UXCamp 2014

This weekend’s UXCamp Ottawa provided much food for thought. (So many great speakers!) My notes are not at all complete. This is just the stuff that resonated most, and what it made me think about:

  • Lou Rosenfeld’s talk on breaking down silos resonated a lot. I’d read the A List Apart article that the talk was largely based on, but hearing him speak made things stick a bit more, or maybe I just had the space to think about them more.
    • I think we do okay with balancing qualitative and quantitative research, but I should probably document that and see if there’s any way to formalize the cadence of our research. We have tried to plan testing to follow the cadence of the academic year, but again, documenting it would be A Good Thing.
    • Ban words that impede conversation. Words can make people shut down (In the next presentation, Abby Covert called it “linguistic insecurity”). We should figure out if we (Web Committee) use any words like that in our communications with staff.
    • I should throw the results of our various “problems” and feedback forms (and maybe other stuff?) into Evernote so they’re searchable. I’m sure there are commonalities that we’re not seeing.
    • Great question: “If you were going to build the organization’s decision-making brain from scratch, what would it look like?”
  • Abby Covert’s talk covered some similar themes, but I felt like she was shining a light on some of the big issues we have in libraries. She was awesome.
    • As well as talking about banning certain words in meetings (she uses a gym whistle), she spoke about how to bridge gaps between people and groups by having them refer to objects (like mental maps). When we talk about something concrete, we can find it easier to speak each other’s language.
    • Not just banning words in meetings, it could be useful for us to be specific about what words we don’t use on our website. The New York Times has a list of words they don’t use, and it speaks volumes about their culture. Can you imagine if the library could agree on what words we don’t use? I got excited about the idea of bringing students into that conversation too (as if it wasn’t a big enough task already!). Hmmm….
    • Again, related, the structure of our site is rhetoric. What is our rhetoric? Since it’s there, we should make some conscious decisions about it.
    • Diagrams can be really great conversation starters. Or even whole conversations. I should really sketch more. And encourage others to do it too.
  • Related to that last point, Konrad Sauer talked about sketching too. He said that the important thing is that a sketch take you back to the idea you were having when you drew the sketch. I like that.
    • Konrad also spoke about the importance of the personal in the tools he uses; he feels a connection to the person who used it before him and the person who made it. Where is the personal in the library’s tools? Is there any way we can help people feel a connection? And what kind of connection would it be?
  • Steve Krug is simply great. And part of what makes him great is that he make things sound so simple.
    • If Steve Krug uses a script faithfully, I should maybe start to use a script faithfully. I know that I use words like “opinion” and “feedback” when I’m doing testing. I shouldn’t and I will try to avoid those in future.
    • It made happy that Steve uses Camtasia in his tests. I was feeling like I was being lazy using what we had on hand.
    • “Why waste time having people point out the problems we already know about?” Because they’ll also find the problems you *don’t* yet know about.
    • The shared experience of observing tests is important for people in your organization. I have to think more about how to do that. Maybe playing the recordings for a crowd would suffice?
    • Always buy the good snacks.
    • Beware of low-hanging fruit; focus ruthlessly on the most serious problems first.
    • Try to find the smallest change you can make that might solve the observed problem.
    • Recommended books: “Letting Go of the Words” by Janice Redish (this is good timing for advice about a book on web writing!), and “The Moderator’s Survival Guide” by Donna Tedesco.
  • Jonas Woost was a lovely, slideless speaker, talking about his work at CBCMusic.ca.
    • His mention of the tension between responding to the legacy users and building a new user base resonated with me. Sounded similar to the tension between expert and naive users in the library.
    • Another “sounds familiar” moment was the difference between “What do I want the users to do?” and “What do the users want to do?”
    • It’s always useful to be reminded that you’re going to have to stop doing some things.
    • We can’t always innovate; sometimes we have to compromise. It’s okay.
  • Lisa Fast reminded me of some things I forgot that I knew (and some things I didn’t know)
    • The principles that we use to make certain design elements stand out (boxes particularly) can also make them invisible – “that stuff in the coloured box over there looks different… so it can’t possibly be related to the thing I’m looking for.” Ack!
    • But we can use those principles again (colour, proximity, shape) to bring the design back together.
    • I should get around to reading “100 Things Every Designer Should Know About People” one of these days.
  • Kim Goodwin essentially gave a clinic on how to do a keynote speech. Lots of good stuff.
    • We have to understand our own organizational context – particularly our organizational values – in order to figure out or design a way to do our work within it.
    • For a lot of (most?) people, change means a loss of some kind. When we are recommending some sort of change, we need to think about that and address it. It helps to:
      • Create dissatisfaction with the status quo (user tests can help with this)
      • Be clear about what the change is, and have that communication come from all levels, not top-down.
      • (there was a third point, but I missed writing it down – I’ll try to find it later and update)
    • Having explicit principles and values that the organization shares can help with all of this. At a company Kim works with, they have specific design principles and then play “design principles bingo” to try to find violations of those principles on their website.
      • I wondered if we could come up with web writing principles and play bingo with them!

On a personal note, Kim’s point that it can be very uncomfortable when your organization’s values don’t match your own hit close to home. That was my experience at my previous job, and it makes me feel immensely lucky to be in a place where there seems to be a really good match. I feel even luckier that I believe I can bring the things I learned this weekend to my colleagues and we can work on some of them together.

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