Learning from other backgrounds: Notes from my UXCampEurope discussion

Boon Yew Chew

Last weekend, I was in Berlin for my annual trip for the European IxDA Local Leader’s Retreat and UXCampEurope. I facilitated an informal discussion session on “learning from each other’s backgrounds”, and captured some notes.

This session has inspired me to be bolder at embracing and driving a pluralistic way of working and seeing the world. This means less beating each other up about who’s-doing-design-better-than-X, complaining about other fields… but being more open to different ways of working, learning from others…

Disclaimer: I know I’ve complained about other domains / approaches before. If this was you — I’m really, really sorry. I really mean it.

Our group was made up of about a dozen people, with different range of backgrounds:

  • computer science / software engineers
  • industrial design
  • information ergonomics
  • marketing
  • sales (real estate!)
  • communication design
  • psychology

We did a round of introductions, which took up quite a bit of time, before we jumped into the core of the discussion with this question:

How does your background benefit your work in UX now?

Communication Design

One person with this background spoke about this. The work of communication design involves thinking multi-channel, with outputs ranging from poster design, TV ads, to websites.

It’s very conceptual work. You have to look at the whole story — see from all sides. From the user and the client. E.g. Your poster needs to be addressed to someone, and how audiences interact with posters will be different to a website. It’s a different approach to UX.

Communication design is multi-channel — different for each channel, needs to be holistic. Multi-media. Communication work is different from (digital) products. Recommended book: Branded interactions. As a designer you have to make your work very objective (e.g. explaining your designs to a client), because design can be very subjective. But sometimes there can be over-rationalisation.

This person spoke about her struggles working with a UX designer who has been quite assertive about only designing based on research, and that the UX designer had a hard time working in a more conceptual / holistic way.

Engineering / Computer Science

Having this background can help see a more structured, binary approach. One person described computers in a simple way —things can usually be drilled down into zeroes, ones or many-es (and sometimes, -ves). Engineers like logic. It’s also good for designers to understand states and exceptions, and design for those.

Advice for engineers (from one of the engineers in the room)— It’s good to send engineers to public speaking courses, so they can learn how to speak to others (e.g. like designers, and more), or take courses help engineers practice and gain skills, because from those courses they can learn principles / new ways of thinking or working.

Work-culture also has an influence. One person said their work has been influenced by the companies he worked for — i.e. he worked in a very engineering-led company.

Real estate / Sales

Sales is about finding customer needs, listening, and closing the deal. Customers like to talk. You learn what are good questions and bad questions to ask customers.

“What’s a good question?”, we asked. You don’t want to lead too much, using “positive words” might lead them to give you not honest answers. Use more neutral words. Make it open. Relevance to design: Don’t influence users when you run research.

Psychology

There was a junior UX designer who had a background in psychology. Psychology can be too scientific. It’s a good training ground for research methods. UX is broader, more practical, more hands on. As someone with a psychology background, it can be really hard to go from theory to practical. Sometimes when doing user research, it’s hard to stay neutral and non-leading (scientific?)— sometimes I need someone to push me in a direction.

It’s certainly true that in practice, you can’t truly be fully objective in your research and approach, so you have to adopt a different approach that embraces contexts, activities, emergence. This made me think of praxis — where learning / theory / craft / solution takes place in the context of activities.

This is something we didn’t discuss, but I could empathise with argument that research can sometimes be “too scientific”.


There’s tons of other articles about learning from other backgrounds on Medium — search “learning from other”.

Boon Yew Chew

Written by

Principal UX designer at Elsevier, London. IxDA local leader and board alumni. Visual thinker. Sketchnoter. Has a brain in his stomach.

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