Pabini: What have been the key elements that have contributed to Rosenfeld Media’s success?
Lou: Patience and persistence. You don’t launch a publishing house overnight. Books take a long time to create, as does building an audience. We’ve been around for 11 years now, but I didn’t go full time at Rosenfeld Media until about five years ago. I had to keep consulting to make a living.
Also, it takes a long time to figure out complicated things. Duh. So obvious, right? But many of us feel pressure to move quickly and don’t allow ourselves enough time to really dig in and work through complex problems. For example, we’re just figuring out the traditional publishing ecosystem of wholesalers, distributors, and sales channels.
Not surprisingly, I’m so interested in enterprise UX because it’s such a long-haul pursuit. It takes years and years to get large organizations to change the way they relate to their customers.
Pabini: Over time, Rosenfeld Media’s offerings have expanded to include books, training, podcasts, and both virtual and face-to-face events. What opportunities do you see for evolving your business in the future?
Lou: Unlike many traditional publishers, I’m format agnostic. I just want to have strong relationships with people who have deep expertise in our field and get their ideas and knowledge to market in the formats that make the most sense. These formats change over time, and I’m sure we’ll be considering more in the future.
The bigger challenge is how to integrate all of those formats so they support each other. Making the sum greater than those parts is a huge information-architecture challenge—one I wish I could find more time to work on.
Pabini: What role do you foresee for Rosenfeld Media within the UX community?
Lou: I’m not sure, but the bigger question is what User Experience will look like over the coming years. We’ll just keep doing our best to continue supporting its evolution.
Pabini: It seems like Rosenfeld Media has really picked up its publishing pace of late, with six new Rosenfeld Media books in 2016 and five planned for 2017, as well as your kicking off two new imprints in 2016: Two Waves Books and Digital Reality Checks. What is driving this growth?
Lou: We’re improving our processes and, increasingly, operating as a platform. That means we can create more products—books and conferences—than we have in the past, without sacrificing quality. I’m really happy about that.
Pabini: What will be the focus of Rosenfeld Media books going forward?
Lou: That’s a good question. We’ll never abandon User Experience, but as I said earlier, it’s becoming a stable, mature profession that one can go get a degree in. That’s the point at which things become less interesting for me personally.
I’ve also been struggling since the election to figure out what is meaningful to me professionally. User Experience is important, but extending it to a broader mission around humanizing products, services, and technologies—as many of us already are—is what makes me want to get out of bed in the morning. The world is becoming less livable, and designers must play a role in changing that.
Pabini: What made you decide to create your two new imprints? What is their focus and how do they differ from each other? What is the audience for Two Waves Books versus Digital Reality Checks?
Lou: User Experience is moving beyond belonging to a tribe. It’s becoming something that all sorts of people in the workplace need to know something about. We’re already serving so many of these different kinds of people—product managers, IT people, marketers, and leaders—because they read our books and attend our conferences. We want to grow these connections more, and that’s where the two new lines of books come in. Two Waves Books live at the intersection of business and design, and we hope that anyone who is interested in creative leadership will find them useful. Digital Reality Checks books help us connect better with marketers and IT professionals who care about evaluating enterprise software.
Pabini: For authors, what are the unique advantages of working with Rosenfeld Media?
Lou: I hate it when people treat ideas—and that’s what books are made of—as a commodity. That’s why we don’t publish many books, so we can focus on handcrafted quality over industrial quantity. For example, our managing editor and I work closely with our authors to really develop their ideas and content—both before they sign with us and during the writing process. We also come up with innovative ways to give many other people—reviewers, experts, and more—a stake in the outcome. And we actually make an effort to promote each book, which is horribly rare these days for publishers.
Other than that, we’re no different. ;-)
Pabini: Is the growing popularity of self-publishing having an impact on your business?
Lou: No. There are some authors—including some of my favorite people in the industry—who can manage and even enjoy the scale and complexity of effort that goes into successful self-publishing. They’re doing great work—more power to them.
However, many people who consider self-publishing don’t realize that writing is just a small part of what it takes to produce a successful book. I’d also caution them about that big company in Seattle. There are 100 reasons not to self-publish, and 75 of them involve Amazon.
Pabini: With your experience programming the content for the early years of the IA Summit, launching your own conference seems like a natural thing for you to do. But what made you decide to create a conference whose focus is enterprise UX? How did that come about?
Lou: Four or five years ago, my staff was urging me to get into the in-person conference business, but I kept saying no. I felt we’d already reached a peak with UX conferences. Then, the UX team at Rackspace approached me about partnering on developing a conference on enterprise UX, and I was immediately sold. Not only was it great that they provided the venue and other support—which really lowered our risk—but the topic was instantly compelling to me.
I’d been teaching a workshop on IA for enterprises a decade earlier. It was discouraging because few people seemed to be making progress on enterprise challenges back then. Now, thanks to working on the program and hearing the talks, I’m being exposed to the cutting edge of UX work in the enterprise. And I’m thrilled to see how much things have changed for the better!
Pabini: What makes Enterprise UX unique among the myriad conferences for UX professionals?
Lou: We’re the only conference focused on helping UX people who work with and for large enterprises to succeed. Enterprises present huge challenges in terms of scale, complexity, politics, and culture. Succeeding in that context requires a very different mindset, skillset, and cadence than, say, in a startup setting. Attendees frequently tell us how happy they are to have a conference focusing on this unique context for User Experience.
I’m also excited to announce that we’ll be launching a related conference to help UX people build out the operations that are necessary to support scaling up research and design in large organizations. The first DesignOps Summit will take place in New York City, in November 2017.
Pabini: How have you applied the principles of information architecture in your work as a publisher, purveyor of training, and conference organizer?
Lou: It would take me pages to really answer that question, Pabini. So I’ll just mention a few:
- When we launched our first book, we did a lot of work on designing and testing its IA. That design has been reused—with minimal modifications— on every book we’ve published since.
- My main role in developing each of our books is to work on its chapter sequence, flow, and cadence, so the book is more readable and scannable. This is very much an IA problem.
- We structure our conference programs very carefully, and we even work on their narrative arcs, so attendees’ energy levels flow well. That’s also very much IA. We’ve gotten a healthy assist from Donna Lichaw, whose book The User’s Journey helped us with narrative arcs.
Pabini: Thanks for sharing your insights with us, Lou. It’s been great talking with you!
Lou: Thank you!
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