These last few days I've watched activity around Midwest UX, a three-day conference about all things user experience, reach a fever pitch. I have a bit of a front row seat to the planning endeavors, as our design director, Lydia Whitehead, is among the four organizers this year, along with Tony Dewan, Noelle Webster, and Chris Hughes. Founded in 2011, MWUX began in Columbus, Ohio, and traveled to to Grand Rapids, Michigan before landing here in Indy. I got a chance to ask Lydia a few questions about the conference.
Sara: As an organizer, what's most exciting for you?
Lydia: Definitely the most exciting aspect for me is bringing MWUX to Indy. Especially at a time when the city’s design, startup and tech industries are growing so much. We're seeing more UX roles, and more full UX teams popping up at local places.
Since 2012, we've been building community around folks in this space with UX Salon, and in a sense, this feels like a celebration for that group who started us down this path.
We’re really proud that this is all locally organized too. We’ve had some guidance and consulting from the founders in Ohio, but the team here is doing the heavy lifting.
S: What was the pitching process like?
L: We started way back in July 2013. Our team took a month brainstorming ideas, prepping a vision, choosing venues. We sent our ideas (all 15 pages of them!) to the founding team in Columbus, Ohio, and scored an interview with them. There were a few cities in contention, but they chose us in the end. It may have been the cupcakes and flowers we gifted them that set us over the edge...
S: So, who should go to MWUX?
L: We have speakers presenting on things that will be relevant for anyone in design, development or content strategy roles. For anyone working with data, we have some really interesting content on using your data to inform design decisions and things like that. This is also perfect for anyone interested in emerging technology and the Internet of Things. One other thing I'd add – we're really excited to have some programming focused on mentorship specifically for managers or anyone leading teams.
S: What's new this year?
L: The Make Spaces (side note: SmallBox is sponsoring these)! This is a new concept for us. The idea behind these spaces is to get attendees to think about doing work in a different way and to experiment with new technologies — like littleBits and materials like rubber glass. We want people to have opportunities to interact and collaborate, rather than just having the lean-back experience of listening to a speaker.
There's a healthy mix of experiences planned — from talks, to workshops. We also have the typical parties to kick off and close the conference, which will allow people to connect and mingle. But these Make Spaces will offer a whole other level of engagement.
S: Say I'm attending (and I am!), what can I expect to be different for me after attending MWUX? What will folks be able to take away from this experience?
L: You can expect to get new ideas to infuse into your process, and perhaps even learning new processes you might not have considered before. Think about where we are:
We built technology, and we shaped it, but now it's looking back at us and shaping how we work. This conference is a forward look into what's next to build better processes and lead teams to great work.
I’d also say this conference is a great opportunity to meet others in the field doing great work around the country and the world. The founding vision is to keep it small enough that it feels like you really get to connect with all the attendees. I’m personally looking forward to that.
S: What else would you want people to know about MWUX?
L: We have some very fun giveaways that are really relevant to this community. For example, everyone who attends will receive a free three-month trial of Balsamiq, a great wireframing and prototyping tool. There are many more, and perhaps some surprises too.