The Human Factors and Ergonomic Society (HFES) hosted their 63rd International Annual Meeting in Seattle, WA last week. This event brings together a diverse range of professionals and students, resulting in a ton of invaluable conversations. We were lucky to be asked to participate.
Each year the UX committee attempts to offer an unconventional conference experience, and this year was no different. They decided to put together what they called UX in Industry: An "Unconference" with the Practitioners.
As the MURAL-Seattle local, I was part of the team working with Dr. France Jackson and Jay Elkerton to deliver a memorable piece of the HFES conference. The UX committee wanted to create a different type of session -- a more engaging, hands-on experience than your typical Q&A panel. The idea was that by using this open dialogue concept and MURAL, attendees and practitioners alike would meet on level ground and go from there.
The attendees would be able to read a bit about the different practitioners beforehand, and could brainstorm questions that they'd like to cover during the session. The practitioners in turn would prepare talking points, ultimately resulting in a more conversational experience than the standard Q&A set-up. The point was to break the mold a bit, create a different environment and opportunity for sharing and learning.
Over a few weeks, the HFES/UX team worked with us to create this hands-on and interactive experience. We created and introduced two canvases:
A presentation day canvas This canvas served 2 purposes. Firstly, it allowed attendees to pose questions/topics that they felt would be most beneficial to talk about. We then had an area for each breakout group to record some notes or points of interest during the session, which were then used to share out back to the group as a whole.
A Happy Hour canvas This canvas was available to all those who joined us for the Happy Hour wrapping up the conference. We provided a touch screen device with this canvas displayed, and it served as a social networking resource that brought together people looking for potential new hires, those looking for jobs, as well as those just curious and hoping to build connections.
It was so fun to watch participants come into the room, see the MURAL canvas and immediately wonder what was coming next. The layout alone indicated that this would be a different experience. The rows of seats most often set up in a lecture-style line had been broken out into 5 circles. Participants were encouraged to find the practitioner that they would like to hear from.
While I wish we had enough resources to have gotten everyone participating in MURAL, the added value was undeniable. I sat in with one of the groups, trying to keep up with the highlights that were being shared in a very energized conversation. There was a moment of pause as far as determining the best way to start, but once they used just one prompt from the canvas, they were off! Everyone in the groups was participating and engaged, sharing experiences, lessons, even tales of caution about the UX space.
Then, everyone shared out to the whole group. Each team was able to quickly reference back to what they had covered and share what was of highest value. It was interesting to see that while all groups had no structured outline to cover, similar topics and questions still surfaced. This approach allowed for them to share and communicate without any boundaries or expectations, resulting in a productive, worthwhile conversation.
Following the conclusion of the conference, everyone was invited to head over to Spin Seattle for happy hour. Having the canvas pulled up offered a concrete way of exchanging information. It was great to see people excited to connect with no fear of losing a business card or missing out on an opportunity given they could come back to this canvas even after the event ended.
Ultimately, I think we met our goal of offering participants a different way of approaching their learning. I hope people will circle back to the happy hour canvas as well, possibly leading to a professional next step. It was a great opportunity for us here at MURAL to learn more about bringing people together, plus how to take advantage of what we can offer different teams.