Songs of (User) Experience

Highlights from UX Week 2010, Day 1

There's an interesting conference happening in San Francisco right now: Hosted by user experience design and consulting firm Adaptive Path, UX Week 2010 is for user experience professionals of all levels. The first and last days of the sold-out conference consist of presentations for the entire group, while the second and third days are dedicated to smaller hands-on workshops with names like "Designing for Behavior Change" and "Playing with Data."

I attended the first day of all-group sessions to see what UX pros on the bleeding edge have to say about user experience on the Web today and in the future.

The keynote was delivered by Stanford University psychology professor BJ Fogg, who urged the audience not to fall into old misconceptions about how to get people to take action or change their behavior. Simply putting information in front of people, as so many Web sites do, won't make most people change their behavior. Even changing their attitude or beliefs about a topic -- say, the need to conserve energy or get more exercise -- won't make most of them change their day-to-day habits.

Fogg's design mantra is "Put 'hot triggers' in the path of motivated people." A hot trigger is something that not only induces people to take action, but to take action right now. Facebook and Twitter are excellent at feeding us hot triggers, he said, with a steady stream of "hey, check this out!" messages.

Fogg had a lot more to say about how to get people to take action; it's all boiled down into something he calls The Behavior Grid, which codifies 15 ways that behavior can change, from GreenDot behavior (do something new one time) to BlackPath behavior (stop doing something forever). Designing a Web site or other user experience for one type of behavior change can be very different from designing for another type; to be effective, companies and other organizations should focus on the type(s) of behavior change they want to induce in their customers.

More Day 1 highlights:

Facebook product designer Adam Mosseri outlined how his company uses data about its users to improve their experience on the site. For instance, the company noticed that when users uploaded photos to the site, 85% of them were selecting a single photo instead of multiple photos. Adding a dialog box that instructs users on how to select multiple photos decreased the single-photo uploaders to less than 40%.

According to Mosseri, Facebook has a 20-person data team that analyzes 4TB of user data per day. However, he said the company is wary of being overly data driven and that overreacting to data can lead to micro-optimizations, where changes are made to serve a small segment of the audience. Facebook will continue to experiment with new designs and features, whether data driven or not. "We believe that real innovation invariably involves disruption," he said. "The greatest risk is taking no risk."

Adaptive Path's Paula Wellings and Mindflash's Cameron Gray introduced the concept of "pizzability" -- the intersection of pizza and usability. It was part of the transformation of Mindflash from a developer-driven organization with a feature-rich product that nobody could figure out how to use into a company that focuses on user experience first and foremost. Pizzability sessions brought the entire company together at lunch to eat pizza and watch videos of real people actually using the Mindflash software.

Adaptive Path designer Andrew Crow noted the unfortunate tendency of many organizations to lend far more credibility to outside consultants than to their own in-house design teams. He advised these teams to win the trust of bosses and fellow employees by taking on projects outside the traditional realm of the design team. This could be as simple as finding something in your office that doesn't have the best user experience -- say, a wastebasket in an inconvenient location -- and fixing it, then adding a note saying, "This improved experience brought to you by _________."

"Speed of iteration beats quality of iteration," said Jeff Veen, the founder of Small Batch, in his presentation. Creating running code is key to getting new technologies accepted, he said -- you can always fix things later. Veen quoted Reid Hoffman, LinkedIn's founding CEO, saying, "If you're not embarrassed when you ship your product, you waited too long."

This is just the tip of the iceberg -- many more interesting points were made in these and other presentations, including a fascinating demonstration of health data visualizations by software and design consultant Ben Fry. If my time allows, I'll go back on Friday for more UX insights.

To follow the live UX Week Twitter stream, use hashtag #uxweek; photos can be found on Flickr under the tag uxweek2010.

Copyright © 2010 IDG Communications, Inc.

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