Last week I managed to squeeze time into my crazy schedule to attend the ConveyUX conference in Seattle sponsored by BlinkUX. I was delighted to see the international turnout and many familiar faces from the UW HCDE program. While I am not a card carrying UX professional, understanding the leading edge of UX is important for teaching the overall human centered design process and for mentoring entrepreneurs. As I am interested in putting on a conference in the near future about flipped startups, I also wanted to see what it took to put on a first time conference.
Before the conference started I asked Kelly Franznick who I should talk to from BlinkUX to debrief on the conference preparation and organizing. Kelly shared that Joe Welinske did all the heavy lifting to make the conference happen. Joe did an excellent job in recruiting a wide range of terrific speakers – both for the engaging presentation styles and the wealth of content that they shared. Thank you Joe.
The highlight of the first day was a presentation from Elisabeth Robson on the learning theory that goes into her Head First series of book on learning technical concepts. As I listened to her presentation, I browsed through her LinkedIn profile and was fascinated to see that while at Yale she worked on Mirror Worlds with David Gelernter. With her interesting “teaching” approach in the book through storytelling, her background with Mirror Worlds, and finding out she lived on Bainbridge Island, the magic number 3 coincidences happened. OK, the universe is telling me I need to meet with Elisabeth sometime on Bainbridge.
Elisabeth agreed and also virtually introduced me to her writing partner, Eric Freeman. As Eric and I exchanged emails, I found out that he’d developed one of my favorite abandoned pieces of software, Lifestreams, that grew out of the Mirror Worlds research. Even more exciting, Eric shared that he is continuing to work on Lifestreams. Who knew that by listening to a talk on “Creating Instructional Content that is Brain-Friendly,” I would end up with two new potential “strategic network” connections.
Next up was a session with Erika Hall of Mule Design Studio. A late afternoon presentation needs somebody with high energy, quirky humor, and good content. Erika exceeded expectations in all of those characteristics. The essence of her several presentations was “Creating Effective Interface Language.” She had me at her description of their blog “UnsuckIt” (NOTE: Be careful to use the URL pointer here and don’t search for unsuckit.com. You will end up someplace you are not likely to want to be as I so rudely found out.)
In rapid fire fashion, Erika went through her central thesis of interface as conversation with both positive and negative examples of starting and stopping conversations.
One of my favorite examples is a legalistic “conversation” put in plain English (I have no idea how this web content developer got this through her legal department):
Yet, the image that stays with me is Erika’s opening slide:
The main attraction for me at the conference was Vijay Kumar from the Institute of Design. Vijay released his book 101 Design Methods: A Structured Approach for Driving Innovation in Your Organization last fall and this conference was part of his book tour. Both Kelly Franznick and I have eagerly awaited this book as we’ve experienced it being authored and developed over the last ten years. Several of the HCDE students came up after the session and shared that they were beginning to understand where we’d sourced our teaching materials from.
Vijay started out by reminding us all of our failure rate at innovating. Through a visual journey covering his six principles of – integrate, delight, reframe, broaden, foster, and practice – we arrived at the Design Innovation process framework.
To reinforce the higher order context from the formal presentation, Vijay then ran a group workshop exercise to conceive of a reframed conference experience for the ConveyUX conference in the year 2033. As Vijay set up the exercise with his “Compelling Experience Map” method, I remembered Larry Keeley‘s presentation at TED many moons ago where I was first introduced to this method.
Vijay shared that an experience has three stages (attraction, engagement, and extension) along with six attributes (defined, fresh, immersive, accessible, significant, and transformative). The method has you look at a given experience today and then brainstorm innovative ways to enhance the experience. From his book, here is an example with events for social gamers:
This exercise was a terrific reminder for what I should be doing with each class that I teach, with the upcoming Flipped Startup conference we are planning, and with the MOOCs and transmedia books we are creating.
Wednesday dawned rainy and wet and it was a struggle to wind my way to the conference. Even the Seattle horse police were drowned in the downpours.
Next up was Jared Spool of User Interface Engineering to talk about “The Curious Properties of Intuitive Web Pages.” Jared woke me up at the start when he pounced on the many problems with security questions that web sites try to impose. He suggested that there was a long list of equally irrelevant (irreverent) security questions that could be asked:
Perhaps my favorite example (and now a regular stop on my laugh tour of the web) was a new travel reservation website Hipmunk.com. The genius of their information design is showing you the flights start and arrival times graphically laid out from best to worst with the AGONY filter. How many times have I wondered whether there was a committee somewhere that meets once a month to figure out how to add more AGONY to flying. Now the hipmunk folks have captured it:
From a visual, auditory and kinesthetic standpoint, my favorite moment of Jared’s talk was the illustration of what a 1.6% conversion rate means with a website that has a million visitors per day. His slide illustrated the concept:
As Jared displayed the slide, he walked into the audience where he showed that with this sixty one foot long string, it was only the last foot that represented the visitors who actually transacted something. What a wonderful way to take a statistic that seems to be pretty good for a conversion rate, but then dramatically shows how many people didn’t buy.
Jared then shared that the CEO of this web property has his office about 61 feet from the elevator. So the CEO strung up a similar device so that every morning and every evening he has to walk the full length of a representation of how many people didn’t buy that day. Jared summarized his talk and in many ways summarized the essence of the ConveyUX conference:
As I left the conference and wandered on to my next meeting, I realized what a good job the conference did in living up to its brand – ConveyUX. In three lively, engaging and instructive days, I’d gotten a good overview of the current state of the UX knowledge space. A brand promise and brand experience doesn’t get any better than that.
Thanks to Joe Welinske and all the BlinkUXers who made this conference happen.