Reflections on MidwestUX 2012 in Columbus, Ohio

As a UXer who grew up and went to undergrad in the Midwest, MidwestUX is a special treat for me. Last year was a ball, and this year was even better.

Teaching My First Workshop

For two years in a row, MidwestUX has allowed me an exciting first. Last year, I presented about UX Research in Rwanda—my first presentation ever accepted by a conference program review process.

This year, I had the honor of a second exciting first—I got to co-lead a workshop, Let’s Sketchnote!

Binaebi Akah, Charlene McBride, and I had a great time geeking out about sketchnoting leading up to MidwestUX. In the days following the workshop, we were so excited and pleased to hear great feedback and see even more wonderful sketchnotes. Thank you all!

My people!

I so enjoyed talking with everyone I met and everyone got to see again.

After the Saturday night festivities, my good friend, Lorelei Kelly, summed up why I love MidwestUX. “My people, I have found you!” For us, the feeling was solidified while hanging out with UX friends who love Doctor Who and swing dancing as much as we do. It was a trifecta of love.

The conversations with you, the people of MidwestUX, are what have made the conference so enjoyable for me.

Presenting: The presentations

Each conference I attend, I find that I enjoy talks given by excellent presenters more than I enjoy those given about excellent topics. Give me an excellent presenter with an excellent topic, and I’m in UX presentation heaven.

Customer Journeys: Designing for Disagreement

I felt Boon Sheridan‘s pain when he shared a screenshot of a Google image search for “customer journey.” The deliverable is still wide-ranging in its appearance, and it can be frustrating to determine how to make your own.

Instead of focusing on the surface level of journeys, Boon focused on something more important: Why create customer journeys?*

Well, we create customer journeys because, as Rework says, “Abstraction creates an illusion of agreement.”

Boon has felt the pain of hidden disagreements, and so invited us to design for disagreement. We need to make the experiences we design real in our minds and our stakeholders’ minds. The precise appearance of the map matters less than its purpose: to minimize misunderstandings about the experience.

Boon delivered his story with humor and style (love those illustrations).  He encouraged us to remember that journeys are not simply a deliverable, but a process that can move teams toward success.

Closing Keynote by Richard Buchanan

Though Richard Buchanan seemingly did not attend any of the talks I attended, I heard from several folks that he was brusk in his questions to other presenters. As the weekend continued, I prepared to listen to a grumpy keynote, and was sorry that such a cheery event as MidwestUX might end on an angry note.

In a pleasant surprise, Dick rocked our socks. He has clearly thought deeply about where design had been and where it may yet go. His content got us thinking, and his presentation style—pace, vocal clarity, phrasing, and connection with the audience—was superb. Erik and the rest of the MWUX team made the right selection for the closing keynote, and I am glad I got to hear Dick speak.*

Honorable Mentions

Boon and Dick gave stellar talks at MidwestUX. But there are many more worth mentioning.

In college, I got to take a couple art history classes. Matt Nish-Lapidus‘ presentation, A Brief History of New Media, reminded me of how inspring art can be. I especially loved the story of Norman White’s The Helpless Robot, which relied on passers-by to turn it to an orientation that it “liked.”

In a brilliant move, MidwestUX included eight Ignite-style talks, where each presenter’s twenty slides automatically change every fifteen seconds. Ignite talks always get me fired up, and I especially enjoyed Derren Hermann‘s What UX Can Learn from the Alt-Country Movement and Alla Zollers‘ Apprenticeship Now.

I enjoyed David Farkas‘ Interaction Design Through Mixology talk. No, it wasn’t a talk that you could use to sell MidwestUX to your boss, but I enjoyed how Farkas took two things he loves—mixology and UX—to make salient points about our practice. His talk reminded me of a speaking approach Scott Berkun has encouraged: A successful talk can simply remind audiences of something they know in a novel way.

You can check out sketchnotes of all the talks I attended in my MidwestUX 2012 set on Flickr.

And yet another conclusion

As MidwestUX drew to a close, I was sorry to see all the Midwestern-spirited UXers scatter, but happy to see the conversations continuing over Twitter and solidifying new UX friendships.

Sunday, Lorelei and I got to explore Columbus. Our adventures to us to The Angry Baker, the Franklin Park Conservatory, and Dirty Frank’s Hot Dog Palace. It was a fun filled day.

I can’t wait to see what MidwestUX does next year. The organizers’ commitment to making it a Midwestern conference and not a Columbus conference is a grand experiment, and I look forward to seeing it succeed. I have to admit, though, that I’ll be sorry to see MidwestUX leave Columbus, just as I was starting to grasp its splendid environment.

* Or “experience maps,” as Chris Risdon prefers. Check out his MidwestUX Mapping the Experience slides for more goodness.

** I still contend that Dick can ask tough questions of other presenters in a way that doesn’t make them feel attacked. It takes a type of delivery that is worth attaining.


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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