Tuesday, May 6, 2008

Abject terror!

I'm still not sure how it happened, but somehow I found myself volunteering to go and tell my son's 3rd grade class about what I do for a living. Why did I inflict this on myself? How do you explain user experience to a bunch of 8 and 9 year olds? I can't explain it to adults. My mother still doesn't know what I do for a living. Heck, at this point in my career I'm not sure that "user experience" is a big part of what I do... I'm more of an "Opportunistic Firefighter". There's a bunch of fires raging all over the place... far more than once person can tackle... so I look for ones where we have the best chance to put the fire out, then I wade in with my firehouse and see what we can do. Yes, I concentrate on "user experience" related fires, but as I've mentioned before, if you squint enough, everything is user experience-related.

But I don't think I'm going to explain to them what I really do for a living... that would be far too boring and I wouldn't want to embarrass my son that badly. Instead I think I'll explain something about what a software designer does. These kids are computer savvy, so I think they'll understand the concept that a human being somewhere has to create the websites they visit and games they play. And I think they'll like the part about talking to the human beings that will use the software before it's actually done - game testing is something they "get".

But it's going to be a real challenge to keep the conversation at the right level while still doing a reasonably good job of explaining what design is all about. I think I need some good analogies (like building a house). And I need to avoid completely geeking out (which is an obvious challenge for me) and using professional jargon that they won't understand. It's easy to forget how useful jargon is... but try living without it for an hour.

If I come up with a presentation that isn't awful, maybe I'll post it here via Slideshare so people can make fun of it.


David K. said...

I hear you. You may have already completed your presentation but here is a tip I got from a "personal branding" guru: everyone should create what they call an "elevator speech" that is focused on goals. This is a speech that can be given in the time it takes an elevator to get to its destination (about 60-120 seconds). Focusing on goals means explaining the outcomes rather than the process. I like your putting out fires example but it is a bit process-oriented. The real contribution is making the things that people use everyday easier to use and providing them with a better experience. Although you are not the designer you work with designers to understand how people experience stuff that they make (interfaces, products, services, etc.) and figure out a way to make them better.

And of course when you help create better experiences, the world will live in peace and harmony and there will no longer be wars and poverty or bad haircuts.

-David (visit me at: blog.digsmarter.com)

Joshua said...

Good career advice from David K. Terry, I'd love to see your slideshow if you feel like posting it.

Terry Bleizeffer said...

I agree about the elevator speech... my struggle is coming up with an elevator speech that only includes words that an 8 year old understands.

A world with no bad haircuts? A daring dream!

I'll definitely post whatever I come up with... as usual I haven't even started it yet.