User Friendly 2007: Connecting User Experience Communities
Published: March 24, 2008
User Friendly 2007 was held in Beijing on November 23–25, 2007, as shown in Figure 1, and—like the previous conferences in Beijing (2004), Shanghai (2005), and Hangzhou (2006)—was a rousing success. UPA China saw the 2007 event as an opportunity to return to Beijing, giving attendees the opportunity to visit the 2008 Olympics host city as it prepares for its moment in the spotlight.
The capital of China, Beijing is the heart of China’s economy and culture. With a 3000-year history, there are many places of interest for people to see—such as the Great Wall of China, The Forbidden City, Summer Palace, Temple of Heaven, and many more.
Figure 1—User Friendly 2007 banner
User Friendly 2007 conference attendees enjoyed a diverse range of topics. The official program shown in Figure 2 included sessions on the Business of UX, Telecom, Software/Web, Industrial Products, Usability of Public Services, and Education. Invited speakers came from China and around the world.
Figure 2—User Friendly 2007 program
Attendees enjoyed the facilities of the Jiuhua Spa & Resort, which gave them an opportunity to relax, indulge in a traditional foot massage, and talk to people outside the conference environment. Shared meals—like that shown in Figure 3—were an important part of connecting with people at User Friendly.
Figure 3—Feasting at User Friendly
For those experiencing China for the first time, the setting offered a wide range of activities, including a visit to the Great Wall of China shown in Figure 4.
Figure 4—Conference attendees visiting the Great Wall of China
It’s been exciting to watch the growth of the UX community in China, which first attracted international notice in 2004 when UPA China held its first conference. That conference was remarkable, because it took place only a few months after the first UPA China meeting—a mini-conference featuring talks on human factors and usability testing in China. As Whitney Quesenbery wrote in her report on the User Friendly 2004 conference, “It’s All Happening in China: A Report from User Friendly 2004,” “One of the great things about this conference is that people who had never met before, who didn’t even know the others existed, could share experiences and knowledge.”
It has been encouraging to see the same passion and excitement for the field exists in 2008, with people now looking at how to further refine and mature their skill sets as topics like Usability, User Experience, and Design are getting the attention of companies in China.
User Friendly 2005–2006
In 2005, User Friendly was held in the modern and ever-changing city of Shanghai. In his review of the conference, “A Glimpse of China’s Future at User Friendly 2005,” Robert Barlow-Busch wrote, “Shanghai is reportedly one of the world’s top five most populous cities—and is developing so rapidly that locals sometimes find its changing landscape disorienting. After participating in UF2005, I’m left with the impression that the design and usability professions in China are developing at a similar rate.”
User Friendly 2006 brought over 500 people together, with the conference expanding from two to three 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.
UX in China: A 2007 Snapshot
Kicking off the conference, Jason Huang, President of UPA China, presented a retrospective of the Chinese UX community. His presentation, shown in Figure 5, was based on a UPA China survey of its membership. The goal of the survey was to better understand the development of the UX industry in China and facilitate its growth.
Figure 5—User Friendly 2007 opening ceremony in Beijing
In his talk, Jason highlighted some interesting facts:
- The Chinese UX community is young, with a majority of people in the 18–35-year-old range, like those in the working group shown in Figure 6.
- Over 85% of respondents have less than 3 years of experience in the industry.
- A large proportion of people work in the domains of the Internet, communications, and software.
- 70% of the respondents are individual contributors—not in management roles.
- Job titles include User Interface Designer, Interaction Designer, Usability Engineer, Technician (Researcher), Technical Administrator, User-Centered Design (UCD) Engineer, Graphic User Interface (GUI) Designer, and Software Engineer.
Figure 6—A UX working group discusses home page design
UX Trends in China
Sessions like Paul Sherman’s presentation on “Changing Processes and Cultures: Setbacks and Successes on the Road to Building Customer-Centric Product Teams,” shown in Figure 7, highlighted trends in the profession of user experience.
Figure 7—Paul Sherman presents
Over the years at the User Friendly conferences, observations and conversations indicate the following:
- UX managers are looking for expert advice on how to manage teams and communicate their value internally.
- Practitioners want deeper knowledge and advice on more advanced topics from ethnographic research to usability testing—for example, how to look for patterns in data, how to maintain a database of findings, how to bring results more effectively into design, and so on.
- People whose secondary focus is usability—that is, professionals like Business Analysts, for whom usability is not their main job function—look to the conference to provide them with further training and information about how to migrate to a usability role within their companies.
- Local practitioners are starting to present their usability experience globally, giving the international community a taste of tools and approaches they are using in China.
- Designers working in roles like Visual Design seek help on how to move into job functions like Interaction Design, including how to communicate their results more effectively across their organizations.
- People recognize the need to further research and understand the needs of Chinese users—both to discover cultural differences and look at how companies developing products both within and outside China can more optimally design products for the Chinese market.
- Local product teams are striving to implement usability techniques more rapidly within their development lifecycles, without compromising quality.
- There is a continuing trend to open doors to other emerging UX communities like those in Japan, Korea, and India and encourage knowledge sharing.
- Local UX leaders are taking the lead in helping Chinese companies move from a manufacturing mindset to a design and innovation mindset. As Liya Zheng wrote in “Design in China—Taking a Great Leap Forward—The Rise of the Chinese Experience Economy,” “Currently, China’s economy is largely based on a manufacturing-age mindset. This mindset causes the workflow of a product development organization to resemble that of the old assembly line. Everyone is responsible for one task and is rewarded for successfully doing just that. When that task is completed, it is passed on to the next person. Design is just one function in this linear process, where collaboration and teamwork is a foreign idea. The product manager writes the specification and gets a design resource to finish “drawing up the concept.” Despite the current situation, I believe that Chinese companies will join the rest of the world in the Experience Economy sooner than we would think. The Chinese economy has been growing at rate that many of us can’t ignore. The government, while still politically far removed from the world, is committed to growing the economy at GDP (Gross Domestic Product) rates in the teens on average. Thus, Chinese companies will realize, like their Western counterparts, that Design thinking will need to be core to their organizational structure.”
- Practitioners are looking for ways of embedding user-centered thinking not only into Web sites, but also the development of products.
- We have only begun to touch on the area of mobile design and usability, as both mobile hardware manufacturers and service providers in China seek to market and sell their products and services more effectively both in China and overseas and are also looking at cross-channel experiences.
- UX professionals recognize the opportunity to learn skills that enable them to understand user needs through early research with users that can help drive product design and innovation. Of course, this requires Chinese companies to better understand the value of user-centered design and be willing to invest the time up front.
- People no longer think of usability testing as a commodity service.
A capacity crowd, shown in Figure 8, enjoyed a talk by Jeff Veen, of Google, about “Designing for the Future Web.”
Figure 8—Listening to Jeff Veen
User Friendly Going Forward
We hope the User Friendly conference will continue to be one of the leading conferences for the international and local UX communities, for many years to come, bringing people together who want to come and learn more about user experience in China and truly connect user experience communities.
“User experience practitioners have an exciting future and an increasingly strategic role to fill. A key topic to address when we look into our industry’s future is how can Chinese and foreign companies use our talents to help them succeed in the global market place.”—Liya Zheng
User Friendly 2008
User Friendly 2008 will take place in Shenzhen, in October 2008, and we look forward to your participation. Shenzhen, previously a fishing village, is about a 40-minute train ride from Hong Kong. The late Chinese leader, Deng Xiaoping, chose Shenzhen to be the first of the Special Economic Zones (SEZ) in China, in the late 1970s, because of its proximity to Hong Kong. It was an experimental ground for capitalism within “socialism with Chinese characteristics.” Shenzhen is now a bustling city with many interesting things to see and do.
We would like to take this opportunity to thank the UPA China team for their hard work, dedication, and enthusiasm in making the User Friendly conference what it is today and to thank the speakers who, over the years, have committed their time and effort visiting China and helping promote the usability profession in China.