Thursday, November 15, 2007

Was DUX teh SUX?

…most of the speakers and workshop leaders -- and I suppose, attendees -- appear to be shy of 40 years of age. That means they would have been born sometime after 1967, when systemic thinking was king and every person was treated as a cog in some larger device; and that they came of age in the mid-80s or later, as information technology was replacing systems as the predominant archetypal metaphor.

--Bob Jacobson on DUX 2007: A Great Conference but Fundamentally Off the Mark.

I didn't go to DUX 2007 or any other DUX conferences but I have read that prior DUX conferences have left attendees wanting.

Looked like Bob Jacobson felt that DUX 2007 was tainted by the prevalance of something that sounds like systems design and that the conference would have benefited from more grounding in holistic receptiveness or interest for the breadth and complexity of human experience and how experience designers can understand and interact with it.

I enjoy that Bob Jacobson cautions against confining the potential impact designers can have by (intentionally or unintentionally) excessively narrowing our focus of interest. However, I find it unusual that he would suggest that conference participants were hindered by their age, work experience, and the implications of the times they "came of age" in. Ad Hominem a bit?

Anyway, Jacobson suggests that "economic, thing-maker philosophy" and "making products and services" dominated DUX 2007 and that may well be.

If that's the case, I actually want to go next time and see what it's like. I went to CHI 2007 which I enjoyed but found it a bit more academic and research-oriented than I would have liked. (I was also in a reseach-oriented school at the time though.)

Peter Merholz, the first speaker at DUX 2007, mentioned in his blog that his biggest frustration with the conference was that it was largely paper submission-based and "[t]he moment an academic takes the stage, the conference screeches to a halt".

… pretty much all the academic research shown was simply irrelevant. The matters at the heart of experience design are simply not being addressed by academics, or being done so in a useless manner. I don’t know if its because the subject is too squishy, multi-disciplinary, subjective, or what, but it was definitely a waste of time.

Sounds like Peter would have been interested in more focused or applied presentations.

Granted, "academic" doesn't equate to holistic and human-centered, and non-academic doesnt equate to thing-making-obsessed, but it sounds like Peter and Bob may be in disagreement about what "[t]he matters at the heart of experience design" are or at least the best way to address these matters.

Too academic and theoretical or too applied and narrow-minded? Which one was DUX 2007?

I don't know if one conference can cover both theory and application very well but I would not mind if conferences were more clear on their intention with regard to application and theory.

1 comment:

Bob Jacobson said...

Dear Eric,

Thanks for noting the discord over DUX.

Academics generally make crappy presenters. Their ideas are too complex to fit into sound bites and frankly, often they're too full of it to matter. Sometimes, however, they do.

The highly promotional, breathless delivery of people pushing solutions why they work or are significant (if they are significant) is equally noisome. It's kind of like cavemen sitting around the fire and throwing in branches just to watch the sparks fly (until one of the Neanderthals catches fire).

Theories count. They keep people from having to learn new things all over again -- and yes, age does matter. Once you've experienced all the BS associated with early TV, portable video, cable TV, personal computing, the Internet, virtual worlds, social networks, and the Dot-Coms, each in their turn, you start to see trends in Web 2.0 and beyond that look all too familiar -- and that you know will crash. If you haven't, you press on doing The Latest Thing until, lemming-like, you tromp over the very same cliffs. On another blog, someone was lamenting the recent failure of so many online agencies. Oh, really? What a surprise.

I've been to plenty of conferences where exciting academics and critical theorists made startling contributions to practice; and where, vice versa, practitioners working in the field came up with theories that mattered, that made it easier for others to follow in their footsteps. In "user experience design," however, commerce too quickly took over and now short-term gain is all that matters. Theory and practice have become unattached, to their mutual disadvantage.

This year, an unfortunate dichotomy played out at DUX. Too bad. Maybe the planners should consider leaping silos to check out how other disciplines do stay viable. It's called praxis, a "methodology" that's 3,000 years old.