UXCamp DC 2011

Thank you to all the UXCampers for a fantastic first unconference experience! The presentations and conversations I enjoyed throughout the day were a delight. And besides learning from all the folks around me, I enjoyed my first opportunity to present to an audience who was not obligated to listen. For those of you who missed UXCampDC 2011, who couldn’t get enough, or who came to my talk, here are a few reflections:

First, a shout out to the people of Room 2 at 10:00am

You all were fantastic. You enthusiastically participated in my audience survey and Kinyarwanda lesson, and laughed at all the places I hoped you would. Thank you, especially, for the curiosity you showed through your questions. I hope to continue to explore this thing that is public speaking, and however many or few future opportunities I pursue, I will compare each experience with the energy we shared that morning. You are fabulous, and I thank you!

Now, about the sessions, the format, and other thoughts…

The Sessions

An unconference has the power to make you feel even less sure of which events you want to attend than a normal conference does. There’s no such thing as a track—instead, because of the willy nilly sign up process, you might have to choose between three really tempting sessions during one slot, and then have absolutely no idea which session to attend during another slot.

In any case, despite missing a few of my favorite folks, I am pleased with the sessions I did choose to attend:

  1. Restaurant Experience and UX Design — Jimmy Chandler
  2. Kiosks, Mobile, and Evolution of UX — Hilding Anderson
  3. Understanding Comics by Scott McCloud — UX Book Club lunch
  4. UX Job Market: Hire or be Hired — Jared Spool
  5. Rethinking User Research for Social — Dana Chisnell
  6. This is Your Brain; This is Your Brain on UX — Dan Willis

The UX Book Club lunch was a pleasant surprise—despite not knowing that it was going to happen beforehand, it is, to date, the only #uxbcdc meeting I have both successfully attended and finished reading the book previous to the meeting. Understanding Comics is the sort of book you might commandeer from a friend who is taking a Japanese popular fiction class; in fact, that’s how I came to read it myself.

Dana Chisnell’s discussion on Research for Social was what I imagine to be the ideal unconference conversation. After she introduced the topic, she encouraged the audience to discuss. In some ways, the disproportionate size of the audience in Room 3 made the conversation even better—how can you be intimidated by a conversation when a fourth of the attendees are chillin’ on the floor? Dana both moderated the talk perfectly and showed her expertise on the question presented (even if we agreed as a group that we didn’t have an answer yet). I left feeling energized and impressed by our community’s enthusiasm for learning and growing.

The Session Overviews

The format of an unconference, as well as this particular unconference, is notable in several ways. First, the session overviews are important! Wow, so perhaps I shouldn’t have been surprised by this, but I was caught off guard nonetheless when I was

  1. Looking at the big schedule before session 2 and realized that because I was registering latecomers in the morning, and I only had session titles to judge which talks I should attend.
  2. Prompted to give my own 30 second blurb. It wasn’t until after I gave it that I realized that it was my opportunity to convince folks to come to my session, and that I had completely failed to point out that there were lessons from Rwandan UX research that might be helpful to any researcher. (AKA, the presentation is not me bragging about my cool experience; I spent lots of time thinking about why you care and what’s useful to you.)

So, here’s the lesson: pay attention to the overviews, and think about what you’re going to say before they ask you to introduce your session. Sheesh.

The Invited Guests

The second notable bit was the effect of invited guests at UXCampDC. Ordinarily, whoever shows up at a barcamp shows up, and the presentations are presented by, well, the folks who show up. For this year’s UXCamp, on the other hand, several (five?) guests were specifically invited to present, and were guaranteed slots in the schedule if they agreed to come.

Leading up to the camp, I was excited to see the invited guests, especially since I am new to the community, and have not seen them speak often. Getting closer to the event, however, I was concerned from the perspective of a speaker: who was going to have to present during the same time as these well-loved speakers? It didn’t seem quite fair.

In the end, to be honest, I got to have my cake and eat it, too. I managed to snag the spot I wanted, and chose to attend presentations by several of the invited guests. But I’m still not resolved whether inviting guests to unconferences is a helpful practice. One person I talked to suggested that the presence of well regarded speakers required that less known speakers up the ante. I know that when I realized that I would be presenting the same day as Jared Spool and Dan Willis, I took my presentation preparation that much more seriously.

So, perhaps inviting guests is a good thing. And yet, I wonder if there could be a way to enjoy their contributions without compromising the experience of less well-known speakers. Should they present as if they were keynotes, where they’re the only presenters at that time? Should they be encouraged to present at the same time as one another in different rooms? Could they present on specialized topics that might encourage a smaller, but more focused audience? Though I’m not sure any of these are good solutions, it seems to me that the to-invite-or-not-to-invite question is a worthwhile debate.

Final Thoughts

UXCampDC 2011 was great! I got to catch up with a pile of UX friends, and meet some new ones. Plus, I have new resources and thoughts to consider in future work.

I want to leave with a final pondering: What could we do to encourage more people to go for it and present? Could one of the slots of four be divided into eight 20 minute sessions? How about some preparation assistance—a happy hour a couple weeks beforehand where folks are encouraged to talk about their presentation ideas and to gage audience interest?

The possibilities are endless! And those possibilities are precisely why unconferences are such a fabulous thing.

What are your thoughts on UXCampDC 2011? Please share in the comments, at my Twitter account (@verbistheword), or via email (veronicaerb at gmail dotttt com). Cheers!

photo credit: Dan Willis the uxcrank

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About Veronica Erb

Designs, researches, illustrates, and writes code. Plays ukulele. Dances Balboa. Grew up in a geodesic dome, and hasn't gotten over it.
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5 Responses to UXCamp DC 2011

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