User Research Friday

This past Friday was, well, User Research Friday.

Here’s the obligatory shots of backs of heads and a person and a slide. Comments on the whole thing follow the pictures.

I am so appreciative of all the work put in by the folks that organized User Research Friday; the constraints of the (un)conference problem are pretty extreme and they struck the best balance they could, given the effort put in (i.e., it was free, and all done by volunteers, and that’s appropriately going to limit what is being created; this isn’t TED). I’m looking forward to the next one, too.

It continues to be amazing what people can do in terms of throwing together an event with little budget, planning, advance notice, etc. And what goes with these unconventional events is a rethinking of the purpose of such a gathering.

We (and this is the collective we, as participants and organizers of events) are still not there yet; I haven’t seen one of these work to its potential (although the effort/payoff ratio is much better than a big expensive event, too, so part of the problem is common across events in general more than the specific approach; I’m more likely to (constructively) critical because these events are at least trying to rethink the approach). There’s a tension between the different goals that people come to these things with, and the way the event is configured to address those needs: content, discussion, and networking being the biggest ones I can suss out.

The content here was so-so. One presentation was a bald-ass sales pitch, complete with a pre-emptive slide for anyone who might disagree with the value of what was being sold, referred to as “that guy” – no one would want to be “that guy” would they? The ones that always asks those (eye roll) questions? Sheesh. Great to address the FAQs that come up, but no need to be such a dick about it. At least one talk went entirely over my head. Others shared some case studies in an informative and direct fashion.

Sadly much of the content dealt with workarounds for the constraints of business today. No time to go see customers, who are too far away and may be in a situation where we can’t go see them at the time of most relevance. Can we get someone else to go see them? Or can we put a piece of technology in place that can intermediate? In general, these are good solutions to real problems, but I fear I’m watching the field drift into a spot I’m not so crazy about. I realize this reflects the Bay Area/Silicon Valley thing and had I attended EPIC or AWF I wouldn’t be struck by the contrast. Any of our local events that are self-generated in terms of content suffer the same techno-drift (see DCamp, etc.).

Only one presentation was designed to elicit some sort of dialog (not that others presenters should have taken that approach; the format didn’t really support it).

The event offered little in terms of discussion. There are tons of people in the room, so as many questions as possible in the short session length were taken. But any large-number-of-participants event will rarely build into any new conclusion, it’s merely clarification after comment after clarification. There was to be a panel session (and I was asked to be a panelist) but the organizers decided to cut it. I am not sure why. Time? Lack of focus for a topic? Too much content? Of course, I wanted my fifteen minutes, so I felt bad and my perspective on the value of the panel is filtered strongly by my desire to have been involved in the panel. Breaks, if any, between presentations were brief and some folks no doubt were reviewing content with each other, while others were just chatting, queuing, and drinking (yeah, there was free wine and beer and eventually champagne)!

The networking was crammed into that time as well. I enjoyed having a printout of the signups ahead of time so (as an introvert, I guess) I could plan for who I could see that I knew; as well as having other brief chances to meet others.

The post-presentations networking (where more food and booze came out) was a bit disappointing; it was Friday so people left to go to their other lives fairly quickly. I imagined it running later than advertised, but it petered out earlier, so I was a bit bummed on that front.

I was struck by how much focus and interest there was on the presentations themselves; I pictured more hallway chatting going on adjacent to the talks, but we all gravitated towards the talks.

I’ve not been involved in anything more salon-like; smaller, more focused, with some intention to produce some result by the end. I’m not sure I’m ready to organize something myself, but I’m definitely interested in that, as a contrasting experience.


About Steve