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Making a more engaging UK UPA

UPA Affinity Sort

Having been a vocal critic of the UK UPA in the past (by which I mean the organisation and it’s activities over the past five years not the current or recently past committee), I was really pleased to be invited to facilitate a workshop or two at their March event ‘Crowdsourcing the future of the UK UPA’.

There were a wide range of workshops held that evening, the one I was facilitating was focused on gathering and prioritising concepts that the UK UPA could act on which would make it feel like a professional organisation that we felt more aligned with and wanted more to be a part of. There were two workshops and the participants included UPA stalwarts and newbies, UXers and ergonomists, people from London and beyond.

The workshop used an incredibly rapid fire KJ Technique formed of individually listing items relating to how engaging the UK UPA was/was not for us and why that was so, followed by a quick post up and affinity sort, dot vote for issues we felt most strongly about.

Both workshops were characterised by a mixture of frustration and an energetic desire to be more involved and for the UK UPA to continue to grow and be an influential voice and resource for people who are currently active or interested in usability.

Aggregated Priorities
Once we aggregated the issues that most resonated across the two groups, the following priorities emerged:

1. Let us contribute: It was noted that the activity that the UK UPA is able to achieve is limited by the time that the committed yet otherwise busy committee members are able to contribute. There was an almost universal desire for members to be able to contribute meaningfully – whether by contributing content, updating the website, setting up Special Interest Groups that could hold their own events, and many other ways.

This requires the UPA giving up a little control – the current model of ‘tell us you want to help and we’ll delegate something to you’ sucks the enthusiasm and motivation out of even the most committed UPA fan. The net benefit would be a much more active association achieving a lot more for and with it’s membership, and a greater sense of involvement and community amongst the membership.

2. Teaching people who are new to usability: there was a general perception that the UPA could play a big role in educating people about what usability is, what usability work entails and why this might be a rewarding career option for young people and career changers. There was a particular passion for outreach into schools but also for providing tools to help educate colleagues with other specialties.

3. Have an opinion: participants also expressed the desire the the UPA have an authoritative voice on matters relating to usability, particularly high profile and particularly contentious issues. People wanted to be able to turn to the UPA to see what they thought about things.

4. Different event formats: participants also expressed the desire to mix up the event formats a little so there was less ‘lecturing’ and  more participation – debates, design jams, social events were suggested as options. Special Interest Groups were also mentioned in both workshops.

5. Learning more by sharing our experience: The ability to talk to each other, as members of the UPA and attendees at the events was something that participants would value – both online and offline. People wanted to be able to ‘find each other’ online after an event and continue conversations. An emphasis of events and content that showed real practice was also valued.

6. More friendly: Some participants noted that attending the events could be quite scary and intimidating and that more could be done to help alleviate this, also to help facilitate networking between participants. Some participants noted that they had attended several UPA events but not actually made any more connections with usability professionals as a result. (Related to points 4 and 5 above)

7. Who is the UPA? Participants wanted the UPA to more clearly articulate the position it wanted to occupy with our profession and the role it wanted to play and consequently, what our expectations should be. Development of a clear ‘value proposition’ or mission statement for the association.

8. More than just UX As a part of her introduction to the evening Chandra Harrison, current president of the UKUPA went to some lengths to make it clear to us that the UPA is about more than just usability. She may actually have gone so far as to provide the value proposition that people were looking for (ref: point 7 above) when she talked about the UPA being the organisation that brings together people from across all kinds of industries and professions who have an interest in making all kinds of things easier and better to use.

As it happens, participants (particularly in one group) found this a very appealing proposition and wished that they actually saw more content from across these various professions/practices as a part of the events program, more participation from people outside of UX at the events and more content helping us to understand the similarities and differences that are experienced across these audiences.

What’s next?

Another thing that Chandra made very clear in her introduction was that the committee are very time poor and already working very hard on projects for the UPA and that – although they were pleased to be holding this event and inviting ideas – they were not able to commit in any way to moving forward on any of the points that came out of the event. I understand from talking to members of the committee that many of the issues raised above are in the process of being tackled right now and, as it happens, by addressing the first one on this list, this problem actually starts to go away a little (although, no doubt, it also introduces a few more challenges).

Attending another UPA meeting confirmed for me though that actually achieving these objectives is going to require more than just a series of committee led initiatives, it’s going to require significant cultural change.

I’m optimistic that the very fact that events like this can take place under the auspices of the UPA is reason for us to have hope.

Why bother? Why do I care?

You may not identify as a usability professional. I don’t either. But we’re not the only ones who get a say in this. As long as other people look at what you do and call it usability (and you know a lot of people do), then this is our professional association.

Call yourself what you will, the way the UPA conducts it self is a reflection on anyone who rightfully or wrongfully gets lumped under the usability banner.

As long as this is the case, I want an association that I can be proud of. That demonstrates good usability practice in the way it presents itself online, that doesn’t feel completely out of touch with contemporary practice – UX, Ergonomics, whatever else you do that is affiliated with usability. I have enough on my plate trying to fight the good fight with people who don’t know any better, I should be able to count on the UPA to support me in this, not to undermine me.

So, this means that I’ll be critical. Constructively so wherever I can.

But it also means that if you want me to help out – and not just as someone you can delegate some tasks to, but on something that can actually properly make use of my experience, passion and abilities – then the UPA is welcome to call on me. As they did last week.

I hope you care too. And I hope the UPA can do exactly what it apparently wants to do – bring together people from all different professional circumstances who care about usability so we can learn more and do better and make this a better world to live in.

And on that evangelical note… why not go check out some more photos from the crowdsourcing night.

Dear UKUPA, pls UXify yourself.

Seeking feedback on how to get more members to vote in #ukupaelections - 300+ members and only ~30 voted so far.
There are 8 ukupa committee members, 11 ppl standing for election, 281 other ukupa members, only 30 in total have voted have voted? That's crazy!

Having been a relatively vocal critic of the UK-UPA and some of their current activities, I would hate for it to be said that all I do is snipe from the sidelines. I do have some suggestions as to how the UPA can address this issue, but it will take significantly more than 140 characters.

I think that focussing on the lack of members voting in these committee elections might be totally missing the point. Here is a classis situation where we’re focussing on tactical problems when, actually the issue is strategic.

What does the UKUPA do? A quick scan of their current website tells you this

UKUPA brings together UK professionals from the design, technology and research communities who share a vision of creating compelling technology that meets users’ needs and abilities.’

UKUPA website

Blah blah blah – what on earth does that actually mean? According to the predominant content on their current website it seems to mean they do job listings. And very little design.

But wait – the UKUPA are in the process of (very slowly) launching a new website. Perhaps it will give us more information about what they do?

Why, yes it does – it tells us that they have a committee, and they vote.

And, yes they certainly do vote. A lot.

UKUPA 'Beta' website

A quick scan of the discussion on twitter involving UKUPA will show you that pretty much all they’ve been talking about for the past few months is voting for committee positions.

Now, clearly *some* people are interested in the committee and who is on it but I think the (surprisingly small) membership may be sending a big message – shut up about your committee already. For every one person that’s on the committee there are dozens who are not. Making such a big deal of your committee is not really a particularly inclusive strategy. It certainly doesn’t make me feel warm and fuzzy about the UPA. It makes me feel like Not A Committee Member.

The very fact that it *has* a committee, to my mind at least, makes the UKUPA seem dated – many of the great things happening on the UX scene at the moment are grass roots initiatives that are so busy getting stuff done that the idea of a committee is ludicrous. Let alone a committee of 8 people!

That, combined with the fact that the name of the organisation centres on the term ‘usability’ I think is indicative of the problem you’re facing – relevance. What are you offering the UX profession that is worth handing over a membership fee? Do you really need a committee? If so, what are they actually doing?

You may well have good answers to all of these questions but these are not being well communicated. Spend time answering these questions and less time dreaming up prizes to coerce people to vote for a committee they probably don’t really want.

As I write this I am conscious of four things:

  1. the committee is very much a part of the UPA’s culture
  2. The UK UPA is part of a global UPA machine
  3. the UK UPA does provide valuable services to the UX community in the UK – in particular, the events they run each month are generally very relevant and well attended and provide a great service to the community.
  4. the UK UPA currently has 300+ members.

If we were running the UKUPA, what could we do with this information?

Here’s what I’d be doing.

Firstly, look at your member data, talk to your members. Find out from people:

  • how long have they been members? Are lots of new people joining up or are most people long term members?
  • why are people joining? are they looking to validate themselves in the profession by showing they are ‘members of the Usability Professionals Association’ or do they want discounts at events?
  • why are people not leaving? Can they not be bothered cancelling the standing order or do they feel that they are getting value from their membership? if so, what do they value?
  • why are people leaving? what are you not delivering that they want?
  • what do the members think the UPA could be doing better? What do they want the UPA to do for them?

Do NOT do this in a survey.

Secondly, look at your value proposition, branding and positioning

  • find out what image the UK UPA is projecting and ask whether it’s the right one. Talk to people who aren’t in the UPA, let them be critical (stop being so defensive)
  • think seriously about changing your name. ‘Usability’ isn’t helping you now and it’s not going to get any better as time goes on. (Yes, of course I know you’re part of the global UPA – that’s a whole other issue)
  • think about what value you’re providing to the UX profession and communicate that clearly. Talk much more about that on your website/twitter etc. and much less about the committee
  • re-think the whole committee thing – why do you have so many committee positions? really – why? who is it really serving?
  • spend less time organising elections and more time organising mentoring (not that I want to pre-suppose what you might find out when you’re doing your customer research)

Finally, deliver content and communications that match with an updated value proposition and update the website design so that it communicates those values effectively- both in content and quality of design.

As a general rule, the events that the UKUPA runs are excellent examples of content that is desired by the UX profession – that’s why the people vote with their feet and attend these events. I’m sure I’m not the only one who feels the disconnect between the success and relevance of these events and the rest of the UK UPA machine?

As friends and colleagues of mine have put themselves up for committee positions in the UPA I’ve been tempted to become a member and support them with a vote but every time I consider it, I opt out.

From where I’m sitting, there’s no value to me professionally to align myself with an organisation that feels generally out of touch with the UX profession as a whole.

As a fellow event organiser, I know that UXers are crying out for more opportunities to come together and learn from each other – there are UX events every other week and every event seems to go to a waiting list – the need is there and the community is there.

I hope the UPA is willing to firstly admit there’s a problem and then be brave enough to UXify themselves. Then perhaps we ‘ll all become proud and active members. And then, when appropriate, respond to your calls to vote.

Until then, I’m out.

Some thoughts on mentoring

As we’re getting into the tail end of the year it’s become apparent to me that one of my themes for this year has been mentoring.

This year, I’ve been doing a bit of mentoring.

  • Quite a number of my commercial assignments have had a mentoring ‘skew’ to them – rather than project work, my mission has been to try to impart as much of my knowledge as I can to a person or team.
  • I’ve had the pleasure of working with interns on two of my projects this year (which is pretty unique and fortunate for a freelancer).
  • I’ve been involved with the Information Architecture Institute’s mentoring scheme (you need to be a member and be able to remember your login)  which has given me the opportunity to compare notes with a number of up and coming UXers in the UK.

I’ve also been fortunate enough to be a ‘mentee’ (is that the opposite of mentor?) on several occasions – mostly when I’ve just straight out asked people if I can have some of their time to talk about a topic that’s on my mind and that I could use some extra perspective or experience on. In addition to this, there are dozens of people who unknowingly act as informal mentors to me as they share their experiences on Twitter, in books and at conferences.

What I’ve found really surprising is that in both the mentoring and mentee situation, I feel like I’ve been the one who has benefited.

Obviously, in the latter situation, I benefited from the kindness, experience and wisdom of those who were willing to do a Skype call with me (that’s the usual format of my mentee-engagements). It was where I was acting as the mentor that I was really surprised.

There’s a saying ‘if you can’t teach it, you don’t know it’. I’m not sure it’s entirely true but there is a special kind of knowing you get from having gone through the process of thinking about how to communicate what you know to someone else.

It does something to the way you know things – firstly, it makes you more aware of what you know, which is gratifying and confidence building. I think it also makes your knowledge feel more accessible and more valuable.

If the majority of the learning you’re doing these days is informal and self directed, you may find that mentoring is almost a way to give yourself a mark out of ten, an end of year exam, a sense that you have actually accomplished some learning and know a bit about what you’re talking about!

So, I want to take a moment to thank my mentors, and to ask you to think about how you might be able to participate as a mentor.

Do you have opportunities where you could invite an intern to work with you and gain invaluable experience? Can you offer some time to be a more formal ‘mentor’ to a UX newbie? In my experience, it can take as much or as little time as you want it to and the benefits to all involved are significant.

And yes, you probably do know enough to be a mentor – the best way to answer that nagging doubt is to give it a try. I bet you’ll be pleasantly surprised.

Why Drupal needs a Design Community Manager

I’ve been working with the Drupal community on design projects for coming up to 12 months now – a splash in the ocean compared to many in the Drupal community but long enough to get a feel for how things work.

The ‘paid’ time I have left on the d7ux project is almost run out and I’m left feeling frustrated – not just by the work that I’d like to be able to continue to do on the Drupal 7 User Experience, but also by the great potential for building a critical mass of great designers and UX people in the Drupal community and the different types of activities that could spur this on, and the impact this could have on Drupal adoption and sustainability as an Open Source software project. So much opportunity, so little resource.

Despite the fact that I think there are probably a contingent within the Drupal community who are hoping that Mark & I are just going to go away once we stop getting paid for d7ux, the fact is that this is unlikely to happen any time soon. For various reasons and in various ways, I think we’re both kind of hooked on Drupal, or at least it’s amazing community.

Having said that, I know for myself it will be difficult to carve out any significant amount of time from the paid project work I’ll move onto and the demands joy of a family with a young child – I have long since given up on a social life!

At best, I hope to commit to spending a hour a day (or 5 hours a week) on Drupal post the official d7ux project. This is *far* less than others commit for ‘free’ each week but much more than many are able to consider committing.

(Having said that, have you seen that Matt Webb video I posted just before this post? What are you doing with your 100hrs?)

Here’s the thing… I really want to make those 5hrs a week count. At the moment, the logical place to spend those hours is bickering in the issue queue. Whilst some time does definitely need to be spent there, I think for the Design & UX community to spend too great a proportion of their time battling out grassfire by grassfire is not productive use of our time… but what can we do with just 5hrs?

I think the answer lies in crowdsourcing our time around big projects. Creating and managing projects that lots and lots of people can contribute an hour here and there to, and yet great and coherent value is created. I have some thoughts what kind of projects these might be:

  • creating/maintaining/applying an design pattern library
  • consulting with developers who are in the early stages of developing a module that has UI elements and providing them with assistance *before* they code a UI
  • concentrated work on known difficult interfaces that should be easier. (edited to delete unnecessary snarky remark at a specific module)
  • more microprojects!but my absolute favourite pet project is:
  • crowdsourced usability testing video library: create a library of video snippets of usability testing conducted by people around the world and tagged so that they can be used as a datasource to support design decision making AND to be pulled out over and over and over again to help maintain awareness of people-who-use-Drupal-who-are-not-us

Each of these projects (and I bet there are dozens more just as good or better!) provide:

  • ways for designers and UX people to contribute in a rewarding way to the Drupal community (contributing to the issue queue is v important yes, but can at times be incredibly frustrating and demoralising)
  • opportunities for new people to contribute to the community from their first interaction (rather than being smacked on the nose, told that everything has already been thought of and given a list of issues to read before proceeding),

Growing a vibrant design & UX community within the Drupal community in the long term and allowing Drupal to benefit from that (beyond finally starting to see some gorgeous looking sites that are Drupal-powered) is going to require some nuturing and creativity.

It needs someone to create and faciliate these ‘crowdsourced’ efforts and to promote them with in the Drupal community and within the broader Design/UX community.

But there is one big problem – in order to provide the framework for hundreds of people to start contributing their 5hrs a week, you need someone setting up and managing said framework. I think that this role is a Design Community Manager, I think it needs to be a paid role, and I think it should probably be about 2 days/wk.

So the three questions are:

  • this is something pretty different for the Drupal community… is this something we’re willing to try?
  • who’s going to sponsor this initiative, as in, put up the cash (and no doubt win the love and respect of both the Drupal and Design communities)
  • who is the guy/gal for the job (but let’s answer the first two before we get into this. Be assured there are some great candidates)
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