With over 300 international volunteers managing submissions of proposals for workshops and sessions, evaluating student projects, selecting the conference venue, and planning the flow of the event, it was obvious why the quality of this conference was so high.
Once the volunteers reviewed the workshop and session proposals, a conference committee selected the final presentations for this UPA Conference. The dedicated cadre of volunteers included the UPA board and officers. All of the volunteers had an interest in creating a high-quality conference experience for all levels of usability professionals. I and the 29 other on-site volunteers had a great time and made amazing connections. I recommend the volunteer experience for students, second-career newbies, and the underemployed.
In Figure 1, I have segmented the conference events into categories to illustrate the balance of the conference schedule.
Content and Presenters
There were three tracks of pre-conference tutorials and conference sessions: General, Usability Fundamentals—for those new to the field of usability—and Advanced Practitioners. Thus, level of usability expertise generally determined the division of the conference material into tracks. I have further divided the tracks by facets of the usability discipline. The entire schedule of sessions for the conference is available on the UPA site.
There were nine full-day and ten half-day tutorials, each having between four and eighty attendees. The tuition for the tutorials could be pricey—full-day tutorials ranged from $250 to $990; half-day tutorials, $125 to $490. Each attendee’s registration date, conference registration, and UPA membership determined the tuition. However, the tutorials’ price did not seem to keep away many registrants. People’s comments to me and the evaluations I saw indicated that attendees were very satisfied with the value of the tutorials. In addition to their slide decks, tutorials included spiral-bound exercises and notes.
On Tuesday, June 21, evening tutorials commenced at 6 pm. These three-hour sessions were priced at $300 and included both encores of some favorite tutorials and new presentations. The presenters were experienced and respected usability professionals.
Some tutorials on the General track included the following:
- “Agile UX Toolkit”—See review below.
- “Practical Statistics for User Research”—See review below.
- “Designing with the Mind in Mind”—In this half-day tutorial, Jeff Johnson covered material from his well-received primer on cognitive science, of the same name.
- “Mindstorming: Collaborating to Inspire and Effect Social Change”—
Dante Murphy’s entire presentation is available on SlideShare.
Agile UX Toolkit
This full-day tutorial about how to integrate user-centered design practices into agile teams, by Desiree Sy and John Schrag, of Autodesk, had the heaviest participant registration. The slides and supporting material are available on the Autodesk blog.
The presenters spent the entire morning on agile UX planning topics and exercises, including the participation of User Experience during iteration zero and iteration planning activities. In the afternoon, they covered differences in how UX professionals work on agile development projects, such as making UX activities more incremental and continuous. Topics included incremental implementation and incremental design. The day ended with a discussion of agile communication modes and best practices for communicating UX issues.
The instructors asked participants to lay out, then adjust a planning board or to consider how to break up a user story that is too big to complete in one iteration. Participants had to consider how to do things incrementally, continuously, iteratively, and collaboratively in the agile process.
The feedback from participants on this session was overwhelmingly positive, though a few commented that the amount of content was overwhelming. Positive comments included the following: “Great presenters, with a lot of knowledge about the topic.” “Valuable content and relevant.” “Very thorough, very professional. Funny, too.” “Good anecdotal support.”
Practical Statistics for User Research
The instructors, Jeff Sauro and James Lewis, have impressive experience in statistical analysis and human factors. As a volunteer, I chose this tutorial assignment. Applying statistical analysis techniques to usability can be challenging, so this full-day tutorial provided an opportunity to understand the variables.
The tutorial participants needed notebook computers and Internet access to work on sample exercises. The instructors designed the exercises to cover a range of measurement scenarios. They gave participants a measurement scenario and data, then asked them to identify the appropriate statistical measurement technique, using a branching structure of variables to pinpoint the correct technique. For example, in the case of a big redesign, an iterative testing process, involving a small number of users, could identify the major usability problems with a high confidence level. The same group of users could meaningfully evaluate two prototype interfaces to determine the preferred design. Participants also learned to determine whether a usability test has met or exceeded a goal.
Usability Fundamentals Track
Some excellent tutorials on the Usability Fundamentals track included the following:
- “An In-Depth Introduction to Fieldwork”—Susan Dray, an international luminary in usability and human factors conducted this sold-out, full-day tutorial. Her viewpoint, “If the user can’t use it, it doesn’t work,” is a pillar of usability. The goal of this interactive tutorial was to improve the integration of observational field research into UX design. Group exercises demonstrated four types of field research techniques: naturalistic observation, contextual inquiry, artifact walkthrough, and naturalistic usability evaluation.
- “A Step-by-Step Guide to Online (Unmoderated) Usability Testing”—Bill Albert, Donna Tedesco, and Tom Tullis presented this full-day tutorial on how to plan, design, conduct, and analyze online usability tests. It must have been great. Tom Tullis received a UPA lifetime achievement award for over thirty years of leadership in the field of usability. Tom and the other instructors for this tutorial have written extensively about usability measurement, and I highly recommend their publications.
- “Better Usability Through Visualization”—I attended this three-hour workshop, which was led by Chuck Konfrst, of OneSpring. This brief workshop emphasized the savings one can achieve by using visualizations to improve the requirements elicitation process. Some facts Chuck offered: 30% of project costs are reworks. 70% of reworks result from requirements errors. Therefore, the communication process for determining user needs and tasks is critical to successful design projects. In my opinion, the skills requirements of current job descriptions?overemphasize tool experience rather than expertise in communications with users. Using visualizations can contribute to our avoiding misunderstandings in communicating with users. The workshop included some fun role playing, and we all benefitted from the presenters’ experience. Unfortunately, he highlighted the use of one very expensive, high-fidelity software product during the workshop. However, I believe low-fidelity methods are better for initial requirements discussions.