I’ve been asked what I do for a living many times, but rarely do I feel like people understand what I tell them, nor that I have done justice to my industry.
If I were to say I was a mechanic or a teacher, people would immediately know what I’m talking about. They can picture these professionals and see the benefit they add to people’s everyday lives.
This is not uncommon.
From my parents and friends to stakeholders, people often don’t understand what I am talking about, regardless of how I have tried to phrase it. But, as frustrating as this is, perhaps it isn’t their fault? Maybe I have a role in providing education, given that UX is still a relatively new industry?
How I normally explain what UX is
To add more context and provide a glimmer of something that they can recognise when I explain my profession, I will often follow up with something along the following lines:
Me: “Have you ever used something that just really frustrates you? Like a website or a self-checkout?”
Person: “Ah yes, XYZ website is awful!”
Me: “Yes, so it’s my job to make them less frustrating.”
By now, they start to nod and appear to be engaged. They then respond with…
Person: “Like a web designer then?”
Me: “Erm, kind of…”
At this point, I take a deep breath as they look at me with anticipation; this is my chance to passionately talk about what I do and the difference I make. Unfortunately, what ends up happening is that I talk rubbish that nobody will ever understand. So, that led me to write this article. Now, the worst-case scenario is that I can just show people what I do.
Finding a better way to explain working in user experience
Let’s start by thinking of a typical scenario that is relatable:
Your friend is driving and asks if you wouldn’t mind changing the destination in the sat nav. You grab the weird control on the centre console and try to move around the digital screen. After guessing an icon that looks familiar, you go on to enter a postcode. This vehicle is equipped with voice control, so you hold down the button and start to speak out the postcode, only to be told, “I’m sorry I did not understand that, please try again.”
You try again, only to get the same response.
Now, feeling inept and frustrated, you try to type the postcode manually only to accidentally input the wrong one. In pure rage, you tell the driver that you can’t do it, and they’ll have to stop and do it themselves.
Relatable? Probably…but where does UX come into this?
Put simply, if you managed to change the destination without a second thought, then, in theory, I have done my job effectively, you had a goal, and you did it with ease.
You might not necessarily know why it was a good experience other than you did what you needed to do efficiently, and that’s because much of what I do isn’t obvious. Good user experience should be invisible; it should be seamless. You don’t need to know what principles I’ve used; you just care that you could do what you needed to do with as little friction as possible.
Creating a seamless user experience
We all have our preferences: smartphones, for example. We typically favour one manufacturer over another, but sometimes we can’t clearly say why that is the case. If questioned, we might say “it just works” or “it’s better”, but often, when you dig a little deeper, you’ll find that it comes back to UX design – which is where I come in.
There are teams of specialists working in the shadows, figuring out those unknowns, speaking to users, understanding business goals, and considering all the tiny details, so you have that seamless experience that keeps you coming back to your favourite brand.
My job often produces the output that users interact with. However, the bulk of my work is the discovery that allows us to understand the user’s needs. Things like psychology, challenges, competitor research and even the environment that products will be used in, are all considered. These give us the insight required to create well-thought-out user experiences.
Testing, testing, testing
All these activities happen months before a new product is released to the public. We test with real users to enhance new products. We do the ‘invisible bits’ before you get your hands on it, so when it does go into production, it has every chance of being successful, having been tested thoroughly.
UX isn’t something that can be done once and then forgotten about; it’s a continuous process. UX is a fast-paced industry, and each day there is something new to challenge me, but this gives me the job satisfaction I crave.
In a nutshell, UX is creating experiences people will enjoy
I began this article with a need to justify the importance of what I do for a living to others, as well as on a personal level. It made me reflect on whether what I do actually matters. Fortunately for me (and for users wanting a seamless user experience on their sat navs), I know that it does.
So what if the other parents in the playground don’t understand me fully or leave thinking I’m a web designer. They may not understand why their favourite app is their favourite app; they don’t need to understand the deep work that has gone into it; they just need to enjoy it. Because, at the end of the day, I enjoy making experiences for others to enjoy, and that’s all that matters.