In October 2013, Mutually Human team members Samuel Bowles and Jonah Bailey, along with “Human-in-Residence” Michael Nykamp and other local volunteers, hosted the third annual Midwest UX Conference in Grand Rapids, MI.

The team of volunteers did a phenomenal job and MWUX 2013 was a real success. This is the first in a series of blog posts that will focus on different aspects of the conference, from planning to execution.

The MWUX (Midwest User Experience) Conference

The Midwest UX Conference, headquartered in Columbus, OH, was formed in 2011 for the purpose of gathering regional members of the “User Experience” community on an annual basis to promote learning, share ideas, collaborate, and network. Their other mission is to “showcase the Midwest as a place where exciting design is happening and introduce people to our cities,” explains Samuel Bowles of Mutually Human Software and conference co-chair.

After two years hosting the conference in Columbus, organizers decided to offer the opportunity to a new city. Co-leads Grant Carmichael, Laurel Stanley, and Samuel Bowles collaborated with members of the Grand Rapids IXDA (Interaction Design Association) to prepare their application. What better way to showcase Grand Rapids’ rich history in design and manufacturing–both automotive and furniture–than by inviting hundreds of design professionals from around the world to experience our city first-hand? Because of their dedication and commitment to Grand Rapids, we were chosen as the 2013 venue.

Although still an emerging organization, MWUX has gained a positive reputation in the UX community. The co-leaders desired to continue the excellence that had been established and create a conference experience that would appeal to a broad range of designers, i.e., not just User Experience (UX) designers in the software world but also designers of print, web, and architecture.

So What Did Everyone Talk About?

The co-chairs chose “Place” as the theme for the 2013 MWUX conference. They wanted the theme to be something abstract that would allow subjective interpretations from various perspectives and not limit the conference speakers to a short list of topics, but would also provide an overall sense of cohesion throughout the conference.

“We were curious about the big questions that were within the theme of ‘place,’ and interested in people’s responses to those questions. For example, ‘How does where you come from – geographically, culturally, psychologically – influence your design decisions? How do you develop an understanding of clients who come from “someplace else” and use that when designing for your user?'” explained Bowles.

Over 180 session and workshop proposals were received after the “call for speakers” was announced. With only 18 available spaces in the schedule it was competitive, but applicants from as far away as South Africa applied and were accepted. With session and workshop titles such as, “Hey, You Got Your Map In My Territory!: The Role of Language in Placemaking”, “Dude, Who Stole My Community?, Defining our Place in Emerging Technologies”, “Boats, Trains & Shopping Malls: Testing the Usability of Products in their Natural Habitat”, and “The Design Studio: Traditional Design Practice in a Place of Design Tradition”, each of the speakers tied the conference theme of “place” into their lecture or workshop.

Close to 350 people participated in the conference and the response was overwhelmingly positive. Phillip Hunter of Microsoft, tweeted, “Talks were simultaneously diverse & still wove a well-themed tapestry.” And Christina Wodtke, conference Keynote speaker and interaction design pioneer who has spearheaded major design efforts at industry leaders such as Linkedin, Yahoo, Zynga and MySpace remarked, “MWUX13 was one of the few conferences I’ve been to that took their theme seriously.”

The next blog in this series will focus on how the team so impressively wove the theme of “place” into every aspect of the conference tapestry.

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