What being user-centered means for UX professional groups...

Tog's initial branding argument for Interaction Architects has touched off a lot of discussion (even a mailing list dedicated to defining the damn thing). So far, it's generated a lot of heat and little light.

However, three more formal responses have been interesting:

  • Lou Rosenfeld discusses how defining the damn thing is a waste of time. (Not) Defining the damn thing - Discussions of how we should label ourselves and define our work are like flu epidemics. They break out from time to time, follow a fairly predictable course, and often make us want to barf. [Boxes and Arrows] Update: Lou dropped a note to let us know that he wrote this article before Tog's article was posted. Still very applicable.
  • Mark Hurst thinks that usability professionals should disappear...that a good UX professional is invisible like a good interface - we just facilitate things. While the point that the whole defining the damn thing discussion is narcissistic and not user centered at all, the notion of a disappearing act seems naive - unseen functions become re-engineered functions.
  • Finally, and most interesting, is Beth Mazur's notion that the key need is not a new dedicated specialist organization (as Tog is proposing), but an umbrella organization to evangelize user experience with executives, analysts, government, and media. Her nominee: spin off AIGA-ED from AIGA.
    I completely agree - the Interaction Architecture Association is all well and good, as is a new Information Design professional group, if some people have their way. But they don't address the real reasons the UX disciplines are seen as tactical. It's not a branding problem. It's an understanding problem...and largely for UX professionals not understanding business, and not speaking to business on its own terms.
    An umbrella organization can address executives and other decision makers and influencers with language and messages tailored to those audiences, and educate practitioners about how to do the same. That's being user-centered, instead of navel-gazing terminology debates. That's something to get excited about. I hope it happens soon.

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UX is the Biz and the Biz is UX


I agree that the current title/group discussion is really not the biggest issue facing UX professionals. At the last UPA conference I was talking to some folks about this exact issue: that we need more outreach (to business), more marketing, and more help talking in business terms. THAT (like you said) IS something to get excited about!

Of course, I've also done my share of discussion on the title/group thing. Personally, I don't give a rip about titles. I do care a bit about groups, since I think more people working together is a better approach.

Not sure if you're following the Yahoo! Group discussion, but in message #110 there I think I did a good job of showing that UPA isn't just for "testers" by doing an inventory of the topics at the last UPA conference.

I also offered the following and would welcome anyone who's interested to drop me a note:

"The 2004 UPA conference is in Minneapolis, where I'm located.
I'm also on the board of the local UPA-MN chapter. I'd be
happy to help coordinate an interest group session or a maybe a
workshop at the 2004 conference to discuss the needs of interaction
designers. I think it'd be great to outline and document what
interaction designers need/want and how those needs differ from those of a "usability professional" or a "tester." I think interest
group meetings are pretty easy to set up. Workshops have to be
submitted for review, but I'm happy to coordinate that if people
are interested.
What do people here think? Is this worth a meeting to discuss?"

Here are some more of my thoughts on the "issue" (which is getting a bit old):

Response to Tog's article

Agreement with Mark Hurst's thoughts and an attempt at humor


Professional Whale Tackler

Croc O' Lyle


I corresponded briefly with Tog, re-read his article, and realized he's not really talking to us. His aim overlaps more with the human factors and ergonomics people than anyone. Notice in the article he only mentions IA in passing, but takes on HFS directly. His new organization is for you if you're not an academic and design instrument panels for a living.

Following The Energy

One epistemelogical artifact of importance that I believe in is following the energy. The energy on 'Tog's List' is not worth following. The energy in Jess's post above is. It was that energy that first drew me to the IA group (although, admittedly at the time, my job function was very specific to the role). While I now find that the specifics of IA as a discipline (except for the strategic aspects) are outside of my daily realm of interest, I will always be interested in the kind of energy (focus of topics) like this.

While I would not be attending the conference itself, it is my intention to help coordinate a F2F conversation around these topics at the 2004 IA conference in Austin. Anyone interested in participating, let me know.

I think the points illustrated in Jess's post are a good place to start the conversation.

Paula Thornton
Interaction Design Strategist