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UXer's blog

User and Customer Experience hat

This blogging hat is where I try to connect the broad user experience topic (encompassing HCI, usability, IA, design, writing, branding, and so on) with the even broader worlds of business, technology, society, etc.

I invented the name "Experienceologist" for this role, as a bit of a joke, but I am no longer using that term.


UXRPI at Connecting Dots

I will be doing a presentation about user experience research-practice interaction (aka UXRPI) at the AIGA Design Educators conference Connecting Dots (March 14-15, 2014, Cincinnati, Ohio). Even though I am not a design educator, I thought it was worth proposing something to help find connections between the HCI researchers and User Experience practitioners, who I have been hanging out with, and design educators, who are asking questions about "what constitutes appropriate and effective research." And the conference is nearby, in Ohio.

Preparing for the session means writing a paper (version below) and creating a presentation (still in the works, will upload later). It was a great excuse to go back and try to make sense of the various UXRPI activities that have happened the past few years.


Abstract

There are gaps between research and practice in many professions. In the area of user experience, over the past few years, various activities have tried to create interest, document the challenges, discuss the issues, and propose solutions related to this gap. The label "user experience research-practice interaction" (UXRPI) has emerged as a loose term to help connect the conversations over time and across disciplines. This paper recaps some of the major UXRPI activities to date in the hopes of adding design educators to the dialogue.

Introduction

To fit in with the "Connecting Dots" theme, this paper strives to use challenges around the research-practice gap to help connect the dots across various disciplines, professional organizations, and educational efforts:

  • Disciplines: Design (graphic and communication), user experience, information architecture, human-computer interaction, interaction design.
  • Professional organizations: AIGA, UXPA, IAI, ACM SIGCHI, IxDA.
  • Educational initiatives: AIGA Design Educators, IAI teaching IA workshop, IxDA Education Summits, SIGCHI education community.

Finding the common research-practice problems and awareness of various solutions that are being tried might encourage collaboration across disciplines and professional organizations, for example.

User experience research-practitioner interaction

In the user experience world, "research" can mean many different things. In this context, we are focused on "scientific research" where we are trying to learn about how people behave and use technology in a general sense that may be applied across several contexts. Within a project, a team will also perform "user research" to help them design for their specific project. The two are related: the same methods can be used for both, but the level of rigor and focus are different. But in UXRPI, we are focused more on the academic/scientific/basic types of research, and how to improve practice based on what the research shows.

From a practitioner's point of view, one of the challenges is embodied in Steve Krug's "Religious Debates" comic in his book Don't Make Me Think. In the comic, a design team is arguing about whether or not to use pulldowns for a product menu list. One person asks "Do we know if there's any research data on pulldowns?" in order to get away from personal opinions on what the design should be. The subtitle is "Rick attempts an appeal to a higher authority....". Without any research to help the team reach a decision, two weeks pass and they start debating all over again. "Research" is often seen as that "higher authority" to guide practice.

To get into what UXRPI means a bit more, here are some questions that have been used to start a conversation about user experience research-practice interaction challenges:

  • If you are a user experience practitioner, what types of challenges do you face often that you wish you had a "scientific" answer to? Have you tried to find answers in the research literature? What roadblocks did you encounter when looking for answers? What successes have you had in taking research findings and improving your practice?
  • If you are a researcher, what is the value in engaging with practitioners? What is in it for you? Do you have any examples of success stories, where your research got better because of interactions you had with practitioners?
  • What should students of HCI, interaction design and other user experience disciplines be taught about research to better prepare themselves for the practitioner world?

The CHI 2010 workshop "Researcher-practitioner interaction" kick-started the recent set of UXRPI activities and also provided a framework to talk about the problems and opportunities.

Research challenges

HCI research culture

  • Publish for researchers, not for practitioners
  • Expanding field
  • Status within academia

Research culture

  • "Publish or perish"
  • Answers narrow questions
  • Open sharing
  • Experimentation

Gap-bridging challenges

Communication

  • Little shared language
  • Speed-of-operation differences
  • Finding each other
  • Fragmented professional organizations
  • Mapping "research answers" to "practical questions"

Knowledge

  • Need shared knowledge base
  • Hard to organize research for practical use
  • Multi/inter-disciplinary

Education

  • HCI education vs. practice
  • Amateur practitioners
  • HCI education for CS (etc.) degrees
  • Training for practitioners

Practice challenges

UX practice culture

  • No time for "research": good enough
  • Rapidly evolving practice
  • Status within corporations

Corporate culture

  • "Produce or perish"
  • Wants broad answers
  • Strategic advantage
  • Fear of failure

Important aspects of the problem space:

  • There is a "pillar" of challenges associated with the research culture overall and the HCI research culture in particular. Those are on the left.
  • Similar pillar of challenges on the right: the corporate culture overall and user experience practice culture in particular.
  • It is hard to change culture. There may be some opportunities to address some of the challenges directly in each/both pillars, but be aware what you are getting yourself into if you try to tackle them.
  • There are 3 levels of bridging, across the middle: Education (fundamental training and schooling), Knowledge-sharing (helping researchers and practitioners by sharing details on a regular basis) and Communication (just making sure we can talk with each other in an intelligent way).
  • Improving simple communication between researchers and practitioners is one place to start. Sharing knowledge is harder (but has the bigger pay-off) and forming an educational foundation should lead to the ability to address deeper challenges.

Examples of specific gaps at the cultural levels:

  • Researchers are focused on openly publishing answers to narrow questions, while practitioners want broad answers, quickly, that they can apply for a strategic advantage.
  • Researchers are often focused on publishing to gain credibility with other researchers (for tenure, for example), especially for HCI, where it may not be a respected part of computer science. Practitioners are often not given the time by stakeholders (who do not value UX) to understand core principles from research, instead pressured to just do "good enough".
  • Both researchers and practitioners are having a hard time keeping up the pace of technology change and the rapidly evolving design landscape as a whole. They each have too much to learn to just keep up with their "day jobs" and no time or energy left to interact with each other.

Examples of specific challenges in "bridge building" areas of communication, knowledge and education:

  • It can be a challenge just to find the right people "on the other side": for example, locating a researcher who is studying something that a specific practitioner needs help with. When a good match is made, it can be hard for researchers and practitioners to speak the same language and to find ways to collaborate (e.g., a researcher on a several-year grant working vs. a practitioner who needs to make a decision within a few weeks).
  • At a more fundamental level, it is hard to translate "research questions" to "practical answers". Some researchers have a hard time explaining what the practical implication is of their research. Many practitioners have a hard time explaining what they really need to know (in a way that can actually be researched).
  • In this multi- and inter-disciplinary area, it is hard to build common knowledge bases that work for either researchers or practitioners, let alone something that works for both at the same time.
  • The educational setting is an ideal place to "start off on the right foot" but the rapid pace of technology, the difficulty in teaching both foundational theory and practical skills in higher education, competition from the private sector, and the disciplinary upheaval makes it difficult to accomplish basic educational goals, let alone something that is often considered a "nice to have" like having graduates who understand research.

The next sections are reviews of the challenges from various communities perspectives, along with some some of the activities they are doing to try to improve the interaction between researchers and practitioners.

Human-Computer Interaction Community

In addition to being to the host of the workshop that helped kick off the recent focus on research-practice interaction, SIGCHI has formed a community. The RPI community goals:

The Research-Practice Interaction community is a bridge between research and practice in HCI, including all flavors thereof (user experience, usability, interaction design, information architecture, etc.). We aim to promote the exchange of information between researchers and practitioners, such that research and its results are more accessible to practitioners and that practitioner information needs are conveyed to researchers.

One of the key ways that ACM SIGCHI's main conference, CHI, tried to be more relevant to practitioners was with conference communities: "They are the primary entry points and guides for researchers and practitioners new to CHI...They help attendees and authors find ways to connect with the conference more effectively". Two initial communities were "User experience" (which helped spawn UXRPI as a thread of discussion) and "Design" (which covered topics of interest to communication design).

An example of a CHI conference presentation that looked at the UXRPI issue is "Design research at CHI and its applicability to design practice" which found that only 7% of the CHI 2011 papers were oriented towards supporting design practice. Another design-focused CHI example is "Understanding interaction design practices" where it is proposed that HCI researchers do more frequent and more intensive studies of interaction design practice.

The Indiana University research program "Research into Interaction Design Practice" is very relevant to UXRPI: "how design-practitioners understand their own practice, their design process and how they evaluate, select, and adapt design methods" by doing analytical studies of HCI research results presented as "implications for design".

The role of theory and how it relates to practice was the focus of a workshop at CHI 2012.

A special interest group at CHI 2013 was focused on research practice interaction where practitioners and researchers were matched up in groups to talk about wants and needs.

For CHI 2014, communities has become "Spotlights" with "Interaction science" (PDF) one that is addressing some of the research-practice interaction issues, such as engaging researchers and practitioners in the reviewing process.

Information Architecture Community

The information architecture community started talking about the role of research in 2006 at a panel at the IA Summit. Fast's reply: "there is no discernable body of IA research". The Journal of Information Architecture has since been formed, where practice-led research was proposed.

At the 2010 IA Summit, a session about the current relationship of research and practice in information architecture had participants draw pictures on napkins to show their view of the current state. Some of the goals that emerged:

  • Build long-term relationships between researchers and practitioners, through common channels and meeting points
  • Disseminate IA-specific conversations in related communities, conferences and meetings

The IA Summit has been the host of a subsequent "Academics and Practitioners Round Table," where it was proposed that closing the gap required looking at it as both an experience design and organizational change problem. In 2014, the 2nd roundtable will focus on teaching IA.

Interaction Design Community

Ladner issued a call to action for interaction designers to figure out how they want to draw their theoretical boundaries, where they build upon the scientific tradition, and in general, what constitutes interaction design research. IxDA, the main organization for interaction designers, has not really addressed research-practice challenges directly, but some arise in the context of their "Interaction Design Education Summit" activities.

User Experience Practitioners Community

With its origins as a "practitioner spin-off" from the HCI community in 1991, the Usability Professionals' Association (now the User Experience Professionals Association) has regularly included sessions at its annual conference aimed at presenting the latest research to practitioners. One example is the "Research in Practice" tutorial by Kath Straub: an annually updated tutorial containing an informative survey of key and emerging research that will shape practice. (A sample of what is presented in the tutorial).

An example of a practitioner who struggles to make sense of the research is from UPA's Journal of Usability Studies: Problems and Joys of Reading Research Papers for Practitioner Purposes.

The Usability Body of Knowledge project is often cited as a project that would be good to help at the "knowledge" layer of the bridge between research and practice. One of the goals is "define the knowledge underlying the usability profession" and some of that knowledge is research which practitioners need to understand.

The "Toward usable usability research: Building bridges between research and practice" workshop at the UPA 2011 conference focused on defining what practitioners need.

The 2013 UXPA conference hosted a discussion to generate ideas for solutions to UXRPI challenges. The ideas were clustered around creating hubs of activity, publishing, higher education, practitioner DIY, and influencing decision makers.

Other Activities

Don Norman has argued for the need for a new discipline, "one that can translate between the abstractions of research and the practicalities of practice". Initially called "translational development" and later called "translational engineering", the term "translational entrepreneur" has also been proposed. The model is "translational science" in the healthcare industry.

A recent masters project called Smarticle focused on one specific UXRPI challenge, designing a system that makes academic work more accessible to a larger audience.

At the 2010 Internet User Experience Conference, a panel was organized to explore UXRPI, including having attendees do napkin sketching of their view of the challenges and opportunities. Some of the issues identified include: One body/two heads (drawn by a practitioner) vs. One head/two bodies (drawn by a researcher), how to do research on the practice itself, why overcoming the gap is important, and why it is so hard.

There are many more related activities: this is just a sample to help start the dialogue. Over the long term, there are other disciplines to include: human factors, industrial design, technical communication and information design, to name a few.

AIGA & Design Educators

The Connecting Dots theme of "Design educators and professionals are challenged with identifying what constitutes appropriate and effective research" fits in nicely with UXRPI problems.

For AIGA and its members overall, user experience research-practice interaction challenges are wrapped up in the larger expectations for design education. "The Disciplined Designer" covers the same overlapping-circles discussion that many other UX-related disciplines are having. A strategic proposal to "Find methods to ensure knowledge born of design research be best utilized by design practitioners" indicates there are research-practice needs coming to the forefront for the AIGA Design educators community.

Topics for Discussion

If this recap of user experience research-practice interaction workshops, discussions and initiatives has been valuable, then it should have triggered questions about what it means to design educators. No answers, just questions.

  • What other UXRPI-related challenges have already been documented by AIGA Design Educators and AIGA as a whole? What solutions to these problems have been tried (successfully or not), are in progress or have been proposed? What things is AIGA doing well that the other professional organizations can leverage?
  • What cultural gaps are the same? Which ones are unique to this design community? What cultural shifts are on the horizon that could make bridging UXRPI gaps easier in the future? What needs to be "blown up" and re-invented from scratch?
  • Which bridging challenges (communication, knowledge and especially education) are most important for this design community? Where are the bridging challenges the same and different than what has been documented here?
  • If there is some UXRPI common ground for AIGA Design Educators, then how does collaboration happen across disciplines and across professional organizations? For example, what would a combined "education summit" across disciplines look like? How do the dots get connected to help improve research-practice interaction?

Added March 11, 2014: A first draft of the slides for my presentation at the Connecting Dots conference (PDF). I am sure I will actually present something different. There are too many slides, so some will get deleted. As I attend the conference and hear others talking about the topic, I will add my notes. One of the benefits of being towards the end of the conference is that you can update your talk based on the conference discussions. One of the curses, as well.

Blog topics: 

UX Career Development

I volunteered to be a part of the UXPA 2014 conference organizing team. I am helping Alberta Soranzo with the "Career development" topic, which means I will be part of a team that encourages submissions, manages reviews, and helps form this part of the program.

I need your help!

  1. Read over the Career Development topic description and consider submitting something. The deadline is January 31st. Note that there are many types to choose from, such as presentations, panel, posters, and tutorials.
  2. Help spread the word to others. Look for the UXCareerDev tag on social media and pass on things of interest. Contact people who you would like to hear talk about career development, and encourage them to submit.
  3. Sign up to be a reviewer. We always need more good reviewers. Deadline to sign up to review is January 24th, with reviews done from February 10th - 24th. You need to have an account in the Conference Management System to review: be sure the check "Career Development" in your profile.

Also, I have been tracking down and reading what has been written and presented over the years about User Experience Career Development, both to help me be a better reviewer and to help me find people to encourage to submit. Here is a small sample of the things I have found:

I'd love to hear about your favorites on the topic. Leave a comment here with pointers to more articles and presentations. Or send me email [keith2014 at instone dot org]. Or tweet with #UXCareerDev.

And feel free to tell me what you WANT to be a part of this topic at the UXPA 2014 conference, what UX Career Development issues and challenges you are facing today. Thanks in advance.

Blog topics: 

UXPA 2013 Idea Market

I hosted an Idea Market about User Experience Research and Practice at the UXPA 2013 conference in DC on July 11th. Another event in the series exploring the challenges and solutions to the research-practice gap in UX.

Idea Markets are informal, discussion-oriented events. I has some space to put up info to announce the topic. Some people came by and left comments at random times, but most of the activity was during a special session for idea markets: a break in the regular program. We had up to 8 people talking at once and a few people were recruited to participate as certain topics came up. Here is a grouping of the things we talked about (the topics left as sticky notes, at least).

Problem statements: The session focused on ideas for solutions, but some people could not resist (re)-stating problems.

  • When I was a researcher, I felt I had more time to do in-depth user research and testing. As a practitioner, I feel that in an agile, feature-design world it is not possible.
  • Hard to apply the findings from the scientific research.
  • Making the findings from the scientific research digestable.
  • Researchers should start doing relevant research, and present it outside acadmic journals/conferences.

Hubs-of-activity ideas: Places, events where researchers and practitioners can hang out, interact, and where the other solutions can take place.

  • Monthly meet-ups.
  • Plan simultaneous practitioner and researcher conferences nearby, with social parties to combine both audiences.
  • Usability.gov as an online hub.
  • UXPA Body of Knowledge as an online hub.
  • A person as the hub: someone like Kath Straub who can compile the research and hold seminars to explain the research to many groups of practitioners.

Publishing-related ideas: focused on how to communicate research to practitioners.

  • Boxes and Arrows (and other online magazines that practitioners read) summary of research.
  • Business owners and designers/researchers write article together (e.g., HBR).
  • Comic books, "CHI Comix".
  • Articles written by practitioners and researchers together.
  • Quick reviews ("bite sized") of emerging research for practitioners.
  • Include practitioner articles in academic journals.

Higher education ideas: where the foundation for research-practice interaction is.

  • Team teaching: 1 researcher/academic and 1 practitioner.
  • Translate (industry) research topics into HCI programs (e.g., master's theses).
  • Cycle new grads thru the "professional ranks" like conference volunteer, newsletter editor.
  • Multi-disciplinary projects in school.

Do-it-yourself ideas: Practitioners serving themselves, instead of relying on "researchers".

  • Sharing tools developed by practitioners to solve their own user research challenges.
  • Self-funded R&D by practitioner companies.
  • Independent research of best practices, by industry.

Influence decision maker ideas: to help get to some of the root causes of the research-practice gap.

  • Find grant funders to attract researchers.
  • Executive understanding of importance of UX research.
  • Reach upper management.
  • Influence the grant and venture capital organizations.

Overall, a lot of the same from past conversations, but also some new twists. The important thing is to keep the challenges and ideas for improving in mind for the long haul.

Blog topics: 

Usable Web: First version of new site

I have spent the last month cobbling together the foundation for a new version of Usable Web. I believe I have enough content to start getting some feedback. If you would like to help me out, you can:

  1. Check out the old, old Usable Web, which is still online at usableweb.COM but has not been updated since 2006. If you are not familiar with the site or just have not visited it in years, you may want to spend a few minutes there.
  2. Spend some time at usableweb.ORG, where I have started building a new version of the site. I have updates to 10 entries, all from 1995. I have also written 3 "inactive destinations". Not a lot, but hopefully enough content to give you a sense of the potential of the new site.
  3. Fill out a survey with your feedback and comments. You are also welcome to send feedback via Twitter (to @Usable_Web) or via email (to instone at usableweb dot org). Or leave a comment here.

Thanks!

Cleveland lunch, Wednesday, Noon, GLBC

The next stop on my tour around the area to re-connect with my user experience colleagues and talk about options for my next career will be:

If you are in the Cleveland area and would like to join me for lunch, then please leave a comment here, send me a tweet, leave me a message on Facebook or contact me on LinkedIn. Or just show up at GLBC at noon and ask for the Instone reservation.

I would love to hear what you are working on. I would be happy to share some stories of what I have been doing. And share some of the "crazy" ideas about what I might do next.

And you may want to show up REALLY just to hang out with the other awesome user experience people who might be there.

I am spending the whole day in the Cleveland area, visiting something on the west side in the morning, visiting someone on the east side in the afternoon, then attending the NEOUPA presentation at the Cleveland Clinic at 6pm. I will probably return home after that, not sure I will have enough stamina to stay after for food and drinks.

Last week, I toured Detroit and other parts of Michigan, as I "hauled Molly" during her visit on Friday. Overall, I got to connect with people at Refresh Detroit and TechSmith and MSU UARC. Many more people in the Ann Arbor / Detroit area to see. Dayton, Columbus coming up next month.

Researcher-practitioner interaction update (UXRPI)

I spent some time lately catching up with the status of various things related to my recent researcher-practitioner interaction efforts, my latest "UX community give back" focus. Something I try to make small advancements in during my "spare" time, with the hope of helping foster some longer-term benefits. Some of this is a repeat of postings/comments on gaps and IUE but it helps me (at least) to compile it all together in a new way.

Information architecture research, practice

Andrea Resmini and I wrote up our view of the IA Summit session we led for the August/September 2010 ASIS&T Bulletin. I think we list some do-able ideas at the end that could turn into something concrete for the community to embark on.

I have not seen any reaction to the report or the possible next steps. Even some negative response would be a sign that someone read it and cares enough to tell us we are full of it.

I do know that Dan Klyn has read it: the same Dan Klyn who ran for office in IAI and won a spot on the board. Andrea and others have already done a good job of showing how to mature the IA practice in IAI's Journal of IA. Perhaps one of the progress grants will focus on the increasing researcher-practitioner interaction in IA. The IDEA 2010 program has a Friday session that is related. "(How Is This All) Going To Work?" focuses on the educational aspect: if they could add the "research" role that educators often share, then it would be right on target. So I have some hope the IA Institute will pick up some of our IA research/practice ideas and challenges and run with them in some way.

As for any ASIS&T follow-ups, a few folks had ideas on how to continue the discussion at the ASIS&T annual meeting next month, but I do not see anything explicit in the program. Euro IA was last week: great looking program, but nothing specific about research/practice interaction. The IA Summit 2011 planning continues, so there is still a chance to have a consortium or some other session to help put specific ideas into motion.

CHI conference

I am still trying to digest all that I learned at the 1-day workshop and follow-up special interest group discussion at the CHI conference. The wiki we set up for the workshop - research-practice-interaction.wikispaces.com - has the position papers and notes from the sessions. I have the physical materials (flip charts and post-it notes) from the sessions and should make another pass through them to see what great points have not been captured on the wiki. And clean the wiki up some more.

One thing that has been useful for me is the overall model of the problem space that emerged for me.

Research, HCI culture on left. Corporate, practice culture on right. Bridges: Education, Knowledge-sharing, Communication.

  • There is a "pillar" of challenges associated with the research culture overall and the HCI research culture in particular. Those are on the left.
  • Similar pillar of challenges on the right: the corporate culture overall and user experience practice culture in particular.
  • It is hard to change culture. There may be some opportunities to address some of the challenges directly in each/both pillars, but be aware what you are getting yourself into if you try to tackle them.
  • There are 3 levels of bridging, across the middle: Education (fundamental training and schooling), Knowledge-sharing (helping researchers and practitioners by sharing details on a regular basis) and Communication (just making sure we can talk with each other in an intelligent way).
  • Improving simple communication between researchers and practitioners is one place to start. Sharing knowledge is harder (but has the bigger pay-off) and forming an educational foundation should lead to the ability to address deeper challenges.

Net: what I learned at CHI is helping me understand the landscape. It also inspired me to continue with all of this.

But the workshop/SIG had some specific goals around driving improvements for future CHI conferences. Lots of good ideas were generated, but like all volunteer efforts, they only come to be when someone steps up to make them happen. Here is what is in the works for CHI 2011 to improve researcher-practitioner interaction:

  • Communities, communities, communities. Arnie Lund is leading a revival of the community aspect of the CHI conference. The 4 "established" communities drive specific parts of the program and act as "entry points and guides for researchers and practitioners...help attendees and authors find ways to connect with the conference more effectively." New in 2011 are "featured" communities that provide more ways to increase RPI. For example, Health lists the benefits of research-practice interaction several times.
  • For the UX community (that I am most interested in), Elizabeth Buie and Jhilmil Jain are building upon the CHI 2010 workshop that they helped organize. They have set up a LinkedIn group for the CHI UX community to help the cause. Join it!
  • There are other efforts in progress to fine-tune parts of the process and to make the program more accessible to practitioners (like, doing a better job of providing "practitioner take-aways" for research papers). As I hear about specific advances, I will let you know. The key is always volunteers to make things happen, so if you are interested in helping out, let me know and I will put you in touch with the right people.

Norman, translational developers

As you start pouring time into a volunteer effort like this, you start to wonder if this is an important problem to try to solve. If you are lucky, then someone prominent is reaching the same conclusions as you are. That happened in May when Don Norman published his The Research-Practice Gap article. It appeared in the July/August 2010 issue of interactions later. A must-read for anyone interested in this topic.

When I posted a comment on my site about the article, I mentioned I did not agree with everything in the article. Don replied and that started some email discussion back and forth between us. So in the spirit of disagreeing a bit, let me point out a few things about the article (knowing it is dangerous to debate with someone who is a lot smarter than you):

  • I do agree that the gap between researchers and practitioners exists within professional associations (and their conferences), but one thing that Don does not point out is that those are some of the best means to address the gaps. Don calls for a new discipline, translational developers: it should be created within our existing organizational structures, in my opinion.
  • Separate "discipline"? I am not convinced we need a new "discipline" - maybe we just need more people who are willing/capable of working across disciplines. Find ways to have more people spend a few years as a researcher, then a few years as a practitioner, and so on. And "discipline" seems academic: I am more interested in business models which make this a career path that our best and brightest are interested in.
  • Translational developers? Why "developers"? In my UX practitioner world, "developers" means you write code. In one of his talks, Don used the term Translational Engineering. A little better. I think we need some work on what to call this thing. "Translational entrepreneur"?: someone who has figured out how to get rich doing this.

And on a more "write a better article" slant, I enjoyed learning about Pasteur's quadrant but it really bugged me that the article did not include a figure that was an actual quadrant. So I drew one myself - and Don kindly made it better.

Pasteur's quadrant with quotes from Don Norman's article.

I have not seen any blog postings or online discussions of Don's article, so maybe this post will stir up something. Having Don "raise the flag" should help all of us make progress.

Internet User Experience panel

Don's article was one of the topics at a panel I organized at the IUE conference (slides, Twitter stream and other details). I hope the attendees found the session useful, but I liked it because:

  • I got 3 more people engaged as panelists. Susan Weinschenk, Danielle Cooley and Mark Newman did prep work together to create short and long versions of their position on different issues. They have their own critiques of Norman's article, for example: now we need to figure out how to get the discussion going.
  • We did more napkin drawing to get the audience engaged. That has worked twice now, I want to keep doing it more.
  • One of Mark's points was about the trend of translational research that is catching on in medicine. This is a good reminder that many fields are struggling with the same issues: we may need to look beyond our traditional "industry" for some answers.

Again, check out the compilation of info about the panel to find out more. These are just a few hi-lites.

Demarcating UX

One more thing to mention. I was invited to the Demarcating User eXperience seminar that took place 2 weeks ago. I could not make it, but Elizabeth Buie kindly agreed to attend to help connect researcher-practitioner interaction efforts.

This quote from the seminar shows the relationship: "UX is seen as a holistic concept covering all aspects of experiencing a phenomenon, but we are facing the point where UX has become a concept too broad to be useful in practice. Practitioners have difficulties to understand the concept and to improve UX in their work, and researchers rather use some other term to make their research scope clear."

From what I have heard (and seen), the seminar went well and I am looking forward to what they share as a result (some sort of white paper). You can check out the position papers and other preparation material.

Since I was not there, I will not comment a lot on the preparation material, but my personal favorites are statements from the practitioners whom I know.

  • Nigel Bevan: "UX Should Not be Demarcated!"
  • Elizabeth: "If the practitioners can't use it [the white paper], it doesn't work!"
  • David Gilmore: About the relativity of experience, and the innovation cycle

Staying in touch

As these different strands of activity progress - and more crop up - and we discover other strands that are already in motion, staying in touch with it all is a big challenge. What is the simplest thing we can do? To me, that is to use a common tag that people can attach to different objects that represent progress in researcher-practitioner interaction.

I did some poking around and thought that uxrpi would be a good starting point. Short form of "User experience researcher-practitioner interaction". So I started tagging my tweets with it. And Flickr photos. And this blog posting. Let's see if it provides any value. If we need more mailing lists or groups or whatever, then that is fine, we can do that too.

If this post inspires you to write up your own comments on Don's article, or to dispute something that I said, or if you know of more going on to try to improve researcher-practitioner interaction, use the UXRPI tag. That will help others discover it.

What is next for me? A keynote about this for the Tri-State World Usability Day at LexisNexis & Elsevier in Dayton (Ohio) on November 11th. Hope to see some of you there!

(Oh, and this really did start out as a short blog post. Then it grew and grew and grew...)

Research and practice gaps

I will have a focus on the gaps between research and practice in user experience during my April conference run.

From April 7-10, I will be in Phoenix at the 2010 IA Summit. On Saturday the 10th, I am hosting a discussion on Bridging IA Research and Practice with Andrea Resmini.

We tried to get a pre-conference consortium organized, but will settle for this meeting to hopefully get a head start on 2011. The "research track" at the IA Summit has been a slowly traveled, winding road. One bend was a panel in 2006 and I wondered then if we had turned a corner. Still looking.

From Phoenix, I fly directly to Atlanta for CHI 2010. I am part of a great team that organized a Sunday workshop on Researcher-Practitioner Interaction (the call for participation has passed, but it has a good overview).

I am looking forward to the workshop because I get to spend the day with people who know a lot more than me about the challenges facing the HCI research and practitioner communities. There are a lot of great ideas for closing the gap which have surfaced in their position papers; but there are no easy answers.

If the topic interests you but you are not already part of the workshop, then you can attend our special interest group meeting at 9am on Wednesday, April 14th: How to bring HCI Research and Practice Closer Together. We will recap the workshop and engage more people in the conversation. After it is all done, I hope we will have something substantial to back to the community.

So far, I only know of 1 other person crazy enough to hit the overlapping IA Summit and CHI conference. If you are also one of these crazies, contact me. If you are just a "normal crazy" who is attending only one of these 2 awesome conferences, then be sure to track me down and say hello.

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Misconceptions about user experience design

Whitney Hess wrote what I consider a very good article to help people understand the term "user experience": 10 Most Common Misconceptions About User Experience Design. I have seen others call it "brilliant" and other wonderful things. Great job, Whitney! The framing of what UXD is not is obviously one of the appealing aspects of the article.

I do have a few quibbles with her article:

  • #2. I would have said "it is part of the process" to stress that user experience methods should be woven into other business processes (like product visioning, requirements analysis and customer service) instead of replacing them.
  • #3. I would have said "it is not only about the technology". Her examples are good to stress that people come first, technology enables. Still, as technology becomes more pervasive in our lives, it will become more and more important to the total user experience.
  • #5. I would have positioned this more as "it is not just about the customer". A company, non-profit organization, university, government agency, or other institution has many different stakeholders, many different groups it has to serve. Customers are definitely a very important one, but there are also employees, shareholders, business partners, students, citizens, the public, reporters, and so on. I know there is a lot of baggage with the word "user" but at this point in time, it helps merge these groups together. It helps us focus on what their goals are and what they are trying to accomplish. Her focus on user goals + business goals is good, but I think it is actually bigger than this: UXD applies outside the business world, too.
  • And in the title of the article: I might have dropped the word "design". This is a tough call. For people who get that "design" itself is holistic, then this is a good term to include after "user experience". Unfortunately, some people still equate "design" with graphic design (or fashion design, or interior design, or any number of things), so then you have to explain that pre-conception away. The word "design" does not seem to be getting in the way of a useful discussion in this case, which is good to see.

Again, Whitney wrote a very good article. These are minor adjustments I would have made, and some people will think they make the article worse. Take them or leave them.

In the interest of full disclosure, I responded to Whitney's call for participation for her article. She did not include my stuff, which is fine. This blog posting is not sour grapes. It is really a "great job, Whitney" with a few points that might further the conversation (and hopefully will not derail the great conversation she has started).

And if people are interested, below is what I gave to Whitney on the topic. I think it overlaps with several of her misconceptions, so I can see why she did not use it: she divided her article up differently, she had more content than space, etc.

There are so many misconceptions that it is hard to pick the one or two to mention here.

I guess I would have to say the most significant misconception is that you can form a single "user experience design" team (usually made up of information architects, visual designers and user researchers) and expect that alone to make things better. That is only one of the first (and perhaps the easiest) step to actually creating better experiences for your customers / citizens / users.

Other important steps include:

* Getting user experience to be the focus much earlier than any "design" step in your organization. When the budgets are determined, when the projects are defined, when the requirements are determined: the people involved in those decisions need to be aware of UX considerations or else the design team will only be able to put a semi- workable user interface on a system that has UX flaws from the start.

* Establishing a collaborative culture where many parts of the organization are working together on the same UX goals. No one team can own the entire user experience, so the UX teams that are really making progress spend more time working with other groups (promoting the UX vision, explaining UX challenges, planning project interlocks) than drawing wireframes or designing novel interaction styles. Taking care of some of the details of the experience is still important, working closely with the front-end developers is still crucial, and so on, but without the collaborative culture, the core UX design team's work will not have a large impact on the total user experience.

* Building a really strong UX design team because it is really difficult to juggle many projects across the organization that all touch the user experience, keep up with an efficient Agile development team, keep tabs on the latest UX trends, and everything else the team is asked to do once the organization sees how valuable the team is. You need several senior people, with the right mix of skills and personalities, who are always in sync with the state of the company's UX, and who are also active in the UX community as a whole. A UX design team that feels overwhelmed with work tends to break into smaller pieces and do their work in silos, which will lead to a fractured experience. It takes a strong manager, too, of course.

There are other steps, and even these 3 have a lot more depth and subtleties into them. For example, how to do any of these steps is highly dependent on the politics of the organization: a Fortune 500 is totally different from a start-up which is totally different than a government agency.

So I guess in conclusion, the most important misconception I see is that you can form a "user experience design" team alone and make a difference. You need these other steps (and more) mapped out and executed on.

Back to her very good article (tired of me saying that I liked it?). One other piece that is missing is the "executive version" - something you can scribble on the executive washroom wall so that the top dogs in your organization can read it during one of the rare times when they are not distracted by other things. Here is my version of a recap:

  1. User experience design is not merely user interface design. The user interface is just one piece of the total user experience.
  2. User experience design is not a single step in the process. It is about focusing on the user experience at all stages of the product/service lifecycle.
  3. User experience design is not only about technology. People come first, the technology helps enable a good experience.
  4. User experience design is not just about usability. Emotional aspects are important, not just efficiency.
  5. User experience design is not just about the customer. It is about all of your stakeholder goals (including business goals).
  6. User experience design is not expensive. There are many techniques available, depending on budgets and other constraints.
  7. User experience design is not easy. It is easy to fall into the trap of assuming that you know what users want and need.
  8. User experience design is not the role of one person or department. Responsibility for the total user experience belongs to everyone.
  9. User experience design is not a single discipline. Specialists can address one aspect of the experience, but the design happens as a team.
  10. User experience design is not a choice. It is a core part of what your organization needs to do in order to survive.

This is too long to write on a stall wall - and I would never tell you to vandalize anyway. But I think some sort of simplification to her wonderful article ("stop brown nosing already!") adds value.

World Usability Day 2008 plans

World Usability Day 2008 is next week: Thursday, November 13th. Find an event near you (and please try to attend). See worldusabilityday.org for more information.

This is the fourth year for WUD. The first year I was too involved, working on the web site and in charge of the last beer of the day in San Francisco. Two years ago we hosted a small local dinner in Bowling Green to celebrate the day. Last year I was in Chicago for meetings, DUX and for the annual holiday shopping spree, so I attended the WUD session there.

This year I tried several times to organize a local event, but failed each time. I had several possibilities around the "transportation" theme, including something hosted by the University of Toledo Transportation Center. Didn't work out.

Fortunately, I have plenty of choices of things to attend in the Michigan / Ohio region:

I was invited to talk at both the MSU and LexisNexis events, but I could not commit since I was trying to organize something locally. The nice folks at NEOUPA are willing to add me to their panel at the last minute, so I will be in Cleveland this year.

Now the question is: can I attend another WUD event and still make it to Cleveland on time? I could drive 2 hours up/back to Michigan State in the morning. Or I could drive 2 hours to Dayton to catch the first hour of their meeting. Or maybe hit the "lunch hour" at AEP in Columbus. Not sure these will be worth it, but you might see me make an appearance in one of those places.

I hope you get to celebrate World Usability Day with your local user experience community, too.

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