Image courtesy of Angelo Pantazis

Learning UX/UI design: a motivation manifesto

This week, I begin an online part-time UX/UI intensive with DesignLab, and I’ve been reflecting on why I want to pursue UX/UI in the first place. These are just a few thoughts to concretize why I’m here, why I keep coming back to UX/UI, where I hope to grow, and what I envision for the future.

I come to UX/UI from a background in non-profit youth development and education. I’ve worked primarily with high school students, teachers, and public school administrators through program implementation, curriculum development, coaching and mentoring, and advocacy and civic activism. Through the years, I’ve been especially obsessed with improving the design of anything I could get my hands on — program delivery models, evaluation processes, curricula and workshops, program logistics, student engagement, and organizational policies, systems and structures. A curious problem solver and diplomat at heart, I’ve always sought to find out what people’s pain points are, synthesize core patterns, and collaborate on solutions to address identified challenges to make things better quality, or easier to use, or more accessible, or more efficient.

I am passionate about poor design the way some folks are passionate about sports. User experience makes or breaks a product, service, or process; even before jumping into the UX/UI field, I’ve seen how poor program design is a recipe for disaster for all parties involved. While a poor user experience can kill a product, a great user experience can truly bring joy and pleasure to people (and even improve quality of life.) Without solid UX/UI design, it doesn’t matter how aesthetically or conceptually great a product might be.

Of course, there’s also the human aspect of UX/UI design (popularized by approaches like Human-Centered Design) that are also important. Good UX/UI design requires effective communication with users as well as design team members, and requires a balance of autonomy, collaboration, and humility. Moreover, I believe UX, at least in part, responds to a need to “humanize” technologies — it reminds us of the nuances of individual users, that one size doesn’t fit all, and that people don’t always do what they say (or what we think they’ll do.) UX design is a fascinating combination of psychology, creative media, critical thinking, and engineering — and the ability to engage with these core disciplines and skills and is beautiful.

As I further embark on the UX/UI learning journey, I look forward to cross-sector, cross-departmental collaboration; just as one navigates the politics and oft-tricky dynamics of multi-stakeholder engagement in K-12 education work, I anticipate juggling the needs and priorities of differing parties in design work. I’m also excited to sharpen my fluency with user research — of being able to understand and synthesize user needs, and to analyze and present research findings to meaningfully inform design decisions. And, while this journey may largely focus on designing graphic user interfaces, I am committed to learning how to design across digital and analog modes. The principles that undergird UX design are most certainly relevant to the design of built environments and analog experiences, and as I immerse myself into [digital] UX design, I’ll also be on the prowl for ways to apply UX design to experiences that don’t involve screens.

Whether it’s adapting to the latest technology, learning how to use a tool in beta, or expanding skill sets, there will always be something new to grasp. I’m sure this journey will also be about learning about myself — about what I find challenging and intriguing and frustrating, about what kind of impacts feel just, about what equity and access mean, about how I find flow, and about how I can to contribute to environments that facilitate flow for others. I look forward to documenting my learning here — and hope you’ll join me for some parts along the way.

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