Amongst several other things, I’m a user experience (or UX) designer. This can mean a lot of different things to a lot of different people, but to most people in day to day life, it means something along the same lines as “…” or “wurbwurbwurbwurb”. It sounds like some kind of pretentious made up job about “living life to the full!” and “squeezing every drop of experience from every moment of life”, but it’s not. There’s a lot of nonsense out there about the field, particularly because it’s caught a bad case of the buzzwords in recent years, but the actual field itself? Good and solid.
At the lowest level, it’s a job that focusses on the the activity of doing things, and making it so that a user’s (or participant’s) experience of that activity is appropriate instead of shit. Simple as that. I’m not even going to say the job is even to make the experience good or fun, although it is what you’re going to strive for as much as possible. For some tasks, fun may be appropriate. For others (say, a self service online form for handling the mortal remains of your recently departed but beloved pet) is generally not going to be fun whatever you do with it.
Similarly, most of the time, using enterprise software on a day to day basis is not going to be fun because most of the time it’s work. It might have elements of entertainment in it, but it’s still going to be work. My job as a UX guy is to make it not suck, and to make it as easy as possible for you to deliver what you need to deliver inside the ridiculous deadlines that you’ve been set without feeling like you’re stuck in a “choose your own adventure” book and have just turned to “page 46: Your eyes are gouged out with a grapefruit spoon. You die in pain”. If I can slip a few “heh… that’s cool” moments in there as well then we’re golden.
Enterprise Software isn’t really something that many people will say is a passion or something to geek out over, and I’m right there with them. It’s functional, and as a general rule the definition of success is “we made money instead of losing it”. But inside that, you can still geek out. You can still get passionate and enthusiastic about making things smoother for the end users, more slick so that the people you’re selling to can see the appeal without having to get all the details. For people in my line of work, we look at the bottom line, and that’s not how much money one accountant gave to another… that’s the experience of the guy at the end of the chain who actually uses the software to perform a worthwhile task.
Now, I do this as a profession, but it’s actually a passion as well. It’s something I can geek out over. Give me a tough problem and people who know their specialities (and know when they’re lost, when they’re winning and who care about what they do) and I’ll be happier than a pig in a nice clean brick building with a warm straw floor and some apples and cabbage.
I may get stressed. I may get frustrated. I may even get angry. I might make us retread the same problems and conceptual disconnects seven or eight times before throwing my hands in the air and leaving the room before I explode… but when the problem clicks (and it will) then we’ll have really done something. The easy problems get boring pretty quickly. The meaty ones? Those are where the “hell yeah!” moments come from. You can’t geek out over solving an easy problem – it’s just empty.
I geek out over those “hell yeah!” moments. I geek out over user experience design in general, but mostly it’s because of that click when something goes from a muddled mess to the right thing to build next. The moment the lights go on and you can see the solution and the path to it. The best thing? You’re never finished. There’s always more of those moments just a little further along the way. Things can always be a bit better, and it’s geeking out over stuff and getting passionate about things that’ll get you there. Sometimes it’s even getting angry or despondent about them, because those things make you identify the problems and hit them with sticks until they damned well get out of the way.
I’m a UX Design geek. It’s about making hard things easier, complex things simpler, and helping the people who have to do them be the ones who get the job done and go home happy. That’s why I geek out over it.
This is the first of my “Speak Out With Your Geek Out” posts. There will be more.