Welcome UXPA

I welcome the recent announcement from the Usability Professionals Association that they have changed their name to User Experience Professionals Association. As one of the founders of IxDA, I thought I would share with you my perspective on this change and why I think it’s good for the industry.

[I should say that I am no longer involved in the leadership of IxDA, and am in no way speaking in an official capacity.]

To understand my perspective, I thought it might be useful to talk about some of the early decisions we made when we established IxDA.*
Among the most important decisions we had to make prior to founding IxDA had to do with two interrelated questions:

  • would we represent a broad definition of IxD (i.e. IxD = UX) or a narrow one?
  • what position should we take relative to the other professional organizations in the space.

“Big IxD vs Little IxD”

When we say “interaction design,” what do we mean? Do we mean the narrowly-defined specialty practice, or do we mean the broadly-defined overarching practice of designing interactive products and services. If you consider yourself an interaction designer, (and I do), it’s difficult to avoid seeing the entire process of designing products and services through this lens. And many thinkers who we respect would argue for this broad definition of Interaction Design. (Richard Buchanan’s definition is the one that is most personally meaningful to me. He says that interaction design is “how people relate to other people through the mediating influence of products.” To design that is to engage in a Big IxD perspective.)

And of course while we were discussing this, we were aware that this same questions has been asked in all of our related “sister” disciplines. Big IA vs Little IA. “Usability with a capital U.”

Regardless of where we landed in this debate though, there was another factor. It was becoming clear that (much to the distaste of many in the community), terms and labels were being decided by common usage. This was happening in the world as we spoke, and regardless of what we wanted. The world was settling on a label for “Big IxD” and “Big IA” and “Usability with capital U.” That label, for better and for worse, was “User Experience.” There are good reasons to dislike this label, but in my opinion they are insignificant compared to the benefit of simply having a label.

Little IxD FTW!

So we had to decide: did we want to go big–in which case, we would have to take up the mantle of UX–or did we want to go small? We decided to go small, and here are some of the reasons we did: (and again this is my list, not an official position statement)

  • Interaction design in the small sense was what we as a group felt passionate about.
  • We felt that design culture was not effectively represented in the practice, and we wanted to advocate for that.
  • We felt that design culture needed to be dragged into the modern age, and we wanted to do that.
  • We were not interested in IA, or usability testing, or content strategy, or graphic design, or SEO, or industrial design or…  And at the same time, we both did some of that work ourselves, and more importantly, acknowledged how critical those practices are to the success of our work.

So we decided to advocate very narrowly to make IxD a really great discipline, and we hoped that people who felt similar passion for our sister disciplines would do the same under sister organizations. To encourage the success of sister organizations, we joined and supported an organization called UXnet.

IxDA: one nation under an umbrella

UXnet was intended to create a coalition of sister organizations.  It was intended to be the “Big [whatever]” organization. It never succeeded–in my opinion the failure was not because it wasn’t needed, but because in a world of volunteers the only ideas that live are the ones that have passionate advocates behind them.

UXPA as umbrella?

So this is a long way of saying: I’m happy to have the UXPA in the world. I believe that we need advocates for both the disciplines and for the practice(s) as a whole. It is my sincere hope that UXPA can serve as the umbrella organization we need. I am looking forward to hearing more from UXPA about how they intend to work with the discipline-specific organizations. How will they collaborate? How will they support? I’ve always respected the UPA and the leadership there and always felt that they are motivated by the sincere desire to make our industry great. I’m optimistic about this change, and looking forward to hearing more.

At the same time, I look to the discipline-specific organizations (like IxDA, IAI, etc) to engage in meaningful collaboration and dialog with UXPA. How will we work together to address the many real challenges we face as an industry?

– How will we create the next generation of designers, architects, and User Experience professional?
– How will we advance the quality of work, understanding, and impact of the existing professionals?
– How will we use our work to make the world a better place? (To “improve the human condition…”?)

Let’s not worry about land grabs. Land is for cultivating.


* In terms of providing historical perspective, I believe I can speak effectively about the early days of IxDA. I was on the steering committee in 2004 (prior to incorporation), was part of the 2005 founding retreat, was a board member when we first incorporated later that year, and served as the second President of the organization. Those interested in more of the thinking a process behind the organization’s founding can see Greg Petroff’s “Brief History…” deck.

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