UPA 2005: Reflections of a First-Timer
With the encouragement of a couple of members of the Dallas-Fort Worth
UPA chapter, I decided to attend this year’s UPA conference in Montreal.
After six and a half years in technology product management and marketing,
I wanted to learn more about the usability field and hopefully gain some
insight that would help guide me in the next phase of my career.
My interest in usability had
evolved out my role as an advocate for customers and users. As a product
manager and marketer in an engineering-centric organization, I took this
role very seriously. In addition, for as long as I can remember, I have
had a tendency to observe how things work (or don’t work) and have
wanted to find ways to improve them.
Strategy & Networking
Upon arriving at UPA 2005 and studying the program book, I was faced with
a typical conference dilemma. I wanted to do it all! Since this obviously
wasn’t possible, I decided to focus on the case studies and strategy
sessions. Based on my own work experience and the limited research I had
already done on the usability field, I knew that the practice of user-centered
design (UCD) was not yet widespread. To most of us (if I may now claim
to be one of you - even as a newbie), the need for UCD is probably self-evident.
Unfortunately, however, this is not always readily apparent to the “powers
that be” or our co-workers. The case studies and strategies presented
at the conference emphasized that the business case for UCD must be made,
and collaborative, cross-functional relationships must be forged. Indeed,
the “Bridging Cultures” theme of the conference not only applies
to the cultures of the users, but to internal cultures as well.
Of course, UPA 2005 also provided
excellent opportunities for networking. Thankfully, I got to speak with
a number of people who were eager to share their unique experiences, including
UPA President, Whitney Quesenbery, who was very accommodating with her
time. I am grateful for the insights that each of these individuals shared,
and hopefully they found I was able to reciprocate in some way.
I must confess that as a Tivo devotee, I was thrilled to find that representatives
from Tivo were among the many distinguished presenters at the conference.
Clearly, the exceptionally user-friendly services Tivo provides and hence
Tivo’s ultra-devoted following are the direct result of the UCD
process outlined in their presentation. Moreover, the outstanding delivery
of their presentation exemplified the kind of appreciation the Tivo organization
has for its audience, whether that audience consists of its products’
users or its presentation attendees. After the Tivo session, I have to
say that I felt almost as if I had just seen the Beatles live!
In all, the knowledge and insights I gained at UPA 2005 will help me as
I bridge my career from one phase to another. Regardless of the specific
role(s) I embrace as my career progresses, I undoubtedly intend to make
usability a core component of whatever I do.
Storytelling at UPA
I hope to continue this journey at UPA 2006. The conference theme, “Usability
Through Storytelling,” is certainly hitting on a hot topic. When
you get a chance, you may want to check out Daniel H. Pink’s new
book, A Whole New Mind (2). The observations
in this book about the power of storytelling and other forms of what Pink
calls “R-directed thinking” may very well inspire you to travel
to Colorado next June to share your story.
(1) For those who have not yet discovered Tivo, “Buh-Boop”
is a reference to the distinctive sound Tivo makes when the user makes
a menu selection.
(2) Pink, Daniel H. A Whole
New Mind (New York: Penguin Group, 2005)