‘One for Them, and One for Us’

My biggest takeaway from graduate school

Some of the ‘One for Us’ projects that I have been part of
This article highlights content that I was hoping to present as a 1st time speaker at MIDWEST UX 2017, an annual design conference that I’ve been lucky to be part of for the last 2 years. To make way for coursework that would help me graduate, I could not complete my Call for Speakers submission in time. Now with the rigor of the Master’s program behind me (I did graduate), I’m putting pen on paper and testing out my thoughts here.
In this part 01 post, I frame my biggest takeaway from graduate school. In part 02, I showcase how I have put this idea to the test throughout these 2 years.

Questions and More Questions

It feels truly educational to watch professionals at conferences share their experiences about existing challenges and emerging opportunities in design. I have always been fascinated by how seasoned designers have pushed boundaries of research and design methods in different contexts.

For all the valuable insights, strategies, and examples presented at these conferences, I’ve heard recurring questions in response — “How can I apply this method when my day job involves designing wireframes for the most part?” and “How can I bring about such strategic shift given the steep organization hierarchy I work in?” What’s amazing is that at different times in grad school, I and every other student has asked similar questions of ourselves, of each other, of the professors, and of even the program alumni.

Drumroll…

‘One for Them, and One for Us’ is the best answer that I’ve found to most of these recurring questions. I haven’t coined this phrase, nor is this a new idea. I don’t remember where I’ve read it or whom I’ve heard say it, but the more I’ve practiced the idea (with failures and successes in almost equal measure), the more I’ve realized that it has been my biggest takeaway from the 2 years of graduate school.

One for Them

I think of ‘One for Them’ as:

  • Requirements laid out for us as part of coursework projects,
  • The n submissions required to showcase progress in said projects,
  • That day job project where UX may or may not be meant just for UI (Golden Krishna wrote a book about this), or
  • Any other requirements that help us in getting grades, professional experience, and necessary resources (salary, vacations, etc).

One for Us

In contrast, ‘One for Us’ represents the asking of those questions that we may be unable to find answers for while working on ‘One for Them’.

Laid out requirements and constraints that lead to questions are in fact amazing positions of power.

On our own time, nobody can stop us from trying to find answers to such questions. This may feel easier said than done. How do we control the scope of these questions that we are asking? Tom Kelley says it best in the High Resolution interview series where he removes the glorification around ‘the next best idea’ or ‘the next big question’ by framing it as an experiment.

An experiment that can be reduced to that one thought we want to test.
An experiment that helps us go beyond requirements that have been laid out for us.
An experiment that gives us the freedom to find context for a research method that made no sense as part of coursework.
An experiment in which we’re excited to pursue a strategy that has been showcased at a conference.
An experiment to test whether writing this article can showcase a certain flair in my content creation abilities.
An experiment where the values of UX can be put to broader tests i.e. which social problem can we/should we address one solution at a time? Empathy in anonymity? Awareness about disease control to offset healthcare costs? Awareness about recycling amongst international students (including me)?
Can an experiment be disconnected from design? Of course it can! I’ve interviewed some very smart designers that step away from design to remove any blinders they may have on. They eventually bring their new learning back into design.

Even after living with this idea for a greater part of 2 years, there are times when the distinction between ‘One for Them’ and ‘One for Us’ feels fuzzy at best. This is because many of us may be actively involved in ‘One for Us’ experiments as part of coursework or our day jobs. Even in such situations, giving ourselves the power to explore an idea, a thought, a question on our own time is only going to help us in finding newer and better questions, which is a big core of user experience.


In part 02 of this post, I showcase how I have put this idea to the test throughout these 2 years.

Shameless Plug — I’ve recently graduated from the Master’s program in HCI Design at IU Bloomington. I am venturing into UX design after over 5 years of professional experience in Technical Writing. I bring a content-first view into design and development based on both user and business needs. I have showcased some of my work at chetanbhatia.com.