Conference Review: UX STRAT 2013, Part 1

By Pabini Gabriel-Petit

Published: October 21, 2013

Organization
Content
Presenters
Proceedings
Venue
Hospitality
Community

This first-ever UX STRAT conference generated a lot of excitement in the UX community and brought together many leading thinkers on UX strategy—making for an interesting dialogue on UX strategy topics among both presenters and audience members. It was great to come together with like-minded UX professionals who are collectively moving the practice of UX strategy forward. UX STRAT 2013 took place in Atlanta, Georgia, at the Georgia Tech Global Learning Center, and spanned two days—September 10–11—following a full day of pre-conference workshops. (You can read our workshop reviews.)

Organization

UX STRAT 2013 was a very well-organized conference. When you consider that this was the inaugural UX STRAT conference, the job that Paul Bryan, shown in Figure 1, and his team did was nothing short of phenomenal. In addition to Paul, the rest of the core team that organized the conference included Mark Schraad, Shane McWhorter, Jenny Sun, and Andrew Schechterman. I’m sure they found the generous advice they received from the organizers of other UX conferences helpful—including UXPA, WebVisions, UX Hong Kong, User Experience Lisbon, the EPIC Conference, IA Summit, and Interaction 13.

Figure 1—Paul Bryan, primary organizer and host of UX STRAT 2013

Paul Bryan, primary organizer and host of UX STRAT 2013

Photo by Pat Lang

Since UX STRAT was a single-track conference, everyone shared a very similar conference experience. Of course, planning a conference program for a single track makes the almost flawless selection of presenters and topics essential to delivering a successful conference.

“This first-ever UX STRAT conference generated a lot of excitement in the UX community and brought together many leading thinkers on UX strategy….”

Paul Bryan acted as host throughout the conference, opening and closing each day of the conference with brief remarks and introducing the speakers. Throughout the day, he and a cadre of volunteers made sure that everyone knew everything they needed to know to keep things running smoothly and be in the right place, at the right time. In closing the conference, Paul conducted an informal, verbal survey, asking the audience questions about the ways in which the conference had or had not been successful, as well as our preferences for the next UX STRAT conference.

The only real snafu that marred the near perfection of this conference was attendees’ inability to sign up for the workshops of their choice in advance of the conference. As a consequence, jetlagged attendees had to line up early on the morning of September 9 to sign up for workshops, and some who had registered for the workshops well before the conference were unable to get into the workshops they had hoped to attend. To accommodate popular demand, two of the workshops became oversubscribed, necessitating the booking of larger rooms for them and catching their presenters unawares, with insufficient handouts for all participants.

Content & Presenters

“The conference lived up to its promise, delivering both breadth and depth of content on key UX strategy topics.”

The conference lived up to its promise, delivering both breadth and depth of content on key UX strategy topics. Overall, the program committee did an excellent job of choosing effective presenters and interesting topics. A few topics misfired—a couple of case studies that failed to deliver content that would be relevant to most UX strategists and a closing presentation that spent too much time establishing a metaphor for innovation and lacked any real payoff. But most of the sessions were very good to great!

According to Paul Bryan’s July 2013 UX Strategy column on UXmatters, “UX STRAT 2013 Conference Focuses on UX Strategy,” the program committee “organized the UX STRAT sessions into thematic blocks, with the intent of giving attendees a comprehensive overview of the key activities within the practice of UX strategy.” But, oddly, neither the conference handouts nor the information on the UX STRAT site called out these themes, which really were the backbone of the conference:

  • Establishing a Foundation for UX Strategy
  • UX Strategy Methods and Processes
  • Aligning UX with Business Strategy
  • Using Data to Guide UX Strategy
  • UX Strategy in the Organization

Each day of the conference consisted of an opening keynote address—both excellent—some longer talks—lasting between half an hour and 45 minutes—and some brief, 15-minute “vignettes.”

In Parts 2 and 3 of our review of UX STRAT 2013, we’ll cover the conference sessions in detail.

Proceedings

“Attendees … received some small cards that outlined each day’s schedule…. I found the schedules very handy and easy to use.”

When attendees signed in at the registration desk, we received some small cards, shown in Figure 2, that outlined each day’s schedule and provided lists of nearby restaurants and bars. I found the schedules very handy and easy to use. Since the conference comprised only a single track, a detailed program wasn’t really necessary. The UX STRAT Web site was beautifully designed and provided all essential information. But when I sought greater detail about the sessions on the UX STRAT site during the conference, I found that my bookmark to the site had broken. The Web address had very unexpectedly changed when the conference began.

Figure 2—Handy schedules

Handy schedules

Presenters have posted all but one of the presentations from the conference sessions on SlideShare, which is great, but there are no links to these presentations on the UX STRAT site. Thanks to all of the presenters who shared their presentations!

When the conference organizers post information about future UX STRAT conferences on their Web site, I hope they’ll move the information about this year’s conference to a 2013 subdomain or archival section. It would be a shame to lose this historical information.

Venue

“The Georgia Tech Global Learning Center is an absolutely fabulous venue for a small conference.”

The Georgia Tech Global Learning Center is an absolutely fabulous venue for a small conference. A relatively new, modern, and very well maintained facility, the Learning Center provided large rooms for workshops, a very nice auditorium for the main conference, shown in Figures 3 and 4, and ample space to accommodate a break room and dining rooms where we gathered for lunch.

Figure 3—Nathan Shedroff on stage at UX STRAT

Nathan Shedroff on stage at UX STRAT

Photo by Pat Lang

Figure 4—A packed auditorium at UX STRAT

A packed auditorium at UX STRAT

Photo by Pat Lang

I was lucky to be able to book a room at the adjoining Georgia Tech Hotel, shown in Figure 5, which prevented my having to venture out of doors in the heat and humidity of daytime in Atlanta—quite uncomfortable weather for a native Californian from the San Francisco Bay Area. The room was comfortable, and I enjoyed my stay there. Being in such close proximity to the conference venue eased the conference’s early-morning start.

Figure 5Georgia Tech Hotel and Learning Center

Georgia Tech Hotel and Learning Center

Each day, it was a rush to end the sessions in time to get everyone out of the building before the overagressive staff locked the building’s doors. It was particularly annoying that they locked the door to the attached hotel so early.

Hospitality

“It was good to get out into the surrounding neighborhood in the evening and experience the local community. The area around Georgia Tech feels very hospitable and safe.”

The conference organizers provided a continental breakfast before the conference began each morning, which because of the conference’s early start time, I failed to experience. The food served at breaks was rather sparse and unappetizing, and there were long lines for the coffee dispensers. Since I’d missed breakfast, I was really hoping for some fresh, cut fruit, but I was disappointed in that hope. The organizers should have realized that some people would miss the early breakfast and, thus, would want something good to eat at the first break. This was the most poorly planned part of each day.

A caterer laid out a buffet lunch downstairs each day. Attendees helped themselves, then found a table where they could share a meal with friends, old and new. The round tables were conducive to having good conversations. Most people seemed to enjoy the food, but as a vegan, I was pretty completely out of luck. All of the vegetables were made with butter and, one day, even the salad had grated cheese on it. In general, conferences at hotels do a better job of accommodating special dietary needs.

Most of the evening gatherings took place at the Barrelhouse, a brew pub that was just a brief walk from the Georgia Tech Learning Center. I generally prefer conference hospitality events that occur in hotel ballrooms rather than noisy bars where having meaningful conversations becomes difficult and the experience of socializing with conference-goers is diluted by the presence of others not attending the conference. But it was good to get out into the surrounding neighborhood in the evening and experience the local community. The area around Georgia Tech feels very hospitable and safe.

Community

“It was great to be part of this first coming together of the UX strategy community that has formed around the UX Strategy and Planning group that Paul Bryan founded on LinkedIn.”

It was great to be part of this first coming together of the UX strategy community that has formed around the UX Strategy and Planning group that Paul Bryan founded on LinkedIn. During the conference, I met up with old friends, as well as some UXmatters authors I’d never met in person, and formed some new friendships. I look forward to having the opportunity to develop these relationships further at future UX STRAT conferences. This is a wonderful community of UX professionals who are pushing the boundaries of UX strategy practice and continuously experimenting and learning. It was good to share the challenges and the successes that we experience in our work and learn about how our peers are dealing with problems that are similar to our own.

UX strategy is a rapidly growing practice with great appeal to UX professionals who want to explore deeper problems, engage in design thinking, provide business value, and have strategic impact through our work. If these are your goals, you should attend the next UX STRAT conference and contribute to the fascinating conversation about UX strategy. I hope to see you there!

Conclusion

“Overall, UX STRAT 2013 was a great conference! The content and the community are the two most important parts of a conference, and I enjoyed both immensely at UX STRAT.”

Overall, UX STRAT 2013 was a great conference! The content and the community are the two most important parts of a conference, and I enjoyed both immensely at UX STRAT. I even took away a few new ideas from this conference that I intend to employ in my work. Most conferences are more about community and conversations—which are usually the source of whatever insights are to be had at a conference—rather than about sessions providing an educational experience. However, because this conference is at the cutting edge of UX strategy practice, it provides more of a learning experience than most conferences do.

Look for detailed reviews of the conference sessions in Part 2 and Part 3 of this three-part review of UX STRAT 2013, in upcoming editions of UXmatters.

Thanks to Pat Lang for contributing his photos.

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