UX Camp 2017 was held on October 20th and 21st at MacEwan University. Organized by UX Edmonton, this annual event brings together a variety of speakers from the user experience industry to share their experience with the local UX community. The event was sponsored in part by nForm User Experience Consulting, and as one of their newer consultants, I had the opportunity to attend and support my fellow colleagues who were presenting at the event for the Saturday speakers sessions.
Each of the talks I attended covered a different aspect of user experience, such as team building, working with stakeholders, user testing, and workshop facilitation. To match the diversity of topics, the speakers themselves each had their own unique experience and history with the industry from which to draw their inspiration. What I noticed after attending UX Camp, was that these different perspectives are what ultimately help define user experience in a meaningful way and lead to the enhancement of the industry.
Kristina Mausser who opened the event with a presentation on “Cultivating Sustainable User Experiences through Cross Pollination”, described herself as someone with a fair amount of experience in the UX industry. Someone who had led their company through an economic cycle of boom and bust and was now in a position to reflect on what qualities helped her company persevere. Kristina also spoke of her interest in agriculture and how that inspired an analogy that compared cultivation to a healthy user experience practice. Cross pollination for example was used to describe the building of a mutually enriching environment and exchanging of ideas. This could be seen in how one chooses to build their UX team, by seeking people who are experts in different areas than you strengthens the quality of the solutions and “improves the yield” that a team can produce. Having strengths in more areas than one also helps a team become adaptive to unforeseeable conditions like the economic climate. Kristina felt that major blocks to creativity tend to come from self imposed silos, so breaking out of those silos and seeking out experts to support the areas you lack help to create a more beautiful result. Kristina also noted that at times seeking opportunities for independent growth is also needed, which was associated with self pollination. Reading about a diversity of topics (not just about the industry), going to conferences, and generally being open to new experiences all help to develop one’s own mind and ability to adapt to whatever the future may hold.
Tema Frank’s presentation on “Getting Buy-in for User Experience Improvements”, spoke of her experience in the industry which spanned almost 20 years in a business marketing and usability testing role. She also mentioned her experience in more political types of roles such as being a board member for a number of organizations. Considering her background which obviously very much involves working with people, it was interesting to find her talk touched on the soft skills required for convincing potential stakeholders of the value of usability testing. She explained what tend to be the common sources of reluctance, such as time pressures, financial setbacks, and even emotional barriers like ego or internal politics. To overcome these barriers, Tema emphasized trying to understand the other’s point of view (their emotional and political position in the project) and use this information to be able to meet them on an even level and target the issues that matter specifically to them. This gets to the root of the problem in a way that motivates people to change and adapt while reducing potential conflict and backlash.
Sabine Seyffarth comparatively introduced herself as a “new person” to the UX industry, but had a unique background in psychological research and testing. Her presentation on “Getting the Right Insights for Better Products: A Journey in User Research” described a project she was involved in to test a children’s online lesson program. Though Sabine’s presentation was not about applying highly technical scientific measures to usability testing, I found it interesting that her presentation was structured in a way that describes the project in a format that follows the model of scientific procedure. First the problem was identified, the methods used for testing were planned for and followed, and the results were recorded for implementation in the design stage. This procedure of testing offers validity to findings. By creating a logical testing process, UX researchers can tackle bias or assumptions, and can then objectively interpret real feedback from the people this application intends to serve. To also ensure the product continued to effectively meet the needs of its users, Sabine also stressed the need for continued testing.
Cornelius Rachieru pulled the perspective back to something much broader by comparing user experience to an ecosystem model in his presentation on “Systems Thinking and Ecosystems Mapping in UX”. His background was developing digital products for mobile, TV, and wearable platforms, so naturally he has an awareness of the potential complexity of all these interconnected things. In many cases this could be daunting, but instead of becoming distracted by the minute details of a project, he reminded us to look at the big picture. Cornelius took us through a project case study where he facilitated a workshop by drawing a rich picture. This method helped to work through the complex problem of converting a company’s warehouses into retirement homes. The analysis of this problem required the consideration of many angles such as pain points, practical needs, competition, areas of risks, actors involved, etc. Drawing was used as a tangible way to help focus on what’s important in an overall scheme while keeping track of a piece’s position within a dynamic interconnected system. Doing this also allowed for easy experimentation with different ideas.
After attending UX Camp, I thought of the standard definition of user experience being the all encompassing experience of the end user with a product or service. Though accurate, events like UX Camp serve as reminders of the complexity and depth that definition actually implies. All speakers had a different perspective through their own individual experience, yet I would argue that all had something valuable to contribute about different aspects of the industry. Kristina’s takeaway was on self development and networking to improve a team’s strength and product yield. Tema proposed that UX is not necessarily an easy sell, and so it requires a strong interpersonal approach and understanding to be a champion of its benefits. For those involved in the actual testing of a product, perhaps a more scientific lens is required to provide effective validity of results. Then for those involved in the conceptual development of solutions, perhaps a broader systems view may be used to account for the dynamic qualities of a complex problem. The format of the event reinforced the value of these different perspectives. Giving these voices a platform to share with others and showing the depth and maturity this industry has achieved so far.