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The Story Behind EightShapes Monthly Workshops

April 17, 2009

From the get-go, Nathan and I knew that training and education would be a major part of EightShapes’ offerings. We anticipated offering private training to our clients in our techniques and expertise. We also aspired to build a multi-day conference attracting participants from all over the world. With Adaptive Path no longer offering UX Week in Washington, DC, we perceived an enormous opportunity to create an event that served our local community while providing content worthy of a national or global conference.

What we did not anticipate was a global financial meltdown. Believe me, if we had, we definitely would have told you about it.

Before the mess, we put on a successful, sold-out, one-day workshop in August 2008. It was small, but participants seemed happy and satisfied. We priced the full-day workshop about $200 less than a full-day pre-conference workshop costs at the IA Summit. We probably could have charged more, but we wanted to gauge interest, format, venue, logistics, etc.

At the beginning of 2009, I sat down to plan the EightShapes conference. At that point, it was clear that people were doing business differently. On the consulting side, we saw our clients going through budget cuts, and it was taking longer to close new customers. We heard about friends getting laid off. We started a drinking game around using the words “limit travel” during project planning calls.

We ran a survey to gauge interest in content and different formats. Respondents indicated that they would be up for a two- or three-day conference. We got to planning a multi-day event that mixed workshops with regular sessions.


Then came the conferences, the usual ones we attended every year–Interaction and IA Summit. Though Interaction was larger than last year, I know it took some effort to get the numbers up. Attendance at the IA Summit was almost half what it was last year. My pre-conference sessions, with participants usually numbering in the dozens, were considerably more intimate. The evidence suggested that the big conferences weren’t doing as well–businesses both small and large were watching expenses.

So, we decided to go in the other direction. Fortunate that we work in a community with a large UX presence, and one that craves education, we based our new approach on three things:

  1. Small
  2. Inexpensive
  3. Practical

We had kicked around the idea of a monthly workshop series before, and now dusted the idea off since it seemed like a good fit for the current climate. (If you’re following along, you’ll note idea has been kicked, dusted, and fitted.) The new format meant we could focus our marketing to the DC UX community, explore new venues, and keep costs down by eliminating typical conference niceties. At the same time, with a smaller group, we could preserve some of the creature comforts without adding too much cost. Here’s how the concept netted out:

  • Venue: Cool library room at the mansion at Strathmore, an elegant arts venue in suburban DC
  • Cost: $188
  • Size: 12 people max

So, without further ado, the EightShapes Monthly Workshop Series, and our first workshop, reprised from the IA Summit at about $200 cheaper, Modeling Concepts.

If you’re in the DC area, I hope you’ll join us!

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