Help Me Solve A Mystery

Jared Spool

August 20th, 2010

I’ve got a real mystery on my hands. I’m hoping you can help me figure it out.

Here’s the background: Since 1996, we’ve held an annual event we call the User Interface Conference. Hundreds of folks come every year to learn the latest thinking for creating great user experiences.

Over the 15 years, our attendance numbers have grown at a reasonable rate—usually 15% to 20% each year. During the rough economic years, 2001 and 2009, we saw some declines, but, on average, 15%-20% is a solid range for most years.

This is the mystery: The conference isn’t until November and registration opened barely a month ago, yet our numbers are more than double what they were at this time last year. That’s more than 100% growth rate! And we don’t know why!?! Maybe you could help us figure it out?

We have some theories

It certainly could be the program. This year we have brand new full-day seminars on visual thinking, building personas for SEO, and content strategy. We’ve also brought back previous years’ top workshops on creating good designs fast, visual design for non-designers, and web form design. Plus we’ve added in some great seminars about designing with scenarios and designing pattern libraries. I know I’m biased, but it’s definitely one of the best programs ever. But is it really twice as good as last year? I don’t know.

It might be a sign the economy is coming back strong in the tech sector. But many of the folks registered are from non-tech companies. We’re seeing folks from financial services, universities, and even state and local governments. People from every economic sector are signing up. Overall, the economy does seem to be coming back, but it’s certainly not twice as good as where we were last year. That can’t explain it.

Of course, we’re seeing huge interest in designing great experiences. Executives and senior management are using design as a competitive advantage. And look at the job postings, great designers are like gold. Could it be that folks are signing up for UI15 because of the valuable skills they’ll gain to enhance their careers?

Or could it be the format of the conference? UI15 is unique because we focus the majority of the program on full-day workshops. The topics we cover at UI15 are crazy intense, filled with techniques that are rich in subtly and nuance. Spending the entire day on a deep dive gets you to new insights you won’t find in shorter sessions. Yet we’ve always had the full-day format, and past attendees tell us this is the best part.

Another factor might be the amazing team of experts we’ve assembled this year. Everyone who knows Luke Wroblewski, Kristina Halvorson, Dave Gray, Leah Buley, Dan Rubin, Nathan Curtis, Tamara Adlin, or Kim Goodwin agrees they are the best of the best. They’ve (quite literally) written the books on their topics. They’re tremendously engaging presenters—I could listen to them for hours (and have)! Is that the reason behind this mysterious increase?

I’m scratching my head wondering what’s going on? Why is everyone signing up all of a sudden?

Here’s the problem we’re facing

While registrations are 200% of last year, our room space isn’t. We only budgeted to be slightly larger, using that 15%-20% growth rate as our goal.

If these registration rates keep up, we will definitely sell out. That means folks who wait to register may not get into the workshops they want. (Plus, if they wait beyond 8/26, the price goes up $400.) All those folks who have told me they are planning to come, but haven’t registered yet, better register soon if they want a guaranteed seat. (We’ll have a waiting list, but I don’t expect many on that list will get in.)

So, what’s your theory? Why are we getting so many registrations this year? I’d love to hear what you think. Share your ideas below.

User Interface Conference FifteenExplore the conference site for answers to the mystery. Planning on attending? Register by August 26, 2010 for the lowest rate.

7 Responses to “Help Me Solve A Mystery”

  1. Daniel Says:

    Guessing this has to do with the emergence of the mobile UI market?

  2. Kristina Halvorson Says:


  3. J. Albert Bowden II Says:

    Front-End: The Last Frontier.
    I’m inclined to say that the increase is due to the rise of the fronteers; Front-End Engineering is finally being accepted as a “role” in webdev, whereas, for most of the interwebs, ’twas merely an afterthought. There’s a virtual cornucopia of keywords I could plug in here, but I’ll stick to a few.
    seo is finally being seen and implemented as core front-end dev, plucked out of the hands of the “SEO Professional” whose abilities lie in keyword/adword/linkback strategies. i don’t have to explain to you the ties between UI and SEO; to me, they go nearly hand-in-hand.
    JavaScript – the little language that couldn’t, is blowing up wider than Mt. St. Helens. A key aspect here is that JS is allowing webdev’s to do what we only have dreamed of, be it CSS3, Server-side Validation, etc., JavaScript’s coming of age is pushing the realms of the interwebs to places we have never seen.
    – sidenote: JavaScript is going to blow the roof off of everything. I almost just wrote JavaScript in this textarea. meh. I should have.
    WebComm – promoting best-practice(s) and/or Web Standards is on a different plateau than it was a few years back, *just pushing Firefox, Validation, etc. Non-nerds are not just listening, they’re asking questions.
    meh. i hate to say it, but lastly, social media. no, not the social media that is fit to send to, but the kind that equates to SEO. Social Media is SEO, hands-down, and it doesn’t take very much technical skill to plan a productive strategy, but it does take *some technical skill to create it.

    The speakers @ UIEC15 could have also been used as a wicked, easy answer. Wow. I’m freaking drooling over here.

  4. Jim Voorhies Says:

    I believe it’s a combination of several things. We’re coming off a bad year economically speaking when lots of companies had to cut back on people and training while the needs never let up. The economy is getting better and companies realize they have to catch up since they paid for no training last year. Training people enhances their abilities and makes them feel better about their jobs even if the company doesn’t give them a raise. That’s a win in several fronts for companies. If all those weren’t enough all by themselves, you invited Halvorson to speak. Never underestimate the drawing power of smart women. 😉

  5. PhotonBit Says:

    Any idea when you guys will present UIE Full Day Workshop in San Fransisco Bay Area? Or You won’t because of Adaptive Path?

  6. Jared Spool Says:


    The User Interface Conference is traditionally in Boston every year. We’ll likely continue that trend for the next few years.

    We’re now thinking about cities for our UIE Web App Masters Tour. San Francisco isn’t likely as we like to go places that don’t get a lot of other UX conferences. We’ll let you know if that changes.

  7. Rod Says:

    Maybe I have been around marketing people too long… Please stop trying to sell us with this type of self-serving ad copy. I am here because I like what you say and i’ve enjoyed the Podcast. These types of posts read like typical direct mail pitches.

    I wish I had the time and money to attend this year, but I don’t. My guess is that I’ll be 300% more likely to attend next year, so please plan for a really big event in 2011.

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