Explaining Ux design to my Parents

“Ux design, what’s that?”

There is no question I dread more as a Ux design student. And although I’m excited to be part of such an important, young and in-demand field, it’s hard to distil what I study to your average person on the street.

My brothers have it easy — as a lumberjack and pilot, who cut down trees and fly planes respectively — and I dread that moment this thanksgiving when I have to explain to my parents what user experience is and why it’s worth going back to school for.

The problem begins the moment you conceptualize the breadth of disciplines that user experience covers. The venn diagram in Dan Saffer’s Designing for Interaction looks more like a Rorschach test, encompassing fields as varied as interaction design, motion design, software development and writing.

All of the many flavours of design have some element of Ux; Don Norman puts forward in his book The design of everyday things that factoring in the user’s experience is important in everything from industrial design to architecture. Even though the majority of the work in the field is within the rapidly growing digital realm of website and mobile design.

But I don’t just make apps.

The stakes for a ux designer can be high. In Don’t make me Think, Steve Krug puts forward that a website or app that doesn’t take the user experience into consideration early enough can cost a company money in both development time or sales, such as with Jared Spool’s three hundred million dollar button. And Don Norman argues that concepts like human error are not based on our own personal failings but bad design, and events as catastrophic as a nuclear meltdown can be prevented by good design.

But I don’t just save companies money, or save the world.

In Designing for the Digital Age, Kim Goodwin argues that design is a craft — a practice that exists in the nebulous space between art and science. And I think that is good if you design furniture or graphics, but I craft experiences — an equally nebulous concept.

How does one craft experience? By taking on the role of a persona and tripping the light fantastic as you envision your users using the product? Or maybe you observe them in their natural habitat — like some naturalist journaling the behaviours of users in the wild? Or maybe involving users themselves through user testing — identifying problems that amaze coders and CEO’s alike?

But I don’t just find problems.

After all of this, I feel no closer to summing up my chosen career in a few words. I have to accept that the field of Ux design is young and constantly changing, sort of a discipline puberty.

I may never be able to sum up the field with what I do. Instead, I should accept that the real answer is why I do what I do. Not to create but to make things pleasurable to use. I did not create the wheel, but I made it out of rubber and filled it with air to make the ride more comfortable.

So this year, when my parents ask, I will proudly say…

“I make an experience with a product more delightful.”

…and hope that’s good enough.

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