UX Careers 2015 – Seattle

I went to the UX Careers 2015 panel last night to hear about the future of User Experience from a panel of UX veterans. There were about 200 people in attendance to hear about the future of the career. The panel had a mix of in-house and agency UX perspectives, which provided interesting answers to the questions presented by the host.

About half the discussion was about job hunting–what to do/not do in an interview. How to stand out from the [ever growing] crowd. How it’s a “job-seeker’s” market, yet the need for UX researchers is likely to start diminishing. While the answers seemed to be all over the map, more than one panelist remarked that there are many different contexts in which UX research & design are applied and that one-size is not likely to fit all.

The career guidance could best be summarized as: be yourself, know yourself, present yourself with confidence, and find the best fit for you.

The other half of the discussion was about UX trends–the most interesting question to me being, “What’s the next big thing in UX?” (or something to that effect). First off, there is no “next big thing,” just an ongoing evolution of little things and the same old thing (e.g. research and design methods) applied to different stuff.  One point that was made, which resonated with my post about the Internet of things, was how the focus should be on the human experience (human-human interaction) more than the human-machine interaction/experience. The notion of invisible experiences and transparent processes was also mentioned.

It was exciting to hear that the future of the best user interface is no user interface. Now that’s a user interface I’ll be able to sketch even with my horrid drawing skills. Of course the user experience of that invisible user interface will still take some [considerable amount of  research and] work to design, but at least the UI will finally be easy to sketch.

If anything, the session confirmed that we live in interesting times.

The Internet-of-things is not about things

Tracy Rolling wrote a detailed, first-person, customer experience report in Medium about the limitations of activity tracking. It’s not that we can’t track activities, but that the resulting information is something less than useful to the average (read, non-fanatic) consumer. In her article, she describes how her activity tracker can log all manner of data, but it really doesn’t provide much in the way of information that’s useful to her on a daily basis. Consequently, it should come as no surprise that activity trackers are abandoned after just a short period.  Her article highlights the value of the end-to-end customer experience.

Looking in from the outside (I don’t own an activity tracker), I don’t know that this fall into disuse is because the tracker puts itself out of a job (saying, in effect, “You’ve achieved your goal! Congratulations. My work is done.”) or it just doesn’t live up to its promise, whatever that was at the time it was bought. In either case, it highlights what seems to be an inherent challenge that the Internet-of-things hasn’t overcome: providing a durable customer value.

In spite of the recent hype, tracking things isn’t new. I’ve been connecting things to devices and vice versa for 35 years. Connecting them to the Internet is new, but recording telemetry is not. The fact that every person in the civilized world is carrying a powerful computer (usually in the shape of a telephone) is a recent phenomena, that one would think holds some promise. However, without a need (be it present or latent), connecting monitoring transducers to a smartphone or the Internet still seems like it’s in the solution-looking-for-a-problem phase of technology.

It’s not unlike the early days of cell phones or PCs–when the technology was a solution in search of a problem. Eventually, problems will be identified (or invented) and then connected with solutions. However, in the meantime, there’s much to learn about both.


Coming soon to a digital library near you
Coming soon to a digital library near you

It’s hard to believe I’m almost to the finish line…or the starting line, depending on how you look at it.

The defense of my dissertation is just two weeks away. I can’t quite talk about it in the past tense; at the same time, I can’t help but pause for a short reflection before diving into one last sprint to the finish line–preparing the presentation (and myself) for the actual defense.

I didn’t realize this until recently, but it’s amazing the thoughts that have been waiting for a chance to be thought, given the chance. One of the first in line was reflecting on how I got to where I find myself at this moment.

It’s been a long (and occasionally turbulent) chain of events–one that reminds me of Connections, my favorite documentary series of the 80s and 90s. In that series (and book), James Burke, the host, describes a series of unrelated events spread across centuries that come together as something we, now, take for granted–something that would not be possible, if any one of these events had not occurred.

After accounting for some hindsight bias and confirmation bias, that’s basically how I got here–a series of unrelated events, each the result of or the solution to some immediate problem. It would be so much easier to say that this was just another step in my master plan, but, I’ve given up on master plans (not planning, just the notion of running my life according to some master plan). I’ve taken a more Agile approach to life–it’s a model that just seems to fit better.

Humans don’t like to view history in such a random way, so we create, and expect, stories to connect these points in some way that, ideally, makes sense–even if only after the fact. We, as a species, are very story oriented–it’s how we organize the myriad of random, unrelated, and frequently, unintentional events that make up our daily existence.

So, no self-promoting story of how this is yet another example of my brilliance and one more step on my path to greatness. Just a humble acknowledgement that as I finish this step, it’s time to see where to take the next one.

After reflecting a bit, one thing that has been consistent, is that I’ve always been attracted to interesting, if unrelated, problems to explore. Studying for my PhD has provided a steady supply of those, provided a sizable backlog to keep me occupied for some time to come, and left me with quite an appetite for new ones.

But, back to the task at hand. Time to get to work on the presentation for my defense.

In-flight reading

Photo of in-flight reading material
The collection of in-flight reading material found in the seat back of a recent Alaska Airlines flight

I’m working on a paper for the HCII 2015 conference and thought of the reading material I saw on a recent airline flight. The paper discusses ways to identify the goals of different types of information-focused web content and how to measure how well the content is accomplishing those goals, so now I see this everywhere I look.

This is what occurred to me while I was staring at this collection of literature for several hours.

The Alaska Airlines magazine

It’s goal is to provide the reader with entertainment, er, I mean provide them with advertising, using entertainment as the bait. So how would you measure success? Interaction with the content, maybe? Coupon codes entered, products ordered from the web links, and other interactions traceable to the magazine. Pretty straightforward. Content can be compared to the corresponding advertisement, reader feedback, and the publisher can decide what’s working and what needs work.

The airsick bag

This isn’t really literature, but a good case of “if it’s not easy to use, it’s going to get messy.” I don’t think any amount of documentation could fix a poorly-designed air sickness bag.

The emergency procedures brochure

This is everyone’s favorite reading material, right? It’s goal is to provide important information and provide it in a way that’s easy to understand (quickly, in the worst-case scenario). This is a document that Alaska Airlines (and its passengers) hope to never need, but when it’s needed, it’s value will be immeasurable. How do you track that goal? User feedback? probably not. Survivor stories? Let’s hope not! Maybe usability testing?

The WiFi and the “Meals & Snacks” advertisements

Again, this is purely promotional material whose effectiveness can be tracked by sales. Like the magazine, this is not unfamiliar territory.

What’s this got to do with me?

As a writer of help content, I relate to the emergencies procedures brochure. Sometimes I don’t think anyone reads my content and frequently, Google analytics tends to agree with me. But, I know that in some cases, when those few people need to read it, that’s going to be the most important thing for them to read (if only for that moment). If I’ve done my job right, what I’ve written will save them time and money. I’ll never know that from looking at Google analytics, but, a usability test (even an informal or discount test) will tell me if a topic will be ready to save the day (moment) when it’s called upon to do so.

Back to the paper.

Colombia has 11 of the top 100 universities in Latin America

photo of The University of the Andes from El Pais.
The University of the Andes (la Universidad de Los Andes Colombia) – number 5 in this year’s top 100 universities in Latin America

From El Pais (in spanish) Once universidades colombianas entre las 100 mejores de América Latina.

Eleven Colombian universities rated in the top 100 universities of Latin America according to Quacquarelli Symonds, who rates the universities around the world. Here’s the entire list of the top 100 universities in Latin America for 2014 from their site. The Pontificia Universidad Católica de Chile won the number 1 spot this year.


Keeping the design user-centered

Link to presentation
Watch the video of the presentation

This quarter’s speaker series in HCDE (the University of Washington’s department of Human-Centered Design & Engineering) is off to a great start with Paul Elrif’s presentation titled, Please Stop Working on UX No One Really Needs.

Paul presents some examples of UX design gone astray and how UX designers and researchers can help keep it on track.

A key takeaway to ponder from the talk:

“People/teams behave in the way they are rewarded.”

When you know how [the] people [in the room] are rewarded, you’ll know how to reach them. Unfortunately, he says, that too often teams are rewarded for shipping more than for meeting the customers’ requirements.

It’s too bad that he had only 45 minutes because he was just getting to the ‘good part’–what to do about it.

Maybe in his next installment?