For much of this year, I’ve been working on a project to document a history of the user experience field in Michigan. It’s a subject that’s quite interesting to me, but because it’s not my day job, it’s also something that is perpetually on the back burner.
I’ve interviewed some really interesting people so far, and I’ve started to feel bad about burying the information I’ve gotten from them for months already, and potentially for years to come. Does keeping this information to myself for however many years it takes to feel “done”—to have interviewed enough people and written something satisfactory—fulfill the goal of the project?
Well, no. The goal is to make the information available. I still want to write something that stitches all this information together, but in the meantime, I’m going to start trying to whip these interviews into shape and making them available here.
If all goes well, watch this spot for more!
My work on the history of user experience in Southeast Michigan is continuing slowly and steadily. The biggest obstacle, unsurprisingly, is that paid work always takes precedence over the history project. Not that I necessarily want to get paid for the history project. It would be super scary to actually be obligated to complete it. I have to admit, though, it would also be exhilarating to have this work be my primary job.
I’m hard pressed to identify what is most time-consuming about this work, but my best take on it, in ascending order of time-consuming-ness, is:
- Interviewing people
- Booking interviews with people
- Transcribing interviews and otherwise digesting what I’ve learned
- Assembling a narrative from all this information I’m gathering
I do think, however, that the narrative will get easier at some point. I’ve already found that to a certain extent, some of my interview subjects have shed light on episodes that I otherwise have a handle on.
I still have to push further into talking to people about the post-2005 time period. I’ve addressed it a bit, and the oddest part of trying to write about it is that I start to enter the story after 2005. I’m not sure how, exactly, to handle it. I’m also pondering the issue of whether to expand my scope beyond the rather arbitrary boundary of Southeast Michigan and just encompass Michigan and part of Ohio. I know far fewer people outside of Southeast Michigan, but places like Lansing and Grand Rapids have had an impact on events in my home region. Also: How much do I talk about non-UX things like the local Society for Technical Communications and human factors work (such as in the auto industry).
It’s hard to say how I could ever truly be done with this project. Well, obviously – history has a way of continuing to happen. Even so, it’s hard to see where I’m going to call it “finished” if I’m working at this rate. I have no plan to abandon the project yet, but even if I do at some point, I suppose a half-finished history is more helpful than no history at all.
I appeared in the October issue of Net. I guess it came out a while ago, but it took time for the physical copies to cross the Atlantic. Last week, I finally got my hands on a copy of the magazine. It was pretty cool to run into the bookstore and pick up something that I wrote.
If you are interested in developing your skills and raising your profile in the UX community, you may have thought about giving talks at conferences. If you’ve already tried submitting proposals to conferences, you’re probably feeling pretty discouraged at this point. Well, I have a foolproof guide to getting your proposal accepted:
Be someone that conferences will invite to speak.
It turns out that filling out a conference proposal is, in fact, a fool’s game. UX conferences get hundreds of proposals. The only guaranteed way to speak at conferences is to be one of the handful of UX celebrities that gets invited to speak at every conference.
Unfortunately, this option is not open to most people. Fortunately, there is a second foolproof way to get your talk accepted:
Be incredibly lucky.
The foremost thing to understand about the conference review process is that it all comes down to the opinions of the reviewers. These opinions are incredibly subjective and idiosyncratic. Some conferences actually share the reviewers’ feedback with you (which is a great thing for them to do). Every time, I’ve found that reviewers will give opposite and mutually exclusive feedback. I’ve had the same proposal described as:
- Too detailed and not detailed enough
- Such common knowledge that no one would want to hear this talk and an important emergent topic that everyone would want to hear
- Too basic and too advanced
So, while I appreciate getting the feedback, I don’t even know what to do with it. As it turns out, getting a talk accepted is just like playing a slot machine. You pull the lever and hope you get three cherries.
Some of the team at Michigan State University’s Experience Architecture program wrote an article for User Experience Magazine and they do a great job of describing what’s so exciting about their program.
I agree completely with a program rooted in the humanities, for the reasons they described. Human values are necessarily the heart of what we do in user experience, and something that, while I don’t believe the University of Michigan School of Information was against, it wasn’t really something that entered the conversation.
It’s interesting to see programs that are created when it’s taken as given that there is a user experience field, and it is a field where people find jobs. When my own school, UMSI, reorganized to incorporate Human-Computer Interaction, it was the early days of usability in industry, and I don’t think there was as clear of a career path.
However, I do have reservations about efforts to push more people into the user experience field. Michigan is not a hot market for user experience (or any job, really). I worry that we’re giving young people the skills they need to evacuate the state, or to engage in a frustrating job search.
But much more importantly, seeing an undergraduate program in UX spring up (and this is in addition to UMSI starting its own undergraduate program) makes me wonder about the future of our field. Does it hasten the day when there are no distinct “user experience” job titles, and instead the skills are taken as a given in a variety of different jobs?