I have a lot of affection for the Ergonomics Society (ES) – it was the first professional organization I joined with upon graduating from Nottingham University many years ago, and one I’ve remained in close contact with ever since.
But I sometimes wonder how well the Society adapts to change – particularly developments in the wider ergonomics / usability community. For example, why is the membership of the Ergonomics Society at a plateau, when that of related organizations such as the Usability Professionals Association (UPA) is still on an upward curve? Both organizations can legitimately claim to represent the interests of usability practitioners in the UK (and further afield). So why does one organization appear to have peaked some years ago, while the other continues to enjoy healthy growth?
Perhaps the apparent similarity is merely superficial. Dig below the surface, and there are clear differences in the focus & scope of the two organizations:
- The ES has traditionally represented ‘large scale’ platforms, in domains such as defence, utilities, transport, etc. whereas the UPA focuses on interactive technology, typically digital / online
- The ES typically measures success using hard, quantitative measures, such as effectiveness, efficiency, and safety, whereas the UPA emphasises softer measures, such as engagement, satisfaction, & loyalty
- Membership of the ES is defined by approved qualifications and relevant practical experience, whereas membership of the UPA is based on little more than shared interest
And so on. But despite this, I’m still left with the feeling somehow that the ES missed the opportunity in the 1990s to embrace digital and demonstrate that the principles which it had successfully applied to almost all other disciplines during the preceding 50 years could be adapted and extended to this new medium. After all, the whole point of standards like ISO 13407 is that the fundamental principles of human centred design should apply to any interactive system, be they digital/online or otherwise.
So is this likely to change? I hope so. The Society is currently in the process of executing its 5-year strategy, one pillar of which is to increase overall membership. It remains to be seen what proportion of this expansion will be accounted for by the ever growing body of digital specialists.