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April 2005 Contents

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How UX Plays (and Works) Together:
A UXnet Panel Discussion in NYC

by Joy Zigo
User Interface Architect, HarperCollins Publishers

UXnet is a new group “formed to help make connections between the people and organizations that represent User Experience disciplines, and to encourage interchange and cooperation.” UPA is one of these organizations; UPA president Whitney Quesenbery is on the UXnet Executive Council.

On March 15, 2005, UXnet held a cross-organizational event in New York, sponsored by the Parsons School of Design, the Parsons Design Lab and the UXnet NYC Leadership Council. The Council, which is a “Local Ambassador” of UXnet, includes:

Dave Heller produced and named this popular event.

Louis Rosenfeld, co-author of Information Architecture for the World Wide Web and a UXnet co-founder, keynoted and moderated the event.

Panelists included:

  • Conor Brady, Creative Director at Avenue A | Razorfish
  • Mark Hurst, founder of Creative Good and host of the Gel conference,
  • Whitney Quesenbery, independent usability and design consultant, president of UPA
  • Josh Seiden, founder and president of 36 Partners consultancy,
  • James Spahr, acting assistant chair of Communications Design at Pratt Institute
  • Marilyn Tremaine, educator at New Jersey Institute of Technology, and past President of SIGCHI

Lou introduced UXnet and its initiatives, including an online directory of related groups and local events Calendars.

He pointed out that facilitating connections among more people in more organizations is a key to increased value for all of us. “We can all benefit by working together,” going beyond ‘This is mine’ to explore the power of supporting each other and learning from each other.

What Is This Thing Called UX?

Lou catalyzed a broad-ranging discussion, beginning with the basic but thorny question of how people define the term “user experience.”

Some panelists felt that a definition was not necessary, or even desirable. Whitney suggested leaving it undefined to allow for more collaboration, a sharing of the umbrella rather than pinning down the boundaries.

Marilyn said “it’s valuable to have a concrete definition of UX that you can write down, so that people outside the group know what it is.” She pointed out the need for a definition that students and their parents can understand, so they can value starting a career in the field. Marilyn also emphasized the importance of making UX into a profession that is salient to the public: “We need a children’s book called I Want to be a UX Designer.”

Mark contended that in the business world, it's results and metrics that matter. “Clients don’t care what we call it, as long as we do a good job.”

Dave suggested that “what matters is the definition of the disciplines under UX.”

Who All Is Under the Umbrella Together?

Many agreed that the key to success is getting the right person to lead the right part of a project at the right time.

Conor said that while Razorfish has an “Experience Lead” on each project, the makeup of the UX team is constantly changing; the important thing is that “all members of the team have to respect the others.”

Similarly, Josh spoke about an enterprise software project where a group of business analysts “have done great specs, but the product was coming out bad” until the need for another discipline—interaction design—was recognized.

Marilyn suggested that another group should be under the UX umbrella: people in the Association for Information Systems, who have a business background and emphasize a quantitative approach. Although they may never have heard of UX, they are doing UX work.

Amy Kang, in the audience, described herself as a “product manager” who has a business background and tries to solve business problems in her work – in an environment without IA’s. But product managers like Amy are also UX people who serve as advocates for users.

This two-hour discussion also took on: how each of us as a UX professional tries to fill the gaps in our own knowledge, how a university and a consultancy teach both craft and strategy to people who are entering the field, and how panelists define the properties of a successful UX consulting engagement.

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