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UI Smackdown, Ann Arbor, April 4

I am not affiliated with this, have no idea who the group is that is putting this on (SRT Solutions), but if you are a local programmer, it looks like a good way to learn about some of the latest toolkits - with a focus on the end user experience it will help you design for.

User Interface Smackdown 2007
Join SRT for a day of exploration with new toolkits for developing user interfaces.

This forum will include an overview of Windows Presentation Foundation (WPF), Google Web Toolkit (GWT), and Adobe's Flex.

The Open Spaces format will allow attendees to specify the afternoon's content and direction, taking full advantage of the experts in attendance.

Participants will be able to engage in group discussions of specific technical challenges and write test code in order to gain a fundamental understanding of these technologies.

This forum will benefit software developers, technical decision makers, senior engineers and architects. By providing the opportunity to experiment with these new toolkits, you will see how you can create compelling user experiences for your users and customers, which will be a key differentiator for software offerings in coming years.

Cost for the event is $75 before March 26, or $90 after March 26 (and at the door, if space is available)....

I believe the event is April 4th - but it would be nice if the date was listed on the registration page. (^: If you go, leave a comment on how it went. And I really like the fact that they list the local "Groups we work with" on the side.

Entrepreneurial thinking

Registration is now open for the 4th Annual Sebo Series in Entrepreneurship, April 13, 2007 - Entrepreneurial Thinking - the catalyst for business growth at BGSU.


Other sessions:

  • Supply Chain Entrepreneurial Thinking
  • Entrepreneurial Thinking from the Start
  • Innovation in Corporate Strategy
  • Innovative Business Models


TC 841 Design research

Earlier this evening, I had a nice conversation with the students in TC 841: Design Research, a class taught by Carrie Heeter of Michigan State University. I met Carrie at DUX 2005 and have been hearing lots of good things coming out of MSU (like Serious games), so I thought it would be fun to be a guest / interviewee. The class is held online, so I did not even have to drive to East Lansing.

They are using Design research: methods and perspectives as their textbook and it does not really cover usability methods as part of the design process, so that is what we focused on. How to recruit the right participants for a test, what tools are available for usability testing, how to improve a legacy application when users are afraid of change, when should you use Flash and when not, how to test the usability of online learning applications, and how to design for universal usability.

But we also covered "real world" stories like what an information architect does every day and what to do when the business goals and user goals do not match. Carrie ended with the biggest question: what should the students be doing to help them get a job.

I hope the students found it worthwhile. I know I enjoyed it. It was also fun just preparing for talking with them: reading the syllabus, checking out their textbook, reviewing my older usability presentations, and taking their first quiz (I only missed 1 question, which I thought was pretty good). I may have learned as much as the students - at least, I re-learned something.

I try to stay connected to our local universities as much as I can - usually working with my BGSU CS department colleagues. I am visiting Kent State IAKM in the spring.

To other user experience practitioners - track down a class at a local university and volunteer to be a guest speaker. Share your professional experiences. It will be worthwhile.

IUE day 2

Raw notes taken during the IUE 2007 conference - day 2.

Development process, Dean Barker, HFI: Missed most of it. Saw some charts on methodology and Agile that I liked.

CSS and graphics

  • CSS's ability to implement web designs in layers is changing the way you export work from Photoshop, blurring lines between "design" and "code"
  • Interesting technique to put all page images into 1 graphic and use CSS positioning to show the right (sub-)image at the right time

Writing, web style, Ron Rundus

  • Content syndication means "Death of the home page". User generated content. Keep it Simple, Senator. Progressive disclosure.
  • Web style = Technical + Writing + Design
  • Semantic web, microformat, Web patterns.
  • Elements of web style: How to talk about web pages
  • Warehouse model: Cases, units, tags.
  • Analysis of 8 cases (ID, legal, impact, feature, navigation, ...). Decompose page into these content elements. Similar to Navigation stress test.

Lunch mini-workshop on Usability Labs: Good overview of lab technical details but I mostly attended to catch up with Scott from Ovo Studios.

Tuning up site search, Chris Farnum/Grant. Did not take good notes (since I am pretty familiar with this stuff). They did use search results as an example of filtering (and Chris F. did check in with me on it to make sure he got the details correct).

Web metrics and user testing, Jarret Knyal (user guy) and Jacque Smith (metrics gal) of Quicken Loans

  • Usability (qualitative, "why people do things") and analytics (quantitative, "what people are doing") is a good marriage
  • Their biggest business / user experience debate is where / how to do the "contact us for more information" form - their lead generation device
  • Landing page abandonment (from analytics) - do user testing to understand why
  • Single user feedback (from user research) - do analytics to see if common behavior, find data to back it up
  • Do A/B testing and use analytics to see which page works better
  • More complicated multi-variable testing where the system has several versions of a zone on the page. Gather metrics on which combinations work. Example: Try 4 different blurbs to say "fill out this form and we will contact you". They use some vendor to do this but I did not catch the name - Optimos?
  • Question: How many pages? Thousands but not a huge site like IBM.

State of web site user experience panel: I attached my presentation to my earlier announcement. Folks liked my Web 2.0 stuff. And my "call to actions" like volunteering your usability skills to an open source project. We did not argue too much but I did try to stir the pot by challenging the panel moderator Tim Kiernan of Design Critique on his furniture ordering problems.

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Internet User Experience 2007 - Day 1

Day 1 from Internet User Experience 2007 conference. Rough notes taken during the conference - I missed a few sessions because of work. redesign (with Enlighten)

  • Not like e-commerce since engineers are different and doing very specific things on this site
  • Increase browse/buy from 2% to 2.5%
  • Advice to presenters: Put the screen shots up front, instead of having talking points and saying "you will see the screen shots later"
  • Lawrence is the generalist and loved working with the Enlighten specialists ("wow, you get to be an IA all of the time?")
  • Old home page design - very functional but indicative of adding to and never removing, 11 years grew organically, never said "no" to stakeholders
  • New home page design: Branding focus ("who are we as a company?"), less navigation at the top of the page, shop by task (more than by publisher), pushed the customer service telephone number front and center, browse + search equally prominent
  • Search results: Most used page on the site. Correct document in correct format (52 choices). Example: Search for "usability" on Techstreet.
  • Publisher information page: Heavily indexed by search engines (thus often first page users see - designed like the home page). Example: NSF. Added branding element ("serious real estate"). Elevated the services (on the left) - global nav, not contextual to this publisher.
  • "The agency said no." (would not listen to Lawrence when he said the same thing)
  • Launched on Friday (so no data yet - will take months to measure this)
  • Questions: Rollout process? Flipped the switch to completely new site. Did you add new functions? No, moved things around, focused what was there. Better experience just by cleaning up. Re-did the code (to CSS).

Tec-Ed redesign

  • "The cobbler tries to make shoes for his children"
  • DIY challenges: Politics, content, customers, committees
  • Iteration from the internal designers: Heuristic evaluation and then user testing (to move forward, beyond internal struggles) and treat it as a "real project"
  • Usability testing: painful but useful (bad labels, dense content, images not appealing. Result: hire outside firm.
  • Like Techstreet, shocked at the state of proposals they received
  • More testing: "Why Tec-Ed?" is a good label. And so on.
  • End result: Very happy, outside design firm had great suggestions. Pictures of people and technology. Summary info at 3rd level (less dense text).
  • Lessons learned: Expertise does not mean you will have the time. Internal debates. Priorities. Bandwidth. What is OK to outsource? Fresh eyes.
  • Questions: Early struggles? Usability testing uncovered hidden requirements. Recruiting? Easy this time, colleagues and customers. Feedback so far? Very positive, reaching out to audiences they were aiming for. Budget crisis? Realized what you need to commit to a project like this.

Mini-workshop on "Positioning user experience in your organization" - Good wide-ranging discussion, from standardized, boring deliverables, to initiating organizational change, to usability vs. UX as a name, to being in IT vs. on the business side, to management prioritization.

Brand on web sites, John Yesko (now at Roundarch)

  • Graphic design: White/negative space = luxury; pack in the information for "nothing over $20" market (cramped is not lower quality design, just more appropriate design for the brand)
  • Navigation/IA: Separating totally different ideas into separate navigation, Users browse by category vs. Business pushing their marketing categories, Org-chart navigation (cannot find mobile phone products - left nav is their org chart). "Phones & consumer products" cf. "Business products". Want dish vs. Got dish? (nice try).
  • Bringing off-line brands online. Clear product categories (instead of being an adventure). Convention: Sales link in upper right for retail sites. "Gear bag" instead of "shopping cart" (trying to be branded/cute vs. web conventions)
  • Voice / copy writing. Serious vs. whimsical.
  • Questions. Profit vs. non-profit branding? Non-profits tend to be more territorial. Defining vs. communicating the brand?

Building an online community (Inner Circle Media): I missed the talk but Drupal was mentioned during the Q&A.

Guerilla Personas (not personas of gorillas), Matt Rehkopf, Fry

  • Why not more personas? They seem to get axed from projects often (the user research piece appears to be the killer expense)
  • Better personas: Downplay the personality, demographics; explain the behavior more. Connect to design decisions.
  • Difficulty mapping personas to business goals
  • Primary research not needed. "Buyer", "Shopper", "Browser" (with 3 versions of each) - 5 of them stick out from analytics.
  • Design decisions: 60 day shopping cart. By room, by topic. Easier to explore, big paging buttons. Iconic navigation. Quick order. Catalog badge.
  • Can you reverse engineer assumed personas?
  • Questions: How to leverage web analytics? What if starting from scratch - no data to start with? Do primary research.

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Involution goes Mad(house)

News item: Former Toledo user experience guru Dirk Knemeyer (now on the west coast) and his Involution Studios tapped Perrysburg firm Madhouse Creative to help design templates for a Yahoo! small business product.

Thanks for sending some work back home, Dirk. We do have some talent around here. And I hope my link for Madhouse makes them a little easier to find on Google - there is another "Madhouse Creative" in British Columbia that gets top billing - let's change that.

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Guy Kawasaki coming to the area, April 13th

Guy Kawasaki is coming to BGSU in mid-April as part of the 4th Annual Sebo Series in Entrepreneurship.

Tom Kelley of IDEO spoke last year, but I did not learn about it in time.

I think I can make this one - just waiting for more details from the BGSU Entrepreneurship program (and yes, that is local-boy-done-good Scott Hamilton helping to fund all of this).


CodeMash, Sandusky, Ohio, Janaury 18-19

I must have not been paying attention to the local IT scene, because I just learned about CodeMash a few days ago. "...educate developers on current practices, methodologies and technology trends in variety of platforms and development languages such as Java, .NET, Ruby and PHP." It has all of the leading experts that you would expect from a top-notch conference, but this one is different:

  • It is in Sandusky, which is an hour east of where I live. We do not get a lot of the first rate events in this part of the country - we usually have to fly to a coast for this level of quality.
  • It is dirt cheap. Part of that is the low cost of living around here. Part is because it was organized by user groups in Ohio and Michigan who are not trying to make a profit. A "community-driven developer conference" they call it. And a good set of sponsors - including IBM (in this case, Rational).
  • It is being held at a waterpark resort - Kalahari. I spent a day there this summer (with the family) - it is fun. Maybe not quite like HICSS in Hawaii, but perhaps having technical conferences at resorts is a trend that will continue.
  • The Mash part - from the reactions I have seen, the combination of platforms is appealing to people - people must be tiring of going to .net events separate from Java events.

I doubt I will be able to attend - since it is short notice and I do not do any "real" development myself. I am sure I would learn something useful from all of those experts, tho. Add in a "user experience" track and I'd be there, no doubt.

Even without attending, I am still helping to promote CodeMash. It is just too good not to let others in the area know about it. Through NWOACM, the local ACM chapter, we are offering a special discount - save $50 on the already low price. Here is our announcement that we are emailing out to spread the word:

It is not too late to register for CodeMash, a world-class technical conference being held in our area - January 18-19, in Sandusky, Ohio (about an hour east of Toledo). Go to and use 06ZY86 as your "Sponsor Invitation Code" to save $50 - making the 2 day conference only $99. This is an unbelievably good price for a top-notch technical conference - especially one that is a short drive away. Also, the conference is being held at the Kalahari waterpark, so you can have some fun as well.

What is CodeMash? CodeMash is a unique event that will educate developers on current practices, methodologies and technology trends in variety of platforms and development languages such as Java, .NET, Ruby and PHP.

Some of the internationally recognized speakers include:

  • Bruce Eckel, internationally recognized speaker and author of "Thinking in Java" - presenting "The World is Dynamic"
  • Neal Ford, application architect at ThoughtWorks - presenting "The Productive Programmer"
  • Scott Guthrie, General Manager, Microsoft Developer Division
  • Scott Ambler, internationally recognized speaker and author on Agile development and database refactoring - presenting "Introduction to OpenUP"

One of our leading local experts, Greg Huber, will also be presenting on several Ajax topics.

Check out for more information about this conference. Do not forget to register using 06ZY86 and get your $50 discount.

Feel free to pass this information on to others who may be interested. If you are a professor, please encourage your students to attend. It is priced right for them, and a chance for them to hear about a wide range of issues they will be encountering after they graduate.

This information is being distributed by NWOACM, Northwest Ohio's professional ACM chapter -

If you go, let me know how you liked it. (Here is a Technorati tag for so that I can track what happens.) I hope this is the first of many similar events in the area.

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Platform Lab

The Platform Lab is coming to Toledo. Based in Columbus, the Platform lab... the nation's only non-profit information technology test and training facility. We provide organizations in Ohio and across the nation with the complete means to conduct a variety of IT test projects and increase the quality of their applications, organizations and people without investing in expensive short term assets.

Their Toledo facility will be at the University of Toledo's Health and Science campus. I do not think the "grand opening" has happened yet, but the CIO Forum of Northwest Ohio was planning on visiting in December.

It looks like they support a broad set of IT events across the state. The latest newsletter lists one that jumped out at me:

User Experience is the Key to Unlocking IT's Value: Learn how to deliver Superior End-User Experience and IT Value through Proactive Application & Network Management. IntelliNet, Compuware Corporation and Platform Labs will be hosting a seminar to discuss proactive end-user monitoring and its benefits to the bottom line.

The event is happening in 2 parts of the state:

  • Columbus, January 31, Platform Labs/TechColumbus
  • Cleveland, February 1, IntelliNet's HQ office

I am looking forward to having the Platform Lab active in our corner of the state. Perhaps we could get NWOACM added to their list of community partners and have Toledo be a stop for their next user experience event.

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Serious Game Design

Michigan State > College of Communication Arts & Sciences > Department of Telecommunication, Information Studies & Media just announced its Master of Arts in Serious Game Design. Notice the 3 circles of Theory + Content + Game design. Good to see HCI listed, and the broad coverage of expertise and roles that are included.

I see involvement of professors from across Michigan State, which is great. Who is the local MSU HCI expert, tho - I do not know who that would be - I'd like to meet him/her. And I wonder where the MSU Usability and Accessibility Center could fit in. Serious games do need to be usable and accessible.

Anyway, cool things happening up at Michigan State!

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