March 23, 2002

Attendee-Centered Conference Design
Megnut discusses how the design of a conference can greatly impact the user/attendee experience of the event.

"I was considering holding questions until the end of my presentation because I didn't want to get off-track or lose my place in my presentation. I was placing my needs as a speaker before the needs of my audience. He recommended I take questions throughout, since I'd be able to gauge my presentation based on the audience's feedback. If I waited until the end, he warned, it would be too late to adjust. That one simple suggestion led to the best presentation I've ever given, and a very engaging discussion throughout my session."

Meg's article got me thinking. As much as I enjoyed CHI last year and am looking forward to it again next month, the CHI "attendee experience" could be improved quite a bit. 1) Special Interest Groups (SIGs), some of the most interesting conference events, aren't even listed on the conference schedule. SIGs also were given rooms that were way too small last year -- if you didn't get there at least 5 minutes early, you were out of luck. Dozens of people were often seen lined up at room entrances after the room was filled. In contrast, I attended a few paper presentations booked in huge auditoriums that were nearly empty. My take as a practioner was that many attendees wanted to share war stories and lessons learned (in a SIG) rather than hear some grad student talk about some HCI minutae (in their paper presentation). 2) Planning what conference events to attend is an adventure since there's no good visual outline of what events are happening when. The closest thing you get is a "conference at a glance" page that effectively tells you most types of things like "tech sessions" happen all day long -- "tech sessions" include panels, discussions, papers, plenaries, short talks, and posters. There's no view that tells you what your half-dozen options are from 10-11am on any given day.

I recall many people commenting on the poor usability of the CHI 2001 web site, and while the CHI 2002 site was designed by Diamond Bullet, I'm sure the work was likely donated and therefore didn't include any type of usability evaluation. Ironic, isn't it?

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