Jack Moffett, Author at Midwest UX Conference 2015

Frontier: Building a compelling conference program

A conference is made of many parts, but certainly, the most important part is the program. And let me tell you, we have an awesome program! Over a year ago, as we were putting together our proposal to host the conference, we decided that our guiding theme would be “Frontiers.” We felt that one word represented both Pittsburgh’s history as a leader of industry and its contemporary revitalization as a hotbed for new technologies.

We purposefully decided to use it as a loose, guiding theme, rather than a heavily publicized, formal theme for the conference. We wanted it to inform our curation, rather than to heavily influence submissions. We didn’t want to have a program that was 100% aspirational. We felt it important to have “Monday morning” applications.

So my program team put their heads together and decided upon three session types: the tried and true 40-minute talk, the 10-minute lightning talk, and something new—hands-on sessions. While we gave a brief explanation of what we were hoping for with the hands-on sessions, we didn’t know what to expect. We didn’t know how many people would submit hands-on sessions or what they would likely be about. We weren’t sure how much hands-on activity they would attempt in the given 40 minutes. But we certainly weren’t disappointed. The community delivered.

We received over 230 submissions (including workshops), which we had to narrow down to 7 workshops, 13 talks, 3 lightning talks, and 7 hands-on sessions. There were many difficult decisions we had to make. We could have easily filled a couple more days with high quality sessions. Then, of course, there was the balancing act of maintaining a diverse set of speakers — including a mix of both local and non-local speakers –- and a good range of novice to experienced content.

And that’s not all. In addition to the sessions described above, we have other exciting programming options in the form of excursions to spots of local interest and a career track featuring a career fair, moderated discussion groups around aspects of professional design practice, and portfolio reviews. These sessions are all included with general admission but need to be signed up for individually as spaces are limited. Check back for an upcoming blog post with more details about the excursions and career track.

I couldn’t be prouder of the program we put together. Please check out our speakers, our sponsors, and take a look at the program. Then, if you haven’t already, get registered. These tickets won’t last.


Soul of the Midwest

In February 2014, I was in Amsterdam for the Interaction conference. I was high off of finishing my book and I was feeling inspired by the fantastic conference experience the organizers had created for us. It was a beautiful city with fantastic venues, and I was once again spending time with the amazing people I’ve had the pleasure of getting to know through IxDA. One of those people was Erik Dahl, one of the founders of Midwest UX, and I asked him if Pittsburgh would be accepted as part of the Midwest. I knew that the call for cities to host MWUX 2015 would be coming out before long, and I was itching to bring it to my city.

You see, it was during a Local Leader Workshop at one of the early Interaction conferences that talk of creating regional conferences started. I really liked the idea, and I was aware that the Columbus group was trying to do so, but at that time, I was Logistics Co-chair for the upcoming Interaction 11 in Boulder, and that was sucking most of my free time. I couldn’t spare any to help with a regional conference. The first MWUX conference was a big hit, and what I found when I attended the second one in 2012 captured my heart. You could feel that something important was happening. It wasn’t just another design conference. There was a down-to-earth, do-it-yourself energy about it. It felt like a tight-knit community in which everyone had a lot in common. It didn’t hit me over the head in the program content, but it was there just the same—it had the soul of the Midwest. There was that mix of old industry, new technology, and entrepreneurship that has incubated a revitalization of so many Midwest cities—cities like Columbus, Grand Rapids, Indianapolis, and yes, Pittsburgh.

It brings me great pleasure to be able to invite the rest of the Midwest UX community to Pittsburgh this year. I’ve always felt it important that a conference be flavored by its host city, and so my team of organizers settled on “Frontiers” as our guiding theme for the conference. Thanks in large part to our strong educational institutions, with Carnegie Mellon at the forefront, Pittsburgh has become a hotspot for cutting edge industries like robotics, wearables, gaming, and medical technology, and we intend to share that with attendees.

Sharing is, at the root of things, what MWUX is all about. Our team wants to share with you the process we’re going through in creating the next great MWUX conference, and that’s what you’ll be seeing here in our conference blog. My leads will be taking turns talking about how they are approaching their areas of responsibility, from curating the program to selecting our venues, giving you a peek behind the curtain. In fact, our next post will be written by Josh Aronoff, our sponsorship lead.

While you’re here, please have a look at the call for speakers. Maybe you have something to share with the Midwest community too.

Whether you’re selected as a speaker, contribute to the conference as a sponsor, or register to take advantage of our practical and very affordable program and workshops, I’ll look forward to welcoming you to Pittsburgh this October 1st through 3rd.