2014 Penn State Web Conference from this vantage

The Future Friendly Web 2014 _ Web Conference at Penn State_2014-06-16_09-49-43

From June 8-10, I was lucky enough to go to the 2014 Penn State Web Conference as both speaker and attendee. It was my first time at Penn State, and while I didn’t get to spend time on the campus (except an evening at the massive Beaver Stadium), the hotel was lovely and the conference as a whole was full of interesting people, great ideas, and round-the-clock coffee. Basically the equation for inspirational idea generation, no?

One of the things I love is that they partnered with a couple organizations, EDUniverse and Slidejar, to host slides, notes, and other things that attendees created which makes it easy to share content and slides.  Granted, you can’t get the full effect of the presentation from slides alone, but you get the gist.

My session, The Road to Redesign, was a reworking of my UxPA-MN presentation from last year, but revised with some more focused slides and conclusions (check out mStoner-Doug Gapinski’s great notes here).  Some great questions and conversation came out of the presentation, particularly around gauging effectiveness and developing processes for ongoing content maintenance. Not working at the institution provides some unique challenges to ensuring this, but I’ve reached out to the institution and hope to get some info to update those interested on what’s happening.

My session was in the second block on the first day (w00t for getting it out of the way early), which, unfortunately, was also a block with a LOT of other great presenters that I would have loved to hear. Luckily, the whole conference was packed with awesome people, which 1) made it difficult to choose sessions but 2) is definitely a good problem to have. The highlights included… (slides linked where available)

  • Multi-Device Website Prototypes – Doug Gapinski
    This session preceded mine, so I hate to say that I was slightly more focused on prepping my own slides than watching Doug. Design theory is something in which I don’t often get to work, but many of the principles are universal. I’m interested in learning new ways to discover flaws in products prior to launch, particularly as we, at my institution, move toward redesigns of both our internal portal and external site. I really loved the idea of a content-first prototype.
  • Beat the Tsunami with a Wave – Web Accessibility Testing 101 – Patrick Dunphy
    Patrick provided a whole lotta resources in his presentation that I’m pumped to go over more thoroughly this week and see what I can add to my arsenal, particularly as we gear up to make accessibility a serious priority on campus. My fave was a ten step test plan which included specific steps like ‘Sanity Test’ and using assistive tech like screen readers and keyboard accessibility.
  • Change the Future: Borrowing Ideas, Design, and Strategies from Beyond Academia – Joel Goodman
    One of my fave slide decks – seriously lovely – and, having heard Joel speak at Higher Ed Web in October 2013, I had a good idea of what to expect. He runs Bravery Media and his work is emblematic of his message #hustleishope.   In the same vein, he referenced Steve Wozniak’s comment that garnered a lot of interest back then re: hacking, saying that hacking is

…using your mind to come up with original actions. Thinking instead of always following what the book says–that’s real thinking. Deep thinking.

  • Design Like a Content Strategist – Scott Kubie
    I saw a lot of correlations between parts of what I talked about and how Scott Kubie broke down the content process. I view content strategy as an aspect of UX, and summed it up in that when developing content, you need to balance what your audience wants to do with what they need to know. Kubie broke down the process of writing into four components and discussed how/when/why to wield each one.
  • UX & Design Tools That Will Improve Your Productivity – Jennifer Aldrich
    Jennifer Aldrich is the lady behind the UX sketch that took the world by storm a few months ago (this one, if you missed it). Her presentation listed a ton of tools that, like Patrick’s session, I’m planning on playing with this week to determine practical application for me in my role.
  • Your Brain on Graphics – Connie Malamed
    It might be weird that I didn’t go to many of the Training/Education sessions but, as I discussed with another technical trainer who attended, they weren’t *training* sessions in the sense that would have benefited our roles, i.e. either very high-level or just not relevant. However, Connie Malamed’s presentation on graphics was PACKED with people, which makes me wonder about the interest in this type of thing. Anyways, she discussed the relationship between cognitive language and visual graphics, and how to create graphics that are intuitive and basically *work* with our brains, with lots and lots of examples. Any disciples of Tufte or other visual display of quantitative information fans would love it. She introduced me to Nigel Holmes’ explanation graphics, I especially love this one on cultural greeting kisses.
  • Saving the World One Tumble at a Time – Ron Bronson
    So, super duper excited for this one. I *met* Ron on Tumblr, in a fashion, so I was intrigued to find out what he had to say about Tumblr. In my experience, people really tend to overthink the platform, and Ron summed it up perfectly by saying that it basically lets you share anything–anything you want–and it’s a place where people come to talk about these things. Anything.  For backup information, he provided these statistics, which should be enough to prove to anyone WHY Tumblr matters.

So, yeah. A jam-packed couple of days with some meals and Sam Adams Summer Ale mixed in there. All in all, I would definitely recommend attending PSUWeb. One word of note, though: many of the people were the same folks whom I saw at Higher Ed Web last year, so maybe plan for one or the other. Or closely scrutinize the sessions to make sure it’s worthwhile.

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