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My UXPA 2013 Recap

Written By: Virgil Carroll
Posted: 7/16/2013

So for what has been a rarity for me for a long time, I was actually able to attend, just as an attendee, the User Experience Professionals Association 2013 conference in Washington DC.  Where I have been a member of the organization for a long time and have been preaching the gospel of ‘users first’ for even longer, I was excited to get the opportunity to actually sit down and listen to sessions by my peers around the latest trends and methodologies to improve our usability craft at High Monkey.  So below I share with everyone some of my initial observations from the conference and a few great tidbits of information I learned along the way.
So for those that don’t know me very well, it might surprise you to find out I go to conference all the time (usually as a speaker) but RARILY ever attend any other sessions.  This is mainly because outside of technology I grew up in the medical field and attended a ton of conferences prior to actually starting to work in this field.  Therefore my attention span for sessions at a conference tend to be rather limited.  I wasn’t really sure what to expect from the UXPA conference, but decided to attend a lot of sessions and see if I learned a lot and even more so could keep my attention span going.  I was pleasantly surprised at the quality of the content delivered (and speakers) and pulled away a lot of tidbits worth integrating into my practice.

  • Prior to attending I was frankly a little concerned about the content after experiencing the speaker submission process.   Where many know I do a lot of speaking around the world, I have never had to complete such a daunting speaker application as the one for the UXPA.  There were literally 4 pages of questions and it asked for everything from learning objectives, to descriptions, to attendee goals, to realm of influence, etc.  For being an organization that is focused around simple, user experience, the process itself made me feel more like I was applying for a dissertation then applying to present a one hour session at a small conference.  Though I did complete the process for one of my sessions (I will admit I did not try very hard, nor put the time needed into it), I was not accepted J.  I still decided to attend, but was concerned that this organization may be too ‘academic’ in nature and we would hear a lot of research-based academic presentations vs. real world, practical applications, which is where most of us practice.  I am very happy to report that after all my concerns the content was over all excellent and a lot of practical knowledge was shared.  Though on the other side, there definitely is an academic group that kept wanting to see things from a more scientific perspective versus as a practical profession.
  • One of the hot topics of discussion at the conference was around the building of wireframes and the continuing progression of this practice in a good user experience system.  Where we have been doing wireframes for a long time, a new generation of tools have cropped up to help take wireframes to the next level and allow practitioners to make their mockups more ‘real to life’ to gain better feedback.  Where creating highly interactive wireframes can seem like a daunting task, I really saw more of the value (than from my own research) by listening to others and how they applied the practice.  For this type of wireframe concept the defacto tool for a long time has been Axure RP (  Where this has been a great tool, honestly I find the interface to it rather clunky and not all that user friendly.  At the UXPA, one of the vendors that was exhibiting was Infragistics.  Where I have become very familiar with their products through the SharePoint world, I was surprised to see they are releasing a new product to the prototyping world, Indigo Studio (, which is going to be a very strong competitor to Axure.  Where they are newer to the market, their interface seems very intuitive and they definitely take a different approach on how to build the interactions.  The best part is right now version 1.0 is totally free!  There are in the process of releasing version 2.0 in the coming months, which is going to include more responsive design options, which I hear is going to retail for around $400.  But….if you already have downloaded and installed 1.0, you will get a limited time offer to upgrade for $99 to 2.0.  I have not had too much time to play with the tool, but I do recommend it to people that have an interest in this area.  If I get some time down the road, maybe I will post a review at some point.
    • Some additional wireframe cool tips I learned:
      • Add a purpose statement to your screens – what might seem like a simple thing, when presenting these to stake holders, helping them understand the purpose of a screen will help put it in the correct context in their minds
      • Write clear, concise page names – this may seem like a no brainer, but I have seen too many times to count screenshots that have some kind of IT-centric naming vs. practical naming
      • Remember to build prototypes with the end result in mind – why is someone on this site? What is their end purpose?  Wireframes and designs need to focus on getting a user to the correct outcome and must be built with these in mind
  • Another area I really enjoyed listening to topics on is forms development, especially complex forms.  This hot topic is one that has always been close to me, especially in a lot of what occurs in the SharePoint world.  Forms are a difficult thing and often times they, just like most business processes, tend to be over-thought and under-developed.  In my favorite session, the speaker spoke about complex form development and how much of this needs to be paired down into information that actually is worthwhile.  She walked us through an example from the US Passport office, where the passport application is one of the more confusing forms out there.  There were many places in which a user could have difficulty throughout the form and we talked through each and how to mitigate the issue.  Below are a few of the tips I liked from this:
    • Complex forms need VERY helpful information displayed at that start, which should include a list of additional information you are going to need (i.e. drivers license number, credit card #) to successfully complete the form
    • It doesn’t matter where you put labels on a form as long as the user can associate it with the correct field and the label actually makes sense.  Don’t forget language barriers in this instance.
    • Using fake data to test a form can skew the results.  If you want to truly measure the effectiveness, you need to test with real users and real life situations.  This will help you measure the stuff they know, they don’t and things that really confuse them.
    • Don’t use multi-column form layouts ( – I found this argument very compelling and I have been a culprit of this on some of the stuff I do for my non-profit on the side J  Time to change
  • I also attended a very good session on rapid prototyping, which was done by a developer – which made me laugh because he actually brought up some code and started writing J.  He was a very energetic speaker and really shared a lot of good tips.  One of my favorite was the concept of testing specific functionality by itself (i.e. a mobile browser fly-out menu) to see if the interaction process works well for users, before going into a full prototype test.  This limited testing could not only provide valuable information but also cut down on complex builds that have to be reworked.  He also shared some very interesting resources to help with the rapid prototyping process:
    • Mustache Templates ( – this is a programmatic tool that allows you to build quick patterns and insert real data into those.  Image having a formatted list of ‘x’ and wanting to display multiple as ‘y’ and wanting to create a repeatable pattern.
    • Screen Scraper for Chrome ( – This is a very cool tool that allows users to build filters on a page to scrape content from it and export as a CSV.  This goes with the concept of really wanting to share real data in our rapid prototypes by scraping content and pushing it into something like Mustache templates.

Where there was a wealth of additional information I saw through the conference, above is some of the best I attended.  I want to thank the UXPA for putting on a great conference and making me a believer about the quality of its programming.  (Though the speaker submission process really needs some work J) Their next conference is in London in 2014 ( and I highly recommend it to anyone who might have an interest in making their own user experience better.

Chad's Bio Coming Soon!

More About Virgil

Virgil Carroll is the owner and president of High Monkey – based in Minneapolis Minnesota. Virgil also wears the multiple ‘hats’ of Principle Human Solutions Architect and SharePoint Architect.

Virgil is one of those rare individuals who can dive deep into technical topics while speaking clearly to the business owners of a project and never forgetting that the end user experience has the highest priority. He calls it using both sides of his brain. Virgil is passionate about leveraging technologies ‘out of the box’ as much as possible with a focus on the strategic use of content to create websites that deliver the right content to the right audience on the right device at the right time. Virgil brings high energy, an ironic wit, and a sense of grounded perspective whenever he speaks to an audience. Virgil regularly speaks at conferences and user groups throughout the United States and occasionally in Europe.

Posted: 7/16/2013 12:00:00 AM by | with 0 comments
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