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Toledo UXnet

Various user experience community building in the Toledo region over the years.

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.

Techstreet.com 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).

Update:

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 https://www.codemash.org/register.aspx 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 http://www.codemash.org/ 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 - http://nwoacm.org/

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...

...is 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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What happened in Ohio?

I am collecting links to blog entries, trip reports, press releases, etc. about what happened in Ohio for World Usability Day. Leave a comment here if you find something else so that I can update the list.

Also, if/when you upload your photos to Flickr, be sure to put them in the World Usability Day 2006 gallery and tag them Ohio so all of our photos show up together. We have photographs from the Northwest (me) and Southwest (Kara Lock) corners already.

World Usability Day - Ohio (and Michigan)

We have not finalized our plans for the November 14th World Usability Day activity in northwest Ohio (it will be small), but if you are in the area, there are lots of "regional" events you can go to if you are willing to drive 2 hours.

To the north is a full day conference at Michigan State University (serving the whole state of Michigan).

To the east are two events in northeast Ohio: a daytime event at Kent State University and an evening session at the Cleveland Museum of Art.

To the southeast, there is 1 event in Columbus, at Nationwide Insurance. (October 30 update: this event is for Nationwide employees only. I will let you know if there is anything open to the public in Columbus.)

To the south, LexisNexis in Dayton is hosting a conference.

Some parts of Indiana are within a 2-hour drive, but the Indiana World Usability Day 2006 Conference is farther, in Indianapolis.

Also, you can partiicpate in World Usability Day without leaving your home or office, via Webcasts & Podcasts. There are some webcast-only events and several local events are being broadcast so that you can attend online. Note that some of these webcasts might take place on November 13th for us here in the Eastern US time zone.

Later, I will send out news about our local gathering here on my blog and also at NWOACM (the local group sponsoring it).

MOCHI is back

I will miss the first meeting of the new "season" of MOCHI - Tom Brinck's farewell to Michigan on August 9th. But it is good to see something on the calendar. The MOCHI blog is another good sign, making it easier for me to stay in touch with my user experience colleagues up north.

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Management by discovery

An IA Institute job posting for "System Designer / Prototyper" at Klein Associates in Dayton reminds me of the "Management by Discovery" workshop that I attended in March. The workshop was part of the Mind your leadership conference at BGSU. (I missed the rest of the conference because I was travelling to the IA Summit.)

The workshop was officially titled "The cognitive dimenions of leadership: A practitioner's toolkit." I had no expectations, was mainly attending because it sounded interesting and it was close to home - worth the risk of a day of my time. What surprised me was that I already knew a lot of this stuff because Gary Klein is well-known for Cognitive task analysis and other HCI work (not sure how I missed Gary up until then). I had "stumbled" into an HCI person presenting to a business audience, so I felt right at home.

Management by Discovery is different than Management by Objectives and other management styles because it focuses on emergent goals (instead of upfront, well-defined goals, which never happens anyway). It means a lot of story-telling, sense-making, iteration and other things we assume with a user-centered design approach. "Taking UCD to the management decision level" might be a good summary.

Jay Rothman added his expertise on conflict engagement to the workshop. This was Gary and Jay's first collaboration on this topic.

All-in-all, a good day for me - sitting with a bunch of organization development people and "peeking over the fence" back at my own profession.

BGSU Computer Science grads return to talk

A pair of alumni from where I earned my degrees, Bowling Green State University Computer Science, are visiting us over the next few weeks.

On March 30th, Shantanu Narayen, President of Adobe, will be on campus to talk about Web 2.0, Rich Internet Applications, and Adobe's strategy for innovation.

On March 21st, Brian Rudolph (now with Systems & Applications, UNLV) will share stories about being a Software Engineer at SEGA, the ACM International Collegiate Programming Contest, and life in Las Vegas. Last year I was watching some cable show about beating the odds in Vegas and was surprised to see Brian talking about slot / poker machines.

Brian will be talking at 7:30 pm in Hayes 111. Sponsored by the BGSU student ACM chapter.

It is great to see my colleagues doing well - and even better to have them coming back to BGSU to tell us about their escapades.

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