Reflections on Ignite UX Michigan 2014

It’s been over a week since Ignite UX Michigan 2015. This year’s event was a humbling success. We counted at least 140 people at one point, which is an incredible number in comparison to the local professional events I’ve worked on in the past.

There are some things that could have gone better—most notably, we need to get better at recording videos of the event. We lost the last four videos, and overall the quality is pretty poor. We’ve also got the problem of not enough space (which isn’t such a bad problem to have, all in all). That means there are definitely some things to think about for next year. Can we find a dedicated AND experienced person to record vidoes? Can we find a bigger venue with a cash bar and A/V equipment, and how much will it cost? And how are we going to pay for all this new stuff?

Besides trying to work out those two issues, some other issues for next year:

  • Should we start asking people to register? Being a free event is one of the two most important things about Ignite UX Michigan.
  • When should the next event be? We’ve held it so late in the year because of a desire to give UM students a chance to speak. That said, most of our submissions come in at the last minute. Maybe we don’t need to keep submissions late so open, and moving the event earlier will get us out of the way of Midwest UX and Ignite Ann Arbor.
  • Should we try to raise money to get more food out there for people to eat?
  • How can we maintain or even increase the diversity of our speakers?

That last question is going to occupy a lot of my brain. Giving more people a chance to speak is the other foundational idea for the event. I first thought about it when Jared Spool’s traveling UX Thursday show came to Michigan in 2013. Setting aside the quality of the speakers (which was high), it rubbed me entirely the wrong way that the event’s advertising positions it as featuring “local superstars.” The idea that some people are stars and those are the people worth hearing from is corrosive to our field. Good ideas can come from anyone, including people that haven’t spoken before.

I think it would be bad for Ignite UX Michigan to only feature people that have not spoken at our event before, but that has to be balanced against letting it be dominated by the same speakers year after year. That wasn’t a problem this year and I doubt it will be next year, but there’s nothing to prevent it from happening.

Speaker selection consists of a round of blind voting. The review committee reads the titles and descriptions and gives each talk a 1-10 rating. The talks with the highest averages (and least variance, if there’s a tie) get selected. Should we start weighting the results for different factors, like never having spoken at our event?

Of course, these are problems and questions for the new year. For now, it’s nice to take a break for a few months.