Dead polar bears (was: UX Challenge organizers must be insane)

11 Feb 2009 - 11:52am
5 years ago
18 replies
452 reads
Jay Morgan
2006

A few years ago, at a lunch table at the 2006 IA Summit, a few of us hatched
the idea of the Arctic Challenge. While it seems decadent in today's market,
allow me to share some of the philosophical undercurrents.
1. If you meet the polar bear, kill the polar bear...
The seminal work for many IAs is the polar bear book. Around the table that
day, we talked about leaving behind the old, and charging forcefully into
the battle to bring in the new, the next. What is IA beyond the polar bear?
Borrowing from the Zen koan "if you meet the Buddha, kill the Buddha", we
thought it was time to crash through. Going to the Arctic is a way to
immerse ourselves in a polar bear-laden environment. Perhaps, some wandering
IA/IxD would, in a fit of hallucination and frostbite, would indeed slay a
polar bear during an outdoor event. (And, since we're on the IxDA list now,
imagine the bragging rights if someone who self-identifies as an IxD and
_not_ an IA were to slay the first polar bear.)
Some of us, might take this on as a jaunt through the wilderness, where the
Challenge is completely out-of-doors and the need to kill our professional
Buddha will find its destiny in Svalbard.

2. Conferences are nice, but it's time for a challenge. The Challenge.
We were all having fun at the IA Summit, as many of you likely have had fun
at Interaction|09. We new that ahead was the return to the professional
world where things are not fun, but constantly and sometimes uncomfortably
challenging. So, why go into a softer environment to develop our skills?
We figured it's time to have a place to go that is more challenging than
work. A place where you go and are so challenged in the company of your
peers that returning to work to deal with non-UX folks would be easy.
I, for instance, knew that I would return to bureaucracy and politics that
presented vigilant opponents to advancing User Experience practice. I, then
and now, want a place where I am challenged by my peers and those who are
peerless to gain so much confidence and experience that taking on those VPs
of Resistance to Change would be a minor challenge.

We figured other people would be ready for a challenge too.

Perhaps the 'save the world and make a difference' is a new flavor the
Scandinavian planners have added. I can tell you, I don't remember it in the
first conversations. But, if you need to make the business case, shine the
veneer of your proposal with that.

See you there,
Jay

--
------------------------------------------------------------
Jay A. Morgan
Director, UX at Gage in Minneapolis

twitter.com/jayamorgan
google talk: jayamorgan
skype: jaytheia

------------------------------------------------------------

Comments

11 Feb 2009 - 12:02pm
SemanticWill
2007

I think you very nicely summed up the reason why I am going. I want a
challenge - something new - something so hard that the mundanity of
day-n-day-out work pales in comparison. Money is a really hard thing
and I am seriously considering getting sponsorship. My company can
write off the expense, but it's still going to be a stretch.

~ will

"Where you innovate, how you innovate,
and what you innovate are design problems"

--------------------------------------------------------------------------------
Will Evans | User Experience Architect
tel: +1.617.281.1281 | will at semanticfoundry.com
http://blog.semanticfoundry.com
aim: semanticwill
gtalk: semanticwill
twitter: semanticwill
--------------------------------------------------------------------------------

On Feb 11, 2009, at 11:52 AM, Jay Morgan wrote:

> A few years ago, at a lunch table at the 2006 IA Summit, a few of us
> hatched
> the idea of the Arctic Challenge. While it seems decadent in today's
> market,
> allow me to share some of the philosophical undercurrents.
> 1. If you meet the polar bear, kill the polar bear...
> The seminal work for many IAs is the polar bear book. Around the
> table that
> day, we talked about leaving behind the old, and charging forcefully
> into
> the battle to bring in the new, the next. What is IA beyond the
> polar bear?
> Borrowing from the Zen koan "if you meet the Buddha, kill the
> Buddha", we
> thought it was time to crash through. Going to the Arctic is a way to
> immerse ourselves in a polar bear-laden environment. Perhaps, some
> wandering
> IA/IxD would, in a fit of hallucination and frostbite, would indeed
> slay a
> polar bear during an outdoor event. (And, since we're on the IxDA
> list now,
> imagine the bragging rights if someone who self-identifies as an IxD
> and
> _not_ an IA were to slay the first polar bear.)
> Some of us, might take this on as a jaunt through the wilderness,
> where the
> Challenge is completely out-of-doors and the need to kill our
> professional
> Buddha will find its destiny in Svalbard.
>
> 2. Conferences are nice, but it's time for a challenge. The Challenge.
> We were all having fun at the IA Summit, as many of you likely have
> had fun
> at Interaction|09. We new that ahead was the return to the
> professional
> world where things are not fun, but constantly and sometimes
> uncomfortably
> challenging. So, why go into a softer environment to develop our
> skills?
> We figured it's time to have a place to go that is more challenging
> than
> work. A place where you go and are so challenged in the company of
> your
> peers that returning to work to deal with non-UX folks would be easy.
> I, for instance, knew that I would return to bureaucracy and
> politics that
> presented vigilant opponents to advancing User Experience practice.
> I, then
> and now, want a place where I am challenged by my peers and those
> who are
> peerless to gain so much confidence and experience that taking on
> those VPs
> of Resistance to Change would be a minor challenge.
>
> We figured other people would be ready for a challenge too.
>
> Perhaps the 'save the world and make a difference' is a new flavor the
> Scandinavian planners have added. I can tell you, I don't remember
> it in the
> first conversations. But, if you need to make the business case,
> shine the
> veneer of your proposal with that.
>
>
> See you there,
> Jay
>
>
> --
> ------------------------------------------------------------
> Jay A. Morgan
> Director, UX at Gage in Minneapolis
>
> twitter.com/jayamorgan
> google talk: jayamorgan
> skype: jaytheia
>
> ------------------------------------------------------------
> ________________________________________________________________
> Welcome to the Interaction Design Association (IxDA)!
> To post to this list ....... discuss at ixda.org
> Unsubscribe ................ http://www.ixda.org/unsubscribe
> List Guidelines ............ http://www.ixda.org/guidelines
> List Help .................. http://www.ixda.org/help

11 Feb 2009 - 12:22pm
Louis Rosenfeld
2007

Dead polar bears...

Sure, it's a provocative subject line. And I'm sure it's all in
good fun.

But why the need to kill?

Instead of killing the polar bear, why not evolve a new species? Or
build on it? Or anything that's at least constructive in some way.
I think this is a poorly-chosen metaphor, as cute as it may seem, and
could get your event off on the wrong track.

Instead of tilting at ancestors, why not fight new battles?

Even if I wasn't the co-author of the book, and even if I wasn't a
proud information architect, I'd still be skeptical of what your
philisophical bent, simply because it smacks of tribalism.

Most of the world's ills can be traced toward humanity's knee-jerk
instinctual us-and-them-edness. And yet here we go again, repeating
this nonsense within our own family when we ought to know better.

Your event sounds interesting, and I personally enjoy far northern
extremes, having visited continental Europe's northern tip,
Nordkapp. But man, seems like if I had the bread to make it
Svalbard, I guess I'd expect a pretty, er, cold reception. Too bad.

Happy hunting.

. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .
Posted from the new ixda.org
http://www.ixda.org/discuss?post=38517

11 Feb 2009 - 12:56pm
Todd Warfel
2003

Well, and either way, if you can get sponsorship, why not? let someone
else pay for it ;).

On Feb 11, 2009, at 12:02 PM, Will Evans wrote:

> Money is a really hard thing and I am seriously considering getting
> sponsorship. My company can write off the expense, but it's still
> going to be a stretch.

Cheers!

Todd Zaki Warfel
President, Design Researcher
Messagefirst | Designing Information. Beautifully.
----------------------------------
Contact Info
Voice: (215) 825-7423
Email: todd at messagefirst.com
AIM: twarfel at mac.com
Blog: http://toddwarfel.com
Twitter: zakiwarfel
----------------------------------
In theory, theory and practice are the same.
In practice, they are not.

11 Feb 2009 - 1:02pm
Robert Hoekman, Jr.
2005

>
> 1. If you meet the polar bear, kill the polar bear...
>

> 2. Conferences are nice, but it's time for a challenge.

That's sad, actually. The site frames the event around a noble cause —
promoting peace ‚ but your post here makes it sound like it's just another
plea for innovation for innovation's sake.

Besides that, do you really believe that IA can be reinvented, or even
evolved, in two days? How do you see that happening?

-r-

11 Feb 2009 - 2:02pm
Dave Malouf
2005

AND!! what gets me is that the existence of the conference will be the
contributing to the real death of polar bears. I.e the contribution to
the carbon foot print of more people traveling.

As I said on twitter, this conference wreaks of hubris and decadence
and I'm not even talking about the economical.

As Robert pointed out, your explanation and the goals of the
challenge itself are in oposition AND!!!! As Marc Rettig so correctly
put forward in his presentation this weekend, we need to immerse
ourselves in the worlds problems before we can even begin to conceive
of the real grounded solutions.

Maybe a better way to craft a true "design challenge" would be
along the lines of ...
Teams compete to represent their locality. Design Challenge 1:
Research ... Spend the week with your team based on the drafted
research doc you put together, researching in YOUR locality.
2. Ideate ... Spend a week the following year based on the methods in
your proposal (that got you this far) and ideate and prototype
solutions.
3. Evaluate ... spend a week again traveling through your locality,
finding out if your ideas are worth consideration
4. Collaborate ... spend a week in virtual rooms, collaborating (not
competing) with your other teams from around the world about how your
solutions integrate and learn from each other and then take another
stab at putting it all together again.

Not totally framed out correctly, but is realistic in its approach of
local > global and builds insteads of destroys and doesn't negatively
impact those things you want to change.

Basically, we know that advertising and marketing use "sexy" to get
us to do things we aught not being doing. Hell, many of us were/are
such advertisers, so why are we so easily falling for it now.

It just seems like you are asking OK questions (not all of them are
good) but really using a very wrong club to beat it with. (when maybe
a hug would be better0.

-- dave

. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .
Posted from the new ixda.org
http://www.ixda.org/discuss?post=38517

12 Feb 2009 - 6:41am
Jay Morgan
2006

Perhaps we could ask our clients or employers: "I'm sure this product is
great, and I trust there's a market for it. But, why the need to make it a
bad experience?"

Or, we could ask our bosses: "Why the division into silos? It sure seems
tribal."

While most of the (human) world's ills can be traced to humanity's knee-jerk
reactions, much of it's pleasures and splendor can be traced to spontaneous
responses to pressures from the outside world.

There's pressure to compete at work. And, in looking at new UX practitioners
joining the field, many of them are well-read, but few of them have
experience applying their academic or book-based training in a realistic
environment. It is common to have the very presence of UX questioned by
people you work with on a daily basis, who are happy to march into design
and development without any UX work. It is common to have UX activities seen
as distracting from the work and superfluous, so much so that it's trimmed
from the budget early on. It is common that we must alter the theoretical
methods we read about into an applied version that works in our immediate
context. A lecture-based conference with alcohol-based social activities is
not a realistic preparation for our working environments. A competition is.

As for moving the practice beyond the polar bear paradigm, you've ushered in
the elephant. It's an interesting development that an author of the polar
bear book might have already done more to educate us beyond the polar bear
than an un-polar-bear conference would. You've brought mental models,
comics, storytelling - each a significant step forward from the original
organization, navigation, search, and labeling. If we're counting buzzwords,
you've helped the paradigm shift beyond the earlier paradigm you helped
construct.

I appreciate the discussion and the books,
Jay

On Wed, Feb 11, 2009 at 11:22 AM, Louis Rosenfeld <lou at louisrosenfeld.com>wrote:

> Dead polar bears...
>
> Sure, it's a provocative subject line. And I'm sure it's all in
> good fun.
>
> But why the need to kill?
>
> Instead of killing the polar bear, why not evolve a new species? Or
> build on it? Or anything that's at least constructive in some way.
> I think this is a poorly-chosen metaphor, as cute as it may seem, and
> could get your event off on the wrong track.
>
> Instead of tilting at ancestors, why not fight new battles?
>
> Even if I wasn't the co-author of the book, and even if I wasn't a
> proud information architect, I'd still be skeptical of what your
> philisophical bent, simply because it smacks of tribalism.
>
> Most of the world's ills can be traced toward humanity's knee-jerk
> instinctual us-and-them-edness. And yet here we go again, repeating
> this nonsense within our own family when we ought to know better.
>
> Your event sounds interesting, and I personally enjoy far northern
> extremes, having visited continental Europe's northern tip,
> Nordkapp. But man, seems like if I had the bread to make it
> Svalbard, I guess I'd expect a pretty, er, cold reception. Too bad.
>
>
> Happy hunting.
>
>
> . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .
> Posted from the new ixda.org
> http://www.ixda.org/discuss?post=38517
>
>
> ________________________________________________________________
> Welcome to the Interaction Design Association (IxDA)!
> To post to this list ....... discuss at ixda.org
> Unsubscribe ................ http://www.ixda.org/unsubscribe
> List Guidelines ............ http://www.ixda.org/guidelines
> List Help .................. http://www.ixda.org/help
>

--

12 Feb 2009 - 6:43am
Jay Morgan
2006

So, Robert, you won't be joining us? With the time and analysis you've
devoted to it, you're a good candidate for Official Conference Reporter.
It's a competition, so a critical voice is welcome. And, maybe there's a
discount for the Press.

On Wed, Feb 11, 2009 at 12:02 PM, Robert Hoekman Jr <robert at rhjr.net> wrote:

> 1. If you meet the polar bear, kill the polar bear...
>>
>
>
>> 2. Conferences are nice, but it's time for a challenge.
>
>
> That's sad, actually. The site frames the event around a noble cause —
> promoting peace ‚ but your post here makes it sound like it's just another
> plea for innovation for innovation's sake.
>
> Besides that, do you really believe that IA can be reinvented, or even
> evolved, in two days? How do you see that happening?
>
> -r-
>

--

13 Feb 2009 - 9:05pm
Angel Marquez
2008

I would like to go to this.

14 Feb 2009 - 12:38pm
Phillip Hunter
2006

Dave,

The idea of local competitions is a great one. What if the IxDA/IAI
created a framework and set of guidelines to help each local run
their own? As this thread indicates, we need some way to promote the
good behind the idea of a challenge and remove the obstacles, i.e.
money and travel, that enable most of us to shy away from it. Plus,
to Will's point, why not create some way for all of us to
potentially participate in making the world better and making us into
better designers rather than just those who can fund or find sponsors
for the big challenge?

Don't get me wrong, though, I think there is immense PR value in
the NASCAR-type event, especially if its run well and promotes core
design values. Someone should be promoting it already to Business
Week, Wired, The Economist, etc.

Do we have a board member focused on the press?

ph

. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .
Posted from the new ixda.org
http://www.ixda.org/discuss?post=38517

14 Feb 2009 - 2:29pm
Nasir Barday
2006

Jay Morgan wrote:
>> A lecture-based conference with alcohol-based social activities is
>> not a realistic preparation for our working environments. A competition is.

Maybe e-mail removes some of the intonations in your statement, but
this appears to me to be a dismissal of the real value of a
conference. The reason to attend a conference is not the content, per
se. It's the conversations that come out of experiencing that content
together. These conversations and interactions, yes, even during
"alcohol-based social activities," are things we can take back to the
office on Monday help us serve as thought leaders in our space.

That said, the concept of a competition to hone our skills is a great
idea. It's not a replacement for a conference, but a complement. There
are other options out there as well, including workshops like the
Design Studio Liya Zheng and Jeanine Harriman ran at Interaction '09.
These are great ways to hone some of our skills. But I cringe a little
at the thought of a competition consisting entirely of designers as a
realistic work environment. Where are the higher ups with their own
ideas and biases of how things should run? Art directors who miss your
concept entirely? Or project managers and engineers who want to
butcher your spec to get your product "to market on time"?

A design competition provides a forum for people in our field to hone
their skills, and it's a nice way to instill confidence. But let's not
kid ourselves and say that this prepares designers for a realistic
work environment. It'll hone your skills and make you more
competitive, sure. But it will also teach you how to communicate with
and convince still more designers, not the people we have to convince
in the real world.

I like the playful attitude the UX Challenge takes-- I don't think you
guys are "insane," as the former subject line implied. Just want to
make sure we cleared up the frame around the conference vs. contest
concept.

Looking forward to live reports from the "X-treme environment"-- Rawwwk on! :-)
- Nasir

14 Feb 2009 - 2:39pm
Nasir Barday
2006

I like the idea of local IxDA competitions, as long as we can provide
a healthy way to execute them. For example, we wouldn't want community
members to get a "rockstars only" vibe and avoid competing altogether.
If we want to set it up as a skill-honing event, it needs to be open
and inclusive-- perhaps a "rockstar" or two could serve as judges...
Can someone step up and help own this one? I'd be willing to provide
help in establishing a global framework and making sure it's
effective.

IxDA doesn't have a Board member dedicated to the press right now. Our
president, Janna DeVylder, is the main contact person if someone from
the press wants a comment. Definitely something for us to get serious
about as our projects become more interesting to the press. There's a
lot of cool stuff in the pipeline ...

And I should also be clear that the UX Challenge is not affiliatetd
with IxDA. Don't want to steal any thunder :-).

- Nasir

14 Feb 2009 - 7:15pm
Phillip Hunter
2006

Nasir,

I agree completely that local competitions would have to be
structured for maximum nurturance (word?) but also for allowing the
rockstars to show and teach what they can do. You're right, we need
inclusive competition. I'm happy to help, though I'm not the right
person to own this.

About the press, I encourage anyone on the board with a good
marketing/PR friend or contact to talk to them about our possible
need to have not only quotes and comments at the ready but also a
strategy for placing stories about our successes and making sure the
language is right so the world doesn't wonder who all these
"usability experience specialists" are. :)

ph

. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .
Posted from the new ixda.org
http://www.ixda.org/discuss?post=38517

2 Mar 2009 - 4:25pm
laurie kalmanson
2006

i vote for worshipping the polar bear as our common ancestor

. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .
Posted from the new ixda.org
http://www.ixda.org/discuss?post=38517

2 Mar 2009 - 4:25pm
laurie kalmanson
2006

i vote for worshipping the polar bear as our common ancestor

. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .
Posted from the new ixda.org
http://www.ixda.org/discuss?post=38517

3 Mar 2009 - 2:26pm
Mary Deaton
2008

I know, I am coming in a big late, but I have experience with
competitions via STC and want to throw out some cautions to consider:

Judges need to be trained and work from a common set of standards. STC
has sometimes suffered at the local level from not having enough
experienced folks volunteering to judge and ending up sending forward
to the International or Regional competitions substandard entries.

Create a judging checklist that everyone agrees on and can be tested
for inter-rater-reliability. This removes the potential for charges of
favoritism and so on.

It must also be determined that these competitions are like dog shows
- entrants are judged against the standard, not each other. There is
no grading curve in a design competition.

I have judged both local and international competitions for STC, and
the most important part of the job is to leave clear, constructive,
and instructive comments to the entrants, particularly those who do
not receive recognition and those in the lower categories. If you do
this, competition entry fees can be seen as the cheapest consulting
you ever got.

Lastly, once the winners are chosen, make sure their work is widely
viewed so everyone can applaud it and can see what great interaction
design looks like!

On Mon, Mar 2, 2009 at 1:25 PM, laurie kalmanson
<laurie_kalmanson at yahoo.com> wrote:
> i vote for worshipping the polar bear as our common ancestor
>
>
> . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .
> Posted from the new ixda.org
> http://www.ixda.org/discuss?post=38517
>
>
> ________________________________________________________________
> - Show quoted text -
> Welcome to the Interaction Design Association (IxDA)!
> To post to this list ....... discuss at ixda.org
> Unsubscribe ................ http://www.ixda.org/unsubscribe
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--
Mary Deaton
Yes we can. Yes we did. Yes we will

4 Mar 2009 - 10:32am
jrrogan
2005

One note as per Nasir's "Rockstars In/Out"; I think it would be great to
have whomever invited, definietly including Rockstars.

It seems the issue with the "Rockstars" is that they're reputation skews
"fare & balanced" design evaluation. This could be overcome with annonimity
of entrants.

On Sat, Feb 14, 2009 at 2:39 PM, Nasir Barday
<nbarday+ixda at gmail.com<nbarday%2Bixda at gmail.com>
> wrote:

> I like the idea of local IxDA competitions, as long as we can provide
> a healthy way to execute them. For example, we wouldn't want community
> members to get a "rockstars only" vibe and avoid competing altogether.
> If we want to set it up as a skill-honing event, it needs to be open
> and inclusive-- perhaps a "rockstar" or two could serve as judges...
>
>

--
Joseph Rich Rogan
President UX/UI Inc.
http://www.jrrogan.com

4 Mar 2009 - 11:29am
Todd Warfel
2003

And the participants should be made aware of the judging criteria so
they can consider that as they prototype.

On Mar 3, 2009, at 2:26 PM, Mary Deaton wrote:

> Create a judging checklist that everyone agrees on and can be tested
> for inter-rater-reliability. This removes the potential for charges of
> favoritism and so on.

Cheers!

Todd Zaki Warfel
President, Design Researcher
Messagefirst | Designing Information. Beautifully.
----------------------------------
Contact Info
Voice: (215) 825-7423
Email: todd at messagefirst.com
AIM: twarfel at mac.com
Blog: http://toddwarfel.com
Twitter: zakiwarfel
----------------------------------
In theory, theory and practice are the same.
In practice, they are not.

4 Mar 2009 - 1:18pm
Mayur Karnik
2007

If one really wants to meet Buddha, one needs to be in Tibet (which Arctic
also is, but only in the snow sense)... For all you know, you could meet the
mythical Abominable Snowman or the Yeti or Bigfoot as he is often called...
They say meeting him (and returning) is a journey within oneself... Point
being, all the distinctions between IA and IxDA (or life and death, form and
function, meaning and value, truth and belief, time and the temporal, etc.)
might just vanish when you meet the ultimate truth... that would be quite a
challenge!

Mayur

On Wed, Mar 4, 2009 at 9:59 PM, Todd Zaki Warfel <lists at toddwarfel.com>wrote:

> And the participants should be made aware of the judging criteria so they
> can consider that as they prototype.
>
> On Mar 3, 2009, at 2:26 PM, Mary Deaton wrote:
>
> Create a judging checklist that everyone agrees on and can be tested
>> for inter-rater-reliability. This removes the potential for charges of
>> favoritism and so on.
>>
>
>
> Cheers!
>
> Todd Zaki Warfel
> President, Design Researcher
> Messagefirst | Designing Information. Beautifully.
> ----------------------------------
> Contact Info
> Voice: (215) 825-7423
> Email: todd at messagefirst.com
> AIM: twarfel at mac.com
> Blog: http://toddwarfel.com
> Twitter: zakiwarfel
> ----------------------------------
> In theory, theory and practice are the same.
> In practice, they are not.
>
>
>
> ________________________________________________________________
> Welcome to the Interaction Design Association (IxDA)!
> To post to this list ....... discuss at ixda.org
> Unsubscribe ................ http://www.ixda.org/unsubscribe
> List Guidelines ............ http://www.ixda.org/guidelines
> List Help .................. http://www.ixda.org/help
>

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