The Origins of Quant UX Con

The Origins of Quant UX Con

I hope you've heard of the Quant UX Conference! It is the largest worldwide conference dedicated to everything and everyone in Quant UX. It has 2500+ attendees, occurs online, and is low-cost. I expect it would appeal to every reader of this blog. The next meeting will be June 12-13, 2024 (join the email list here).

This post discusses how Quant UX Con started, beginning with an idea in late 2021, through its first occurrence in June 2022, and the second time in June 2023. These are personal reflections adding to the Quant UX Con history, lessons, and statistics that have been published by the Organizing Committee.

If you're interested in how a new conference starts, read on! Otherwise, my next post with research and stats discussion will arrive the week of November 27.

The Backstory

When I was a Quant UX Researcher at Google, there was an internal, Google-only conference for Quant UXRs known as "QuantCon". QuantCon still occurs and it features talks by Quant UXRs, plus social events and networking opportunities.

Google has other internal educational events including "UX University" for designers and UX researchers worldwide. There are regional offerings such as UX University EMEA, which I co-founded with my ex-Google colleague Katie Tzanidou. We helped organize UX University EMEA events in London, Munich, Zurich, and Stockholm.

In 2021, I was talking with Kitty Xu, who was then a Quant UXR at Pinterest. Kitty asked whether she could attend QuantCon at Google. The answer was "No, it's internal only" ... and then I realized, "but we could create one!"

At that time, I had been a committee member or chairperson of a few conferences, including the Advanced Research Techniques Forum, Analytics with a Purpose, the Sawtooth Software Conference, and Google's UX University EMEA.

Here's a photo of me at the 2017 EARL Conference (Enterprise Applications of the R Language) in London. On the screen, you can see how much I like sharing R code! (Side note: the talk was about conjoint analysis. It's archived here and the slides themselves were written in RStudio with R markdown. But I digress!)

With 15 years of conference experience, I knew we could create a Quant UX conference! In October 2021, Kitty and I started planning Quant UX Con 2022.

The Initial Concept

We did not wish to recreate Google's QuantCon. It has several aspects that only fit an internal Google event, such as including employees and topics of a formal job role. We wanted to create a conference for everyone interested. First, we picked the dates and chose a name to emphasize Quant + UX.

With the dates in place, we recruited a fantastic Organizing Committee. We were joined by Fei Gao (Meta then; Pinterest now), Maria Cipollone (Comcast then; Spotify now), and Mario Callegaro (Google) — and they are all still on the committee! Recently we have been joined by Mackenzie Sunday (Google) and Katie Wainwright (Google). Branding and design expert Jeff Miao volunteered to design our first logo (partially shown above). The logo alludes to data visualization in its design language.

We planned to host an in-person conference at Google HQ in California. Google generously provided space and many Google UXRs volunteered to help. Beyond that, we planned Quant UX Con 2022 to be:

  • An unconference with an agenda emerging through live discussion

  • Dedicated to building the community, rather than formal talks

  • Freely available to everyone who could attend

  • Limited to approximately 150 attendees, via a lottery system. We imagined a total population of 300 interested people. Google had reserved a 200-person main room plus a few breakout rooms.

We announced the dates, posted a Call for Participation (CFP), and waited to see what would happen.

The Reality Hit

Registration for Quant UX Con 2022 went online on March 14, 2022. A week later, Initial registrations aligned with our expectation of 150 people in a 200-person room:

After a few more days, we were surprised to find that interest was accelerating. There were too many people for our event site — but, luckily, we had told everyone registering that there would be a lottery. Here's what we saw:

We told ourselves, "OK, 800 people have registered, but let's assume that only half of them will travel and show up. Among those 400, we can take 50% by lottery, giving us 200 people. That will fit still into our room."

But then, 10 days later ...

Yikes! As you can see, we passed 1300 registrations with 2 months to go until the conference ... and the trend showed no sign of slowing down. That was a great problem to have, but it meant we had to alter our plans. We didn't want to exclude 90% or more of the interested audience!

So we decided to make Quant UX Con a hybrid conference: it would be in-person at Google HQ, and online everywhere else. We dropped the unconference aspect, as that would be difficult to manage online. By going hybrid, we wanted to include everyone while having some of the in-person experience.

Everything Breaks, Everywhere, All at Once ... Almost

The next two months required rapid-fire learning about conference communication and organizing. And then a late-breaking discovery almost derailed the event: one week before the conference, we found out that remote presenters could not connect and present interactively with the live audience.

Why not? We planned to use Google's on-campus solution for conference hosting, but the system at the time was optimized for either internal meetings or for public that are broadcasted to external audiences ... but not for the combination of the two. We discovered this through a pre-event discussion with the audiovisual support team. In short, the video solution couldn't handle our plan for a hybrid conference.

The details are not important (if you're interested, they involved Google's campus setup and how its options are based on the number of simultaneous viewers). But the implication was very important: with one week to go, we had to find a new streaming video solution!

Kitty had experience at events hosted on the Hopin platform and thought it could handle our conference. With 6 days to go, we talked with a personal contact Kitty knew at Hopin, bought a license, and set up everything. We created the conference, tracks, sessions, registration options, ran a pilot test, and sent updates to all of our speakers and registered attendees!

Because of the difficulty with Google's AV solution, we moved the entire conference online, and added watch parties instead of a single, dedicated meeting location.

It Goes Live

The Organing Committee gathered live in Mountain View, CA, to run the conference. There is no way to convey how nerve-wracking the first day was for us! We had 2000+ attendees, 70 speakers, and we had bet the entire conference on a video platform that most of us had never used. Being familiar with Tech demos and events, we expected it to crash in some way!

But it worked. Our presenters showed up on Hopin, 2000+ attendees re-registered to use it, and Hopin itself performed flawlessly (kudos to Hopin!) To be sure, we made mistakes and learned as we went ... but the community adapted and helped one another in the live event. In short, Quant UX Con 2022 was a success, with more than 2500 attendees worldwide.

Here is a photo of the 2022 Organizing Committee (except Maria Cipollone, who was hosting in New York). Left to right, that's Fei Gao, Kitty Xu, me, and Mario Callegaro. It may be hard to tell with the COVID masks, but we were happy after the successful first day!

(BTW, this is the last photo of me — in the black shirt — wearing a Google badge. I left Google the day after Quant UX Con 2022. It was a great 10.5 years at Google!)

A Life of Its Own

In its first year, Quant UX Con 2022 had 2,517 attendees on Hopin -- plus hundreds more in watch parties. We expected that most attendees would watch one or two talks ... and we were wrong! The average engagement time was 7 hours — a full day.

The overwhelming feedback from attendees was:

  1. Do it again! They asked to continue Quant UX Con in 2023

  2. Record the sessions for attendees with conflicts

  3. Expand the worldwide offering

In 2023, we switched to a round-the-clock "follow the sun" model where Quant UX Con ran continuously across all time zones worldwide. We also moved our CFP to Oxford Abstracts, which greatly assists the submission and review process (the first year, we used Google Forms and Sheets).

In 2023, there were 3,430 registered attendees (2308 attended live, and 1122 more had recording access), as well as hundreds more who attended watch parties. The average engagement time was 7 hours — overall, a result that was consistent with 2022 for live attendance, along with growth for recordings and watch parties. And our satisfaction improved: Top 2 Box CSat improved from 79% in 2022 to 86% in 2023.

This tells us that Quant UX Con is here for the long haul. I believe it is an amazing creation of an all-volunteer organizing committee who have full-time jobs!

Finally, to ensure that Quant UX Con is sustainable, we founded the Quantitative UX Association, a US charitable nonprofit (aka, nongovernmental organization), whose mission is to host Quant UX Con and related activities that advance Quant UX research. Together with volunteer organizers, our generous sponsors and supporters make Quant UX Con available to everyone interested worldwide.

Reflections: Takeaways

  1. Adapt to customer demand. Demand exceeded our expectations by 15x, pulling in >2500 people instead of the expected 150. As a UXer, I'm delighted to learn something unexpected about customer demand. We learned that the interest in Quant UX is high around the world.

  2. When you launch something new, minimize the dependencies. By starting small and light — with a donated meeting room and all-volunteer staff — we were able to pivot and change the format twice before the 2022 conference even happened. First, we changed it to a hybrid format; and then we switched video platforms with 1 week to go. If we had been locked into an expensive location or format, it would have failed or turned out very differently.

  3. There is high demand for remote participation. During COVID, conferences switched to online or didn't occur. But after COVID nearly all conferences — including UX conferences CHI, HFES, and UXPA — have returned to in-person meetings. Their business models have been developed to fit in-person events. Quant UX Con complements those conferences with an online offering, available worldwide at low cost.

  4. If you want to do something, quite probably you can do it. Our team created this conference because we wanted to — and that commitment led us to success. That's not to say that you can do everything now. Anything worth doing requires time, experience, and expertise. But please don't wait for someone else to create the future. It's up to you!

Help us make Quant UX Con even better — we hope to see you in June 2024!

Appendix: The R Code

Wondering how I made the plots above? Here's the code (I can't share the data set ... but the only data you need are registration times, i.e., the Timestamp column.)

There are 3 almost identical code snippets for the plots because I show progressive sequences and annotate them. (I could have used one ggplot2 object for the unchanging aspects while adding progressive modifications and clipping the axis. But copy/paste is simpler for one-off code!)

A couple of minor code notes. I used lubridate and parse_date_time() to interpret the date format in our data set. To set the time series X axis, I add a uniform Counter column and count the rows using cumsum() (there are other approaches; this was simple). The ggplot2 function annotate() puts interpretations directly onto the charts with no need to edit the images separately.

# quant ux con 2022 analytics

q22.dat <- read.csv(filename)  # redacted; a CSV with registration data, esp. the "Timestamp" column
q22.dat$Counter <- 1

q22.dat$RegDate <- parse_date_time(q22.dat$Timestamp, orders="mdYHMS")

# cumsum
q22.dat$sum <- cumsum(q22.dat$Counter)

# example plot

ggplot(subset(q22.dat, sum < 200)) +
  geom_line(aes(x = RegDate, y = sum), color="blue", linewidth=1.5) +
  ggtitle("Quant UX Con 2022 Registrations by Date") +
  xlab("Registration Date") +
  ylab("Number of Registered Attendees") +
  geom_hline(yintercept=200, color="red", linetype="dashed") + 
  annotate("text", x=q22.dat$RegDate[50], y=250, color="red", label="The room size") + 
  theme_minimal() +
  coord_cartesian(ylim=c(0, 1500))

ggplot(subset(q22.dat, sum < 800)) +
  geom_line(aes(x = RegDate, y = sum), color="blue", linewidth=1.5) +
  ggtitle("Quant UX Con 2022 Registrations by Date") +
  xlab("Registration Date") +
  ylab("Number of Registered Attendees") +
  geom_hline(yintercept=200, color="red", linetype="dashed") + 
  annotate("text", x=q22.dat$RegDate[50], y=250, color="red", label="The room size") + 
  theme_minimal() +
  coord_cartesian(ylim=c(0, 1500))

ggplot(q22.dat) +
  geom_line(aes(x = RegDate, y = sum), color="blue", linewidth=1.5) +
  ggtitle("Quant UX Con 2022 Registrations by Date") +
  xlab("Registration Date") +
  ylab("Number of Registered Attendees") +
  geom_hline(yintercept=200, color="red", linetype="dashed") + 
  annotate("text", x=q22.dat$RegDate[50], y=250, label="The room size") + 
  annotate("text", x=q22.dat$RegDate[1200], y=1400, color="red", label="Oh no!") +
  theme_minimal() +
  coord_cartesian(ylim=c(0, 1500))