The South by South West interactive conference hit Austin on March 11 with a wave of nearly 15,000 interactive professionals (not to mention the 13,000 music and 9,000 film badge-holding attendees).
Although the interactive portion of the conference was the largest in its 12 year history, many attendees lamented that the large number of participants compromised the quality of panels and presentations. Conceivably, in order to meet the needs of 15,000 conference-goers, the number of panels had to be increased from years past, which some believe lead to a lower quality of panels.
Despite the criticism of the size of the conference, new ideas and connections abounded. Some of the highlights captured by the Design For Use team included making meetings more productive, improving company culture, producing IA deliverables faster, and adopting a more iterative approach to usability testing.
Specifically, a presentation by Kevin Hoffman at Happy Cog focused on how to make meetings more profitable by focusing ideas back to a decision point. Citing that most meetings are too abstract and lack direction, Hoffman discussed various methods that enable team members to contribute equally, including sharing ideas visually through drawing and creating customized questionnaires for clients and team members.
Another highlight was a panel on How to Turn Your Company into a Family, hosted by, Casey Schorr (Printfection and Swaglove), John Fischer (StickerGiant), Marybeth Alexander, and Brittany Heidtke (both of SurveyGizmo). Surprisingly, the panel focused primarily on the hiring process, considering much of company culture is determined by the people who make up an organization. Various hiring tactics were discussed, such as requiring applicants to complete an online survey prior to interviewing and conducting group interviews with the internal team and the applicant.
Jeff Gothelf addressed the evolution of IA deliverables; initially wireframes, sitemaps and prototypes validated the role of an IA, but too much emphasis is now placed on the deliverable itself rather than the ideas behind the deliverable. Gothelf explained that IAs spend too much time polishing final deliverables at the risk of wasting valuable decision-making and brain-storming time with the rest of our team. Gothelf recommended putting speed first and aesthetics second to get the ball rolling on projects and generate more feedback from other people. To learn more, read Gothelf’s article on Lean UX Deliverables.
Weekly Usability Testing
Both Gothelf and design legend Steve Krug provided insight to a shorter form of usability testing; rather than booking a usability lab for a full day and recruiting participants to match the user specifically, both Krug and Gothelf recommended a lower-fidelity test. Krug recommended testing only three participants at a time, but doing so once a week to improve the iterative nature of the testing process. This can be done by recruiting loosely, and staying away from statistics and reporting. Instead of a long usability report, the results should focus on three major findings a week. Krug argued that testing more regularly and limiting the number of results allows for faster design improvement and turnaround time.
Until Next Year
As conference-goers head back to work this week, they take with them the new knowledge and ideas from the largest meeting of interactive professionals in the world. There are rumors that next year the attendance will be capped, so the highlights and take aways from the 2011 SXSW conference may have to serve as a lasting impression for some.