Notes from TBTF’s User Experience Design Event

These are the notes I took tonight at the Tampa Bay Technology Forum’s User Experience Design event at the Tampa Museum of Art. It was a 2 hour event with networking, a homepage throwdown (critiquing 2 websites from audience members), and a panel discussion & Q&A. It was a fantastic event. Two years ago, a lot of it would’ve gone over my head, but I found myself knowing all of the acronyms, buzzwords, and what the panelists were talking about, which felt great. Everything they talked about was a topic or subject that I experience on a daily basis in my job. I left feeling excited and inspired to learn more and create beautiful and well thought out user experiences.

Always a studious note taker, I couldn’t resist this opportunity to capture the pearls of wisdom, so enjoy!

HOMEPAGE THROWDOWN – critique websites

1. wrecking ball media group

– When you first come to a site, have a call to action, a priority, a path in, a more directed way into what you do.
– Having words in different colors signify a link – a call to action
– If i’m your perfect customer, how do i know right away? if not, how do i know im not and i should move on? How do i know that it’s great to me? WHat’s the product?
– When you rely on type, its hard for 1 thing to be compelling for everyone.
– Highlight a few areas
– Your pitch should be right there.
– What’s the angle you can communicate to a specific need or set of people.
– The art of the start – book – the opposite test – used for value propositions – If no one would ever say the opposite of that, then what you’re saying is opposite. “Clearing the way for digital awesomeness” is the tagline – so no one would say “clearing the way for digital terribleness”
– Rotating images – do AV testing – let the user tell you what resonates with them
– footer slider – wrecking ball at a glance – they like it. think its cool. but its not obvious to click on it. The title signifies portfolio.
– The strong call to action calls people through a funnel.
– responsive – yes but all the tiles and content go away

2. Cybonix Solutions

IT troubleshooting company – home users and mom and pop businesses

– They like that you can quickly and easily see what they do. Remote support. anytime, anyhere. Good visual hierarchy to the type.
– POV – rotating panels – good – but rotates too fast
– Says the right thing but said too much – all of the taglines are awesome
– be more explicit and emotional with the call to actions “go ahead try us, read about the availability”
– brand identity – whats going on with the rotation is a separate look and feel of the logo – they dont go well together. to create a perception of stability and consistency you want them to be the same identity across the entire site
– Fix padding between logo and navigation
– You’re done well at selling what you’re doing but what about return customers?
– Also missing one core identity statement – we are the ____
– Focus on as specific a set of people with as specific of a set of problems as possible – you’re different for that reason, tell that story. A narrative and story is missing. Its a little generic in spots. Differentiate yourself between other people on google.
– Huge missed opportunities with video. Incorporating video into your site can tell your story and narrative. They find great success with using videos with their site. And those can be used elsewhere.
– 1 page sites are trending in that direction of having everything on the homepage whereas having the story on about page. THe homepage is the new about page and the about page is the im bored and why should i trust you page.
– Check the time on page on analytics, its mere seconds so your value propositions have to be right there in the first few seconds.
– There is a sense of urgency and frustration to the customer needing troubleshooting. Conveying the sense of urgency would be good. Live chat or number to satisfy the sense of urgency.
– WYLTIWLT – Would you like to I would like to – would you like to (button name) “learn more” I would like to “Learn more”

Next friday night at tampa bay way – sykes – free – another full website critique


Jody Haneke – founder of Haneke design – develop solutions for desktop, mobile, and tablet devices – went to ringling and did graphic design and user experience design – working on kiosk projects – doing mobile projects before mobile was mobile. A remote mobile user.

Ken Whaler – Gyroscope Studios – art school, then web design and development then business school – work with branding all the way to interaction and design. 7 year old company. Independant.

Sean Walworth – Triad Retail Media – online advertising agency – monetize ecommerce websites

Tyler Goelz – Redwood agile – front end developer – works with startups and entrepreneurs

Justin Davis – Madera Labs – User experience design company


– It encompasses 2 things: 1 – the usability of anything (how easy it is to use, navigation, layout) 2- aesthetic (bringing in brand identity, visuals, look and feel).
– Boils down to the success of your product – if people dont want to use it and dont enjoy their experience with it, it’s likely to not succeed. Now there is a lot more competition, so it becomes essential to maintain your competitiveness in the field with experience.
– Goes across so many levels. Copy, editing, right choice of words to convey a call to action. The job interview begins in the parking lot. The same when you demo a product. When you pitch an idea, they need to feel good through the whole process. Knowing the concept of keeping your customer informed of what’s going to happen next and what they should expect.
– The feeling of something pleasant. Pleasant could be something different for everyone in this room. Uses the Jawbone UP website, app, device, packaging, etc. The whole process was pleasant. It goes all the way from landing page to customer service, etc. UX is the whole company, it goes beyond the website and web. If its not a good UX across the board, the user wont enjoy themselves. It’s a holistic approach to UX.
– How do you start creating good UX? You start before you build the product. Do customer analysis and vet it out. FInd out who’s going to buy it and why. Find 10 people to answer your questions. If they dont give you the answers you want, change the questions or change the product. The day of launch put a survey up on the site, how do you like the site.
– Define the user, who are they, what do they care about? Find out everything you can about the demographic. Define your target audience/users. Forrester research. Before you design. Picture the person and try and meet them in the middle. Build an empathy.
– Know your audience. It’s huge. Example of time saving keystrokes in visual studio that they later added to outlook.
– Create a persona of who’s going to use your product. Google ad words. Set up an email group and see what the feedback is. Ask them the questions and refine from there.
– Whiney Hess – great UX designer. If you don’t talk to your users you’re not a UX designer. You’re just a designer at that point.
– Tactics to do research to get in the head of the users to know how to design it for them:
– Do spy research – view people in their natural habitats.
– AB testing – place buttons in different spots, move images, etc. Keep it going.
– Especially in a mobile world – quickly get it in the mobile context and try it out instead of just on your desktop monitor.
– Dont let perfection keep you from giving up.
– Get prototypes out there – App cooker, axure, etc
– Usability testing and user testing is a big part of the design process. Every time you test, you stand there in bewilderment not understanding why a user doesn’t see a button or use the app the way you designed it.
– You can discover that users are using the product in a different way that wasn’t even intended.
– Conventions – you can take your design to a new area but there are certain traditional conventions that we come to expect. Logo always upper left, main nav across the top. Keep the obvious things.
– A website is a canvas for content. Get creative with the content instead of the navigation.
– So What. You have a straight forward web app and a robust mobile app. so what? what benefit is that? Is that appropriate?
– Defensible design – You have to be able to defend that decision.
– UX is often brought in at the middle or end of a project. How to get the UX process back out in front where it belongs? It has to be a company decision. It cant be one person who comes in and makes a decision. It’s a culture thing. Being able to iterate through the problem. THe more you test the more you refine and come out with a better product that people want to use and that’s a better UX.
– FInd out what the problem is. THe client will say “We need this” okay, well tell me what the problem is. Because the solution they think is right might not be right.
– Use conversation starter questions. What’s wrong with the old one? WHat do you want the product to do? What do you want to avoid? If it could just do 3 things what would they be? To find out what’s most important.
– Constantly remind them that the target user might not be them. Sometimes they forget that or don’t realize it.
– AB testing – show 2 things – which is better, a or b? Or even ABC, if there are 3 versions.
– Look at trends.
– Sit down and watch the user use the product and have them talk to you about it. Do it with 5 people, by the 5th person, you’ll be able to predict what they’ll say.
– 80/20 – 80% of your clients are going to make 20% of your profit. Who actually counts as a user.


– They start with pencil paper and whiteboard – to get ideas out – to exhaust all things that immediately come to mind to hone in on what it is you want to do. You have much less invested on white boards than you do in a complex illustrator wireframe.
– Competitive analysis – meet with client and find out what makes them competitive and find out the root of the issue and what they’re trying to solve. Then start sketching and wireframing. Talking to client to see if the strategy is the right fit. Do an interactive prototype.
– Go from rough sketches to wireframes to interactive prototype. Or skip the wireframes
– Scope – pen to paper, mockup/prototype, design, test, launch. axure foundation. style guide. MVP development.
– Interactive wireframe via webex. Sketching happens internally only. Story is big. What kind of story are we trying to tell? Let the story drive the content.


– Which is better for ux, agile or waterfall?
– Agile is great but sometimes it flies in the face of design. They adopt agile in the prototyping/design phase. Go through as many iterations in the design, then move into build phase and more waterfall process.
– Another panelist uses as Lean and agile and bootstrap as possible for clients. No waterfall. It could work for the client but not for them. Use whatever works best. Don’t settle for one. Use what’s best for your clients.

– Made our lives harder – going to Multi cross channel touch applications
– How is doing mobile UX work different than web UX work? The diff btw mobile apps and web content. The web is distributing content in a wide range of devices. But apps are a different story. Written natively and takes advantage of the device characteristics and it’s a tool used to solve problems in life. The first decision is – is this delivering content or are you truly creating an app? There are 2 different processes to go down those roads.
– You’re still telling the same story just quicker.
– What’s making them come back to that app to use it?
– Being hyper aware of efficiency in a mobile setting. Efficiency of the system and whats on the screen.
– SOme people as mobile as an extension of the web but you have to think of the utility of it.

– What role does context of the user play into what goes into mobile and what doesn’t? How do you use context in that discussion? Comes down to the core principal of the application, what is it for?
– A lot of things we design now are platform oriented – working off the same platform. How facebook looks on the web, mobile device, versus how it looks on flipboard. You cant take pictures etc from within flipboard. It’s optimized for each of those contexts.
– Can you use your website with one thumb? because a lot of time you are holding coffee. Can you find what you’re looking for quickly?
– Store locator, for example. You want it prevalent on the mobile. Not as prevalent on the website.
– How important is the phone number in mobile? So you can tap and dial it. Think through the context.

– What are the things people should look for when hiring a UX designer?
– SOmeone who gets annoyed by everything. Someone who is hyper sensitive, hyper vigilant. Someone who cares about nuances and details and has the eye for it. SOme people will never see that 2 things are lined up.
– Do they like what they do? bc they’ll put more into it than someone else.
– Being a consultant who can guide the client on what’s best
– Personal brand and personal style
– Being a good presenter, salesperson, backing up your work by best practices and research, getting someone to align with your direction. Convince them it was their idea.
– Picking up on things that the client might not think about. Full circle. Example, the copy in the follow up email for a signup. Think it through. Keep the conversation going. How can you use it as a value prop. Sell them something else in the email. What’s the campaign to send to that email group now?
– Wistia – they do video hosting –
– UX needs to be a part of the corporate culture.

– Put users at the front of the conversation and design for them.
– Listen, you’ll find gems of wisdom from the client and users. Be open and willing to listen and change.
– Be kind. Treat your users how you’d want to be treated.
– ASk why 5 times. If you ask once, it might not be the right answer. By the 5th time, they’ll know what their answer is. Keep validating your idea, designs, and products.

USF St Pete – Certificate program – for iOS development – 12 week course – Jesse Currey leads it

Course called USer Experience University – 10 week intense course – 3 weeks – only 10 students – led by Madera Labs.


Here’s a word cloud I made from the notes above.  The words with a larger font are the most frequently used and probably the most significant.

word cloud


Day 4 at the WritersUA Conference

The last day of the conference felt like the last day of school before summer vacation.  Everyone was buzzing around in a great mood, trading business cards (the professional equivalent of “sign my yearbook”), saying last-minute goodbyes to their newly forged friends, and taking silly photos.  It was obvious that we had a great time because everyone was a little sad to leave.

There is a lot of great information presented at the sessions, but probably the best part about attending conferences is the networking, side conversations, and personal connections made.  Sharing stories, venting frustrations and just getting away from the office and chatting with people who actually get what you do and what you go through is just fantastic.  I feel like I have found friends and mentors here that I will definitely keep in touch with and maybe even see again someday (another conference perhaps?).

I attended four sessions:

  • Improve User Productivity with Just-in-Time Advice
  • A Survey of DITA WebHelp Formats
  • Thinking About UA as Performance Support
  • All About Hyperlinks

I have to say that the first and last session benefitted me the most.  The middle two were really interesting, but ended up not very relevant to my current work (I’m not using DITA). The last session was led by Matthew Ellison from the UK and he was one of the best speakers.  I learned a lot about the origins, uses, and best practices for hyperlinks.

Just before lunch they had a fabulous peer showcase where 16 of the top industry professionals showed their innovative work.  I watched 3 of the quick, hands-on presentations and voted on them:

  • Creating Flash Rollover Images with Captivate and Snagit  –  Fer O’Neil took standard screenshots that when you moused-over the image, animations would appear in a flash video-style. Very cool!
  • Using a Web-based Product Lifecycle Roadmap and Customized Search to Increase Documentation Usability – Timothy Rosa used “sticky searches” and roadmaps to help users find the info they need faster and easier.
  • Engaging Users with Documentation that doesn’t feel like “Documentation” – This was the best of the 3, my top pick, and the winner of the peer showcase contest!  Steve Stegelin illustrates his own cartoons and graphics and integrates them with very contemporary walk-through guides that make reading them fun!

After the showcase we had lunch at Automatic Slims which was really tasty.  The conference closed with another real-time audience-response session led by WritersUA President Joe Welinski.  He asked us to predict the future of the field of User Assistance and the results were surprising, but probably true.  Technology is rapidly changing everything – it is difficult to keep up with at times.

I ate a duck cookie (pictured below), said my goodbyes, and shared a taxi to the airport with several other writers. I came to Memphis excited and nervous, not knowing what to expect, and left with a head full of information and a pocket full of business cards.

To read my session summaries, visit the Tech Writer Today Magazine website.

Day 2 at the WritersUA Conference

Today was the first full day of WritersUA conference.  They had a nice breakfast buffet for us (provided by Adobe) and then we went straight into the opening session, led by WritersUA President Joe Welinske.  They had a lot of audience participation in a quiz using real-time response pads that immediately aggregated results on the screen.  Many of the questions related to our everyday work and personal lives, while some were there just for fun.  Fun Fact: Did you know that Memphis was named after a city in Egypt?

I attended the following 3 sessions:

  • Embedding User Experience in the Product Development Life Cycle by Michael Hughes. Read my session summary published by Tech Writer Today Magazine here!
  • Improving Your Online Help with Topic Type Patterns by Linda Urban.
  • HTML5 and CSS3 to the Point by Scott DeLoach

They were all very interesting and directly related to my everyday work, so I would say that things are off to a great start.  Probably the best one for me was the first session on UX in the product development cycle.  Michael Hughes’ presentation really hit home for me and provided a lot of excellent advice for ways that UA professionals can add value to the product development cycle.

After that session we took a break for lunch, which was in the grand ballroom that made me feel like I should’ve been wearing an evening dress and gliding across the floor dancing to classical music.  Like this woman pictured below in the ballroom…

The tables were designated by interest areas.  I sat at the DITA table and learned a bit about the uses and benefits of DITA from some leading experts.  I’m trying to decide if switching to DITA would be beneficial for me or not.  Jury is still out…

Just before sunset, we attended a cocktail hour mixer on the famous rooftop terrace of the Peabody Hotel (where the opening scene of the movie The Firm was filmed). The weather was perfect for the occasion and the view of downtown Memphis and the river couldn’t have been better.  They served fresh fried green tomatoes and other hor dourves, which were delicious.  We also visited the ducks in their “palace,” which was nicer than my first apartment in college.

Photo by Andrew Thomas

After the mixer, me, Al, Connie, and Keith walked to the highly recommended Flying Fish restaurant.  We each got a different kind of fish and I was dared to get the banana pudding so I could try all of the banana pudding in Memphis and declare the best (a welcome challenge). So far, Central BBQ still takes the cake for the best banana pudding I’ve ever had!

I will be writing more detailed session summaries on TechWhirl so be sure to check them out (and subscribe to the fabulous email listserv).

Meet us in Memphis @WritersUA Contest

I just entered a contest to be a guest blogger for the Conference for Software User Assistance hosted by Writers UA in Memphis, TN in March!  I’ve never been to a conference like this before and would absolutely love to go.

Just reading the session topics got this #techcomm nerd excited about the possibility of being chosen to go.  Their main topics are: Content Strategy, Tools and Technologies (HTML5, CSS3, HATs, Adobe, DITA, and Mobile help), and Emerging Skills. I feel like I could learn so much from these industry experts.  If picked, I would be interviewing them, attending the sessions, and blogging about it from the road.

I’m glad that tech writers and industry professionals get together like this to share ideas and engage in discussions.  It helps everyone develop and improve their skills.  College was the best time of my life, and I think it was mostly because of the constant learning, community, and engagement in focused subjects of interest.  I thrive on it.  I’m always researching new topics and looking for ways to improve myself both personally and professionally.  Attending conferences like this one is a great way to do so.

I hope I get picked!



Follow up: I won!  I’m going to the conference and will be covering it both on this blog and on the Tech Whirl website.  Stay tuned for more info!