Conference Recap: UX Week 2013

Last week, several members of the THINK team were able to attend part of Adaptive Path’s UX Week conference in San Francisco. In addition to facilitating our “Bridging Physical to Digital” workshop, we were also able to participate in several other workshops and attend a few lectures. We met a number of very interesting and talented members of the UX community as well.

Of the lectures we attended, a highlight was Dan Klyn’s “Patterns from Studying Richard Saul Wurman”. Dan has spent the last several years reviewing Wurman’s works (83 books!) and interviewing Wurman about his life, philosophies and methodologies. Klyn is emphatic in explaining that everything Wurman does, he does for himself, to satisfy and assuage his intense curiosity and need for knowledge. That we may benefit from his efforts is a nice side-effect, but is not Wurman’s goal.

Through Klyn’s studies, he has identified five distinct patterns in Wurman’s work and approach to design:

  1. Hats & Hat Racks: This pattern is based on the premise that order imposes meaning and that changing the order of information changes its meaning.
  2. Sandcastles:  Designers often build sandcastles because they are too focused on finding solutions rather than the truth.
  3. Gathering & Staging:  Wurman believes that understanding precedes action. You can only understand something relative to something else you already understand.
  4. Tango:  The classical dance is a combination of drama and fluid motion. It’s metaphorical in that it represents a balance of confidence and abject terror. Wurman, himself, confesses that “Difficulty excites me.” He is always looking for things that will require confidence and risk to fully execute and appreciate. He likes to tango with his work.
  5. Dumb: Wurman believes that “When we acquire expertise, we lose innocence.” We stop being inquisitive in the best, most curious ways. Expertise has a shelf life and an expiration date. Being curious does not. Always start from a place of little or no knowledge or foregone conclusions.

The conference keynote was delivered by Brenda Laurel who provided a lovely recap of her career, “Crossing Boundaries: Journeys in Design and UX”. She discussed the “fortuitous intersections” of her interests, the growth of computing technologies and the blending of art and science. As a former actress, she described UX in terms of theater (drawing heavily from her 1991 book, “Computers as Theater”) in that we have the ability to control the user’s point of view and perspective through our work. She discussed the early days of virtual reality and how boring it actually was, “It was used for training and really didn’t do much more than activate pull-down menus. . . Is that all??” She also described her time at Atari and Apple, as an entrepreneur and in academia.

Theater was also a theme in Jamin Hegeman’s workshop, “Designing for Multi-touchpoint Service Experiences”. Hegeman set the stage by defining service as a constellation of brand touch points and experiences that should be carefully crafted and designed. They should never be allowed to just organically “happen.” He further described service delivery as a performance requiring an orchestration of disciplines, corporate silos and products. His workshop focused on techniques for “service storming” and actively acting out connected services. It was quite fun to be a participant in these activities.

In “Visualizing Data to Change Behaviors,” Haig Armen described an interactive art installation in Vancouver that married Arduino’s and big data to effect behavioral change among doctors and nurses in a local hospital. The goal was to increase hand washing and use of hand sanitizers in order to lower patient risks of infection and transmission of disease. By connecting Arduino’s to the soap and hand sanitizer dispensers, Armen’s team was able to visually represent how often medical staff were washing their hands, how much time was spent washing hands and which days of the week and times of day scored the highest. Additionally, his team was able to visually show the difference between the hand-washing habits of men and women on the medical staff. This project was originally intended as a behind-the-scenes program without a public facing display, but it’s been so successful that the data visualizations are now displayed in the hospital waiting rooms for public consumption.

Dan Saffer’s “How to Design Details: A Microinteractions Workshop” described the finer details of micro interactions, triggers, signature moments and the flow of interaction. Dan also discussed the evolution of micro interactions and the changing modalities he’s now tracking including the emergence of auditory and haptic micro interactions. Dan also discussed the nuances of how micro interactions should be used including helping users accomplish a single task, adjusting a setting and turning a feature or function on or off, for instance. One of his key take-aways is that your design is only as good as the smallest part.

Other highlights of the conference for me were meeting MJ Broadbent and Giles Colburne face to face. I would have loved to have arrived in time to attend MJ’s workshop on “Drawing What You Mean – in Real Time,” but our schedule simply didn’t permit the additional time. I look forward to doing this workshop an a future event. Similarly, our workshop overlapped with Giles’ “Advanced Simplicity” workshop so I’ll have to save that for a future conference as well. His book, “Simple and Usable” is one of the best design books I’ve read in a while. (Be on the lookout for a review in the next few weeks.)

All in all, we found UX Week to be a very nice event and we were quite pleased to contribute to the week. It’s always nice to be inspired and to have an opportunity for hands-on knowledge gain.