Notes from Think Vitamin's UX & Usability Online Conference

Posted on August 04, 2010

Last week I had the opportunity to attend the Think Vitamin’s UX & Usability Online Conference and wanted to share some of the highlights of the event. The conference was about 4 hours long and had presenters of the caliber of Cennydd Bowles, Leisa ReicheltAza Raskin, and Dan Rubin.


This was my second Think Vitamin online conference and I had a much better time on this than the first one . One aspect of the conference that had negative impact on the overall experience was the use of Webex for the video conference. The application had a less than optimal user interface and managed to confuse presenters and attendees alike; The irony of which was not lost on a number of the attendees who expressed this many times throughout the event. Despite this small glitch, the conference was entertaining and informative. I particularly enjoyed how the sessions progressed from the more abstract concepts discussed by Cennydd Boles to the more hands on presentation by Dan Rubin.

Main takeaways

Overall, the conference had a lot great information and some good discussions initiated by attendees via chat. Here is a list of some of the ideas I found noteworthy:

Cennydd Bowles: Undercover User Experience

  • Design patterns can be used to solve a specific problem. This should be done with caution because the context may be different.

  • You can never get things right the first time because you can’t understand the problem (iteration, usability testing, etc.).  Business people usually can’t understand this and it’s the UX person’s responsibility to explain this to them.

  • When talking about a critique, make sure people tell you what should change and not how.

  • Cennyd is working on a book with James Box: Undercover UX.

Leisa Reichelts: Design Research

  • DR saves time because it helps us design the right thing.

  • Longitudinal: Users relationship to a design changes over time.

  • Front load your project with “big research.”

  • Recruit by persona not demographic.

  • When doing interviews: Start wide, narrow slowly.

  • Get people to talk about actual context: Specific situations, incidents rather than general.

  • Show don’t tell.

  • Mental models: “If you did that, what do you think will happen?”

  • Ask open questions.

  • Don’t lead users with your questions.

  • Make sure they understand “this is not a test.”

  • Look for visual cues that contradict what they are saying: “Everything looks perfect” while they are leaning forward to try to read the screen.

Aza Raskin: How to Prototype and Influence People

  • The value of an idea = 0.  It’s all about execution.

  • Importance of execution.

  • You are going to get it wrong the first time.

  • Prototypes make ideas real (tangible).

  • ( ( Prototypes ( Mockups ( Write Up ( Idea ) ) ) ) Video ), via @ahmed_xp.

  • Aim to finish the first pass in a day. This helps us focus on the most important tasks.

  • You are making a touchable sketch: “You’re sketching the Mona Lisa.”

  • Make feedback tight.

  • While iterating your solution, you are understanding the problem.

  • Your problem statement will change as the project evolves (iterates): e.g., Twitter.

  • Treat code as throw-away, but be ready to refactor.

  • Pitch your audience.

  • When pitching an idea: Modify your message for your audience.

  • Tell a story.

  • Be dramatic.

Dan Rubin: Hands on prototyping

  • Don’t break things by fixing other things.

  • Inherent value test: Shows what’s right about your site.

  • High fidelity prototypes are much better for testing interaction.

  • Avoid building anything (i.e., the entire application/website).

  • Simple page with the majority of layout from a background image with links positioned absolute.

  • Test specific tasks: Give users direction and ask them to perform tasks.

  • Discover what users love so you can protect it.

  • Users care more about how it works than how it looks.

  • Users prefer clarity above all else.

  • Build flexible prototypes.

If you found these notes useful or attended the conference and think I missed something important be sure to leave a comment to let me know.