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Dec 2005 Contents

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World Usability Day in Minnesota

by Libby Cecchi
Vice President, UPA-MN

Libby has been involved in the Minnesota chapter of the UPA since 1999. She began practicing usability at the University of Minnesota at that time and then spent the next few years with the Target Corporation.

What to do? What to do? So many great ideas being generated by other chapters and the organizing committee! So many suggestions to choose from - where do we start? Such an overwhelming assignment: create a mind-blowing event for the first-ever World Usability Day that no one would forget! That was how I felt about it, anyway. Choosing what to do was definitely our most difficult challenge, albeit one I was happy to wrestle with. In the end, we chose two events: a booth at a marketing conference to reach out to a new audience and a dinner with a presentation in order to celebrate with fellow usability professionals.

Libby Cecchi attending the UPA booth at the AMA Conference.
Libby Cecchi attending the UPA booth at the AMA Conference.

The booth at the American Marketing Association conference was a bigger hit than I expected. Many people stopped by to learn about usability. Some of them had vaguely heard about it before, some had not, so we had many opportunities to talk to an audience who really needs to know what we are and what we do.

One thing our group did that was very successful was to create a flyer for the conference attendees' "bag of goodies." It was a colorful display and a brief overview of usability and some examples for demonstration. We pointed to Google, Oxo Good Grips, and the new Target pill bottle (ClearRx) as examples of good user experience in order to help readers reach the "Oh! I get it!" moment. This flyer was one of the many materials displayed on the table at our booth. In addition, we had books, pamphlets about the UPA, and some chapter business cards with our website and email contact information.

An added benefit of administrating the booth at the conference was being able to attend a couple sessions. The two of us who were there from the chapter listened to some interesting presentations and made some contacts. My hope is to persuade a couple of them to speak for a chapter event next year.

As for the evening event, the goal I had was to create an affair that would both benefit our chapter members and also be a celebration of our field. Therefore, we decided to feast with our fellow usability colleagues while learning from an informative and inspirational presentation. The feedback I've received has been that everyone had a great time and enjoyed the terrific presentation. We reserved a dining facility in a centrally located hotel room and catered a dinner from them. After dinner, Dr. Susan Dray gave a talk entitled, "The Digital Divide: what is it and why should we care?"

Dr. Susan Dray.
Dr. Susan Dray.

The theme of the presentation was extremely fitting for World Usability Divide. Dr. Dray opened our eyes to the widespread lack of access to technology that exists outside our usual domains. After teaching us about the "have's" and "have-nots" when it comes to real access - from one of her slides: globally, the Internet is still "disproportionately white, educated and affluent" (Akst & Jensen, 2001) - she pointed us to some current positive examples of solutions to this problem. Dr. Dray also gave us information about what we, as usability practitioners, can do to help.

A high spot in the evening was when the president of our chapter, Lyle Kantrovich, opened the ceremonies by announcing to everyone, "Happy Usability Day!" There were cheers and clapping all around. There was a vibe of camaraderie that instantly spread throughout the room when everyone realized that they were among fellow colleagues who had the same passion for user experience as they did.

One of my worries was that we charged admission for the occasion - something we haven't had to do before - and I was concerned that we wouldn't have enough interest to run the event. Well, I don't know if it was the draw of our presenter, but not one person grumbled about admission price.

What an amazing experience. People from all over the world were getting excited about usability and celebrating in so many different ways. All throughout those 36 hours I would think about what was happening in other parts of the globe and was looking forward to reading the stories on the website. Ideas are churning for next year... now I just have to start the winnowing process all over again!

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