User Experience Professionals Unite!

Reprinted from The Triangle Technical Journal

Once upon a time in a user experience community far, far away, user experience professionals spent their days obsessing over the need to define all the different fields that made up user experience design – which include interaction design, information design, information architecture, visual design, and user interface design. Today, something interesting is happening in that community: we’re evolving past the need to define the damned thing. This is partly because we now have some pretty good working definitions in place, but also because so many user experience professionals are seeing more value in taking the time to discuss the work rather than fixate on the definitions.

Granted, abandoning the “who we are” debate is difficult, but we have been asking these questions for several years, and while we’ve made some headway on the discussion, we’re still quibbling over the details. Many of us (if not most or even all) like things well defined - especially when such an integral part of user experience design is presenting things such that others can easily understand them. But sometimes – as in the case of the user experience community - we have to let the definitions take care of themselves.

There is no defense for the preceding sounding a bit, well, chaotic and somewhat antithetical to who we are. But we are learning that if we stop debating the differences between our disciplines, which is what occurs when we try to define user experience design, then we can create a powerful community. This community is taking form as the User Experience Network, or UXnet.
Formed in 2004, the User Experience Network is an international organization that focuses on building relationships between the practitioners and organizations of the various user experience disciplines. Not trying to replace existing organizations – in fact, many, including AIGA, IxDG, IAI, STC, ASIS&T, STC, and UPA, have signed on – UXnet’s goal is to serve as an umbrella for the many disciplines of user experience design. And the support of these established organizations is evidence that they see the same value that we see: In coming together as a community of user experience professionals, we have better opportunities to learn and grow from the unique insight and experience each discipline brings to the table.

And don’t underestimate the power of this think tank. If there’s anything I know about user experience professionals, it’s this: we’re a passionate lot. Our jobs are more than jobs; we believe in the power of what we do. In a way, we are an unofficial consumer advocate group that has the power to show businesses how to achieve positive returns by ensuring that they are presenting useful information, products, and services in a usable format. Further, by working together, we have the greatest chance to educate and evangelize the benefits of user experience design to businesses - something that is becoming more and more important as organizations struggle to grow with diminishing resources.

This kind of group momentum is not an accident. UXnet was created and continues to grow, because its members are committed to improving the design of anything people experience - Think of the magnitude! In fact, UXnet is primarily a grassroots effort, driven by Local Ambassadors—volunteers who work to bring together local user experience professionals and the local user experience organizations.

And it’s obviously working! Not only are we seeing tremendous success in many communities, but there has also been a major influx of people volunteering to be their community’s Local Ambassador. We have nearly doubled the number of Local Ambassadors in the past two months, and currently, have almost 40 Local Ambassadors spread across the world. For an organization that has yet to hit its first anniversary and that relies completely on volunteers, this is amazing growth.

The Triangle is one of these recent additions. I’ve been the Local Ambassador for the Triangle for a few weeks now, and though I just started in this position, I’ve already met a lot of folks through my work with the Information Architecture (IA) Cocktail Hour, but I know there are hundreds—if not thousands—more user experience professionals out there. And I want to hear from you: What pains are you having in the workplace? How are you continuing your education? What do you think the Triangle user experience community needs? What kind of meetings/gatherings would you be interested in attending? Seminars? Workshops? A conference?

At the end of the day, UXnet will succeed because we’re singularly focused on creating a powerful user experience community by uniting the knowledge and experiences of practitioners and organizations from the many disciplines that make up user experience design. And all done at the local level.