In early Nov 2008, I started to talk to a few people about the idea of a book club in Sydney to discuss User Experience (UX) books. Russ Unger and Donna Spencer encouraged me to let other people hear about it, and when I did – through the Information Architecture Institute (IAI) Members discussion list, and then through the Interaciton Design Associaton (IxDA) – many people thought it was a good idea.
And then something surprising happened, people liked the idea so much that they started doing things to make it happen. Andrew Boyd registered the “uxbookclub.org”:http://uxbookclub.org/doku.php domain, set up the wiki, and starting the content rolling. Will Evans designed a logo, wrote a whole bunch of content, set up a decent structure, and let everyone use either, or both, if they wanted. Andrew’s been in on the wiki each day tidying and gardening, making sure it doesn’t get out of control.
First one volunteer, then another, and another put their hand up and offered to organize a UX Book Club in their local area. New York City joined Sydney, Canberra, and Washington D.C. By the end of that first week over 28 cities had a local UX Book Club under way, and nearly 400 people had signed up to take part.
The first meeting was held in Silicon Valley in mid-December, followed by meetings in New York and Los Angeles, Philadelphia, Chicago, Canberra, Sydney & Austin. Through the second half of February meetings were held in Atlanta, Minnesota, Melbourne, Tel Aviv, Brisbane, Toronto, London and Chicago.
The What and the Why
UX Book Club is a fairly simple idea: get a group of people together, choose a book, and agree on meeting details. Go away and read the book. On the date set, come together and discuss the book. Talk about how you might use what you’ve read in your work; how your experiences run counter to the book; an example of how the book is spot on. Have a bloody good argument about it, then go have a drink and talk about it some more.
At a UX Book Club you have an incentive to read some of those user experience books you’ve heard about but still lays on your bookshelf. You discuss the book with other UX practitioners, which will help you get more out of the book. And you meet fellow UXers working in the same town as you.
You also hear about a lot of books that other people have read, found interesting, but aren’t suitable for discussion by the group. That may be because they’re too long, or highly specialized, or too expensive for a large group of people. Hopefully, though, you’ll be exposed to a much broader range of books than you do on mailing lists or blog posts currently.
How It Works
The Sydney meeting – held on February 3rd – seems to have been fairly typical of the experiences across the board – with local variations in terms of weather, location, and numbers. But the stories seem to have a consistent theme: great discussion, lots of energy, and a good time had by all.
“It was fairly incredible how natural — how routine — it felt. I mean, here was a group of people, many of whom had never participated in any community event, and none of whom (to my knowledge) had ever engaged in an extrinsically focused book club. The book became the medium for discussion, though the topic remained entrenched in UX and design.” - Jonathan S Knoll, UX Book Club NYC
UX Book Club Sydney held the February meeting at the offices of the “News Digital Media”:http://usit.com.au team in their “New York Lounge”. Their hospitality was greatly appreciated, and the space was perfect for the event.
The event was structured along the same lines as those used by New York City (thanks to Cindy Chastain) and applied successfully in Los Angeles. The meeting opened with a brief welcome and introduction, then a volunteer from the group gave a 5-minute overview of the book (in our case Bill Buxton’s Sketching User Experiences). We broke into two groups (10 and 13 people, respectively) and headed to opposite ends of the Lounge to discuss the book in detail. Cindy’s rationale for the smaller groups was that they give everyone a much better opportunity to contribute to the discussion – and this was borne out by the comments I received afterward.
After a good solid hour or so of group discussion we came back together, had a bit of a recap, thanked everyone for attending, and relocated to a nearby pub to carry on. The ‘official’ proceedings kicked off at 6pm and ended just after 8pm. The ‘after-hours’ discussions wound up around 10pm. Not bad for the first event.
The entire event was terribly uncomplicated, and I highly recommend the format. Better yet, the discussion highlighted areas of the book I hadn’t really considered important on first reading. This new information encourages me to go back and re-read those parts, armed with some real-world anecdotes to help make it more concrete.
“UX Book Club got me to finally pick up a book I had been meaning to read, and to have the chance to exercise my brain a bit. I found myself waxing philosophical with my fellow book clubbers about education and urban planning, as well as positive (and negative) user experiences we’ve had.”
- “Roz Duffy”:http://stellargirl.typepad.com/stellargirl/2009/02/my-current-muse-ux-book-club.html, UX Book Club Philadelphia
The events serve as both means and end. Reading the books being discussed is a good thing, in and of itself. You will get more out of the event having read the book, and the overall level discussion and engagement will be higher for everyone.
But reading the book isn’t required. The book acts as a starting point for a wider-ranging discussion around the topic. Each person brings not only their understanding of the book, but alsp the full breadth of their professional and educational experience to the discussion. So whilst reading the book provides everyone with a common frame of reference, the really interesting discussion arises from our differences.
“Most UX people I know are web interaction designers like me, but the book club drew developers, software UI designers, business strategists, visual designers, and various flavors of agency and in-house IAs and IxDs.”
- Sarah Mitchell, UX Book Club Los Angeles
In saying all that it’s also important to recognise that no two UX Book Clubs will be the same. The books will be different. Some groups will meet monthly; others every alternate month. Some will be small affairs with half a dozen folks and others will be big (30+); and some will be more book reviews than book discussion. And that’s OK. What’s important is that we learn something, meet some people, and enjoy ourselves in the process.
“…And that sort of set the tone for the rest of the event: high-energy, engaged conversation, a fertile middle ground between events where there is a single speaker with everyone else semi-passively engaged, and free-for-all cocktail hours, which are fun and great for networking, but lighter on substance.”
- “Anders Ramsay”:http://www.andersramsay.com/2009/01/17/taking-the-ux-book-club-to-the-edge/, UX Book Club NYC
Getting Involved In UX Book Club
There are two ways to get involved in UX Book Club. The first is to sign up to the group in your local area. A list of existing UX Book Clubs is available on the wiki at “uxbookclub.org”:http://uxbookclub.org. There are around 50 groups already listed – including some groups that are just forming. If you’re working in UX or would like to learn more about the field to help with whatever work you are doing, add your name so that you can be kept informed.
The second way to get involved is to start your own UX Book Club in your area. We’ve found that the best thing to do add your city or town to the wiki list, then post a message to the IxDA.org or IAI mailing lists (or both) letting other people know. We’ll send an announcement out via “@uxbookclub”:http://twitter.com/uxbookclub on Twitter to help spread the word. If you have a local IAI, UPA, or IxDA chapter, tell them about it at your next meeting.
I’ll leave with you a quote from Whitney Hess (UX Book Club, NYC) that echoes the sentiments of so many UX Book Club attendees:
“These books really aren’t meant to be read alone — they’re references as well as jumping off points for exploration of the practice. It was great to hear what others thought of both the content and its context in the greater body of work, book-form and otherwise, that our community has produced.
I’m really looking forward to the next event.”