User Focus 2012

One thing is clear. The web is no longer just a browser on the desktop. It’s now smartphones, tablets, and oh yeah – the hybrid device. The User Focus Conference of 2012 was packed with strategies and ideas for navigating the newest terrain.

Impactful Images

Linna Ferguson and Sarah Weise of Booz Allen Hamilton gave a dynamic presentation on the importance of imagery in interface design.

You get 1/20 of a second to draw people in. Users process up to 4 groups easily. Anything higher and the screen feels cluttered. People are drawn to images of people and will follow faces and gazes. The face becomes a cue to action. If people don’t look real, users can be turned off. Royalty free stock photo sites are popular but are often sterile. Citizen Stock was provided as an interesting alternative for stock footage.

Mobile app versus mobile website

Sharon Grubaugh discussed problems surrounding Mobile Apps versus Mobile Websites.  The key issues are functionality, usability and discoverability. There are pros and cons for each alternative. For a website, the user doesn’t have to download anything but internet connectivity is essential for use. Some of the issues that users will keep in mind are context, cost and performance of the product. A key data point that Sharon shared was that today 25% of all users access the Internet solely through their mobile device.

Graphics and Wireframes

My favorite slide from Scott McDaniel’s talk was “ Set a Pattern, Then Break it”. Gestalt Theory was brought into the mix as well as the concept of active and passive white space. He talked about the infinite grid and then had the audience do a group critique of the website for the 960 grid system.

PDF’s to HTML Prototype

Nathan Curtis of EightShapes gave a talk about how his team transitioned their design process from Wireframing to HTML Prototyping. He described a collaborative team-based workflow but also how HTML prototyping improved communication with clients.

Keyboard/Touchscreen Hybrids: Behaviors are changing

John Whalen of Brilliant Experience got everyone’s attention with a fun and highly interactive presentation. He did a live demo where attendees accessed a site with different devices and then showed a videos of users on hybrid devices.  The bottom line is that Hybrid Keyboard/Touchscreen devices are the next challenge for designers.

Implementing Design

David Hobb described “implementing a design as moving a weight across a distance”. The issues that you need to take into account are immense. They include coverage, content fit, technical debt, and technical drag. You can find out more information on David Hobb’s blog, Hobbs on Tech.

Responsive Design

There were a number of talks on Responsive Design including one by freelance designer and usability consultant Clarissa Peterson. Responsive Design is when content reflows to fit the size of the device the site is being accessed on.

Users want the information to be there when you need it but one of the challenges is content parity across devices. It’s not always consistent. Clarissa’s recommendation is that you design for mobile first.

I attended a limited number of talks on Friday. You can get a detailed list of the talks and speakers from User Focus 2012 here.