James Melzer

Adaptive Path MX East 2007

MX East logoLet me start by saying that MX East was the best conference I have ever attended. It was fairly expensive compared to other conferences I regularly attend, but overall the value I got from the experience was well worth it. It included room and board, which were both quite pleasant. And it included a number of interesting perks, like a wine tasting with Joshua Wesson, the CEO of Best Cellars. If you have a chance to go next year, I highly recommend doing so.

Day 1

This post is a stream of consciousness ramble rather than a deep reflection on the proceedings. There are a number of pictures up on Flickr. I will cover Day 2 later.

Jesse James Garrett started things with an interesting survey of well designed experiences and failed experiences. Most of the material was lifted from his previous talks elsewhere, but as an intro it was effective. He differentiated between outward projected Brand vs customer felt Experience. He talked about product value, progressing from the raw techology to features to experience. And he introduced a few organizations that got experience from the start, particularly Eastman’s Kodak and Apple’s iPod.

Lou Carbone of Experience Engineering gave a rousing keynote. He walked through a number of quick case studies, including Progressive Auto Insurance, HoJo’s vs Disney, Harley-Davidson, Starbucks. He had a number of good points. My favorite was: designing experience starts ‘from the customer back,’ rather than ‘from the organization out.’

Mags Hanley presented on the levels of UX participation in strategy. One interesting observation was that UX people are better equipped to manage the corporate vision for the long haul than they are to create the vision in the first place. They rarely have enough information or power to create the vision themselves. She delineated four levels of participation:

  • Company
  • Product
  • Personnel (team or practice)
  • Individual Development

Khoi Vinh spoke about his experience managing user experience at the New York Times.

  • Learning environment-monthly book reports among staff=>no format, forces them to ‘design’ their presenation
  • Tell valued staff that you want the opportunity to counter-offer if they get a solid offer=>reinforces that you value their present work
  • NYtimes working more about systems and frameworks rather than publishing and products
  • Have elevator pitches ready for all projects- what are you working on and what are the challenges
  • Bring in speakers, join prof org boards, participate beyond the org
  • New media folks have a responsibility to train the old media folks to ensure Corp success.

Kim Goodwin of Cooper spoke on growing design within the organization. The high point for me was,

If no one recognizes the pain, there’s no incentive for design.

Sarah Nelson of Adaptive Path and Sharon Green of the Neo-Futurists explored the creative process at the Neo-Futurists. It was pretty fascinating as a lesson in how to do a small creative team the right way. Everyone is a generalist in their group, and everyone cross-trains so they can all step in for one another. Nobody is in charge. All decisions are made collectively. People switch between roles, directing one piece of the whole while contributing to other pieces as a peer. They do fast iteration and have basically zero risk aversion. They put it out there, see what sticks, and run with it. The never give feedback during a pitch - they have a designated feedback time later to prevent one opinion from tainting the others. And my favorite,

Leadership is a service, not a privilege.

Ryan Armbruster gave an inspiring talk on his work at the Mayo Clinic on medical experience design. Specifically, his talk was on emotional experience and how to design for it, but there were a lot of great methodological and management tidbits in his presentation too. My favorite take-away was the experiment they did with diabetes patients. They created a series of information cards for patients, explaining the options for one aspect of their treatment on each card. The cards worked together, covering topics like drugs, daily routine, weight change and side effects. The goal was to let the patient look at all the variables and make their own informed decision about their treatment. Using this method, a patient could clearly see that the best drugs for weight gain were a pain to take and had all sorts of awful side effects. They are free to select that treatment, but they do so with a clear understanding of the costs and risks. It gives them enough information and decision points to have a really intelligent discussion with their doctor. What Mayo found was that the cards caused a statistically significant improvement in patient compliance (meaning people who stick to the prescribed program).

Day 2

Mark Jones of IDEO started the day with a loosely joined series of experience design insights. He described the ‘new customer,’ who’s expectations are set by the best experiences they have from any industry. The new customer is not loyal to companies that provide lousy experiences, in fact they actively evade old-school lock-in techniques. Then Jones gave three techniques to design experiences for the new customer.

  • Look wide: look at the customer’s whole lives; the service ecology that they inhabit; find appropriate, targeted and strategic roles for your services
  • Prototype early: prototype services during the brainstorming phase; role play; use front line people and executives together; scenario, story board and video narrative
  • Communicate: rally around a single vision; involve stakeholders in the design, then use them to help with communications; visualize the goal - be compelling; prototype branding and marketing to visualize how an offering fits in the market/strategy

Next was Chris Conley from Gravity Tank, speaking about building a creative culture. My favorite insight was that companies are organized to efficient execute their present strategy; innovation is pretty much impossible in a normal corporate environment because they are purpose-built to prevent it. He presented an extended examination of Pixar’s culture of innovation. It’s all from the Incredibles DVD, so you can watch it yourself.

Then came Sara Ulius-Sable of Whirlpool, who gave one of my favorite talks. She is the metrics manager for Whirlpool, which sits atop 22 famous brands, like Kitchen-Aid and Maytag. She spoke about how tactical metrics can have a major impact on strategy. Her team at Whirlpool works with business units, engineering and UX to target dimensions of experience that represent ‘healthy’ for each brand. She listed her four attributes of a good metric.

  • Predictive: correlated to business measures and outcomes
  • Sensitive: differences are detectable
  • Actionable: able to provide clear direction
  • Relevant: to brand strategy and product domain

Irene Au from Google gave us 9 ways to succeed as a UX manager. My favorites were #6 “let skeptics fail”; and #7 “deliver excellence on a few projects.” She recommended selecting projects carefully using explicit internal priorities. Be transparent about the UX team’s level of commitment. Avoid coming in late to rescue doomed projects. Avoid projects that aren’t committed to an open collaboration with the UX team. And so forth.

Brendon Shauer of Adaptive Path gave a talk on the Long Wow, planning and staging a great sustained experience. (It sounds like a sexual self-help talk, but wasn’t). His major points were clear and resonated well. However, saying these things and doing them are two different issues.

  • Manage the platform for delivery
  • Create and evolve a repeatable process
  • Tackle a wide area of customer needs, especially in areas with metrics, like UX
  • Organize and plan the pipeline of improvements/changes

Brendan also gave some general UX advice…

  • Stop trying to do everything
  • Connect with something distinct
  • Consciously plan and manage strategy

The closing keynote speaker was Scott Berkun on the Myths of Innovation. I really enjoyed his talk, but I didn’t take any notes. The only thing I wrote was “buy the book”. I guess I should do that.

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