ConveyUX Conference 2013: Day 1: 4 March 2013

March 5, 2013

This is a new conference hosted by Joe Welinske (of WritersUA Conference fame) and Blink. For its inaugural year, there are about 130 attendees here in Seattle. This three-day conference will be followed by two days of the WritersUA Conference. I’m attending both, but I’m not speaking this year, which is actually quite a relief as a lot of stress was taken away and a lot of hours were freed up over the past few months ;-).

Attendees came from far and wide. While most were from the US (particularly Seattle and the west coast), others came from Moscow, Brazil, the UK, and Australia (that’d be me!). Many were working in the user experience (UX) field, either formally or informally (e.g. tech writers and editors who had taken on the mantle of UX person), while others were involved in areas that overlapped UX. Not all were from software companies — some of the industries I heard about included biomedical, oil and gas, educational assessment, education delivery, diabetic care, etc. Others were from  more traditional software/web companies such as Intel, Microsoft, Rhapsody, NEC, Amazon etc.

Here’s my summary of the sessions I attended on Day 1. Any opinions expressed are mine alone. You can find out more by following the ConveyUX Twitter hash tag, or by reading the official blog posts at http://conveyux.com/


Kelly Franznick (Blink) and Joe Welinkse welcomed us to the conference. After some housekeeping information, Joe introduced geek comedian, Heather Gold. For 9 am on a Monday in a room full of strangers, Heather was a bit full-on ;-). She got down into the audience and challenged various people to reveal stuff about themselves. I wasn’t quite sure how to react — for me, this was something quite unexpected for a conference. Heather is a fast-talking, in-your-face type of gal, who has a scattergun approach and a fairly dominating personality. However, I did warm to her after a while — she sure knows how to get people talking, even if you don’t like her in-your-face manner.

Joe ran his interactive ‘who are we?’ session, with Heather adding side commentary. He’s done this the past few years at WritersUA and it often reveals some interesting trends in the audience. Some of the results that stuck in my head were: fewer than 9% of the audience were telecommuting 3 or more days a week; 61% of people used trial and error as their preferred learning method for software; Apple still dominates the smartphone market, but Android and Windows Phone aren’t too far away, with Blackberry WAY behind.

A cross-disciplinary approach to content clarity

After a short tea/coffee break, Erika Hall (@mulegirl) talked about how to achieve content clarity. Your approach has to be intentional, critical, and effective. And how you do it is to let go (of existing baggage), take charge, and work together. The baggage you need to let go is: ‘The web is a publication’; ‘Anyone can write’; and ‘Content is text’.

Content creation includes: writing, composing, illustrating, filming, commenting, curating. Content consumption (i.e what users are doing with the content) includes: reading, playing, watching, listening, exploring.

Ask ‘Why?’. If you can’t answer ‘why’ you are doing something, then you shouldn’t be working on the ‘what’. Be very specific about what you are doing and why.

Remember that not all content is text, and not all text is content.

Instead of design muscling out content or vice versa (e.g. ‘design is king’, ‘content is king’) in a territorial war, a cross-disciplinary approach will achieve more. Cross-disciplinary has three facets:

  • Research and strategy (the story): Understanding and articulating (e.g. user research, business strategy, content audits, gap analysis, editorial strategy, marketing strategy, technology strategy)
  • Design (the system): Specifying the system and its rules (e.g. identity design, visual design, interaction design [incl. interface language], information architecture, nomenclature, systems architecture, metadata, content specifications, style guidelines)
  • Production (the stuff): Creating the assets (e.g. writing, photography, video, illustrating, coding, curating)

When working together, mind your Ps and Qs: purpose (what is the goal), process (how is that done), practice (what do you bring to it), problems (what is getting in your way), questions (what to ask), and quality (what to fight for).

Purpose can vary. For example:

  • Informing: An informational website
  • Enabling: A tool/application
  • Entertaining: A pleasant diversion
  • Pursuading: A marketing website
  • Vending: An online store.

Erika concluded with an excellent analogy of meercat behavior, where a sentry watches out for dangers (e.g. scope creep, resourcing issues, shifts in strategy) and informs the workers so that they are alert to it too. But the workers don’t have to be on the lookout all the time — they leave that to the one or two sentries keeping watch, and hold group meetings as necessary.

At the conclusion of Erika’s presentation, she and Heather adjourned to the couch, where Heather interviewed her. While this was potentially an interesting strategy, I found Heather’s questions to be quite rambling and confusing. Erika did an excellent job of distilling and answering them.

Big picture UX

After the morning tea break, Nick Finck looked at where we are now with technology, what we should be designing for, and potential directions that technology can go. He emphasized creating cross-channel and holistic experiences — from mobile devices to large screen TVs, to automotive technologies. The experience for the customer/consumer/user must be seamless between all channels. Having different or varying content between channels is confusing and harms the business.

The rhetoric of design

We returned from lunch to an engaging talk by Charlie Claxton. While the session title didn’t look particularly interesting, Charlie’s content and examples were. He started by talking about habit and how habitual behavior is a good thing. After a swing through rhetorical theory, he focused on these aspects, using some compelling examples:

  • cognitive biases
  • authority and trust (cheap and expensive watch website examples)
  • halo effect (Richard Branson, trustworthy/famous people using the product)
  • framing (pricing structure to make you buy the middle one — that one was scary!)
  • social proof (influence of user comments/reviews)
  • loss aversion (only 5 left! buy now!)
  • operant conditioning (paint the Seattle Public Library male toilets bright green to prevent people from spending hours in there to keep warm)
  • focusing effect (put in really high prices to make people choose a middle option and think they’ve got a good deal)

Finally, he finished with a call to ‘listen to your audience’: Who are they? (definitely not ‘everyone’); how do they behave?

Creating effective interface language (parts 1 and 2)

The afternoon sessions were divided into two time slots, with three presenters in each. I chose to do the two-part session with Erika Hall on creating effective interface language. While I’ve presented several sessions on reviewing and editing user interface text, Erika took a different tack. It was a little more theoretical at first, and she showed and discussed some excellent examples. Unfortunately, there wasn’t enough time for her to cover all her material fully, but she did give us a sweeping overview of the last sets of slides.

To summarize her session:

  • All interfaces require thoughtful language choices. All interfaces are conversations — a user interface is a conversation that takes places between a human and a machine. You (as the writer) are the soul of the machine. Be polite.
  • Language is the ultimate interface. We aren’t writing — we are speaking in (interface) text.
  • Interfaces fail when they are written to be read rather than interacted with.
  • All language choices flow from the role the website or application plays for the business and the user. The brand strategy and business model determine the role. The appropriate conversational style is the one matches the role; the role determines the voice. Even though multiple devices and delivery mechanisms, the role (and therefore the voice) should not change.
  • Avoid labeling with ‘my’ (e.g. ‘My Yahoo!’) as it confuses the relationship between the user and the system.
  • Whether text or images are the correct choice depends on several factors, including constraints, conventions, and user needs.
  • Language can support these core purposes in an interactive system: salutation (introducing the system), orientation and navigation, action, instruction, service.
  • Nouns are information architecture; verbs are interaction design.
  • Be conventional in navigation naming, and innovative for actions.
  • Identify areas where text is used as a crutch for bad design.
  • Interface language fails when it is: oblivious to context, inconsistent, presumptuous, unnatural, vague, too clever, or rude. Remember, be polite!

As part of this session, each group assessed a web page from the Bank of America website.

Food and drink

  • Breakfast: Scrambled eggs with hash browns, and a DELICIOUS pumpkin/sunflower seed muffin.
  • Morning tea: Fresh-baked cookies and muffins
  • Lunch: Pumpkin soup, dinner roll, make-your-own Cobb salad with heaps of all sorts of salad goodies
  • Afternoon tea: More cookies and muffins
  • Networking mixer: Raw vegetable crudites and dips, various crackers, artichoke and smoked bacon on small toast pieces, smoked salmon on small rye toast pieces

We ate well all day!

One comment

  1. […] as it happened, there wasn’t much more to my day. It was filled with conference stuff. I ended up having one of the OMG plums for dinner as I had eaten well all day, wrote up my blog […]

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