A Recap of Convey UX

Convey UX 2014

Credit: Joe Welinske, Convey UX 2014

While 700 thousand revelers took to the streets of Seattle last week to celebrate the unprecedented win of the Seahawks, 300 dedicated UX people were huddled in the Hyatt Olive 8, listening to the first day of speakers at Convey UX.

Joe Welinske, from Blink UX, was the Producer of the event and is to be commended for the great roster of speakers and varied topics made available over the 3-day conference. Where many conferences tend to focus on UX for practitioners or evolving disciplines like Content Strategy, or a more utopian view of what our industry can achieve in terms of positive change (think Work IA Day,) Convey UX presented a healthy portion of all of these topics – and more.

With 40+ sessions and 30+ presenters, it would be impossible to report on everything at the conference, so this report covers the sessions I attended. I have to say it was often difficult to choose between activities because there were so many compelling topics and knowledgeable UX professionals speaking.

Who better to kick off a conference on usability and user experience design than Don Norman? A veteran in the area of cognitive science, design and usability engineering and co-founder and consultant with the Nielsen Norman Group, Norman’s opening helped to set the stage for the conference by underscoring the point that user experience design is not and never has been limited to websites. As Norman said, “We all come to the table looking at a problem from our own perspective…. Through chaos comes the solution.” Unfortunately the reality for most of us is that thinking through problems or at a basic level even developing the right questions to ask, often takes more time than what is in scope. Living up to his reputation as a somewhat loveable curmudgeon, Norman advised the audience that, “In the end bosses don’t want to hear about the problems – they want to hear the solutions,” and that as consultants (or workers), “it’s your job is to get your manager or client promoted…”

Kelly Goto’s presentation, Beyond Usable: Mapping Emotion to Experience, addressed the need to be empathetic with our users. Introducing the concept of “inter-conscious” – or automatic thinking, which occurs in between what you’re aware of and deeper subconscious, Goto feels, “We need to tap into that to design things that will make a difference to people.” Tying together principles of Kansei engineering, which evolved over the last 50 years in Japanese product design, as well as Artistotle’s three tenets for persuasion: Ethos (ethical appeal); Pathos (passion); and Logos (appeal of logic) Goto’s influences are far reaching. Her presentation was a great reminder that although there are new things under the sun, as UX practitioners, we can look to inventors, thinkers and brilliant minds of the past who have also contemplated many questions similar to the challenges that we face today in designing for usability.

Misty Weaver gave a nuts and bolts presentation on Building Sustainable Content Strategy from the Holistic Content Audit. Using an onion as the analogy, she shared the Onion Model used by Cognitive Work Analysis as well as other content models including Content Lifecycle developed by Rahel Bailie. And yes, the onion theme was apt as doing a deep content has brought many to tears! She reminded the audience of all the different types of audits that can be done to bring greater insight and awareness to our projects. From quantitative to technical and competitive, audits can serve multiple purposes, which can help with analysis and decisions made for content and how it is meeting the needs of targeted audiences.

For me, one of the highlights of the conference was hearing Susant Weinschenk aka The Brain Lady speak. With a Ph.D in psychology, Weinshenk’s talk on Designing for Engagement as well as her session, How to Get People to Do Stuff, was what behavioral marketing should be based upon. Weinschenk’s 5 Critical Steps to Design include:

  1. Know about people in general
  2. Know about YOUR particular targeted audience
  3. Know what is the one target action our audience wants to take
  4. Decide the one target action you want them to take
  5. Apply principles of human factors, psychology and human motivation to the design

Sarah Wachter-Boettcher is the new star of the UX conference circuit. A content strategist, who evangelizes that “Our work needs to be normalized – not seen as something that only smart people – or the web team does.” Her approach is about full immersion in the organization and specifically working alongside the content owners who will be left with the task to maintain the site once the team of UX consultants is long gone. Her common sense approach is akin to teaching the client how to fish and certainly makes sense if the goal is to keep intact the work that the UX team puts in place.

Boettcher’s next session, Getting More with Content Modeling was a tactical approach to analyzing content in order to prepare an organization for intelligent content. Based on the work that Daniel Jacobson did for NPR, and the acronym COPE, is now a mainstream term used for creating content once, but publishing everywhere. Content modeling is an important technique used by content strategists to prepare content for multi-channel distribution. By chunking up content and giving it a repeatable structure it can more easily be created, managed and distributed through content management systems. It is beneficial across organizations as authors, editors, developers, CMS teams, and translation teams will be affected by the content model in place. Using the MarthaStewart.com site as a work case, she had participants break down and map how content was organized and chunked into logical repeatable patterns throughout the site.

Other interesting sessions included Kel Smith, whose presentation, What We Can Learn from Digital Outcasts brought to light the fact that accessibility has been woefully neglected by the UX community. Smith did a heroic job of disproving arguments against designing for accessibility or that “accessibility is always thought of as a nice to have” because implementing it is:

  • Is ugly
  • Expensive
  • Isn’t marketable
  • Isn’t innovative

Rob Keefer answered many questions I had about good implementation of Agile in his session, Agile UX: Embrace or Tolerate. Although he confirmed that Agile is really developer-centric, using stories added as post-it notes to wireframes, it is possible to train developers to value:

  • People over features
  • User feedback over generalized opinions
  • Ease of use over ease of development
  • Discovery over documentation

On the last day, Whitney Quesenbery kicked off the day with a talk on Writing Great Persona Stories. The theme of working together as a team was reiterated when she also spoke about the importance of stories and the impact real life stories can have on inspiring the rest of the team to having greater empathy for the targeted audience. An interesting idea was having real people write their own stories, which were later used as a foundation for the personas developed by the UX team.

It’s possible that Steven Hoober has done more research than any one human being on mobile and in his presentation, Tools for Mobile UX Design and How People Really Hold and Touch he definitely provided the data proving it! I recommend that anyone who is doing mobile design watch this presentation, which provides great heuristics to keep in mind in terms of text size, visible target, finger size, design by zones and more. He also has for sale on his website, 4ourth.com, a great little tool, which enables UX designers to evaluate their mobile design based upon actual text and finger size!

The future of UX was addressed by both Samantha Starmer and Andrew Hinton. In Starmer’s presentation, The Future of Experience Design is Omnichannel, she defined omnichannel as “An approach where physical and virtual channels come together to enable a seamless experience.” Bringing together the digital and physical worlds that we all inhabit, Starmer pointed to brands who either forgot one platform or the other as they were developing their marketing campaigns. For Target to have a huge marketing campaign on “Everyday Things” that only was addressed in the physical world of print advertising and billboards, but to ignore it on their website – was a huge gap. Through touchpoint inventories and cross channel maps, Starmer gave tactical advice on how we can be more attentive to showing what needs to happen across channels – from the desktop and mobile websites to the store and call center.

Hinton’s presentation, The World is a Screen, addressed questions related to the use of technology as well as cognition and how artificial intelligence needs to keep basic principles of psychology and perception to bare. Delving very deep very quickly, Hinton’s philosophical questions included topics like personalization, environmental perception, and semantic information. “Technology is advancing faster than the laws that protect us,” Hinton stated, which could result in either a utopian or dystopian future, depending upon how personalization is applied. The questions of choice, trust, relationships between people and brands, and embodiment of the physical in virtual worlds are all questions that we as UX practitioners will be facing. Let’s hope we make the right choices.

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