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UX Strategies Summit 2015 Review, Part 1: Overview and Workshops

July 6, 2015

Almost exactly one year after their first, very successful UX Strategies Summit (UXSS) in 2014, the Global Strategic Management Institute (GSMI) presented UX Strategies Summit 2015, which again occurred at the beautiful Marines’ Memorial Club & Hotel in San Francisco. A full day of pre-Summit workshops on Tuesday, June 9, preceded the two-day General Summit, which took place on June 10–11, 2015.

Here, in Part 1 of our three-part review, I’ll give an overview of the event, covering all of the categories that appear in the star ratings, then review the workshop that I attended.

Organization

Organization
Content
Presenters
Proceedings
Venue
Hospitality
Community

Logistically, UX Strategies Summit 2015 was a very well-organized, smooth-running conference. GSMI specializes in organizing conferences and did an even better job of planning, hosting, and running the Summit this year than they did last year. Summit Producer Breanna Jacobs, who is shown in Figure 1, welcomed everyone at the beginning of each day of the General Summit. She and the rest of the GSMI team did a great job.

Figure 1—Breanna Jacobs, Summit Producer
Breanna Jacob, Summit Producer

Content & Presenters

When attending a UX strategy conference, my expectation is that 100% of the content should be about UX strategy. Because UX strategy is a relatively new and rapidly evolving professional practice, it is especially important that those of us who practice UX strategy have opportunities to share information about our approaches and experiences with our peers. However, rather than focusing solely on UX strategy, the UX Strategies Summit’s three-track format broke down the content into the following tracks:

  • Day 1—Unfortunately, Track A and Track B ran concurrently, so I missed some content that I would like to have heard. Jim Nieters and I attended Day 1 of the Summit together and had decided in advance to stick with what seemed to be the more strategic Track A, which was in the same room as the content for the entire audience that preceded and followed the two tracks. In general, Day 1 was the stronger of the two days of the General Summit, with quite a lot of valuable content.
    • Opening content—The Summit began with two excellent case studies that focused on UX strategy:
      • “Design-Driven Innovation: The Case of Harmony”—by Klaus Kaasgaard, VP, Experience Design, at Intuit
      • “Mapping Experience”—by Tom Hobbs, Product Design Manager at Facebook
    • Track A: Collaboration & Leadership—We had expected this track to focus on strategic issues, but only two of the five talks were on UX strategy—“The Quest for Excellence in UX Leadership: Building Company and Team Environments That Foster Inspiration and Creativity,” by Darren Hood, UX Specialist at Bosch; and “Building a UX Team: Strategies for Hiring & Retaining Good Designers,” by John Athayde, VP of Design at CargoSense. These were two of the best talks of the conference. Plus, I really enjoyed Jaimee Newberry’s inspirational, life-strategy talk, “Through Burnout & Back Again: UX Skills That Saved My Life.”
    • Track B: Research & Design—We had thought it likely that the presentations on this track would focus on more tactical issues, but two of the five topics were actually quite strategic: I asked Jim to cover David Hogue’s talk, “Designing for Meaningful Experiences Across Devices and Touchpoints,” because I’d really enjoyed his keynote at UXSS 2014 and expected that he would again deliver an excellent talk. I regret that we both missed Paul Sherman’s talk, “Decision Insurance: Iterative Prototyping to Reduce Business Risk.” Judging from his presentation, which is now available on the UXSS Web site—his was one of the more strategic talks.
    • Closing content—Following the two tracks, Day 1 of the General Summit closed with two presentations on very different topics—but both with a strategic spin:
      • “A Web for Everyone: Accessibility as Innovation”—by one of the foremost accessibility experts, Whitney Quesenbery
      • “Enterprise UX: The Next ‘Last’ Frontier”—by Patrick Neeman, Director of Product Design at Apptio
  • Day 2—On Thursday, Jim was prevented from attending because of unexpected work demands, so Garett Dworman stepped in to help me capture notes on the talks. Thanks, Garett!
    • Keynote—Before Track C began, Eliel Johnson, who is VP of User Experience and Design at Charles Schwab, spoke about “Designing Experiences Through Clients’ Eyes.” This case study didn’t seem to me to be a worthy topic for the only keynote at a UX strategy conference. My expectation is that keynotes should inspire us to do great things.
    • Track C: UX, Brand, & Product—While I had mentally added strategy following each of these three topics, Track C’s content proved to be a mixed bag. Some talks were much more strategic than others. The standout on UX strategy was Jess McMullin’s excellent talk, “We Won, Now What?” Dani Malik’s presentation gets a special nod for imagination and her outstanding use of humor.

In my view, the structure of these tracks didn’t work very well. While there were many excellent talks and most presenters were effective speakers, there didn’t seem to be quite as many truly great speakers as there were last year—but maybe I missed some. The content was well selected for its diversity of subject matter.

The great majority of the Summit’s presenters spoke about their own approaches to solving the various types of challenges that they encounter as UX professionals—and, in many cases, UX leaders. I generally prefer this type of content to case studies. Only five speakers presented case studies—which can sometimes be boring if they don’t relate to your work or conclude with principles or takeaways that are broadly applicable. However, since my work focuses on software products, the case studies on Intuit and Facebook were of great interest to me.

Fully half of the talks focused on the development of digital products, which was great for me; and the subject matter of eight more talks would be applicable in either a product-development or a service organization. However, in looking over the attendee list that GSMI provided, I noticed that at least a quarter of all attendees work in service organizations; but only two talks focused specifically on services—Eliel Johnson’s keynote and case study on Charles Schwab and a Wells Fargo case study presented by Kristina Ross, Greg Hansen, and Arno Versini. While those two talks held no interest for me, there appears to be a need for more such talks.

Therefore, I would suggest that, if the UX Strategies Summit organizers are committed to a dual-track conference, a more beneficial division of the content into tracks would be along these lines:

  • Track A—UX Strategy for Digital-Product Companies
  • Track B—UX Strategy for Services Organizations

Another benefit of such a division of the Summit into tracks would be the greater likelihood that attendees would meet more people who share common interests and, thus, make more useful connections. Plus, when an attendee is a product person, but happens to be surrounded by services people—or the opposite—fewer interesting conversations arise. And opportunities to network with one’s professional peers and discuss shared challenges is a huge reason most people attend conferences.

I’m really curious about what other Summit attendees might think about all of this. If you have thoughts you’d like to share, please do so in the comments.

Proceedings

When signing in at the registration desk, we received a folio containing a Welcome letter that provided useful information about the Summit, a single-sheet schedule for the entire Summit, profiles for all of the speakers, a list of attendees, information about the Networking Exchange on Wheels, and Wi-Fi access information. We received nice lanyards for our badges, which were inside a sturdy plastic sleeve. Our names and affiliations were cleverly printed on both sides of our badges, so it didn’t matter when they flipped over, as they inevitably do.

For a two-track conference, a printed program with more detailed descriptions of the talks would have been helpful in making decisions about which sessions to attend. I had little time to refer to the UX Strategies Summit’s Web site, either before or during the conference. However, the Web site did provide all of the information that I wanted.

All but one of the presenters who spoke during the General Summit have posted PDFs of their presentations on the UX Strategies Summit Web Site, as have two of the three workshop facilitators. Thank you to the presenters who have posted their presentations!

Unfortunately, I can no longer navigate to the presentations and recordings from 2014 on the UX Strategies Summit site. So the presentations for 2015 will likely meet the same fate. I strongly recommend that GSMI should archive this valuable content—by creating a subsection for each event on their site—and make it available to the UX strategy community in perpetuity.

Venue

The beautiful Marines’ Memorial Club & Hotel in San Francisco was both the venue for the UX Strategies Summit and the conference hotel. While the hotel rooms are modest, though comfortable, the classically elegant lobby and the ballrooms and lounges in which the conference took place are gorgeous, with crystal chandeliers and sconces and gilt-trimmed cornices, coffered ceilings, and ornaments. This year the conference took over the entire 10th and 11th floors of the hotel, providing much more spacious accommodation for the audience than in the previous year, which took place on just the 11th floor.

The General Summit’s common sessions and Tracks A and C were in the spacious Commandant’s Room on the 10th floor, shown in Figure 2; Track B, in the much smaller Crystal Lounge on the 11th floor, shown in Figure 3. Having the sessions spread across two different floors made it somewhat difficult to move between the tracks. The workshops were all on the 10th floor, in the Crystal Ballroom and the Crystal Lounge.

Figure 2—Commandant’s Room, with Tom Hobbs on stage
Commandant’s Room, with Tom Hobbs on stage

Photo from GSMI

Figure 3—Crystal Lounge
Crystal Lounge

Photo from GSMI

Between the lobbies on each floor, the break room, and the lunch room, there were plenty of common spaces in which the crowd could mingle freely during breaks. The rooms in which the sessions took place were comfortable and well lit. The audio quality was excellent. The audience sat at round tables, which was definitely conducive to conversation between sessions, but not great for people who weren’t seated facing the podium. There were enough power sources for people who needed to plug in their devices.

Hospitality

GSMI did a great job on hospitality. Each day started with a continental breakfast, with plenty of coffee, pastries, and fresh fruits. For anyone who missed breakfast, they could enjoy the same fare during the morning break, as shown in Figures 4 and 5. Everyone gathered in the Crystal Ballroom for lunch, as shown in Figure 6. Lunch was a catered affair that offered quite a lot of variety in main dishes, vegetables, and desserts. At afternoon breaks, there was again a generous supply of refreshments.

Figure 4—Refreshments in the break room
Refreshments in the break room

Photo from GSMI

Figure 5—Morning break on Day 1 of the General Summit
Morning break on Day 1 of the General Summit

Photo from GSMI

Figure 6—Lunchtime in the Crystal Ballroom
Lunchtime in the Crystal Ballroom

Photo from GSMI

There were plenty of evening activities, too. At the conclusion of the pre-Summit workshops on Tuesday, attendees gathered for the Welcoming Happy Hour Reception in the Crystal Ballroom.

After Day 1 of the main conference, attendees enjoyed the Networking Exchange on Wheels. Everyone boarded cable car–style trolleys for a movable feast. Our first dining destination was the Whisk on Wheels food truck, shown in Figure 7, giving attendees an opportunity to experience quintessential San Francisco food-truck dining in a park near the Embarcadero. Attendees hopped back on the trolleys for a brief sightseeing tour, then arrived at Bergerac for drinks and dessert. The trolleys headed back to the Marines’ Memorial Club & Hotel at 9:30pm.

Figure 7—Gathering round the Whisk on Wheels food truck
Gathering round the Whisk on Wheels food truck

Community

UX Strategies Summit 2015 brought together a pretty diverse group of people who are interested in UX strategy, including many UX professionals, but also a few C-level and other business leaders, product managers, marketing and communications managers, brand strategists, creative directors, engineering managers, front-end developers, project managers, and educators, as well as some sales and business-development people from UserZoom. As always, it was great to meet up with people who have like minds and shared interests to renew friendships and form some new ones.

The Pre-Summit Workshops

The pre-Summit workshops took place on Tuesday, June 9. I had hoped that the Summit organizers would expand their workshop offerings this year, but there were again just three pre-Summit workshops, including two half-day workshops and one full-day workshop, as follows:

  • Morning Workshop:Embedding UX Processes Within Your Ideation, Design, Dev, and Release Cycle”—by Paul Sherman, Principal Consultant at ShermanUX and Instructor at Kent State University—I really wanted to attend this workshop, but it was full by the time I registered.
  • Afternoon Workshop:Lean UX: Creating a UX Strategy Blueprint”—by Julie (JB) Booth, Manager, eCommerce User Experience, at Columbia Sportswear—This workshop was likewise full by the time I registered.
  • Full-Day Workshop: “Rapid Prototyping for Mobile Experience Design”—by Will Hacker, Principal Interaction Designer at GE Capital—There was no presentation for this workshop.

For workshops for which PDF presentations are available on the UX Strategies Summit Web site, I’ve linked the workshop titles to the presentations.

Workshop: Rapid Prototyping for Mobile Experience Design

Facilitator: Will Hacker

While this wasn’t a topic that I would have expected for a workshop at a UX strategy conference, it was nevertheless a topic that was of interest to me—at least in theory. However, it turned out that the workshop was mainly on Axure RP 7. I had looked into Axure about a year and a half back and decided that, because I can code in HTML5, CSS3, Less, and Bootstrap, Axure just isn’t the way for me to go when working on Web applications. But I was looking for a better way to prototype mobile apps, which was the focus of this workshop. About a quarter of the workshop was on Proto.io, and that is a very interesting prototyping tool.

If you want to learn either Axure or Proto.io, Will Hacker really knows these tools. I recommend that you take his workshop if you get the opportunity—or read his book Mobile Prototyping with Axure. Will did a great job of putting together the material this workshop. To ensure that all participants were well prepared for the workshop, he sent us the following:

  • an overview of the workshop—In this overview, Will said, “This workshop will look at the mobile prototyping capabilities of Axure RP and Proto.io, two of the most popular and powerful prototyping solutions in use today. Learn how these tools can be used to create robust interactive prototypes for testing and demonstration on real iOS and Android devices. This workshop will feature demos of these two products in action, some hands-on activities, and a look at widget and component libraries that will help you accelerate your design work.” He also included detailed information about:
    • downloading a free, trial version of Axure RP 7
    • obtaining a free AxShare account
    • Axure system requirements for Mac and Windows
    • obtaining a free trial of Proto.io
    • downloading Proto.io player apps for iOS and Android
  • an agenda for the Axure RP portions of the workshop—This detailed, 10-page document provided step-by-guides for the various workshop exercises and included the following sections:
    • Section 1: Adaptive Views and Reviewing Prototypes on Desktops and Mobile Devices—This section covered the following topics and activities:
      • design approaches
      • adaptive views
      • inheritance
      • creating smartphone views
      • adding images to views
      • comparing views
      • publishing locally to preview pages on the desktop
      • adding content to views
      • publishing to AxShare and other ways of previewing pages on devices
      • mirroring an iPad or iPhone on a Mac
      • recording interactions on a device using a Mac
      • creating iPad portrait and landscape views
      • creating responsive masters
    • Section 2: Touch Gestures and Events—Section 2 covered these topics and activities:
      • setting up a sliding menu
      • creating actions and events
      • adding swipe gestures
      • linking a menu to a panel
    • Section 3: Creating Home Screen Launch Icons (iOS only)
  • two folders of Axure files—The starter files in one of these folders were set up for us to begin the workshop activities—particularly, for the part of the workshop covering adaptive views. The other set of files showed what we should end up with by the end of the workshop.
  • widget libraries—Will included Axure widget libraries for iOS8 and Android Material Design.
  • an agenda for the Proto.io portion of the workshop—This one-page document provided an overview of the material that Will covered during the workshop:
    • Section 1: Introduction to Proto.io: When presenting this section of his workshop, Will told us:
      • “Proto.io is different from most prototyping tools because it’s a Web app. It’s totally cloud based. This can be a disadvantage if you’re on a slow network or no network.”
      • “Proto.io was created specifically for mobile prototyping from the beginning.”
        “It supports a lot of different mobile devices, [including] Android, iOS 7 and 8, Windows 10, and Android Wear.”
      • “It has built-in libraries for iOS 7 and 8.”
      • Its developer added a “new Material design library … in February 2015.”
      • “You can create a blank project for any of the iOS, Android, or Windows devices, or create a project from a template.”
      • “There are a lot of starter templates … that you can customize, many built-in widget libraries,” and great documentation.
      • “You can download a viewer app for your phone [and] run a prototype on your devices.”
      • Proto.io offers “interesting ways of chaining a lot of different events together.”
      • Proto.io offers “Dropbox sync. If you put images in Dropbox, Proto.io automatically pulls them into the Project Assets pane.”
    • Section 2: Compare and Contrast with Axure—Will covered some differences between the Proto.io and Axure editors; and Proto.io’s built-in libraries and browser-based preview mode. He told us, “Proto.io is about equivalent in capability to Axure. The interface’s main canvas area is simpler than Axure’s.” Proto.io provides “access to tutorials and Help. Video tutorials are in the interface. Coverage is exhaustive.”
    • Section 3: Using Pre-built UI Components—This section was about “libraries, interactions, and handling device-orientation changes.”
      • “The component library [is] a logical default based on the device you chose, but you can choose anything.”
      • Proto.io has “two main concepts: screens and containers, which are subcomponents that can be pulled into a screen like dynamic panels. A screen holds a container. You drag widgets onto a screen. Both screens and containers can hold items.”
      • “Create a screen from scratch or duplicate a screen and edit it.”
      • “Set device orientation. It defaults to portrait for mobile; landscape for iPad.
      • Preview a screen in a browser. It appears within “a frame for the device you chose.” Preview supports “simple interactions like scrolling.”
      • Proto.io supports “different events and states” for items on a screen. You can create “an event chain, simulate state changes, connect several different events together, … and save interactions.” “This actually lets you simulate interactions with data such as checking email.”
      • “The assets library has tons of assets.”
      • “In the Dashboard, they have a lot of starter projects.”
      • “Sliding menus and things like that are prebaked.”
      • “You can create account assets that are available for all projects or project assets, for one project. You can reclassify an asset—for example, from account to project.”
      • “Proto.io doesn’t detect orientation change, and you have to design separate portrait and landscape screens, or views.”
      • “Proto.io is pixel based, so you need to know the height and width of a screen. It’s not responsive.”
      • “Publishing a project copies all of the assets from a saved draft.”
      • “Proto.io has a version-control system and saves every version, so you could go back to an earlier version.”
      • “Share a prototype with everyone or just reviewers.”
    • Section 4: Getting It on the Glass—Will discussed the “Proto.io player app and why on-device testing is the only way to demo [or] test.”
  • resources for mobile prototyping—This documented provided links to UI guidelines and tutorials; information about prototyping for retina and non-retina iOS devices in Axure; links to information about wireless device mirroring; links to widget libraries; and links to player apps for mobile devices.
  • a sample chapter—Chapter 2: Browsers, from The Mobile Web Handbook, by Peter-Paul Koch. This PDF also included the book’s table of contents, introduction, and index.

In addition to covering Axure RP 7 and Proto.io in depth, Will spoke about a few other prototyping tools in brief:

  • Sketch—This tools is good for “visual design.”
  • Justinmind Prototyper—“It’s really good, hooks into Rally or Jira, and lets you turn your prototypes into user stories.”
  • Envision—“Does the same as Justinmind.”
  • iRise—Will does not recommend this tool for mobile prototyping. He said, “It’s very expensive and has a very tedious UI. But it’s powerful” and offers the most realistic prototyping for data tables.

Will’s prototypes and print materials were very well organized, his talk less so. Preparing a presentation to guide his discussion and clue everyone into it’s structure would have helped keep us all on track.

Conclusion

Overall, UX Strategies Summit 2015 was an excellent conference and definitely well worth attending. In Parts 2 and 3 of our UX Strategies Summit 2015 review, Jim Nieters and I will provide detailed coverage of the General Summit’s presentations.

Following the typical pattern for their conferences, GSMI have recently announced that they’ll be holding the UX Strategies Summit twice in 2015. The next Summit will take place at the Marines’ Memorial Club & Hotel in San Francisco, November 2–4, 2015. So, if you missed the June Summit, you’ll have another opportunity to attend the UX Strategies Summit this year. 

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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