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27 Dec

Ben Woods Recaps the Midwest UX Conference

This October, Ben Woods, assistant professor in Kent State University's online Master of Science in User Experience (UX) Design program, attended the Midwest UX conference, a three-day event packed with industry leaders, workshops and networking for those in the UX profession. Below, he's shared his recap of the event.

Midwest UX was in Cincinnati this year, and Kent State was an in-kind sponsor! The regional conference had the great speakers and workshops one would expect at a national conference, including well-known speakers like Carol Smith of IBM and Jesse James Garrett.

The selection of workshops and speakers was indicative of where the UX profession is going. There were not so many sessions on usability technologies, techniques or craft; instead, a lot of time was dedicated to the development of soft skills for UXers, social responsibility and the future. These were recurring themes in the sessions. Artificial intelligence and speech interaction were also big subjects at the conference.

Some standout sessions included Karen VanHouten's "Why Do We All Suck at Collaboration," Phil Balagtas' "Shaping Signals: Preparing for the Future Through Speculative Design" and Lisa Woods' (no relation) presentation on interactive art inspiring the future of UX.

Overall, the concepts discussed illuminated a compelling pivot for UX professionals—moving from human-centered design towards humanity-centered design—a current theme affecting the design world, as seen in the Copenhagen Letter.1

The current interest in humanity-centered design echoes the tortured relationship the design profession has with its ability to affect human behavior, and the moral compass of individual practitioners. Consider the First Things First Manifesto of 19642 and its 2000 revival.3

Our craft has become highly credible, and our methods so refined that we can design interactions with great efficiency, even manipulating users to behave against their self-interests. Jesse James Garrett's closing keynote crystallized the need to consider the role of the designer in technology and society:

"The nature of technology's influence on our lives has shifted. The issues may look the same on the surface. But the difference is that an ill-considered dialog box or web form didn't used to have the power to enable abusive behavior at scale. It didn't used to have the power to undermine civic discourse. It didn't used to have the power to unravel the social fabric…We need to be the ones initiating conversations about the potential of our work to make people's lives worse, instead of better…"

October 14, 2017 in Cincinnati, OH


UX designers spend a lot of time exploring the relationship between technology and society. Read more insights about this issue from UX professor Paul Sherman, or get more perspective on people-centered technology from Ben Woods.


1 Retrieved on December 15, 2017, from copenhagenletter.org
2 Retrieved on December 15, 2017, from designishistory.com/1960/first-things-first/
3 Retrieved on December 15, 2017, from emigre.com/Essays/Magazine/FirstThingsFirstManifesto2000