For me, this made-up word is
the synthesis of Stability + Agility
I understand that HR people are often eager to reduce the stack of resumes in their inbox – and that the shallow approach of counting engagements or “recency” is a convenient excuse for rejecting applicants outright. Many hiring managers assume that they can control the upset of change if they hire only people who’ve worked in one place for a long period of time. It’s a temptingly obvious solution – But is it the only one?
There is nothing so stable as change. – Bob Dylan
The new media are an ongoing challenge: change is the constant. Increasingly across the board, professionals are viewed as consultants. I believe that this is especially true of the “user experience” arena which, by definition, transcends traditional boundaries. That’s why I got into it in the first place, of course: UX is the cutting edge of change. And – as with all blades – “It cuts both ways.” For most organizations, change is a struggle.
Stability is the integrity of commitment.
Agility is the wisdom to adapt.
Stagility is a technique for dealing with Change.
Part-Time Engagements / Full-Time Commitment
That’s how I describe my career. I’ve been doing both interactive design and usability advocacy for several decades. The fulltime UX jobs didn’t exist – heck, the terminology and titles didn’t even exist – for most of my early career. As one of the first people working in this arena, I was in the marketplace defining the need for an interaction design “usability practice” from the earliest days.
My career began at the lucky confluence of right place, right time, right mind. I was there when it became clear that usability would be the competitive edge for the emerging interactive economy. There’s something to be said for “fortuitous synergy”. Early on the curve (the early ’80’s) I was an active advocate for
- The emerging role of the Interactive Architect
- Common integrative presentation, usability, and interaction standards
- Innovative techniques s.a. semantic tagging, stylesheets, responsive design, and resolution-independent vectorgraphics
Visualization is one of the most personally satisfying aspects of the profession. A “Facebook for the enterprise” project at a major tech think tank still informs my desire to see LinkedIn reach its collegial, collaborative potential:
Visionary builds what dreamers imagined. ― Toba Beta
If you’re going to hang around for long in the quickly-changing, quirky “new media” arena, then this quality is absolutely essential. “The Next Big Thing” comes and goes, but each embodies some constant truth. I often describe myself as “a repository of dead languages“. That’s not as sad as it sounds: The Latin that I studied in high school is still invaluable when deciphering big words.
I was amused to see storyboarding emerge as a valuable skill for UX. In the early days of digital interactive, it just didn’t resonate.
But now it’s a given – one we’ve inherited from the linear film & video metaphor.
Here are some Factoids from an earlier time. I won’t try to deconstruct them in detail, but I believe they speak to adaptability.
- I was already working in the interactive arena – with international clients – when the IBM PC first appeared on the Market in 1981.
- Many of the first pre-Web interactive browsers resided in the “trivial” gameboxsystems of that moment in time.
- During the 80’s both broadcast TV and digital computing vied for ownership of the term “programming“.
- I was doing video before YouTube and had a career in cable before there was anything called MTV
- In early days I explained to clients that – although computers and TV screens looked alike – they actually weren’t. But would be … soon.
- Digital display screens first grew and multiplied on the desktop … then shrank and morphed into fashion accessories.
- And so on …
Technologies come and go. Fundamental needs remain.
UX brought a unique (and unsettling) perspective to traditional businesses: “user centricity”. Any enterprise wishing to be involved in interactive media had to develop this whole new service-oriented area as a part of their business.
- My position wasn’t just theoretical: I established and managed The Communication Studio as one of the first interactive design service bureaus in the nation during the early 80’s … “before we called it the Web”.
- During the period 1981-2000 my company serviced many high-end clients as a consultancy, since none of the Fortune 500 (who were the players in this new field at that time) maintained anything that could be called a real User Experience presence internally.
Here’s my business card (circa 1983).
“User experience” was not a job description … it’s just what I did. I did it with the belief that it was the inescapable reality of the future.
Social media is not about the exploitation of technology but service to community. – Simon Mainwaring
Coming up with viable solutions lies at the very heart of usability. In many ways, it is my motivation to work in UX.
I entrepreneurized the vision by creating practical solutions for real needs.
- To support this emerging industry role I created an entire suite of UI productivity design tools for interactive services in the mid-80’s and marketed them successfully to my Fortune 500 clients: Content Management System, Templates, Clip Art, Stylesheets and Automated Page Creation
- As a member of the Application Level User Interface Committee in 1984, I proposed common usability standards and functionality for an industry that didn’t quite exist just yet.
- Focused on “heavy lifting” transactional applications which dealt with complex workflows. The Electronic Sales Assistant, one of my first solutions packages, provided a customized platform for creating goal-driven sales materials “at the push of a button”
Many of my engagements have been to ‘build the solution”, not merely ‘gild the lily’.
Creativity is all about problem-solving. – Philip Seymour Hoffman
I was tapped for one of the first fulltime “Information Architect” staff positions that I’d ever heard of in the industry in 1994. We were in fact the”agile” design solution for the enterprise before it became an industry thing. I went on-staff several more times over the next few years – at bluechip Fortune 500 financial institutions.
- I helped define enterprise usability and then approached management about actually establishing an internal UX practice as a part of the business.
- In the meantime I helped guide the foundation of User Experience infrastructure within the enterprise, based on things like “best practices“, process and the Design Resource Center.
- A drawback to pioneering is being “ahead of the curve”. I love and am a student of history … but it moves at its own speed. When it became clear that the enterprise was not yet ready to take that next step, I moved on.
Finally, the timing was finally about right – except for one thing; The bursting of “the internet bubble” in 2000. Nonetheless, I survived during the industry’s recovery, paying the rent and continuing to stump for User Experience, but wary of the commitment of the enterprise.
It is not easy to be a pioneer – but oh, it is fascinating! I would not trade one moment, even the worst moment, for all the riches in the world. – Elizabeth Blackwell
“Prosletyzing the Vision Thing” is an everyday exercise when you’re a contractor/consultant.
- In the early days – before we called it the Web – I often evangelized at industry conclaves about this newfangled usability stuff.
- During my career I’ve consulted regularly with senior stakeholders during my engagements (I often reported directly to the CIO), sharing with them my insights on how they might most effectively implement UX within the organization.
- Earned the highest performance bonus as a customer-facing UX sales engineer at a “corporate Razorfish” serving the financial market. I like talking with people about what I love. Even better when it turns into a relationship.
It is a strange trade that of advocacy. Your intellect, your highest heavenly gift is hung up in the shop window like a loaded pistol for sale. – Thomas Carlyle
Visionary, adaptable, service oriented, problem solver, pioneer, advocate
These are all attributes that are essential to dealing with change. I’m not implying that a 10-year staffer can’t have these qualities. I am saying that someone who’s been a professional independent consultant and contractor is very likely to have these qualities.
So it’s a pity if you overlook us. It’s also counter-productive – if one of your primary challenges is dealing with change.
Don’t you want those qualities in someone who’s at the cutting edge of change in your organization? It’s a thought …
This article is really just an exercise in self-promotion
Okay, so this Post is “all about me”. I love books, hypotheticals, and academic discourse. But my most satisfying knowledge is based on my own experience. I can’t help but reference it when I talk about what moves me.
I’ve been in the User Experience craft for 30 years because it is my passion. UX is all about user-centricity, so I guess self-reflection comes with the territory. My longstanding motivation is to Make the vision real.
For changes to be of any true value, they’ve got to be lasting and consistent. – Tony Robbins
© The Communication Studio LLC