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User Focus 2014

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The speakers at User Focus 2014 didn’t just focus on the user; they inspired us all to think more broadly about the UX profession. The conference on October 17 gave me a lot of food for thought. Here are a few of the highlights:


Photo courtesy of Elaine Li

1. Consider the socio-cultural factors

Keynote speaker Curtiss Cobb described his research results looking at India’s socio-cultural barriers to internet adoption for women. Don’t forget about the social and cultural factors that influence users.

2. Look beyond the pixels in front of you

The UX profession is recognizing the importance of creating a unified, seamless, targeted experience across channels. We have to focus on the omni-channel experience to create a great user experience, not just on the individual websites or apps.

3. Responsive design is not the mobile design solution

We all know responsive design is increasingly popular for bridging the gap between desktop and mobile. It has its place, but it doesn’t solve everything. We have many techniques to solve unique problems. I hope Thomas Vander Wal will release a cheat sheet of his presentation that we can hang on our walls (hint, hint).

4. Use empathy to create accessibility

Svetlana Kouznetsova shared her personal experience growing up deaf when there was no consideration for accessibility. The most significant message was a lesson in empathy.

What if you couldn’t hear your favorite movie or participate in a video conference with your hearing coworkers? Try to empathize with the 20% of all Americans who have hearing disabilities the next time you are designing a website that contains audio. Provide quality captions for all audio content.

5. With digital empathy, tools measure emotion 

Andrew Schall and his team at Spark Experience brought the lab to the stage with a memorable live demo of emotion charted digitally in real-time. UX professionals now have a range of tools to use to measure the emotions of their users – eye tracking, electroencephalography (EEG), skin conductivity (sweating) and facial analysis, to name a few. These tools are now inexpensive, easy to use, less invasive than their predecessors, and increasingly accurate.

Thanks to everyone at UXPA DC, the sponsors and volunteers for making User Focus 2014 such a memorable event! I can’t wait for next year!


Photo courtesy of Jerry Doremus


Photo courtesy of Jerry Doremus


Photo courtesy of Elaine Li


Photo courtesy of Elaine Li


Photo courtesy of Elaine Li

UX Strategy: Why and How

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UX Strategy with Janice James

Janice James shares insight about what UX Strategy is and why it’s important.

Who better to help us ring in spring than one of the founding mothers of the UX field and principal founder of UXPA, Janice James? With 25 years of experience in user research and user-centered design, Janice has plenty of wisdom on the subject of UX strategy. In her talk, Janice uncovered the commonalities among the many contradictory definitions of UX strategy, including:

  • The collaboration of a cross functional team.
  • The use of UX activities to understand the underlying purpose of the business and to design ways to achieve that purpose.
  • The use of data to inform design.
  • The resulting design that provides users a useful, engaging, delightful product or service.

Referencing Simon Sinek’s Ted Talk, How Great Leaders Inspire Action, Janice emphasized the importance of focusing your UX Strategy on “the why” and “the how,” rather than “the what.” Don’t let your strategy be driven by the technology or product for the sake of the technology or product. Instead, the strategy should be focusing on the purpose of the business, product or service. Only then should you focus on how you can achieve that purpose using the appropriate technology. To drive this point home, Janice asked, “Looking back, did any of us think we needed a smartphone?” Before smartphones, we were all content with our cameras, address books, day planners, calculators, encyclopedias, maps, telephones, and so on. Our lives would be very different if mobile phone developers had focused on the what (mobile phones) at the expense of the why (a convenient, multifunctional experience in your pocket). Finally, Janice answered the question, “Why UX strategy?” She suggested that UX strategy can help:

  • Change misconceptions about what UX is and what UX professionals do.
  • Develop trust between UX professionals and their colleagues in product management, marketing and other specialties.
  • Accelerate the inclusion of UX as a key part of the business strategy.

For more information about UX Strategy, Janice recommended The UX Strategy Conference. Summaries of presentations from the 2013 conference are available at Thank you, Janice, for your insight! And thank you to the new and continuing UXPA DC leadership for organizing this event and for making UXPA DC more accessible through free membership and event registration. Your efforts are what make UXPA DC so great. Janice James’ slides on UX Strategy are on slideshare.

Tech the Halls 2013: Geeking out in Style (w/pics!)

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Tech the Halls

There has been no better place to get your geek on in style this year than Tech the Halls. The event on December 12 at Co Co Sala brought together around 180 entrepreneurs, designers, developers, coders, strategists and UX professionals. It was the perfect opportunity to make new connections and strengthen old ones both within the UX community and within the broader DC tech community. Nine great local and national tech groups were represented.

Chocolate Parfait at Tech the Halls

Chocolate Parfait at Tech the Halls

This year the event had an air of elegance. The venue, Co Co Sala, lived up to the hype with a chic ambience and warm atmosphere matched with delicious hors d’oeuvres and desserts. A DJ kept the mood light and drink tickets made for a no-fuss evening at the bar.

At the end of the night, everyone received gift bags with tech-related goodies from sponsors including a 30-day trial of Adobe Technical Communication Suite 4, some Co Co Sala chocolates, and a pad of “buzzworthy” sticky notes from the Beekeeper Group. A lucky few also won raffle prizes like the Adobe Technical Communication Suite 4, an Amazon Kindle Fire HD, a UXPA DC lunch box, and much more. (Sadly, I was not one of the winners.)

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Thanks to Bri Monet of Bri Monet Photography for most of the photos in this post. To see more photos from this event, check out the Society for Technical Communications’ Tech the Halls Facebook Album.

Interview: MoDev East’s Pete Erickson

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Pete Erickson

Pete Erickson

Author’s note: I had the privilege of asking Pete Erickson, founder of MoDev and Disruptathon, about the upcoming MoDev East conference on December 12-13 in McLean, VA. Here’s what he had to say:

Andrea: Can you describe MoDev East for anyone who hasn’t been?

MoDev East is a mobile conference in its third year. It is at the Gannett and USA Today Conference Center December 12th and 13th and it’s a conference that has mobile development as the centerpiece but then includes all things around that as well. It has 4 tracks—enterprise, UX, marketing and mobile development. There’s also a hackathon that’s going to happen during the course of the conference starting Thursday morning extending all the way through Friday evening.

We like to bring together a real mix of professions and people to our conferences. We find that creates a really interesting, fun environment, a lot of creativity. A lot of really great connections happen when people meet that are from different aspects of the development ecosystem. So, MoDev East is a collection of really smart people from several different disciplines all focused on mobile.

What’s in store at MoDev East this year that’s new from the previous years?

What’s in store this year is really an expansion of the content. We have 4 tracks going this year. We’ll do enterprise and UX on Thursday the 12th and we’ll do marketing monetizations and development on the 13th. I think what attendees are going to see is an explosion of content over the previous year, 120 speakers this year versus maybe 35 or 40 speakers the previous year.

I think that it’s an interesting time right now. We’re going to see people touching on wearables. We’ll see people touching on the internet of things and a lot of the trends that are happening right now, trends that we see like Snapchat. Where is this coming from and where is it headed? We see companies like Snapchat get offered $3.5 billion and turn it down. There’s something happening in that space. And the fight for those users is really amazing.

One thing that can be certain is all the companies that we know about today and hear about at MoDev East, there will be ones that are household names next year that we haven’t heard about yet. And if you look at this year, what’s interesting is, you know companies like Snapchat and others that we didn’t know about a year ago. There’s always something new and exciting in mobile.

We like to say mobile is moving way too fast for any one individual or any one company to keep up with. So, MoDev’s mission is to connect people with the information they need, not because we know what the information is, but because our peers oftentimes are learning about things just as fast as anybody else. We try to spread that knowledge in a peer-to-peer manner and that’s really what MoDev East is all about.

So, come learn about the industry by folks that are just like you working hard to advance whatever causes they are working on. Chances are every individual out there knows something new, unique and interesting about development or tools that others need to hear about. We are always encouraging people to become thought leaders. Don’t just be a coder, don’t just be a UX expert, don’t just be a designer, get out there and teach what you know because it’s important. It’s also a great way to learn.

What are you personally most looking forward to for this upcoming MoDev East?

For me personally, I get a lot of enjoyment out of bringing smart people together. So, I’m looking forward to hearing from a lot of really smart people on both the main stage and in the breakouts. And also being lucky enough to be the one to connect a lot of people, and knowing that we have a hand in creating lifetime lasting relationships that can build businesses. I look forward to the event more than I look forward to any single talk, although I can tell you that there are a lot of really interesting talks that are going to be happening at MoDev East, very compelling, cutting-edge, from smart people. I look forward to hearing them, but I really look forward to being a party to connecting smart people and then seeing where that leads.

Want to learn what’s cutting-edge in mobile development? Join other UXperts at MoDev East.

13 things to know about getting a UX job in DC

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On November 20, UXPA-DC and the DC / Baltimore Chapter of the Society for Technical Communication teamed up to host Anna Colton, a Senior Partner at PROVEN, a national recruiting firm that provides high quality talent for employers in the VA/DC/MD metro area. Anna specializes in Creative and IT Search for local technology companies. Anna has placed Information Architects, Content Developers, Usability Specialists, Visual Designers, Interaction Developers and UX Designers.

During Anna’s talk UXPA-DC President Jen Romano Bergstrom took copious notes. Here is what we learned:

1. In DC, there are more and more jobs in the UX field. People are highly specialized and get multiple offers and counter offers. This is a hot place to be in for this field, and employers and candidates are highly selective. Companies are very demanding and specific. They want to interview numerous people before making a decision. Candidates want to interview with numerous companies before making a decision. This leads to salary increases for folks in this area.

2. What is fueling the growth of UX jobs?
The overall IT market is more and more robust. So companies need better UX. Mobile technology growth has created challenges for UX – people use phones as their computers; we interact with technology in different ways than we used to (e.g., social media). Now apps need to be compatible with multiple devices. All of these changes lead to complexities with the user experience and competition among providers. It has also become a big part of company strategy, and “good UX” sets companies apart from others.

3. In DC, what types of companies are hiring UX’ers?

  • Mobile – new mobile apps or making current products work well on mobile
  • Software product developers: business, consumer
  • Web and e-commerce – creating a web UX
  • Media companies
  • Professional services firms – government, commercial
  • Membership-based associations and non-profits
  • Agencies/consultancies
  • Internal IT (non-tech orgs that are developing an Intranet, etc.)
  • Academia, higher education, research organizations.

Compared to other parts of the US, DC fares well. Outside of Silicon Valley, DC is probably #2. There are just more B2B and B2C opportunities.

4. What are the key skills that employers want in UX candidates?

  • Team and organizational fit is key
  • Cultural fit
  • Personality
  • Ability to map UX to money (helping companies make or save it)
  • Ability to educate, persuade, collaborate, translate, manage up, down, across
  • Holistic professional.

5. What does someone who is just starting out need to learn?

  • Educate yourself about the opportunities that are out there
  • Aim for goals
  • Connect: network and find a mentor
  • Assess where you are now and what you need to do/gain
  • Learn what you need to do.

6. What about technical communication people who want to transition into UX?
A. What skills do you have that are translatable?

  • Analyze why UX is not working (even if they do not know HTML or coding); can analyze sites/etc.
  • Jargon, headers, bullets etc. – you all are the experts; pitch it with a different name and then once you are in, advertise that it is called “technical communication.”

B. What skills could be acquired?

  • You may have to be more extroverted – attend meetings; gain visibility with higher ups in company, frame it in ways that display your user advocacy – it becomes UX.
  • To build your portfolio, you may have to volunteer and do pro bono work (check out; for opportunities).
  • Take online courses (check out for free online courses).

C. How do you get around not having rights to your work (online work)?

  • Cite it and mention that you cannot put it online
  • Have a slide per project and during the interview, use them as case studies.

7. Does your LinkedIn profile matter? It is mattering more and more. People use those examples to see your work; even if they do not use it, once you are hired, you make them look good. It is an opportunity to brand yourself, and it should be consistent with your resume – it does not have to be the same thing, but the message should be the same thing.

8. How to shine in a UX job interview

  • Use examples – artifacts, portfolios, case studies – show challenge, problem you were solving, goals, deliverable, end result (get around confidentiality issues with showing finished product) – your examples can demonstrate organizational fit
  • Show value translation – map to money; previous vs. improved state; increase customers; keep customers – data points that get to the strategic goals of the company
  • Cases/problems – specific examples of evolution or problematic situation and translate it to the company; sometimes candidates are given a challenge and are asked to solve a UX problem or to evaluate a site
  • Understand the interviewer

9. What is the future of UX jobs? What might be different in a few years?

  • Tech support will go down. Good UX means support is needed less. Cost of tech center will go down – like robots – other jobs go down; reliance on other parts of company will go down.
  • There will be more UX groups within companies.
  • UX will be more defined.

10. How much is being outsourced?
A lot is outsourced; many are beginning to insource as they learn the importance.

11. Besides UX, what other buzz words do companies look for?

  • Content strategy & development
  • Design, architecture
  • Usability

12. UX gems you should know about (thanks to Jared Gold for these!)

13. Interested in learning more about UX jobs in DC? Contact Anna!
Anna Colton
Senior Partner, Technology and Creative Search
Herndon, VA
703-763-2691 (desk); 571-220-3776 (mobile

Society for Technical Communication

Tech the Halls: 6 Reasons to come (like a Cyber Monday discount!)

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Tech the Halls is the event we at UXPA-DC look forward to all year. We get to blow off steam and enjoy an outstanding party. This year, it’s December 12 at 6:30 p.m. at Co Co Sala, and you definitely should be there! It’s where entrepreneurs, startups, designers, developers, coders and strategists come together to eat, drink and be merry, not to mention to network and exchange ideas. So here’s why you should come to Tech the Halls 2013:

1. Cyber Monday Discount – save $20!

Buy ’em today! Tickets for this mega tech holiday party are on sale until Tuesday, December 3 at 11:55pm for $35. Go to the registration site and enter the code “TTHCyberMonday”. After the sale, the price will go up to $55.

If you already bought your ticket at regular price, you can get a second and third ticket for $30 each. Just forward your email receipt to to receive a special discount code.

2. Enjoy great company

Tech the Halls brings together all the brightest and most creative technologists from 9 local and national tech groups:

  • User Experience Professionals Association DC Chapter (UXPA-DC)
  • DC Web Women (DCWW)
  • Society for Technical Communication, Washington DC – Baltimore Chapter (STC WDCB)
  • Interaction Design Association DC Chapter (IxDA-DC)
  • Web Content Mavens
  • Content Strategy Meetup
  • Reaching Latinos Online
  • Color of Tech
  • National Association of Multicultural Digital Entrepreneurs (NAMDE)

3. Amazing food and drinks

Who doesn’t love chocolate,  drinks (you get two with your ticket), and unlimited food? You can have all three at Co Co Sala. It’s a chocolate lounge and boutique, at 929 F Street NW in DC.

4. Techie Gift Bags

The Tech the Halls gift bags are getting an upgrade this year. You get to take home a nice tote bag and tech-related swag.

5. Learn What’s Going on at Adobe

As the official event sponsor, Adobe is giving us a special treat, and sending one of its leading content professionals to talk with us.

6. Win Great Prizes

With a slew of great sponsors like Adobe, you have the chance to win great door prizes like Adobe’s Technical Communications Suite 4 (almost $800 in value), Amazon Kindle Fire HD, UX Design books and much more. Is one of those not for you? This year, you can choose which raffles you want to enter.

So register for Tech the Halls and remember to use the TTHCyberMonday code. See you there!

Interview with Anna Colton: Designing Your Future Career in UX

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Author’s note: Today we are speaking with Anna Colton, a senior partner at PROVEN, Inc. Anna will be hosting a UX Career Q&A session with DC/MD/VA folks on November 20. She will be discussing the UX industry as a whole and how to get the UX job that you’ve always wanted.

Norm: Can you tell us a bit about PROVEN and what you do?

Anna Colton

Anna Colton

Anna: We are a staffing firm that is headquartered in California. At our Herndon, Virginia office we support employers in the Washington DC region around three primary hiring areas: information technology, which is my focus area, finance and accounting, and human resource roles. Within our IT practice, we  find and place senior to management level user experience professionals. I’ve been doing this for about 13 years… I’m a particularly enthusiastic advocate of the industry because there is a cross section between these positions and the things I used to do.

How competitive is the UX market in DC?

The job market favors the candidate that is senior level in their career and distinguished in the user experience field. Most [of these types of] candidates that have been actively looking have multiple offers to consider. They have a lot of options, and counter-offers are actually very common – employers don’t want to lose them. It’s competitive but if you’ve got what it takes, you’re going to be able to write your own ticket. It is a very good market that tends to favor the job seekers as far as UX goes and generally anything related to IT.

When UX professionals can map their experience to how the company makes money, they put themselves in a great position. It is important to be able to show how their work has developed quantifiable results for their customers by sharing really good case studies.  When a UX professional can show and narrate some specific example of their finished project in an interview setting, that’s something that’s becoming more in demand and valuable as well.

How is the UX hiring market in DC  compared to other parts of the U.S.?

One thing that I think distinguishes this market is that there are a good number of positions in the government contracting space. Government contracting is not heavily represented in other markets [nationally] as it is in the local area.

The only other area of the U.S. that I think competes really strongly is probably the Silicon Valley area because it is such a rich tech area out there. At our Silicon Valley office, companies are looking for UX professionals that have worked for business-to-consumer organizations, whereas in the local area it tends to be more for people that have worked in UX for enterprise software or software that businesses are creating for other business users.

Do you notice any trends in the UX job market?

My perception is companies like to see a more holistic professional. When I first started, there were information architects, web designers, technical communicators or content developers. There was more stratification. Now, there is more opportunity for a more consummate and holistic UX professional who understands the integration of all those functions.

What are the most important skills to have in pursuing a UX career?

Maybe less about technology skills and more interpersonal and people skills. The ability to adapt, collaborate, and educate other team members on the importance of user experience.

I placed a person in July for a company had not really had anyone in a UX role. One of the reasons she got the job was that the CTO saw her ability to translate the value of UX to developers and engineers.

In the DC area, what types of companies are hiring UX professionals right now?

Most of the opportunities are in product development firms. The number-one opportunity are companies that are developing software for enterprise or consumer use. Next are companies that are developing custom software or solutions for either government or commercial clients. Lastly, IT departments that are developing web systems or mobile applications for internal employee use. The necessity of designing quality and effective user experiences for mobile users is fueling a lot of growth. People that have any experience in mobile development are highly sought after.

Want to ask Anna additional questions? Be sure to join us for the Designing your Future Career in UX Q&A event on November 20!

World-Renowned UX Specialist and Author, Ginny Redish, Opens UXPA Redux Conference

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Ginny RedishWhat’s a User Experience veteran of more than 50 years best advice to make it in the field of UX?

“Take work-life balance seriously,”said Dr. Janice “Ginny” Redish. “Take time off. Be sure to take vacations!”

Redish, with a Ph.D. in linguistics from Harvard University and famous for her UX research, training workshops, plain language tutorials and writing for the web, was the star interviewee at the October 25th UXPA Redux conference. She has authored and co-authored seminal books in UX, including “A Practical Guide to Usability Testing,” “User and Task Analysis for Interface Design” and “Letting Go of the Words.” Redish spoke about the impact of technology on UX research, the effectiveness of today’s UX graduate programs and how best to maintain work-life balance.

Ginny noted that technology has always been important to UX research. “It’s always been about technology, even if technology meant a pencil.” She added that today there are many products available to help UX professionals conduct their research. When asked about her favorite tools, Ginny said that she didn’t want to endorse particular products. She always has her staff decide on the technology and she prefers focusing on working with people.

Regarding big trends, Ginny emphasized that the shift to mobile devices and social media is changing UX research. Now she is doing more writing and evaluating for the small screen. In addition, she has had to modify her training to accommodate tablets and smart phones. “Today, many people are using their phones as their primary computer.”

Regarding career paths for UX, Ginny shared that she is most familiar with the challenges and rewards of being a consultant. She worked at the America Institute of Research (AIR) for many years doing UX work as a consultant before anyone knew to call it UX. Anyone who wants to work as a consultant will have to learn to be very flexible. “You have to be very flexible as a consultant because you never know what your next project will be.” In addition, consultants sometimes have to be a little more aggressive as they introduce their ideas because they’re often brought into a project at the end of it.

Do universities adequately prepare students to enter the UX field? Ginny said that the students in the  audience would be better able to answer this. But she also referred to the UX programs at the University of Washington, University of Maryland and the University of Michigan as good programs.

What is a good book for UX professionals to advance their knowledge? Ginny highly recommended “User Interface Design Evaluation” by Caroline Jarrett, Debbie Stone, Mark Woodroffe and Shailey Minocha, and published by Morgan Kaufman.

How can UX pros stay motivated? “There’s always something new to learn. Who knows where we’re going to be five years from now?”

Got questions for Ginny Redish? Post ’em here

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Ginny RedishOn Oct. 25 at our UXPA Conference Redux event, we’ll be doing a Q+A with the always great Ginny Redish, Plain Language pro and author of some seminal books on UX. Have any questions you want to ask her? Post ’em as comments below and we’ll ask them at the event!


UX Interview with Dan Brown: Working in DC, Conflict, and Collaboration

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Author’s note: Welcome to the inaugural UXPA DC Interview series! Today we have Dan Brown, a founder of EightShapes, a prolific UX consulting firm in DC. He’ll also be presenting at the UXPA Conference Redux on October 25.

Norm: Why did you think DC was ripe for a user experience design studio?

Dan: Nathan Curtis approached me in 2006 to go out and start a company… We ended up getting engaged with companies who were looking to create more structure in their design process, specifically their design outputs. Nathan took the lion share of the work in developing a product we call EightShapes Unify, which is a set of templates and assets for for creating user experience documentation. We feel like being based here in DC is good for us because there’s a great pool of talent here.

What was the tipping point for user experience really taking off as the hot profession to be working in?

…Maybe a series of tipping points, it’s like watching your children grow up. We were talking to my son this evening and one of his teachers is celebrating a big milestone birthday. He’s seven and he asked, “When was my last milestone birthday?” I said to him, “You know, when you’re little, every birthday is a milestone because you’ve had so few of them, they each represent these new big stages in your life, but if you ask me and your Mom, everyday is a milestone.” …And that’s almost how I feel about user experience. Right before the bubble burst, even if it wasn’t new, it was clear this was the future. Everything was going to be online. Nowadays, for me, one of the most interesting design problems is people genuinely using the Internet and the web to solve real business problems… There’s sort of this trifecta of really difficult problems to solve: complex user experience design, real business strategy, and difficult IT architectures.

Awesome. And Dan, you participated in both the 2012 User Focus and the 2013 UXPA International events. What were your presentations about?

My most recent work and thinking has moved on from artifact and document creation, which was really important for user experience when it was in its infancy, to team dynamics which has largely grown out of my interest in documentation. My thinking really revolved around the idea that conflict is essential to design.

Poodle growling at a second dog that is trying to avoid conflict

Conflict in the sense that people need to disagree in order to come to a shared understanding. It’s that process of building a shared understanding that is nutritious for the design process…it sort of energizes it.

The other side of that coin is straight up collaboration techniques. How do we make use of collaboration tools? How do we build collaboration virtues into our culture to reward people for engaging with each other? My talks are really focusing about how do we deal with conflict and how do we make our collaboration more effective.

You’ve got a new book out on conflict and collaboration, right?

Yeah that’s right, it just came out in June and it’s called “Designing Together.” It gave me the opportunity to do two things. On the one hand, to try and articulate some of the underlying theory [of conflict and collaboration], and the second half of the book is almost like an encyclopedia of different situations, techniques, and behaviors you should be cultivating in yourself and your design teams in order to collaborate more effectively… What I keep coming back to is, if you look all of these online journals dedicated to our craft, you’re starting to see a lot more attention being paid to people skills, management skills, business skills, things that people need in order to thrive in an environment where we are constantly working with other people. I’m totally biased here, but if user experience isn’t at the center of that process, then I don’t know what is.

Are you going to be at any other local events soon?

One is called the Digital PM Summit, this is the first year it’s happening. It’s really around project management. That’s happening in Philadelphia. And then later on that week I’m actually going to Richmond to talk collaboration as well. I’ll be speaking at the UXPA DC Conference Redux event in late October. The UX Book Club in DC is doing my book in early November so I’ll be attending that, talking about “Designing Together.”

Dan, thanks again for being our gracious guest. And to our readers, thank you for joining us for this interview. Check back on the UXPA DC blog for more interviews coming soon!