How a humanities student stumbled on UX design
An English student wanting to jump into tech need not stick to technical writing
I often wonder which choices led me to where I am now. I don’t think I’m unique in this respect; we all reflect on our formative past. I’m often turned to self-reflection by a desire to improve myself in some way. In these moments I play this mind game where I try remove the past 5–10 years from my memory. If I’m successful, I try to gather enough information from my surroundings to reorient myself. I look for objects of significance. I look in the mirror to see how I’ve aged. I sit here now trying to play out this amnesiac scenario. There’s a bookcase full of novels. There are guitars on the walls. There’s a laptop in front of me with unfamiliar applications. Now, not differing much from the regular outcome of this game, I cannot gather who I am or what I do. This conclusion used to bother me but it doesn’t anymore. It stopped bothering me when I realized that I’m much more than what can be easily ascertainable. In fact, no one can be labeled this way.
I used to read a lot — much more than I do now. I had my nose in a book at all times. I wanted to go to university and get my nose into bigger books. My plan after university was unclear. I thought that I could keep my nose in books. Turns out there aren’t really jobs in keeping your nose in books.
Turns out there aren’t really jobs in keeping your nose in books.
After graduating high school I was just coming off the typical preadolescent ego trip. This is arguably the worst time to make life altering decisions. But as we are herded swiftly into fields of study. I chose English because, well, I liked to read. It felt right. I romantically imagined myself becoming a young Samuel Beckett under the mentorship of James Joyce. Maybe I would become a novelist, or a critical theorist. It was a fantastic idea.
It wasn’t a fantastic idea. As an English major I spent long nights with a book at arms length, propped up against my living room wall because if I was in any other position I would inevitably fall asleep. I was feverishly writing illegible notes in margins, highlighting line-by-line in painfully inconsistent horizontal lines, and retaining, at best, 25% of what I was reading. I had my nose in books too much. My dreams of literary fame incited feelings of dread and sleeplessness. I was losing steam and felt like a part of me wasn’t nurtured by my educational pursuits.
It wasn’t long after that major deflation that I stumbled upon a new path. A much better path. I found the field of Human Factors psychology.
It was my senior year of college. I had already sought new academic direction in adding a second major, psychology, to my studies. With my core coursework for both degrees coming to an end, I had space for some elective classes. There was a human factors class that fulfilled one of my cognitive psychology requirements so I decided to enroll. I had heard about the field only in passing but it seemed interesting enough. If anything it could bridge the gap between my literary studies, which I viewed as my survey of the human experience, and my psychology studies, my survey of the human psyche.
If anything it could bridge the gap between my literary studies, which I viewed as my survey of the human experience, and my psychology studies, my survey of the human psyche.
The first class period of the course I sat in the front with my notebook on my lap and a pen in my hand. I copied nearly every word from the hour and a half lecture. Hearing about human-centered design was ignited something inside me. I was galvanized. It was revelatory. It made so much sense to me and I didn’t even know what IT was. As the semester went on, any mention of human-centered design piqued my attention. It was a self evident term to me. I felt like I had found a soulmate but at the stage in a relationship where you are both comfortable enough to be gross and human. Design was what I was looking for.
Now I sit trying to play that same mind game I love to play. I look at that bookcase behind me and I’m reminded of my English courses and where my education has taken me. My nose is still in books, just not as much. My nose can often be found in digital books and in front of a computer screen. Even though I understand my passions, I don’t like to label myself as a monolithic thing, like UX designer. That would mean I never studied English, or that I never played music, or that I never knew what UX was. I’m just me.