One of the great things about membership of the IEHF (Institute of Ergonomics and Human Factors) is the support it provides for professionalism in the workplace, backed up by a strong sense of tradition underpinning the academic roots of the discipline. But perhaps one of its weaker points is our communal readiness to embrace new ways of working and communicating, particularly regarding social media and other online networking tools (e.g. blogs, wikis, Twitter, LinkedIn, etc). There seems to be a perception (among the wider UX community, at least) that the IEHF is somewhat backward looking in this respect, with one ex-member describing it as “another association that’s extremely old school and slooooooooooow”. Reading some of these comments, you’d think that the average IEHF member couldn’t tell their RSS from their elbow. But is this really true? Is the footprint of the IEHF across social media really that shallow, or do we in fact have a small army of nascent bloggers and tweeters? I raised the issue recently on the LinkedIn IEHF forum, and this brief article summarises the response.
First, let’s look at blogs by people in the IEHF community whom many of us will know: Council members (both current and recent). Credit here goes to Tom Stewart, who features regularly as a guest blogger on Econsultancy, and thus earns double kudos for (a) writing engaging, topical content and (b) reaching out to ‘non ergonomic’ communities. On a personal note, I think this is something we should be doing a lot more of: there are plenty of folk out there in the digital community who would be very receptive to the IEHF’s message if only it was articulated in terms that resonate with them.
Then there’s Ed Chandler, whose UserAccess Design blog covers “Usability and Accessibility in the Information Society”. Ed is also creator of the UserAccess Daily, an online newspaper on the subject of accessible design. This publication (in common with others from paper.li) is generated automatically from syndicated online sources on a regular schedule. The end result: a newspaper-like reading experience, delivered to your inbox. Nice work, Ed.
These two, combined with my own blog (Information Interaction), means that out of a set of ~19 Council members, we appear to have just three active bloggers. Of course, I recognize that blogging is just one channel through which to engage the wider community, but given our aspirations to grow the membership base and appeal to a more youthful demographic, I had hoped to see more.
Looking further afield, there are blogs by various IEHF members, such as Brian Sherwood Jones’ Usability in Context blog which covers an eclectic but highly accessible mix of articles on the subject of “Usability and Quality in Use in everyday life”. Also highly readable (and well illustrated) is Paul Salkeld’s “Observations of Ergonomics”, which covers a variety of workspace and product ergonomics issues.
Also worth a look are Guy Osmond’s Off at Tangents blog, Roy Matheson’s Philosophy on Workplace Safety and Work Injury Evaluation”, Mark Paradies’ blog on root cause analysis, Andy Brazier’s Human factors in risk management, and Yamile Jackson’s Nurtured by Design which covers neonatal ergonomics.
And then there are the corporate blogs, i.e. those maintained on behalf of a larger organisation by a number of active contributors. Notable among these are the ABB blog, which covers process safety related HF issues, CCD’s Design and the Human Factor, Davis Associates’ User Insights for Design and Brunel University’s Human Centred Design Institute blog.
But there’s more to social media than blogging. If you want to keep up with the Institute on Twitter, for example, you can follow @ukiehf. And Dominic Furniss of UCL is using Twitter as an online diary study tool to gather user data on human error. But beyond that, the number of active IEHF members on Twitter seems modest at best. By contrast, we seem to be doing rather better on LinkedIn, where the IEHF group now has over 1,200 members and is growing at a healthy rate of 50+ new members each month (note however that this also includes non-IEHF members). Likewise, the Institute has an active presence on Facebook, with various related pages for events such as the student conference. Finally, there are of course other popular blogs on the topics of ergonomics, human factors, usability, user experience and so on, but I haven’t included them here unless there is a clear and direct link to the IEHF (e.g. through personal membership).
So what’s my assessment of the IEHF’s engagement with social media? Overall, my impression is one of missed opportunity (thus far). After all, there must be thousands of people worldwide working in user experience design for online products and services, in many cases developing the very sites and tools that provoked this discussion. And yet, we count but a handful of these as active IEHF members. No irony there, then.
Finally, remember also that this is an ongoing effort, open to further contributions, so if I’ve omitted your personal favourite (or your own blog), drop me a line either here or by email.
BTW, from next year I’ll be standing down from my role as Associate Rep, so if you’re interested in picking up the reins from me, get in touch.