Conferences and workshops are easily one of the best ways to immerse yourself into the world of UX design. Between thought-provoking speakers, new perspectives, and amazing networking opportunities, many people leave feeling simultaneously exhausted and rejuvenated. And yet every year it gets harder to choose which one to attend.
Ultimately, the ‘best’ conference depends on what attendees are looking for: an information architect’s favorite conference may not resonate as strongly with a UI designer. And, of course, price can factor into anyone’s decisions. Below are ten events targeting today’s discerning design professionals as well as some practical advice for getting making the trek.
Our pick of UX conferences
An Event Apart
Perhaps the most ‘accessible’ conference out there, An Event Apart (AEA) is held every few months in a major city throughout the United States. Speakers are almost universally regarded as thought leaders in the industry and the entire event is focused on best practice. That fact should come as no surprise, though, as Jeffrey Zeldman – one of the guys behind the event – is also the founder of the publication A List Apart, the design firm Happy Cog, and the publishing company A Book Apart.
Prices vary, but tickets are roughly $900 for presentations, and $450 for workshops. This year’s remaining cities/dates are: Washington DC in August, Chicago in August, Austin in September, and San Francisco in December.
In just its first year, Blend Conference is a self-described generalist’s conference, targeting UX professionals, UI designers, and web developers alike. It’s got all the makings of a great event: 50 speakers, 40 talks, six workshops, custom notebooks, and a no device policy (which will definitely change the dynamic). Tickets run a cool $350. If you’re free in early September and fancy a trip out to Charlotte, NC, give it a look!
Their tagline is ‘driving the Content Strategy conversation forward’ and, boy, do they. Confab Events hosts three conferences each year, each featuring speakers that run the gambit from marketing to journalism to IT. As a content strategist myself, I can attest to the wonder that is Confab: a mecca of the content strategy community.
Although Americans referring to ‘Confab’ are usually referring to Confab Minneapolis, there are actually three annual events:
- Confab Minneapolis. Held in June, this is the ‘main’ event. Early-bird tickets are $949. (High, yes, but I think it’s worth every penny.)
- Confab London. Held in March, speakers hail from across the globe. The price sounds better at only £599 (early bird), but in dollars that’s still roughly $930.
- Confab Higher Ed. Held in November, this event attracts content strategists that specialize in working with universities. The price is lower for Confab Higher Ed, only $699 for the early bird ticket.
Content Strategy Forum
Confab is amazing, but it only comes three times a year, and (this) Content Strategists want more. Content Strategy Forum gives content strategy a more global stage. It’s held annually in September and costs €700 for the conference (early bird) and €1050 for the conference and workshop. ($1086, and $1629, respectively)
The IA Summit is the event for those ‘redefining strategy and structure in support of cross-channel systems and user experiences.’ According to those who have been, it’s an amazing opportunity for beginners to get a big picture look at what IA encompasses as well as a place for experienced designers to catch up with one another. One particularly unique aspect of IA Summit is its Flex Track, essentially giving attendees a place to present!
IA Summit moves around; 2013’s event was in Baltimore, while 2014’s will be in San Diego. The price is high, $900 normally, with a $100 discount for members of ASIS&T or the Information Architecture Institute
User Interface 18
If there is one conference to attend for a general UX education, it’s User Interface 18. This topics range from creating scenarios to beginning research to leading productive meetings. Unlike many conferences that offer a day of workshops followed by one or two days of talks, UIE offers two days of workshops, and only one day of talks. The format lends itself to hands-on education, which is UIE’s focus.
The full conference is annually held in Boston in October. It’s fairly expensive: tickets range from $775 for a regular-priced, one-day ticket, to $1989 for a regular-priced, full-conference ticket. Finally, if you can’t make it to the conference itself (or afford it), consider buying the audio. The video and audio tracks, as well as PDF versions of every presentation, are released just a few weeks after the conference itself, at a reduced rate of $239.
UX Lisbon is one of the few UX conferences that attracts big names from both the United States and Europe. Is it the sunny beaches available? The chance to meet UX professionals from other countries? The caliber of the talks? Perhaps it’s a little bit of all three. This two-day conference has a whopping 16 workshops available, dwarfing the number of talks (10) offered. Also, instead of separating out a speakers dinner, UX Lisbon offers dinners for speakers and attendees to get to know one another.
Offered in Lisbon every May, the price is €895 for 3 days, €695 for two days, and €295 for one day (or, $1388, $1078, and $457, respectively) .
Although it requires a jump across the pond for American-based readers, UX London is well worth the trip. It may not be the best place for newcomers as the event focuses on professional development. Accordingly, attendees and presenters bring the conversation to a higher level, exploring difficult questions and sharing their hard-earned knowledge. The event takes place in London every April, and the cost is £895, or $1388.
UX Mad is a different kind of design conference. Rather than featuring a lineup comprised entirely of well known speakers, UX Mad’s hosts – Jen and Jim Remsik – do their best to curate an eclectic mix. This year’s speakers, for example, featured two musicians, an ice cream maker, as well as two fifteen-year-old entrepreneurs.
What’s more, the conference focuses on many oft-neglected areas of design: service design, company culture, designer/developer workflow, and agile methodology. While it’s not necessarily the best introduction to the design community, the event serves a delightful breath of fresh air in an otherwise crowded space.
As you might guess, Mad UX is held every July in… Madison, Wisconsin. Early bird tickets are just $249 and regular conference tickets are $299.
Okay, so, the name is misleading. Still, UX Week provides a solid three days of user experience talks and workshops organized by one of the most pioneering consultancies in our industry, Adaptive Path. It’s held annually in San Francisco, CA in August, and runs (a whopping) $2595.00.
Get out there
There’s more to a great conference than just finding it and booking a ticket, of course – there are airfares and accommodations to consider! We recommend Kayak and AirBnb respectively. Both save you time and money.
Conferences are also a good opportunity to put Twitter to work for you. Sign in to Lanyard with it to track conferences your followers are attending. Then, while you’re at the event, use it to set up meeting times and to follow the conference’s hashtag. You’ll be plugged in in no time.
What are your favorite design conferences and/or conference rituals? Share them in the comments, or with the #uxbooth hashtag on Twitter!
During my years in an agency, I've seen the spectrum of tool experimentation. I've heard passionate user experience designers argue in favor (and equally as often, against) Axure, Balsamiq, UXPin, Invision, Photoshop, you name it. We've tried it. Usually, the outcome is something out of Goldilocks and the Three Bears: the tool is too robust, or too simplistic, too slow, or too buggy, and no one's happy.