A review of UXPA 2016 Seattle

By: Sean Smith
Date: July, 2016
File under: Articles

The start of June saw me making my first trip to the annual User Experience Professionals Association (UXPA) conference. This conference is one I had been interested in attending for some time, but when I found out that Seattle was this year’s host city, I registered without delay. Even if the conference turned out to be a bust or not particularly interesting, at least I’d be guaranteed some fantastic beer in a city that I love visiting.

Confirming a strong Australian UX community

When registering, I was particularly curious as to how this conference compared to the UX (User Experience) and CX (Customer Experience) conferences I have attended in Australia. Would it highlight any differences in philosophy or approach to UX? Not surprisingly, I found it to be mostly similar with some small but interesting differences.

Firstly, the size of the conference, in terms of number of attendees, was remarkably similar to conferences like UX Australia. I had been expecting something larger given the comparative differences in scale between the UX industry in Australia and the USA. This served to confirm to me how committed and vibrant the UX community is in Australia.

This conference also confirmed that the Australian UX community is right on pace with the international UX community. Presentations touched upon the increased recognition of open-ended discovery research methods (i.e. those that borrow from anthropological techniques like ethnography). Such discussion mirrored what we are already doing here in Australia – where we “embrace the grey” as my colleague Kristy likes to say.

Further discussions about data science (and how it plays a role in informing and shaping the user and customer experience) also confirmed that our professional community is on par with the US.

Focus on UX research overshadows UX design

I did however find a notable difference in the strength of focus placed on research at UXPA. In my experiences attending industry conferences in Australia, design conversations dominate, with research receiving little attention.

In attending presentations and speaking to other attendees of UXPA 2016, it became clear that I was amongst people who worked for internal teams or consultancies who either specialised in, or strongly valued, research – and the essential role it plays in informing good user and customer experience design. This was a happy place for me to be in, given U1 Group’s dedication to using research to help our clients make informed decisions about user and customer experience design.

Exploring research based on emotional response

Another similarity with conferences in Australia was the enthusiasm of the speakers and the passion for the industry, with a number of great talks covering topics including agile/lean UX, eye tracking, mobile, the role of content, use of journey mapping and personas, building a career in UX and what we can learn from fields like psychology and anthropology.

However, the topic that I found particularly interesting was the capture and measurement of emotional responses during research. This really resonated with me as I feel that through research we are clearly able to identify where an experience works and where it falls down, but we don’t have particularly strong insight into how these experiences make people feel.

Whilst ensuring we are designing and delivering experiences that work is the most important consideration, a true understanding of how people are feeling during an experience or interaction may serve to elevate the experiences we deliver. This is something that I am definitely keen for us to explore further at U1 Group. You always hope that you come away from a conference with some key learning or idea that might influence your future practice, and this topic was it for me.

A field trip to Starbucks: In-store experience

An additional highlight of the conference was the opportunity to catch up with members of the UX Fellows – specifically the crew from Key Lime Interactive and Kelly from GotoResearch. They, organised a fun and informative event at the Starbucks Roastery where we learnt about how Starbucks is using digital services to improve the in-store experience. I have to say that whilst Seattle folk pride themselves on their coffee, and it is not just all Starbucks, they are not in the same conversation as Melbourne.

Automating our future experiences

The conference closed with an entertaining keynote by James Whitakker from Microsoft. He spoke about the evolution of user experience, moving from the current model where we actively interact with devices to seek information via the web and apps, to a future where through the rise of the Internet of Things information is delivered to us, perhaps with decisions even being made for us, removing the need for a screen. It certainly presented some interesting thoughts about how we deliver the experiences of the future. His talk also touched on the optimal time to go to the bathroom when watching World War Z (run-pee app, it’s a real thing) and the merits of legalised marijuana in Washington State. I did say it was entertaining.

So the conference was good, the scenery was amazing and the beer was exceptional but that is probably a topic for another post entirely…

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