Date Your Users: How a mashup of the crazed Silicon Valley design and dating scenes brings usability closer

San Francisco is rife with meetups, drinkups, thinkups, mixers, mini-conferences, unconferences, barcamps, hackathons, workshops, and the list goes on. On a Thursday night, you can eat an entire pizza one slice at a time, one meetup at a time. If you’re a single, career-hungry post-grad; that might sound like a dream. If you’re a married, career-weathered senior employee; that sounds like a Juggalo convention.

In 4 years, I’ve been to over 100. I even attended a 6-hour event in somebody’s living room, designing nonprofit legal documents, with no drinks, snacks, or allotted breaks. In recent years, I’ve throttled back considerably on the number of events I’ve attended. I now only choose events where the central focus is on tangible, productive activities. That said, every once in a while I’ll venture outside my comfort zone, and pop into an event I’m not quite suited for.

After joining Atlassian, I wanted to do some out-of-the-box research on plugin marketplaces. I RSVP’d to an event hosted by a popular WordPress competitor. The event was a mixer for plugin developers. I wanted to ask plugin developers about their experience building plugins for the platform. That didn’t happen. Instead, I witnessed a lot of in-speak and rolled eyes.

I introduced myself and asked (what I thought were) intelligent questions about their experiences. I was ignored. I’m a social guy, and in some circles, considered quite humorous. This wasn’t my crowd. Ultimately, I sat with the hosts, tucked away in the corner with their friends. One host, donning Google Glass, entertained us with stories of his colorful dating diet. He was dating 5 nights a week, sometimes with 2 or 3 dates in a single evening. He discussed his penchant for taking advantage of “49ers” and naive midwestern girls. Albeit entertaining, this guy was the poster boy for tech misogyny and I’d had enough. I left resolved never to attend one of these damn events again. Instead, that event led me to one of the most fulfilling side projects I’ve been involved in.

After further contemplation, I banded together with my wife, Caitlin, and the writer from my team, an aspiring UXer named Ruth. We set out to create a meetup series that eliminated the logistical obstacle course from user testing coordination – no more frantic scheduling, last-minute cancellations, or expense reports. Enter UX Speed Dating.  Now, the people of SF congregate to gather meaningful feedback on their projects, and enjoy the feeding, beering, and schmoozing of meetups.

How it works

Test orchestrators (aka givers) come equipped with their devices, and optional notetakers or observers, and a drive to improve their products. Test takers just bring themselves and are reimbursed for their admission fees when they arrive.

We run three 20-minute test periods during a single meetup. Test givers can recruit users during a short mingling period at the beginning of the session, or rely on chance. In the end, test givers walk away with valuable feedback on their products, test takers walk away with schwag and maybe that grand prize, and everyone walks away with a sense of accomplishment.

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