Last week I hit Toronto for three workshops organized by Rosenfeld Media. Since I had to fly to Toronto to do them, it only made sense to do all three. My main purpose was, admittedly, to take Lou Rosenfeld’s Adaptable Information Architecture workshop, but I ended up with three very full days, the central theme of which was essentially to become leaner and more agile, and in the process, more productive.
On first blush, Do-it-yourself User Testing, Adaptable Information Architecture and Designing with Agile may all seem like quite separate things (except, of course, they’re all components of user experience design), but for me a river definitely runs through it, so to speak. They really are core pieces of what I do, so doing all three did seem pretty ideal.
A small note on the venue for the three days, The Gladstone Hotel, on Queen Street West in Toronto. I liked very much the old architecture and funky nature of the building itself, but found the space a little lacking. Particularly on the first day there was a lot of street noise (hydraulic tailgates off-loading beer, sirens, etc) in the morning and music spill-through from the lobby in the afternoon. It wasn’t as pronounced on subsequent days, but I always found it a minor distraction. Hotel wi-fi was decent when we arrived in the morning, but well before noon it was very slow, as IP addresses got used and/or bandwidth was gobbled up. None of these was a killer, as the material was solid, but if they bring these workshops back, I’d recommend a slightly quieter venue with a faster, more stable data connection. Better yet? Bring other ones to Vancouver … yes, Vancouver.
I originally had my thoughts on each of these workshops included below, but it ended up being one absolutely gargantuan piece of writing that I figured no one would make it through, so I’ve simply included an intro to each below and a link to follow if you’d like to read more.
DIY Usability Testing
Steve Krug is a usability consultant, and has written two well-received books about the topic, Don’t Make Me Think: A Common Sense Approach to Web Usability and Rocket Surgery Made Easy: The Do-It-Yourself Guide to Finding and Fixing Usability Problems. This workshop was based entirely upon the second book and dealt with making usability testing as simple as possible and weaving it into your monthly design operational cycle. In fact, the book is really the script for the workshop/course that Steve does. In the workshop, Steve does a great job of demystifying simple, practical usability testing that anyone can do.
Adaptable Information Architecture
Lou Rosenfeld is a well-known information architect for many years, with a strong and varied consulting background. Back in the 90’s he wrote what is still likely considered THE bible on IA (and a must read for anyone who does this stuff). This workshop really focused on the topic of Lou’s latest book, Search Analytics for Your Site, and gave me some great insights into things I can do almost immediately, to not only improve my practice, but to hopefully have a positive impact on our main web property in a more rapid and iterative fashion. There really are some very significant things you can do, armed with only raw search log data and an Excel spreadsheet.
Designing with Agile
Anders Ramsay was really the unknown entity for me. Like the other two workshops, this one was based on his yet-to-be-published book of the same name. The nice thing about Anders’ workshop is that, where the other two focused on ways of improving existing designs or those in progress, Designing with Agile was really about turning traditional initial design approaches on their collective heads. While putting everything in his approach to work in my present environment would be virtually impossible, I made several small discoveries that I can begin to use in future projects. Using some of these techniques, I don’t doubt anyone could use to produce early stage design faster, and with a greater sense of ownership by all project stakeholders.
Where I go from here
All-in-all, the last week or so has been pretty kick-ass, well, except for the killer cold I brought back from Toronto. As a professional development opportunity, these three workshops were great and very complementary to one another, while the books really fleshed out what was covered in the workshops. I think it’s just happenstance that they fit like a glove with my skillset and what I typically do. With agile and lean floating around as buzzwords in the industry at present, it was nice to take really useful workshops from experienced pros. These workshops took those concepts and made them very real in ways I can actually use now.
It’s more the way the three topics fit together for me that makes so much sense. For example:
- While I don’t know if I could ever make my current work environment fully adopt Agile, I can see definite ways I can apply Agile UX principles to early stage design, prototyping and coding work for our projects. It isn’t too much of a stretch (since I do like facilitating anyway) to see myself turning the UX work I do into collaborative sessions involving all key stakeholders, with solutions arrived at earlier, and a lot more rough sketching before a pixel is ever moved around. Even the PM in me got a few tidbits of food for thought.
- I see site search analytics as a bigger part of my future. And, while I’m not sure about group capacity to change large problems, I’d like to think that I’ve got some new tools to more quickly identify small problems, and with which to design improved experiences. Particularly, as we know of some significant data that we can’t get our hands on, there may be ways to tune our design to better deal with that problem and give users a clue as to why and how to get help.
- Finally whether designing something new or identifying problems on our existing site, I have a renewed interest in quicker and more frequent user testing. It may be that I will end up doing so via remote, as opposed to, in-person methodologies. However, getting things in front of real users frequently will simply allow me to design better things. This will helpful to not only understand why problems we’ve found are actually a problem, but also to determine if solutions we’re creating work, or if designs we’re in the midst of are going in the right direction.
While I’m excited by the prospects these workshops have created in my mind, I’m also a realist. I know that integrating new approaches takes time and persistence and I’ve got to promise myself to accept that any changes are good ones, even if they seem small at the time. This is even more the case in large, bureaucratic organizations like mine. If nothing else, I had some solid perspective altering experiences this past week, and that’s always a good thing.