"UX Communities: Starting from the beginning": #6 - Professional development

 by Martin Belam, 25 March 2011

Matthew Solle and I are making up half of a panel next week at the IA Summit in Denver. We’ll be joined on the day by Joe Sokohl and Eric Reiss. To prepare, we’ve been debating on our blogs the topic of the panel: “ UX Communities: Starting from the beginning”. This is the sixth installment, following parts one, two, three, four and five.

In his last contribution, Matthew talked about there being no rules, and no formal organisation, just “doing”. One thing that I believe is very important to getting a UX community to flourish is that there is plenty of opportunity for professional development, and what attracted me to “doing” things with London IA was the chance to help people entering the profession.

Brokering mentoring schemes

Mentoring can take the form of events. One London IA member, Philip Winwood, organised a portfolio show and tell evening. The plan was for a couple of people active in hiring UX people to be on hand to scrutinise and advise people on the shape of their portfolios, from a position of knowing what really influences hiring decisions.

And as Matthew mentioned in his second blog post, more traditional organisations like the IA Institute have run successful formal mentoring schemes. That isn’t something we could do with London IA, because there is no organisation as such to oversee it. Informal mentoring does take place however, with people making contact during the more social parts of the monthly meetings.

Improving public speaking and presentations

A function that I think communities that run events like ours can provide is the opportunity to allow people to improve their public speaking and presentations. With London IA I think we have done that in at least two ways. The first is by providing an “on-ramp” to the wider conference circuit. We’ve had speakers at London IA evening events for whom this is an opportunity to speak for the first time, or we’ve had established speakers trying out new material. The Lightning UX format that Lee McIvor has got running in London also offers people a chance to get a taster for speaking about their work in public, with five minute slots available to those willing to pitch for them.

Another format has been the peer-review session for talks. Before last year’s EuroIA Summit in Paris, we held a “predux” session where UK based attendees could run through aspects of their talk in front of a close circle of experienced practitioners. This year, prior to Denver, Johanna Kollmann has done something similar with her IA Summit talk.

Professional development at all levels

I think that one easy mistake to make is to think that professional development is only important to people entering the field. A good community will provide professional development for all levels of participants, whether it is through opportunities to talk and listen to talks, networking for recruitment, or the chance to be a mentor.

This is a continuing conversation, and in the run-up to the IA Summit I also want to look at the roles of physical spaces and “outsiders” in setting up a UX Community from scratch


I think the current events can be a bit of a problem for people starting out in the field to engage with. The presentations tend to be a fascinating array of inspirational stuff for us UX magpies but they can be a bit bewildering if you're trying to get to grips with the basics. Not sure if this is normal for professional groups or a particular problem for a field that pulls inspiration from so many sources/other fields.

I think the idea of Johanna Kollmann, prior to Denver, allowing attendees to run through aspects of their talk in front of a close circle of experienced practitioners is a good idea. There's a very big difference between rehearsing your talk, alone, in your hotel room and in front of your peers. Your adrenalin level is different and it gives you time to make small changes to your speech. When your throat is dry, some words with lots of syllables or lots of consonant may be difficult to get out of your mouth on the big day. These words can be moved around to be replaced with less demanding words having a vowel to start. You can highlight the bits of your talk where you get stuck, in front of your peers, and just focus on those (say) six difficult sections before the big day.

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