UPA: For User Researchers
“Of course, the best UX conference to attend depends on your interests and the area of user experience in which you specialize,” responds Jim. “So I’ll answer this question from the perspective of someone in user research. Since I am a user researcher, the UPA (Usability Professionals’ Association) conference is the most valuable conference for me. It is geared especially toward practitioners, with very useful and relevant topics. Unlike at other conferences that are a little more theoretical and exploratory, speakers at the UPA conference are practitioners themselves. So the topics are very relatable, and I always take home at least a few new ideas that I can use in my work.
“One of the best things about attending a conference is that it allows you to step outside of your routine to see how other people are doing things. Because UPA attendees are user researchers like me, the conference exposes me to different perspectives and the techniques other people use in their work. You have the opportunity to learn from others, not only through the presentations, but also by networking with other attendees.
“I like the fact that the UPA conference is very inclusive and open to new presenters. Unlike at some other conferences, if you have a well-conceived, interesting, and unique topic, it’s not that difficult to get accepted as a presenter. The reviews of submissions are fair and result in a quality program with many choices for attendees.”
“I currently like UPA conference the most because there are actual practitioners attending and presenting, and the vendor booths are good, too,” replies Tobias. “The right conference for you obviously depends on what you want to get out of a conference. I personally I want the following:
- Presenters who are practitioners and actually work on real-world products. I don’t need to see big names. It’s all about the content.
- Stories about concrete and real-life UX challenges and how people solved them.
- Trends in products, technology, methods, and processes.
- Topics like user experience as a consulting business or integrating user experience into a company.
- Opportunities to chat with other attendees—for example, during informal evening social events.
- A handout with all of the presenters’ slides—all together on one USB stick.”
“I like UPA for its practicality and focus on UX methods, case studies, and associated design issues,” answers Carol. “I have attended pre-conference workshops, which generally concentrate on a single topic and in which like-minded UX professionals participate. I have also attended pre-conference tutorials that have exposed me to areas of UX methodology that I haven’t tried before. As the profession has matured, the UPA conference has designated sessions for advanced practitioners or those who are new to the profession. That’s a good development that addresses people’s needs and helps me to decide which sessions to attend.
“The best part of UPA is the long breaks between sessions, which provide opportunities for an invaluable aspect of conference attendance: networking. I get to talk to lots of people who share my passion for user experience, as well as to meet some people who I know of from either their work or their postings to UX or usability discussions, but haven’t previously met face to face.”
IA Summit: For UX Strategy and Design
“As someone whose career has focused primarily on UX strategy and design, I prefer conferences that emphasize those aspects of user experience,” answers Pabini. “Among those conferences, the IA Summit, is my favorite of the conferences that are organized by professional associations. It offers diverse, cutting-edge content that covers almost every aspect of user experience and provides great opportunities for networking with leading UX professionals. And it’s fun! You can read my in-depth reviews of the IA Summit here:
“I also think it’s important to attend a different type of conference every once in a while,” recommends Jim. “Attending a conference that’s slightly outside of your specialty is a good way to see different perspectives. I did that this year by attending and presenting at the IA Summit 2012. Unlike the more research-oriented UPA and CHI conferences that I usually attend, the IA Summit is a more design-oriented conference. It was nice to hear about different topics and meet different people.”
Conference Reviews on UXmatters
UXmatters has published nearly sixty conference reviews—including reviews of major international conferences like CHI, UPA, IA Summit, and Interaction and smaller regional conferences. You’ll find links to all of these reviews under “Conference Reviews.”
Regional and Local Conferences
“I have generally attended the annual UPA conference,” replies Carol, “but I plan to start circulating among the one-day regional conferences such as UPA Boston and UPA Washington. These conferences have grown so much that they now attract the same numbers of attendees as the big, international UPA conference.”
“UX Australia is a fantastic conference with rich, high-quality presentations across all areas of user experience,” answers Jessica. “One of the best things about it is that it offers a platform for all professionals working in user experience, not just the more famous among us. This, plus the relaxed, yet professional nature of the event and its focus on actual practice—both what worked and what didn’t—make UX Australia non-intimidating, fresh, and highly informative.”
“UX Bristol is great,” enthuses Caroline. It’s well organized, short, unpretentious, and cheap, and there are good speakers.”
What to Avoid
“What I’m not personally interested in,” declares Tobias:
- “Fancy professors who present design projects that have no ties whatsoever to real-life user interface design, don’t solve a real challenge, and don’t result in a real user interface. At Interaction12, one guy showed a research project where they gave out cameras to people who crossed a bridge. Then, they looked at what photos people had taken on the bridge. That’s interesting to some extent, but to me, it’s too far away from user interface design.
- Taking workshops or tutorials. Content-wise, I’ve never felt that they were worth the money. Also, I find that they’re typically too rigid and formal, so I always feel trapped in them.”
Please share your favorite conferences in the comments.