Design Leader Insights - Louis Rosenfeld on UX Publishing

February 27, 2024


Alex Smith: Design Leader Insights is brought to you by Fuego UX. Fuego UX is a leading UX research, strategy, and design consultancy. Hey, Lou. Thanks so much for joining the show today.

Louis Rosenfeld: Great to be here, Alex. Thank you so much. 

Alex Smith: For sure. And to get started, can you just give us a quick, concise journey about you and your journey into publishing for UX? 

Louis Rosenfeld: Oh, gosh. Well I started out as a practitioner primarily in information architecture. Helped get that community going and wrote, co-wrote a book that really helped drive that. And had an agency for a number of years that just did information architecture consulting. And then I started getting interested in UX and I'd already been an author and felt like the traditional publishers out there were just not that interested in user experience design. There are a lot of, you know, great publishers out there that were more technology focused. This always seemed like a little sort of drop in the bucket for them. And so I decided to start another company. As a hobby to publish books on user experience design and what started as a hobby, I don't know, 16, 17 years ago, we've now done something like 60 books and like a lot of publishers, we're very close to deep content and the people behind it. So we also offer workshops and like most publishers, we end up offering conferences. We've been doing conferences for, gosh over a dozen years. We do four conferences a year. I think we've probably hosted about 25 conferences now. So box conferences and it just sort of picks up steam as you go. I think the only secret to it is just to stick with it for a long time and learn from your mistakes. 

Alex Smith: Oh man, that resonates deeply. Just got to stick with it. And yeah, I'm, I'm excited. I think I'm going to try and attend the Advancing Research Conference in New York. So definitely check it out. But before we talk about conferences, I want to talk about books. I want to talk about, you know, what have been some of the top selling or best performing books throughout the years, and then we'll shift gears to what books would you like to see written in the coming years? 

Louis Rosenfeld: Oh, love that. So yeah, it's an interesting time. So there are books that still really speak to practitioners. So one of our top selling, if not our top selling book of all time has been the User Experience Team of One book by Leah Buley, which came out over 10 years ago and is still a very strong seller in some ways stronger, because I just think there's just like in the research area where, you ever hear the term powder people who do research as opposed to researchers, you know, when these skills get democratized or people who do UX, they're not really self, they don't see themselves as members of the field or profession, but they still need to do this kind of work and it's been helpful for them. I'd say then another that has been really successful is Steve Kortegel's Interviewing Users, which just came out in the second edition. It's also, the first one came out a little over 10 years ago as well, and that's like a fundamental skill that never ever loses relevance. It's evergreen, and certainly the book is updated in a number of ways, but there are so many people who need to understand that fundamental skill, whether they pick some of it up by hook or by crook, or learn to do some of those skills in an academic setting. You still need more help there, and a book that's a really nice container to kind of frames it all out for you is a good thing to have on the corner of your desk. That is really powerful still. And then finally probably our best selling book in the last few years is Jim Callback's The Jobs to be Done Playbook, and it speaks to this sort of interesting intersection of like a design perspective with a lot of the things that animate business people and especially product owners and product managers.

Alex Smith: What's next? Like what is that big book that you're like, why hasn't anyone written this? And maybe not me, but someone listening should go, should go write it. 

Louis Rosenfeld: So, I can't tell you how many people I, I talk with and this was true, not just in my current role, but when I was a consultant doing IA for years and years with Fortune 500s, and that is everyone is flummoxed by large organizations or even flummoxed by small organizations. And so it's not uncommon for a person to get a job at a large organization and spend the first six months, a year flailing about. Onboarding might suck. And even if it's good, it's just like, we're not equipped with tools to make sense of these large bureaucratic changing environments. And it's not only true for like a new, a person who's new to a large organization because they just got hired. Maybe they got promoted. Maybe they're a manager and you have to relate to it in a new way. Or maybe they're a consultant or they're in some other role where they have to, or a salesperson even. But they need to understand that organization in a way that not only gets at things like how the organization describes itself, like here's our org chart. Well, you know, that's not how it really works.

Alex Smith: Yeah. 

Louis Rosenfeld: Here's an IT infrastructure. Well, yes, but there's shadow IT. Here's how we present ourselves in our annual report to our investors. Yeah, yeah, yeah. But that's not really how the money decisions get made and so on and so forth. I'd love to see someone put together a book that maybe relies on ethnographic methods, but also systems thinking and other areas that says, okay, here's how you understand culture and politics and, and decision making and relationships in this new environment for you as an individual. And then as you get some more time for you and the organization that's most near you, like your team and then maybe the broader organization, but do it in a way, it focuses on practical sense making so that you can map this thing. It would be great to have a map, even a crappy half baked, quarter baked, one eighth baked version of what is this thing I need to be part of.

Alex Smith: Exactly. Let's switch gears to conferences. I have been fortunate to attend a number of conferences over the years, a lot in person pre-COVID, a lot online during COVID. And now in person online, it seems like there's, you know, 50-50 as to whether conferences in person or online. How do you, how do you all think about that? And like the conference experience?

Louis Rosenfeld: We do four conferences a year. We're doing our next one in person, and that's the first time we'll have done an in person conference since COVID. 

Alex Smith: That's right. 

Louis Rosenfeld: We're all in person before then. And, you know, so it's nice to be able to, like, have, like, a good design for both in person and for virtual and for hybrid. But I think the key word there is design. So whatever format you go in, you gotta see conference as not just a conference. So let me put it to you this way. If you were, if you hired me to help you create your next conference, I would say, all right, let's sit down and have a conversation about what we're trying to do, but not use the word conference. We'll ban that in the conversation. If you do that, what you start finding is that you're really not talking about a conference, you're talking about getting people together professionally to get them learning and talking. Really like a broad conversation that you condense to a couple days. And to do that you need to think about modeling it as a conversation. So, for example, one of the things that we found really incredibly valuable is when we have speakers at our conferences, the last thing we want them to do is show up the night before in a panic not having finished their slides. What we do is we have I've got them working for usually about three months in advance in cohorts with the aid of our paid curators and a paid professional speaker coach. And they're working together and supporting each other and figuring out ideas together. And they're really starting a conversation that ultimately we're going to bring more people into at the conference. For virtual conferences, we've been doing attendee cohorts forever. We get people to, we don't charge for this, but they get to be in small groups where they meet with the aid of two facilitators, let's say 10 people and two facilitators, and they have a kickoff before the conference starts, they get to know each other, they identify what they want to learn together. They have a daily check in on zoom and then they attend in a private slack channel and they're talking the whole time about what they're learning and getting to know each other. And that creates a lot of, not only the benefits of social learning, but also the benefits of networking and making, you know, in common, actually meeting people. So that's just a couple of the things that. If you think about it, you design it, you step away from maybe some stale framings like the word conference, you can open up a lot of interesting new possibilities. 

Alex Smith: Lou, final question here is what, what advice do you have for new folks entering the field today? Be it, you know, UX or UX adjacent fields.

Louis Rosenfeld:  As someone who's like been very closely associated with the creation of terms that people get really excited by because it gives them something to identify as for the first time, like I'm an information architect. I didn't know that that makes sense. And now I know how to find my people. Terms like that are great, but they have a very short shelf life to the point where they become stale and problematic. So in a nutshell, I would encourage people who are trying to get in to not get too closely bought into a particular job title. Or whoever you want to frame the role.

Alex Smith: Lou, as we wrap up, where can people go to learn more about you and, and your publishing company? 

Louis Rosenfeld: Oh, well, is definitely the best place to learn about the company and the books. The conferences, the workshops, we're launching a membership platform like any second. With that, it's going to have a little bit of AI in there in the next couple of months. So that's also pretty exciting. And I'm always happy to connect on LinkedIn. 

Alex Smith: Awesome. Sweet. Thanks again. 

Louis Rosenfeld: Thank you.