Can you learn about design research and user experience in a bar? Why yes! says Nate Bolt of Bolt|Peters, the brains behind User Research Friday. On Friday, November 7, we travelled to San Francisco, CA to check out this bi-annual event. The event brought together design research and user experience professionals for education, conversation and the all important networking.
The big conferences can be great - CHI, IDSA, IXDA - but there was something great and very tangible about this short and fairly small gathering. 150 people gathered for 5 hours to learn and network - then it was gone.
Steve Portigal of Portigal Consulting discussed the role of prototypes, not just as a precursor to a product, but as a real development tool where you learn about next steps. He also reminded researchers that it's our job to talk the language of the user, not to get them to speak our language - or that of the product company. A simple but important message.
Indi Young, founder of Adaptive Path and now independent, focused on a tool creating mental models. She discussed the real importance of knowing your "customer", whether that is a company or a person. She proposed segmentation not by market research demographics such as age and gender, but by behaviors, beliefs and reactions.
Kris Mihalic, PhD of Yahoo! Mobile talked about the realities of research and how the outcome and findings of even the best research with stakeholder buy in may still never see application due to corporate issues. Good results do not equal good implementation.
Dan Saffer gave his very entertaining talk on "Lying with User Research" wherein he gives examples of every bad practice possible and how to make research say what you want it to! (Our favorite quantitative example at 1:10 in the video. )
Dr. Aviva Rosenfeld of Ask.com tackled the hot topic, "do user researchers (as opposed to anthropologists who claim the term) actually do ethnography?" In short, her answer was that labels don't matter, call it what you will, just be sure you do good research. A side comment - it is almost impossible to do true ethnography and meet the needs of the product development timeline. In the video, at 6:00, Aviva defines ethnography, at 11:30 she discusses "bad ethnography" and then at 20:30 she gets to the heart of the matter in some shaky video...
Pushing the envelopes of technology, the organizers set up a way to use Twitter to add to the conference conversation real time. In addition to live audience questions, Twitter was used throughout the afternoon for snarky comments, updates on levels of drunken-ness...but most importantly it was a way to ask a question or add to the conversation. It was a great way to engage the room though admittedly there were probably fewer than 20 people tweeting, all told.
Follow the tweets at #URF08, and find more speaker info on the at seenheardnoticed.