The Emergence of an Agile UX Movement

As I was thinking about last week’s NYC edition of our Agile UX Retreats, and what  made this particular retreat so significant, my thoughts went back to the IA Retreats at the Asilomar Conference Grounds in Pacific Grove, CA.  Those retreats led to the creation of the Asilomar Institute for Information Architecture, which later would be renamed the IA Institute.  It was a small group of people with vision and drive creating something larger than themselves.

For me, more so than with any of the earlier retreats that we have held, I had that same sense of the beginnings of a movement.  Certainly, the event had its fair share of  presentations of projects, techniques and case studies. Lane Halley gave a fantastic talk about the power of replacing traditional static design documents with paper prototypes that allow users to actually experience the product.  Alan Cooper used role playing, with some skilled help from Josh Seiden, to powerfully convey the complexity and importance of how to discuss and communicate UX to executives.   Desiree Sy offered insights into how to integrate UX into an Agile project framework with the UX Planning Board.  And Jeff Patton shared insights into lessons learned about story mapping, and offered a Scooby-speak version of describing a project failure as a Ruster-Ruck, which became a mantra for the rest of the retreat.

We also got a fresh boost of energy and new thinking from several of our first-time attendees, including Jeff GothelfJanice Fraser (the left arm of the Adaptive Path Voltron), Marcy Swenson, and Jeremy Lightsmith.  In fact, I had to keep reminding myself that they had not been part of this journey all along.

But all those very interesting talks and activities were really just the icing on what I felt was the real substance, the true take-away from this event.  The emergent theme of the retreat, at first imperceptibly bubbling up in the form of  between-talks “hallway” conversations, were about we can transform what we are doing into something greater than ourselves.

That sense of momentum reached a pinnacle when we began not just talking and musing about the idea of turning our retreats into a full-blown conference, but actually starting to make concrete plans for turning idea into reality.  There was a palpable energy in the room, a sense of common resolve.  Thanks to Lane’s brilliant facilitation skills, we forged what I believe will be an enduring vision for such a conference.  We are still ironing out the details, and I hope we can soon make an announcement and begin to promote this event.

On a separate note, and somewhat ironically, the spark that would eventually us to organize the first AUX retreat in San Francisco, was one of the retreats in Asilomar, the 2004 “Future of IA” retreat, where Christina Wodtke made fire-and-brimstone proclamations about how IAs should stop creating wireframes.  (If you’ve met Christina, you know she has a way of getting ideas to stick in your mind.)  It forced me to begin questioning some very fundamental ideas I had about what it meant to be a user experience designer and set me off on a path of discovery, in search of a better, leaner, faster way of working.  Not surprisingly, it would not be long before I discovered Agile.  I thought I had reached my destination.  Of course, what I would quickly discover was that this was just the beginning of new journey.  But with this amazing group people that have participated in these retreats, and in future events to come, I am honored and excited to be part of it. (Sob!)

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