Somebody is going to give me grief for not posting this actually on Day Two of UX Week, but I hadn’t counted on two things, and therefore ask for a bit of slack. First, the free wireless connection here at the Hotel Palomar sucks — there is no polite way to say it. It’s slow and constantly drops my connection. So I gave up trying and packed the laptop away. Secondly, I hadn’t counted on the amount of time I’d spend networking (ahem) in the evenings. And so, here I am on my flight back to Calfornia, writing a summary that’s a few days old. Such is life.
Day Two of UX Week started with a bang. Designer Michael Bierut gave the keynote, describing one of his notable failures (well, not quite, but the project did get started poorly). As part of a pro bono project designed to revitalize inner city school libraries in New York City, Bierut was to come up with a visual identify. The problem? He assumed he understood the problem, rather that actually meeting and discussing with the end users (kids and their librarians). As a result, his “great ideas” (which had been developed in a relative vacuum) fell flat.
In then end, he did end up meeting with the users, and began to truly understand what was important. There were some great lessons, but chief among them was this: know thy audience. Yeah, it’s the sort of common-sense credo that we’ve heard many times before, and yet how often to do we forgo this critical step, assuming (for example) because we ourselves use websites, that we somehow already know what the audience needs and wants. This may work fine if you’re building a website for an audience of one: yourself. But hopefully you aren’t so boring… you’re unique! And therefore, you really need to get the audience perspective.
Bierut’s key was communication. Often it’s just that simple, but when the problem is more complex, the audience may have a tough time verbalizing what they need. This is where usability tests come into play. More on that later.
The best session of the day came Tuesday afternoon. Dan Brown (no, not the DaVinci Code guy–the IA guy). His book–Communicating Design–is all about documention. Documenting content collection; use case scenarios; usability tests and functional specs. Sounds boring, but Dan’s delivered the goods with a great sense of humor and, frankly, it’s a topic that is really useful in a very practical way. Whatever. He sold me — I bought his book.
Adaptive Path’s Dan Saffer held a book signing party at Nanny O’Brien’s Tuesday night. Afterwards, a few of us went hunting for a bite to eat, settling on a sushi place with a really good sake sampler. Represented were folks from the Washington Post, Nationwide, Allstate, some sports website whose name I forget (not one you’d recognize), a home builder consortium, and moi.