Spotlight on UXPA: Futureheads interviews Danielle and Stavros

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Spotlight on UXPA: Futureheads interviews Danielle and Stavros

By Liz Inskip, UX Team Support at Futureheads

Futureheads are proud to be a sponsor of UXPA’s international conference in London this year. Taking place 21-24 July 2014 at Westminster Bridge Park Plaza London, it promises to be a week of inspiring talks, interesting tutorials, and innovative workshops. Over the next few weeks, Futureheads and UXPA will be bringing you a series of interviews with a handful of speakers – a little nibble of what’s to come! And what better way to kick off this series than to sit down with Stavros Garzonis (President of UXPA UK & Conference co-Chair) and Danielle Cooley (UXPA International Conference Chair)?

What is the UXPA and its Mission?

Danielle: The UXPA’s mission is to support people who research, design and evaluate the user experience of products and services.

Stavros: I agree, but the way I translate it is about community – I want UXPA to be the go-to place for likeminded people to meet, learn from each other and occasionally have a fight about the difficult questions. It’s about enabling practitioners to learn from each other, even if that sometimes means disagreeing on the difficult questions about UX.

What makes the UXPA different?

Danielle: UXPA is a very inclusive group by nature – it’s not just for researchers, designers or a sub-specialty, and we support both novices and experienced practitioners.

Stavros: I also want to mention the momentum, the history, and size that the UXPA has. It’s made up of passionate people who get involved with the community to support each other rather than to promote themselves. It’s 23 years old and in more than 20 countries – that’s a large network to tap into.

What is the UXPA International conference all about?

Photo of UXPA 2014 conference co-chair Stavros GarzonisStavros: it’s a celebration of the international UX community

Danielle: It’s the seminal opportunity every year for like-minded colleagues to meet and learn from each other and talk about what everyone has been working on.

Stavros: It’s also a lot about meeting friends these days. Having all those corridor conversations where you meet old friends, make new friends, talk about the future and current of UX. These conversations really make the event what it is, and we try to create an environment at the conference where you’re really encouraged to have them.

Photo of UXPA 2014 co-chair Danielle CooleyDanielle: This year we will be facilitating those conversations with cupcakes! Thanks to cxpartners, we will have “Cupcake Connections” where people can grab a cupcake and meet up and chat.

What made you choose Motivation as the theme?

Danielle: I kept coming back to Motivation because it ties into so much that we do in UX on so many levels.

In the short view, one thing I see at UX meetups is the negative view of ‘Why do I do this? No one listens to me! There’s a Tech wall, or Legal says no’ being the focus of conversation. It can be hard to find your motivation every day when you get kicked over and over again, and it was partly to address that.

On a more conceptual level – understanding user motivation is the key thing we need to make that design, conduct that research, or build that website. UXPA is a passionate group. The people are clearly motivated - some have been around for the full 23 years – and there’s lots to learn from each other. Understanding our colleagues’ motivations can help us tap into our own. Understanding stakeholders’ motivations can help us design better as well, and – perhaps even more importantly – get those designs from paper to product.

How did you find the speaker selection process for 2014? What did it entail? I would imagine it was rather overwhelming.

Stavros: Overwhelming is a good word!

Danielle: UXPA uses a blind submission and review process, in which the submitter’s identity is not revealed to the reviewer at any time. Over 400 practitioners and students from around the world volunteered to review this year’s more than 360 submissions. Each submission got at least four reviews, and each potential speaker had to commit to reviewing at least two submissions from other potential speakers. Topic Chairs heading up one of five topics took all of this reviewer feedback and came up with a ranked list that they sent to the Programme Selection Committee. At that point, it was picking the best ones and trying to trim and prune the list to balance topics, experience levels, and other similar factors.

Why should I attend UXPA 2014?

Stavros: I think people in the UK and Europe should definitely try to attend – it’s only the second time in the 23-year history of UXPA that it’s been held this side of the pond. You can see how other people tackle problems similar to yours. There are 5 tracks over 3 days, and almost 150 speakers when you include the awesome tutorials on Monday, 21st July.

Danielle: I agree. I think going to these is very invigorating. You’re among your people, and you learn so much that you can take back with you. You can go back to work and say, ‘I learned about a new tool – let’s download the trial,” or “I learned about a new technique we can apply to this problem we’ve been grappling with for 2 months.”

I also like something Stavros said earlier – it is more interactive, and it’s also more inspiring than a TED Talk. And cupcakes! Come for cupcakes!

How can people get involved in the UXPA?

Danielle: We’re always looking for volunteers!  You can get involved by writing articles for UX Magazine and the Journal of Usability Studies, running webinars, helping with membership drives, and there’s committee work as well.

Stavros: With the conference, the planning process is coming to an end. But people who want to help for next year should get involved now. There is still an opportunity to get involved for this year in a hands-on way at the conference itself.

In terms of the UK chapter – we’re always happy to have more volunteers (like all of us) and there are always ways to get as involved as you want, from helping at the door to leading the chapter. On the smaller scale, you can help with taking photos or video, or writing a blog post about any events you attend. You can drop in and out on event-by-event basis; just email events@uxpa-uk.org. If someone wants to take on a small project they think is good for the community, we can help promote it on an ad-hoc basis. A more formal way of getting engaged is to run for a board position – there are 13 positions that are elected by members annually (each position is on a 2 year term).  

Danielle: Another conference-related opportunity is the Unconference piece. We have two slots we are filling with content attendees choose during the conference. Post your talk proposal on Tuesday, attendees vote for their favorites on Wednesday, and the talks themselves are on Thursday. It’s a lot of fun.

Why are you involved in the UXPA?

Stavros: It can be really tough and draining at times, but the reward is being a part of something bigger than yourself.

Danielle: I agree – it’s about giving back to the community that gave me so much when I was coming up. It feels weird to say that it’s work I enjoy because we’re in the hardest part just now. But it really is a privilege. We had 360+ submissions, and most were really phenomenal, and we had to choose the best of the best. It’s tough to turn down good submissions, but I’m honoured to have the opportunity to do it. It’s a good problem to have. I think I’m putting in about 20 hours a week, and many others are doing the same or coming close. The planning is very intense, so watching it come together in the end (as I did for 2013), is really worthwhile. Then hearing during the event and afterward about new friends people made, the things they learned, and what they loved is awesome.

Stavros: It’s a beautiful challenge – you learn and reach your potential by enabling others to reach theirs. And I have been lucky to do this alongside wonderful people; both through the conference and the chapter, I’ve definitely made some new friends. People also get to know about you and what you can offer to the community, which is another reward.

I definitely encourage anyone with a passion for UX and the community to get involved – especially because we burn out eventually!

What was the best thing from 2013?

Stavros: All the things we’ve been talking about! But if I have to choose one… I think ‘being part of it’ – being at the heart where all these things happen, and feeling that you are part of this community – I never felt it as strongly as I did at the conference.

Danielle: We all know how horrible it is to watch the Twitter feed and everything you’re missing out on. Don’t let it happen to you! Don’t be “Missing Out Conference Guy.” Btw, last year’s slides are online if you’d like to check them out on Slideshare.

Anything you want to add?

Danielle: I do want to mention our special room rate at the hotel! We have a fabulous rate at the Park Plaza Westminster Bridge (£169+VAT including a full English breakfast). I got to stay there when we were scouting venues, so I can vouch for it! No worry about your commute and it’s a really beautiful hotel.

Stavros: We would like to thank everyone who has been doing a fantastic job helping us out, including our other co-chair Sara Mastro. Oh, and UXPA UK members get an extra discount on ticket prices using code UXPAUKFULL.

Danielle: We’re still actively looking for sponsors, onsite volunteers, Unconference presenters – there are lots of ways to be involved.

Massive thanks to Stavros and Danielle, who both took the time to Skype with me while in the USA. I look forward to seeing a session and grabbing a cupcake! If you’d like to get in touch about UXPAUK, you can reach Stavros at president@uxpa-uk.org or find him on Twitter. Danielle is also on Twitter, and happy to talk conferences, content, and cupcakes – when she’s not busy consulting, that is.

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