Yesterdays Belgium IA beer hour was a great success. I’ll try to describe the Belgium IA/UX scene as I understand it so far. Belgium/Dutch dudes and ladies: please correct me!
We met in one of the best unknown brown bars of Antwerp, “de Kat”. I was happy with the exellent group we got together. We even had two people from Holland join us (Peter J. Bogaards came all the way from Amsterdam and Marcel van Mackelenbergh was there also).
First: a piece of local pride: it turns out that one of the unknown pioneers of information science comes from Belgium: Paul Otlet (1868-1944). Peter J. Bogaards has been blogging about him on Infodesign.
“His most important work was inspired by what he had come to understand to be the latest bibliographical technology, the standard 5″x3″ card. For him this was a revolutionary technology because it allowed for continuous intercalatability of entries and ease of correction of errors.” He worked on a universal knowledge database, the Universal Bibliographical Repertory, which had grown to 15 million entries by the late 1930s.
“Otlet also enunciated the principles by which the cooperative elaboration was undertaken internationally of a large, complex software package, the Universal Decimal Classification. Its function was to provide sophisticated subject access to the database (9,10). This was the first great modern synthetic or faceted classification.” More: Michael Buckland’s Paul Otlet Page, and here’s an excellent Boxes & Arrows article: “In 1934, years before Vannevar Bush dreamed of the memex, decades before Ted Nelson coined the term âhypertext,â? Paul Otlet envisioned a new kind of scholarâs workstation: a moving desk shaped like a wheel, powered by a network of hinged spokes beneath a series of moving surfaces. The machine would let users search, read and write their way through a vast mechanical database stored on millions of 3×5 index cards”.
So a Belgian helped create information science as we know it and visioneered the internet. That (and the excellent beer) made us all feel pretty good.
Talking about visioneering, Joannes Vandermeulen has been a usability/UX pioneer in Belgium with his company Namahn which he founded 15 years ago. Despite our efforts and offers of free beer, we couldn’t convince Joannes to start blogging. He’s just too busy.
Belgium UX people don’t have blogs. We talked about the relative futility of blogging in Dutch (the audience is just too small), and the challenges of blogging in English (it takes extra mindspace to write decent English, even for Belgians.) Still, people: get blogging. How can I link to you if you don’t have a blog?
Classically trained pianist and former health food chef Geert Allegaert is Namahn’s chief information architect and a good man. He and others have been organizing the first Belgium IA coctail hours in Brussel this year. There have been 2 so far. No blog either.
The main UX companies in Belgium seem to be (in no particular order):
(Let me know which ones I’ve missed, I’ll update this list.)
Eddy Kindermans is a consultant, specialized in copywriting and scenario development, with a strong IA slant. Again, no blog or website. Eddy, how can I link to you?
I was starting to get the impression there were not many funky companies in Belgium, when Filip Borloo and Carl Beeth joined us.
They’re working on an interesting blogging/cms thing. Carl is the visionary, Filip is the sales. I enjoyed chatting a lot with them, Carl is a Swedish/American. Get back to blogging Carl!
We talked about entrepreneurship in Belgium a bit. It’s fairly typical that the first funky bloggy company I find is run by a Swedish/American. (Drupal‘s Dries is also from Belgium by the way.)
UX courses in Belgium. There is surprisingly little American-style UX being thaught in Europe. Another list (for Belgium, not Europe):
- The MediaCenter in the KU Leuven have a usability course.
- In Antwerp there seems to be interesting eye-tracking research (no link so far)
- There is a LIS program in Antwerp, but with very little UX influence it seems.
- The most interesting courses in Belgium seem to happening in the Group T in Leuven. Vero van den Abeele is a key person there – she studied at Mellon in the US.
We also talked about international information architecture a bit – an area in which I believe Europe can contribute some significant experience and thinking. Europe has culturally the most diverse population on earth (I didn’t say that, Fons Trompenaars did), and we’re used to working with different languages. The working language at Namahn for example turns out to be mostly English. I hope we can share our experiences and get some thinking going here in Europe.