Thursday, May 7, 2009

Voices That Matter Web Design Conference - Part 3


Breakfast with the Authors
The last day of the conference started off with a breakfast with the authors. I chose to have breakfast with Steve Krug, author of Don't Make Me Think. Jared Spool also joined us. Having a one-on-one conversations with minds like this was worth the cost of the entire conference. Seriously. These guys know their stuff.

Steve noted that a thousand universities have prototyped every possible design and site organization for us. If we want to see what works, we should do usability testing on their sites. And in fact, that's exactly our plan. :)

Jared Spool was pretty adamant in his assertion that all redesigns are a mistake and a failure... not overly helpful considering that we're in the middle of ours. His recommendation is to only do bits and pieces at a time, and effectively that's what we're doing, since we're only tackling our top level pages.

He also asserted that people never WANT to search. If your site is properly organized, people will always browse before searching. I don't buy that, personally, but hey, it was a great breakfast anyway.

Keynote: Cooking Up Gourmet User Experiences on a Fast Food Budget - Jared Spool
Fascinating and entertaining presentation by Jared Spool, partly about Julia Child, the absurdities of the TSA, and the fact that every university web site has photos of smiling girls under trees.

Actually, his talk was more about a usability approach using cheap tricks rather than expensive methodologies. His point was that knowing a few good tricks is generally just as good (if not better) than developing an extensive methodology. A plumber uses a wrench as a hammer and gets the job done instead of spending money on a special tool just for that job.

Very thought provoking presentation.

Take-aways: Good enough is good enough. "Organizations that are risk adverse produce crap." Learn from others and adapt; there's no need for expensive tools when a few well-honed tricks will do the job.

Learning to Love Tension, Disruption and Chaos - Russ Unger, Carolyn Chandler
This wasn't really the presentation I was hoping it would be. I was hoping that it would be more about tension, disruption and chaos in the redesign process, but it seemed a bit more scattered. I guess I just didn't connect to this session.

Neuro Web Design: What Makes Them Click? - Susan Weinschenk
OK, this presentation blew my mind. Susan talked about people react to pages from a neurological perspective. Tons of fascinating information. User testing has shown that no matter how items on a page are organized, users will click the first items more than all others simply because it is first.

Stories connect with people more than anything else, because they create empathy, and stories with pictures are even more powerful. For us, that means that we're on the right track with having stories on our main landing pages. Cool.

Fear of loss is a powerful motivator, which is why we react to "Only a few left! Order now!" Overall, food, sex and fear are our three biggest neurological motivators. Taking advantage of those is a positive on any site (where appropriate).

I got more new information out of this session than any other.

Take-aways: There is a whole different way to think about - and affect - the user experience based on our innate reactions to things. We react to things at a very primitive and visceral level, and understanding that can be to our advantage in building the user experience.

Here's a link to Susan's blog.


After a slow start, this conference really took off, and I started to see why people were so excited about it. When I left, my brain was full. I had a great time and brought a lot of useful information back to our campus.

Though I doubt that I'll be able to go back next year, I'm hooked. This is certainly one of the best web user experience conferences out there, and well worth the price of admission.

Tuesday, May 5, 2009

Voices That Matter Web Design Conference - Part 2

Days two and three were full of great presentations. The interesting about this conference was that the sum of all the sessions taken as a whole was much greater than the individual sessions. I went from being disappointed on Tuesday to overwhelmed on Thursday.


Keynote: The Designful Company: Marty Neumeier
I'm not a designer, so this session wasn't really directed at me, but this was a fascinating discussion of design as more than graphic design and branding. Design is an entire approach to everything from the way a company is run to the way decisions are made to the end user experience.

One Twitter comment was pretty much to the point on this: "right now 'design' sounds like magic pixie dust that you can sprinkle on anything to make it better". You could almost substitute "project management" or "planning" for "design" and make the same points.

However, the designers I talked to thought this was a highly inspiring session.

Content Strategy, UX and the Real World - Kristina Halvorson
For me, this was the single best session of the conference. The main reason I loved this session was that it validated all that I'm going through with trying to wrap my head around dealing with the complexities of getting content for our new home page redesign.

Getting content for a site isn't as simple as creating a box on a flow chart saying "content comes in here". Content drives information architecture and information architecture drives content. Content is an iterative process, involving all team members and stakeholders.

The only way you'll succeed in getting the best content is to plan a content strategy around specific goals that you want to achieve.
  • Plan
  • Create
  • Publish
  • Govern (rinse, wash, repeat)
She provided some great examples about how less content is more: more focused, more maintainable, more on message.

However, she also made the point that taking a content inventory was critical to success. Ugh, that's a hell of a lot of work - mind numbing but necessary.

Take-aways: Content is a process, not a feature. A content strategy will help you avoid the pitfalls of delayed content, scattered, off-message content, etc. We need a clear content strategy statement to help us manage the content for our redesign.

What I Have Learned So Far in the 21st Century - Steve Krug
Steve Krug is the author of the single best web usability book out there: Don't Make me Think. This was a fun presentation. Steve's a great guy. Overall, Steve says that he hasn't really learned a lot about usability in the 12st century that he didn't already know, but there were a few nuggets.
  • If people need to see something, don't be afraid to shout (make it really stand out)
  • Fix the top 3 worst usability problems on a site first, before tackling any 'low hanging fruit' problems
  • Make the smallest change that fixes the problem - don't redesign a page just to fix one issue
  •,, are good tools for online user testing

Beyond Web 2.0 - Jesse James Garrett
Another heavy hitter, Jess James Garrett, author of The Elements of User Experience, takes on Web 2.0. Actually, he pretty much dismisses Web 2.0 and focuses on the user experience instead. "The experience is the product." The main focus of his presentation is to continually simplify the user's experience. Examples of MS Word with all the tool bars open and a video Microsoft made about Microsoft redesigning the iPod packaging (hilarious!)

Take-aways: The user experience cannot be too simple or too easy. Simplify! Simplify!

Stump the Chump - Steve Krug
Steve Krug took questions from the audience about usability. Unfortunately - or actually fortunately - the first five names he picked were people from Berkeley!

Take-aways: University sites are fundamentally different from other sites. Audience segmentation is normally bad on sites, but appropriate on university sites because people self-identify and there is typically little overlap in roles.

Overall, this was a fantastic day. I'll cover the third and final day tomorrow.

Monday, May 4, 2009

Voices That Matter Web Design Conference - Part 1

I know that I have been horribly ignoring this blog in favor of Tales from Redesignland, but with all the work on the actual redesign, I haven't had the energy to do both.

However, last week I went to the Voices That Matter Web Design conference in San Francisco, and I thought that I'd file a report. I'll probably be talking about specific sessions in more detail later, but I wanted to give a summary of the sessions that I went to.

Voices that Matter is an imprint of New Riders publishers, and all of the presenters were authors, including some big names like Steve Krug, Jesse James Garrett, Jared Spool, etc.

Overall, the conference was pretty stunning, and by the end my brain was full.

People Filing in:
Voices that Matter Web Design Conference

Other photos (not mine) from the conference.


Keynote: Marketing Obama: Social Media Gets a Seat at the Table - Rahaf Harfoush
An interesting look inside the Obama campaign, but to me it provided little in the form of take-aways regarding the use of social media.

Sorry. Web 1.0 Is No Longer Supported - Joel Postman
More a history of web-based social media than anything else, so it was a bit disappointing. Very interesting discussion on flogs, splogs, blogola, astroturfing and other shady practices in the blogosphere. Shorttask is an very interesting example, where you can get paid 5 cents to post a positive comment on a blog post.

Take-aways: People aren't particularly nice on the internetz.

Free Range Content: Unlock Your Ideas to Increase Your Reach - Aarron Walter
I was the most disappointed in this session, not because it was a bad presentation (it was actually very good), but because it was nothing new to me. RSS and Flickr... yeah, I've heard of them. I was more interested in content strategies than learning how to reuse existing content.

Take-aways: Content can be used more than once in one place.

The Trusted Filter: Designing for Credibility - Jason Cranford Teague
This presentation was all about how to gain and hold the trust of your site's visitors. For me it seemed a bit fragmented.

Take-aways: Not really sure.

So, Monday was the weakest day, and I was feeling that (beside the fact that like only two people were Twittering) it was pretty lame at this point. But Wednesday and Thursday were night-and-day better... and they'll follow in part 2.