Note from Ronnie Battista: This post is a response to Lou Rosenfeld’s blog in which he addressed the Open Letter about the UXPA announcement (posted on uxpa.org). Given the length of this response, it would not be an easy read given the blog comment field size, so Lou and I agreed that it would be best to post it here. The original discussion is on Lou’s blog, and as this is posted on UXPA.org, I will note that this is my personal opinion and though I am a current Board member does not reflect an “official” UXPA response. If you haven’t Lou’s blog yet I would suggest taking a look at his original response and the comments, as it’s a great discussion and helps frame my comments below:
As you know I’ve been following the great thread you’ve started here. A discussion, which as of writing this is the most tweeted of all #UXPA topics. Thank you again for facilitating this dialogue on your blog. As the name change has been the core topic of the blog thread, just want to start with my additional thoughts about the renaming, then a little on UXnet, some ideas that speak to conference discussion (that you and Brian had a few days ago in this blog), and taking the first steps to “DO”.
The Name Change
Regarding the name change – One thing I’ve heard before and after the announcement is “You changed the name first with no ‘vision’? Why didn’t you just engage folks outside the UPA before do this?” As you’ll see on uxpa.org there’s already a lot of information about what went into the decision, but I’d like to add one piece to consider. Short version: we weren’t moving fast enough. We have been engaging others in and outside UPA, we had plenty of data from surveys, a brand audit and other sources. But as volunteers with our other “UPA operational” organization responsibilities, it clearly needed a lot more attention than we were giving it. And even if we had more time to put against it, it would not happen with the openness and brevity we felt was needed to broaden what we wanted UXPA to become. A branding agency would probably have fired us. It was inelegant, and we didn’t execute on it as well as we should. And your blog posts have rightly called us out on that. But our intent, to push and accelerate discussion and action beyond what our current structure was providing, I’m happy to see is starting to happen in new ways.
In addition, this approach I would argue may have been better than one that was built from the “UPA”, regardless of whose outside counsel we had. My thinking is that if we did come out with “here’s the detail on the UPA Board’s new UXPA vision” it might be even worse than what looks to some like visionless “empty pockets”. In consulting with others prior to launch, this notion was confirmed in a particularly enlightening discussion I had with a UX leader who I look up to and respect. Suffice it to say he’s not a fan of how our organization is run, and he’s got a lot of great points. He strongly disagreed with this “name change first” approach, citing the current Board as not being the appropriate group to chart an all-encompassing vision. I have a strong suspicion there would be fallout/backlash that we didn’t have a broad enough representation of “UX” in the room to have any authority to define one for everybody. So while our Board does indeed have passionate and talented people with great ideas for UXPA, that ‘distinct and immediate need’ expressed by Rich in his letter is perhaps more a reflection of “we need to get this discussion started with our wider community” – than anything that was a crisis. That it can’t just be about what we think.
Since the announcement I’m pleased to see and hear many people around the world welcoming this change, from around the world and across organizations. Not all of it both feet in, but a willingness to help nonetheless. A friend from Europe that has led another very well-known UX organization called this ‘absurd’, but knowing it was coming from a good place immediately followed up with asking how he might help advise us. And there are others like him (and you Lou) that remain highly skeptical but are at the very least willing to listen and provide needed perspective. These are the people I personally want to talk to most, because they have great ideas, history, alternate viewpoints, and are great devil’s advocates and sounding boards. They will continue to challenge UXPA, be relentlessly critical but constructive – and we need this! My hope is that if we keep working at this, doing a better job of communicating what this really means, that it will be seen as intended; a positive and inherently beneficial change for to all User Experience professionals. If along the way we miss the mark in communicating what the UXPA is meant to be, I hope we can get just own up to our mistakes, apologize and move on. Along those lines, I’m sure I speak for the Board when I say we recognize and are sorry that we struck the wrong tone with some. I hope it doesn’t happen again, but if it does I don’t want it to derail the conversation on the bigger mission and vision of the UXPA.
I’m certainly not nearly as connected to what happened with the hard work you and others did to create UXnet, but my understanding (and please correct me if this is off-base) is that a large contributing factor in its failure was because many of the member organizations/individuals had to tend to their own shops. I’m sure there’s more to the story. What I hope is different about the UXPA is that our plan is to invest both volunteers and vital financial resources behind such initiatives. If I’ve learned anything about organizational effectiveness/viability at UPA and in the other non-profit groups I’ve been part of, there’s only so much you can ask of volunteers. As well-intended and dedicated as people can be, most of us still have to work for a living. We’ve felt it in our own operations as well, seeing many laudable ideas and initiatives dying on the vine because we didn’t have dedicated support to get it done. So money helps – a lot. Paid resources that can dedicate time to efforts like aggregating and curating content instantly comes to mind. The UXPA has financial resources to tap, and while not limitless, we’re ready to invest.
I would love to see how we can leverage and potentially revive UXnet, as it’s mission was aligned to what we are trying to do here. Either way, I’m certain there’s a lot of “What NOT to do” lessons you, Keith Instone and many others that have paved the way can share to help us get this right. I strongly believe we need it. Because as a UX professional myself, and one that spends a fair amount of time in the UX online universe, maybe I’m just getting old but it seems to be getting harder to get a handle on the totality of what’s out there. Just trying to get my hands around LinkedIn UX groups gives me a headache. (A subject I posted on a few LinkedIn groups here)
Regarding the conference discussion you and Brian had, I first :
First: I completely agree that Brian’s Big D conference is a leading example of ‘doing UX right’. I’ve always liked the openness and inclusion of the Big D model, specifically because it offers a full Strategy track, which is the area of UX that I work in that I believe has been underserved in conferences overall (including UPA ones). I haven’t been able to get to Big D yet, but hope to next year.
It was also great that Brian wrote “Big Design Conference is consulting with Boston UPA, UX Singapore, and Industry Giants to see how we can better collaborate together.” That’s excellent, and exactly the thing UXPA is hoping to facilitate more of. We know there are many collaboration efforts already happening at the local level. Could a UXPA organization designed with input from all conference organizers make that even better for them, and everyone, globally? This is not suggesting anything needs fixing. It’s not seeking to take any conference over. Not to change anything about how it currently runs (unless and only if a conference is seeking help). Not to rebrand it differently. Not glom on to grab revenue. Just to give Brian and other conference organizers a way to make Big D and others even bigger and better than they already are.
If you were asked the question “As an already successful conference organizer, if you could have one thing that would help your conference be even better, to help you work with other countries / individuals / conferences, what it would be…”? Would you need any help to better foster and facilitate collaboration you’re already having? Can we help you better connect to a wider audience? Let us know, and join us in making it happen.
Arguably some might feel their current conferences are fine, and prefer to be left alone. There’s a half dozen conferences I can think of that are already so well run that it would be easy to understand why they don’t think an organization like UXPA offers anything they don’t have or can’t do themselves. Is there anything missing that’s a shared thing amongst some conferences that would be valued (e.g. perhaps just a global Calendar that connects all UX conferences/events? – see more on that below). And thinking not just about the successful established ones, but those in their first or second years, and the ones like Paul Bryan is trying to do in the Strategy space. We hope to get input from all conference organizers, and from around the world.
With conferences in mind, to put the ‘vision’ of what I think UXPA could be in some context, here’s some ideas around conferences that I’d like to put out there for discussion. For what it’s worth, this is not a ‘5 year plan’. Given the pace of change in UX and business in general, my overall UX ‘visionary’ credit card maxes at maybe 3 years. Frankly, the kind of 5 – 10 year vision stuff is what I want from the same people other UX folks look up to (like Bill Buxton) and the “non-UX” leaders in business that have an eye on where things are going and know how to leverage UX for competitive advantage. So, thinking about what the UXPA could offer nearer term, here are some ideas around conferences that I’d like to put out there for discussion for a ‘platform’ and the content itself.
UX Conference Platform Ideas
What if there was a platform to help leverage best of what Big D, UX Singapore, User Friendly China, UPA Boston, UX Hong Kong, UX Lisbon, UX Australia… etc. have already pioneered and build better opportunities to share ideas, collaborate and cross-market events?
- A platform that, in addition to benefiting the existing successful conferences, provides ideas / tools / contacts / content and culturally successful models for up and coming UX areas around to world that could utilize, connect with and perhaps even reproduce in their regions of the world? Regions where people can’t afford to attend conference in the US, or even in their geographic regions?
- For new conferences, or younger ones, a platform that provides Conference software that allows them to leverage the scale and savings of a joint platform for scheduling / payment / etc. Where they can see what other successful Conferences have done and choose the model/content that works best for them. One that gets their Conference name out to a global audience, and gives them access to speakers willing to travel to where they are.
- A platform that has a “Speaker’s bureau”, aggregated local conference speakers/content that can be accessed and socialized globally. It would have local and global UX speakers, the subjects they talk about, where they are willing to travel to speak, and where they are currently slated to speak. This could provide opportunities for regional and ‘locally known-only’ UX thought leaders to get their message, and presentation opportunities, to a broader audience.
These are just some thoughts, with an admission that I may be overlooking or underestimating something. But the larger question is: would a platform like that make sense? If so, what would you want on it? If it doesn’t make sense, why not? Would this be viewed as competition vs. collaboration – (e.g. would it dilute the value of specific conferences)? Is it a good idea that you don’t feel the UXPA could build and manage effectively? I’d like to say “Sure we can!”, and I believe we can indeed help in some way, but we can’t answer until we have better picture of what is needed to see what a solution might look like and cost. We’re prepared to invest in building something like this if it’s something is feasible and of course, valuable and useful. I am happy to admit being wrong on all counts here if there’s a way that I can help make it right.
UX Conference Content Ideas
Again, I know some of this is already happening, but:
- What if, in addition to the great tracks that Big D has for specific competencies like Career Development, Design, Development and Strategy, there was a way to provide, globally connected, cross-track development opportunities at all conferences.
- Broad and deep content at the same conference. Where an experienced UX’er of any stripe can attend the presentations/workshops/lectures that build and deepen their existing skills in Interaction Design, Research, Strategy, etc. while also broadening their knowledge of other disciplines via introductory courses, that account for, and cater to their current experience. And that these types of courses translate and travel globally.
For example, getting a rock star Designer to learn more about the Research components that inform their decisions by offering a tailored “Intro to Research for Designers” tutorial before/after the conference they normally attend? That doesn’t get into deep detail on the nuts and bolts of Research, but gives them the appropriate level of material to make them more aware of the current techniques and methodologies that can help make it easier to do their jobs. Or getting a quantitative research SME to take a one-day course on the basics of “Interaction Design for Researchers” so they can speak the language of design better, and connect better with the teams that build the sites they monitor. Or one that personally I think would be great for all of us, courses geared to connect us better to the businesses we serve; e.g. how to leverage the power of visualizing concepts and requirements on agile and waterfall projects, partnering with folks from organizations like VizThink that are pushing the field of Visual Thinking forward.
- To foster this skillset broadening, what if UX conferences around the world could partner with other conferences in a cost/time-effective way that better allows for this cross-conference collaboration and learning? Maybe CHI offers a day before or after their regular conference to provide IxDA conference content, where attendees can attend these intro course as well as hearing from IxDA thought leaders on the latest trends. For those of us that don’t have the time or budget to hit the many UX conference choices, to be able to have a taste of others in the conferences we do attend would be a great benefit.
- And finally, this cross-collaboration inherently exposes all of us to exponentially bigger UX networking opportunities. We can all add more people to look forward to seeing once or twice a year. The UXPA conference this year was yet another where I added a dozen or so people to my list of folks that can crash at my place whenever they want. I’m sure there are fun ways to help foster cross-network relationships. For example, and to end with a wink, maybe even a UX game show that has teams from all disciplines competing on trivia and live UX problem solving games. Hey, I had to put it out there. Who ya’ hurtin’? AMEN!
Taking the first steps to “DO”
In the short-term, the UXPA is looking to “DO” with some quick wins in this process. For example, last week I was at the User Experience Awards (an event sponsored by IxDA NY, NYC CHI, and NYC UPA!) where I spoke with Peter March of IxDA NY. I asked him if there was something that he thought would be a good way to start connecting us better, and he mentioned a “UX Calendar” that could be shared amongst all groups to, at the very least, get Conferences/Events throughout the UX Community in one place (UXnet had a similar Calendar as well; I’d love to see how we might revive that. Cory Lebson, the DC Chapter president and now UXPA Director of Strategic Partnerships (a role we revived in anticipation of this change) is reaching out to Peter to see how we might get something workable with a global Calendar solution short term. Not sure what might come of it, but it’s a start. And of course UXnet had a similar Calendar as well; I’d love to see how we make that work again.
I’m excited about what’s happening, but I’m also pragmatic in recognizing this won’t be a cakewalk. I can almost guarantee we’ll hit some challenges along the way with who-knows-what legal, financial, operational and administrative issues. And along the way some UX folks will have their own reasons to sit it out, whether it’s for generally not believing in organization structures like UXPA, it’s leadership, UX as being a ‘profession’ at all, or a host of other concerns. And we will likely hear more detractors in the public sphere. I’ve been warned from friends about putting too much out there for folks to parse and slam – I hope that doesn’t happen but if it does I guess I’ll deal with it. In the days since the announcement, I’m happy to hear how many people are coming out to help with this journey.
There’s a LOT of passionate people in UX organizations, websites, etc. giving a ton to this profession because they love it. You know who these people are. They run and volunteer at UX organizations, meet-up groups and online forums. They are both ‘big speaker circuit brand name’ folks and that guy tasked with making sure there’s enough craft beer at the meetup. And since the UXPA announcement we’re hearing from a lot of them already. They might not share specific UX talents, interests or opinions, but passion … that’s a shared UX thing. If you’ve read this long response thus far, I’m guessing your one of them. That’s why I am convinced that this UXPA can work. But to really nail this, I mean really nail it, we need to grow and connect all of these smart, passionate people, across networks and around the world. And we need to ensure everyone feels equally responsible and vested in its success. With our combined skills working together, we can co-create a UXPA for ALL current and future UX professionals, with a diverse membership proud to step up and help drive it forward. The more people the merrier. The sooner the better.
Thanks for taking the time to listen. Now it’s my turn again.