I had the pleasure of hosting Nate Bolt, Mark Trammell, Jackie Cerretani Frank and Sasha Lubomirski for an event recently with the Interaction Designer’s Association of San Francisco.
Hosted by our fine friends at Yelp, Bolt and his team of merry men and women presented in a wonderful format. A Quora thread was set-up a few weeks beforehand to allow those in presence, as well as remotely, to ask questions to the panel in real-time. Nate used these questions as they came across either in the Quora feed, or through the twitter hashtag, to spark discussion points throughout the evening. There was no formal structure to the presentations, very few preordained slides – everything was being done with stimuli from the audience. Nate had a few introductions, then added the top questions from Quora, but allowed the audience to take the conversation where they wanted it to go. He was deft at sifting through the good from the bad, and drawing correlation from past reference to set up the next question.
The evening’s conversation topics dealt with how to test innovative ideas that the populous wouldn’t immediately ‘get’, the impact of social and large groups in usability research, as well as some efforts to try and capture the experiences of mobility. As mentioned in the Remote Research book review, this is a field that is very young and still open for the introduction of different techniques and tactics. Sasha cited one of her associates that has begun to incorporate a treadmill to simulate a true, on the go mobile user (as if anyone walks anymore).
I was surprised by the gap between User Researchers and Designers. The panelists seemed genuinely endeared towards the novelty of speaking to a room of non-researchers, that they were among the ‘cool kids’ for once. Likewise, I felt that the IxDA participants viewed these All Star User Researchers as the smartest kids in the room – the ones with all the answers. Our two fields are kissing cousins of one another, barely separable in the greater scheme of the working world. Yet, as we specialize more and more into our disciplines, the distinction between our process and deliverable becomes more apparent. The panel spoke of the designers as separate people, as if it wasn’t our basic responsibility (and the panelists mandated that it was) to be in touch with user response and feedback. The greater umbrella of User Research seems like it is large enough to cover both of our disciplines, that the generalization would apply to all.