By Whitney Quesenbery, SIG Manager
What Should We Be Learning?
Two recent threads on usability-related e-mail lists provided a lot of food for thought about professional development.
The first, on CHI-WEB (and on a popular usability list) started with a question about whether the “return on investment (ROI)” of usability should be taught as part of a general human-computer interaction (HCI) program, or whether these political issues are a distraction from the fundamentals. All of the posts generally agreed that ROI, or the justification of usability should be included at some level. In a practical course, everyone felt that students needed to know how to measure the effectiveness of their work. Many posts suggested that everyone on a project should be able to prove their value in business terms.
Meanwhile, over on SIG-IA, there was a thread on whether an MBA was a useful degree for information architects (IAs). Some felt that a business degree would merely distract from their IA skills; others felt they could only be effective in influencing a product by understanding the business requirements that drive it.
Posts in both discussions examined the intersections between user-centered design (or IA, usability, or documentation) and other skills. Working with users requires techniques from psychology and social sciences; integrating into a software project requires an understanding of development methodologies; and justifying usability effectively means using business tools. The August (2001) issue of “Usability Interface” included a summary of human factors programs. What professional development strategies are you considering?
- The CHI-WEB is hosted by ACM’s SIGCHI. Information and archives on the web at www.sigchi.org/web/
- The SIG-IA list is hosted by ASIS. Information and archives are on the web at www.asis.org/SIG/SIGIA/sig-ialist.html
Many members have expressed interest in having usability gatherings in their area. Although there are a few local chapter usability SIGs, starting and maintaining regular meetings can take more energy and “critical mass” than are available.
In New Jersey, Alice Preston and I started a series of gatherings that bring together STC and UPA members for an “agenda-free event.” Local members were invited to “gather round and share ideas and stories with familiar faces, meet new friends” after work. The idea for these events came from like information architecture get-togethers in cities from Seattle to Amsterdam.
Here’s how to get your own local gatherings started:
- Find a few other people who are interested and pick a date, time and location.
- Write an invitation and send it out. You can get a list of local members of the Usability SIG (the list will only include those who have indicated their interest in receiving STC-related emails—contact me for details), or put a notice in your chapter newsletter.
- Get together, have some great conversation and a good time with others who share your interest.
Once you have a small group started, a good way to stay in touch is to set up a mailing list using a free service like Yahoo Groups (http://groups.yahoo.com). Although there can be some usability problems (sigh!) with getting signed up, it’s an easy way to create a list that will allow members to manage their own settings. It even has features like a calendar that can automatically send out reminders to the whole group.
You might also want to consider coordinating with other local groups such as UPA, SIGCHI, HFES or SIGIA. This can be a good way to meet others in usability…and expose them to technical communication.