An oft-repeated UX design trope states that the goal is to design a process “so simple your mother could do it,” implying that mothers are the perfect proxy for the non-tech-savvy user. Many mothers (and others) before have pushed back on the notion that mothers are the perfect stand in for “the bottom of the user barrel,” but perhaps it’s time not only to condemn that notion, but to flip the script.
Back in 2009, I lost my job as an urban designer, like so many others in positions dependent on the housing market. As a mid-career professional, and mother of two kids, this was devastating. I joined MotherCoders, a nonprofit that, as the name implies, teaches mothers how to code and return to the workforce with a valuable, highly-paid skillset. I got hired at Code for America as a UX designer, on a team focused on workforce development, and now I help improve the user experience for people just like me.
As a UX designer and mother, I like to say I have almost “too much user empathy.” It allows me to deliver services that truly meet the needs of the users.
My patience has grown as I’ve taught my kids new skills. [I have sympathy because I am reminded of all the new acronyms and phrases I learned when trying to navigate workforce services on my own.] My ability to listen to and absorb their stories has grown too, making them feel heard and appreciated.
Now, as part of the 2017 fellowship program, I’m using the same skills to redesign the user experience to help people find and keep work in San Diego through the publicly funded workforce system. I assisted an unemployed warehouse worker in navigating his new email account. I supported a former dental technician, listening to her story about coping with unemployment and caring for her elderly mother.
Every day, I use my ability to multitask, set priorities with limited time, and approach problems with empathy. I am more than a mother, but parenting has helped me hone skills that I use not only in the home, but also at work.
There’s another notion in UX design, that if the user can’t figure out how to use something, it’s broken. In other words, a process should be “so simple ANYONE can do it.” This should be what we aspire to deliver when designing government services. They should focus on the user, and be easy and intuitive to navigate. It isn’t on the user to be tech savvy, it’s on us.
There should be more designers like me. So since it’s Mother’s Day, I want to share designer jobs, available through the Code for America Government Job Board. I will be sharing them with other mothers and I invite you to do the same.