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CanUX Recap — an interview with two UE professionals

It has been a few weeks since Ben Ng and Scott Baldwin attended the annual CanUX User Experience Conference. Here's a run-down on this year's event from Ben and Scott themselves:

CanUX — what is it about?

Scott: Well, to be specific it's about User Experience. But I do think it is about more. It's about getting a chance to connect with other like-minded practitioners, a chance to see how other people are approaching their work in this evolving industry and most importantly a chance to get away from the work we do day-to-day and recharge creatively.

What did you think?

Ben: Meeting, collaborating and socializing with others who work in the user-experience realm was great for several reasons. Firstly, it was a great way to start my professional network. I got the sense that a lot of people knew each other, either from attending previous CanUX events, through coworkers or projects that people have worked on in the past. For me, the interactive sessions were most inspiring, as it involved getting everyone to participate in activities rather than listening to the speaker for the entire duration.

Scott: When I first talked about going to CanUX I was told by a couple people that I wouldn't get much out of it. Many people felt it was the conference that new practitioners, students go to, but not for the more experienced. I have to disagree and I'm glad I went. I thought it was engaging, that there was lots of ideas and topics for everyone and it was a lot of fun.

Who did you see? Any heroes, gurus or UX experts?

Ben: I'm still new to who the heroes, gurus and experts of user experience are, but they were easy to recognize at this event! Luke Wrobleski, Dave Gray from Xplane and Brandon Shauer from Adaptive Path were all speakers at this year's event. Even though I've read Luke's book, I found his session to be a good exercise in form design and interesting to see how he would approach a design problem.

Scott: A ton of people including some folks from the Calgary UX community and some Vancouver folks I hadn't met previously at VanUE events. Big standouts for me amongst the speakers were Dave Gray, Brandon Schauer and Luke Wroblewski.

Describe a couple of the sessions?

Ben: Visual Thinking in Practice part 1 by Dave Gray — was about communicating your ideas through drawings and sketches, and getting past that "inner critic" inside your head. Dave first started by asking: "how many people don't think that they can draw?" Surprisingly (unsurprisingly for him) the majority of hands in the room shot up in the air. He then focused the remainder of the session on going through the "visual alphabet" and an activity to prove that with this type of alphabet, you can draw anything for the purposes of conveying an idea. 

Drum Circle by Malcolm Lim – was a drumming session that that tapped into the creative side of our mind. It allowed us to explore our instruments while still being part of the overall sound in the room. Rather than describing it, you can have a sneak peak of what it was like here!

Scott: Nah? I can't just talk about two. Has to be more:

  • I was glad to finally see Luke Wrobleski speak (I've loved his work on forms for a long time and drove one of our designers' crazy with all his ideas on forms during a big project). I was a bit disappointed not to hear any new material (if you follow Luke's blog or have his book on form design, it was a bit of repeat).
  • Brandon Schauer from Adaptive Path was a surprise. He's often the AP speaker on the circuit but I really enjoyed hearing him explain the Sketchboards approach. Even though I read about it on their blog and watched the videos it was interesting to actually do a sketchboard and see how this fast iteration process could be a great tool with our clients.
  • Dave Gray from XPLANE was a hoot. Spent a half day drawing with him and learning the basics of his "visual alphabet" which was pretty interesting. I'm doodling now more than ever. I swear he did the whole session off the top of his head, with a rough approach worked out the night before at dinner.
  • Yvonne Skek's swimlanes was interesting, but she seemed a bit nervous. I also would have like a bit more time to play with the concept could have been longer.
  • Did I mention that we did some creative work with people from the Banff Centre? I did collage — not part of the normal everyday IA / UX toolkit, but an interesting exploration of working with a variety of inputs, finding creative ideas amongst otherwise mundane materials and expressing concepts to others.

What were your two big take-aways from the conference? What did you learn?

Ben: At successful events like these, I'm usually struck with something I can only describe as a "cool" moment. I was fortunate enough to have a couple of these at CanUX. One was during Brandon Shauer's session about sketchboards. He proposed a design problem where we each individually had to sketch 6 different solutions. The first 3 sketches came quickly for me, but a mental block quickly followed and I was only able to sketch one more in the time remaining. We then looked at sketches of others around our table and saw that we all had different solutions sketched on our papers. The moral of this story for me is that no matter how big the mental block is, there is always another solution that has not been thought of yet. Keep thinking!

Scott: It's a small world. I met lots of people who have either read my blog in the past or who know other folks who have met some of the people at Habanero. Connections in this growing community are critical to its ongoing growth and I need time to be more creative to remain on-top of my game. Some of the most interesting sessions involved putting away the high-tech tools and focusing on capturing ideas; iterating quickly; working with others and playing.

If you were running the show, how would you improve the conference?

Scott:  I have a few suggestions:

  • Have a couple free nights with no formal group events. Would have been nice to just go into town with a few people, have a pint and catch-up
  • Involve some other local (by local I mean Canadian) practicioners in the conference as speakers. We're doing tons of cool work in this country and I think it is time to showcase some of that skill, talent and experience. Gene / Jess: you looking for speakers for 2009?
  • Start a day earlier, invite up whoever wants to come to improve the signage at the Banff Centre. Easy to get lost on the campus (kidding)