Taking on a challenge: How coding helped me look at UX differently

“Just do it.” This is the answer one of my subjects gave me when asked how he deals with a creative block. When I asked another subject what his best advice is to someone wanting to become a UX designer, he responded: “Just do shit.”

As the lead graphic designer of a tech start-up, work is not always rainbows and butterflies. Working with a group of guys who think technical can be a bit of a challenge at times, but it has also helped me appreciate the work and thinking process that goes into developing software.

Last week, when faced with an unexpected assignment to create an animation, I decided to take the advice of my subjects/ one of my colleagues, and learn to code. Animations can be created in many different formats — they can be simple GIF files made with Photoshop, an SVG file that has been incorporated into the styling sheet of an HTML code, or even programmed using Javascript language. Since I already know how to work with Photoshop and HTML, I decided to take on the challenge of learning Javascript. I spent the entire week immersing myself in code, so much so that I started dreaming about the code I was stuck on. While one week was definitely not enough time to learn Javascript in full and create an animation with it, it taught me a few very valuable lessons:

  1. While programming isn’t the easiest thing to learn, it is actually very enjoyable. Part of me wishes that I had started this sooner because man, it is challenging…but in a fun way.
  2. Just like how it’s important for the developer to understand the designer, it is just as important for the designer to understand the programmer — this allows there to be one less barrier between the two and thus allows for better communication between the two teams.
  3. By developing this better communication, you are ultimately creating a better experience for both parties, another way user experience can be observed in our everyday lives.

I also made another very interesting observation: although music has always helped me in the creative process in design, it does not have the same effect when it comes to coding. I found that I need a much higher level of concentration when it came to coding.

A study done by University College London, UK shows that while music does not have a significant affect on creative vs. non-creative people, those who are considered creative do perform better in the presence of music. Furthermore, the study concludes that both parties do better with music in the background in a pen and paper condition compared to working behind a computer (screenwork).

Based on these findings, my theory as to why I was unable to perform this new task in the presence of music is due to the “added cortical load of operating the computer” as mentioned by Doyle et al. Simply put: because of the different aspects of working behind a computer, one must be able to multitask, therefore needing a much higher level of concentration.