I attended (and spoke at) my first UX Week last week in Washington DC, and it lived up to its billing as a good ol' time. I met many amazing people, stayed out too late, and yet was still motivated to get up early every morning to see the keynotes. That's saying something. Most conferences can be considered successes if just one of those things happens.
Breaking it down
The sessions came in three varieties: (1) products and interface implementations; (2) design tools and processes; and (3) ideas and inspirations. Sarah Nelson at Adaptive Path organized the conference, and she recruited speakers who were not the usual talking heads.2 The mix of backgrounds, experience, and subject matter kept things lively. I especially appreciated the discussions of process by AP folks like Indi Young, Kate Rutter, and Jesse James Garrett during the panel discussion of CNN.com. All of these opened my eyes to new design tools and techniques, and exposed the fact that there is a lot of innovation going on out there. In terms of the flashy products on display, I'm inherently too inquisitive and skeptical to believe what people tell me during product demoes — I need to get immersed in them myself, and ask: How did you get there? Where did that come from? What need is that addressing? How did the design evolve? Because I'm a nerd.3
Design is story-telling
As Leisa Reichelt pointed out during our panel, a lot of speakers addressed the topic of story-telling in one way or another. Kevin Brooks of Motorola Labs led a workshop on storytelling techniques; the folks behind the recent redesign of CNN.com described the way in which they crafted the story that they told their internal stakeholders; people from BestBuy.com and Sachs discussed the use of videotaped customer stories to make a case for a redesign. Of course, story-telling and design are intimately intertwined — two strands of a businessy double-helix. I was inspired by the variety of ways in which designers are telling stories about the problems to be solved, and the techniques and nuances involved in their approaches.
UX is real
I go to fewer conferences than I should (so I may be a bit sheltered), but I'll say this anyway: at the conference, I got the feeling that UX was much further along to becoming an actual profession. UX practices are no longer outposts in the Wild West of digital products; our work is now identifiable territory in the business landscape. Not long ago, there were very few things that wouldn't be considered within the purview of user experience; now, the boundaries of our problems are a little more clear, and our experiences as practitioners have more commonalities than differences. I feel like Tom Hanks in Big. Now, if only I could explain what I do to my parents … 1 From one of my favorite movies of all-time, Freaks, i.e., one of us, one of us, we accept you, one of ux.2 Okay, except Jared Spool, but it's always good to hear what he's thinking. 3 I admit: The interface for One Laptop Per Child is elegant and intriguing, but I'm politically ambivalent about the project itself. I'm fascinated by the possibilities of creating an information pipeline the developing world, but I guess I'm not enough of a tech evangelist to believe in the idea that distributing laptops is better than distributing more immediate aid. Maybe I'm not thinking big enough.