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What We Learned at UXCampDC 2010

On January 23, Forum One sponsored UXCampDC, an unconference focused on all things user experience-related attracting close to 100 practitioners from the DC metro area.  From Forum One, we had Suzanne Rainey, Brian Verhoeven, Courtney Clark, Matt Humphrey, Kate Bogh and myself.  The following notes are shared insights from the Forum One User Experience & Design team

Creating a Web Strategy Out of Thin Air

Lorelei Brown led this early session which set the tone for the day by discussing how to establish an organization’s web strategy and where can you turn if the client has an undefined strategy.

While most of the participants maintained that the most important factor in any web project is having a core strategy that can be measured, some of the tips included:

  • Examine existing artifacts to determine goals, organization mission, and the value they provided to their audiences.
  • Is there a brand statement? This can help set the tone of content / visual design.
  • A mission statement will give you a sense of the political environment of the organization. What do they think they do?

The group that included Jared Spool, Dan Willis, Joe Sokohl, Livia Labate and others suggested that you ask clients the following questions:

  • What do you do well? (Pick away with follow up questions.)
  • What would you like to do better?
  • What is not working?
  • Why do you want to do this project now?
  • Who is pushing this initiative?
  • If you did nothing, what bad thing would happen?
  • How frequently does your organization / tech team watch real users use the existing design?
  • When something goes wrong, what is management's reaction?

Destroying the Box: Experience Architecture Inspiration from Frank Lloyd Wright

Joe Sokohl provided a very visual presentation that examined how Frank Lloyd Wright broke the design box. He demonstrated how the lines created by "Falling Water" complimented the surrounding landscape and in doing so created a very pleasing aesthetic. Similarly, a site should compliment a user’s intuition, should fit within their mental model.

Mr. Sokohl also showed were Frank Lloyd Wright accommodated customer requests while still keeping true to the underlying functionality of the parts and aesthetics of the home. For example, in "Falling Water" the owner wanted a larger desk; however, where the desk was built the windows opened inward. Frank Lloyd Wright accommodated the request by adding a larger desk that included a cut-out for the window to swing inward. There is a lesson in here for web designers about accommodating client design requests while still keeping true to integrity of original design aesthetic and functionality.

After building Unity Temple, Frank Lloyd Wright said this "when I built that building the reality of the building did not consist in the walls and in the roof, but in this space to be lived in." (From Caedmon Record TC 1064 interview with Wright in Spring 1955.). This quote can apply to website design too. It's not a website consisting of code and colors, it's a space that is used by users.

We walked away from this talk reminded that we should break the design box where possible, paying special attention to how users' needs and their environments should inform our design decisions. 

Check out video footage of this talk here:

Ethical UX Design

The facilitator posed the question, "Should we consider the ethics when designing web sites and applications?" The group agreed that ethics should always be considered; however, it is often a balancing act between user needs and business needs. Design influences behavior and therefore we need to be aware of how the decisions we make as designers impact both end users and the companies we serve.  When a user registers for our site, it may benefit the organization if we add them to our mailing list; however, it may not appeal to the user. Designers must weigh these decisions daily.

I Failed. Now What?

Forum One's Brian Verhoeven lead a session where users shared the lessons that they learned from failure. The topics ranged from form design to getting fired and finding a new beginning. The conversation turned from mistakes made, to what to look for when evaluating a new place to work. One of the participants offered that when looking, you should look for a good manager and not necessarily a good company.  Another said that you should interview others in your position to find out what they like about working there, what they do, and how they are managed.

Making Client Engagement Fun (UX Activities)

Courtney Clark led a session on how to make client engagement fun.  The converesation spurred some great ideas on not only good requirements gathering and audience research methods, but good tips in general practice as well.

The KJ Method

This method allows you to obtain and prioritize options and ideas from a group at once.  Participants begin by writing down their answer to a question before silently grouping similar answers together.  Then, the participants prioritize the groups of answers by putting 3 check marks for the highest priority answer and 1 check mark for lower priority answers. The groups with the highest checkmarks represent the areas of highest need. To learn more, read Jared Spool’s blog post on the KJ method

What makes an activity successful?

In no particular order, here are the insight we heard : Include snacks.  Get the client out of their office, aka field trip.  Make sure the person you’re interacting with is comfortable. Being nice, constructive in your interactions.  Provide boundaries or guidance in facilitating discussions, but not too much.  Allow people to team up together to complete activities (ex. have 2 people do a card sort together).  Bring visual examples of the outcome of what you’re looking for so people can visulize the end result.  Conduct an ice breaker to put groups of people at ease when they need to interact with one another.

Good advice

The "four second rule." After a participant answers, wait four seconds to see if they have anything to add. Usually they will add a valuable tidbit that you would have otherwise interrupted.

Quick & Dirty Audience Research Methods

A group of roughly 20 people joined me in sharing experiences about how to garner audience needs and insights when you’re either working on a shoestring budget or on a very aggressive timeline.  Stats analysis was a popular theme, as was guerilla research tactics.  One participant spoke about how his team collects feedback from people standing in line at the museum that he works for.  Another person spoke of scoping out participants in the metro or at local coffee shops.  The key was to be unintrussive, friendly, and providing incentives to participate never hurts.  The general consensus is that some audience research is better than none. And that it's a great way of winning consensus from your senior leadership team, even if you need to start small.


It’s envigorating to find, meet and connect with like-minded people in the area. UXCampDC was a success by all measures and resulted in a number of great new contacts for the Forum One team.  Check out video footage and photos from the event.  Also worth checking out Matt Humphrey's post on how to handle creative block as well a Suzanne Rainey's post on the Frank Lloyd Wright session and others. And for those Uxers out there looking for an exciting new job, come join an awesome team, we’re hiring!