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World Usability Day 2008 from an Organizer's Perspective

Judy Blostein and Elizabeth Rosenzweig

Judy Blostein is a usability analyst at PointRight Inc. in Lexington, MA and editor of the UPA Voice.

Elizabeth Rosenzweig is Founder and Director of World Usability Day and a Principal at Bubble Mountain Consulting company where she conducts user centered research, design and development of software and technology products and services. Elizabeth frequently publishes in industry journals and presents at conferences around the world.

WUD 2008

This year's World Usability Day (WUD) 2008 had participants from 43 countries, organizing 170 events, and 10 online events. Considering that WUD has been in existence for only four years, I asked Elizabeth Rosenweig, one of the founders, to tell me what it takes to organize such a huge event and what it means to her.

New Countries Participating

The first thing Elizabeth mentioned was that four new countries participated in WUD 2008 this year: Cuba, Peru, Estonia and Iceland. Elizabeth states, "One of the most exciting things for me this year was that we had countries participate who'd never done usability, who don't have professional development or computer science professionals involved in the event. I'm thrilled we had countries participating that we never had before!"

"Some places such as China, Germany, US, Israel. Brazil, and Australia, are established and have had strong events since the beginning. It is now standard practice that these countries participate in each World Usability Day. But to have new countries involved in a global event is incredible! This year it is especially meaningful that during this global economic crisis, 43 different countries can produce meaningful events on a single coordinated day. That is a great accomplishment for any global event."

In addition, she notes, "There's a global economic crisis and lots of people who are out of work. It's amazing that people who are out of work took the time to participate in WUD."

There were events on six of seven continents on the planet!
There were events on six of seven continents on the planet!

Organizing WUD 2008

I asked Elizabeth to describe the logistical challenges of organizing such a huge event. She says that the single biggest issue was "Coordination across time zones. We had to rotate vendor planning meetings around various time zones, so we had many meetings at night to accommodate the schedules of a world-wide team."

"This year the organizers made a conscious decision to do as much online as possible." Elizabeth states, "This year we did a lot more online than we've done in the past, such as press releases, downloadable marketing material and social networking on Facebook, twitter and LinkedIn. This year all the registration organizing and most of the planning were online, with less in live meetings We managed the registration process without asking for a fee from the events. We made a choice not to send out collateral like t-shirts or backpacks. Part of our motivation was to keep in line with this year's theme of Transportation that emphasized conservation and a sustainability impact. We launched the event's central activities, the Global Transport Challenge, online, on World Usability Day."

And the organizers certainly made use of the Web. Elizabeth mentions "the downloadable marketing materials included the poster and a banner link for the Global Transport Challenge. We wanted people to connect with year's Transportation theme, for people to put links on their Web sites and blogs. Using social networking sites created additional online involvement and discussion, in some cases bringing in people in the field who had not heard of World Usability Day. Someone on Twitter started a dialog with me, asking where he could attend an event in his area."

Another difference in this year's event was that the organizers "pushed to local chapters more, which enabled them to personalize their local events more." The Transportation theme brought home major issues and required the chapters to consider how transportation affects the quality of life on a local level. People organized events in airports, train stations, automobile factories and more. "It pulls together the ground event with people in an online community in a way that produces a whole that is greater then the sum of its parts."

"That makes it personal, like with the carbon calculator," she said. In fact, Elizabeth notes that there were less giveaway items at the Boston WUD this year. She states, "Given economic climate, why give kids more things they don't need?"

Elizabeth's biggest piece of advice about organizing an event of this scope is that "Someone is always in command, but it doesn't have to be the same person" for each part of the event. "It is good to have an organization with a clear leader and support people. It is also important to delegate tasks to spread the goal."

The Message of WUD

Elizabeth is quite passionate about World Usability Day, especially when talking about the global impact of usability. She says, "We as people don't have to put up with things not working! World Usability Day is about raising awareness and spreading the word that people are in control of their world, not their machines."

"Usability professionals know that we can educate the average person to be a better consumer and not be made to feel stupid by their stuff. It's a paradigm shift of how we should think about the world. Human error is a misnomer. It's absolutely wrong to create a machine that expects a human to be perfect. Let's design for real people!"

"The fact that everyone in 43 countries can get together is inspiring to me. It's exciting for me to be part of such an inspiring event. We can develop this great thing to create a community and celebrate usability."

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