Thoughts on Midwest UX 2011

This past weekend, I was able to attend the Midwest UX conference held in Columbus, Ohio.  I had a phenomenal time and was able to meet some really great, smart, and passionate people.  I was able to immerse myself into an entire weekend surrounded by uber-UX-geeks of all ages and backgrounds who spoke a common language.  Or several common languages with common keywords.  I was able to speak without having to explain terms I was using.  In short, it was a beautiful thing that I hadn’t experienced in a long, long time.

I live for my family first and foremost, and as such, it’s been a long time since I went to anything resembling a conference, really.  Now that the kids are a “little bit” older, I figured it was time.  It was definitely the right decision and I regret now that I didn’t make it sooner.

Nearly a decade ago, when I started stepping back from developing or designing sites and thought it made a lot more sense to truly document the approach before building, it was unclear to me how prolific the industry I would take as my first professional love would become.  As years went by, there were hints and signs here and there.  At first, I could find a couple of examples of sitemaps on the web.  Then I discovered Garrett’s Visual Vocabulary.  Later, I could google “information architecture stencils” and augment Nick Finck’s stencil set for Visio 2003 with several others.  Today, searches on any combination of the words in this post yield an overwhelming amount of results; an onslaught of information.

Going to Midwest UX reinforced for me that I had made the right decision “falling” into this field so many years ago.  Listening to the speakers, and speaking to other UX pros, I felt like every principle I believe in, professionally and personally, was evident in every expressed word.

Everything that was said resonated with me in ways that were very real.  Some of the presentations echoed musings of my own, while others presented approaches that were new to me, and all were done sensibly and masterfully.  I tweeted many of the ideas that rang loudly to me.  Overall, a single theme kept presenting itself to me; something that I hadn’t put together into a coherent, single thought before this weekend.

The User Experience profession is about helping people.  It’s about empathy and being “more human,” and creating that culture in every organization you touch.

This weekend, I was surrounded by a wave of people who are trying to make products & services better, and it left me with a deep and profound sense of pride in what I do.

I’ve always felt that User Experience design was a holistic approach to building websites that combined all of the best practices & elements in Communication, Cognitive Psychology, Marketing (yes, Marketing), Visual Design, Spatial Relationship, Computer Science, User Interface, Ergonomics, and (of course) Library Science.  Attending Midwest UX and meeting and listening to so many passionate speakers and practitioners taught me that User Experience design also combines all these professional fields with Being Human, Empathy, Respect for Fellow Man, Equity, and Good Culture.  We are a group of people making the world a better place.  One interface at a time.

Thank you to all the people who organized this event, the brilliant speakers, and all the wonderful UX professionals who were in attendance.


One thing I didn’t do the first day was properly attribute some of the themes and statements to the presentations I heard.  So, my one-sentence takeaways for day one, by speaker:

  • Informivores hunt by scent. – Jared Spool (@jmspool)
  • Nta kibazo! (No Worries) Great reassertion of a basic tenet. – Veronica Erb (@verbistheword)
  • Culture = (an abstraction of) patterns + stories – Erik Dahl (@eadahl)
  • In-home interviews: Engage your host/participant as a human first, be an interviewer second, but keep the balance – Brad Nunnally (@bnunnally)
  • UX designers are well-positioned to enrich kids’ lives through volunteer teaching – Larissa Itomlenskis
  • “You are in the problem-solving business & you don’t solve problems with design documentation” – Jeff Gothelf (@jboogie)
  • Interaction design isn’t just about screens; it’s about conversations & creating a space for them to keep going – Marc Rettig (@mrettig)
  • Approaching users as sheep gives you a temporary success but has no meaningful, long-term effect – Dan Willis (@uxcrank)
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