Straddling the Line: Being Both Logical and Illogical
My father was a pretty typical engineer. A nerd before being a nerd was cool, he spend most of his time around other engineers. He was highly intelligent, highly logical, and completely incapable of understanding why anybody would behave in ways that didn’t make logical sense.
I inherited enough of his nature that doing things the rational way always made sense to me, but I’ve spent enough time dealing with non-engineers that it never surprises me when people repeatedly defy logic.
In my current position as a user experience librarian, I spend a lot of my time watching undergraduate students navigate the library’s website and online databases in ways other than intended. It fascinates me to see them wander down a path of links that I never would have anticipated. All the resources we have access to and the different interfaces provided by different vendors can make the library’s website a daunting place, and I do my best to help make the experience as intuitive as possible.
One key role that I didn’t anticipate when I began my position was the role of translator. My library has an in-house programmer who never works directly with students and has limited interaction with the librarians on staff. Like my father, he is highly logical and expects everybody to be as well. He speaks a completely different language than the librarians that make up most of our staff, and I can see how frustrating it is for him. Because I have a general understanding of back-end development but also deal with students and librarians, I find myself translating the illogical behavior of our users into the logical programming steps that need to be taken to help them.
User experience design requires an interesting combination of skills. UX designers have to be analytical enough to perform user research, interpret website analytics, and communicate effectively with engineers and developers. They have to be empathetic to end users, and able to understand motivations and behaviors. They have to possess the creativity to design new interfaces, and the flexibility to allow for multiple ways to achieve an end.
There’s a reason my father designed systems that end-users never interacted with. For many years products developed by engineers were highly functional and logically arranged, but with little consideration for aesthetics and user experience.
Companies like Apple changed the playing field with products intentionally designed to delight the user. These days, for a product to be successful it has to be not just functional, but enjoyable to use. For those of us who possess the unique blend of skills central to user experience design this is very good news indeed.