A Q&A with UX Mad 2013

When it comes to meeting with the community in-person, UX designers have plenty of events to choose from. One particularly unique option is UX Mad, bringing together speakers from all different walks of life. As it turns out, those walks of life were also prime candidates for an interview.

UX Mad is an annual, one-track, user-experience-design conference held every July in Madison, WI. Featuring a wide variety of speakers – from professional musicians to craft ice cream makers – it offers attendees an opportunity to meet and mingle with an otherwise disparate group of passionate creators.

In fact, the lineup reflects just how multidisciplinary experience design can be. Looking at their various backgrounds made me wonder: where do these speakers overlap? The answers, you’ll find, are surprising. Read on for wide-ranging insight into the creative minds of this year’s speakers and even a chance to win a ticket to the event!

How do you define user experience? How did you get into it?
Lea StewartLea Stewart: UX is a way to describe an ecosystem of products and services that consider a users’ needs, behaviors, and attitudes. Coming from Industrial Design, I don’t think of it as strictly digital. Instead of developing a next-generation training shoe, a UX designer might envision the “experience of running”.
MoldoverMoldover: To me, user experience represents a change in focus from simply getting something to work to making it as intuitive and enjoyable as possible.
Sergio NouvelSergio Nouvel: User experience is an evolution of design in general. Once you begin to care about users, you start to wonder which factors influence a good design beyond the mere look-and-feel. You start being a lot more aware of how easy the interface is to consume (which itself depends on how the content is structured, what it intends to do, etc.)
Can you give us a sneak peek of your talk at UX Mad?
Jenn DownsJenn Downs: Marketing automation is a powerful tool, but if used incorrectly it can reduce empathy for the user. Using technology to manage the relationship isn’t a replacement for human-to-human contact.
Jessica PetersonJessica Peterson: I’m taking part in a discussion panel of people chosen from distinct disciplines with a similar regard for the role of research in the design process. We want to demonstrate why the science of research and applied research is critical.
MoldoverMoldover: Human interface design for musical instruments presents unique challenges and vast new possibilities. The proliferation of low-cost rapid-prototyping tools has put the means of fabricating instruments within reach of any potential musician. I’ll go through the design process for some of my inventions.
Pamela PavliscakPamela Pavliscak: Data isn’t just a four-letter word. Numbers let us track improvements and setbacks over time, communicate important information at a glance, and tell us where we stand against competition.

Russ UngerRuss Unger: I’m giving a talk about Jim Henson and how the way he worked applies to what we can do in UX. It’s not one of those “X Things We Can Learn About UX From [a person];” it’s about the way he worked. It’s a little bit of history, observation, and fun. Oh! And Muppets–lots of Muppets! Probably a bunch of stuff you never knew about them, and Jim Henson!
What was the last creative project you did for fun? How do you deal with blocks?
Jesse ShternshusJesse Shternshus: I’ve been working with a designer to re-brand my company. I challenge myself by giving myself a couple minutes to think of as many terrible ideas as possible. Sometimes really good ideas come out of it.
Martin AtkinsMartin Atkins: I like speaking and work pretty hard at the payoff of that. The same goes for my books. There’s a difference between the information and the delivery of that information in a form that works. I try to have enough going on that when I am creatively blocked I can keep my energy output up while the wheels and cogs keep turning and (hopefully) magically produce the solution like some fairground wizard.
Pamela PavliscakPamela Pavliscak: Even though I observe and talk to strangers using technology all the time, I’m pretty awkward when it comes to mingling in large social groups. Recently, I had to go to an event by myself, so I decided random UX testing might at least give me some conversational gambit. A few takeaways: find a quiet corner, talk to people early in the evening, make friends with all the servers, and let people see some results.
Sergio NouvelSergio Nouvel: How do I deal with creative blocks? I don’t. I don’t regard hitting the point of frustration as a “block”. I see it as a necessary step. I never consider myself blocked, so it helps a lot with the feeling of being blocked.
What does mobile mean to user-centered designers?
Andrew MaierAndrew Maier: Mobile means we can no longer depend upon a certain context in which people will use things (not that we ever really could). As a consequence, we have to make our solutions more robust – to consider alternative ways of presenting information and affording functionality.
Golli HashemianGolli Hashemian: Honestly, it annoys me that everyone focuses so much on mobile as a separate topic of user experience. From a high level, designing for mobile isn’t a separate process – it’s an evolution of user-centered design. We study how our customers use our product and design accordingly, taking context into account as well.
Sergio NouvelSergio Nouvel: Mobile has always been with us simply because we are mobile beings (unlike a tree). Mobile isn’t new: think of a watch as a mobile analog device. Mobile is a context. Devices will keep changing, and what really matters is not the resolution or the touch screen, but the context – the unpredictability of what’s surrounding a user, what state of mind they’re in, or what else they’re trying to do. The first step is admitting our inability to cover absolutely every scenario.
What disciplines within user-centered design excite you? Why?
Andrew MaierAndrew Maier: Civic design & social entrepreneurship. They’re areas that absolutely need our attention (as designers) because they have the most power to affect people on a day-to-day basis. Democracy is interactive by design. Nowadays, we’ve lost that feeling of empowerment.
Jessica PetersonJessica Peterson: Nothing beats first-hand research. Making sure we understand what the users are thinking and what their needs are is just as important as making sure the interface is well-designed, the colors and proportions and pleasing, and the features are usable.
Lea StewartLea Stewart: My background is in industrial design, so that’s where my passion lies. I have an internal struggle with creating more “stuff” that may someday be discarded. I focus on sustainability and to ensure that whatever I design is truly needed and wanted by users instead of heading for the landfill.
MoldoverMoldover: Hardware. It’s refreshing to make physical objects when we spend so much time manipulating digital “things.”


That’s all, folks! A big thank you to all of this year’s speakers for taking the time to answer our questions. Everyone listed above (and more!) will be in Madison this July 12-13, so come on out, meet them, have a good time, and eat some cheese!

Welcome to Wisconsin

Will we see you there? UX Mad is just a few weeks away. If you haven’t bought your ticket yet but you’re itching to go (especially after such riveting responses), you’re in luck: we’re giving one away.

To enter, let us know who you’re most excited to meet and why in the comments below. Be sure to follow @uxbooth, and to leave your Twitter handle with your comment so we can get in touch with you for your freebie. Entries must be in by midnight (PST) June 27th. We know it’s tight, but we want to give the lucky winner the time to arrange travel and lodging, as we can’t provide those. Good luck!

About the Author

Brad Orego

Brad Orego is an aspiring Experience Designer, Web Developer, Entrepreneur, and Dancer currently living in Madison, WI. He’s fascinated by the integration of virtual and physical worlds, and strives to create technology which improves everyday life. He currently works as the UX Lead for Nextt, and runs a startup called Trinker. Keep up with him on Twitter or his personal website.

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Comments

  1. Jarin Smith June 25, 2013

    I am very excited to meet Golli Hashemian and Sergio Nouvel. I think their discussions on Mobile content and UI design will be very helpful as we are just getting started in this realm. @Rintron

  2. I am thrilled to have both Brad Orego and Jenn Downs in town. Brad for his writing style and great content; Jenn for her work with MailChimp – and her purple hair :)

    @smargovsky

  3. Wow – a great lineup of faces. Looks like a great event to attend. Wish this existed when I lived in MN! Love the focus on empathy between Jenn’s talk on the dangers of automation, Jessica’s focus on first-hand user engagement and Andrew’s point about design contributing to social change. Sounds like a fabulous event!

  4. I’d like to meet with Andrew Maier, as I’m interested in civic design.

    @MJ_Lin

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