4. Think hard about contexts of use.

  • Avoid documenting the obvious, failing to provide any new insights.
  • Providing a pattern’s context of use will help you to add value and avoid the obvious.

5. Visual examples are critical.

  • Explain in pictures, not just words.
  • Pictures help you define the pattern and offer evidence.

6. Find out how designers are really going to use a pattern.

  • Once you’ve created the pattern catalog and put it into practice, follow up with users.
  • Conduct a survey and learn how designers are using the catalog. Collect suggestions for its improvement.

Wednesday: Training Up To Senior: Bridging the Gulf Between Internships and Senior UCD Positions

Panelists: Kaaren Hanson, Paul Sherman, Stephanie Rosenbaum, and Kelly Braun

“There are not enough experienced user-centered design (UCD) practitioners.”

The usability industry has grown rapidly in the past several years, and it has become clear that there are not enough experienced user-centered design (UCD) practitioners. During this panel, Kaaren Hanson of Intuit, Paul Sherman of Sage Software, Stephanie Rosenbaum of Tec-Ed, and Kelly Braun of PayPal shared their perspectives as hiring managers from four different organizations and facilitated a conversation with the audience about what has and has not worked in addressing this problem. The highlights of the discussion were as follows:

What Has Worked

To develop senior UCD practitioners on their staffs, managers should:

  • Hire the right employees.
    • Use contractors until the staff comes up to speed. They often have more experience than staff. Some stay on for several years.
    • Hire graduates from top design schools.
    • Hire subject-matter experts as designers, then teach them UCD.
    • Hire both process-oriented and creative, intuitive people.
    • Hire people who can take initiative and be change agents.
    • Join on-campus initiatives to identify and engage new team members early.
  • Train existing employees.
    • Enroll UX team members in certification programs.
    • Train developers and technical communicators in basic UCD skills.
    • Use “train-the-trainer” certification programs.
    • Send staff to a negotiation skills course.
    • Create suitcase training courses for your team to reduce costs.
    • Let newer employees help train new hires. It solidifies their new-found knowledge.
  • Create the right environment for employees.
    • Give people a variety of opportunities to grow their skills more quickly.
    • Give people lots of room to grow, as Google does.
    • Give top employees more opportunities and encourage them to mentor others.
    • Emphasize sharing of information and openness to feedback.

What Hasn’t Worked

Problems managers of UCD practitioners should avoid:

  • Hiring people with inadequate training. Some academic programs are several years behind the times, or the training they offer is not deep enough. Understand what the programs are and recruit at the higher-quality schools. Industry must tell academia what we need.
  • Hiring senior team members who don’t have experience in work, business, and politics is a mistake.
  • Candidates need internship experience before their first job. Hiring someone fresh out of school without this basic experience is not a good strategy. Not enough companies are offering internships to students. So many of the entry-level candidates are under prepared.
  • Hiring managers find it hard to identify real problems during an interview process.
  • A culture that fails to foster employees’ taking initiative doesn’t allow them to blossom.
  • Organizations that lack collaborative-culture skills and communities of practice are not conducive to doing the best work.
  • It’s difficult to retain creative employees. “Tweeners,” or people with multiple skill sets, might want to move between roles on the team. As creative staff, designers can get bored and need new headspace every couple of years. Motivating people to stay with the organization long term without negatively impacting organizational needs is a challenge.

What Can I Do To Move Myself Up to Senior?

To develop senior-level skills, a junior UCD practitioner should:

  • Cross-train wherever possible. Develop business savvy and other UX skills and understand the system development lifecycle.
  • Keep your mouth shut. Listen as much as possible!
  • Seek a mentor for support.
  • Learn what you can where you are.
  • Work at a consulting company to gain a lot of experience quickly.
  • Start where you can, then grow your role into what you want it to become. In young professions, job definitions are not cast in concrete.
  • Fight your way onto projects.
  • Learn teamwork outside a school setting.
  • Volunteer with the UPA or other UX-related organizations.

Thursday: So You Want To Be A Rock Star (Usability Consultant)

Panelists: Aaron Marcus, Janice James, Theo Mandel, Larry Marine, and Nicholas Simonelli

Recognizing that forming and operating a UX consultancy is a challenging process, “five veteran practitioners with a total of approximately 100 years of practice” discussed the pros and cons of striking out on your own. The panelists represented a broad range of consulting experiences—from single-person consultancies to small firms to medium-sized, multi-location firms and included:

  • Aaron Marcus, President of Aaron Marcus and Associates, Inc.
  • Janice James, Director of User Experience at Perficient, Inc.
  • Theo Mandel, CEO and Principal Consultant at Interface Design and Development, LLC
  • Larry Marine of Intuitive Design
  • Nicholas Simonelli, President of Performance Research and Design, Inc.

While the majority of the session comprised a question-and-answer exchange between the audience and the panelists, in the background, slides provided a valuable list of considerations for contemplating this career path. The following captures the considerations covered in both the slides as well as the conversation that ensued.

Why start a consultancy?

Your goals might include the following:

  • personal goals—money, time, flexibility, location, family, and so on
  • business goals—strategy, focus, new opportunities, and so on

When is the right time to start a consultancy? How much experience do you need before heading into consultancy?

To make sure you’re ready for consulting:

  • First, consider taking an interim job with a consulting company before starting your own consultancy.
  • Build your presence in the UX community by writing books and articles, giving presentations, and participating in organizations.
  • Create a financial backup plan.

How do you start your consultancy?

Things to consider include:

  • whether you’re coming from academia or the corporate world
  • having a separate office versus an office in your home
  • your consultancy’s image—an individual versus a company
  • your company name, logo, and tagline
  • setting up shop
  • finding clients before you begin
  • dealing with business and taxes
  • getting business insurance—general and professional liability insurance; $1M umbrella policies
  • your consulting model—fixed bid, project based with minimum and maximum, or time and materials
  • consulting projects—one-shot, long-term, or repeat business
  • project location—onsite versus remote work
  • logistics of working remotely—time differences, conference calls, using WebEx or wikis, and so on
  • business tools—remote usability testing with Morae and so on
  • creating your Web site, blog, marketing collateral, business cards, press releases, and ads
  • networking and participating in industry organizations and conferences

Where should you set up your consultancy?

Considerations include:

  • geographic location
  • home office pros and cons—office in your home or home in your office?
  • need for lab space and other facilities

Who will work in your consultancy? What structure will you use?

Decide whether you want to be

  • a sole proprietor
  • consulting firm with employees
  • principal consultant with employees and/or contractors
  • a consultancy with employees versus contractors versus a consortium
  • a physical or virtual company
  • a full-service consultancy or focus on one of aspect of usability, specialty, or methodology—for example, usability evaluation and testing

How can you get and keep clients? How do you decide what clients and industries to target?

Things you need to do to get new clients and keep your old or current clients include:

  • marketing yourself as a consultant or company
  • advertising—online, print, and so on
  • networking with clients and colleagues
  • getting referrals from colleagues and clients
  • garnering publicity or press—books, articles, presentations, press releases, and quotations
  • participating in industry organizations and conferences
  • managing the client relationship—contracts, SOWs (Statements of Work), NDAs (Non-Disclosure Agreements)

How do you make money? How do you decide what to charge?

Things to think about:

  • using hourly rates versus fixed-bid pricing
  • charging different rates for different clients or services
  • estimating projects
  • defining deliverables
  • charging for travel time—whether to charge for your time sitting on an airplane
  • using retainers, incentives, and bonuses
  • billing clients and collecting money

Tips for financial success:

    • Early-payment discounts work.
    • Some companies have 45-day to 60-day payment cycles. Plan for this.
    • Consider asking for a percentage of the payment up front

What do you need to do to start and sustain your business?

Getting started and sustaining your business:

  • Develop your Web site and collateral.
  • Do your business analysis.
    • Understand what it will take to cover the costs of insurance, materials, and resources, plus give yourself a salary.
    • Don’t confuse the company’s profitability with your own salary. Make sure to include both in your analysis.
    • Do not operate as a sole proprietor. Set yourself up as an employee of your own company.
  • Assume you’ll spend some percentage of your time marketing, educating your client audience, and looking for new work.
  • Unless you already have a client lined up when you first get started, you will be unemployed for a while.

How do you grow your business? What is your three-to-five year plan?

To grow your business:

  • Set short-term and long-term goals. Make a one-year and a five-year plan.
  • Stay in an industry niche or branch into new areas.
  • Work with new technologies or industries.
  • Establish, copyright, trademark, and patent methods, services, and products.
  • Participate in industry organizations. Attend, network at, and present at conferences such as the UPA, STC, CHI, HFES, AIGA, vertical market chapters, and so on.
  • Grow your skills and knowledge.
  • Read Good to Great, by Jim Collins.

More considerations for consultants:

  • fighting the consultant image—Sometimes it works to your disadvantage.
  • leveraging the consulting image—Sometimes it works to your benefit. There are many examples where employees were trying to make the right decisions, but management wouldn’t listen, then management finally did listen to the same advice from a consultant.
  • juggling client work
  • juggling work versus home and family
  • working with clients
  • frustrations of project management
  • frustrations of running a business
    • How do you include product development in the mix?
    • How do you deal with competitors?
  • frustrations of having employees
    • How do you handle staff?
    • There is a moral responsibility to take care of the people who work for you. You aren’t just looking out for yourself.
    • Payroll paperwork involves a lot of work. It is highly recommended that you outsource payroll and human-resources (HR) management to payroll and HR firms.
    • Where do you hire staff from?
    • What do you do with difficult staff?
    • Should you offer internships and train people up or hire only experienced people?
    • What are your training policies?

Friday: Closing Plenary: Oh Them? Designing for the Other 4 Billion Users I Forgot About

Presenter: Patrick Whitney

“We have begun to realize the huge social and economic opportunity in designing for people at the bottom of the pyramid.”

Patrick Whitney, Director of the IIT Institute of Design, shown in Figure 1, offered the parting thoughts for the UPA 2007 conference. His talk was a call to action for UX professionals to pay attention to the needs of the people who are at the base of the economic pyramid, where over 60% of the world’s population lives on under $2 a day.

Figure 1—Patrick Whitney giving the closing plenary address

Patrick Whitney
“With consumers at the center, business success is a balancing act between desirability to users, technical feasibility, and economic forces.”

Patrick began by considering the shift that has happened in the relationship between companies and the consumers that use their products. Henry Ford’s statement in 1930s, “Give them what color they want, as long as it’s black,” reflects the old way—when producers were in control. But now, the consumers are in control. As well articulated by an anonymous Wal-Mart customer, producers have received increasing pressure to “Give me what I want, when I want it, in my style, and close to free.” But, as we move forward, we have begun to realize the huge social and economic opportunity in designing for people at the bottom of the pyramid. The question becomes how and what do you design for these markets in light of all the issues around poverty—such as lack of infrastructure, scarcity of water, no land rights, inflow of rural migrants, overcrowding, and so on. Despite these challenges, China has become the “factory to the world” and India the “business-processing outsourcing center of the world.” The growth in these countries as well as in other emerging markets like Brazil and Russia is expanding the middle class by one billion people—a community larger than the top of the pyramid, a community that cannot be ignored.

Next, Patrick examined past and current business models and the opportunities they present, as well as proposed new models based on research conducted at IIT. When producers were in control, the focus was on economies of scale, emphasizing mass production and standardization. With consumers at the center, business success is a balancing act between desirability to users, technical feasibility, and economic forces. In the more traditional models, the major growth opportunities occur during mergers and acquisitions, when companies develop new products and innovations, or when you figure out how to sell existing products to people at the base of the pyramid.

“An innovation gap exists. Most companies know how to make things, but the hard part is deciding what they should make.”

However, an innovation gap exists. Most companies know how to make things, but the hard part is deciding what they should make. The way to address this innovation gap is to take a step back and observe the patterns of daily life—live, work, learn, play. To facilitate this process, Patrick reminded us that we need methods and tools “for developing consumer insights that are as powerful as our methods for developing technology and business models,” particularly those that do not require significant financial investment.

During the China Interactive Home project, the IIT team developed field notebooks as a mechanism for conducting research remotely that yielded rich, consistent data. They could distribute these rigorously structured notebooks in a region, to people who are not necessarily trained in user experience. Teachers and community leaders who are good at talking to others could easily conduct the research, document the data through photos and text—design factors, design criteria, activities, time, people, objects, environment, messages, services, and comments—then FedEx the notebooks back to the research team. At 20% of the cost, these notebooks provided 80% of the data and a variety of insights into the product opportunities that exist in China, particularly

  • buying fresh food
  • families staying in touch
  • helping kids learn
  • managing apartments
  • storage
  • balancing budgets

Subsequently, they conducted studies utilizing this method in India, where the average Indian home is 12x12 feet and contains a single floor a family uses for cooking, sleeping, and conducting a home-based business. The insights from this project led Patrick and his team to iterate on their proposed business model for designing for emerging markets. In addition, they identified specific issues around the quality of and access to water, support for micro-businesses, and housing, which resulted in product or economic designs like Mobile H20, GuildNet, and StepOne Homes.

Patrick and the team at IIT Institute of Design are also working on a user insight tool that will help companies archive, catalog, and later use their research in a new culture, regardless of the particular project for which they originally conducted the research. Having a tool that captures information about the people, objects, environment, messages, and services will help practitioners determine where the breakthrough opportunities are. Patrick, let me know when you’ve finished the tool. I’d love to get my hands on a copy!

Posters, Idea Markets, and Special Interest Groups

Throughout the conference, other types of sessions encouraged knowledge exchange, active engagement, and networking. On Tuesday evening, a special poster review session took place during the welcome reception. And, for those who could not attend the poster review, the posters remained on display in the highly visible location for the remainder of the week shown in Figure 2, offering plenty of exposure and opportunity for discussion.

Figure 2—Posters

Posters

The active discourse continued Wednesday afternoon at the first Idea Market, where facilitators posed burning questions to participants. An Idea Market is a brainstorming free-for-all. Attendees buzz from station to station and share their ideas on selected topics. Being a session facilitators is a great way to get a quick survey of your peers in the industry on a given topic. In a short amount of time, participants generate many great ideas. A second Idea Market was held Friday morning. These are the Idea Market topics I found most interesting across the two days:

  • How can we prepare the next generation of usability professionals?—Susan Kahler
  • What is innovation and how do you innovate through design?—Phil Ohme
  • What’s in your pattern library?—Barb Hernandez and Josephine Scott
  • What makes a good usability professional?—Kathi Kaiser and Lyman Casey
  • How can we optimize agile user-centered design?—Lynn Miller
  • How do we design truly global products?—Kerin Smollen
  • Intuition not required—What are the merits of learnable design?—Nathan Verrill
  • Unknown unknowns and emerging unknowns—How can you design innovative solutions to problems you didn’t know you had?—Andrea Spray

The proactive conversations continued the following evening when simultaneous Special Interest Group (SIG) sessions engaged participants in topics like accessibility, long-distance usability testing, and other topics relevant to the UX community. In addition to the more traditional SIGs, sessions focusing on World Usability Day 2007 generated quite a bit of buzz. On Monday evening, there was a planning meeting where directors Elizabeth Rosenzweig and Caryn Saitz highlighted success stories from 2006 and shared the theme and logistics for the upcoming festivities on November 8, 2007. Following that session, everyone walked a few blocks into the heart of downtown Austin for a dinner filled with laughter and camaraderie. What a fun night! Then, on Wednesday evening, a World Usability Day 2007 kick-off event was open to all conference attendees. Since the 2007 theme is Healthcare, the session began with a panel of presenters who each shared the successes and challenges of doing usability work in the healthcare industry.

Proceedings

“Often presenters do not complete their final slides in time, so the content provided on the CD is out of date and doesn’t match what’s actually presented.”

As part of the conference registration packet, each attendee received a proceedings CD, which contained the slides and/or handouts for each session held on Wednesday through Friday. In theory, the CD could help you to evaluate sessions prior to attending them, based on the merit of their content, not just the brief abstract in the conference program. However, the challenge is: Often presenters do not complete their final slides in time, so the content provided on the CD is out of date and doesn’t match what’s actually presented. Occasionally, presenters bring printed handouts to their sessions to help address the documentation gap. Those handouts quickly become some of the most coveted items at the conference.

To UPA’s credit, in recent years, they have created a post-conference Web site and encouraged presenters to upload their presentation files and other supplemental materials. This minimizes the number of requests for slides presenters must manage and enables attendees to relax and enjoy the presentations without having to scribble feverishly to capture the session content in their notes. However, there are still quite a few sessions missing from both versions of the proceedings. It’s really a matter of presenter discretion and commitment to ensure that they post their content appropriately. So, I’ll use this as an opportunity to remind any presenters who might be reading this review to please upload your conference materials.

To complicate matters slightly, regardless of whether all the presenters posted their slides to the post-conference proceedings on the UPA Web site, you can download the documents only if you are a UPA member. This policy, which is new to the 2007 conference, is fine for existing UPA members and 2007 attendees who joined when they registered for the conference, but for everyone else, is not helpful.

Venue

“Because of its charming personality and accessibility, Austin is a great town for a conference.”

Austin, Texas (shown in Figure 3), is a “weird” little city and quite proud of it. Home to the Texas state capitol, the Whole Foods corporation, live music at every imaginable venue, and lots of tattoo parlors, it’s a perfect blend of the “everything is bigger in Texas” swagger and the self-expressionism often found in the alternative neighborhoods of larger cities. As Austin enthusiasts say, this city represents the “collaborative fission of coordinated individualism.” Because of its charming personality and accessibility, Austin is a great town for a conference.

Figure 3—Austin, Texas, skyline at night

Austin, Texas

Located next door to the Austin Convention Center and a very affordable city parking facility, the Hilton Hotel, shown in Figure 4, was the main venue for UPA 2007. Conference sessions were held primarily on two floors. While the opening and closing plenary sessions, the welcome reception, and daily meals took place inside the grand ballroom, the conference sessions, tutorials, workshops, idea markets, SIGs, vendor fair, and bookstore were spread throughout the remaining conference rooms. With the exception of meal times and networking breaks, when quite a queue formed at the food tables in the hallway outside the grand ballroom, there seemed to be plenty of space to accommodate all conference-related activities. The hotel staff was helpful and professional, and they were able to make room and equipment transitions quickly and seamlessly.

The main drawback of the venue was that the Hilton Hotel did not have enough available guest rooms to accommodate the 700 plus attendees. The reserved block of rooms sold out very quickly, and many attendees were lodged in a variety of hotels within a two-mile radius of the Hilton. There was also an problem that rendered one of the critical escalators unusable for most of the conference, creating a minor traffic flow problem.

Figure 4—UPA 2007 venue

UPA 2007 venue

Hospitality

“On Tuesday night, to kick-off the conference, there were three overlapping welcome receptions: one for newcomers, one for chapter leaders, and another for all conference attendees.”

Since the first three days were devoted to tutorials, workshops, and organizational business, the main conference activities did not begin until Wednesday, June 13, 2007. On Tuesday night, to kick-off the conference, there were three overlapping welcome receptions: one for newcomers, one for chapter leaders, and another for all conference attendees. A mixture of floating hors d’oeuvres and strategically located food stations offering stuffed pastries, grilled veggies, pasta, and drinks encouraged mingling among attendees, as well as visits to vendor booths.

One thing I can say about UPA conferences is that you are fed well—maybe too well. Daily, they provided buffet breakfasts and lunches, and two coffee/tea breaks that offered desserts, ranging from fruits and granola bars to ice cream sundaes, cheesecakes, and churros. All meal times encouraged networking among attendees. On Thursday, the underlying theme for lunch was volunteering. Have you ever wondered about the editorial board for UPA publications, the Body of Knowledge initiative, or exactly how the UPA selects conference presentations, invited speakers, or conference volunteers? This lunch was the perfect opportunity for attendees to learn more about volunteering and possibly volunteer to join the organizational and conference planning efforts.

Thursday night is typically the gala event for the conference. With Austin sites beckoning, this year’s gala was a bit light, including a buffet dinner and a bit of musical entertainment from a local band. Really, the goal was to get everyone out of the hotel to explore the culture of the city. There were so many options, it was hard to choose. But, ultimately, my colleagues and I spent the night singing and clapping the night away with other UPA-goers at Pete’s Dueling Piano Bar (shown in Figure 5), where old favorites like “La Bamba,” “Brown-Eyed Girl,” “Twist and Shout,” and even college fight songs were the evening’s amusement.

Figure 5—Jam session at Pete’s Dueling Pianos

Jam session

Laura Faulkner and the hospitality team did a great job organizing activities this year. Throughout the conference, there was an Austin booth where you could talk to a local resident to get information and ask questions about the city. In addition, they organized activities like bat-watching at dusk (shown in Figure 6), bike riding along Austin’s many rivers, hiking through other natural settings, and touring the town.

Figure 6—Bat-watching at dusk on a river

Bat-watching

Community

“Typically, the UPA conference attracts 500–600 attendees—a group large and varied enough to enable interesting and meaningful discourse, yet intimate enough to let you make personal and career-impacting connections.”

I attended my first UPA conference in 2002, in Orlando, Florida. At the time, I was the sole usability professional on a team of 400+ system engineers, system architects, product managers, software engineers, and hardware engineers. Although a few of my peers understood the importance of user experience, I was in great need of a community of like-minded individuals in which I could exchange ideas, discuss new methodologies, share organizational woes, and brainstorm about techniques for institutionalizing usability. That conference and the encouragement I received there was life changing. I have always found the UPA community warm, welcoming, and supportive, and this is what has drawn me to attend and actively participate in UPA over the 5 years since Orlando.

Typically, the UPA conference attracts 500–600 attendees—a group large and varied enough to enable interesting and meaningful discourse, yet intimate enough to let you make personal and career-impacting connections. Although UPA’s focus leans heavily toward practitioners, with special emphasis on usability testing, the conference population represents a nice mix of disciplines, including ethnographers, marketers, testers, interaction designers, media designers, software developers, and managers. There’s always a core group of people who make the yearly trek to UPA:

  • current and former UPA Board Members—Thyra Rauch, Paul Sherman, Susan Dray, Nigel Bevan, and Whitney Quesenbery, among others
  • a pool of experts who come to share their latest work—Aaron Marcus, Larry Constantine, Ginny Reddish, Kath Straub, and more
  • as well as a host of impassioned usability experts from around the world, who form the fabric of this community

This year was no different. With over 700 attendees, many of the familiar faces were there, but so were many newcomers. Not only was there an increase in the number of individual attendees, but also in the number of companies who participated in the conference activities. A dramatic increase in the number of postings on the jobs board and materials on the information tables reflected the upswing the industry has experienced in the past year or two. In addition, participation in the Exhibitor Fair, shown in Figure 7, reached a peak, with booths from companies like Fieldwork, Human Factors International, T-Mobile, TechSmith, OneSpring, iRise, Eureka Software, Intuitect, Perficient, Tobii Technology, Inc., OVO Studios, Google, UserZoom, MadPow, UXalliance, Keynote Systems, User Centric, Inc., Noldus Information Technology, and SirValUse Consulting.

Figure 7—Exhibitor Fair

Exhibitor Fair
“While the UPA community is pretty tightly knit, I do admit that sometimes I wish we were a bit better coordinated with the CHI community.”

While the UPA community is pretty tightly knit, I do admit that sometimes I wish we were a bit better coordinated with the CHI community. These are two very closely related organizations. This year, CHI changed their submission process. The CHI 2008 deadlines for some submissions categories were earlier than usual. It just so happened that the final day of the UPA 2007 conference coincided with the first CHI 2008 deadlines. Many senior practitioners in the UPA community also regularly participate in the CHI community. On Thursday evening and Friday afternoon, some UPA attendees skipped out on conference activities and interesting presentations as they scrambled to wrap up their abstracts in time for the pending submission deadlines for CHI 2008. Yes, you might say they should have managed their time better and completed their submissions before the conference. But there’s also an interesting synergy that could occur if the two communities were partners in a well-coordinated dance. Lessons learned from the sessions and the connections people made at the UPA conference might generate new ideas and paper collaborations that would result in very interesting submissions to the next CHI and vice versa. Since many leaders—both at the international level and in local chapters—participate actively in both communities, let’s make an effort to coordinate activities in this coming year. Call me idealistic, but I am allowed to dream.

Conclusion

“Now that the industry is thriving again and organizations are seeing user experience as a strategic business component, this year was particularly exciting.”

I have always enjoyed UPA conferences. But now that the industry is thriving again and organizations are seeing user experience as a strategic business component, this year was particularly exciting. Reconnecting with old friends and making new ones was the highlight of my week.

During the conference, an undercurrent seemed to ebb and flow throughout the conference sessions and hallway sidebars: concern about who we are as a discipline and where we are going. I think the industry is at a critical stage. All professional associations within the UX community have an opportunity to embrace the UX community in all of its variety and a duty to help offer clarity and direction. While we came to no conclusions this week, a lot of interesting dialogue took place. In particular, I was really excited by some of the conversations I had with some of the UPA leadership during this conference. In the face of the coming identity crisis for usability, as we expand and diversify our collective body of knowledge, I think our leaders are asking the right questions about where we are going as a field, what communities within user experience UPA seeks to serve, and how they can optimize their offerings for practitioners—not just at the conferences, but during the in-between months as well. I’d like to suggest they give increased attention to the UPA Body-of-Knowledge initiative, as well as to organizing special conference tracks or persistent SIGs for designers, UX managers, and UX consultants, as well as to SIGs on hot topics like green awareness and socially responsible design.

With this in mind, I look forward to next year, when the UPA will host two conferences. UPA 2008 will take place June 16–20 in Baltimore, Maryland, USA, and UPA Europe 2008 will be held in Torino, Italy, in the winter. With the themes Holistic Usability and Usability and Design, respectively, UPA is on the right track. I am sure the conference chairs, Allain Robillard-Bastien, Kate Caldwell, Michele Visciola, and Silvia Zimmerman, and their conference planning committees will organize two great events.

Photographs by Joi Roberts and Ron Yoder.

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Conference Review: UPA 2007: Part I

1 Comment

Very good summary!

You are right about the foods. We were being fed constantly with good-quality foods.

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