Bye-bye Boston | November 11, 2007

I’ve been in Boston the past week, attending User Experience 12. I arrived late on Friday night and was greeted by the tail end of a hurricane. Pouring rain and 60 mile an hour winds weren’t go to stop me from sightseeing, so after purchasing a brolly I hit the Freedom Trail the following day. It turns out that wandering round Boston in the rain isn’t much fun, so I ended up wandering around the Museum of Fine Art instead. If you find yourself in Boston on a blustery day, I can highly recommend the collection at this fine museum. On my travels I came across a discount theatre tickets stands and and bought a ticket for the stage version of Donnie Darko. I wasn’t not quite sure what to make of the play, but it was definitely interesting. At the very least it made me want to watch the movie again.

Thankfully the rains passed quickly, and Sunday was a beautifully crisp Autumn day. Grabbing myself a 7 day travel pass on the “T”, I checked out some of the cooler neighbourhoods like Beacon Hill and Newbury Street, before heading over to Harvard. Sunday is obviously exercise day in Boston as the parks were packed with joggers and lithe young ladies walking oversized dogs. In fact I wasn’t sure if it was the dogs being walked or their owners.

The conference started on Monday with a series of full day workshops. I’m a big fan of Luke Wroblewski’s blog, and have seen him on a couple of panels at SXSW. However I was keen to see how he performed on his own, so went along to his session. Luke ran a very solid workshop on the theory of design. While a lot of the information was familiar to me, it was presented in a very engaging way. By the end of the day, I’d jotted down a lot of ideas about how to better communicate design to end clients. That evening, Jared very graciously invited me to join the speakers dinner, and I had an excellent evening of beer, conversation and tapas.

While the majority of UI12 is comprised of full day workshops, Tuesday was a more typical conference day. Cameron Moll gave a typically strong presentation on mobile web design, while Kevin Cheng showed everybody how to communicate ideas through comics. After lunch, Jarred gave his talk on the magic of design, using a couple of the tricks he tried out at dConstruct. I was very impressed how Jarred managed to weave the two concepts together, and the talk was both entertaining and informative.

However the two presentations I got the most out of came from speakers I’d had little knowledge of prior to the conference. Larry Constantine gave a very articulate and detailed talk on design ethnography while Rolf Molich discussed research on the subject of expert usability reviews. It turns out that expert reviews that take around 20 hours to complete (excluding reporting) and are carried out by a single reviewer, capture very similar results to a full blown usability test. Furthermore, adding more time or reviewers doesn’t significantly improve the results. This matches our experience at Clearleft, so it was nice to have our approach validated.

It turns out that the W3C were having their annual plenary in Boston at the same, and it was just up the street from UI12. So after a few drinks at the official conference mixer, myself, Cameron, Luke, Kevin and Joshua Porter went out for dinner with a few of the W3C people. In the end there were about a dozen of us including Aaron Gustafson, Chris Wilson, Matt May, Cameron Moll and Patrick “one-trick” Haney. The beer and conversation flowed, and it turned out to be a thoroughly entertaining night.

On Wednesday I attended a workshop by Scott Berkun on the subject of Innovation. However while the delivery was very good, I thought the content had little to do with actual innovation. It was much more focused on the internal politics of large companies, which made sense considering the audience he was addressing.

On the last day I was supposed to be in Christine Perfetti’s workshop on paper prototyping, but missed the first hour and half as I wanted to catch Joshua Porter talking about social networks. Josh is also one of my favourite bloggers at the moment, and I really enjoyed his session. By the time I got into Christine’s workshop I’d missed most of the talking. However I did get to participate in a fun wireframing exercise that lasted the rest of the day. I’m not convinced that the low-fi approach that Christine advocated would work for us at Clearleft, as we tend to prefer a much higher fidelity approach. However I did think that the paper prototyping game itself could easily be adapted into a technique for eliciting client requirements and building consensus.

With the conference wrapped up, there was time for one last drink at the bar before everybody went their separate ways. I thoroughly enjoyed UI12 and was impressed by how smoothly the event ran. Jarred was a delightful host and I’d like to extend my thanks to him and the rest of the UIE team for extending their hospitality during the event.

Up early the next morning, I jumped in a rental car and headed off for a quick road trip. My first stop was Salem, where I had a lovely lunch with Dan Cederholm. I then carried on to Newburyport, after a quick side trip to the chocolate box town of Rockport. By the time I got there it was getting dark, so I checked into the Essex Street Hotel and met up with Joshua Porter and his sister for dinner and drinks. The following morning I took the coast road North, for a delightful drive to Portland, Maine. The fall leaves had already peaked, but there was still an explosion of colour to be had. Driving round the winding country lanes, it was obvious why the original settles put down their roots in this area and named it New England. Rather annoyingly the GPS unit I hired from Avis died on me, so I decided to head back while it was still light or risk getting hopelessly lost. Thankfully that didn’t happen, and I’m now ensconced in an airport hotel killing time and waiting for an early flight back to Blightly in the morning.

Right, time to get some food!

Posted at November 11, 2007 12:32 AM


Sam Hardacre said on November 12, 2007 11:39 AM

One place I definately must go to in Boston is the Bull & Finch, more commonly known as ‘Cheers’ : D

I’m green with envy mr. budd, sounds like an amazing trip!

Daniel Szuc said on November 16, 2007 10:26 AM

Nice to meet Andy and hope we get more opportunity to speak when you visit Asia next.