Saturday, March 31, 2012

UX Speakeasy Opening Salvo

If there is one thing I learned today while attending the UX Speakeasy Conference here in San Diego, it is that the UX field is dynamic and wide open for professionals from diverse backgrounds. I already had personal experience that UX (User Experience) was difficult to define, so I was gratified when the very first speaker, Russ Unger, zeroed in on the challenge. He set a motivational tone for the day: a hard to define title is not only ok but an incredible opportunity. As we clutched our morning coffees, teas, bananas and carb-loaded pastries Russ launched right in.

I loved it when he put up some of the crazy position descriptions seen in contemporary job ads. You may know them: the ones that ask for a list of skills and experience not embodied by any flesh and blood human. He referred to these job descriptions as Unicorns. How appropriate, considering we were meeting inside the San Diego Zoo. The audience really liked it when Russ introduced the acronym DTDT: Defining The Damn Thing. [Several of today's speakers did not mince words and invoked colorful language]. Sounded like they could relate.

Russ repeated what many career/life coaches, therapists and wise people have said before him: we are not defined by our job title. As we get wrapped up in our careers it is good to be reminded. He added that we should not be scared by job descriptions because of some fear that we have to do all the things in those lists. We may even want to do all those things, but we don't have to. Due to the newness of the field and the fluid understandings of what UX means, UX personnel get to define what they are all about. I agree and suggest that the principle is broader: the opportunity and power of self-definition applies to anyone who chooses to recognize it.

Russ said UX professionals (however defined) are hackers and should be proud of it. As these words came out, I harked back to the days when "hacker" was not a pejorative term. The lost meaning of "hacker", as invoked by Russ,  is someone who can solve problems - problems that in some cases have not even been thought of.

My favorite Russ example was of Jim Henson and the muppets. The person who guides a muppet usually crouches out of sight behind a barrier. Not only can the audience/camera not see the person, but the person cannot see the audience or camera. Henson came up with a setup whereby the person manipulating the muppet can watch a monitor that lets her or him see what the camera or audience is seeing. No one had done anything like this before. Think back several decades and you will realize how brilliant the idea was. It gets even better - Big Bird has a monitor and a heat dispensing fan in his suit. Imagine that!

Although I got a huge kick out of listening to the Rap music, Russ momentarily lost me when he played lyrics from Vanilla Ice and tied them one by one to UX. A musical deficit on my part I guess. However, many in the audience followed along just fine!

Key take-away words from this first, motivational, morning talk: caring is sharing, sharing is caring. As he closed, and in preparing us for the rest of the packed day, Russ exhorted the UX community to be collaborative, to reach out, be open, educate and help people.

I haven't forgotten my pledge in the previous posts to watch for psychology and NUIs. They are coming, along with a lot more about the UX Speakeasy conference!

1 comment:

  1. Thanks for this, Lisa--Great write-up! I'm so happy you were able to attend UX Speakeasy, and appreciate that you took the time to write this up!