User Friendly 2009: Design in Asia

By Daniel Szuc and Josephine Wong

Published: March 8, 2010

“The theme for this conference was ‘Design in Asia,’ a hot topic as China looks to shift thinking from ‘made in China’ to ‘created in China’.”

In November 2009, the UX community of China gathered in Shanghai for User Friendly 2009, the sixth User Friendly event. The theme for this conference was “Design in Asia,” a hot topic as China looks to shift thinking from “made in China” to “created in China.”

We were very lucky to have such a quality group of both local and international speakers, including our invited keynotes:

  • Jared Spool of UIE—who spoke about “The Dawning of the Age of Experience”
  • Bill Moggridge of IDEO—whose topic was “What’s Next for Design in Asia?”
  • Marc Rettig of Fit and Associates—who presented “Design for Life”

The keynotes were complimented nicely by speeches from UPA President Silvia Zimmerman and UPA China President Jason Huang.

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 from China and other Asian countries, showing that the local community is gaining in confidence, expertise, and leadership.

User Friendly provides a wonderful way to connect with the UX community in China and a perfect first-hand experience to let you better understand what is happening with user experience in China today.

What key themes and observations emerged from User Friendly 2009?

A founding organizer of User Friendly and Vice President of UPA, Daniel Szuc asked five local and international colleagues about their thoughts on User Friendly and other topics:

  • Whitney Quesenbery—Past President of UPA and long-time attendee and supporter of User Friendly, attending her fourth User Friendly conference
  • Jhumkee Iyengar—first-time attendee of User Friendly
  • Marc Rettig—first-time attendee of User Friendly
  • Matthew Oliphant—first-time attendee of User Friendly
  • Yuanfu Qiu—President of UPA Singapore and first-time attendee of User Friendly
“China has an opportunity to rethink and create conditions for a way of life that is both sustainable and good for people.”

A shift in thinking in China—Marc spoke about the shift from “made in China” to “created in China.” China is a strong, established manufacturing culture, in which many manufacturing businesses have become very successful within a short period of time. With that culture, there is a risk that China might repeat, in a compressed timeframe, what has happened in the West in the Industrial Age with a rush to consumerism, designing to satisfy a consumer cycle, and getting people to want and replace things over and over again. This is not a sustainable model and does not correlate to a long, happy life for people.

China’s design opportunity—Marc also talked about design in China making a fresh start, avoiding a repetition of what has occurred in the West, and leading a potential shift to new directions. China has an opportunity to rethink and create conditions for a way of life that is both sustainable and good for people.

UX Maturity—Whitney observed that there is an increased level of maturity in the local UX community, with people asking more sophisticated questions and making invited international speakers, like herself, feel more like co-leaders and peers.

Increased UX awareness—Yuanfu told us that Asian businesses are starting to pay more attention to user experience and are curious to know more about it, which is a positive sign. However, while business leaders may have heard about user experience, they need help in really understanding its potential benefits and introducing User Experience in their companies. The challenge is that they may not know what user experience means, because they are not trained in this area. So how can we provide that educational foundation Asia needs?

“Asian businesses are starting to pay more attention to user experience and are curious to know more about it, which is a positive sign.”

Permission to lead—Whitney spoke about nurturing a local or broader Asian community of practice by running 1–2 day intensive workshops—for example, to write local UX guidelines—and getting local thought leaders and experts together to share information. Whitney asked whether the development process in China is different from an international perspective. How can China lead UX efforts without having to wait for permission or leadership from elsewhere in the world?

Open and friendly—User Friendly 2009 was good for English-speaking visitors, too. As a first-time visitor, Matthew was pleased that participants spoke English, helping him and enabling great conversations. Jhumkee was impressed by both the turnout and the momentum of user experience in China. She observed that local UX professionals who attended the conference were young, eager to learn, and enthusiastic and felt that the China UX community is sure to move ahead quickly. Marc observed that the atmosphere at the conference dinner was playful, with people not taking themselves too seriously. He thought attending User Friendly 2009 was in itself an act of leadership. It’s people saying, I want to grow as a professional, expand my craft, change my self-perception, and plug into the UX community.

“There is a real push from the Indian Government to support design thinking.”

Design meets usability, and usability meets design—Jhumkee spoke about how UX professionals are coming out of design schools in India and that there is a real push from the Indian Government to support design thinking. She thinks we need to embrace design in Asia. She also mentioned that there is a nice overlap between design and usability, with a need for both.

Design value and maturity—Matthew observed that, because there is a young, knowledge-hungry, upcoming community of new designers in China, it’s vital to teach a good design process and how UX professionals can communicate the value of design to the stakeholders they work with.

What key thoughts should we pass along to current and future UX professionals in Asia?

“It’s important to build relationships, work well with people, and have good user research skills.”

Business acumen—Matthew spoke about how imperative it is, as a UX professional, to present yourself well and learn what to expect in business situations—for example, how and when to negotiate and how to advance your career. He also mentioned the importance of soft skills—learning how to survive in user experience and how to push back on business goals when necessary.

Clear communication and people skills—Yuanfu said that it’s essential to understand and meet user needs. If designers cannot communicate effectively or convince people that their design solutions are the right ones, they have the potential to fail as designers. Jhumkee mentioned that it’s important to build relationships, work well with people, and have good user research skills—that is, to know how to get the best feedback from users when running studies.

Real project experience—Matthew discussed how crucial it is to get UX professionals to share real projects, walk through their designs, and communicate what they’ve learned from their projects. At the same time, presenters have the opportunity to get direct input and benefit from the expertise of conference attendees. The audience also has much to share.

International sharing—Matthew told us there is so much to learn everywhere. It is important to not only listen, but also to share with the wider UX community, both within and outside your own country.

“People can best learn design practice by working side by side with experienced UX folks. Design takes practice. It’s … a process of mastery.”

Holistic experience design—Yuanfu spoke about the need to understand how all of the different roles UX professionals play factor into a UX process and how they can all work together. We need to bring user needs into the design of products to show the value of User Experience and how our process can improve products. Jhumkee sees this as part of the holistic UX education that is necessary to create better UX professionals. Marc agreed that sometimes UX professionals just want to know “the recipe. Tell me how to do it, and I will do it.” But design presents almost infinite possibilities. Therefore, he suggested that people can best learn design practice by working side by side with experienced UX folks. Design takes practice. It’s more like becoming a chef—it’s a process of mastery. China has the opportunity to innovate the kind of education that can support people through this road to mastery. Jhumkee observed that the range of skills a UX professional must have is growing, so it may not be possible to master all UX skills. However, it’s important to understand what is required to succeed in the profession and how to nurture these skills.

Conclusions

“China has a good opportunity to train a generation of UX professionals who don’t just treat symptoms, but work to achieve lasting impact.”

The attendees and speakers we interviewed were in general agreement about the increased interest in user experience in Asia, where businesses are allocating more resources to and investing in user experience. There may even be more demand than the supply of UX professionals in Asia can handle.

Marc thinks China has a good opportunity to train a generation of UX professionals who don’t just treat symptoms, but work to achieve lasting impact—a generation of designers who can weave a “social fabric.” Successfully achieving this kind of impact is a necessary goal for designers in Asia, requiring the collaboration and facilitation of many UX disciplines.

Marc asked us to think about these questions: How would we like to live? What are the ingredients of attraction and a sustainable way of life? Perhaps part of this is looking at how people take their satisfaction from connection with, contribution to, and openness within a community and the ability to express one’s authentic self. What makes for a continued culture of help, support, love, openness, forgiveness, and nurturing to create environments that encourage best behaviors? What possibilities do we want to create?

User Friendly 2010

User Friendly 2010 will take place in Nanjing.

Acknowledgement—Thank you Whitney, Jhumkee, Marc, Matthew, and Yuanfu for taking the time to share your perspectives with us. We would also like to take this opportunity to thank the UPA China team for their hard work, dedication, and enthusiasm in making the User Friendly conference what it is today. And thanks to 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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