Conference Review: IA Summit 2011: Part III

March 20, 2012

At long last, here’s Part III—the final part—of my IA Summit 2011 review. Between a very busy time at work and publishing and editing UXmatters, I’ve had very little time for writing over the last year. You’ll find the other two parts of my review here:

I hope reading this review might prompt you to consider attending IA Summit 2012, which will take place at the Hyatt Regency in New Orleans, Louisiana, March 21–25. I highly recommend that you do. Of the various annual conferences presented by UX professional organizations that I’ve attended, this conference is my favorite. Because—don’t let the name fool you—this really is a user experience conference. There’s great content on almost every aspect of user experience—including information architecture, of course—likely because of the diverse community of UX professionals who attend the Summit each year. And it’s a very friendly, fun community, too.

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Content & Presenters: Highlights of Days 2 and 3 of the Main Conference

Here are my reviews of some of the sessions that I attended on Days 2 and 3 of the conference.

More Session Highlights from Day 2

On Day 2—Saturday, April 2nd—I enjoyed the following conference sessions:

  • Discussing Design: The Art of Critique—Adam Connor and Aaron Irizarry
  • Lean IA: Getting Out of the Deliverables Business—Jeff Gothelf—See Part I of my IA Summit review for an in-depth review of this excellent session.
  • The User Experience Brief: What, Why, and How—John Yesko
  • Beyond Digital: What IAs Need to Know About Service Design—Jess McMullin, Samantha Starmer, Andrea Resmini, and Priyanka Kakar
  • DIY Mobile Usability Testing—Belén Barros Pena and Bernard Tyers

Discussing Design: The Art of Critique

Presenters: Adam Connor and Aaron Irizarry

Aaron Irizarry—UX designer at IGN Entertainment—and Adam Connor—Senior Experience Designer at Mad*Pow and a colleague of our UXmatters columnist Michael Hawley—who are both shown in Figure 1, spoke about the value of design critiques and how best to approach them. I gleaned this important point from the summary of their talk in the program: An effective design critique requires understanding why a designer has chosen a particular design solution, then examining whether it meets or fails to meet its defined goals through a dialogue that ultimately helps the designer to assess what work remains to achieve those goals.

Figure 1—Aaron Irizarry and Adam Connor
Aaron Irizarry and Adam Connor

During their excellent presentation, Aaron and Adam provided many best practices for both giving and receiving a design critique—Figure 2 shows an introductory slide—and described the challenges people commonly encounter in delivering critique and how to overcome them.

Figure 2Giving and receiving a design critique
Giving and receiving a design critique

Aaron and Adam offered the following advice:

  • “There are two facets to critique: giving and receiving.”
  • “Giving critique with the right intent is selfless.”
  • “Gather initial thoughts and reactions, then revisit them in the right context.”
  • “Find out the reason behind their thinking.”
  • “Lead with questions. The best critique is always a dialogue.”
  • “Receiving critique with the right intent takes humility.”
  • “Remember the purpose: improvement, not judgment.”
  • “Make sure the person you’re giving feedback to wants to hear it.”
  • “Don’t take critiques personally.”
  • “Listening is critical.”
  • “Refer feedback to goals.”
  • “Being able to critique is a core skill of a designer.”
  • “Why is formal critique valuable? It helps us to get with a mindset of improvement.”
  • “Think before you speak. Formulate a response. If your response doesn’t have the intent of improving the product, don’t say it.”
  • “Send your design out ahead of time. Set up the design goals at the beginning. Present the goals quickly, then walk through the design. Don’t talk about constraints.”
  • “You don’t have to explain every decision you made. Let those things come out during the process.“
  • “One of the greatest things about formal critique is that you can put some structure around it.”
  • “Try not to use moderators. Work into facilitating things on your own.”
  • “Ask ‘How does that benefit our persona?’”
  • “Don’t be afraid to call a timeout and take a person out into the hall and ask, ‘What’s up?’”
  • “Always communicate next steps.‘ In the next meeting, we’re going to be talking about….’”
  • “You’re doing this in the context of getting help. Thank people.”
  • “In respect to review, the expectation is that I’ll tell you what’s wrong, and you’ll go fix it.”
  • “A lot of times, people are intimidated by the process and come out with guns blazing. They want to establish dominance.”
  • “If people are giving opinions, not improving the product, involve them more in the design process.”
  • “Let them know you’re taking feedback, and it’s up to you to decide.”

Figure 3 shows Adam Connor and Aaron Irizarry’s full presentation, “Discussing Design: The Art of Critique,” on SlideShare. This well-crafted presentation uses a nice blend of humorous photos and succinct text to make its points.

Figure 3—Adam and Aaron’s presentationPresentation on SlideShare

The User Experience Brief: The What and Why Before the How

Presenter: John Yesko

John Yesko, Director of User Experience at Walgreen’s, shown in Figure 4, believes in “working faster and less formally, but we often jump into very tactical, design-oriented deliverables too hastily. The user experience brief is an early-stage, strategic document that establishes what we know from our discovery process and how we intend to attack a project. It’s for stakeholders and the ‘downstream’ team. It’s important to start building consensus early.”

Figure 4—John Yesko
John Yesko

John on creating user experience briefs: “There’s no one right way to do this. It has to be tailored to the project. It varies in length depending on needs—and the attention span of the audience. A design brief is composed of insights from lots of different areas, including stakeholder insights—the opinions of the people signing our checks and letting us have our jobs.”

Composition of the User Experience Brief:

  1. Project overview
  2. User experience inputs—We leverage many inputs, including insights from analytics, user research, things we’ve observed, personas and scenarios, competitive analysis, stakeholders, and UX heuristics. There are a lot of influencers, but our team are the decision makers. We care about what customers think.
  3. Organizing principles—We interpret these extremely loosely—fundamentals and strategies we’ll observe while designing, major areas of UX focus, all of the things we think are important to discuss, our high-level design approach, our design philosophy. These principles range from the very general—UX guidelines—to the very specific—project-specific design ideas.
  4. Deliverables—We may include concept maps, user flows, high-level wireframes, suggestions of look and feel.
  5. Issues and risks—We try to avoid surprises. Considerations include the risks and limitations for this type of deliverable.
    1. The design direction can become out of date very quickly as details are fleshed out.
    2. It can create a perception of added time that could be spent designing, but it actually saves time in the long run.
    3. Stakeholders may not understand what they’re agreeing to.”

Figure 5 shows here the user experience brief fits in the overall UX process. “The user experience brief is a presentation, not a document,” said John. “The key people are in the room, so they know what they’re going to get. Scoping of requirements gets done before creating the user experience brief, which acts as a clarification of scope. The user experience brief previews the functionality for developers. We’ve defined our own UX process, which allows four to six weeks for creating the user experience brief. Its length depends on the nature of the work, but could be 100 pages. We don’t put anything in there that will put us into a corner. We don’t start design without having the proper information.”

Figure 5—Where the user experience brief fits in the UX process
Where the user experience brief fits in the process

In summary, John said, “The user experience brief helps us survey the situation, encourages collaboration early—so we can save time we’d spending defending our decisions later—and builds credibility for user experience. It demonstrates that a lot goes into the design process. It positions us as strategic thinkers and experience planners, not order-takers.”

John gave a great talk on an important topic that deserves more attention. Figure 6 shows John Yesko’s entire presentation, “The User Experience Brief,” on SlideShare.

Figure 6—John’s presentationPresentation on SlideShare

Beyond Digital: What IAs Need to Know About Service Design

Panelists: Jess McMullin, Samantha Starmer, Andrea Resmini, and Priyanka Kakar

This lively panel, shown in Figure 7, on the hot topic of service design was one of only two panels that I caught during the Summit.

Figure 7—The panelists discussing service design
Panelists discussing service design

Here are a few highlights from their presentations and discussion.

Jess McMullin

Jess works as a freelance user experience consultant and recently launched the Centre for Citizen Experience to promote design innovation in the public sector.

  • “User experience is digital product design.”
  • “Customer experience is used more in the US and Canada than service design.
  • “Service design focuses on services rather than users or customers, so is more business oriented.”
  • “In customer experience, channels and customers are the touchpoints. Interactions occur at the touchpoints.”
  • “Defining moments are how human memories are created—the highs and lows of experiences live long term in memory.”
  • Challenges of Service Design:
    • “Actors in a service experience are frontstage and backstage.
    • “Support functions are things that never come into contact with customers, but make a service possible.
    • “Services are intangibles
    • “The evidence of services are cues and affordances.”

  • “What stakeholders care about is just as important as users.”
  • “Can one person do it all? No.”
Figure 8—

Priyanka Kakar

As a Client Experience Design Manager at Vanguard, Priyanka leads multi-channel service design for their high-net-worth clients.

  • “We design for humans, building connections across multiple channels.”
  • “Experience maps capture interactions across customer channels.”
  • “The time elapsed between touchpoints is the holistic experience.”
  • “We build channel connections that are channel agnostic.”
  • “It’s best when customers are using multiple channels simultaneously.”
  • “To customers, interactions are part of an ongoing conversation.”
  • “Build relationships, not processes.”
  • “Create a culture of learning from storytelling.”
  • “Those services that meet latent needs are most important.”
  • “Deliverables have to fit the situation.”

Samantha Starmer

Samantha described service design at REI, where she leads the experience, design and information architecture teams.

  • “Semantics have become really important, so I don’t use the term service design anymore. People understand customer experience and cross-channel experience better. Terminology matters. We had to start sharing each other’s terminology.”
  • “Information is the foundation for providing good services. Information has to be shared across channels.”
  • “Cross-team pollination is key.”
  • “Create deliverables that fit the situation—like journey maps. Working toward the deliverable is the key piece, not the output.”
  • “People sat in a room together whiteboarding. Then we created wireframes—just enough documentation, process, and deliverables to get us on the same page. We started a new agile cycle every three weeks.”
  • “Making incremental improvements is key.”
  • “Listen to the language your own company uses, and use the language they’re already using.”
Figure 9—Store Inventory Journey Map
Store Inventory Journey Map

Andrea Resmini

An information architect at FatDUX, Andrea is coauthor of Pervasive Information Architecture: Designing Cross-Channel User Experiences.

  • Users and Context—These are not just different user types who have a range of well-defined needs. These are user types whose needs change through time and are shaped in accordance with the place they currently are.”
  • Designing Pervasive UX—We are moving from the design of products to the design of experiences.”
  • “Touchpoints need not be barriers.”
  • “Service designers think they’re overlapping with interaction designers.”

DIY Mobile Usability Testing

Presenters: Belén Barros Pena and Bernard Tyers

This was one of the most enjoyable, fast-paced, jam-packed, and practical presentations that I attended during the IA Summit. Making very effective use of humor, Belén Barros Pena, shown in Figure 10, and Bernard Tyers engaged attendees in a crash course on mobile usability testing. Bernard demonstrated the construction of a mobile testing setup, as shown in Figure 11. They even conducted a mobile usability test during the session, demonstrating their hardware setup and offering many useful tips, as shown in Figure 12. For the demo usability test session, they asked a volunteer to visit the Web site for the Denver Zoo and find out what bus number to take to get to the zoo.

Figure 10—Belén Barros Pena
Belen Barros Pena
Figure 11—Bernard Tyers building a mobile test setup
Bernard Tyers building a mobile test setup
Figure 12—Demo usability test session in progress
Demo usability test session in progress

Here are some highlights from their presentation:

  • “When you videotape a test, a participant becomes a person.”
  • “Handset usability affects test results, so test with participants’ own phones. Users have probably found workarounds for the own phone’s problems. If that’s not possible, include training and warm-up tasks.”
  • “Field vs. Lab—We’ve found the same number of usability issues in the lab as in the field. Testing in the field is more complex, time consuming, and expensive, and it’s a hassle. For most, it’s a luxury they can’t afford. Testing in the lab is better than no testing. For most software, lab testing is fine.”
  • “If you must do field testing, do testing late, so you only have to do it once. Do more than one pilot test.”
  • “Don’t test over Wi-Fi. It’s not realistic. Mobile networks are slow.”
  • “Cover participants’ data costs.”
  • “Recordings are memory aids and powerful communication tools. There are four ways to record a test:
  1. using wearable equipment—This allows you to test in the field, but the equipment is difficult and time-consuming to set up and is intrusive, uncomfortable, and heavy.
  2. using screen-capture applications—These provide high-quality screen recordings. But no single application supports all platforms, and the applications are not cheap. And participants won’t appreciate your installing stuff on their phone.
  3. using a document camera—This is a popular, well-documented approach, but it’s not cheap. Participants must keep within camera range, and the phone must lie on a desk or be held flat.
  4. using ready-made or DIY mounted devices—This requires you to attach a rig to a participant’s phone—using either ready made or Do-It-Yourself (DIY) mounted devices. This approach provides natural interaction with the phone, but isn’t cheap. Such devices aren’t easy to build and can be bulky—preventing single-handed use of a phone—or heavy—so holding them can become tiring during long test sessions.”
  • “The third and fourth methods are expensive, but the best,” as shown in Figure 13.
  • “CamStudio is an open-source, free screen recorder for mobile.”
  • “AMCap lets you run more than one instance at a time.”
  • “Use Blu-Tack reusable adhesive, a putty-like substance, to cushion and protect the phone.”
  • “For testing, the most awkward form factors on the market are those with slide-out keyboards.”
  • “The gray backgrounds behind pop-up overlays on Web sites are confusing on mobile phones.”
  • “You should develop mobile applications.”
  • “We know very little about the mobile context of use. The only way of creating useful, usable, enjoyable software is through user research.”
Figure 13—Pros and cons of different mobile testing setups
Pros and cons of different mobile testing setups

If Jared Spool hadn’t presented at this IA Summit, this session would have won the prize for most entertaining. But Jared always seems to win that honor.

Note—On SlideShare, you can download a PDF of Belén Barros Pena and Bernard Tyers’s presentation: “DIY Mobile Usability Testing.”Presentation

Closing: Beyond User Research: Building and Organizational Brain

Presenter: Lou Rosenfeld

Lou Rosenfeld, shown in Figure 14, is an information architecture consultant, well-known author, cofounder of the Information Architecture Institute, and founder and publisher of Rosenfeld Media. In this interesting and edifying talk, Lou presented some insights from his newest book, Search Analytics for Your Site: Conversations with Your Customers. I’ve since read this excellent book. Once again, Lou has written the first and definitive work on an important topic. I highly recommend that you read it. Lou is a deep thinker and an effective presenter.

Figure 14—Lou Rosenfeld
Lou Rosenfeld

Here’s some of what Lou had to say:

  • “This is not about building bridges, but burning down silos.”
  • “Enterprise information architecture is moving away from silos.”
  • “As a consultant, when I go into an organization, I want to learn what they know. Where do the insights live? In silos: reports from the user research group, query data gleaned from the site search team—what people are searching for—logs from the call center, reports from analytics applications, insights from Voice of the Customer research—about user behavior and needs—reports from CRM applications, insights from the research center. There are huge walls between these silos and the people making design decisions.”
  • “Organizations are dramatically overpaying for research, duplicating effort, and missing out on the combinatorial effect of putting ideas together, because insights and content live in silos. The sum won’t be greater than the parts.”
  • “A nasty three-headed challenge:
  1. fragmentation—Where is an organization’s research?
  2. differentiation—What kind of research is there?
  3. synthesis—How might we combine it effectively?”
  • “A lot of people are good at figuring out what’s going on—people focusing on Web analytics. A lot of other people are good at figuring out why it’s going on—people focusing on user research. These are not necessarily the same people. Not many people are comfortable with both quantitative and qualitative data. There is a combinatorial effect when you combine these two types of insights. We can learn quite a bit from each other’s data. We can improve each other’s design tools. We can help tell each other’s stories. We can help solve each other’s design problems. We can test each other’s hypotheses.” Figure 15 shows some dichotomies between Web analytics and user experience.
  • “The organization’s challenge: thinking with a whole brain.”
  • “How might practitioners build a whole brain? Surf those silos. Talk to other people. Establish what’s common. The hard part is synthesis.”
  • “How might decision makers decide with a whole brain? Blue sky it. If you were going to build your organization’s brain—its decision making apparatus—from scratch, what would it look like?”
  • “What we have now is organic and siloed. We talk about the methods rather than the insights they provide. The really interesting thing is to draw the connections between them. Something is wrong, and nobody seems to be thinking about it. If you want to fix it, plug that gap.”
  • “Executives love dashboards, but they’re a pain to design when all of the data isn’t quantitative.”
  • “It takes detective work to get all of the information out of the silos. Knowledge management is more about capturing information than using it. Useful insights emerge from a morass of more and more stuff. You need an ongoing effort to understand the insights. You’re not going to do it all at once.”
  • “Companies that integrate their silos of insights will outpace their competitors.”
Figure 15—Overgeneralized dichotomies
Overgeneralized dichotomies

Some Session Highlights from Day 3

I got a late start on Day 3—Sunday, April 3rd—after staying up most of the night singing classics from various musical genres with a bunch of Summit attendees who had gathered around a grand piano in the break area. Plus, bowing to the reality of attendees’ needing to catch their flights home, Sunday was the shortest day of the conference. But I did attend a few excellent conference sessions:

  • Ideas & Innovation: Simple Premise—Small Starts—Adam Polansky
  • How Valuable Is Your Work? Measuring the User Experience—Eduardo F. Ortiz

Ideas & Innovation: Simple Premise—Small Starts

Presenter: Adam Polansky

I had planned to attend Mark Plant’s presentation “Wireframes Are Dead: Experiments and Experience from the UX/Agile Divide,” but was disappointed to learn that it had been cancelled. Fortunately, Adam Polansky stepped in and filled that gap in the program, giving an excellent presentation on one of my favorite topics: innovation, his sketches illustrating his points. Shown in Figure 16, Adam is currently UX Director, Information Architecture and Usability at Travelocity.

Figure 16—Adam Polansky talking about innovation
Adam Polansky talking about innovation

I had never heard Adam speak before, but knew I was going to enjoy his talk when early on he made this remark: “If you’re going to give a talk, start with something that pisses you off.” I would add that the same advice applies to writing articles that communicate your passion for a subject.

Here are a few highlights from Adams talk:

  • “How do you define innovation? Innovation = new combinations. New combinations arent always good combinations.”
  • “Innovation can occur when you get a new idea and have the sense to keep a hold of it. When of couple of things bang together.”
  • “Allow your hunches to meet. Good combinations have the right mix of value and effort,” as Adam’s sketch in Figure 17 illustrates.
  • “The amount of effort it takes to bring an idea off has an affect on its value. Creating value is how a company continues and survives. You can describe effort as two things: time and money.”
  • “Think about, capture, and frame your ideas. Assess their value.”
  • “You can set yourself up for innovation, but you can’t demand innovation.”
  • “You can get attention for what’s important simply by doing it.”
  • “Look for your opportunity. It may not happen today. Good ideas will find their time even if they don’t right away. But you have to keep at it.”
Figure 17—Adam’s sketch illustrating the right balance between value and effort
Adam’s sketch illustrating the right balance between value and effort

How Valuable Is Your Work? Measuring the User Experience

Presenter: Eduardo F. Ortiz

Designer Eduardo Ortiz, shown in Figure 18, started off his talk by saying, “A question that I always get thats almost impossible to answer: How valuable is our work? How do we actually measure it before it becomes a product? We need to change our approach.”

Figure 18—Eduardo Ortiz
Eduardo Ortiz

Some highlights from Eduardos talk:

  • “Eight out of ten times when a product goes the wrong way, the first person that gets blamed is the UX person.”
  • “Without actually using metrics, its pretty difficult to measure the value of our work. Data-driven design is pretty simple: launch a site, get data, then you have enough data to make changes. But how do we do that before we launch? There are no numeric indicators to measure the success or failure of a deliverable prior to launch.”
  • “After testing a feature and evaluating its merits, if we learn it doesnt improve the user experience or serve our mission, well remove that feature.”
  • Eduardo suggested that we ask the following questions to assess the value of a deliverable, as summarized in his Deliverable Evaluation Card, shown in Figure 19:
    • “Does it help you understand whether you’re doing the right thing?”
    • “Does it reflect a powerful, compelling idea?”
    • “Does it communicate at the appropriate level of specificity for the intended audiences?”
    • “Can your deliverable stand on its own when you’re not there? Does it allow people to make judgment calls or have informed conversations in the absence of the author?”
    • “Does it help us move forward? Does it identify open issues and close others?”
    • “Is it a deliverable or a conversation?”
Figure 19—Eduardo’s Deliverable Evaluation Card
Eduardo’s Deliverable Evaluation Card

Closing Plenary: The Fall and Rise of User Experience

Presenter: Cennydd Bowles

UX designer Cennydd Bowles, shown in Figure 20, works in the UK, cofounded the UX London and UXCampLondon conferences, and is coauthor of the book Undercover User Experience Design. Cennydd gave a great talk about user experience that he’d committed to memory and delivered eloquently, without referring to any notes or slides—an impressive feat.

Figure 20—Cennydd Bowles
Cennydd Bowles

Some excerpts from Cennydd’s closing plenary:

  • “One of our most powerful advantages is the naive viewpoint. We can ask dumb questions and give our honest opinions on how things look to the untrained eye, before we become embedded within the politics, language, and mindset of our client.”
  • “The Mainstream
    • “User experience design has reached the mainstream. …
    • “Companies are looking to design to provide competitive advantage. Seeing the success of design-led products and the failure of those that neglect it, executives naturally want a piece of the action. …
    • “Although there’s still a substantial gap between aspiration and execution, business leaders are at least now talking about the right things: experience, prototyping, design strategy, innovation.”
  • “Public Awareness
    • “The public increasingly appreciates the value of usability and user experience, although they would never use those terms. …
    • “Taking advantage of this new design literacy, some companies now promote UX as an important selling point, … a welcome change from boasting about feature overload or relying on glamorous brand associations.”
  • “Catalysts of Change
    • “The world also increasingly sees information and technology as catalysts of change.”
  • “Trouble Ahead
    • “I think the next couple of years will be tough for the user experience community. Partly this is a natural correction to our success, partly it’s a result of our expansionist tendencies. Either way, we’re slipping toward the trough of disillusionment.”
  • “Pollution
    • “The user experience discipline has become so broad that anyone can now legitimately claim to practice it. Literally every designable object or service engenders an experience. However, its most common interpretation is narrower. UX is fast becoming the latest synonym for Web design. … The skills that underpin the work have often been left aside in the melee. …
    • “Chartership crops up every now and then, but here I must disagree with Jared: I think it’s a non-starter in our field. No organization is suitably placed to offer it, it would introduce a huge overhead to an industry founded on accessibility and simplicity, and it could mark an unfortunate return to the ivory-towerism that plagues our more elitist tendencies.”
  • “Factions
    • “Factionalism has done more harm than good. It has created politics and power struggles, not to mention the ludicrous situation where three professional organizations vie for the attention of virtually the same people. And territorialism doesn’t reflect real design; you can’t divide such a slippery, amorphous thing into neat boxes. IA challenges, for instance, are almost always bundled up within larger design challenges that involve interaction design, visual design, and technical execution. Swearing an allegiance to just one discipline limits one’s ability to see a problem through to its conclusion.”
  • “Stagnation
    • “Instead of driving specialization, fragmentation actually promotes stagnation. If the IAs dig into the IA trench, and if interaction designers retreat to their interaction design bunkers, both become weaker. Interbreeding magnifies flaws as well as strengths. In fact, I level the same accusation at the entire user experience field. …
    • “Instead of user-centred design causing innovation to spring forth, commoditized and patternized sites dominate specific verticals like ecommerce or news. We’ve even reached the point where research suggests the public expects mobile apps to be easier to use than the desktop Web. That’s an astonishing revelation, since the inherent constraints of largely immature mobile devices present substantial impediments to good experiences.”
  • “Global Outlook
    • “A truly global practice will teach us a huge amount about new ways of seeing the world and our discipline.”
  • “Labelism
    • “It’s time to abandon of one of our most harmful addictions: labelism. As if our definitions weren't complex enough—usability, IA, interaction design—now user experience is joined by service design and customer experience, which are identical on all but the most pedantic levels. …
    • “The User Experience Designer label will also cease to be useful within a couple of years. …
    • “The disciplines within UX design are here to stay, and have gained sufficient maturity to become a competency within all forms of design, not just the domain of one group of practitioners. Our skills will always matter, and we will always design good experiences. … The work is what matters. The label is just metadata.”
  • “Focus on Delivery
    • “Rather than explain our expertise through process and terminology, we should point at our output. If we are indeed worthy of the praise we’ve been receiving, our outputs had better be demonstrably better than others’. …
    • “Of course, intellectual curiosity is healthy: it helps us refine our philosophies and add new tools to our armoury. …
    • “This focus on delivery must underpin everything we do. It’s understandable for designers to want strategic roles, as we encounter tactical limits. But in claiming the territory of design thinking, we must never forget the design doing, where true craft and talent turns thought into results.”
  • “Consider Ethics
    • “Some so-called UX designers use persuasive design solely for the benefit of the company they work for. It’s a terrible waste of our potential. Of course, we need to please the people who pay us, but we must also examine our impact on the world.”
  • “Design and Science
    • “Design is an act of visual prediction. Its nature demands investment with uncertain returns, and there’s no way to disguise the leap of faith that requires. Design isn’t science. Repeat … a design approach in different circumstances—different users, different year, different culture—and you’ll get different results. So numerical targets should never be the primary goal of design. We aim to create things that are inherently unmeasurable: experience, utility, pleasure. …
    • “The idea that ‘if it can’t be measured, it doesn’t count’ is one of the most damaging delusions of our time. It gives us a world that rewards quantity, not quality. Make metrics the core goal of your design and you’ll just end up with design that optimizes those numbers, at the expense of other important qualities.”
  • “A New Angle
    • “There’s a serious risk that, in trying so hard to please businesses, we lose what makes us different and valuable. Our understanding of intangibles and abductive reasoning, and our long-term vision are different, but hopefully complementary, to the deductive, analytical skills…. …
    • “Bad companies produce shoddy products and services because of their structure and rules. So if we want to change how these companies work, we must change their structure and rules. Adding another UX designer to the team or switching to a more efficient wireframing tool is a weak point of leverage. We need to change business, not become it. Rather than fit design into the current corporate model, we should build businesses in which customers are the focus, not costs. In which creativity beats control. In which we understand risk, not excise it. In which good questions are as important as answers. In which we make things that matter….”
  • “Obliquity
    • “The economist John Kay claims that the world’s most successful people and organizations achieve complex aims through obliquity—that is, by pursuing something else. The most profitable companies don’t just try to make a profit. … They all pursue a greater purpose….”
  • “The Golden Rule of UX
    • “The purpose of user experience design is to create personal value. … to make things that improve people’s lives. …
    • “Idealism is obliquity, and without it the world would be a wretched place.”
  • “Subversive UX
    • “Challenging accepted ideology takes courage. But to quote Marty Neumeier, ‘quality is an act of rebellion.’ We need a new band of rebels. …
    • “We have … years of experience as translators and arbiters between technologists, users, product teams, and marketers. …
    • “We should know how to play the corporate game, but also know when to subvert it.”
  • “Leadership
    • “Influence and leadership are within our grasp, if we can be bolder. The path of least resistance is to wait for companies to see our value and create new executive roles—Chief Experience Officer, Chief Customer Officer. But every discipline thinks it’s entitled to a C-level slot. … It won't happen at any scale any time soon. So if we want to rise to positions of senior influence, we should be open to alternative routes—product management, marketing, even technology— in which we can use design as a lens to innovate, and spread the infectious message of user-centricity from department to department.”
  • “Know Our Limits
    • “Our values and attitudes are largely what [have] drawn us to this field. But we must also know our limits. The humility and pragmatism of today’s practitioners is an important reason for our increasing influence. …
    • “We should know when to disrupt and when to simply listen.”
  • “What’s Next?
    • “The future of UX is multidisciplinary and pluralist. User experience design can coexist with other disciplines. It need not subsume them, although it should definitely subvert them. Instead of building walls around our domains, we should chase problems and their solutions where they lead, defying the disciplines. Along the way, we’ll encounter other people who think the same way and share our oblique mindset. … When we hit problems that design can’t solve—and there are plenty of them—we’ll have allies who can help us navigate around them.”
  • “A Possible Future
    • “A global swing to the mindset of human-centred, sustainable business is underway.”

Note—Cennydd has published a transcriptPresentation of his entire talk on his Web site. An audio recording of his closing plenaryPresentation is available on the IA Summit 2011 Web site.

Proceedings and Other Things

As in years past, the simple canvas bag attendees received was too small, too tippy—tall, narrow, and without any bottom—and therefore, not useful for carrying much more than the very slim Conference Program that it contained. Fortunately, I’d brought a more commodious bag with me.

In comparison to programs from previous IA Summits that I’ve attended, the Conference Program was improved in some respects, worse in others. On the plus side, it had a spiral binding and thick, glossy front and back covers, with a convenient map of the venue on the back cover. However, on the down side, the printing and paper quality of the program pages was too poor for images to render well, and inconsistent body font sizes were, in some cases, too large and, in others, too small for easy readability. Overall, the program was not aesthetically pleasing.

The Conference Program’s organization and content were generally good, as one would expect of a conference organized by information architects. Daily schedules of sessions provided a good overview in an effective grid format and were easy to find at the front of the program, but did not include conference social events, making it more difficult to plan one’s entire day. Information about social events was buried on the welcome page. The program did not include a table of contents, making it a bit difficult to find some things in it. However, the daily schedules of sessions doubled as a table of contents for the pages providing detailed descriptions of sessions by including their page numbers. I would have liked a closer coupling between the schedule for each day and the corresponding session descriptions. Printing the daily schedules of sessions on thicker stock—perhaps even on tabbed pages—and inserting each day’s schedule immediately preceding its session descriptions would have made it much easier to find them.

No conference proceedings are available in print or on disk. In years past, the organizers of the IA Summit have made presentations and even podcasts available on the program pages of the IA Summit site. Unfortunately, they have not done so for IA Summit 2011. Quite a few presenters have uploaded their presentations to the IA Summit 2011 event pages on SlideShare. Complete information about all past IA Summits remains available on the IA Summit site, providing an excellent resource for the UX community.

One handout I always appreciate receiving at the IA Summit is the Pre-Registrants List, which provides the contact information for all pre-registered attendees and makes it easy to keep in touch with new acquaintances, without any need to exchange business cards.


The Hyatt Regency at Colorado Convention Center, in Denver, Colorado, provided a great venue for IA Summit 2011. Its conference facilities were spacious, well-lit, and comfortable. The break area, dining room, reception rooms, and session rooms were in close proximity to one another, making it easy to go between them. Thanks to good planning, session rooms were, in most cases, large enough to accommodate audiences for particular sessions, and the rooms provided good visibility of the speakers and their presentations. The registration desk was conveniently located in the break area. Guest rooms at the hotel were also comfortable, and there were enough rooms available to accommodate the attendees who wanted to stay there.

Denver has a substantial UX community, making it a good host city for the IA Summit. If I were organizing UX conferences, the existence of a local UX community would be one of my criteria for choosing the city for a conference. My goal would be to make it easy for people in various communities to attend the conference over time, thus broadening the audience for the conference and, assuming a successful event, making it more likely that, in future years, people who have experienced the conference would travel to attend it.

The Hyatt Regency is located just a block from the 16th Street Mall, a popular hangout on weekend evenings. Street musicians—from blues guitarists to bagpipers—provide entertainment, as shown in Figure 21.

Figure 21—Bagpiper on the 16th Street Mall
Bagpiper on the 16th Street Mall

As shown in Figures 22 and 23, Denver has a penchant for colorfully illuminating many of its historic buildings. I enjoyed several pleasant walks with friends in the neighborhood around the hotel.

Figure 22—Illuminated clock tower on the 16th Street Mall
Illuminated clock tower on the 16th Street Mall
Figure 23—An illuminated building
Illuminated building


Hospitality is always an excellent feature of the IA Summit. The conference organizers provide as many opportunities for meeting and socializing with other attendees as possible and keep everyone well fed throughout the conference. There were social events every night of the conference but the last.

As the “Welcome to Denver” handout in our conference bags informed us, “Each year the repeat vs. first-time attendee split is about 50 / 50, and many of the extra features and events are designed to encourage conversation and help people attending for the first time to get the most out of the conference.” It’s gratifying to see that the organizers have applied user-centered design principles in planning the conference. This year, to ensure that first-timers knew what to expect and how best to benefit from the conference, organizers instituted a First-Time Attendee session that preceded the Welcome Reception.

Thursday: The Welcome Reception and Karaoke

Thursday night, before the main conference began, attendees connected with one another at the Welcome Reception, where they enjoyed drinks and a nice buffet dinner, as shown in Figures 24 and 25.

Figure 24—Buffet at the Welcome Reception
Buffet at the Welcome Reception
Figure 25—Some of the usual suspects at the IA Summit Welcome Reception
Some of the usual suspects at the IA Summit Welcome Reception

Later Thursday night, there was karaoke at the Wynkoop Brewing Company. I caught just the tail end after having dinner with a friend.

Friday: Poster Reception and First-Time Attendee Dinners

On Friday night, the Poster Reception took place, where a buffet was again served, as shown in Figure 26. Figures 27–34 show some of the more interesting posters that were presented.

Figure 26—Poster Reception
Poster Reception
Figure 27—Poster: Content Model for Page Design
Poster: Content Model for Page Design
Figure 28—Andrew Mayfield of Optimal Workshop, presenting his poster, “Determining Second-Best IAs Using Card Sorting”
Andrew Mayfield of Optimal Workshop, presenting his poster, Determining Second-Best IAs Using Card Sorting
Figure 29—Poster: Myths of Multitouch
Poster: Myths of Multitouch
Figure 30—Poster: UX Hierarchy of Needs to Be Fixed
Poster: UX Hierarchy of Needs to Be Fixed
Figure 31—Poster: Visualizing Sales Data
Poster: Visualizing Sales Data
Figure 32—Poster: Facilitating Knowledge
Poster: Facilitating Knowledge

After the Poster Reception, first-time attendees segued to various restaurants in the area for dinners hosted by long-time attendees.

Saturday: UX Authors Trivia Smackdown and Games Night

I missed the Trivia Smackdown, but it sounded like fun. It hadn’t yet gotten rolling when I snapped this photo before heading out to dinner with a friend, UXmatters columnist Dirk Knemeyer. According to the description of the event in the program: “Teams led by the biggest names in UX publishing will go toe-to-toe in a tourney designed to determine our community’s kings and queens of user experience-related trivia. Free wine and cheese for everyone; prizes for the winning team.”

Figure 33—UX Authors Trivia Smackdown
UX Authors Trivia Smackdown

I missed Games Night, too, but checked it out briefly after returning from dinner. The program promised “Food, friends, and board games, card games, or maybe even some [Dungeons & Dragons].” People looked to be having fun and played games late into the night.

On the way there, I’d happened upon an informal gathering of IA Summit attendees around a grand piano in the break area, singing classic songs, which looked like more fun to me, so I quickly returned. Eric Reiss—who does a mean Jerry Lee Lewis impersonation—Andrea Resmini, and Nate Davis—who’s since become a UXmatters columnist—took turns at the piano. All of them have some serious chops. There were lots of good singers, too. We sang till the wee hours of the morning and, needless to say, didn’t get much sleep that night. I had a blast!

Daily Teas and Lunches

The IA Summit organizers kept all attendees very well fed throughout the conference. They served refreshments that included beverages, pastries, and fruits at the daily Morning and Afternoon Teas, as well as sit-down lunches that encouraged continuing conversations with friends and new acquaintances alike. At lunch, they accommodated people like myself, who have special dietary needs. (I’m a vegan.) The food was delicious.


The IA Summit Web site offered a social networking capability, powered by CrowdVine, that facilitated attendees’ connecting with one another. In the site’s “Connect” section, attendees could create their own profile and browse the profiles of other attendees, build a personal network, create a list of attendees they want to meet, post notes, start and post comments to discussions, and view a feed of everyone’s discussion comments.

The IA Summit’s wonderful sense of community continues to be its greatest strength. The organizers do a great job of welcoming and introducing first-timers to the conference, thus sustaining the Summit’s close-knit community. Whenever I’m fortunate enough to be able to attend the IA Summit, I look forward to reuniting with the friends I’ve made at previous Summits.


I had a great time at IA Summit 2011. Whether looking at the conference from the standpoint of appreciating the excellent content that presenters delivered, enjoying a diverse and friendly community of UX professionals, and just plain having fun, this was the best IA Summit I’ve ever attended. Many of my fellow conference attendees voiced similar sentiments. Kudos to the conference organizers, volunteers, and presenters for a job well done! 

Principal Consultant at Strategic UX

Founder, Publisher, and Editor in Chief of UXmatters

Silicon Valley, California, USA

Pabini Gabriel-PetitWith more than 20 years working in User Experience at companies such as Google, Cisco, WebEx, Apple, and many startups, Pabini now provides UX strategy and design consulting services through her Silicon Valley company, Strategic UX. Her past UX leadership roles include Head of UX for Sales & Marketing IT at Intel, Senior Director of UX and Design at Apttus, Principal UX Architect at BMC Software, VP of User Experience at scanR, and Manager of User Experience at WebEx. Pabini has led UX strategy, design, and user research for Web, mobile, and desktop applications for consumers, small businesses, and enterprises, in diverse product domains. Working collaboratively with business executives, multidisciplinary product teams, and UX teams, she has envisioned and realized holistic UX design solutions for innovative, award-winning products that delighted users, achieved success in the marketplace, and delivered business value. As a UX leader, she has facilitated conceptual modeling and ideation sessions; written user stories; prioritized product and usability requirements; established corporate design frameworks, standards, and guidelines; and integrated lean UX activities into agile development processes. Pabini is a strategic thinker, and the diversity of her experience enables her to synthesize innovative solutions for challenging strategy and design problems. She is passionate about creating great user experiences that meet users’ needs and get business results. A thought leader in the UX community, Pabini was a Founding Director of the Interaction Design Association (IxDA).  Read More

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