UX Book Club – one year on

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A year ago UX Book Club kicked off with posts to the IAI and IxDA discussion lists on November 24th, 2008. A Sydney group was announced along with those posts; Canberra, Washington DC and New York followed pretty quickly. And by the end of that first week 28 groups were up and running, and 400 people had signed up to attend.

One year on and nearly 80 UX Book Club groups have been formed in North America, Europe, Asia, and Australasia. A ‘best guess’ estimate puts the total number of events at somewhere around 180 in this first year, and anywhere from 1,500 – 2,500 people in attendance.

As groups have started up I’ve been constantly surprised and pleased by the widespread interest in User Experience around the world. And, more pleasing, has been that these local communities have chosen to come together through the UX Book Club to share and learn from one another.

“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

My first real inkling that UX Book Club was contributing something significant to the global UX community was the formation of a group in Israel. What was encouraging was that those events attracted just a handful of people, and yet those folks gained something that was present in New York, Sydney, Los Angeles and London – a connection with other practitioners like themselves, and an opportunity to learn.

Here’s the list of published events at the time of writing:

  • 17 November: Switzerland
  • 18 November: Dallas, Texas USA
  • 19 November: Groningen, The Netherlands
  • 22 November: Tokyo, Japan
  • 25 November: Switzerland
  • 25 November: Calgary
  • 26 November: Zuid-Holland, The Netherlands
  • 26 November: Ottawa
  • 01 December: Sydney, Australia
  • 01 December: Glasgow, UK
  • 01 December: Brighton, UK
  • 01 December: London – LBi
  • 01 December: San Francisco
  • 02 December: Philadelphia
  • 03 December: London – IG Index
  • 03 December: Auckland – New Zealand
  • 07 December: Perth, Western Australia
  • 08 December: Amsterdam
  • 15 December: Berlin, Germany
  • 16 December: Warsaw, Poland
UX Book Club Sydney, October 2009

UX Book Club Sydney, October 2009

So what is it about UX Book Club that has made it such a compelling idea for local UX groups around the world? There seem to be a few consistent themes that emerge when you look at the different groups.

Low cost of entry

By ‘low’ I mean zero. Starting up a local group costs nothing. Attending an event (usually) costs nothing, other than the effort to read a book that, chances are, you were probably considering reading anyway.

Everybody contributes; everybody learns

I was asked the other day “What’s in it for an experienced practitioner?”. I think the format of UX Book Club really lends itself to people of all experience levels. For someone new to the field there are obvious benefits:

  • They get told what books to read to help them learn about UX, without having to try and figure that out for themselves;
  • They get to discuss the book with people more experienced than them, and gain the benefits of their practical experience and perspective;
  • They get to meet other people and connect with the community
  • They get a voice. Sitting in a small group, everyone is encouraged to participate and provide their own take on the book. Unlike other professional meetings, UX Book Club isn’t about one person standing up and talking at people – it’s a discussion; a conversation; focused on the book and topic.
  • The discussion is engaging (we hear this from every group.)

For the experienced practitioner, the benefits are very similar, but also different. They get to hear fresh perspectives, and ideas from other fields (in Sydney at least, about a third of attendees would consider themselves to work outside the field of UX). And, in talking about the topic with others less entrenched in the vernacular of UX, they need to think about how they communicate ideas and concepts – something that helps them when they’re next in front of a client.

“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

Everyone who attends talks about the level of energy in the discussions – people who are passionate and engaged, talking about a topic they work closely with regularly.

The authors show up

UX Book Club Sydney, June 2009

UX Book Club Sydney, June 2009

It has been great to see the number of authors who show up – in person or virtually – to contribute to the discussion of the books they’ve written. It was awesome to see Bill Buxton – jetlagged and under the weather – drop in on the Toronto group for their discussion of his book. The guys at Adaptive Path have been on-hand to answer questions about Subject to Change; Russ Unger & Carolyn Chandler have talked about their book – A Project Guide to UX Design – at a number of events. And Alex Wright – author of Glut – made an early-morning call to Sydney to answer questions for them. I’m doing a disservice to some authors, who’ve also made the effort to appear, and I apologise for not being able to name you all. But your involvement in the UX Book Club – beyond the wonderful books you’ve written – has only served to enhance the experience for everyone.

The Publishers have been awesome

Support from the publishers of UX books have been fantastic in their support of this initiative – contributing giveaways, discounts, and encouraging their authors to attend. Rosenfeld Media has been especially supportive, stepping in to help out early and often over the past twelve months. We’ve also enjoyed the support of O’Reilly Books and Morgan Kaufmann – offering discounts to UX Book Club members for books being discussed.

Playing with others

Directly and indirectly, UX Book Club has gained a great deal from the support and encouragement of the IA Institute and the Interaction Design Association. From day one both of these organisations have worked to help nurture and foster the spread of UX Book Club around the world. Our friends in both organisations – in the executive and the membership – have been personally involved in running local events, promoting the initiative as a whole, and providing advice and encouragement along the way. I can honestly say the UX Book Club wouldn’t be where it is today without their support.

And last, but by no means least: each and every one of the 2,000-odd people who have taken the time to read a book, attend an event, and engage in discussion with their peers – these are the heart of UX Book Club, and the ‘secret sauce’ to it’s success.

So, looking forward to the year ahead, I hope to see the UX Book Club continue to provide a forum in which people interested in User Experience can come together to connect, share and learn. If you haven’t attended an event previously, I encourage you to do so. Information on upcoming events can be found at the UX Book Club website.

Thanks again.

Steve Baty

Steve Baty, principal at Meld Studios, has over 14 years experience as a design and strategy practitioner. Steve is well-known in the area of experience strategy and design, contributing to public discourse on these topics through articles and conferences. Steve serves as Vice President of the Interaction Design Association (IxDA); is a regular contributor to UXMatters.com; serves as an editor and contributor to Johnny Holland (johnnyholland.org), and is the founder of UX Book Club – a world-wide initiative bringing together user experience practitioners in over 80 locations to read, connect and discuss books on user experience design. Steve is co-Chair of UX Australia – Australia’s leading conference for User Experience practitioners; and Chair of Interaction 12 – the annual conference of the IxDA for 2012.

3 comments on this article

  1. UX bookclub has been an awesome excuse to buy more books!

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  3. Pingback: A look back at 2009 « Meld Consulting