User Focus 2014: Debrief

I attended the one-day User Focus 2014 event last week to get the latest and greatest on the state of the user experience (UX) domain. It blows my mind that there is whole group of professionals whose sole mission in life is to make life better for me by making my experience with various devices and services awesomer. And if you haven’t gotten with the UX program yet or don’t believe it’s important, you might want to reconsider.

Here were my big take-aways from the event.

1. The discussion about how best to deliver content and services to mobile devices rages on  although opinions are diverging less.
I attended a couple of talks on this topic, one from Thomas Vanderwal and one from Jasper Liu. There are four primary ways to deliver content and services to mobile devices: native app, hybrid app, responsive website, and dedicated mobile website. Thomas threw in a fifth option (the HTML5 app) along with a super handy guide to which approach works best for different situations. Each approach has its strengths and weaknesses. For example, responsive website are good for content-heavy solutions delivered to a variety of devices, but consume more bandwidth. Native apps are best when you need maximum control over the experience, but you have to develop unique versions for each device which increases costs. The two talks pretty much agreed with each other, which I took as a good sign. We’re starting to figure this mobile thing out.

2. “Measuring the human” is getting easier.
A number of talks focused on various methods to measure the physical/biological/neurological response to websites and apps. These methods included eye tracking, facial recognition, electroencephalography (measuring brain activity), and galvanic skin response (measuring skin conductivity). Bring up those last two at a party and you’ll sound super smart. A few years ago, using any of these methods would have required a lab with tens of thousands of dollars of equipment and specialized rigs. Now companies are offering software and equipment in the hundreds of dollars that take advantage of standard hardware, like the camera built into your laptop. iMotions was one company mentioned a lot. You can now include the methods in your UX work without breaking the bank.

3. The Federal Government is getting on board with UX.
UX is by no means institutionalized within the Federal Government (you only have to look at a handful of websites to see that, like this one), but there are glimmers of hope that UX is starting to take hold. Jonathan Rubin from GSA runs a program advocating UX and helping agencies improve the UX for their websites and apps. And his is one of a handful of these programs across the Government. A talk from Wendy Littman indicated DOE is emphasizing UX more. You can also look at the U.S. Digital Services Playbook to see the UX touchpoints. There’s still a long way to go, but there is progress.

4. The future of UX is bright.
This was the most exciting aspect of the event to me and why I like going to these kinds of conferences. Jason Vasilas and Dan Willis talked about the user experience across channels, devices, and context. The complexity of user experience design is growing exponentially as the types of devices, interfaces (ways to interact with a service), and service providers increase. Dan Willis used the example of going on an airline flight and showing how many devices (laptop, tablet, phone, kiosk, paper ticket!), types of information (personal flier data, flight data), and service providers (travel website, airline, airport) were involved — all in the context of a single user goal (flying from point A to point B). You’re the kind of person who either freaks out by how hard your job is going to get as a UX professional or gets super excited about the possibilities for positively impacting people. (Hint: I’m the latter. Shocker.)

5 thoughts on “User Focus 2014: Debrief

  1. What I’m particularly excited about is when UX and business strategy collide. I think that’s when it gets interesting for product managers. 😉

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