The most recent Triangle UX meetup (and last before we become Triangle UPA) was held Tuesday, February 7th, at McKinney in Durham.
Rick Cecil (interim VP, Triangle UPA chapter) gave an overview of the new UPA chapter, which is focused on further expanding the community of user experience professionals in the Triangle. Elections for the first slate of officers will be held at a planning meeting on Wednesday, 2/22. After the chapter is incorporated and a bank account established, anyone interested will be able to join online (dues are $15/year for professionals; free for students).
Adam Blumenthal (Interactive Strategist at McKinney) introduced McKinney's approach, advertising work, and interest in building an interactive group that will build full-scale Websites for large clients, as well as banner ads, minisites, etc. As an advertising firm with a strong focus on strategy, McKinney brings an interesting perspective to Web design. The big question for me was: To what extent does McKinney plan to include user research and user-centered design in its Web work? Adam emphasized McKinney's process of "connection planning," which builds an understanding of how customers connect to a brand. This is important (and goes beyond UX work in some ways), but still left me thinking "what about the poor user?" Having suffered through many gorgeous but unusable Flash-based sites developed by big agencies for big brands, I'm not eager to see more of the same. I hope McKinney takes the righteous path: hire people with UX expertise, and incorporate user-centered processes into their design work. The fact that they opened the doors of their (spectacularly designed) offices to a UX group is certainly an encouraging start.
Providing an excellent example of how user-centered design is important in practice, John Clark (Director of Technology, CBC New Media) discussed the ongoing redesign of WRAL.com. WRAL.com is a sprawling local news-and-beyond site developed by the local CBS affiliate station. It is highly successful compared to other TV station sites, both locally and nationally. It competes with both newspaper sites (locally, the News & Observer) and emerging community sites like Craiglist.
John described WRAL's design challenges and emphasized that CBS seeks to "focus on users" and create a brand-new design ("we started with a whiteboard we wiped clean") based on a "complete usability exercise". The site must serve multiple audiences: users, advertisers, and internal staff. However, John noted that CBC has "never done good research on usability and information architecture." They are working with an independent research firm to remedy this, but still face the challenge of creating "consolidation" between user requirements and business requirements.
John's talkundefinedand the example of a site many in the audience had usedundefinedprovoked a lively discussion. Suggestions for John included:
- Incorporating multiple forms of research, including user research (interviews, surveys, observation, etc.), content research (content audits, analysis of competing sites, etc.), and log research (Website statistics, internal searches, referring searches, email and customer service logs).
- Using multiple forms of evaluation (e.g., both 1-on-1 usability tests and focus groups).
- Considering how to incorporate community and citizen journalism into the site. Questioners suggested Adrian Holovaty's work on newspaper websites, including Lawrence.com, as an example of innovative local news and community on the Web.
Overall, WRAL.com represents both a challenging information architecture problem (a large, diverse, regularly-updated site) and an opportunity to build local community and find other innovative ways to connect to people through the Web.
-- Abe Crystal