Recently, I had the good fortune of attending the annual UXPA conference in Boston. Joined by over 1000 attendees, UXPA Boston’s 2017 conference at the Sheraton Boston did not disappoint UXers and UX enthusiasts. While the schedule was chock-full of engaging sessions covering issues and trends in the User Experience space, there were notably 3-4 topics that were a must see for me. What I appreciate about UXPA is that no topic seems off limits– the content areas covered a broad and deep swath of challenges and trends that UXers are facing. Briefly, here is a shout out to a few of the topics/presenters and hopefully they capture some of the nuggets shared with us.

Data Visualization

As the number of products capturing data grows, Data Visualization continues to be a hot topic in the UX space. Users are becoming more technically savvy and hungry to absorb, decode and use their data in more meaningful and productive ways. Users are looking to data to help change behaviors or create new ones. Julie Rodriguez shared some data visualization studies that she and her colleague have been exploring in the financial space. One of her drivers is to improve “visual literacy through better articulation of data” and to expand our awareness as we consume data. She identified 3 key ways to approach this:

  1. Embed as much context into your data displays as possible,
  2. Aggregate data to enable better navigation, and
  3. Lead with the visuals, then layer in the text.

Rodriguez summarized her talk with 4 principles of good data visualization; it should be: relevant, scannable (& scrutinizable), easy to navigate, and finally, show, then tell. Being aware of how the data will be consumed will help drive the visual form of the data interpretation. When able, including a link to the raw data is always a good practice.

Service Design

Steve Jobs once said, “You’ve got to start with the customer experience and work back toward the technology, not the other way around.” Understanding what users need, what they value, their goals, and their contexts is the foundation for building an excellent user experience.

Chi Pham, beautifully illustrated the benefits of incorporating Service Design into User Experience Design by sharing the case study of a website re-design for an Energy company that helps homeowners switch to wind power. When visitors to the website were not engaging with content they redesigned the webpage. But this first pass brought little improvement and compelled her to re-evaluate the needs of the site. Pham took a step back to understand the service that the organization wanted to offer and the problems they were attempting to solve. Conversations with customers and user-testing different versions of the site helped uncover bigger needs that fell into the service side of the business. The result included not only a redesign of the website, but a reconfiguration of the marketing pipeline.

Service Design, although far more mature in Europe, is gaining traction as practitioners such as UXers and others are beginning to consider the bigger picture. Schools, too, are starting to offer programs and courses in Service Design much the same way User Experience matured.

Artificial Intelligence and Machine Learning

More and more companies are beginning to explore IoT and AI capabilities, and trying to understand its value to their business. As UX Designers, we’re often tasked with helping a company to identify the core problem and determine whether a technology is the right solution to that problem or whether it’s being applied in the most beneficial way. It’s important to keep pace with the evolution of technologies (including understanding new capabilities, applications, and implementation methods), and as important as it is to appreciate their advantages, it’s just as important to acknowledge their limitations.

Katherine Bailey demystified some of the hype around Artificial Intelligence and Machine Learning with light examples of how AI is already in our lives. Take a minute to think about how you might interact with AI and ML on a daily basis. It’s in our pockets with autocorrect and voice recognition (Siri for the iphone users out there), and it’s part of our movie-watching experience with Netflix recommendations and preferences.

Like we experience with autocorrect misspellings, Siri misunderstandings, and Netflix recommendations that come from left field, these technologies are not perfect. For example, in Conversational AI it can be difficult for a machine to maintain context. Think about asking a machine “Tell me how to get to the nearest drugstore”. Great, we’re on our way. Now follow up with “what are its hours?”. Does not compute. The machine can’t decipher what “it” refers to.

Bailey humorously reminded us of a Pedro Domingos quote: “People worry that computers will get too smart and take over the world, but the real problem is that they’re too stupid and they’ve already taken over the world.” But machine’s are “learning”, the technology is getting better, and the opportunities for Artificial Intelligence, Machine Learning, and the Internet of Things, will yield even more opportunities to design compelling user experiences.

There were many other talks I wanted to attend to that day. Luckily for me, @AstridPie was there, sketching up her awesome notes and posting them to twitter. I was especially frustrated to miss Beth Loring’s talk on Usability Validation Testing in Medical Devices and Software, however, I was excited to see that @AstridPie had captured some notes on her talk as well as of some of the other events I did not want to miss!




As I think back on the Boston 2017 UXPA event and all the awesome content shared, I am delighted, humbled and appreciative that the UXPA offers the macro and micro issues challenging and inspiring UXers these days. To be able to consider the significance of data visualization concepts to the broad implications of Artificial Intelligence in a day is truly why I love what I do as a UX designer. Our work, like many other professions, is becoming more dependent on understanding diverse systems as we consider the broader environments, uses and users in their daily lives.

Sonya Mead is the Director of Digital Experience at Essential Design.

Essential Design is a leading Innovation Strategy & Design consultancy. We work across the healthcare, consumer, and commercial industries, helping our clients conceive and drive to market comprehensive digital, physical, and service experiences.