Save $100 on Midwest UX conference registration

I am going to the 2012 Midwest UX conference (May 31 - June 2) in Columbus and I'd like others from the Toledo region to join me.

Last year was the first year for Midwest UX, and it was a great conference, with content rivaling events that are much farther away. If you are interested in user experience and in the Toledo region, I highly recommend you go to Midwest UX (and/or Internet User Experience, in Ann Arbor, slated for July 16-18 - follow @internetUX for info).

To encourage people from the region to attend, I am running a little contest. The winner gets $100 off their Midwest UX registration. To enter, send me an email (to midwestux at instone dot org) with why you think you should win, in 100 words or less. I will pick my favorite on April 15th and send you a promotional code so you can go off and register and save $100. $350 is already a bargain: $250 is a steal.

There is only 1 thing I ask of the winner: write up a summary of your experience at the conference on Saturday, June 2. I will be missing that day (my daughter's high school graduation is then). Post your summary publicly (anywhere you want) so that I can see some of what I missed, and others can benefit from my $100 contribution. You can write up more than just what you learned on Saturday, of course.

Contest only open to people who live in the Toledo region (loosely defined) and have not already registered for Midwest UX. You cannot use it for workshop registration, only a regular conference pass.

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Leaving IBM

Starting in April, I will not be an employee of IBM. Why? They laid me off. I am not upset about it.

It was a great 10 years. I got to work with great people on really challenging and interesting business problems. I contributed to several important, transformative efforts within the company. I made a difference for users across a variety of IBM digital touchpoints.

What's next for me? I do not know yet. If you are going to the IA Summit this week, then I want to talk with you about opportunities to collaborate. I am excited that I will get to do something new and different, and can build upon what I experienced working for IBM for a decade.

What did I learn, teach, discover, accomplish, survive the past 10 years? Four items to start with as I reflect back a bit.

1. You can indeed have effective, distributed, worldwide teams (e.g., dozens of people, all working remotely, in many time zones) but it is not easy. It takes discipline, planning, good communication skills, and proper use of a wide variety of tools.

User experience methods are useful for planning the "team experience" and information architecture skills come in handy for organizing the work spaces.

2. Agile UX & development processes, in general, are a better way to work in large corporations, since it makes it easier to do continuous, incremental improvements.

In a large, complex, systems-driven infrastructure, the "trick" is in the analysis phase (aka "writing stories"), where large problems are broken down into smaller work items. Avoid the roadblock parts of the infrastructure - things that are so broken, they need to be thrown away.

Certain parts of the user experience will always stink until the company commits to starting over from scratch. Make progress where you can and constantly remind management what is FUBAR.

3. One of the trends I see coming is more and more integration of UI design systems. Within IBM, our latest web redesign included a huge effort to combine our intranet and internet UIs. They do not look exactly the same, but our definitions/implementations of breadcrumbs, local navigation, icons, page grids and other UI elements are the same now.

The business case includes both UX benefits and costs savings. For example, a widget developed for the intranet can easily be used on internet sites.

The integration is happening at a larger scale within the company now. With platforms evolving quickly (smart phones, tablets), companies will need to spend even more time integrating UI design systems to make all of their digital touchpoints fit together.

My personal interest is on the information architecture side: how to organize the elements in the design systems (in a multi-faceted classification scheme, of course) so they can be integrated.

4. A technique I used for dealing with stakeholders on a daily basis was acting like a "requirements therapist". Groups would come to me with the "solution" in mind (e.g., "add a link to the home page", "we need smaller tabs to fit them all on our pages") and I would ask them lots of questions about how they got to this as the answer to their problems.

What is the actual business problem you are trying to solve? What are the user needs, goals, tasks? What other options did you consider (and what are the pros/cons of each)? What impact would this have on other business units? What would be the ideal user experience (even if we know that is not possible)? What is the bare minimum we can do to move us in the right direction? And so on.

Sometimes the net result was no actual change to the user experience, but the client changed through the therapy.

Four of my thoughts after 10 years with IBM, without getting into the weeds. And boy, are there a lot of IBM business and technical details I have gotten into over the past 10 years, things only an "innie" gets to experience. I guess that is something else that is important: how to stay at a high level for a while, and when to get into the details to actually get the work done. Being able to switch your brain quickly from the "clouds" to the "weeds" - and back - is crucial.

10 great years: now to start the next great 10 years!

Site back

I shut down the site for a while so I could fix some things on the back end. You would not have noticed, except that I have not been posting anything for longer than usual. Everything seems working on the new version of Drupal, new hosting service, etc. So a lot fewer excuses to skip write something here!

Frontiers in Service, Columbus, Ohio, June 30 - July 3

I learned about the Frontiers in Service conference back in 2007 and I have been keeping an eye on it ever since. It is where a lot of IBMers present their Service science, management and engineering research. Sylvia Long-Tolbert also had great things to say about it back when she was a professor in the business college at the University of Toledo. After touring the world, the conference is making its midwest USA stop next month, so I am trying to figure out a way to get there. Not my core areas of interest, but I am sure I would learn something.

A few things that I notice that make me want to go:

  • Lots of IBMers, presenting their latest research and talking about the state of the field of service science. Jim Spohrer, Wendy Murphy, Paul Maglio, Jeanette Blomberg and more.
  • Some "service design" presentations that I should be able to apply. Not as focused as Emergence was in 2007 but I should get something out of it as a practitioner. I like that they have "best practitioner paper awards" - so this is not just research for researchers.
  • I see some presentations by Dwayne Gremler from BGSU. I have not met him yet.

The price is a big minus: hard to justify that for something that is not in my core interest area. Given the cost, family things (the summer is already packed) and work (being a weekend conferences helps there), not sure I will make it. If I miss it, hopefully there will be Twitter stream to follow. And I can follow up with my IBM colleagues separately to get reports from the conference.

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Midwest UX presentations and recaps

Midwest UX was 3 weeks ago. I am still trying to review the presentations and the reports about the conference. My list....

Summaries, recaps and other things about the conference

Slides and presentation material

Let me know if I missed something.

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IA Summit 2011

I am missing my first IA Summit, after making it to the first 11.

I can get some value from the conference remotely.

  • I am definitely following #ias11 on Twitter. It will get crazy soon, as the Saturday sessions kick off and people are tweeting from up to 4 sessions at the same time.
  • I also plan on tweeting with attendees, asking them questions and sometimes even participating in online discussions that stem from what happens face-to-face.
  • Decks are being posted to SlideShare. Some people won't post until after the event, which makes sense, so this will become more useful over the next few weeks. Martin Belam is also maintaining a list of slides.
  • The conference CrowdVine instance has some activity.
  • Some pictures are being posted to Flickr with the ias11 tag.
  • The Facebook event is pretty quiet.

I have not found anyone who has written a recap of Day 1. Or who is planning on doing "trip reports" from the event. Everyone is too engaged there, I completely understand.

If you find some other way to participate remotely in this great conference, let me know!

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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WUD Research-Practice Interaction pre-work

On November 11th - World Usability Day - I will have the honor of giving a keynote "talk" at the Dayton-area event. I say "talk" in quotes because I really want it to be a more interactive session, where I provide enough background to get the discussion going, then the audience (participants, really) take over from there.

In the spirit of trying to make it easier for attendees to become participants, Douglas Gardner, the awesome organizer of the event at LexisNexis, has asked me to compile some pre-work / questions that he can distribute to people who have signed up to attend the Dayton event. I feel like a teacher giving students homework to do, but here goes!

Issues to consider, questions to ask yourself

  • If you are a user experience practitioner, what types of challenges do you face often that you wish you had a "scientific" answer to? Have you tried to find answers in the research literature? What roadblocks did you encounter when looking for answers? What successes have you had in taking research findings and improving your practice?
  • If you are a researcher, what is the value in engaging with practitioners? What is in it for you? Do you have any examples of success stories, where your research got better because of interactions you had with practitioners?
  • What should students of HCI, interaction design and other user experience disciplines be taught about research to better prepare themselves for the practitioner world?

Things to read

Things to do

  • If you are on Twitter, tweet something about the research-practitioner interaction topic with the #uxrpi hashtag.
  • Get a napkin (or some scrap of paper) and sketch something. Bring it to the session, you will have a chance to share this with every one else. (Even better, post your sketch to Flickr.)
  • Brainstorm a list of possible solutions to what you think are the most important research-practitioner challenges. Or make a list of solutions you know about from other fields. Bring it to the session.

Also, I have not quite figured out how to handle the interactiveness with a session in Ottawa who is planning on listening in remotely. My IBM/Cognos colleagues are hosting their own WUD event and will be joining both IBM's Social Media in the Workplace session (at noon ET USA) and mine (at 3:30).

And we might have others joining us remotely. We will have a LiveMeeting and call in: (800) 963-3556 / Conf ID: 266.4656. 3:30pm ET USA, November 11.

I hope I can make the session worthwhile for everyone who joins us.

November 21 update: I finally got around to posting the slides (as presented) on SlideShare.

So you wanna be on our UX team? (BGSU ARTD 4050)

I did an intro to user experience for members of the BGSU ARTD 4050 Interactive Graphic Design classes this morning. The instructors, Amy Fidler and Jenn Stucker, also had guest speakers on kiosk design and social media. Sort of a "mini conference" of talks from practitioners for the students. Always happy to help out like this!

PDF of my slides

I tried something different this time, putting it all in the context of the student applying for a job on my fictional user experience team, and giving them questions they should ask of their potential employer. Sometimes I answered the question from the point of view of a "good" company to work for; sometimes what you might get from a "bad" company.

Below are the set of questions I prepared to seed the discussion. As usual, the class asked better questions than I prepared. The one that I think generated the best discussion was how they, as graphic designers on a user experience team, would work with the technical folks. Good: an integrated team where the developers worked hand-in-hand with the graphic designers. Bad: where designs were thrown "over the fence" and then ignored.

I ran out of time and did not get to do a quick overview of things to stay in touch with to help the students learn more, so let me list those here for the students:

A couple of people (on Twitter, Facebook) thought the idea of using a job interview as the setting for an intro to UX for students was interesting. It seemed to work OK here. But this was my first time trying it, so I already have some ideas on how to do it better next time. I will definitely prepare several "company" scenarios ahead of time - typical company/team profiles that match the types of places the students want to work. I used personal experience at IBM as one profile, of course, but talking with the students, they mentioned "print firms getting into digital" as a more likely company they would be applying to. Procter & Gamble (with its branding focus) was another. Small design agencies, Large design agencies: two more settings that I think would expose interesting answers about UX.

But it was fun trying something different. Getting out of the house. Hanging out with the students.

Finally, here are my prepared set of questions. (If you want my set of good and bad answers for each, sorry, I made up most of those answers up on the spot, only a few are covered in the slides.)

Basics

  • What is your definition of user experience?
  • Within the company, who "owns" the experience with the customer (consumer, citizen, constituent, partner, …) Does anyone think they own it?
  • Which channels does the team focus on – only web? Is mobile "hot" or "huh"?

About the team

  • Who else is on the UX team? What are their backgrounds? Who specializes in what things, which activities are shared?
  • What would my role on the team be? Would I specialize in the graphic design work? How much technical work would I do? Would there be an opportunity for me to branch out into other UX activities?

How the team works

  • How does the UX team collaborate with other parts of the business (such as stakeholders and technical teams)? Tell me a story of a typical engagement for the UX team.
  • Is this a single, centralized UX team, or is it one of several UX teams distributed throughout the company? Is this a "project" team or a "manager" team (which works on many projects)?
  • What UX methods does the team use? Do you have a "methodology" or just "methods"? Agile or waterfall? How would you compare your idea of the "complete method" (all of the steps needed to design for a good experience) compare with the actual methods the team has time/resources to do in practice?

Work atmosphere, culture

  • What professional development opportunities are there? Does our team participate in any local UX communities?
  • What does the team read (together)? Do team members write/contribute regularly?
  • Do we have time to "innovate" (try out new ideas)? Or just heads down and do the basics? Are we rewarded for failing?

The business

  • Who are the users? What are their goals? What specific tasks does the team design for? What is an example of some recent user research you did? Was it focus groups, a survey, ethnographic, remote usability testing?
  • What are some of the specific business goals that the UX team is designing for? How does the team UX strategy support the strategic direction of the company?
  • How is the team measured?

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