Just got back from UI12. Datatel was represented by a colleague and me. There were about 1,000 folks at the conference. It was started by Jared Spool of UIE fame. UIE is a think-tank firm that specializes in all aspects of usability. Some notable presenters were Scott Berkun, scottberkun.com; Kevin Cheng, Yahoo!; Larry Constantine, Constantine & Lockwood; Kim Goodwin, Cooper; Gerry McGovern, Gerrymcgovern.com; Christine Perfetti, User Interface Engineering; Luke Wroblewski, Yahoo!; Cameron Moll, LDS Church; Rolf Molich, DialogDesign; Joshua Porter, User Interface Engineering; and Jared M. Spool, User Interface Engineering.
The sessions I attended included Larry Constantine's "Interaction Design in an Agile World", which was a very good all-day talk on how to integrate user interface design into the Agile development processes. It's not easy, but it can be done. Luke Wroblewski of Yahoo talked about good form design, and brought a lot of research to back up his findings. We'll definitely use some of that in our product design.
Probably the thing that stands out the most to me is the fact that so many of the companies represented there had specific "Interaction Designers" who had the specific job of researching, specifying, prototyping and testing user interface design. This, of course, is a much different job than my own Interactive Graphic Design team, who focus on the look and usability of portions of our client sites. Currently, our business analysts are doing some of this work, but it really is a specialized area.
Our users have traditionally been the administration user, one we can train, and one that sticks around to know the software very well. The true end user (our clients' users), are a different type of user. We don't have the luxury of training them on the software, and they may only interact with us once or twice. We HAVE to be usable, and yes, even delightful.