A full-day conference all about user research! This time it’s also two optional half-day workshops on advanced research techniques you can choose from on the preceding day. There has been an explosion of apps and services to conduct research over the past year, and so this year’s theme is “Vendor Circus.” We’ll bring user research experts together for advanced discussion, beverages, relaxed learning, and heavy socializing.
Steve and Julie also co-led an aforementioned half-day workshop on the preceding Thursday (you can read more about that here).
Friday’s line-up of presentations was interspersed with just the right amount of mingling and networking. Thoughts were provoked! Here, in no particular order, are some of them:
I’ve been part of “user research” type events for well over a decade, but on Friday I finally felt that our field has reached a point of maturity where events like these are effective venues to address some of the issues we’re facing. I saw a remarkable absence of posturing, very few “Gaze upon our perfect case study!” presentations, and none of the “Here’s why we can’t do research in my organization” whining. The best presentations of the day were those that explicitly raised (and often didn’t answer) questions that we should be thinking about. They brought out a certain collective humility that I found refreshing and compelling. Of course, organizers Nate and Cyd helped set the right tone through their deliberate planning to make that possible.
Julie goes on
The day featured great pacing and a spectrum of perspectives and styles of presentation. And cake-pops. I enjoyed the tension between the group’s characterizations of User Research as sometimes highly qualitative and sometimes very technology-driven/quantitative. Both camps were represented without bias. Nice! I guess we can all just get along. Several conversations I had touched on the challenge of selling the value of qualitative, consumer-based insights in a world increasingly influenced by complex tools that derive assertive analytics. Why do numbers seem to have more credibility than stories? Naturally, this seems counter-intuitive to me. Jared Spool gave some compelling ammo in his discussion of the importance of inference as a step in the analysis process of quantitative data. From a methodology standpoint, Dana Chisnell’s simple but provocative observation will stick with me: when research requires people to “pretend” to do something it exposes its flaws.
The highlight for me was Dana Chisnell’s presentation, which reminded me to check myself before I wreck someone else’s user experience– specifically, pointing to something I would call “legacy metaphors” (although I’ve just learned they are actually called skeuomorphs), which are things like the “cc:” and “bcc:” fields on an email, the 12 key configuration on mobile phones, or the clicking sound when you take a picture on a digital camera. These conventions, appropriated from the analog world, may be a step forward in aiding adoption of the new and unfamiliar, but the question Dana threw out to the audience (and I’m paraphrasing here) is, “Are we really helping people, or are we propagating some archaic interaction convention because it’s easier than figuring out a better one?”