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Visual Literacy & User Experience

I will be presenting "Visual literacy: Expanding how we practice UX" at UX Thursday in Detroit on June 26th. The official blurb about the talk:

Visual literacy, traditionally applied to educational settings, has become important for users to make sense of digital media. Keith Instone will share the how and why behind his research and the ways he applies what he’s learning about visual literacy to UX. You'll hear how this exploration is making him a better UX practitioner.

Keith hopes to inspire UX practitioners to embark on their own discipline-crashing journeys to help strengthen the future value of UX.

Leave Keith’s session with:

  • A process for expanding your UX expertise by "crashing" other disciplines
  • Examples from visual literacy that apply to UX
  • An invitation to participate in the next virtual literacy conference

I will add the slides and other information here as I make progress.

UX Tips Toledo region conference, April 24

I am organizing another Rosenfeld Summit virtual conference in the Toledo area. After doing a survey of local folks early in 2013 and finding that "virtual training" was the top need, I organized the 31 UX Tips virtual conference in May of 2013. I have also encouraged others to host Rosenfeld virtual events in the area. It is a good way to get the local community together, enjoy top-notch speakers, at a very low cost.

I still need sponsors for the April 24 event. Let me know if you are interested, or if you want to recommend a company for me to contact.

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User Experience Research-Practice Interaction

Here is the presentation that I did at the Connecting Dots conference on Saturday, March 15th.

The presentation was based on the paper that I wrote for the conference, plus what I learned during the first day+ of the conference. I added and deleted things once I was there.

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UXRPI at Connecting Dots

I will be doing a presentation about user experience research-practice interaction (aka UXRPI) at the AIGA Design Educators conference Connecting Dots (March 14-15, 2014, Cincinnati, Ohio). Even though I am not a design educator, I thought it was worth proposing something to help find connections between the HCI researchers and User Experience practitioners, who I have been hanging out with, and design educators, who are asking questions about "what constitutes appropriate and effective research." And the conference is nearby, in Ohio.

Preparing for the session means writing a paper (version below) and creating a presentation (still in the works, will upload later). It was a great excuse to go back and try to make sense of the various UXRPI activities that have happened the past few years.


There are gaps between research and practice in many professions. In the area of user experience, over the past few years, various activities have tried to create interest, document the challenges, discuss the issues, and propose solutions related to this gap. The label "user experience research-practice interaction" (UXRPI) has emerged as a loose term to help connect the conversations over time and across disciplines. This paper recaps some of the major UXRPI activities to date in the hopes of adding design educators to the dialogue.


To fit in with the "Connecting Dots" theme, this paper strives to use challenges around the research-practice gap to help connect the dots across various disciplines, professional organizations, and educational efforts:

  • Disciplines: Design (graphic and communication), user experience, information architecture, human-computer interaction, interaction design.
  • Professional organizations: AIGA, UXPA, IAI, ACM SIGCHI, IxDA.
  • Educational initiatives: AIGA Design Educators, IAI teaching IA workshop, IxDA Education Summits, SIGCHI education community.

Finding the common research-practice problems and awareness of various solutions that are being tried might encourage collaboration across disciplines and professional organizations, for example.

User experience research-practitioner interaction

In the user experience world, "research" can mean many different things. In this context, we are focused on "scientific research" where we are trying to learn about how people behave and use technology in a general sense that may be applied across several contexts. Within a project, a team will also perform "user research" to help them design for their specific project. The two are related: the same methods can be used for both, but the level of rigor and focus are different. But in UXRPI, we are focused more on the academic/scientific/basic types of research, and how to improve practice based on what the research shows.

From a practitioner's point of view, one of the challenges is embodied in Steve Krug's "Religious Debates" comic in his book Don't Make Me Think. In the comic, a design team is arguing about whether or not to use pulldowns for a product menu list. One person asks "Do we know if there's any research data on pulldowns?" in order to get away from personal opinions on what the design should be. The subtitle is "Rick attempts an appeal to a higher authority....". Without any research to help the team reach a decision, two weeks pass and they start debating all over again. "Research" is often seen as that "higher authority" to guide practice.

To get into what UXRPI means a bit more, here are some questions that have been used to start a conversation about user experience research-practice interaction challenges:

  • If you are a user experience practitioner, what types of challenges do you face often that you wish you had a "scientific" answer to? Have you tried to find answers in the research literature? What roadblocks did you encounter when looking for answers? What successes have you had in taking research findings and improving your practice?
  • If you are a researcher, what is the value in engaging with practitioners? What is in it for you? Do you have any examples of success stories, where your research got better because of interactions you had with practitioners?
  • What should students of HCI, interaction design and other user experience disciplines be taught about research to better prepare themselves for the practitioner world?

The CHI 2010 workshop "Researcher-practitioner interaction" kick-started the recent set of UXRPI activities and also provided a framework to talk about the problems and opportunities.

Research challenges

HCI research culture

  • Publish for researchers, not for practitioners
  • Expanding field
  • Status within academia

Research culture

  • "Publish or perish"
  • Answers narrow questions
  • Open sharing
  • Experimentation

Gap-bridging challenges


  • Little shared language
  • Speed-of-operation differences
  • Finding each other
  • Fragmented professional organizations
  • Mapping "research answers" to "practical questions"


  • Need shared knowledge base
  • Hard to organize research for practical use
  • Multi/inter-disciplinary


  • HCI education vs. practice
  • Amateur practitioners
  • HCI education for CS (etc.) degrees
  • Training for practitioners

Practice challenges

UX practice culture

  • No time for "research": good enough
  • Rapidly evolving practice
  • Status within corporations

Corporate culture

  • "Produce or perish"
  • Wants broad answers
  • Strategic advantage
  • Fear of failure

Important aspects of the problem space:

  • There is a "pillar" of challenges associated with the research culture overall and the HCI research culture in particular. Those are on the left.
  • Similar pillar of challenges on the right: the corporate culture overall and user experience practice culture in particular.
  • It is hard to change culture. There may be some opportunities to address some of the challenges directly in each/both pillars, but be aware what you are getting yourself into if you try to tackle them.
  • There are 3 levels of bridging, across the middle: Education (fundamental training and schooling), Knowledge-sharing (helping researchers and practitioners by sharing details on a regular basis) and Communication (just making sure we can talk with each other in an intelligent way).
  • Improving simple communication between researchers and practitioners is one place to start. Sharing knowledge is harder (but has the bigger pay-off) and forming an educational foundation should lead to the ability to address deeper challenges.

Examples of specific gaps at the cultural levels:

  • Researchers are focused on openly publishing answers to narrow questions, while practitioners want broad answers, quickly, that they can apply for a strategic advantage.
  • Researchers are often focused on publishing to gain credibility with other researchers (for tenure, for example), especially for HCI, where it may not be a respected part of computer science. Practitioners are often not given the time by stakeholders (who do not value UX) to understand core principles from research, instead pressured to just do "good enough".
  • Both researchers and practitioners are having a hard time keeping up the pace of technology change and the rapidly evolving design landscape as a whole. They each have too much to learn to just keep up with their "day jobs" and no time or energy left to interact with each other.

Examples of specific challenges in "bridge building" areas of communication, knowledge and education:

  • It can be a challenge just to find the right people "on the other side": for example, locating a researcher who is studying something that a specific practitioner needs help with. When a good match is made, it can be hard for researchers and practitioners to speak the same language and to find ways to collaborate (e.g., a researcher on a several-year grant working vs. a practitioner who needs to make a decision within a few weeks).
  • At a more fundamental level, it is hard to translate "research questions" to "practical answers". Some researchers have a hard time explaining what the practical implication is of their research. Many practitioners have a hard time explaining what they really need to know (in a way that can actually be researched).
  • In this multi- and inter-disciplinary area, it is hard to build common knowledge bases that work for either researchers or practitioners, let alone something that works for both at the same time.
  • The educational setting is an ideal place to "start off on the right foot" but the rapid pace of technology, the difficulty in teaching both foundational theory and practical skills in higher education, competition from the private sector, and the disciplinary upheaval makes it difficult to accomplish basic educational goals, let alone something that is often considered a "nice to have" like having graduates who understand research.

The next sections are reviews of the challenges from various communities perspectives, along with some some of the activities they are doing to try to improve the interaction between researchers and practitioners.

Human-Computer Interaction Community

In addition to being to the host of the workshop that helped kick off the recent focus on research-practice interaction, SIGCHI has formed a community. The RPI community goals:

The Research-Practice Interaction community is a bridge between research and practice in HCI, including all flavors thereof (user experience, usability, interaction design, information architecture, etc.). We aim to promote the exchange of information between researchers and practitioners, such that research and its results are more accessible to practitioners and that practitioner information needs are conveyed to researchers.

One of the key ways that ACM SIGCHI's main conference, CHI, tried to be more relevant to practitioners was with conference communities: "They are the primary entry points and guides for researchers and practitioners new to CHI...They help attendees and authors find ways to connect with the conference more effectively". Two initial communities were "User experience" (which helped spawn UXRPI as a thread of discussion) and "Design" (which covered topics of interest to communication design).

An example of a CHI conference presentation that looked at the UXRPI issue is "Design research at CHI and its applicability to design practice" which found that only 7% of the CHI 2011 papers were oriented towards supporting design practice. Another design-focused CHI example is "Understanding interaction design practices" where it is proposed that HCI researchers do more frequent and more intensive studies of interaction design practice.

The Indiana University research program "Research into Interaction Design Practice" is very relevant to UXRPI: "how design-practitioners understand their own practice, their design process and how they evaluate, select, and adapt design methods" by doing analytical studies of HCI research results presented as "implications for design".

The role of theory and how it relates to practice was the focus of a workshop at CHI 2012.

A special interest group at CHI 2013 was focused on research practice interaction where practitioners and researchers were matched up in groups to talk about wants and needs.

For CHI 2014, communities has become "Spotlights" with "Interaction science" (PDF) one that is addressing some of the research-practice interaction issues, such as engaging researchers and practitioners in the reviewing process.

Information Architecture Community

The information architecture community started talking about the role of research in 2006 at a panel at the IA Summit. Fast's reply: "there is no discernable body of IA research". The Journal of Information Architecture has since been formed, where practice-led research was proposed.

At the 2010 IA Summit, a session about the current relationship of research and practice in information architecture had participants draw pictures on napkins to show their view of the current state. Some of the goals that emerged:

  • Build long-term relationships between researchers and practitioners, through common channels and meeting points
  • Disseminate IA-specific conversations in related communities, conferences and meetings

The IA Summit has been the host of a subsequent "Academics and Practitioners Round Table," where it was proposed that closing the gap required looking at it as both an experience design and organizational change problem. In 2014, the 2nd roundtable will focus on teaching IA.

Interaction Design Community

Ladner issued a call to action for interaction designers to figure out how they want to draw their theoretical boundaries, where they build upon the scientific tradition, and in general, what constitutes interaction design research. IxDA, the main organization for interaction designers, has not really addressed research-practice challenges directly, but some arise in the context of their "Interaction Design Education Summit" activities.

User Experience Practitioners Community

With its origins as a "practitioner spin-off" from the HCI community in 1991, the Usability Professionals' Association (now the User Experience Professionals Association) has regularly included sessions at its annual conference aimed at presenting the latest research to practitioners. One example is the "Research in Practice" tutorial by Kath Straub: an annually updated tutorial containing an informative survey of key and emerging research that will shape practice. (A sample of what is presented in the tutorial).

An example of a practitioner who struggles to make sense of the research is from UPA's Journal of Usability Studies: Problems and Joys of Reading Research Papers for Practitioner Purposes.

The Usability Body of Knowledge project is often cited as a project that would be good to help at the "knowledge" layer of the bridge between research and practice. One of the goals is "define the knowledge underlying the usability profession" and some of that knowledge is research which practitioners need to understand.

The "Toward usable usability research: Building bridges between research and practice" workshop at the UPA 2011 conference focused on defining what practitioners need.

The 2013 UXPA conference hosted a discussion to generate ideas for solutions to UXRPI challenges. The ideas were clustered around creating hubs of activity, publishing, higher education, practitioner DIY, and influencing decision makers.

Other Activities

Don Norman has argued for the need for a new discipline, "one that can translate between the abstractions of research and the practicalities of practice". Initially called "translational development" and later called "translational engineering", the term "translational entrepreneur" has also been proposed. The model is "translational science" in the healthcare industry.

A recent masters project called Smarticle focused on one specific UXRPI challenge, designing a system that makes academic work more accessible to a larger audience.

At the 2010 Internet User Experience Conference, a panel was organized to explore UXRPI, including having attendees do napkin sketching of their view of the challenges and opportunities. Some of the issues identified include: One body/two heads (drawn by a practitioner) vs. One head/two bodies (drawn by a researcher), how to do research on the practice itself, why overcoming the gap is important, and why it is so hard.

There are many more related activities: this is just a sample to help start the dialogue. Over the long term, there are other disciplines to include: human factors, industrial design, technical communication and information design, to name a few.

AIGA & Design Educators

The Connecting Dots theme of "Design educators and professionals are challenged with identifying what constitutes appropriate and effective research" fits in nicely with UXRPI problems.

For AIGA and its members overall, user experience research-practice interaction challenges are wrapped up in the larger expectations for design education. "The Disciplined Designer" covers the same overlapping-circles discussion that many other UX-related disciplines are having. A strategic proposal to "Find methods to ensure knowledge born of design research be best utilized by design practitioners" indicates there are research-practice needs coming to the forefront for the AIGA Design educators community.

Topics for Discussion

If this recap of user experience research-practice interaction workshops, discussions and initiatives has been valuable, then it should have triggered questions about what it means to design educators. No answers, just questions.

  • What other UXRPI-related challenges have already been documented by AIGA Design Educators and AIGA as a whole? What solutions to these problems have been tried (successfully or not), are in progress or have been proposed? What things is AIGA doing well that the other professional organizations can leverage?
  • What cultural gaps are the same? Which ones are unique to this design community? What cultural shifts are on the horizon that could make bridging UXRPI gaps easier in the future? What needs to be "blown up" and re-invented from scratch?
  • Which bridging challenges (communication, knowledge and especially education) are most important for this design community? Where are the bridging challenges the same and different than what has been documented here?
  • If there is some UXRPI common ground for AIGA Design Educators, then how does collaboration happen across disciplines and across professional organizations? For example, what would a combined "education summit" across disciplines look like? How do the dots get connected to help improve research-practice interaction?

Added March 11, 2014: A first draft of the slides for my presentation at the Connecting Dots conference (PDF). I am sure I will actually present something different. There are too many slides, so some will get deleted. As I attend the conference and hear others talking about the topic, I will add my notes. One of the benefits of being towards the end of the conference is that you can update your talk based on the conference discussions. One of the curses, as well.

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UX Career Development

I volunteered to be a part of the UXPA 2014 conference organizing team. I am helping Alberta Soranzo with the "Career development" topic, which means I will be part of a team that encourages submissions, manages reviews, and helps form this part of the program.

I need your help!

  1. Read over the Career Development topic description and consider submitting something. The deadline is January 31st. Note that there are many types to choose from, such as presentations, panel, posters, and tutorials.
  2. Help spread the word to others. Look for the UXCareerDev tag on social media and pass on things of interest. Contact people who you would like to hear talk about career development, and encourage them to submit.
  3. Sign up to be a reviewer. We always need more good reviewers. Deadline to sign up to review is January 24th, with reviews done from February 10th - 24th. You need to have an account in the Conference Management System to review: be sure the check "Career Development" in your profile.

Also, I have been tracking down and reading what has been written and presented over the years about User Experience Career Development, both to help me be a better reviewer and to help me find people to encourage to submit. Here is a small sample of the things I have found:

I'd love to hear about your favorites on the topic. Leave a comment here with pointers to more articles and presentations. Or send me email [keith2014 at instone dot org]. Or tweet with #UXCareerDev.

And feel free to tell me what you WANT to be a part of this topic at the UXPA 2014 conference, what UX Career Development issues and challenges you are facing today. Thanks in advance.

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UXPA 2013 Idea Market

I hosted an Idea Market about User Experience Research and Practice at the UXPA 2013 conference in DC on July 11th. Another event in the series exploring the challenges and solutions to the research-practice gap in UX.

Idea Markets are informal, discussion-oriented events. I has some space to put up info to announce the topic. Some people came by and left comments at random times, but most of the activity was during a special session for idea markets: a break in the regular program. We had up to 8 people talking at once and a few people were recruited to participate as certain topics came up. Here is a grouping of the things we talked about (the topics left as sticky notes, at least).

Problem statements: The session focused on ideas for solutions, but some people could not resist (re)-stating problems.

  • When I was a researcher, I felt I had more time to do in-depth user research and testing. As a practitioner, I feel that in an agile, feature-design world it is not possible.
  • Hard to apply the findings from the scientific research.
  • Making the findings from the scientific research digestable.
  • Researchers should start doing relevant research, and present it outside acadmic journals/conferences.

Hubs-of-activity ideas: Places, events where researchers and practitioners can hang out, interact, and where the other solutions can take place.

  • Monthly meet-ups.
  • Plan simultaneous practitioner and researcher conferences nearby, with social parties to combine both audiences.
  • as an online hub.
  • UXPA Body of Knowledge as an online hub.
  • A person as the hub: someone like Kath Straub who can compile the research and hold seminars to explain the research to many groups of practitioners.

Publishing-related ideas: focused on how to communicate research to practitioners.

  • Boxes and Arrows (and other online magazines that practitioners read) summary of research.
  • Business owners and designers/researchers write article together (e.g., HBR).
  • Comic books, "CHI Comix".
  • Articles written by practitioners and researchers together.
  • Quick reviews ("bite sized") of emerging research for practitioners.
  • Include practitioner articles in academic journals.

Higher education ideas: where the foundation for research-practice interaction is.

  • Team teaching: 1 researcher/academic and 1 practitioner.
  • Translate (industry) research topics into HCI programs (e.g., master's theses).
  • Cycle new grads thru the "professional ranks" like conference volunteer, newsletter editor.
  • Multi-disciplinary projects in school.

Do-it-yourself ideas: Practitioners serving themselves, instead of relying on "researchers".

  • Sharing tools developed by practitioners to solve their own user research challenges.
  • Self-funded R&D by practitioner companies.
  • Independent research of best practices, by industry.

Influence decision maker ideas: to help get to some of the root causes of the research-practice gap.

  • Find grant funders to attract researchers.
  • Executive understanding of importance of UX research.
  • Reach upper management.
  • Influence the grant and venture capital organizations.

Overall, a lot of the same from past conversations, but also some new twists. The important thing is to keep the challenges and ideas for improving in mind for the long haul.

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Midwest UX 2013 recaps and slides

The 3rd Midwest UX conference, back in October in Grand Rapids, MI, was great! Below are links to recaps and slides and other things, to help people who were there to get more out of the event afterwards, and for people who were not even there.

Conference resources

Conference recaps

Session & speakers, with link to slides and other resources

Keynote: Making Sense of Place
Abby Covert

It's Not You, It's Your Anti-Pattern
Edward Stojakovic, Fran Diamond

Boats, Trains & Shopping Malls: Testing the Usability of Products in their Natural Habitat
Kathi Kaiser

Dude, Who Stole My Community?
Charles Erdman

Everyone is a Designer, Whether You Like it or Not
Kyle Murphy

Hey, You Got Your Map In My Territory!: The Role of Language in Placemaking
Andrew Hinton

After Orientation: Making Room for a Novice UX Designer
Megan Schwarz

Keynote: Places Make Us
Christina Wodtke

Panel by Design West Michigan
Christina Wodtke, Chris Hoyt, Jeff Reuschel, Ritu Bajaj

Narrative Spaces
Christian Eckels

The Essence of Experience
Kaleem Khan

The Programmable World
Matt Nish-Lapidus

Field Manual: UX Lessons From The Military Profession
Jason Alderman

Defining our Place in Emerging Technologies
Erik Dahl

Resistance is Futile: Google Glass and the Cyborg Workforce of the Future
Donna Lichaw

Pecha Kucha:

Turn About is Fair Play: How We Employed UX to Transform Our Workplaces and Rethink Our Business
Seth Starner

The Place You’re In Is More Than The Place You’re At
Phillip Hunter

Social Smarts for Small Screens
Sonia Koesterer

Distant Land, Different Life
Kerry-Anne Gilowey

Scratch Your Own Itch: Simple, Designer-driven Apps
Simon King

The Four Mobile Traps: How To Avoid the Most Common Mistakes Plaguing The Mobile Space
Michael Mace

Keynote: Data is the Experience
Karl Fast

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UX Community Survey Results, Part 1

Back in March, I published a survey to get insights into what people in the Toledo region needed to help them create better user experiences. We have gotten 43 replies, so it seems like a good time to start analyzing the results and sharing them. This write-up will just cover the "needs" part: "ideas" results will come later. Just the data, no interpretation yet.

Before we start: who replied? I let people answer anonymously, and purposely did not ask "demographic" questions, preferring instead to keep the survey short. But here are some generic job titles of people who left their name and/or told me they answered:

  • Executives: CEO, President, Vice President, CIO
  • UX Practitioners: Web designer/developer, Usability analyst, Creative director, Interactive designer, UX designer
  • Other practitioners: Communications, Software developer, Application developer
  • Academia: Student, Instructor


We can rank each need by the number of times it was selected, out of 43, to get a sense of what people think are the most important answers to "What do you need to improve the user experience (UX) of the things you create?".

30Insights into innovative UI & interaction designs
29Knowledge of advanced UX techniques
27Case studies showing how others do UX
27Practice doing UX
25Training and formal education on how to do basic UX methods
19A UX "tribe" to hang out with, get support from
15More commitment from my clients to pay me for UX work
13Better tools for doing UX work
12Awareness and understanding of UX by others within my company
8UX talent to hire

Comments about the needs

A summary of what people typed in, edited and grouped.

What I need....

  • Inspiration and aspiration for my team
  • Real-world use cases and empirical data
  • User interface design guidelines and best practices
  • Good UX (for my app), without paying too much
  • UX value to business
  • More of ALL of this

How I want to address these needs....

  • Tell war stories with other veterans of UI
  • See UX teams in action
  • Network with people who need my services
  • Compare my practices to the work of others
  • Bounce idea off of others
  • Learn by doing

That is all for part 1. The "ideas" will be more complicated, and perhaps more interesting.

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BGSU last week

I spent most of last week on the campus of BGSU. Lots of different things, from Sibs N Kids to graphic design portfolios to playing hockey.

One of the major events was Entrepreneurship Week that included The Hatch, a Shark-Tank-like event, and the Sebo conference, which I have written about in the past. One of the personal hi-lites was being recognized as the person who reached the largest audience with Twitter during the conference. Hanson folks did a great job getting the audience engaged: loved the live social network analysis.

My other major on-campus activity was presenting to 3 undergraduate Usability Engineering classes. I extracted what I thought were the key things they learned this semester and pointed out some other things they will need to survive and prosper doing user experience-related work in industry. It was great meeting the students and learning about what they got out of the class. As usual, the questions they asked were better than the topics I was prepared to talk about, so the slides (PDF) are only a poor sampling of what we discussed.

It was great to spend so much time on campus last week. I learned a lot.

Reframing IA at IA Summit

I am looking forward to the IA Summit next week. My 13th, out of 14. Mostly going to catch-up with colleagues, learn, sight-see with the family, and talk about business opportunities.

And I will be participating in the Reframe IA workshop. There will be many people smarter than me there who will talk about better framings for IA. My interest is more about the process of reframing and how to close aspects of the research-practice gap. I have been "studying" the problems and solutions with user experience research practice interaction (#UXRPI) and this is another attempt at making progress.

I have posted my slides for the workshop on SlideShare in case you want to take a peek.

I am not really sure what my talking points will be for each slide: going to wing it. It is "round table workshop" so it will be all about the discussion.

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