Highlights from UX Week 2007 (Day Two)

Jesse James Garret at UX Week 2007Earlier this week, I was lucky enough to spend the day engaged in thought-provoking discussions with our industry leaders at Adaptive Path’s annual UX Week 2007. Although I was only able to attend for a single day, there was more informative and thought provoking discussions to keep my brain churning for the rest of the week. While the topics varied from usability and prototyping techniques to agile process and accessibility, the theme was clear: we can join in finding solutions to the challenges we confront in the evolving web industry. Last weekend at BarCampDC, I spoke about some of the obstacles visual designers face. At UX Week, that sentiment was reinforced as we talked about the rise of technologies like JavaScript, AJAX, and RIA —and their impacts on usability, interfaces and documentation. I quickly realized that these challenges are felt across all disciplines (information architects, experience designers, visual designers, and developers) of our field. Throughout the day, we discussed how to adapt to these trends so we can be better user experience designers and, in the end, simply create better products. Jared Spool’s “Making Smart Clients Usable” was among the most engaging and entertaining presentations. He talked about how the “cool features” of client-side technology can be abused and reminded us that audience research is essential to avoid this cluttered user experience. Always ask, "Is this useful for the user?" Good usability isn't only about taking away frustrations and structuring the way your internal team thinks best; it's about adding "delight" and intuitively leveraging what the end-user needs. He used Netflix as a prime example of a company that has successfully integrated user research and feedback in their processes. Stephen P. Anderson's presentation on Creating the Adaptive Interface was personally thought provoking. Stephen believes that established products can flourish if they evolve intuitively to provide a personalized experience to their users. Currently, most user interfaces are designed to fit a script that is "in a zone of safe mediocrity." As designers, we are forced to make design decisions knowing that one approach is more desirable for one user group then another. Stephen argues that using an adaptive approach will allow designers to leverage various data and determine which approach the individual user needs. So, for example, under the adaptive solution, a beginning user might see more descriptive information about a product than a power user, who has already visited the site 100 times. Check out Stephen’s IA Summit presentation on Adaptive Interfaces for this and more examples. Another fantastic discussion, “Using Prototypes to Visualize Interactions” came from David Verba of Adaptive Path. He mentioned that traditional wireframes can no longer adequately communicate issues and solutions in an age of rich AJAX features because any particular page can have some 27+ states. Instead, he prefers making prototypes (be it low-fidelity or high fidelity), which can deliver more impact and allow designers to explore divergent ideas with more detail than paper wireframes. He suggests that prototypes would be more cost effective when developed with an agile approach, especially in the case of a high fidelity prototype where the end product is production-ready, front-end code. Leisa's Reichelt’s session on the Agile Process & User-Centered Design was particularly interesting. (Pat and I just pitched a proposal for a SXSW talk on a similar topic. Fingers crossed!) Leisa argued that the traditional waterfall method is obsolete, -- especially with large and technically challenging projects – because it makes unrealistic assumptions too early and doesn’t consider how designers naturally solve problems. Her solution is called the washing machine method, which is a combination of agile and user-centered design that incorporates user testing and feedback throughout the process. That testing and feedback harkened back to Jared’s Netflix example and further emphasized its importance in today’s evolving web industry. One Laptop per Child demoTwo other noteworthy highlights of the day included an exciting keynote demonstration of the Design and UI Behind the One Laptop per Child project and the release of Adaptive Path’s Charmr – The Design Concept for Diabetes Management. The day ended with a panel discussion led by DC’s own Dan Brown . Panelists shared their experiences, discussed challenges (aside from RIA) and ways the industry has changed, and even shared what they look for when evaluating resumes/portfolios. I never imagined a single day would leave me so inspired, motivated, and, quite frankly, excited about our industry and the challenges we work to overcome each day.
Thanny Young

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