I attended Midwest UX 2012 last week, and it seems like a dream. Day 5 back on the job, and the whole team is poring over four latest Rosenfeld Media additions to my library. I already facilitated one "sandbox" meeting on health challenges, inspired by Haig Armen's workshop on "Designing Mobile Apps for Behaviour Change". When someone mentioned user touchpoints the other day, I had a much firmer grasp of how to ground our thinking thanks to Chris Risdon's "Mapping the Experience". I still need to go over my notes on talks by the many other enlightening speakers.
On my return, my husband, a question mark on his face, remarked that he hasn't seen me this "up" in a little while.
What's it all about?
I'm not going to summarize all that I learned about practical and visionary aspects of UX. For that, please check out the presentations on Slideshare and Lanyrd and the #mwux12 blog recap links on Twitter. What I want to share are my observations of what made this conference unusual.
At professional conferences, some people pigeon-hole each other faster than you can say "speed date." Their eyes dart around as they get the lay of the networking terrain in the shortest time possible so as to extract maximum schmooz value. Can't help them advance their careers? "Next!"
At MWUX12, the people I met were way more interested in me and what I do than my job title or how much reach and influence I have. Besides, I've got one of those 50-person-company jobs that merges a few disciplines. I'm not sure my job title does it justice, but who cares? And the people I met were generous in sharing about themselves and their knowledge and challenges.
I never felt lonely at MWUX12. I felt at home.
MWUX12 welcomed front-end and back-end developers, UI engineers, UX designers, content strategists, IAs, and everyone in between, underneath, and above. They hailed from agencies and corporations of all sizes, government agencies, academia, and probably some non-profits, too. Not once did I witness anyone drawing lines in the sand around IA, UX, UI, IxD, etc.
Don't let the name fool you: not everyone was from the midwestern US. There were a few fellow Canucks, plus Yanks and Southerners, East Coasters, and probably some West Coasters. Men and lots of women. Young, recently-degreed, youngish, middle-aged, and some with more than a few grey hairs. I met the sage, the seasoned, and the bright-eyed and wonderstruck.
Have you ever been to a conference where the organizers act like game show hosts? Where the whole thing feels like a giant prop for their performances?
Here, the focus was on the sessions, the speakers, and the attendees. The MWUX12 team all the while quietly and efficiently moved things along. When not introducing speakers, they were...well, I don't know what they were doing exactly, but whatever it was, it worked. Brilliantly. That probably had something to do with the staff at the venue, COSI, but mostly with the MWUX12 team.
Speakers and attendees alike displayed a keen design sensibility, particularly in their choices of eyewear. Their tastes tended toward monochromatic simplicity and good structure, a bit like the folks who hang out at content strategy conferences, though the latter typically opt for more colour.
HUMBLE + CARING
A humble attitude was pervasive. Even the luminaries had an I'm-just-beginning-to-scratch-the-surface reverence for their work. Their passion was infectious. Humility pairs well with caring, and in his visionary keynote closing the conference, Richard Buchanan summarized this idea aptly. Design has a place beyond interfaces and devices and extends to the realm of organizations and public policy. In fact, the point of design, he said, is to support human dignity.
It had been building up from the moment the workshops began, and that final keynote made it official: I'm in love.