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Aug 26, 2009: Can we talk? (and why? and how?)

One of my New Year's resolutions for 2009 was to talk regularly with UX practitioners. Since then, I've been organizing monthly UX book salons. For the most part, we've discussed the format and presentation of UX books—which of their features you like, which you don't, and how they can be improved, as well as what sort of topics you'd like to see addressed. So far, these salons have taken place in person—at conferences like the IA Summit and UPA, and when I'm not on the road, in NYC-area conference rooms supplied by some very nice people at companies like Huge, Google NYC, and Bond Art & Science.

I like to think that my heart is in the right place—after all, how many publishers actually sit down with their community on a monthly basis? But I've executed the idea poorly. I'm looking for your input on how these salons might be more engaging and, ultimately, more valuable for you. A little help here please?

It seems like there are at least two major problems with the current UX book salon concept:

  1. Meeting in person: Whether carving out time at a busy conference or braving cross-town traffic, it's hard to find the time to make it to a brown bag discussion. Holding them after hours presents other challenges. So it seems time to consider going remote. But remote conversations can be cold and, um, remote. Would you even bother? If so, how high or low-tech should I go? Clearly it'd need to be real-time, but would we need voice as well as text? How about video? Of course, none of this matters if we don't have a clear...
  2. Value proposition: This one's the tougher nut to crack. Obviously, I need to get something out of this—I'm trying to keep up with you and what you need when it comes to practical UX content and how it should be best presented. But what's in it for you? Certainly there's an opportunity to get your favorite topic out there and influence our editorial agenda. And I can promise you'll also emerge a far more critical consumer of book content, which is good for us all. But... eh; these won't cut it for most people.

So, assuming we use some remote technology and broaden the ability to participate, what might work? Or maybe a better way to ask it: if you had an hour or two with one of your favorite UX publishers, what would you like to discuss?

I'll throw out a couple of possibilities:

  1. "Design the book you want" session. Let's say you really wish you had a book that'd help you solve a thorny UX problem; for example, the UX of shopping carts. You let me know, I get the word out, and we pull together a bunch of interested people. We meet for an hour with the goal of collectively hashing out the book we wish we had: its title, table of contents, back jacket blurb... maybe even a few mocked up testimonials. We share the outcome, and hopefully a publisher (it doesn't have to be Rosenfeld Media) and an author get together to make it happen. Nice thing: there'd already a clear group of interested parties there to weigh in and help out, so the author could really hit the ground running.
  2. Regular office hours. I aired this idea out with a few folks, and the reaction was unenthusiastic. Then, about two days later, Whitney Hess announced that she'd be holding... office hours. So far, Whit Hour has taken place three times, and it seems to be a hit. By the way, Whitney's using TinyChat, and has found it works best with only one video channel (hers, of course). In any case, I like this approach because it's quite flexible. Then again, I'm not sure the value proposition is very strong (and let's face it, I don't have the personality to draw'em in like Whitney!).

OK, there's two; any other ideas for how you and I might be able to be in touch regularly? In a way that would be useful to you?

A million thanks!

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Comment: Whitney Hess (Aug 26, 2009)

If you held career or publishing chats on Tinychat or any other platform, I guarantee you'd draw a huge crowd. People would love to pick your brain -- me included! Or possibly even pitch you book ideas :)

Comment: Jeremy Schultz (Aug 26, 2009)

I agree the remote tech is the way to go: I'm a web designer and would be interested in participating, but I'm not sure a UX conference is the right place (for me anyway).

It sounds like a way to do this would be a blend of a webinar (group of like-minded people meeting remotely) and something akin to a beta program (discussion of a new product or needs in the industry). I participate in both because I like to learn from others and I like to shape the way books and products evolve. The approach shouldn't be "help us design/write our books" but "we want to discuss UX, publish books the UX community needs, and invite you to join the group." And do publish something based on the discussions--people get involved in a beta program expecting to see a final product at the end.

Comment: Kaleem (Aug 26, 2009)

Lou, the value proposition question is one that people can answer only on an individual basis. The value of having a publisher who is a user experience practitioner / information architect / interaction designer of your stature is obvious: you understand the issues and challenges we face. When you hold a salon we can have a useful, advanced discussion because we already have a strong foundation for the conversation. I know at the outset that it's not going to be a waste of my time.

I don't think participation in the types of outreach you are already doing is an issue (or is it?). The success of Kevin's "See What I Mean" UX book salon session in Miami is a perfect example http://www.louisrosenfeld.com/home/bloug_archive/2008/04/im_grateful.html

The book design slam session is an intriguing one. Experimenting with different conversation formats will draw different sets of people, but by definition you will be engaging those who already have a tendency to be highly engaged. If you are trying to draw in those who are less engaged, it becomes a different question.

Streaming an in-person session and taking remote questions, comments, etc. is another approach that blends the informality and intimacy of an in-person conversation with the ability for remote people to participate.

Regular office hours are fine but you remember what those were like when you were a student / lecturer: Few people take advantage of them. Office hours are completely hit or miss and don't strike me as a valuable use of your time.

You have written that you executed the idea UX book salon idea poorly, but I don't see it that way. What am I missing?

I'm reading between the lines here but it sounds like you're looking for a different way to do your primary research. That is always a good thing. If you want to take the focus away from the books, I suggest an open discussion of UX trends and new or recurring challenges within UX are good starting points.

On a personal note, I appreciate that you started RosenfeldMedia and that you're constantly engaged, not only in garnering feedback and ideas, but in your tangible support of the community through initiatives like UX Book Club.

As always, I am available to you for regular conversations, quick questions, casual chats to bounce around ideas or anything in between.

Looking forward to seeing you and discussing this (and more) further when you visit town next month.


Comment: Dave Malouf (Aug 26, 2009)

A few thoughts:
1. I'm not so sure "real-time" is a requirement for what YOU are trying to get after and is the proper mode for the type of conversation you want to have. So I'm wondering if a hosted app like Kindling.com or GetSatisfaction.com or maybe even google moderator might be a better way to hold a more long term conversation.

2. Getting back to real time ... THEN the zealots can meet w/ you at conferences or elsewhere as they are already invested. Let's remember we are talking about books. This is not where the excitement is.

3. Another approach would be make it educational. You are a guru (like it or not) AND you have access to great people (some of them also gurus). so instead of sitting to talk, teach & do! Make a workshop on book design UX. While the medium is not common to our practice, I'm sure people would love to gain insight into how you and the people you work with do the thngs they do. AND then, it becomes a co-design/participatory design session all at the same time.

Those are my thoughts! As usual it is probably a little of this and a lot of that mixed together that makes the overall right solution.

-- dave

Comment: Adriana Beal (Aug 26, 2009)

I like the idea of using something like Tinychat to get people together, and would be particularly interested in "an open discussion of UX trends and new or recurring challenges within UX", as suggested by Kaleem.

As a business technology consultant who only had the help of UX specialists in a single project, and frequently has to wear the hat of UX practitioner when developing internal Web applications for client companies, I'd be very motivated to participate in a discussion like that, and contribute with topics for an editorial agenda as well.

I don't think I'd have the patience to go over the process of "designing the book I want" with title, table of contents, back jacket blurb, etc., but it doesn't mean that sessions dedicated to this type of exercise won't interest UX specialists (which I'm not).

I'll look forward the announcement of the first virtual meeting!

Comment: Betsy Martens (Aug 26, 2009)

Lou, this may fall into the category of 'duh' but what about using Facebook? And throwing out a provocative statement related to a particular book or a more general wish-list kind of question.

You could even set up a private group where people had to be approved in order to join. I mention this simply because FB seems to be the app of choice for so many people in so many different spheres. I've almost stopped using regular email, and I Facebook instead of tweet. Even UX pros reach the app overload point and Facebook, for all its flaws, seems to be the one a lot of folks are settling on.

As evidence I can only offer the most empirical of data: there is now a 50-comment discussion taking place in response to a note that one friend posted. And it's a serious discussion.

My two cents, at any rate.


Comment: Andrea Gallagher (Aug 26, 2009)

I'll be contrarian, as usual :-)

I like both the real-time remote format and "design a book" topic.

For me, there is value in talking to you, but also connecting with others that share a passion about a topic. You'd need an asynchronous thread to find the topics to cover, and a threaded discussion to follow up on details. My issue with a discussion is that it will become long and slow, not short, fast, and fun.

Book suggestion: UX of customer support

Comment: Lou (Aug 27, 2009)

Great, wonderful, helpful comments folks. (And please don't stop; more are most welcome!)

I think Drea nailed it: it has to be short, fast and fun to be enjoyable, if not useful. And so far I'm not sure my salons this year have been enjoyable or useful to participants. I tend to be one of my own harshest critics, but the turnout has been so-so at best (hence the desire to go remote) and, gain, I'm not sure participants have found it worthwhile. There's also a fair bit of overhead for me to set up something that requires finding space.

Kaleem, I've tried reproducing what worked so well with Kevin Cheng back at last year's IA Summit, but my one effort at UPA had very, very few attendees (although it was actually pretty helpful to the RM author whose ideas we discussed).

I think the best approach would be to have a framework for a short remote meeting that's flexible enough to accommodate the following possibilities:
* Book design slam
* Interviewing an interesting UX person
* Discussing a book (in progress or published) with an RM author
* Discussing book design, testing, and other UXy aspects of publishing
* What's ruining your day? (i.e., a discussion of topics that might merit new books)
* Q&A with the pubisher/old fart information architect
* Snap polls
* More? (insert your suggestion here)

Really, this would almost be something of a "Rosenfeld Media Variety Hour". Keep it short and varied. Publicize it monthly. Record it/take notes and publish those. And, of course, use a technology/tool to enable this variety (would TinyChat suffice? Betsy, I'm not sure FB is sufficiently interactive).

Would love for us to continue this discussion; it's been incredibly helpful already!

Comment: John Labriola (Aug 31, 2009)

After reading your bit and seeing the comments I can't help thinking you should go after this from a few angles. This way you get a better cross section of people.

I have managed and been a part of the chats for a few events. You will definitely get some good discussion there. the only downside is that after a few times it usually ends up being the same crew.

Doing the other methods I think will help round that out.

The workshop sounds like an awesome win win for everyone. Maybe you can tie it into the UX Bookclub as it is somewhat related.

Whatever you decide to do, I am sure everyone here would help make it viral.

Thanks for letting us help!

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