Conference Hopping

Just back from a small whirlwind of conferences and events. Though I’m tired of travelling this year, it was a good way to pack a lot into a short period of time. Here’s a really really brief rundown. I’ll try to focus on a few more specifics in future posts.

Web 2.0 Expo
First was the Web 2.0 Expo in Berlin, which was the most disappointing of the three events I recently attended. Maybe because expectations were higher? Not sure.

Of course, the conference was complete with all the guru-ness, hype, and Web 2.0 kids you’d expect. But it was a weird community feeling to me. Actually I didn’t really get a community feeling at all, in part because I’m not in the Web 2.0 blogging scene and also because there were so many different backgrounds in one room. For instance, during the plenary on Wednesday, the speaker (Felix Petersen, I think) tried to do a ‘how-many-of-you-are-x?’-type of audience involvement. He mentioned developers and business people, but realized that was only a small percentage of the crowd. He then asked ‘what the heck are the rest of you?’ The list would have be long and varied, and it demonstrated how ‘Web 2.0’ means just about anything to anyone. But the conference didn’t really bring things together, in my opinion.

Second, the location and organization was a catastrophe. Zero atmosphere and positive vibes. The place had all the charm and comfort of a parking garage. It was a sterile, impersonal, money-making event, right down to having the organizers not even saying ‘hello’ to me when we first met, though we had emailed many times in the past.

The presentations were also really mixed, but overall good. There were some outliers, like “Better Typography” from Mark Boulton, which I liked. I also liked Jesse James Garret’s talk. He started off by mentioned Ajax and then chucked it out the window. Instead, he focused on much broader user experience issues. He is a good speaker and made excellent points, but there wasn’t really anything new at the core of the talk. I’m really glad he gave it that Expo to that crowd, though: it was sobering in an otherwise intoxicated (but not intoxicating) atmosphere.

My own presentation on Designing Tag Navigation got mixed reviews–both positive and negative. Based on the comments and questions I heard at the event and online later, it seems that those with immediate and concrete design problems found it helpful, while developers or those looking for future vision found it far too basic. That’s fair, I guess; and in retrospect I probably should have provided more about the future. But as I say in in Designing Web Navigation, the basic principles of good design don’t go away with all the Web 2.0 features.

World Usability Day in Hamburg
This was the opposite of the Web 2.0 Expo: a self-organized, bottom-up event with a lot of community feel and good old heart and soul. And completely free. Amazing that there were over 150 people who came out in Hamburg alone. With 15 events across Germany, that means there were thousands of people interested in usability at these events that afternoon.

Though there was a common theme and interest, there were different levels of knowledge amongst the participants: some veterans, but also students, newcomers, and business people. Such a mix is a Very Good Thing, even if it means that I have to sit through a presentation describing what a usability test is (which I did). Reaching new people or people outside the field is incredibly important for the profession. As Tim Bosenick of SirValUse reminded me: the usability and UX market in Germany is still very fresh, and there are more people new to the field than there are experienced professionals.

Frank Jacob from Human Interface gave a great opening talk about multi-touch interfaces, which gave a good look at our potential future in usability and interface design. I didn’t to stick around to hear Mitch Hatscher talk about UX at Google because I had to get to the airport to catch a flight to Stuttgart.

IA Konferenz 2007 in Stuttgart
This exceeded my expectations. Again, a grass-roots-type of organization, but not for free (though a fraction of what Web 2.0 Expo charged). A real stellar line-up with excellent presentations and ideas:

  • Victor Lombardi gave a thoughtful keynote on where IA tools and processes are going in the future.
  • Joannes Vandermeulen inspired us with his analogies of interaction design to other disciplines, concluding that we are like cinematographers on a movie set.
  • Thomas Vander Wal reviewed tags and tagging, starting with a history of tagging and moving up to present and beyond.
  • Hans-Christian Jetter, from the University of Konstanz, showed off some fantastic info viz interfaces, including HyperGrid.
  • Klaus Ulrich Werner presented a cross-over wayfinding system (offline and online) for the Philosophische Bibliothek at the FU Berlin.
  • Jess McMullin shared his approaches to overcoming barriers to speaking with business people.
  • Jan Halatsch unveiled a futuristic collaboration room with touch-screen desks and walls, called Value Lab.

All in all, good mix if practical talks, case studies, and visionary thoughts.

About Jim Kalbach

Head of Customer Experience at MURAL

One comment

  1. James Kalbach

    Happened by chance to come across some more positive feedback to my presentation at Web 2.0 in Berlin.

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