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August 2007 Contents

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UPA 2007

 

Bigger, Better, and Thought-Provoker: Notes from UPA Boston’s 2007 Annual Conference

By Chris Hass

Chris Hass is the president of the UPA Boston Chapter, and is a usability consultant for the Bentley College Design and Usability Testing Center.

How many usability professionals does it take to hold a successful conference? 2? 5? 30? 260?

Due to the scarcity of related research there may be no definitive answer, but the UPA Boston Chapter’s sixth Annual Conference held this past May at Bentley College showed that a full helping of intellectual capital and a packed house can go a long way towards making an event a success.

On May 23rd, during a single sunny day in Waltham, Massachusetts twenty nine presenters informed and educated over two hundred and sixty usability professionals (a local record). The presenters included seasoned industry luminaries and graduate students who held forth on topics as diverse as “Usability: The Elevator Speech,” “How Personal Finance Shoppers Use the Web to Support Decision-Making in the UK,“ and “User Evaluation Methodology for Tactility & Dexterity of Military Aviation Protective Gloves.” (Rest assured, in keeping with established best practices, this year saw no shortage of multi-lined, colon-festooned presentation titles.) Attendees came from across New England and as far away as California, England, and Russia­ representing the range of professions (developers, designers, researchers, students, marketers, managers) that the Usability Professionals’ Association is famous for.

In addition to the formal presentations, the conference saw the announcement of two new UPA chapters ­- one established and one in the early planning stages­ that will add Connecticut and New Hampshire to the growing roster of UPA chapters. It was also widely confirmed that at least for now there are more open usability positions than people to fill them­ - good news everyone was happy to share.

Other hot topics of discussion included Web 2.0 updates, newly field-tested research methodologies, and in a new format for the conference: a session where attendees received an energetic and insightful synopsis of the information presented at other, related conferences. In addition to tapping into the research and practice zeitgeist, we saw continued interest in topics related to starting and maintaining usability groups within corporate environments and broadening traditional methodologies to take fuller advantage of emerging technologies. Detailed case studies also provided insights into usability in practice as attendees learned about the development of tax software, Intranets, blogs, prototyping kits, video games and online communities, and user requirements. In one interesting case was a presentation on what to do when multiple methodologies result in varied findings, and another on what to do when multiple reviewers produce in identical results. (Thankfully, contrary to the predicted reactions of positive and negative matter, the two contrasting presentations did not cancel each other out or cause the audience to explode.)

Job-seeking attendees found that the gathering and a booming employment market had attracted a plethora of companies with open positions in attendance, including a recruiting firm, Profile Staffing, Inc., that sponsored the event and conducted on-site interviews. Vital sponsorship also came from long-time usability advocates the Bentley College Design & Usability Center, The MathWorks, Staples, Sun Microsystems, and TechSmith. Sponsors set up booths, demonstrated products, discussed career options and provided case examples of usability in action. (To date, we know of at least two people who found the day an instrumental part of their finding a job, and we look forward to hearing other success stories.)

Lunchtime activities included swag raffles and an opportunity to reprise two of the interactive educational activities the chapter had developed for last November’s World Usability Day at the Museum of Science, Boston: “Remote Control SuperUser,” and “The Great Sock Sort.” (You may have seen “The Great Sock Sort” reprised at this year’s international UPA conference as well. You can learn more about these activities and how to make them your own at www.upaboston.org/wud.) We capped off the day with a wine and cheese networking event where attendees talked shop, swapped business cards, and shared war stories of usability sessions gone awry.

Ultimately, how do we judge the success of the day? If we go by the event’s statistics: 260 attendees, 30 presentations, the three-inch thick (double-sided) bound book of presentation slides given to participants, the approximately 2100 fluid ounces of coffee consumed, or the two-day hibernation the UPA Boston Advisory Board went into after the event, we could consider it a success. But in true UPA style, we took our own advice and administered a user-satisfaction survey. The results, (which are also online at www.upaboston.org) were, happily, conclusive: The event was a definitive success.

(Phew!) See you there next year?

See more photos of the Boston Annual Conference on Flickr.

 

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