User Friendly 2008: Looking Backward and Forward in China

By Daniel Szuc and Josephine Wong

Published: August 17, 2009

“Since the first User Friendly in 2004, the conference has matured into one of the best UX conferences in Asia.”

In October 2008, the UX community of China gathered once again for the fifth User Friendly event. User Friendly 2008 took place in Shenzhen, which was once a fishing village and is only about a 40-minute train ride from Hong Kong. The 2008 theme was Innovation in Asia. We were lucky to have a quality group of both local and international speakers, including, to name a few, our invited keynotes:

Since the first User Friendly in 2004, the conference has matured into one of the best UX conferences in Asia. Each year, the range of topics and workshops broadens, and there is more content in Chinese, showing that the local community is gaining in confidence and expertise.

The night before User Friendly 2008 began, volunteers were up most of the night, making last-minute preparations. Their sense of commitment and purpose was evident throughout the event. The relative youth of attendees is noteworthy and indicative of a community of UX practitioners who are going to be very influential in the future, both within China and in the broader UX community.

Some Thoughts on the Conference

A founding organizer of User Friendly and Vice President of UPA, Daniel Szuc asked three colleagues and friends for their thoughts about the conference:

  • Gerry Gaffney—One of the invited speakers at the first User Friendly in 2004, in Beijing—along with experts like Whitney Quesenbery—Gerry gave us both his historic and current perspectives on the conference.
  • Paul Sherman—Past President of UPA and an attendee at both User Friendly 2007 and 2008, Paul offered his overall impressions of the conference.
  • Sarah Bloomer—Making her first visit to User Friendly, Sarah gave us her first impressions.

Over the last 5 years, what changes have you observed in the UX community in China? What opportunities do you see?

“There is more knowledge about usability and practitioners are more experienced.”—Gerry Gaffney

Gerry: “More maturity in terms of attendee knowledge. At earlier conferences, there were a lot more questions like Our developers won’t listen to us. How do we make them listen? The industry has moved on. There is more knowledge about usability and practitioners are more experienced. I suggest there are opportunities in helping Chinese companies understand Western users, as China starts to design their own products and services to market outside of China.”

What were your overall impressions of User Friendly 2008?

“What impressed me most was the excellent lineup and quality of speakers, together with the overall conference structure.”
—Sarah Bloomer

Sarah: “What impressed me most was the excellent lineup and quality of speakers, together with the overall conference structure. Paul Sherman opened the conference by reminding us that we are change agents. ‘Change agents must have conviction to state the facts based on data,’ even if the results are unpleasant. Paul said that a strategic view of user experience requires a long-term focus.

“Jason Huang, President of UPA China, talked about the opportunity to make UX more strategic and the barriers facing the UX community in China. Susan Dray presented a broader view of usability, aligning our activities with strategic business goals and the value proposition. Both Susan and Ginny Redish emphasized the value of user research to the whole company, not just to inform a product design or redesign. Wayne Hom, CTO and EVP of Augmentum, described how UX can deliver value across the organization, from products to services and to customers. Rachael Austin, Senior UCD Manager at HSBC, talked about her team’s global leadership role and mapping the whole customer experience, including systems and in-branch experiences.”

“More and more Chinese organizations are seeing the business value of UX.”—Paul Sherman

Paul: “The quality of content was quite high this year, and it appeared less student focused and more professional focused. It’s all about China as a design leader and thought leader and seems like UX is really catching on. More and more Chinese organizations are seeing the business value of UX.”

What topics do you think it’s important to cover at UF2009 or future conferences?

Gerry: “User needs analysis and techniques.”

“Acceptance of UX practices is still in the early stages. However, based on the rapid change taking place in China, this is likely to take less time than it has in the West.”—Sarah Bloomer

Sarah: “Great explorations of how to build UX teams that work for China and designing for a global market. My conference topics focused primarily on building UX teams, and I found the conversation focused largely on understanding the different management structures in China and collectively exploring how Western learning applies. My understanding is that acceptance of UX practices is still in the early stages. However, based on the rapid change taking place in China, this is likely to take less time than it has in the West. The hot topic is working out the best setup within Chinese organizational structures, so they can enjoy success quickly. This requires promoting the value of UX and enabling UX teams in China to be effective once they are set up. Some needs are unique to China, making my workshop on setting up UX teams a challenge. How much of my experience is relevant to China? It wasn’t clear how much of what I talked about could be used or applied in China.”

What opportunities are there for UX in China?

“China’s UX community is growing rapidly and has the benefit of doing so when our field is already well established.”—Sarah Bloomer

Sarah: “China’s UX community is growing rapidly and has the benefit of doing so when our field is already well established. The biggest opportunity for UX in China is to take the best from the West and apply it to their own practice. UX in China can fast forward, applying best practices to their specific work or organizational cultures. Some of the companies represented are developing for the local market—and many for the global market. With our very different cultures, how will Chinese design influence current UX design? What are the challenges for Chinese UX designers to design for a global market?”

Paul: “I agree, and we’re just scratching the surface of cross-cultural UX and cross-national management of UX groups. I would like to see more senior leaders in China, because functional disciplines still seem to be somewhat more marginalized in comparison to some—but certainly not all—of their US counterparts.”

What words of wisdom can you pass on to UX leaders in China?

“There are good opportunities to help the West understand China and vice versa.”—Gerry Gaffney

Gerry: “Keep at it! Learn from the existing bodies of knowledge, and remember that you are now coming from a position of power and authority. It’s time to step up and take an equal place with other countries and regions. There are good opportunities to help the West understand China and vice versa.

“I’ve been very happy to see the conference gain momentum from year to year, in Shanghai, in Hangzhou, and in Shenzhen. The same enthusiasm is present, but there’s also a growing maturity in the way the conference itself is organized and run. There’s more local content, which is as it should be, but it’s also nice to see the conference attract speakers and attendees from the international community, including the US, India, and Korea. It’s also satisfying to see the presence of sponsorship and attendees from many major western brands like Microsoft and Google, together with Chinese companies like Huawei and QQ.”

Sarah: “Leading up to User Friendly 2009, it would be good to work on a presentation jointly with a few team managers in China to identify the different issues facing UX teams in China. We could target the issues in a more direct and relevant way that is useful to the Chinese UX community.”

User Friendly Going Forward

“I found the 2008 conference to be just as stimulating and exciting as previous years, but at the same time subtly different. The … 2008 meeting felt a lot less like an imported conference and a lot more like a true Asian-oriented gathering.”—Paul Sherman

Paul: “Having been to the two previous User Friendly conferences, I found the 2008 conference to be just as stimulating and exciting as previous years, but at the same time subtly different. The best way to describe it is that the 2008 meeting felt a lot less like an imported conference and a lot more like a true Asian-oriented gathering. It was partly the presentations, which tended to focus more on specific, more advanced design and organizational problems and less on providing baseline content to a group of less-experienced practitioners. But it was also partly the confidence and self-possessed nature the Asian attendees demonstrated.

“I think it will be interesting to see how this conference evolves as the center of gravity for design and UX shifts from North America and Western Europe toward Asia. I have no doubt that UPA China events will continue to be known for their breadth and depth of content, as well as for the friendliness of their organizers and attendees and for the opportunity to be part of the network of UX practice emerging in China.”

User Friendly 2009

User Friendly 2009 will take place in Shanghai, in November. The theme for the conference will be Design for Asia. We look forward to seeing you there.

Thank you Gerry, Paul, and Sarah for taking the time to share your perspectives. We would like to take this opportunity to thank both the UPA China team for their hard work, dedication, and enthusiasm in making the User Friendly conference what it is today and the speakers who, over the years, have visited China and committed their time to helping promote the usability profession in China.

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