August 05, 2003

An Open Letter to Tog

Tog (aka Bruce Tognazzini) of NNG has a new article called "It's Time We Got Respect." Tog issues a rally-cry for "software designers, or interaction engineers, or human interface folks, or whatever we who create the interaction model for our products are calling ourselves this week." He thinks we need a "new beginning" - that we need to name ourselves something new (Interaction Architects) that we need to create a collective brand, and that we need a new professional organization to go with it all.

I disagree.

Below is my response that I posted on the Yahoo! Group Tog has setup to discuss the article. I've added some emphasis here to facilitate better scanning for those of you that don't hang on my every word. :)

Are you in the game or sitting on the sidelines?
Okay, so I'm already a SIG-CHI member, I'm on the board of a local UPA chapter, and I consider myself an active member of the "SIG-IA" community. I'm already over-committed. Aifia is new, AIGA-ED is new, DUX is new...we've seen plenty of new organizations and events recently.

I don't call myself a "Usability Professional", although I would say I belong to that field, my title is "User Experience Architect." I came to the conclusion a long time ago that most titles need some explaining, and in the course of explaining mine I get to tell people the *value* of what I do. (For what it's worth, I also picked "architect" for many of the same reasons Tog did.) If you say you're a "lawyer," people will want to know what kind of shark, er lawyer you are, especially if they are considering using your services.

To put it bluntly, I don't need yet another organization to belong to, and I think there is enough latitude within existing organizations to accomplish Tog's stated goals. In fact, I can't see how Tog's goals are any different from UPA's.

(From the UPA web site:)
The Usability Professionals' Association was formed to:

- Provide a network and opportunities through which usability professionals can communicate and share information about skills and skill development, methodology used and/or proposed in the profession, tools, technology, and organizational issues.
- Present the viewpoints of the profession to the public and other interested parties.
- Educate the general public and others on the usefulness of the profession.
- Represent the profession before governmental bodies and agencies.
- Provide the methods and means to increase the members' knowledge of the profession through seminars, newsletters, magazines, and other communication tools, and through meetings and conventions.
- Serve the best interests of the usability profession.

They also list some Usability and User-Centered Design Activities including design.

I'm mainly a designer, and while I do some testing in the course of my work I've never said I was a "tester." I've never seen UPA as an organization for "testers" -- UPA promotes every aspect of User-Centered Design (or Human-Centered Design if you like) and all the requisite roles therein. They are, as Tog points out, very practitioner focused. Lots of interaction design and information architecture folks regularly attend our local UPA-MN meetings and international UPA events.

So what should we do?
My suggestion would be for people to get active in UPA or SIG-CHI or AIGA-ED or aifa or whatever and make an impact in the direction of those organizations. Help them better acheive their stated goals.

Start a local chapter, volunteer for a board position, start a SIG, plan an event around ID/IA that's sponsored by an existing organization. It's a hell of a lot less work than creating a whole new organization, and you won't be competing with related organizations either. Want to promote ID or Usability? Join (or chair) a communications committee and send out some press releases, recognize companies with awards, generate some interest. The number of folks really active in these fields isn't great enough to support lots of organizations. (Tog, think about how much more you and others in NNG could do for UPA or SIG-CHI...)

Critics of existing organizations may think that those organizations are doing exactly what they want to do, but the fact is that most organizations aren't doing anything close to what they'd like to do. Their efforts are severly limited by a lack of resources - financial, physical, and emotional. They can use your help, your fresh ideas, and your enthusiasm.

We are definitely "two sides of the same coin," so let's work together. Want to do something? Realize you can change what exists today, get off of the sidelines, and get in the game so we can win. Don't go start a new game - we need you on our team!

I'd be happy to discuss this further. As Tog indicated in his article's introduction, this is a very important issue.

Lyle Kantrovich

- Blog post: "Why I’m not calling myself an Information Architect anymore"
- B&A Comments on "Why I’m not calling myself an Information Architect anymore"
- The Making of a Discipline: The Making of a Title
- Challis Hodge - UX Roles & Titles: Trend or Profession?
- Argus-ACIA Salaries and Benefits for Information Architects - Most Common Titles
- Bloug: IAs: Better at Marketing than they Thought?

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