What’s in a name?

Recently I changed my “branding” here and on LinkedIn to describe myself as an “experience researcher” — as opposed to a UX, Usability, User, Human Factors, or other kind of researcher. This reflects an evolution in my thinking that’s been going on for a couple years now, as I’ve meditated on how my strengths align with my goals and the things I’m interested in. This blog post is an attempt to summarize it, mostly for myself but also in case anyone’s curious.

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For whatever reason, “UX” tends to connote users’ interactions with software systems in particular, whereas I like to take a more holistic view in my work, and generally find other kinds of systems — procedural, organizational, taxonomic, etc. — more important and interesting anyway; software systems are but one component among these. So I stopped putting the term “UX” in front of “Researcher”.

In most industries, “Human Factors” has to do with the interactions between humans and a wider set of systems than just software, but there does seem to be a bit of an emphasis on hardware, so Human Factors is often lumped in with ergonomics. At my last job my title was Human Factors Associate, which reflected both the type of work I was doing and the mindset of that company. I admire that company and am proud of the work I did there, but I see my path going forward as somewhat different, and so “Human Factors” doesn’t feel quite appropriate for me anymore.

“User” tends to imply a machine or computer technology, whether hardware or software; it doesn’t seem like the right term for someone who interacts with more nebulous types of systems such as onboarding or professional development. “User” also doesn’t describe people experiencing change in the workplace (people aren’t “users” of change), and that experience is what I see my work as anchored to.

“Usability” is usually all about making things easier, quicker, lighter, more pleasant and learnable and understandable. This is obviously important and applies to everything from individual Word documents to massive interconnected software systems, and usability research is what my work is largely composed of, but like “user”, the term “usability” doesn’t seem to fit with how people experience less tangible kinds of systems or workplace change.

What I ultimately realized is that all the work I’m doing has to do with people’s experiences, and none of it doesn’t, and so simply placing the word “Experience” before “Researcher” was the most accurate and succinct way to describe my professional self. I hypothesize it’s also a fairly accessible term: people who are accustomed to thinking or reading about “UX”, “Human Factors”, “Usability”, and so on will see “Experience Researcher” and have a reasonably accurate idea of what that means. (Do you agree?)

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I am now a certified DACUM facilitator!

Last week I completed a training course at the Ohio State University to become a certified DACUM facilitator. During the week of training, my co-learners often asked me if having observed about a dozen DACUM workshops made the training easier.

A DACUM workshop provides its observers with a thorough introduction to the DACUM process: each workshop begins with a somewhat in-depth orientation, plus the sheer repetitiveness and intensity of the process makes it impossible not to come away with a strong impression of how a DACUM is carried out.

A careful observer can also pick up a lot of what the facilitators are doing “under the hood” to make the workshop successful. In this sense, observing DACUMs helps to make the process non-alien, and imparts at least an “academic” understanding of how they are facilitated. It’s a bit like closely watching how someone rides a bike or drives a stick shift: after enough time you can at least figure out how it’s done and start to mentally practice doing it yourself.

But there is no substitute for the experience of getting up there and actually doing the facilitating with a panel. OSU’s DACUM facilitator training program consists of one day of conventional instruction in which learners are seated before an instructor, then two days in which the learners participate as panelists in a mock DACUM (or “Facum”) with one at a time taking turns as facilitator. The final two days are a sort of capstone session, spent conducting an actual DACUM with real panelists provided by government or industry organizations.

In my case, the panel I facilitated for consisted of employees from American Electric Power, where I work. In fact, their DACUM session was part of the very project I’m on, so I had the double benefit of also advancing my team’s project while I gained my DACUM certification.

Normally 3-4 learners share rotating facilitator duties on the capstone session, but for this one the panel was broken out into four mini-DACUMs consisting of two panelists and one facilitator each. This meant I facilitated a whole workshop by myself.

I can’t think of any better way to train! By time it ended, I was eager to facilitate another. A coworker observing the workshop asked me how it felt to be DACUM-certified. I responded, “Now everything looks like a nail.” My project is slated to include another five or six DACUM workshops before the end of 2019 and I can’t wait to facilitate them.

For a slightly more in-depth explanation of what DACUM is, I’ve written about it before.