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.


Russ said...

Hi there--

Sorry to hear that the session wasn't quite what you were expecting. I'd be interested in discussing with you further russ [at] userglue [dot] com to learn a bit more about what could have been different.


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Holly said...

The point you made about storytelling was a main motivating factor in the Web site redesign of University of Richmond's home page that launched today. In our research, we learned from prospectives that telling the stories of our students' experiences is crucial. Check out the redesign at, or go to for screen shots and explanations of the redesign.

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