MidwestUX 2016 Wrap Up

midwestux2016MidwestUX is a roaming conference raising the value and understanding of UX in the Midwest. Founded by one of my grad school mentors, Brandon Stephens, and Erik Dahl, this conference is a well-thought meeting of minds that just completed its sixth year. I love this conference, and have attended four of the six years because it always hits during the part of the year where I feel most discouraged and unsure I’m  influencing change in my company.

The 2016 conference was held in Louisville, KY, and the theme was “Craftsmanship & Hospitality.” In general, the speakers selected for this year focused on:

  1. User research: Meet your users where they are without a specific question to answer
  2. Storytelling: Share your research with your team in a compelling, humanistic way

As usual, I took sketchnotes of the talks I attended. I’ve summarized each one here, but feel free to also read in detail on Flickr.

Thursday Workshop

Humana’s “Design Studio” is a part of their Discovery & Framing methodology at the beginning of every new project. Get all the stakeholders in the room, debrief about the user and their problem, sketch and discuss until the room comes to a consensus and no one can remember who “designed” the solution.

Humana’s Design Experience Center utilizes “balanced teams” to work quickly and determine business investment into new solutions. Reduces overhead, and everyone is accountable.
1 designer : 5 developers.

Humana’s Digital Experience Center uses Pair Designing, taken from Pair Programming. A designer pairs with another designer, a product person, or a developer to co-design a solution. The navigator must keep the driver aware of user and business needs.

Friday Sessions

Design, Relevance, the Future, and Elephants keynote discussed Lean Startup thinking for business management. It’s about creating small things to test creator assumptions using customer feedback to reduce waste and business risk. Stop the “water-scrum-fall” nonsense.

Taming the Enterprise was about managing corporate acquisition culture and still influence change. Don’t aim high, aim high enough to see a difference, and work from there. Your empathy is not limited to your users, remember your product and technical stakeholders.

Everybody’s a Designer suggested that the UX Designer’s role is to usher in the best solutions to the product, regardless of who came up with the idea. Facilitate all ideas into a grid mapping the passion and knowledge axes to determine stronger solutions.

Busting Brain Myths chastised us for buying into things like “People don’t read,” “Right Brain vs Left Brain,” and other generalizations. People are complicated and require context if you’re going to design a solution to their problem!

Onboarding users to your product can happen once or many times. As a company, your problem statement is that your users don’t know how to use your services to solve their problem. Avoid the sexy, strive for clarity.

Ambiguity Management admitted people are hardwired for ambiguity and businesses are not. Use your creativity to serve the opportunity, not the bottom line. UX Designers are now tasked with managing the whitespace between products, not just the products themselves.

Ford Motor Company’s design team is all about “hacking away the unnecessary.” Learn to say no in favor of  functional reduction and simplicity. Remember that your product is part of a system, and the parts affect the whole.

Saturday Sessions

Story First reminded us that our users are accustomed to looking for stories, so why wouldn’t we make our product experience story-like? Don’t leave cliffhangers or make things anticlimactic; be deliberate with your functional pacing.

Accessibility & Usability wanted us to focus on the equality of experience. Rather than worrying about ARIA labels, use semantic HTML. Most assistive technologies are like keyboard navigation than anything else. Automated tools tell you something is there, not whether it was used correctly.

Expanding the Value of UX addressed larger companies with both a Customer Experience (market research: what) and User Experience (user research: why) team. Reflect where your UX team sits in your company’s perception and work your way up the pyramid.

Designer as Mapmaker settled a baseline of where we came from for mapping experiences (journey maps, customer maps, etc and asked the question “Are we mapping to understand or to communicate?” Sometimes the creation of the map is the important task, not the map itself.

Managing UX Debt gave us a checklist of tasks to help document and escalate UX debt as if it were technical debt so stakeholders have something tangible to react to.

Using Kurt Vonnegut’s 8 Rules for Writing emphasized the importance of every word in your interface. If you don’t have content writers, do yourself a favor and memorize these rules. Except #6. Avoid #6.

Steve Baty gave a compelling presentation without a slide deck by talking about the importance of never forgetting we’re designing for PEOPLE. Establish their status before dumping them into your process. Treat them in their context, tell their story, and don’t do what’s convenient for your organization.

Six Month Recap

Hey! So yesterday marked the year anniversary of my employment at WD Partners. I figured this would be a good time to reflect on some of the things that have happened recently, or at least since my last post in January.

Sketchnotes Field Guide for Sale

First, the Sketchnotes Field Guide book has sold fairly well! That’s exciting. People have been encouraging and enthusiastic, saying they were able to apply the methods in the book immediately, whether they read it or glanced through the pages. That is exactly the sort of thing a how-to author wants to hear. Feeling very grateful to all our readers, and to my co-author, Charlene McBride, for being such a great partner.

Our process to create the book, I’m realizing after the fact, was unconventional. We agreed to write the book together back in August 2011, and had a finished product in January 2012, without ever having met in person. The entire book was written via Google Docs, email, Skype meetings, and uploaded images. We used the same process when we joined forces with the fantastic Veronica Erb to run the Let’s Sketchnote! workshop at Midwest UX 2012. But wait! I’m getting ahead of myself.

Swing Columbus Performance Team

I joined the Swing Columbus performance team last fall, in November maybe, and the first quater of 2012 was a flurry of dance practices and competitions. We placed first at the Dayton Smackdown team competition, and the larger Hawkeye Lindy Festival team competition. All that hard work was worth the smiles on the faces in the audience, regardless of the outcome, but it was definitely nice to take home the trophies.

Speaking Engagements

On May 4th, I spoke at the Stir Trek conference about the topic Sketchnotes for Developers, i.e. Everyone. This was my first solo hour-long experience, which was nerve-wracking enough. Throw in the fact that I drew my entire presentation on 5 x 8 index cards and used the iPevo document camera to project the content on the movie screen (yes, movie screen. My handwriting was larger than the length of my body sometimes). Yeah. There were a lot of things that could have gone wrong. Such as me not having a lamp to illuminate my slides, among other things. Luckily a swing dancing friend was attending the conference and appeared at the movie theater with a tri-head floor lamp. It was fantastic.

On May 31, I led the Let’s Sketchnote! workshop with Veronica Erb and Charlene McBride. We prepared for the conference by writing the pitch together via Google Hangout and Google Docs, scheduling via Google Calendar, and sharing our sketches via the iPevo document camera. From the first inception (via Twitter), to writing the pitch, to running the workshop, I never met them in person over the four months I collaborated remotely with them.  In fact, the first time I met Charlene (even after writing a book with her!) was Thursday morning about half an hour before the workshop was slated to begin.

Ladies and gentlemen, in case you weren’t aware, we are living in the future.

The workshop went so well! People were stopping all of us, sharing their sketchnotes and asking questions about their difficulties, the remaining two days of the conference. It was great.

Keep Moving Forward

Projects on the horizon include picking up my historical fiction again. The children’s book is laid out in full, just waiting on the final illustrations and layout. So that’s exciting. Other than that, this post is getting too long. Keep smiling, keep dancing. I’m out.