How to Engage an Audience on World Usability Day

University of Minnesota’s event to promote engagement in user-centered design

On November 13, 2014, technologists, designers and digital curators from various disciplines met to promote awareness of the benefits of usability engineering and a user-centered design. World Usability Day. I was scheduled by my employer to stick around all day on-hand if they needed help.


The Introduction was Bill Bushey and Laura Andersen from OpenTwinCities. These two told a tale of an organization’s journey from a two-guy “hack-a-thon” to a national movement of their own and other grass roots civic technology groups.

Their mission is to engage people in the community to participate and discuss civic issues, using technology and individuals as resources. Co-founder Bill Bushey explained the best way to invite engagement is to hold an event, and how communities are best with open government, open internet, with open technology.

Laura Andersen talked about the importance recognizing everyone as a skilled individual and the process of creation: prototype, test, iterate. I was most engaged when she talked about an Un-Conference when the discussion is participant-driven. She said that new things come together from different contributions, she joked, “Nobody knows what they’re doing.”

Panel Discussion

The next presentation was a Panel discussion. Panelists from American Public Media (for MPR), AtTask (consulting comapny), Macalester College, and the U of M discussed their roles within their companies. They all discussed the need to have meaningful conversations to enable people to do wise actions.

Each of the panelists engaged users and clients by offering information designed to hook, sustain and advocate. They also argued that engagement is not an action but a design; and the biggest job of a facilitator of engagement is to stay out of the way.

The Nerdery

My favorite presenter was Matt Edwards, Senior User Experience Designer at The Nerdery. Edwards delivered a silly but interesting presentation about methods for data analysis and synthesis. He used the allegorical paradigm of the Hero’s journey (aka the Monomyth) to describe a way to develop a user-experience strategy. He used an on-going analogy of Star Wars to demonstrate a way to examine a user’s experience in parts (analysis).

I found this comparison silly but logical. After all, there aren’t many possibilities for plot outside:

  1. Hero in ordinary world, establishing what is normal
  2. A call to adventure
  3. Refusal of the call
  4. Meeting the Mentor
  5. Crossing the threshold/ meeting threshold guardians
  6. Test, allies, enemies and shape-shifters
  7. The approach, the climax, the cave
  8. The ordeal, which is the furthest point from “normal world”
  9. The reward
  10. The road back
  11. The resurrection
  12. Return with elixir, deeper thing in addition to the reward that is found along the way

Edwards used this Monomyth to illustrate opportunities for engagement, drawing parallels between parts of a user’s experiences and plot elements. He was able to see places where a user did not have access to vital outcomes or tools.

He explained his idea for feature development, diagramming various parts of a users’s experience using channels, stages, and expectations. This is his method for synthesis. I found this extremely helpful to conceptualize my class project for LSS.

Synthesizing a persona’s journey through LSS’s website as an allegory helped me see how we can tie different pieces of content into a meaningful arrangement. We should plan navigation as Edwards recommends: a clear flow of NEED, SEARCH, FIND, CHANGE to keep the conversation going through all four service offerings until a client finds the right foster program for their situation.