You do what? Explaining UX to the unfamiliar.

25 Mar 2010 - 9:22pm
4 years ago
9 replies
1490 reads
Justin Davis
2008

Pretend you're at a cocktail party.  As is usual, you're milling about, meeting people and exchanging the standard "So, what do you do" lines.  To some people, your answer of "I'm a user experience designer" makes sense - they're in the web/tech world as well and are familiar with they type of work.  However, occasionally, the conversation goes as follows:

Innocent partygoer: "So, what do you do?"

You: "I'm a user experience designer"

Innocent partygoer: "A...what?  What does that mean?" (this, or just a blank stare)

You: "____________________"

Fill in that blank.  

I'm curious how various practitioners explain UX to those who only know of web designers and coders.  I've tried a myriad of different lines, with varying degrees of success.  What are your experiences?

Justin

Comments

25 Mar 2010 - 10:12pm
kevinsuttle
2010

"I make ______ easier to use." Then you fill in the blank. Doesn't get much simpler than that!

25 Mar 2010 - 11:19pm
Jussi Pasanen
2009

Hi Justin,

Teresa Brazen from Adaptive Path had some great pointers in her recent post Explaining User Experience Design to High Schoolers (and other new audiences). In her presentation to high schoolers she wanted to communicate two key things about UX:

  1. Making things for people.
  2. Those people aren’t you.


She also lists six way to help help explain these in her article - do check it out.

Cheers, Jussi

26 Mar 2010 - 12:48am
Anand Shashidhar
2009

A very common question indeed... and some wonderful responses.

I was thinking more on providing examples relating to the person who asks. Convert the situation into a case study; target the person's profession/interests; build an example around what they understand most; let them know where UX guys provide invaluable input to make that example work best...

In most cases, an automobile, door handle, mobile keypad/screen design....and similar common examples raise eyebrows!

26 Mar 2010 - 1:39am
Santiago Bustelo
2010

A reply to ensure a long conversation with the innocent partygoer:

"Ever wondered about who and how invented the 'undo' function that saves your day several times a day?"

--

Santiago Bustelo
IxDA Buenos Aires

26 Mar 2010 - 5:50pm
Ryan Lum
2006

body {word-wrap: break-word; background-color:#ffffff;}A user experinece guy/gal is one that translates an advanced technology to one that is non technical. In fact a successful example. The microwave. My dad is very old and had a microwave oven in his closet for 3 yrs before 8 discovered it. ;efore he can finish throwing his fit 8 heated up a piece of bread and butter under 20 seconds. 2 weeks later I found his freezer was loaded with swanson microwave tv dinners. Its about "showing how easy it is vs telling."

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-----Original message-----

From: Justin Davis <jdavis1002@gmail.com>
To:
Ryan Lum <Ryan.Lum@greythorninc.com>
Sent:
Fri, Mar 26, 2010 02:36:05 GMT+00:00
Subject:
[IxDA] You do what? Explaining UX to the unfamiliar.

Pretend you're at a cocktail party.  As is usual, you're milling about,
meeting people and exchanging the standard "So, what do you do" lines.  To
some people, your answer of "I'm a user experience designer" makes sense -
they're in the web/tech world as well and are familiar with they type of
work.  However, occasionally, the conversation goes as follows:

*Innocent partygoer:* "So, what do you do?"

*You:* "I'm a user experience designer"

*Innocent partygoer: *"A...what?  What does that mean?" (this, or just a
blank stare)

*You:* "____________________"

Fill in that blank.  

I'm curious how various practitioners explain UX to those who only know of
web designers and coders.  I've tried a myriad of different lines, with
varying degrees of success.  What are your experiences?

Justin

(((Plea
28 Mar 2010 - 1:22pm
Margaret Schultz
2009

If I had a dollar for every time someone asked me 'what's that?'.... 

I like Kevin's & Santiago's response. Short & sweet, and if they're interested, they'll ask more questions. If you give a long detailed response you just might see their eyes glaze over before you are done. 

The absolute worst is when a recruiter doesn't know what you do. I've been called for jobs that aren't a fit dozens of times because the recruiter doesn't understand the IT world. Or, they know what a "coder" does, and maybe kinda understands what a "product manager" does. Part of this is because of the ever moving target of titles that grace the IT industry. 

'Web Designer' typically describes a front end developer, UI Designer can be either a front end developer or a Visual Designer. In the early days, a UI Designer was a User Experience Designer. I could go on and on. Le Sigh. 

I think we should take the "design" label away from developers (sorry, y'all) and give them "developer" or "programmer" (but IMO the latter term sounds so old school). It does seem a little ironic that a profession that is founded on providing clarity doesn't know what to call itself to convey that purpose. 

Margaret

28 Mar 2010 - 5:37pm
Sebastian Deterding
2009

My typical one-liner is "I do for websites what architects fo for buildings." And if they ask me to expand on that, I'll add: "To translate the vague notions and wishes of your client into a miniature model that he understands and wants, to translate that model into blueprints that construction workers understand and use, and to ensure that the whole thing will be beautiful, actually useful (e.g. only entry to the guest toilets is not from the landlords bedroom), and within budget."

29 Mar 2010 - 2:53am
dom.latham
2010

I like Sebastian's answer. I find the "I make it useable" answers really negative. It assumes somebody else designed the "thing" and they made a crappy job of it. Then the Interaction designers come along to fix the mess.

At our place the product design process takes business requirements "I want to achieve this" and comes up with a solution "you can do it this way". Interaction design is a key part of this process of transforming goals into things. Then the developers build it, and usually do a great job.

31 Mar 2010 - 10:38am
anosha
2010

My instructor assigned us this same exact assignment a few weeks ago! Since I am still in grad school and have not focussed in on a particular area yet. I say..."we study human interactions with various systems to improve the system. It can be the cockpit of an aircraft, a cell phone, or even a website". People understand this and the examples help a lot. Another good way is to add "make 'it' easier to use for humans". I always get positive reactions. I try to stay away from fancy terms like Human Factors Psychologist, people studying psychology don't even know what that is.

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