The UX Tribe

UX Meta-community of practiceI don’t have much to say about this, I just want to see if I can inject a meme in the bloodstream, so to speak.

Just an expanded thought I had recently about the nature of all the design practices in the User Experience space. From the tweets and posts and other chatter that drifted my way from the IxDA conference in Vancouver last week, I heard a few comments around whether or not Interaction Designers and Information Architects are the same, or different, or what. Not to mention Usability professionals, Researchers, Engineers, Interface Programmers, or whatever other labels are involved in the sort of work all these people do.

Here’s what I think is happening. I believe we’re all part of the same tribe, living in the same village — but we happen to gather and tell our stories around different camp-fires.

And I think that is OK. As long as we don’t mistake the campfires for separate tribes and villages.

The User Experience (UX) space is big enough, complex enough and evolving quickly enough that there are many folds, areas of focus, and centers of gravity for people’s talents and interests. We are all still sorting these things out — and will continue to do so.

Find me a single profession, no matter how old, that doesn’t have these same variations, tensions and spectrums of interest or philosophical approach. If it’s a living, thriving profession, it’ll have all these things. It’s just that some have been around long enough to have a reified image of stasis.

We need different campfires, different stories and circles of lore. It’s good and healthy. But this is a fairly recently converged family of practices that needs to understand what unifies us first, so that our conversations about what separates us can be more constructive.

The IAI is one campfire. IxDA is another. CHI yet another, and so-on. Over time, some of these may burn down to mere embers and others will turn into bonfires. That’s OK too. As long as, when it comes time to hunt antelope, we all eat the BBQ together.

And now I’m hungry for BBQ. So I’ll leave it at that.

PS: a couple of presentations where I’ve gone into some of these issues, if you haven’t seen them before: UX As Communities of Practice; Linkosophy.

Author: Andrew Hinton

I use information to architect better places for humans. More at

5 thoughts on “The UX Tribe”

  1. I agree that User Experience is the tribe that we all belong to. I also agree that within that tribe are different campfires that we all dance around.

    Here’s the rub (for me at least) … I see the tribe as having specialized clans. Information architecture, interaction design, and information design each have a unique focus at their core.

    They all blend and mix at the edges. Practitioners are capable of belonging to multiple clans at the same time. But each discipline has a core that is distinct.

    I need to blog about this to give it the right depth of detail that is in my head but the essential distinction I see is this:

    IA = the mental model, understanding, cognition, structure, shape, context

    IxD = the operational model, doing, execution, function, form, use

    ID = the visual vocabulary, perception, orientation, recognition, space

    Of course each one of these require the others to be present for the systems we architect to become a functioning reality. These are not silos but they are centers of expertise.

    Those practitioners that go deep into any one of them gravitate to the core and tend see the world through that filter. Those that remain generalists (even the best amongst us) tend not to dive to deep but can when they need to.

    User experience is like the humanities or liberal arts insofar as we mix, match, blend, and riff on each other yet we keep a core identity.

    Don’t tell and anthropologist that she is a sociologist just because she uses a quantitative research method. And just because an historian may use ethnographic interview techniques for a living history project does not mean that he is an anthropologist.

    The UX crowd has the same dynamic.

    I do so have to blog this.

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