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Midwest UX Conference

I will be at the Midwest User Experience conference on the weekend of April 9th (in downtown Columbus, Ohio). It is great to have another conference nearby that I can participate in without having to get on a plane. (Or miss any work - that sounds like a bug, not a feature.)

In just a few short months, the awesome team of mostly IxDA Columbus and COUPA volunteers have done an amazing job of getting fantastic keynotes, along with a great mix of local and "international" speakers for the rest of the program. I am helping them out, glad that I can contribute in my small way.

It is already sold out. Sorry if I sent you email in the past, got you excited about it, but you were not quick enough to get in. If you are attending from the Toledo region (or passing thru on your way from Ann Arbor, perhaps) then contact me to see if we can arrange a car pool.

If you are lucky enough to have a ticket, be sure to list yourself at Lanyard and/or Facebook so others know you are coming and you can connect with them.

There are still ways your company can be a Sponsor. So please consider that - it will be worth it.

I may organize a group excursion to the final Blue Jackets regular season home game (Saturday, April 9, 7pm). If you are interested in hanging out with your user experience colleagues at an NHL game, contact me.

Finally, if you really like the concept of a top-notch user experience conference here in this part of the world, I am interested in proposing Toledo as a future host city. Lots to figure out, but let me know if you want to try to make that happen.

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"Why We Buy, Why We Brand" summary

I attended "Why we buy, why we brand: a historical look at our relationship with brands" by Debbie Millman last night. Another great AIGA Toledo event. Glad I went, informative and inspirational talk, good to get out of the house and see some colleagues, good to be on the University of Toledo campus, and a great turn out on a Friday night.

Debbie is an "icon" in the design community, pun intended, with her books and radio show/podcast, and AIGA leadership. And of course, her work. Things we see every day, like a font for candy and wildly popular orange juice labels.

It was great to have her in town, as part of the Detroit/Toledo Design Re-View competition.

This talk (sometimes labeled the reverse, "Why we brand, why we buy") has been given before in Richmond, Harrisburg, Hartford, Providence, Baltimore, and Milwaukee, to list only a few. Alaska is a future stop. What a road show!

Here are the 2 best recaps of other versions of this talk (and then I do not have to repeat the details here):

You can also buy a Designcast of this talk from Print.

Now, my thoughts.

I think I was the only one tweeting the talk. I did not do many, but a few things jumped at me as Debbie was talking:

  • Big brain bang 50k years ago considered cultural universals. Making and marking things.
  • The brain likes to solve puzzles, creates different neural pathways when figuring out a logo
  • most popular brands now are those services that connect people. Brands as connectors, we are part of the pack

Debbie offered a free book to anyone in the audience who could name the first trademark. I knew it, since I was Googling things and drafting this blog entry while she was talking. I decided to stay quiet and see if anyone else knew it. Sorta feels like cheating when you use Google to win prizes.

The biggest chuckle from the crowd may have been when she showed the Evolution picture.

The history part was enjoyable. I actually enjoyed the "pre-history" - before 1875 - more.

I know that she had some quotes about the iPod, but she did not have any Apple-fan-girl stuff that I recall. That was a refreshing change.

She was honest that her presentation was kinda light on the "science" stuff - even saying that past audiences have told her that was the most boring part when she went more in depth on it. But that was the most interesting part to me. As such, I'd have to say her talk was more about the HOW WE BRAND and less on the WHY. It was still good, but it would have been better for me with more of the science and fewer examples. I realize I was not a typical audience member, tho. I will still have to rely on the Brain Lady as my source of helping me understand why people behave the way we do. (Sad that I will miss her next visit to the area, February 24, hosted by Michigan CHI.)

I think a few times she said "people buy the brand" which irks me sometimes. I feel like people buy products and services, influenced by the brand. And the brand influences them based on the sum of the experiences they have had with those products, services and the company overall. Something to debate over drinks.

As is often the case, I do not think of good questions until I am driving home. One would have been about "place branding". Her examples were almost all products, a few services, but I did not recall any branding examples centered on geographic areas. She touched on this in her pre-history (how flags have evolved to represent nations) but not later. It would be nice to find place branding examples and try to fit them into her 5 waves. I guess my question would have been if she has tried this and if not, does she think that place branding even fits into the waves. Some might say that place branding is "behind the times" of product branding, not as mature. I dunno. Place branding for the Toledo region is actively underway, so it would have been good to try to connect those dots.

Another good question might have been about the future. When does Wave 6 start and what will it be about? I like to put speakers on the spot and make them predict the future sometimes.

So, net, it was a good talk, glad I went, I hope others enjoy it too.

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Toledo Region Brand Platform

The beta version of assets for the Toledo Region Brand Platform were distributed back in June. I took a peek back then, have re-read them a few times since, but thought I had better try to write up something to help me make sense of it. This blog posting is just "what it is" - without any commentary on what I think about it (which will come later).

But wait: what the heck is this initiative and why do I care about it? It is part of a long-term effort to take the best of corporate branding techniques and apply it to where I live, with a focus on improving economic develop efforts. Place branding is one term for it. So far, I have gone to several of the community forums & one of the working sessions, and pestered the guys at Applied Storytelling (who are helping lead this) with my feedback and user experience point of view. I probably only know enough to be dangerous.

I am interested for several reasons. I see some similarities to what I do for IBM (help translate corporate branding goals into digital experiences) and taking this "public sector" view might give me insights to help me do my IBM job better. I think I can contribute to these regional efforts: designing digital experiences will be an important part of the Toledo branding efforts. And anything I can do to help the Toledo-area economy grow might help my kids later.

(If you want to learn more about these effort, start at toledoregionstory.com. You can also do some searches for "toledo region brand" to find some local media coverage.)

On with my recap of the 3 documents from June 16th, the beta version of the Toledo Region Brand Platform:

About the initiative, so far (pages 3-22)

  • Why? Competing for jobs, talent, investment money. Milwaukee, Pittsburgh examples.
  • Bring together messages for key audiences. Tell a good story of what makes us unique, clear promises.
  • Lots of existing background research (including IBM study). Community work sessions, interviews with business leaders.
  • Brand: unique & valuable, what NOT to be, fit with reality, some industries lead, others follow.
  • Jobs, jobs, jobs. Universities. Smart manufacturing. "Toledo" in the name. Downtown. Water. Infrastructure. "World-class assets in a mid-sized package".

The brand platform (pages 23-74)

  • Essence --> (Promise | Positioning | Personality) --> (Logo | Visual system | Messaging/Backstory | Tagline | Name | Descriptor) --> (Brand Visual Guidelines | Brand Voice Guidelines) --> (Digital Media | Event Environments | Packaging | Print Communications | Advertising).
  • Essence: Toledo Region, appealing region in the State of Ohio.
  • Brand drivers: Access, Affordability.
  • Positioning: Economic Development. Secondary: Learn, Quality of Life, Play.
  • New manufacturing. Computing. Deploy technology. Sustainability. Product customization. Across industries.
  • Position #1: "The Toledo Region is the destination of choice for tomorrow's entrepreneurs and leaders in the New Manufacturing Economy." Yes, it is Credible, Ownable, Defensible, Relevant.
  • Position #2: "The Toledo Region offers the highest quality of life at the most reasonable cost of virtually any other place in the nation." C-O-D-R.
  • Position #3: "The Toledo Region is the water recreation capital of the Midwest." C-O-D-R.
  • Promise: Find everything you need to accelerate your opportunity -- in the heart of the New Manufacturing Economy.
  • Descriptors: Plug and play. (Plug in and learn.) (Live the best for the least.) (More scenic. More shoreline. More fun.)
  • Personality: warm (interested in people), worldly (well-informed), enterprising (decisions, motion). (Often under-utilized. Emotional aspect of the brand.)

Messaging (pages 75-95)

  • Relevant/resonate, Clear/organized, Well-integrated, Different ways to communicate with audiences. Based on the brand promise.
  • Audience #1 (Economic development): Toledo Region-Based Entrepreneur. Wants: infrastructure, talent, peer support, low COB, business success. Promise: Existing activity, efficient business operations, academic & peer support.
  • Audience #2 (Quality of life): Talent. Wants: quality/affordable housing, cultural activities, schools, medical; professional and personal fulfillment. Promise: Low cost-of-living, world-class but more intimate amenities, "big small town".
  • Audience #3 (Education): Prospective College Student. Wants: Options, top programs, career, affordable. Promise: academic options, business connections, job in the new manufacturing economy.
  • Audience #4 (Tourism): Leisure Tourist. Wants: character, experiences, nice people, easy to get to. Promise: water, recreation, sports.

The story for ED (pages 96-109)

  • New Manufacturing Economy. Manufacturing mindset. No more centralized command and control.
  • Research, design, manufacturing, logistics. Talent, capital, networks.
  • Shorelines, islands, riverbanks (not concrete). Deep, lasting roots.

Channels, touch points and integration (pages 110-131)

  • All channels, every channel.
  • You have no choice but to build a brand online. Web site as hub, fed by social media. Web experiences.
  • Web site mock-ups. Living-Working-Visiting-Learning. Banner ad, mall sign, mobile.
  • Integration into local company marketing efforts: Mud Hens example.
  • Transparent participation in social media. YouTube instead of TV.

Implementation (pages 132-133)

  • Obviously, there is a lot more detail to the plan than is shown here. Is looks like a local agency (or several of them) is set to be hired soon. Then developing something by the end of the year and launching it in January.

Again, this posting is really just a way to force me to comb through the material to help me understand it better. If you found it useful or interesting, great! Now to find some time to figure out what it all means.

Internet User Experience conference, July 26-28

I am doing some prep for this year's Internet User Experience conference. (6th year? This "regional" conference has stood the test of time and only gets better.) I plan on being there Monday-Wednesday, July 26-28. Exactly which sessions I will attend, when I arrive/drive home, and which sessions I skip to do some IBM work while I am there is TBD, but there are 2 things I am doing for sure (panels that I am on):

The research-practice interaction panel is good because it is forcing me to go back to the CHI and IAS work from this spring, and add in newer things like Don Norman's interactions article (that just arrived in paper form).

I will also try hard to get to these sessions:

The content strategy and agile UX sessions look good. I do not know a lot about eye-tracking, so I might hit one of those sessions. Many other sessions are interesting, but it will depend on my work schedule, or if I am in the middle of a good conversation in the hallway, etc. (One more: UPA's Usability Body of Knowledge (BoK) project, if I can stay that late on Wednesday.)

I hope you can make it to the conference as well! If you are a user experience professional in the Toledo/Detroit/Ann Arbor area, there is no excuse for missing this great event.

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Jamie Farr Owens Corning Classic: Players on Twitter

This week is the 2010 Jamie Farr Owens Corning Classic presented by Kroger here in the Toledo region. (I will be there Thursday, Saturday and Sunday mornings as a volunteer.) Last year, I followed some of the LPGA players who were in the field on Twitter: added to the tournament experience. So I decided to again see who was on Twitter.

Working from the Tournament Field List (on LPGA.com and as a PDF), I used the LPGA Players on the Web page, @LPGA's Tour Players list and some Twitter/Google searching to get a list of 44 Twitter accounts for the 148 players (see the table below).

I made my own Twitter list (jfocc-2010-players), in case you want to follow what the players are talking about during their week in the Toledo region.

Kyeong Bae: @KyeongBae Christina Kim: @TheChristinaKim
Mallory Blackwelder: @MalBlackwelder Mindy Kim: @mindykim89
Amanda Blumenherst: @Blumenherst Cindy LaCrosse: @CindyLaCrosse
Jane Chin: @janechin1121 (added, did not start)
Nicole Castrale: @NicoleCastrale (withdrew)
Stacy Lewis: @Stacy_Lewis
Irene Cho: @TheIreneCho Brittany Lincicome: @Brittany1golf
Chella Choi: @ChellaChoi Pernilla Lindberg: @pernillagolf
Paula Creamer: @ThePCreamer Paige Mackenzie: @Paige_Mackenzie
Diana D'Alessio: @DeeDAlessio Catriona Matthew: @Beany25 (did not start)
Meredith Duncan: @Meredith_Duncan Jill McGill: @jillymcgilly
Allison Fouch: @AllisonFouch Kristy McPherson: @KRISTY2208
Louise Friberg: @louisefriberg Janice Moodie: @Scotgolfer
Sandra Gal: @TheSandraGal Jane Park: @The_JPark
Morgan Pressel: @morganpressel76 (late addition to my list)
Julieta Granada: @Juliegranada Anna Rawson: @TheAnnaRawson
Natalie Gulbis: @natalie_gulbis Beatriz Recari: @BeatrizRecari
Nicole Hage: @NicoleHage Jean Reynolds: @TheJeanReynolds
Mina Harigae: @minaharigae Marianne Skarpnord: @MSkarpnord
Maria Hernandez: @Mariasgolf Angela Stanford: @Angela_Stanford
Maria Hjorth: @mariahjorth Karen Stupples: @Kstupples
Vicky Hurst: @TheVickyHurst Kris Tamulis: @kktamulis
Liz Janangelo: @PumpkinPutts Yani Tseng: @YaniTseng (withdrew)
Nicole Jeray: @golfnjeray Mariajo Uribe: @MariaJoUribe
Katie Kempter: @KKempter Alison Walshe: @Walsheyyy (late addition to my list)
Leah Wigger: @leahwigger

(Updates to the field made at 7pm, June 28. Again at 8am on July 2. Again at 2pm in July 3.)

I bet I missed some players in the field who have Twitter accounts, but since I found 9 players that were not on the LPGA lists, I thought I did pretty good. If you happen to know of anyone I missed, let me know.

Also, if you are tweeting about the tournament, I suggest you use the hashtag #JFOCC to give fans a single place to go for news and updates for the week.

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My schedule, November 10 & 12

I am attending two "local" events in mid-November. Hope to touch base with colleagues in the area I have not seen in a while - and meet some new ones, too, of course.

The first is the Smarter Cities Cleveland Forum on November 10th. From the description:

Cleveland Smarter Cities Forum will create a peer-to-peer exchange for mayors, civic leaders and businesses to engage with like-minded thinkers and shape the blueprints for smarter cities. We will discuss new approaches to regional partnership, identify roadblocks, evaluate frameworks for investment and review the tools and technologies that are making our urbanizing planet more instrumented, more interconnected and more intelligent. As leaders, we all have a vital stake in ensuring that our cities become more resilient, more sustainable and more secure. Indeed, the health of our planet and of society depends on it. We are pleased you will be joining us to start shaping that future.

IBM has hosted larger Smarter Cities events, so I am excited to be able to attend one near me. I am going partly to get out of the house (telecommuting is great but it wears on you), partly to learn some things myself, but mostly to spend time with my users. That is, get a little closer to the people who are interacting with aspects of the Smarter Planet web presence. I won't be doing any formal usability studies, just hanging out and listening.

If you are attending, leave a comment, send me an email, DM me, whatever, so I know to look for you there.

Two days later on November 12th is World Usability Day, with its theme of Designing for a sustainable world - a definite connection with Smarter Cities. Each year of WUD, I have done something different (05/San Francisco, 06/Hosted locally, 07/Chicago, 08/Cleveland) and I had several good options again this year.

Since I was in Cleveland last year, I decided to attend the festivities in East Lansing, Michigan this year: Designing for Sustainable Communities. It has been several years since I went to something hosted by the MSU Usability & accessibility center, too long.

Cleveland is having a great WUD event again and Dayton has another great WUD event planned (with a warm-up for the "kids"). Kent State has its own this time. There is one in Columbus but usually a few others emerge in the capital area as well. I am sure I am missing other World Usability Day events near me.

IBM celebrates World Usability Day with an internal company-wide webcast. It might be opened up to the outside this year, which would make it fun to attend while at a face-to-face event.

If you are also from the Toledo area and going to the MSU WUD event, drop me a line. I could use a ride up, but do not need a ride back.

Tickets still available: July 11, UX with Mud Hens

I am organizing a local get-together where you can hang out with others who are interested in user experience. We chose a truly-Toledo location: a Mud Hens ball game.

What: User Experience Day with the Mud Hens
When: Saturday, July 11 (first game of the double header starts at 5:30pm)
Where: Fifth Third Field, downtown Toledo, Ohio

Would you like to enjoy the company of fellow interaction designers, information architects, usability engineers, developers and others interested in enabling quality user experiences for their customers? And enjoy the world-famous Toledo Mud Hens in a double-header, with fireworks after the games? Bring your family, too, if they are willing to put up with us talking about user experience in between pitches.

40 tickets have been reserved for this group outing. Tickets will cost $9. The ticket order will be placed in mid June, so if you are interested, please contact me.

Tickets are still available! If you are interested, you can send me an email (keith2009 at this site) or leave a comment below. Help spread the word: I am hoping I can meet new people from Refresh Toledo and re-connect with colleagues from AIGA Toledo who I have not seen recently. And I will be happy to welcome anyone else who is crazy enough to come to a baseball game to share their passion about user experience.

We already have families coming from out of town (Detroit, Cleveland and Columbus areas) so we may also meet at the Toledo Zoo in the morning. Join the fun!

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Upcoming local (Toledo, OH) and area events

Spring is in the air here, and as the weather gets warmer, all sorts of things to do are popping up for people interested in user experience.

This is where you will find me in the next 6 weeks or so.

Add in a "spring break" trip to Boston for CHI 2009 and I will be busy. I have not recovered from IA Summit 2009 yet.

There is a lot more happening in the region - things I wish I could attend but I just won't be able to.

Whew! (I am sure I am missing some other things, too.) A good sign, tho: if you live around here and are interested in user experience, you have lots of opportunities to spend time discussing UX in lots of different contexts with lots of different groups.

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Solutions architect (local UX job posting)

The Information Architect Institute Job Board lists something for Toledo (which is rare).

This seems to be a technical job with a responsibility like "Keeps abreast of Best in Class user experience and technical solutions and competitive sites/solutions". But an actual "do-er" as well: "Develops detailed, thought-through Site Architecture: Wireframes, Navigation, User Experience Diagrams, Whiteside/Prototypes and related documentation". (Never heard the term "whiteside" before.)

I have no idea what company this is with locally. Or who Ray and Barney is/are. They do claim (PDF) to be "Ohio’s leading SharePoint Service Provider and a Microsoft Partner". And their history seems to be focused on the IT/HR marriage: "...dedicated to transforming client HR and IT functions into strategic business units..."

Checking out their open positions, I see 3 things listed for Toledo.

  • Digital Agency-Director of Design. "...embodies the convergence of excellent design skills with advanced front-end development skills, along with the proven ability to lead and mentor more junior interactive designers...ability to translate brand essence and brand goals into the interactive experience..."
  • Digital Agency-Interactive Designer. "...interactive designers to create interactive experiences and Web sites...passion for interactive development...balances beauty, innovation and usability..."
  • Solutions Architect. Same as what is posted at IAI

If you know of more details about who the local client is, or who gets hired for these positions in the end, let me know and I will introduce them to the other user experience professionals in the area.

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Ballot design

With the US presidential election coming up, ballot design is starting to get some attention again. My local paper printed "Ballot design, new machines, instructions recipe for lost votes" (by Andrew Stengel and Lawrence Norden, but I cannot find the article online) in the Opinion section earlier this week. The article seems to have been triggered by a Brennan Center press release. The main point of the article is that there is now data about the number of "lost votes" (votes thrown away because of errors) that points to usability problems. That is, ballots that violate basic design principles cause more lost votes.

One of the recommendations for government officials is "Make necessary changes based on usability testing and public sample feedback". Cool!

That reminded me to check up on the Usability Professionals' Association Voting and Usability project. It had been a while since I took notice of the great work going on there. Something new appears to be the Local Election Officials testing kit.

So if you are a local elections official who has read the Toledo Blade article and you want to do some usability testing, check out the LEO testing kit. Also, if you need to hire help doing the usability testing, UPA has a list of usability consultants in Ohio. And then there is Better Ballots from the Brennan Center - and Whitney Quesenbery, a dear colleague. Ohio ballots and Ohio laws that impede usability are included.

(What I also found interesting is that most of the people who started the LEO kit are from right around here. Not from Ohio, but just up north: MSU Usability and Accessibility Center, University of Michigan and several Michigan companies.)

I am no expert in ballot design, but if you are a local election official who needs help understanding how to do usability testing on ballots, contact me and I will be more than happy to help you get started.

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