As you all can see from my intro blurb, I am currently swimming in HCI all day, every day(I’m a masters student studying Human-Computer Interaction Design at UCI). As a part of providing us a balanced education, our amazing Program Director Gillian Hayes hooked us up with a conference pass to UXPA 2018 held in gorgeous Puerto Rico this year.
How was my Puerto Rico trip? That’s this blog.
As a part of my program, I am constantly reading research papers, books, blogs, trying out prototyping tools and indulging in any student discount I can get my student-budget-poorly-manicured-hands on. Most of my classmates are already high-fliers in the industry, having put years of real-world experience into their resumes before formalizing their title as an HCI master. So, when it came down to utilizing our conference passes, not ever a third of the class obliged. They just didn’t have the time.
As I undertook my trip to Puerto Rico and all the madness that ensued, I was wondering what kind of an experience an UX conference was going to be. I definitely wanted to network. But I wasn’t sure what else was in store.
In a nutshell, I gained a lot. So much so that I already signed up for my next conference (IxDA in LA — Let me know if any of you guys are joining me!).
Heading back home after 7 glorious days in Puerto Rico, as I was experiencing 16-hour delays at the SJU airport, I was reviewing all the great things I learned at the conference. I wanted to share all 24 pages of notes, leaflets, pictures and videos with you but soon realized that you would benefit more from having me flesh out explorations in each of those topics at a later time.
The focus of this listicle is why conferences are strategic to your educational and professional growth. (On my next blog, I will give a couple of strategic pointers regarding how you should best utilize the limited time you have at a conference.)
1. You Meet People Who Do Things in Your Field (Often Really Impressive Things)
Networking is of course the number one reason you should go to a conference. Are you bad in public networking situations? Me too. Its like being at a 10,000-dish buffet, you loose your appetite. My strategy with buffets is eyeing my diet-friendly items and building my plate around that.
You can do the same by approaching only the people who are presenting (1- They are definitely in a social mood after having presented 2- You can use their presentation as an ice breaker).
You can also decide to hang out with at least one new person per event (maybe the person next to you!).
Staying in control of who you expose yourself to is the key here.
Most importantly, conferences invite a lot of real talent in your profession. Just drinking coffee with them while they tell you how they are testing VR using ginger chews is a legit experience!
2. You can Build the Bridge Between Education and the Real World
“I do think UXPA was complementary. Our master’s program has done a great job of exposing us to a lot of useful information, giving us the confidence to know how and where to find further relevant knowledge. Our newfound skills will be useful for our entire career. UXPA, on the other hand, taught contemporary practices, allowing us to connect the dots between what we have learned and how it is used in industry.” Paul Tutty
Paul, one of my very impressive cohort members, is absolutely right!
Conferences are incredible ways to build the bridge between your education and real-world practices and experiences. I was able to learn about methods like card sorting that I didn’t have a chance to touch during my degree so far.
3. You Want to Try Out A New Technique, See Holes, Spot Patterns & Get Perspective
When you absorb the variety of ways people are problem solving across domains, you get ideas. When I participated in a data visualization workshop I could immediately spot problems with how poorly I had applied visualization of quant data on a recent usability test presentation. My brand of creativity is limited by my tools and discipline. So when I get a chance to learn about how other professionals express their aesthetics, I’m down. This also gives me plenty of opportunities to take what I learned back to my workplace/school.
By seeing what other professionals are up to, you can see whats on the map and horizon in your domain, arming you with a fresh map of the landscape.
Most people at these conferences are very enthusiastic about their profession and can provide you a looking glass into different creative worlds, expertise and specializations.
A keynote on emotional design reminded me about the spectrum of emotions I learned about during improv when I was in the acting world. Our charismatic Keynote speaker Carine Lallemand told us about an invention called the memory box: A box that sporadically prints a picture from your digital photo database. You never know when you will get a copy so it urges you to look into the box from time to time to see if there is a picture inside! It’s like a digital treasure chest of memories!
4. You Want to Get Out of a Creative Rut
You’re on a routine and you seem to be doing the same things over and over again.
Conferences provide an ice bath for your sore creative muscles.
How? Well. For example, I was working on a smart home project and was feeling a little underwhelmed by my proposal with possible solutions we could explore. During the first day with workshops, I participated in several exercises meant to break those design thinking plateaus by some OG’s from IBM. I also participated in an incredible presentation on chatbots. All of a sudden, I couldn’t pen my ideas fast enough.
TIP: If you have a question on your mind, don’t hesitate to pose the question walking into a presentation or workshop. A girl did that during our “Design Thinking at Scale” workshop and it was like having a room of talent solving for your problem!
5. You’re into Bootcamps
There is something special about the intensity of a bootcamp experience. When you suddenly find yourself in 4 back-to-back sessions spanning AR, brand strategy, IoT and chatbots, things start churning in your brain (and stomach after way too much conference coffee).
6. You Want to Hire New Talent
A conference-goer is looking for something and it may be a new job. And it maybe with you!
I had two professionals talk to me about about wanting to hire specific talent to see if I fit the bill, knew someone who did or if I could spread the word.
There is a lot of logic to this move. Someone has spent a lot of money getting to this conference. They have taken necessary time off, attained sponsorship through their work/school and may be presenting. Conferences provide interest buckets from which you can hire potential people onto your team.
7. You Want to Raise Funds
Look up “raise funds at conference” on Medium and read why this is a thing. A successful thing.
8. You Want to Get Recognized
Have you been working on something great? Have you discovered a new design principle? Submit it to a conference!
Doing so will increase interest in your takeaways/process/yourself and provide you plenty of opportunities to retrieve new case stories, learn about related experiences by fellow conference-goers or to get people on board.
9. You Need a Sponsored (Learning) Break From Adult-ing
Ain’t no shame in that! #MorePowerToYourHustle