Since I was I was introduced to UX Research in 2015, I have annually attended the World Information Architecture Day conference in Los Angeles. Over the years, the conference has leading UX professionals including Nate Bolt, Jaime Levy, and Chris Chandler. However, in 2018 I decided to travel to San Francisco for the conference to hear different voices speak on projects I was unfamiliar with. More specifically, I wanted to see what differences, if any, existed in the research approaches used by UX professionals in the Bay Area compared to those in the Los Angeles area. I also wanted to take advantage of an opportunity to connect with the Bay Area UX community to better gauge if a move was necessary to advance my career.
The 2018 San Francisco iteration of World Information Architecture Day did not disappoint in helping me evaluate the differences between UX Research in the Bay Area and UX Research in the Los Angeles area. Based on the types of projects I’ve seen in Los Angeles, the biggest difference UX professionals in San Francisco demonstrated was their engagement with generative research. Each of the speakers presented on their attempts to understand the needs and expectations of the user, versus understanding the pros and cons of a design. At least half of the presenters discussed in-depth qualitative studies as part of their approach, as qualitative studies hold a great potential to produce new and innovative products.
In contrast to this, during my three years of attendance I’ve only heard a handful of UX professionals in Los Angeles discuss qualitative studies as a frequently used research method. At this point in the tech development of Silicon Beach, it seems as though UX Research is largely evaluative and exists to improve and validate products. That’s not to say that none of presenters at the Los Angeles WIAD conferences is performing generative research, as Jaime Levy has presented on the innovative work she has performed. Overall, the San Francisco conference showed me that people in the Bay Area are performing the type of work and research that I am most interested in. My first reaction after the conference was that a move was absolutely necessary to advance my UX career, but then the thought arose of further developing UX Research in Silicon Beach to reach the status of Silicon Valley. I’m at the crossroads of which approach to take, but this trip solidified my desire to engage with more generative and exploratory UX Research.
In the end, I would recommend traveling to WIAD San Francisco for anyone seriously considering a career in UX Research. Los Angeles is a good introductory version, and there is nothing wrong with it, but Silicon Valley is simply doing a lot more in-depth research and analysis which is used to create products that are shaping interactions across today’s world. However, I have no doubt the UX Research community in Los Angeles will eventually be performing the same type of work as their counterparts in the Bay Area, as the tech community in Silicon Beach is still young and growing.