Alexa Seretti, Author at Midwest UX Conference 2015

Anticipating a lively workshop: “Social Tools for Change Leaders”

As we planned Midwest UX 2015, we wanted to include something that was open to the local community, and focused on the needs of the community. On Thursday, October 1, Marc Rettig and Hannah du Plessis of local “culture work” firm Fit Associates will host a free workshop – a mix of people who are attending the conference and local leaders who come just for that workshop.
The workshop is called Social Tools for Change Leaders (, and we invited Marc and Hannah to say a bit about it here on our blog.

. . . . .

We are very excited for this workshop, for two reasons:

  • The mix of people who will be there
  • The mix of tools we will all experience together

The people you’ll meet and work with

Looking at registration so far (there are still a few seats left – here’s where you can register), we see an equal number of corporate people, people from non-profit organizations, and people from design agencies. That mix is made richer by a seasoning of folks from public institutions, academics, activists, and NASA. This is exactly what we were aiming for!

The reason that’s exciting is that we can all learn from each other’s experience and perspective. Most of us spend our days with people more or less like ourselves. Using these “social tools” with people whose challenges at first seem very different than your own will help us all see how they are very similar down at their roots, because they are human challenges.Through the day, there will be only short periods of slides and explanations – just enough to orient you to the methods, what they’re good for, and where to learn more. The rest of the time we’ll be doing stuff together.

The tools you’ll learn and experience

This workshop is based on our experience working with people in many kinds of companies, organizations and communities who are not only trying to improve results, but the culture and conversations from which those results are born.

We are going to learn about and experience three kinds of social tools.

1. Group methods: Listening to the whole room at once

The first tool is called World Café, and it has amazing power for something that is really so easy to organize and facilitate. Often in our organizations we keep repeating the same meetings and conversations over and over again. The same people assert their voice, the same people hold back and stay quiet, and so we get to the same results.

But this tool breaks that pattern by replacing one frame – the work meeting – with a different but still familiar and comfortable frame: the café. It emphasizes listening, it emphasizes co-discovery, and it’s fun. In our work we have used it with people in many different situations and roles, and it almost always helps open the possibility for a new kind of conversation.

2. Theatre methods: getting to the bottom of stuck situations

Relational dynamics are incredibly hard to shift. They are deep: for each of us, aspects of the way we relate to others was encoded into our brains before we learned to speak. And they are invisible: they operate below our conscious awareness. Becoming aware of our own patterns and then learning new ways of relating and working together – that is fundamental to changing any social situation.

So we need tools to help us get past the surface of what people are saying and doing so we can see underneath to the why. And that is where theatre can be a powerful tool. In the workshop we will experiment with a family of theatre-based methods for exploring stuck group or team dynamics through something called “action replay.” You’ll learn the basics of using this kind of method with your own group, and perhaps gain some insight into your situation.

3. Art-based methods: getting to the essence, seeing the big picture

Most organizational cultures emphasize brains, asking us to be smart enough to figure everything out. Make a decision. Solve the problem. But there is a side to every human that sees situations in a different way than the “strategic mind,” and which has a difficult time expressing itself through language. We hear it often: “I feel strongly about this, but I’m having a hard time finding words….”

There is a whole warehouse full of methods from the arts that have the wonderful power to help us tap into the intuitive side and get its insights out where we can learn from them. Many of those methods work for groups, not just individuals, and we find them tremendously helpful in work with teams, organizations, and communities.

During this workshop, we will learn how to work with images and model-making materials to have a new kind of conversation about a group’s collective purpose. We’ll practice the use of a creative process to complement and bolster the decision-making process.


If you are considering coming to the workshop but have questions about the day, we will do our best to answer them. Send email to, and we will respond as quickly as we can.

We look forward to seeing you there!

Marc (

and Hannah (

Midwest UX, Pittsburgh-Style

I didn’t volunteer to be on the Midwest UX 2015 organizing committee. My husband tricked me into it.

Bobby was the lone member of the Communications Committee and he asked me to help with “just this one small thing.” He’s as savvy as can be when it comes to social media and most things digital, but writing just isn’t his thing. I’ve been writing professionally for a while so when he needs words, he comes to me.

I wrote some of the copy on this site and since I hadn’t attended past Midwest UX conferences, I read through marketing materials from previous years to get up to speed. What I found interesting is what I believe differentiates the conference from some of the others. Midwest UX founders tap into UX professionals from host cities to take the lead in organizing the conference. Erik Dahl and Brandon Stephens are heavily involved in selecting speakers and choosing conference topics, but the organizing committee is shaping the experience.

Why does it matter who organizes the conference?
Because the decisions we make about everything from venues to menus are based on firsthand experience. Think about it, an out-of-town planner would consult a “Best of” website, read a bunch of reviews or call a Chamber of Commerce and then choose whatever theater, restaurant or caterer was recommended. If you’ve lived in Pittsburgh for a while, you know there are a lot of amazing restaurants, fantastic venues and quirky other places that won’t show up in any guidebook. We’ve chosen places we’ve come to love through experience and they’ll likely be places attendees wouldn’t have seen otherwise.

It’s about who you know and who knows you.
Countless messages have gone back-and-forth between committee members about who knows what person at which company or agency in town. Technology changes quickly and, as UX professionals, we acquire new skills and tend to want to move on to different professional challenges. In other words, we may change jobs more often than the average bear. What that yields though, is a large extended network of folks we can contact to participate in and contribute to the conference. It’s also a network of influential people who can share content about the conference out to an even wider circle of influencers.

You’d think relying on new people to execute a conference each year would be stressful for Midwest UX founders. If past years have been anything like 2015 though, they’ve had volunteers who are as committed as they are to creating an interesting, memorable conference experience. This Pittsburgh-based organizing committee is planning a conference built on the strong foundation Erik and Brandon have established, but adding our collective experiences to it to make it our own.

Our hope is that we’ve created a conference that is unmistakably Midwest UX with an atmosphere that is uniquely Pittsburgh.