The Failure of the UXPA

Kevin Richardson, Ph.D. / Thursday, July 25, 2013

UXPAI recently had the opportunity to attend the 22nd Annual User Experience Professionals Association International conference. I have a long relationship with this organization and this conference as we both started in this profession back in 1991. Back when I was new to the field (and called a Human Factors Engineer) this was THE conference to attend if you wanted exposure to the life of a working user experience professional. There were other conferences, but UXPA (then just a national conference called UPA) was where you could learn the practical skills needed to successfully navigate the environment of a large corporation or make the contacts needed to make it as an individual consultant. It was an excellent place for less-experienced professionals to learn the basic skills necessary to succeed in the “real world.”

Over the years I have occasionally revisited the conference to see how things have changed, what direction the organization has taken and what people are talking about. This will likely be the last time I attend. Why? UXPA is still a how-to conference of usability fundamentals.

The tutorials, presentations, workshops and panels are focused on the same topics that were new and interesting over 20 years ago. Of the 77 events held at this year’s conference, only 8 were self-identified as being appropriate for the advanced professional.


Where is UX Headed?

I could live with this and move on but it makes me wonder about the state of our profession.

1. Why is each generation of user experience professionals presenting (and attending) the same conference topics as previous generations? Sure the technology has changed over time and specific details of how you lay out a screen for desktop, tablet and phone evolve. But this is exactly the sort of basic training that I would expect from my degree program. Usability testing, card sorting, design of forms…do we really think these are conference-worthy topics today? If your professors aren’t teaching you the fundamentals of usability, where is your tuition going? Has the education of usability professionals failed? If it’s simply a matter of self-selection – new professionals are only able to present fundamental ideas – then the responsibility lies with the conference organizers. The bar to present at an international conference in 2013 should be higher than it was in 1991.

2. Why hasn’t UXPA had an influence on the role of UX in industry? I went to a panel discussion entitled, “Let’s Be Friends: Achieving UX, IT, Creative and Business Harmony” and expected some new insight into how my large company colleagues were working. Instead I spent an hour listening to how UX professionals are still facing the same roadblocks (power struggles with IT, an inability to demonstrate ROI, fights with marketing, time to market concerns, etc.) and attempting to resolve them in the same old ways. The tragic part is that I hear this same basic lament every year I attend this conference. I hold the organization responsible for this one. One of UXPAs stated goals is to, “Promote the business value of user experience, research, design and evaluation to business and other entities.” If UX professionals still need to prove their worth out there in the real world, then the UXPA has failed miserably.

I think that the UXPA has lost its way and generations of new professionals are suffering. Beyond that, as a profession we have missed an opportunity to make ourselves more relevant and improve our stature out there in the world. We need to take a hard look at ourselves and decide what we want from our organizations, our conferences and ourselves. Right now, it feels like UXPA is heading for irrelevancy. I’d hate to see any of my colleagues go down with it.

Kevin Richardson has been working in the area of user experience for over 20 years. With an advanced degree in Cognitive Psychology, he has experience across business verticals in the fields of research, evaluation, design and management of innovative, user-centered solutions.

Kevin’s experience includes web sites, portals and dashboards, enterprise software and custom business applications for medical, pharmaceutical, communications, entertainment, energy, transportation and government users.

On the weekends, you can find Kevin on his motorcycle, riding for Infragistics Racing at a number of different racetracks on the East coast.

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