On Wednesday, I attended the 2007 Boston Mini-UPA conference. There were over 300 user experience professionals in attendance, and believe it or not, more hiring companies than job seekers! This is a great time for the field.
One conference meme was the growing use of Agile development methods, and the increased pressure Agile can place on usability. Deadlines are forcing practitioners to conduct less formal usability testing, and to fall back on quicker methods such as heuristic evaluations and user surveys. Fortunately for interaction designers, two tools I saw for rapid prototyping are improving to keep up the pace.
Jared Spool of UIE brought up another interesting usability head-scratcher. When evaluating social networking sites, where the whole experience revolves around people interacting, how can you test the site one participant at a time? You might need hundreds or thousands of other people rating, responding, and creating their own content, or it's not a valid test. It's another reason why Web 2.0 companies might conduct less formal usability testing in the future.