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August 2005 Contents

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UPA 2005: Reflections of a First-Timer

by Debbie A. Spalding
Dallas, Texas

Career Insight
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.

Buh-Boop! (1)
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!

Bridging Careers
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 2006
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)

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