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UPA “Mini UPA” Conference a Success
by Chris Hass
Sometimes conference materials speak for themselves. Weighing in at over two hundred and fifty pages (double-sided!), the three-pound tome prepared for the Fourth Annual UPA-Boston “Mini UPA” Conference contained the presentation handouts, abstracts and bios of thirty-two presenters. To the Boston chapter’s Advisory Board, this was a strong indicator that this year’s incarnation of the “Mini UPA” conference might be the most ambitious and well attended event the chapter has ever hosted.
On March 3rd, during the daylong conference, that prediction proved true. Over 140 attendees, the majority of whom were usability and HCI professionals and students, arrived at the MathWorks in Natick, MA, to experience twenty-three presentations across three knowledge tracks, have breakfast and lunch together, take part in a vendor SIG, and participate in a four-hour workshop. At the day’s close during a post-conference networking reception, the applauding, smiling attendees made their response clear: the day was a success.
The UPA-Boston Advisory Board and the membership continue to be impressed by the depth of research knowledge, breadth of technique innovation and the importance of the questions our presenters bring to the conference. Months before, when accepting submissions, we sought a balance between seasoned and novice presenters, thought-leaders and “doers.” We envisioned the Mini UPA conference as a platform for personal growth as well as professional development and the sharing of research-based insights. Presentations ranged from the highly practical, such as conducting large-scale remote usability testing or developing rapid contextual design techniques, to the engagingly theoretical, as in a lively panel discussion about the best metrics for rating the severity of usability-related issues. A number of presentations addressed the User Centered Design process itself, providing intriguing insights into the reliability and future of core UCD techniques.
Given the projected size of this year’s conference, based on a wealth of presenter submissions, the Advisory Board had opted to bring new order to the conference planning process. We created a conference website (www.upaboston.org) that contained detailed information for presenters and attendees, outlined the conference schedule, and that supported pre-registration through PayPal. This enabled us to keep a running tally on attendance numbers and registration fees, and provided a clear channel for presenting information to the membership. In addition, for the first time, we offered sponsors and vendors the opportunity to purchase booths that would flank the conference registration desk. Bentley College, Staples, and TechSmith used those booths to promote open positions, demonstrate usability tools, and to provide in-depth information about HCI-related graduate programs. An additional table offered a variety of participants’ programmatic materials, job postings, and works authored by chapter members.
Watching as job seekers conversed meaningfully with potential employers, listening to the thoughtful and inspired comments of attendees as they moved from presentation to presentation, the Advisory Board was struck by how engaging and memorable the attendees found the presentations and the networking opportunities. In the end, this home-grown, all-day event proved to be one of the year’s signature usability and HCI events.
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