RapidBlog: Midwest UX 2013, Placemaking Through Design, by Laurel Stanley

Laurel Stanley is User Experience designer in Grand Rapids, MI who has spent the past 18 years working and collaborating with organizations such as Amway, ArtPrize, Herman Miller, Indiana University, Izzy Design, Priority Health, Spectrum Health, Steelcase and Wolverine World Wide. Her approach is to combine empathy with design principles and usability methods in order to create more meaningful experiences.

In just three weeks, Grand Rapids will play host to hundreds of thinkers who are on the cutting edge of technology, design and architecture -- those shaping how your cell phone looks and works, designing the next generation of business software, even designing the cities of the future. And I bet you didn’t even know.
What is bringing this constellation of talent to our city? Midwest UX 2013, one of the top user experience design conferences in the world. And as one of the organizing chairs who brought this conference to Grand Rapids, I’m here to give you the inside scoop.

User experience design?
But first, I bet you’re wondering, “What is user experience design, anyway?” Well, simply put, user experience design addresses how people (users) interact with products, services and systems (experience). User experience design is often a collaborative process that combines the best practices from interaction design, software development, architecture and industrial design to create world-changing products by focusing on users first. What do they need? What do they want? How do they interact with the world? Only by paying attention to how people actually use what we create can we design interactions that are more engaging, effective, and delightful.
Open to all

You might recognize some of what you do in that definition. If you’re in marketing or advertising, you might think we’re talking about how you’ve used surveys, focus groups and other market research your entire career. And you’d be right.
If you’re an architect or a product designer, you might also recognize your work in that definition of user experience design. And you’d be right.
This conference, and user experience in general, thrives on bringing multiple creative disciplines together so that we can learn from each other’s best practices. Designing the next office chair might seem far removed from designing the next mobile application. But when you stand back, our creativity knits us together in a broader community.
If you’re in any of these disciplines, I’d like to invite you to consider attending this national-caliber conference in your backyard. I promise you’ll meet some terrific people, and kindred spirits, from across the Midwest. And I guarantee you’ll have a blast.
At Midwest UX you can take your skills to the next level without breaking your budget. With its national-caliber lineup of speakers, excursions and events, its regional audience, and its local price tag (just $350 per ticket and $100 per workshop), it is an ideal addition to your conference schedule this fall and an accessible option for those who have been priced out of other events.
Your ticket will gain you access to our UX headliners Abby Covert,whose portfolio includes Sharpie and Herman Miller; Karl Fast, Kent State University professor and User Experience Design leader; and Christina Wodtke, founder of boxesandarrows.com, each tackling this year’s conference theme, “Place,” how the context in which users encounter design can inspire and inform what we create.
Not your typical conference

This year's conference encourages attendees to engage and interact. There are eight total workshops available as a pre-conference add-on, ranging from sketch mapping to Arduino programming. The hands-on, tactical workshops are balanced out by the theoretical, strategic workshops covering topics of content strategy and UX research.
New for 2013, we’ve incorporated excursions. This allows attendees the ability to get out of the building and see firsthand how a variety of businesses, organizations and institutions are creating great user experiences for their customers. Excursions also provide an opportunity to tell the wider story about Grand Rapids’ past and future as a leading reputation as a hotbed for design and innovation.
Here are a few excursions that you may want to consider. If you are interested in history, culture and the transformation of space over time, The Wealthy Street Theatre excursion will give you the ability to learn about the renovation and understand how user-centered design and community-based planning are behind its 2013 expansion.  
Another excursion that you surely would not want to miss is the tour of the Grand Rapids Public Museum Archives, affectionately referred to as "The City's Attic." This excursion will give you a private look at what the Grand Rapids Public Museum has been collecting for over 155 years. This intimate tour of the Collections Storage Facility will give participants a peek at the over 250,000 artifacts and specimens, from mammals to manuscripts, that tell the story of Grand Rapids.
The SiTE:LAB excursion actually features a venue that is actively building bridges between the past and the future. SiTE:LAB creates temporary site-specific art projects that facilitate dynamic collaboration between the art, education, business and cultural communities of Grand Rapids. Over the past year, SiTE:LAB has transformed the former Public Museum, which was closed for 18 years, into a series of thriving Art events and started an ideas competition (inspired directly by the High-line competition in NYC) to spur conversation of what this place, steeped in the local history, should become to its neighborhood.
There are over ten excursion destinations total, each with inspiring stories to be told. They all have limited capacity and are sold on a first-come-first-serve basis, so be sure to register soon to secure the excursion of your choice.
Grand Rapids pride

Selfishly, I have another reason for inviting you to attend the conference.
The organizers of Midwest UX chose Grand Rapids to be the first host city other than Columbus, where it was founded. Why? Because they were enticed by many of the "secrets" we native Grand Rapidians know so well: the design heritage of our world class furniture industries, our revitalized and walkable downtown, our nation-leading innovative and LEED-certified architecture, the high-quality dining and entertainment options, and, of course, our world-class beer.
One of the biggest reasons I wanted to bring Midwest UX 2013 to Grand Rapids is to show off our great city. The speakers and attendees are leaders in the companies, respected in their communities, recognized as at the forefront of their fields. When they show up this October, it will be the first time most of them have been to Grand Rapids. And it's our hope that they'll remember their Grand Rapids experience when they recommend which firms to partner with, decide where to base companies, and consider where to vacation.
So where do you come in? I believe the greatest asset we have to offer is you. It's our smart, engaging, fun people who make Grand Rapids the amazing place it is. So I hope you'll attend the conference, not just for how great it will be for you, but for the opportunity to share our wonderful community with everyone else who attends.
Register now, October 17,18 and 19 are just around the corner!

Photos by Paul J. Hart
Disclaimer: RapidBlogs are lightly edited and honor the stylistic decisions of the writer. Views and opinions expressed in RapidBlogs do not necessarily reflect the views of Rapid Growth Media or its staff.
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