The Superpower called UX Design

Katrin Klink
7 min readSep 9, 2022

You don’t need a cape to safe the world …

Photo by Kelly Sikkema on Unsplash

It was 1995, and I started learning HTML before I even had seen this thing they called the “internet”. You needed a modem, which I didn’t have, to get access to the few websites that existed at that time. We are talking about pixelated, text-intense, and grayscale websites with images (if there were images at all) that hardly had the size of the palm of a hand.

Nevertheless, I was completely fascinated by the idea of a data-based and interconnected new world. Whatever it was, I wanted to be part of it. So I learned HTML, the language that coded websites, and I loved its structure and rules. Having studied graphic design, I never had been a programmer, and was all about visuals. But I found myself programming at night (such a cliché, but so true — I was a freelancing single mom and spent the days with work and my son). Then I got a modem, and I loved sound the modem made when connecting with the internet — it always sounded like a promise to me.

When pictures started moving

I created some of the first animations — struggling with JavaScript, but it was so worth it. Then Macromedia Flash was invented, and suddenly, the (internet) world became colorful, it moved, and you could create real layouts; I was in heaven. Each new piece of knowledge was a triumph. There were no YouTube or online courses with every information you could dream of, but plain trial and error (and a lot of cursing, to be honest). I ordered books in the US and waited up to 12 weeks for them to arrive. I shared my knowledge in a forum and was considered to be pretty cool for a while (being the only girl in the forum surely contributed to that). I was 32.

Yes, this was considered to be cool in 1999. Size (fullscreen!) 700 x 500 px
Use the wayback machine to find your earlier website versions!

I started earning my first money by creating websites, and at night you could find me animating small games. I had a meeting with a potential new customer — and another nerd girl I had met only virtually so far. The project was pure crap, basically, we were asked to work for free. But afterward, the two of us drank coffee and I said:

“If I would work for free, I would do something completely different — a website for online games”.

Today, we would call it a platform, but then even a website with games sounded absolutely fantastic. The nerd girl, a programmer, asked me: “What do you need?” and I made a list: a name; a website; someone to do all the technical stuff. She said “okay”. It was 1996, and on this warm summer evening, we started our IT company; we called it crazy-crazy — because it was. I went home by train, which took me about an hour and a half, and when I arrived home, I had an email in my mailbox with all the access data for our new project.

The magical Beta Version

Four weeks later, at 7 am, my friend called and told me I should check our website, the beta version with about 15 games was online. At 8 am, the content manager of British Telecom was on the phone and requested a meeting. I asked “In which of our games are you interested?” and he replied, “In all of them.”
The meeting took place three days later, and I spent the evening before at IKEA buying furniture to be able to offer him a seat in my small office. I chose a crappy restaurant for our meeting, but we got the job. For a while, we were incumbents — just because there was nobody else except us. Finally, we had around 50 games, all created by me, in four languages. But then, a lot of life happened. Being two mothers of young children, we couldn’t afford to invest money and even more time and others took over.

Glorious failing

The internet moved on, and so did we. I programmed websites in Flash, Dreamweaver, NetObjectsFusion, Adobe Muse (a barrel bust), and finally WordPress. Alongside, I worked as a journalist and learned a lot about research while writing a book about an American Scientist. Again, a lot of life happened, and I became Head of research and development in an international project, doing knowledge transfer for a medical device from Ukraine, adapting it to western scientific standards. I built up training centers in Germany and Holland, to test and train the software we had developed. Glorious times with endless things to explore and create — software, manuals, videos, flyers, posters, and even merchandise. But we also failed gloriously, and the story didn’t have a happy ending.

Discovering the superpowers

During the next years, I wrote another book and more technical articles. I worked as a coach and gave lectures on congresses. I became well-known for being able to communicate extremely complex topics (my projects being related to quantum physics) comprehensibly. I’m not sure whether people understood what my superpower was: empathy for the user’s / audience’s needs — and visuals. One crazy job followed the next one. But the more I learned about the process of developing products and services, the more I understood that there was an even greater superpower. I didn’t have a name for it until I stumbled across a new term: UX — user experience design.

Infographic about the role of UX writing — it’s “not just the nice words”, as a Google designer once put it

Basically, I had done UX design all the time, but in a less structured way. Design stands for understanding what your client wants and needs (often being completely different things) and solving his problems. At the beginning of the internet, users had to pay per minute of being online, so you had to give them a pretty good reason to visit your website. As an aside, that’s where our games had come into play — users visited websites to play our little games, which we adapted to our client’s branding. Paying per minute also meant that the users wanted their information fast — I learned quickly how to compress information and to make it “scannable”. I replaced long articles with a single infographic, and later put complex topics into 1-minute explainer videos. Compact information will become even more important in the next few years, with billions of new bits of information that are added daily to this thing called the internet.

Having worked as a coach and a designer for years, I always joked that I’m a “design coach” — guiding my clients through a complete process of positioning, identifying the pain points, coming up with a hypothesis about a possible solution, first drafts, user tests, lots of iterations and final deliverables such as a website or online course or an eZine. Imagine my excitement when I found that this was a real thing and had a name: UX design.

Wrong turns sometimes turn out to be right turns

February 2020: I was about to sign a contract for a dream job — research and product development/design on a sunny island in the south of Europe. Then, COVID happened, and my project was canceled. I spent three months with what I always had considered another dream of mine: I created illustrations and surface pattern design collections and had a completely “instagrammable” life. First, it was fun, but it became boring pretty fast. I missed the challenges, the struggles, and even my worst clients. So I started working on my portfolio and booked a UX boot camp. I wanted to see whether this really is what I want to do for the next years: making myself happy by making users happy with great products.

Saving the world, every day

Wireframes and prototypes seem to be the thing UX designer are supposed to do every day — but there’s more to it.

2022. When I was a child, I always wanted to save the world. Now I’m fine with doing this part-time and without a cape. I really believe that UX design makes the world a better place. Maybe on a small scale, and maybe others might be the guys on Avenger level. But I know that my job makes people out there feel a bit better or safer, makes them smile or just have a nicer day, or maybe helps them to get a job done with a bit less of a struggle. And I think that this is what the world needs, right now, and each and every single day.

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Katrin Klink

studied graphic design/ illustration, started with all things internet when the internet started. Storyteller, traveler, UX enthusiast and confessing optimist.