conferences · social & community · strategic ux

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.

38 thoughts on “Dear UKUPA, pls UXify yourself.

  1. Hi Leisa,

    Having never seen a need to join the UPA – I agree with with your comment:

    “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.”

    I feel this is particularly true for us UXers who live outside of London. The UPA is even less relevant out west.

    I’ve talked to a lot of UX people recently about the UPA and many have said they are considering not renewing their membership. I think the UPA needs to look at what it is, what it does and what it trying to achieve. And yes that is easy for me to say as someone who is not involved.

    Well done for writing this – it needed to be done


  2. I agree with the thrust of your blog post – and recollect that this is something Chandra said she would look at as president – once the larger committee is in place.

    Until then, the organisation is where it is and you have to do what you can. On that basis, I have massive issues with how the current election is being run – few, if any, lessons were seemingly learnt from the last one (which had a similar number of voting participants). This is despite a number of conversations I had on the topic. Indeed, I offered to run this election and never heard back. :-/

    All the best,


  3. Hi Emma, I agree that Leisa does make some good points. Although I thought I’d defend UKUPA on your point. In answer to member feedback the committee have created the role of UK Liaison to address that exact point. It’s an issue I too feel very strongly about, so much so that I decided to stand for the position in hope that I can help change things from the inside. If I’m successful I’d be really interested to talk more about how you feel you could be better supported.

  4. Ouch. When I was a kid, my mum had the uncanny knack of telling me to tidy my room or do my homework two minutes after I’d started. I guess she’d hear me moving around in my room and figure I needed directing. It used to drive me nuts – I’d never get any credit for doing the right thing.

    My guess is that the folks at UK UPA must feel the same way reading that.

    You make some great points – but most of the things you list – increasing relevance, adding value to members, reaching beyond London, listening, getting rid of the old website are all things that they’re trying to do at the moment. And because they’re a formal organisation they have to have elections to draw in volunteers.

    So those calls for people to vote? That’s the sound of the UK UPA moving around in its room, getting ready to do its chores.

    It’s doing the right thing – it’s a good time to stick with it.

  5. I wholeheartedly agree with your post.

    Regarding their new site redesign, I asked a couple weeks ago how they would prefer to receive feedback on their new “redesign”. They told me to submit my feedback via the contact form.

    Not very friendly given that the site looks like it was created in 1985.

  6. thanks for the feedback so far – I’ve got two main points to make in response:

    firstly – this isn’t an off the cuff post, it’s something I’ve been thinking about for around 5 years. Three recent events triggered it 1. the nonstop tweeting about voting, and precious little else, 2. the UKUPA website that indicates strongly to me that nothing substantial is changing and 3. the willingness of the UKUPA to release such a high profile salary survey (and I care not that it is not the ‘official’ report, it’s the one people will pay attention to) with such a paltry dataset.

    Despite the fact that the UKUPA’s response to this post has been (mostly offline and a little on Twitter) to say ‘we know all of this already, let’s talk about this offline’ I can’t see *any* indication that this is the case. We’re not looking at an incremental improvement here, we’re seeking a radical overhaul.

    Rather than trying to shut down the conversation, why not see this as a vehicle to open up another, important one with people like me who are frustrated with a UK UPA that is becoming increasingly irrelevant!

    Giles – I wonder how many weeks your mother waited for you to tidy your room of your own account before her request coincided with your desire to clean? Had she asked you numerous times before? I know the feeling you’re describing but you usually also know that you should have done it ages ago.

    Secondly – I find it kind of strange and sad that, in light of what I said in this post, people are telling me that electing new committee members to new posts is the answer.

    Don’t you think it is a shame that in this day and age you feel as though you have to have an official post to be able to get anything important done in your organisation? To me, that just says everything about what is wrong with the current thinking within the UPA.

    Anyway – more than enough ranting from me for now.

  7. Firstly, I’ll identify myself as a former UK UPA Committee member (organising Events) and therefore issue that as a disclaimer.

    Secondly, I haven’t spoken to any of the current committee before responding, so my views are in no way representative of the current UK UPA committee.

    The fact is, I have absolutely taken your post personally.

    There are a couple of charges that I accept as a failing of the committee. The biggest of these is poor communication…on the internet. The online communication has been pretty poor basically since forever.

    However for those who ACTUALLY ATTEND the events, I’d like to think that they would never accuse the UK UPA of poor communication. It’s about being in the real world too you see, not just on twitter and blogs (yes, that’s a flippant comment).

    The UK UPA is *currently* (note the use of that word) under the banner of the global org. Members are members of the global organisation. None of the membership fees, or in fact any money is passed on to the UK UPA.

    The reason there are so many people on the committee is that it is a 100% volunteer organisation, with practically zero budget. All income from door fees to non-members and irregular sponsored events, is poured right back into putting on the event.

    You understand the volume of work it takes to put an event on for 40 people bi-monthly (forgive me for not knowing exact Book Club numbers), the UK UPA does this EVERY MONTH for about 80 people on average and has been doing so for the last two years. Before that, there were somewhat regular events for absolutely yonks. It is without a doubt, the most consistent, scheduled UX event programme that I know of.

    That is a lot of invisible work! The speakers, the logistics, the food, the venue management….it goes on.

    It is also because of this that the UK UPA is so London centric, it is impossible to organise regular events in distant locations as an unpaid volunteer, hence the need to reach out to local contacts if they want to get involved.

    Considering all the people on the committee have FULL-TIME jobs, families and other commitments, I think you’ll find the maths doesn’t leave much time for proper website/communications work.

    That doesn’t mean I’m defending the poor job, but it does mean that I am defending their right to have a committee with enough bodies and roles to deliver the right messages through the right channels.

    As for the website, again that hasn’t been a one man band and it hasn’t been easy. The designs come straight from the global UPA and a lot of hard volunteer time went into making what you see currently a reality.

    If people don’t like it, I suggest they spend some *time*(this being the operative word here) coming up with a new design and send it on over.

    In my view, the UK UPA should change its name, and should strongly consider breaking away from the global UPA. But that doesn’t mean it needs to become the next cool thing and have a funky UX-y title.

    It simply means it should aim to have the flexibility to respond quickly and do the long list of things the committee wants to do (some of which you’ve listed, and many more you’ve not mentioned).

    The fact is, to my knowledge, the UK UPA is not trying to be the ‘next big thing’ on social media.

    As parting comments for this unapologetically long response and rant, I’ll say the crux of this is two fold.

    One, if the outgoing committee (which does include myself) and those on the current committee hadn’t done a good enough job of maintaining and growing the profile of the UK UPA and its events in the last two years we wouldn’t be having this conversation. The fact that there are critics in public domain clearly signals progress.

    Two, I find this post and similar commentary that happens on twitter and blogs a very distasteful part of the UX community.

    We point and moan loudly. We’re such clever, snarky people…gee, how proud I am, to be one of you. NOT.

    It isn’t about being a bloated fish in a small pond. I would have much preferred it if you had turned up at the next event, actually figured out if the committee is trying to do any of the things you mentioned and then come back to discuss it.

    You are FULLY AWARE its a mainly offline org, and yet you are issuing an online challenge before reaching out within the environment where their value is demonstrated.

    You’ve very thinly wrapped it up in cuddly I’m trying to help bullets. None of those bullets is actual advice….All your talk to people, ask questions malarkey IS CONTINUOUSLY HAPPENING.

    Please note that relevant, open and progressive conversation does happen away from your blog and in places where you may not know they are taking place.

    Totally understand that you and others will disagree with me, but heck, this is what you wanted no? Bring it on.

  8. I’m a ux professional and not a member of the UPA. I tried to join several years ago, however they lost my application and after several emails back and forth I really got the impression they weren’t bothered if i joined or not! So i gave up. There was certainly no chasing on their behalf to find the forms or ask me to complete them again. My impression was one of incompetence so i’d rather not bother. The uk ergonomics society is another association that’s extremely old school and slooooooooooow. It took them about 2 years after lots of chasing to give me an answer on whether my manager at the time could be my mentor. Given that you only need a year of supervised mentorship it would have been quicker for me to just get a mentor they’d officially approve of and start again! I used to be a very active member and helped run many of the conferences voluntarily. I eventually quit – the mentor issue being the major thing that tipped me over the edge.

  9. Dear Leisa,

    First of all – this is a personal response, not an ‘official’ UPA response. Like Lola, I have taken this a bit to heart… but I respect your honesty and the constructive elements of your criticism.

    Having only recently joined the UK UPA committee I can see that from the outside, it looks as if nothing is really getting done. What do the committee do? Why is the website so outdated? They need to liven up a bit, catch up, get to grips…

    But, having worked with the committee for the past few months I have realised how much work is really involved. Outside of planning and running the events, organising sponsorship, speakers and creating the content for the new website (which, I appreciate has been subject to a lot of criticism) there is little time left to focus on more strategic activities. We have responded to this recently by holding some additional meetings to create a strategy for moving forwards, each taking on several areas of additional responsibility for rolling out some new initiatives next year.

    Everything you have mentioned in your post has already been discussed and plans are underway – a mentoring programme, improving communications, improving member (and non-member) engagement and interaction (both on and offline), improving the website (and looking into integrating some way for members to engage via the site), and getting a UK Liaison representative on board to help us to become less London-centric and to reach out to members (and non-members) elsewhere. We’re also talking about new events for next year and coming up with some ideas for some more interactive events to bring a bit more fun into the UPA and are exploring ways to involve members outside of London.

    This all takes time, but if the members/ UX community are willing to support with some of these activities then many hands make light work.

    In order for our members (and others in the UX community) to get the best out of the UPA we need your HELP!

    – Who wants to volunteer to help us?
    – Who wants to provide us with ideas to improve our website (AND help to implement it in your spare time for free?)
    – Who wants to be a mentor/ mentee? (mentorship programme is high on our agenda for next year and we have deadlines in place to roll this out)
    – Who has ideas for events, good speakers, or activities for next year?
    – Who wants to help us to organise and run events outside of London, or to create ways for people across the UK to participate?
    – Who wants to sit on Twitter/ Blogging and write narky posts criticising us – OK, go ahead. Very constructive and helpful of you.

    Lisa – I am sorry about your experiences with membership. I have just taken over the membership role which I think hasn’t been fully carried out for a number of years. As Lola mentioned, although we are part of the ‘big machine’ that is the Global UPA, none of the membership fees actually go to the UK UPA, our only income is from Event attendance or sponsorship that we organise – which goes directly back into the events. I have also been a member of the IEHF for a number of years and agree that both the UPA and IEHF have a very dated feel to them. But… I have taken a proactive approach, the only way to improve this is to get involved and to try and implement some of the updates and changes you would like to see – rather than to criticise from afar… that is easy.

    Leisa – would love to discuss some of your ideas at the UKA Xmas Party next week.

    Devon – would you like to help with the site “redesign”?

    Giles, Paul, Lola – thank you for your support.

  10. Thanks Lola and Polly for your responses.

    A few comments:

    1. Lola: the general thrust of your comment seems to be that, yes, UKUPA online communications are rubbish and that for them not to be rubbish would make UKUPA ‘the next cool thing UXy trendy buzzword social media’ thing.

    I’m afraid I was *not* aware that this was an intentionally ‘mainly offline org’ – I’d be surprised if that was what most people’s understanding / expectation of UPA is. Perhaps then, many of the other groups who arrange events similar to UKUPA are also, arguably, predominantly offline – I’d argue that bookclub, for example, is. That doesn’t mean that we don’t have a responsibility to attempt to do a reasonable job at online communication.

    If I have to turn up to UPA events in order to get value from my membership, that’s a problem and it’s been a problem for a long time.

    2. Lola: You say of the UPA ‘ It simply … should aim to have the flexibility to respond quickly and do the long list of things the committee wants to do (some of which you’ve listed, and many more you’ve not mentioned).’

    If you’d have also said ‘things that the membership wants the UPA to do’ then we’d be 100% in agreement. In fact, I’d go so far as to say that’s the whole point of my post.

    If this means leaving the global UPA association, then stop talking about it (it’s been talked about for the 5yrs I’ve been listening), and bloody well get on with it.

    3. Lola/Polly/The Rest of UPA: If you want to pigeon hole this as narky blogging and tweeting then you are being sufficiently defensive about this as to pretty much miss the point of the message.

    And while we’re all being so victimised and wounded, I think it’s pretty unfair to suggest that I’m not the contributing type. I’ve done plenty of volunteer hours for the UX community in this town, so don’t give me that sniping from the sidelines malarky.

    Perhaps the message that is getting lost in my post is that I think the entire committee structure and making such a big thing about it is actually reducing the likelihood of people who are NOT on the committee, willingly volunteering their time. Especially after the way you guys talk it up (like it is sheer hell on a stick).

    You know where else I’ve done quite a bit of time – in the world of Open Source. This is a land that is made up of people all over the world, volunteering their time and skills for free – and not because they are martyrs to the cause, but because they believe in the cause, they feel they get something back, they feel a close identification with the project they are working on and they feel they get recognition from their peers for the work they do in their community.

    All the UX events I go to in London are organised by volunteers. I don’t get paid for the time I spend on bookclub.

    The UPA is not so unique in this respect. Lots of people are doing lots of volunteer hours every day for causes they believe in. If you are not being overwhelmed by volunteers rather than throwing accusations around, perhaps you need to take a look at why people are using their time and talents elsewhere.

  11. Polly, I absolutely would love to help with your redesign. Let me know how I can. If there is a group that gets together etc.

  12. I think that this quote by Leisa in her recent comment:
    “If you are not being overwhelmed by volunteers rather than throwing accusations around, perhaps you need to take a look at why people are using their time and talents elsewhere.”
    Outlines the most important part of the thread…

    The issues I see as a non-London, non-Member student, mainly stem from the method of organising progress within the organisation, and then the “complaints” that this is due to the need for volunteers time.

    Why would someone volunteer time to something with a large committee? (Also, how many of your members know that you need much much more help?) And surely in this age, letting people know on the internet is much more beneficial than letting those know who are able to attend events?

  13. Hi Leisa,

    I joined the UPA a couple of years back. It was not a very simple process and involved some sort of letter being sent in order to access the website as I recall.

    I never even knew there was a UK bit until about 3 months ago when there was a bit of a hoo hah on Twitter.

    I renewed after one year but never since. The whole organisation didn’t really appear to offer me much, a poster I think they sent, and a couple of magazines which were moderately interesting.

    Living and working in the South West means I don’t really make it to London often (and this is no bad thing in my book, it’s choice!) so events are pretty much out of the question. Also, with a young family I prefer to spend my spare time at home.

    I prefer online communications being as that is the industry I work in and also means I can communicate at my leisure. I don’t think that the UPA addressed any of those needs, and certainly as I said, never even knew the UKUPA existed, which, should be concerning for them.

    The people who have taken it personally should do, seems to me it’s likely a bit of a members club for members to vote for their member mates. You’d have thought they’d have at least found out who joined the international organisation from the UK and attempted to communicate with them?

    To be fair a letter would likely have ended up in the junk mail though ;)

  14. Disclaimer: I have been watching the UK UPA from the sidelines for a while now, and I’m currently a candidate for the Communications committee position of the UK UPA.

    I’m glad you made you views heard. I’m sure many others share them, and this will be an opportunity to address them (or at least try to). You make many points here: some are trivial, some are indeed more strategic.

    The website(s)

    Yes, the old website was ugly and outdated, which is why a new one has been in the works. Yes, the new one (not yet launched yet, and only online for feedback!) currently puts way too much emphasis on the election, and not enough on what the UK-UPA stands for. To be fair, the new site does have an “About us” page that does a decent job of introducing it ( Yes, the website need someone dedicated to take care of it to ensure it reaches its full potential. This is in part why the Communications position has been created.

    These points are trivial, and easy to fix.

    The committee

    The part that I understand the least, in your post and following comment, is your disgust at the idea of a committee.

    To put it simply, not all organisations are small enough to be run by one person, and the committee is just a way to organise the volunteers. You seem to relate the issue of the membership fee and the existence of the committee, so I’ll just make it clear in case anyone was wondering: these are unpaid positions, occupied by people who have day jobs, without any perks but with tons of unpaid work for a sometime ungrateful crowd. The committee is not a burden on the UK-UPA, it is the people that make the UK-UPA run.

    Any organisation needs a structure to function and coordinate its moves. Yes, even in this day and age, committees are everywhere. Even deeply open and collaborative organisations like Mozilla and Wikipedia have committees or boards. No doubt both these organisations are doing more than the UK-UPA to engage volunteers, but you don’t need to be on the committee to help the UK-UPA. The new website is based on some visual designs the Clearleft folks did a while ago for the global UPA site. The site itself has been technically put together by other non-committee volunteers. I have provided photo coverage for some events, without being on the committee.

    I do believe the new committee positions will help the UK-UPA address some of the issues it is facing, simply because it is unrealistic to expect a tiny number of volunteers to have both the time and skills to engage in so many different activities. Personal/ Academic development, Accessibility, UK liaison, and yes, Communications, are all important roles for the UPA that require people with appropriate skills. Having these positions ensures you get the best people for the jobs and having one person as the primary responsible for something is the best way to make sure it is actually done, avoiding the diffusion of responsibility (


    I agree that the word “usability” is a bit out of fashion, as we all do more than that. Yet I am also sick and tired of people in our community changing their label to follow the trend, or wasting time nitpicking about what we should call whatever we do.

    We could change the name to UX. But then in a few months there would be voices to transition to CX, or to whatever will be the new trend next. London IA, “a social network for London User Experience Designers, IAs & IxDs” certainly doesn’t consider itself limited by its name and neither should the UK-UPA.

    I think it is also important to acknowledge that the field of UX has not invented something completely new, but built itself on many existing practices and professionals. Usability has been around for a while, it is still is the core of what we do, and is the most widely understood label that we have. I see no need to change it.

    What does the UPA do? / The UPA relevance

    It is obvious that the main thing the UK-UPA does, and may I say does well, is organising their monthly events. They are still, despite many others being created, the best opportunities to hear from interesting speakers, discuss and network with the wider community.

    The events and their continued success have been both a blessing an a curse. A blessing because these events are highly visible, and highly appreciated by a large and diverse audience. A curse, because, as it is often the case, the “urgent” (organising the next event) takes over the important (asking what more/else could be done).

    One issue is, of course, that these events happen only once a month, and in London. This is why there is a new position for UK liaison, where a dedicated person will champion the cause of spreading across the UK and coordinate/assist others volunteers to do so.

    The UK-UPA could do more on top of these events, and this is the more strategic part, that will take time, and could be helped by the research you suggest.

    A risk for the UK-UPA would be to duplicate what already exists from other groups. For example, London IA is already an established social network, and I see little need to create yet another online community.

    There is a need to define the UPA a bit further, or at least to communicate better what it is and what it isn’t. I personally think a key differentiator is precisely the fact that they are not 100% about UX, but also about academic and non-commercial research.

    The UK-UPA online presence, and the imbalance between internal cooking and larger issue.

    To me the problem isn’t that the UK-UPA website and tweets mention the elections or other internal processes, it is that they don’t mention other things more.

    Commendable efforts have been made on the not-yet-finished site which will provide a new basis for further developments, but the UK-UPA online presence is not yet up to par with their physical event-based presence.

    This is the reason I am running for the Communication position. I believe I can help make the UK-UPA communicate more and better online, be more open and less defensive. I would also be happy to work with other volunteers to solve the issues discussed here.

    To finish, I can’t help but remember that the UK-UPA events have helped many people I know, including myself, find their place and feel welcome in this profession. They must have been doing something right.

  15. Leisa, you also missed a key area of mine and in fact Polly’s reponses.

    The UK UPA has historically been seen as a bit dated. It’s all well and good starting something new, there’s one every three days at the moment.

    But the UPA is the old chip on the block when it comes to UX community events. Could it take an Open Source Approach to addressing some of its goals? Why not suggest how that might work then? I reckon that would be practical and relevant. One of the few things I agree with you on.

    Could they just shut down and start something new tomorrow? Probably not, because the people who get value out of it, don’t want that.

    As per your point about doing what the membership wants vs what the committee wants…well it looks like you’re having a semantic argument there. We’re not talking about politicians and government departments.

    As you rightly point out, no-one is living a priviledged life on the committee. Its about getting hands and feet dirty doing the work the community asks, with enough people, those needs will be met online and offline.

    No I don’t think the UK UPA is a purely offline org, but I wouldn’t criticise your book clubs having not been to one, and to be frank, I would be extremely surprised if you have been to a UK UPA event in the last year.

    Those who have raised their heads to address some of the things you pose as issues are attempting to be a part of the solution exactly because the committee reached out and because they thinks its worth it. If you don’t, oh well.

    So @Mark, I don’t accept your challenge that the community doesn’t know. Over the last year whilst I was there, we started to do much more on twitter and with the mailing list (which is larger in size than UK membership…again non-members benefiting).

    The response in both cases means that people are listening and joining in conversations with us and event attendance has grown accordingly, as has requests from people who want to speak at events, and those who want to volunteer their time to the committee.

  16. I think we’re getting to a bit of an impasse here so for the moment I just want to state, for the record, that I *have* attended a UK UPA this year. I attended and spoke at the recent book fair. And I brought a book to swap. It’s a photo of the colourful cards I had made for bookclub specifically to bring to that event that you can see on your new website.

    Shall I tell you what I learned about the UPA while I was at that event:
    – I learned who the new committee members are
    – I learned that the UPA thinks its membership has a significant interest in academic publishing (and perhaps they do – who am I to judge)

    I learned other things that night too (about being an author) and really enjoyed some of the presentations. I met some new people and saw some old friends. And I was please (but not surprised) to see a great turn out.

    But I didn’t learn anything about other ways that being a member of the UPA was going to add value to my life, or why/how I should volunteer/participate.

    I know you don’t see it this way, but I’ve actually spent hours volunteering for UPA today. Why do it? Not because I’m bored and I like to snark, but because I care about the UX Community and – contrary to what the UPA clearly believe – I want to help the UPA serve this community better.

  17. Sorry to be a pedant on this, but I’ll say again, I’ve responded as an individual. I represent my views as those of a former UK UPA member. Not the current committee or the UPA (global org).

    Apologies I was unable to attend the event you spoke at which is why I overlooked it. My bad. Great forum isn’t it?

    I absolutely believe the academic link is an important one the UK UPA can maintain more than other groups in the UK. Like I said in my previous response, the benefit the UK UPA provides to the community is not exclusive to members.

    You’re right tho, I don’t think this discussion counts as volunteering, I doubt you’ve told anyone anything new (in my humble opinion).

    What I hear from the sum of your post and comments is that the UKUPA are doing some things right (which we know about) and need to do more work on comms (which they know about) and that everyone is tired of voting and wants stuff to happen already (again, already ticked).

    But you did manage to wind a bunch of people up. Thankfully my temperature rise was much appreciated given the blitz outside my window.

  18. I’m a fairly recent addition to the UK UPA membership, and I’m really rather dismayed by the responses (personal, not the view of the committee, I get it) from those on, or recently on, the committee.

    When Leisa posted this, I feared that rather than see an opportunity to engage and open up a conversation with a lot of people who genuinely want good things for the UPA, those connected with the UPA committee would see it a a slight upon them and an attack. It’s not.

    Nobody is asking the committee to do more work.

    In fact, quite the opposite. I’d rather like to see them do *far less* and involve the wider membership more. That’s not about creating more positions – 12 committee positions for an organisation of 300 people is an insane ratio – but it does involve talking to people more – as Leisa says, those who (like me) are members, and those (like Leisa) who aren’t.

    One thing that the committee should know from watching how other events/organisations have prospered in London and elsewhere is that there is no shortage of people who are willing to volunteer time and energy to create a great UX community. It’s the greatest strength that London, in particular, has to its advantage.

    Genuine question: has anyone at the UK UPA spoken to the organisers of other networks to see how they could do more together, how the UK UPA could learn from their experience and vice versa, and explore where there might be gaps in learning/training/networking/ and in so doing serve all its members even better?

    So long as the UK UPA loads all the weight on to the poor shoulders of its volunteer committee, it’s going to continue to move so slowly that it’s going to become an irrelevance. Not because there aren’t good people involved, there are, but because the model you are working to does not work. The UK UPA is being run like an old school branch Labour Party, and I speak from experience when I say that is not a good place to be.

    So, to be clear – I am not criticising individuals connected to the UK UPA, but rather sympathising with them. I am not asking the committee to do more, or become even bigger. I am, however, asking that the UK UPA engage with its members, the wider community including other groups and determine together what the UK UPA is to stand for. I’m saying this because I want the UK UPA to be something better than it is.

    Any organisation should be the collective strength of its membership not its organising committee, but the UK UPA doesn’t feel like that at the moment.

  19. Rather than posting a long comment here responding to all points made above, I’ve posted my personal take on the UK UPA and my involvement with the committee over at my blog.

    One thing that I’d like to mention here is that I certainly agree with Andrew. I’ve been learning from and working with other UX groups, and I continue to advocate working together. I’d love to see all groups pull together to solve one big problem: a lack of mentors. Leisa, this is something you’ve been passionate about. As is Leslie from the UPA. The IA Institute is running a successful mentoring scheme, and I’m sure improving it further is on Ian Fenn’s agenda. Let’s do something!

    But that’s a different story. For now, I’ve ranted over at

  20. Interesting post.

    I’m a member of UPA and have been to couple of events so far. I think their events are great and have learned a lot from them.

    Having ran a formally registered charity in the past and being on a committee of another one currently, I know that paperwork involved with running such organisations is far too big compared to the value that is gained from doing it.

    It sucks up time and takes away focus from primary activity: serving charity’s members.

    This is the reason why charity sector in UK has become such a big employer – bureaucracy creates jobs.

    Considering the organising committee does everything for free I think it’s unfair to diss their web site and so on.

    I also feel that giving generic consultancy via a blog post is slightly too easy. Why have you opted out of becoming a committee member? Because you feel it’s too hard to change things (i.e. it requires too much free work?). Perfect reason if so! This is the reason why people don’t join free initiatives, especially when there is so much paid UX work around (I don’t currently know a single UX person who is any good and isn’t booked up day and night working on paid projects).

    When you talk about building a better web site for UPA faster, are you offering concrete help there to wire frame something? Maybe even get someone to throw some HTML together?

    I found it in the past when running a charity that there were tons of people with excellent ideas and suggestions (much more than in paid companies, usually because charities deal with some really interesting, relevant, social issues and ideas), but very few people who were willing to offer concrete help. And concrete help is the absolute key. Money, effort, deliverables, etc.

    So the very fact that you have come so close to joining the committee, but giving up at the last minute implies to me that you don’t want to promise loads and end up not delivering on that promise. Rather, you have opted to write a blog post about it and offer your generic consultancy view of: ‘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.’ which does not mean much and applies equally to every single organisation I can think of. There is about month’s worth of solid work there for 2-3 people to implement that generic piece of consultancy and it’s probably worth around £50K at current rates of what people charge for it.

    The final point I make is that I don’t necessarily like what UPA are doing and I think that they ought to be engaging more with the community, but the way UK charity sector is organised means that choosing your commmittee members in appropriate democratic way becomes a big task if all the charity rules are going to be followed properly. Many people find themselves lost and confused in this whole process and can even lose passion in the long term.

    This is the reason why I didn’t join UPA as frankly I cannot dedicate more of my time for free to yet another charity (I am already a member of two committees and have wife and son to see every now and then also).

    Best regards.

  21. @Andrew – thank you, you said more eloquently than I, pretty much what I was trying to say in the end.

    @Johanna – that is a great blog post. I’ll go comment over there. Recommend any interested parties go read this post.

    @Jason – a couple of things. Firstly, just because something is free doesn’t mean it’s allowed to be rubbish.

    Especially if it’s out there, representing our industry. Which it is. UPA has a responsibility to us UX practitioners, IMHO, and at the moment, on some fronts, they are failing. This is NOT due to committee members not working hard enough, this is due to the current participation model.

    I refuse to accept that is is OK for the UPA to look this bad online – and I think that, when they’re not being overly defensive, the committee members agree with that too.

    Here’s a question though – why does the website have to be so difficult? Why not just do it with WordPress?

    You know what – if we did a WebJam about this, we could have a good looking, effective communicating, easily updatable website sorted in a weekend, couldn’t we.

    Johanna? Dees? UPA Committee? Are you up for this?

  22. Firstly I think that people are taking Leisa points too personally. I’m sure Leisa is aware of the constraints of running a none profit organization and it’s the organisation that is being commented on not the people and I think she has some good points. I don’t see anything that is a personal attack. I don’t see responding as if this is some fore of character assassination is helpful to any one. Sure it’s quite forcefully put but from a number of the comments I think a fare few people agree.

    If the responses to Leisa’s comments are that these issue are being addressed then surely this is an opportunity to communicate this? Seemly the vast majority of the UX community don’t understand what changes are being made. Instead of seeing this as an attack the UPA should use a provocative post such as this to open a debate. Which is what has happened any way.

    I like and respect the people on the comity enormously. I’m sure we are all grateful for the time and effort from the committee members but I think Andrews point is very valid. There’s a huge community of people who would be more then happy to help out. I guess people might not even know how?

    I think basically it boils down to the communications from the UPA in the last few months being more about the elections/voting/committee then anything else. Certainly with in my circle of friends in the London UX community the majority of people don’t really care that much about who is running the UPA. We do care about the great events and getting together to meet our peers.
    Maybe the fact that not many people are voting support this. Personally I do have a passing interest as I know some of the committee members quite well (Hi Guys). I was even tempted to stand for the committee my self (missed the deadline… and don’t currently have the head space).

    My one criticism of this post is that in talking about the elections/voting/ committee is this not just promoting more discussion about the elections/voting/committee? Something I am now guilty of as well!

  23. Me again…and this is my last comment…I promise.

    What I love about this is the 240 degree turn on what was said, and what was meant.

    CHANGE IS HAPPENING and yet it seems the very evidence of that change (online comms and new website) is what was lambasted in Leisa’s post and in some of the comments here.

    (Again that snarky UX-thingy…lets point on twitter and blogs)

    The fact is that it’s very easy to throw so called ‘constructive criticism’ at a body or a committee…but my personal reactions and it seems a few others is because that body is made up of people.

    Claire, Hannah, Gerred, Marianne, Johanna, Chandra and Whan. These were the people who I was on the committee with and a lot of the critics know them personally (thanks for making that point Ben).

    It is that fact, that you know some of these people that should change the tone. Like I said this isn’t a government here, be respectful of other professionals. Simple.

    That same committee now has different names, Chandra, Jane, Leslie, Stuart, Polly, Johanna, Whan….but its still people not a faceless entity. Again, I’m sure you know some of these people.

    If you weren’t trying to critsise us, the tone of the post should have been different and I stand by mine and others right to respond in kind.

    And if the overarching conclusion is that the UK UPA should no longer affiliate with global, well, like I said it’s in progress. People should get off their high horses.

  24. Hi from Chandra aka @Dr_Kiwi_Girl aka the UK UPA President and slightly hurt individual

    I’m not trying to take this as a personal attack because there are more important things in the world, but it did hurt as the past and current committee works bloody hard to do what we do. I would like to address the questions and statements and apologise as it may be a bit long. As my colleagues have mentioned the following is my own personal opinion, but I believe it sums up the ethos that has been the back bone of the UK UPA since it began many many years ago.

    What’s in the name?

    The UPA has always covered more than just usability or ux or IA. The name is established and respected worldwide. We have more important things to do than debate about whether the name should change. I also believe that to appeal to the wider community rather than just the UX community we need to leave well enough alone.

    Let’s move on from this one.

    Is the UK UPA really ‘fuddy duddy,’ ‘dated,’ ‘dry and serious’?

    All the people that attend the meetings regularly seem to enjoy themselves. We are certainly more structured than other organisations but that is the point. Its also part of the value that comes from being involved. We do cover more than just UX and design, we do occasionally have academic content. We want to challenge and offer a diverse range of topics. Look at the events we had last year, they covered a wide wide variety of topics and didn’t go over the same stuff that other groups do. One of the benefits of the UK UPA is its diversity of content.

    How does this make us dated?

    What are you offering the UX profession that is worth handing over a membership fee?

    Membership to an internationally recognised organisation as well as large scale events in quality venues and friendly networking opportunities where people are introduced and encouraged.

    Do you really need a committee?

    Emphatically, yes. We like democracy. Most professional organisations are membership driven and elected committees are required to ensure that no single person or group’s agenda becomes higher priority than any others. Voting is part of a democratic society and a friendly thing to do. Sorry for the elections tweets but we want to engage people and twitter seems to be the place. The UK UPA and the International UPA are not an ad hoc organisation, a huddle, a camp, an occasional gathering, a bowling group, a book club or pub based get together. Other groups do that really well and we don’t knock them for it, in fact many of our members are also members of these events as well. We don’t want a self appointed steering committee, we want structure to achieve bigger things.

    How about you get involved to help us make the changes you are requesting? Not blogging, but pitching in doing something useful. This discussion has taken many hours time that could have been better spent writing content for the website – and as you rightly pointed out we need help with that.

    If so, what are they actually doing?

    The committee are all volunteers and give up several hours per month to offer service to the members. In the past 12 months, among other things, we have:
    • Listed numerous jobs for free (many other organisations have paid employees to do that)
    • Organised a salary survey (however badly responded to)
    • Organised ten successful and large events (average of 80 people)
    • Helped teach people something new
    • Hosted the World Usability Day celebrations at the Cumberland Hotel
    • Provided numerous opportunities for networking to many individuals
    • Had a fun summer pub quiz with ‘guess that wireframe’
    • Responded to email requests for information on a variety of topics
    • Worked many long hours on creating a new website (which is not yet finished)
    • Introduced countless new attendees to recruiters and potential employers
    • Provided advice to people who had questions about international events, accessibility and job hunting
    • Been asked to endorse endeavours in the community because of our reputable standing
    • Secured a variety of new discounts on products and services for members
    • Helped other organisations with their events (e.g. Medical Device Usability)
    • Held workshops for people wanting to publish at conferences
    • Helped produce the annual NMA UX Guide
    • Been to the pub a few times
    • Held two rounds of elections

    We are also working towards
    • broadening the coverage of the UK UPA to work with the community outside London
    • improving visibility of our activities
    • engaging more members and non-members in submitting content to the website
    • improving the communication in general and the website in particular
    • maintaining the quality of the events
    • improving communication of our activities including photos, videos, slideshare etc.

    Strategically we have a variety of activities we are working on including
    • Becoming a hub for a wide variety of groups, not just UX or IA groups
    • Working with the wider community on a mentoring programme
    • UK group outreach to not just UPA groups
    • And exploring alternative funding options

    All the comments about offering to help are great, so please come see us at the next event and we’ll put your name against a task.

    What about the rubbish old website?

    We now have something designed by Clearleft and we know its not finished. If there is a page that you think you can write content for then please let us know. The delay and drawn out process was one of the drawbacks of being involved in a worldwide organisation. We needed to wait until the global UPA launched theirs. But the new one is in beta and will replace the older version in the next month once we have ironed out some bugs. We make no excuses for having the elections blatantly advertised on the home page. That is our most important news feature. Two weeks ago it was World Usability Day. I’m not going to apologise for that.

    But we can’t be responsible for all the content as we are all volunteers not content writers. How about some of you who are so good at writing offering up some useful and informative content that we could place on the site?

    Why should people respond to our salary survey?

    One other matter that has also been of discussion recently is our salary survey. It is run annually (well almost annually) by a reputable organisation that has been doing this for many years, it provides comparative data year upon year and we never claimed to be statistically significant. It has always been meant to be a snap shot of the profession. We do certainly need to get more people completing it. But from a purely personal point of view I would not want to provide my salary details to one individual just because she asked. I would much rather trust that data to an organisation that has some degree of structure and where there is some come back if the data is miss used.

    Leisa, as people like yourself have such a strong voice in certain parts of the digital world, it would be great to work with you to gather information on things like the salary survey. The UK UPA offers an independent, consistent and secure survey that has run for many many years and we would like this to be the best it can be and cover a wide variety of people. How about next year you help us tap into your community so we can get a larger sample and also ensure that it is endorsed by an organisation rather than just an individual?

    Yes – currently the UK UPA is part of a global UPA machine.

    This is one of the major benefits of being a member. Wherever you go in the world there will be a group similar to ours that does similar things and the members there will be just as welcoming as the ones in London (maybe even more so). Employers in many countries know the UPA and recognise membership as a valuable point. We like being part of a global organisation, it offers value. The fact that we don’t see a penny of the membership money is an issue but breaking away (which has been discussed for years) is not a small endeavour and one that we are exploring. To maintain the benefits and gain individual membership will take a huge amount of structure.

    Please bear with us, we are wanting this to happen and it is part of our strategic plan.

    Thanks for acknowledging what we do do well

    Its good to know that people can see that we do provide valuable services to the UX community in the UK. Thank you Leisa for being part of our event programme last year. These events take a fair amount of organising as they are scheduled and attract large numbers and we don’t like leaving things up to chance. One of the things I’m constantly told about why the UK UPA events are so good is that you can attend not knowing anyone and be welcomed and introduced and soon you are part of the group. The committee make sure that people are welcomed and introduced, its in our job descriptions. And that is part of the value you get. You yourself listed several benefits you got from attending that one event. Personally I think that learning something new, meeting new people, catching up with familiar faces, have some drinks and nibbles are worthwhile benefits.

    Please do tell us what us you want us to do to offer more value? What do people get from being a member of UX Bookclub that we could use as well?
    We’d also like to hear more about what other events people would like us to host. If you want to be involved and have ideas then please talk to us, not to the twitterverse or blogosphere or wherever. We don’t monitor all social media channels at all hours of the day and night so please use established channels that work at whatever time. Come talk to us at events or email us.

    Yes – at the moment the UK UPA currently has 300+ members.

    We’d like there to be many more and would like to offer them value for their membership fees. This takes time and effort and as a bunch of volunteers organising large events and infrastructure that means things happen at slower place than for ad hoc events that can be put together at short notice. Please bear with us while we work to offer the wider community the value it is asking for. Crowdsourcing is not always the answer to everything, nor is it userfriendly to people who are not constantly on twitter or blogs or the internet.

    The UK UPA is certainly willing to admit that there is much more that we can do. We need structure in place before we can do that, hence the elections and committee. And while we do want to become more user friendly we are not wanting to UXify if that means holding debates only on twitter and blogs rather than having useful discussions in person.

    We welcome feedback, but would really encourage people who have an issue with what we are doing (or not doing) to talk to us directly. In user-centred design the most effective feedback is given directly and in a timely manner. How about using the channels we have in place for that e.g. emailing the committee, providing feedback through comments on the website, coming and talking to us at events.

    We hope that the UX, IA, IxDA, Usability, Academic, Usability, Ergonomics, Human Factors, Accessibility organisations and every other organisation with a user-centred mandate will soon see the benefit of being involved and become proud and active members. We would much rather work with organisations and individuals rather than be attacked for making a democratic and structured effort.

    As others have mentioned, its great to have a discussion, but it would be even better if the nastiness stopped. The discussion now when people have allegedly been suffering in silence for so many years means that things are afoot and change is imminent. Its good that the communication channels are finally opened. But, lets put the good stuff discussed into practice and work together, whether members or non-members of the UK UPA or whatever organisation, for the betterment of the wider community.

    Lets all play nice – Please.

  25. “Why not just do it with WordPress?”
    Love that WordPress suggestion. Guess what the new site runs on? Yes, you should have checked before speaking.

    “Could do it all in a week end”…
    Seriously. The UPA website needs are more complex that it appears, involving many different stakeholders. A lot of great work has already taken place behind the scene, even if not all is ready yet.

    Don’t assume you have a complete view on the issue and can solve it all in a couple of days. I’m sure you know better than to have this attitude with your clients.

    So thanks for your feedback, but I’d say give a chance to the new team, including forthcoming new committee members, to have a go.

  26. @chandra

    Why is it better to have direct feedback via email or in person? On a public blog such as this it’s easier for others to follow and contribute to the conversation, especially if they’re not based in london.

  27. This seems to be going a bit astray. I agree with much of what Leisa has said in the original post, and it’s a shame that it’s being misrepresented as a dig at the UPA instead of constructive criticism.

    I think everyone should take a deep breath and consider the substantive points raised by everyone involved, and try to just take them on board. Several good suggestions have been made in the comments, not least of which being there are many potential volunteers who can help with events etc, the committee just needs to reach out to them.

    Hopefully this can be seen positively as a step towards an improved and more focussed UPA that will encourage many more practitioners (me included) to join.

  28. I think there possibly more then one high horse involved here.

    If all these things are in process then every one is actually saying the same thing. Right? So we all agree right? so lets figure out how we (the community as a whole) can help out.

    If these things are in progress then maybe the only really valid criticism is that maybe more time should be spent communicating changes (and there does appear to be a consensus that change is needed) that are in progress rather then talking about the committee/voting/elections? (which I’ve just done again damn!). And from what people have said better communication is one of the things in progress (can you say catch 22?). I’m sure if Leisa was more aware of whats going on then maybe she wouldn’t have written the post…

    Apart from the slightly strongly wording in Leisa’s post I’m not sure what every one is making a fuss over.

  29. I’m personally quite glad Leisa’s made this post, for all the counter-reaction it’s provoked. I’ve been a UPA member for… well, many years now, but genuinely have been giving little thought to it outside sporadically attending some events. This blog & Twitter spat has told me more about the UK UPA, what it wants to do, where it wants to go, who’s on the committee, what they’d like to do but can’t because they need more help, etc then all my previous years of membership put together.

    This is a good thing, surely. Can we keep talking, please?

  30. Just to clarify, Clearleft had nothing to do with the new UKUPA site. We did work on a small redesign project for the main UPA site a few years ago which has yet to be implemented. I believe the UK branch may have used elements of that design, but it definitely wasn’t “designed by Clearleft”.

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