I come from a software development background where the focus was usually on gaining knowledge that is mile deep and one inch wide. Although I was a firm believer in spreading my knowledge beyond writing code and designing screens, it was not part of the job description and I couldn’t do it. I always felt like the odd man out. So I changed focus and moved to Objective Digital!
Recently, I heard UX Guru Jared Spool (http://twitter.com/jmspool) at UX Australia 2010 stress that experience design is more than just designing and coding and spans multiple disciplines, I was pleasantly surprised and undoubtedly overwhelmed. To clarify things, I asked him whether user experience design is all about having knowledge that is mile wide but inch deep aka being a jack-of-all-trades. He responded by saying, “It is rather about having knowledge that is mile wide and mile deep aka being a Master-of-all-Trades! Experience design is, in a way, a study and application of a diverse range of subjects.”
Jared’s keynote speech titled ‘The Dawning of the Age of Experience’ gave me some good insights into the world of experience design and what it takes to deliver great experiences that are a mile deep. According to him, successful experience design is:
Great designs do not interfere with the user’s experience. If an experience is designed well, users do not think about it. If it’s not, then that’s the only thing they think about. Do you ever think about the air-conditioning if it’s set to a comfortable temperature?
Experience design is not just about designing user interfaces. Experience design encompasses anything we can think of from design to analytics to technology to business to ethnography and everything in between. Being a truly great experience designer requires a very good understanding of several different areas of knowledge. Jared exemplified this concept with the following image from the Mayo Clinic website that visually demonstrates brain aneurysm. He said that the artist who created this image had several levels of knowledge, beyond good drawing skills, including knowledge of the disease, the human anatomy and obvious some image processing software. It’s the combination of all those skills that made this image so successful to communicating it’s intended meaning to the audience.
Successful experience design respects the culture and the context of the user. Everything has a different meaning according to the context it’s used in. So it’s important to take into account the culture and the context of use of the system being designed to convey the intended meaning. But despite all the good intentions, we all make mistakes. However, according to Jared, those failures should be celebrated, not shunned, as from every failure, we learn something.
Eek! How do I learn all this, Jared? “Well, just like you would learn chicken-sexing (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Chick_sexing)!”
Jared talks about the mystical and logic-defying role of a chicken-sexer and how they find it difficult to explain how they actually determine the sex of baby chickens. They just do. And if you want to learn to do it, you just have to hang around with the experts and get lots of experience and over time, your accuracy goes up. Despite the simplistic nature of Jared’s metaphor, I think it holds true in any industry, not just the UX industry.
Jarred assured me that with bite-sized chunks, slowly but surely, a UX designer will learn many trades, if not all. Under the guidance of senior UX professionals at Objective Digital, I have had the opportunity to expand my horizons through intense user-centred design processes and usability testing with several clients in less than a month. Great experience requires a clear understanding of the client’s business and my knowledge has been expanding beyond the boundaries of UX design and into the business processes of several industries that Objective Digital works with. And yes, I’m prepared to learn from the mistakes I might make as I go through this journey to mastery.
There’s so much to learn and I want to do it quicker. Anyone got any tips for me?