Whose profession is it anyway?

XII.3 May + June 2005
Page: 40
Digital Citation

User experience network

Richard Anderson, Keith Instone, Dirk Knemeyer, Beth Mazur, Whitney Quesenbery

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Who owns user experience (UX)? This is the wrong question to ask. We don't believe that any single group can own UX.

What's the alternative? In our view, a useful focus is collaboration, not ownership. The best successes come from collaboration. Whatever type of product, service, or document you are creating, whether it's a Web site, an application program, an MP3 player, or a financial form, user experience encompasses so many diverse aspects of your product that "ownership" just isn't a useful perspective. UX is about providing value to your customer and the business serving that customer. The best user experience is the product of many different disciplines working together.

We believe there is a need for a meta-organization that encourages the cross-disciplinary discussions that shape any new field and promotes the importance of human experience in product and service design. That is why we've established the User Experience Network (UXnet).

Why a focus on collaboration? Because a number of themes kept emerging as we and other early UXnet supporters met at various conferences and participated in UX-related mailing lists. For individuals, the themes were:

  • No one group is serving me well; I can't afford to belong to them all.
  • There are too many conferences, some occurring at the same time.
  • No events are happening near me.
  • It's hard to find a seminar that focuses on my interests.

But individuals weren't the only ones feeling the pain. We were hearing about the challenges of professional associations, too:

  • We need new ways to attract and retain members.
  • There's increasing competition for events, training, and sponsors.
  • It's increasingly harder to serve both general/broad and specific/deep member interests.
  • Chapters are facing decreased activity and limited resources.

UXnet grew out of these and other familiar frustrations. Early on, we realized that people didn't need another membership organization, so our initial efforts have involved reaching out to organizations, particularly to professional associations, and to individual UX professionals. We believe there is a strong need that a meta-organization can fill. For example, our Local Ambassadors initiative is moving ahead nicely, with individuals encouraging collaboration among local UX associations and establishing social networks among UX professionals. We've also worked closely with SIGCHI on this year's Development Consortium at CHI 2005.

We have found a lot of enthusiasm for our emerging UXnet mission. Our current roadmap includes four related activities:

  • Building the network and facilitating discussion
  • Reaching out to others and publicizing our value
  • Influencing others—particularly people in business—and public policy
  • Building UXnet as an organization to meet these challenges

Here are some of the goals and ideas we're currently exploring:

Create a bit of intellectual ferment. Get the theoreticians talking with the practitioners. Where existing organizations focus on one discipline or point of view, we'll focus on the intersections.

  • Solidify the UX discipline. What makes good work? Good methods? How do we explain or quantify what we do? And how do we communicate this to the world?
  • Model the competencies in the field. How does a product manager build a product team that has all of the UX skills she needs? How do UX skills intersect in individual practice and over the life of a career?
  • Improve the industry and social context in which we work. Learn from and inform cultural issues relating to UX: global cultures and the cultures of business, art, and engineering.

These are not new ideas. What is new—and what UXnet is about—is bringing together visual, interaction, information, and industrial designers; usability professionals; communicators; psychologists; engineers; product marketers; and others where they can all meet on common ground.

If "Who owns user experience?" is the wrong question, what's the right question? What about "How do you manage the kind of collaboration that leads to real change?" Discussion of that question needs to take place across the boundaries of all professional organizations that focus on aspects of user experience. We invite UPA's User Experience magazine, AIGA's Voice, STC's Intercom, and IDSA's Innovation to pick up the user-experience baton and run with it. Joint conferences like DUX 2005 are also great places for these kinds of conversations, as are programs like IIT's Institute of Design and the new multi-disciplinary Stanford Institute of Design, d.school.

Achieving this kind of cross-disciplinary collaboration is a lofty goal that requires passion in order to make it happen. And for us, user experience is all about this kind of collaboration. We hope you'll share our passion and join us in our efforts.

In a culture of collaboration rather than competition, there is a healthy cross-pollination of ideas among all the professional disciplines.

back to top  Authors

Richard Anderson

Keith Instone

Dirk Knemeyer
Involution Studios

Beth Mazur
STC Information Design SIG

Whitney Quesenbery
Whitney Interactive Design

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back to top  Sidebar: UXnet: User Experience Network


UXnet is dedicated to exploring opportunities for cooperation and collaboration among UX-related organizations and professionals.

In addition to our Local Ambassadors and Organization Collaboration initiatives, we're developing a UX Events Calendar and Groups Directory. We have created a roadmap to guide our activities for the next three years. We invite your participation. You can join our discussion list (sign up on our Web site) or write to the UXnet Executive Council at council@uxnet.org.

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