When I was eight I found a stairway to nowhere.
What I thought led to a candy shop, misguided me up two flights of stairs to a solid brick wall — a traumatic event for any eight year-old trying to satisfy a sweet tooth. My misinformant: a solid arrow on a sign pointing ‘up’ but actually meant up the adjacent alleyway, not the staircase.
Being the genius creatives we are, it’s quite easy to think of UX (User Experience) Design only in digital terms. After all, it’s where we spend a lot of our time designing in this digital age. The navigation menu goes here, social media buttons there, draw the eye with an image and DEFINITELY use green on that ‘buy me’ button. But what we sometimes forget is that UX is everywhere — and I mean everywhere. A red light signaling stop and turning green for ‘go’ are basic examples of UX design in the real world. But what about instances a little more subtle? What if we look a little closer at our daily lives and observe UX in its natural habitat? What we’ll find is a barebones creative strategy to innovative design solutions we might have not otherwise expected.
// Humble Beginnings of the UX Mindset
UX has been an existing disciplinary study for about as long as there has been academia, but we’re going to start with the man, the legend himself — Don Norman.
“The first requirement for an exemplary user experience is to meet the exact needs of the customer, without fuss or bother. Next comes simplicity and elegance that produce products that are a joy to own, a joy to use.” — Donald Norman
Donald “Don” Norman first coined the term “User Experience” somewhere circa mid-1990. Norman was originally a cognitive scientist, turned cognitive engineer, turned consultant-and-writer who somehow found himself a computer interface authority after writing a book and getting plucked up by Apple. The man is a genius on human behavior both on and off The Web. According to co-workers, he first used the term UX in lieu with human interface research, but along with the rise of the computer also grew the rise of UX.
Alright, alright. What’s with the history lesson you may be asking. Because just as with anything, to fully understand the process of UX, you have to go to the source. Norman was a cognitive scientist. He studied how the human mind worked and behaved. That means he logged thousands of hours people watching to uncover how people behave and what factors lead to that behavior. Aside from scanning brains and tracking eye movement, his greatest tools were a pen, a notebook and the power of observation.
// UX in the real world
What makes UX so captivating for the creatives who love it, is that it encompasses more than just one area of creativity. The discipline draws on many areas of life: psychology, statistics, graphic design, computer science, content strategy and so much more. When done successfully, UX gifts people with a simple, pleasurable experience free from hassles and stresses of everyday life. UX done well is the difference between someone simply using something and experiencing it.
// Have a better personal user experience
I’m about to get my Don Norman on and coin a new term: Personal UX. You probably haven’t heard of it — I just coined it three seconds ago, but I’m positive you’ve practiced it. Personal UX is how you design your life around how you want to best experience it. There are so many ways you can simplify your personal user experience with life to make you a better person and subsequently a better creative. I’ll give you my top 5.
First things first, step away from the screens. That means all of them. At least once a week, dedicate time to unplug from all things digital. Turn off your phone, close the laptop and get out into the world. People watch outside your favorite cafe, go for a hike, meet up with friends or other creatives and enjoy your immediate environment undisturbed by dinging devices and LED lighting.
It doesn’t matter how you do it, everyone has their own style of organization. What matters is that you simply have one. It will rid you of unnecessary clutter freeing you of more room for those things that are truly important, which in turn leads to better decision making. If you’re anything like me, you may feel like you’re walking into a hurricane. So here’s a simple decision-making framework by creative business blogger Regina Anaejionu to help get you on track one step as at a time.
Define your goals.
Both long-term and short-terms. Write them down. Put them somewhere you will see them on a frequent basis.
Go au natural.
Mindfully speaking that is. Forget about judgments or what anyone else is thinking — do what comes natural to you. If for absolutely no apparent reason you want to do a cartwheel in the grocery aisle — do it. Flip things upside down, look at your world through the eyes you once possessed as a child, before the world told you what’s socially acceptable and what’s not.
Write (or sketch) it down.
This goes for everything. Your goals, dreams, daily surroundings, random thoughts, get it all out there. There’s nothing that will ever compare to the raw feeling of pencil on paper. Relish it. When an idea is in your head it’s like a caged dove just waiting to break free. Get it out of your head, into the real world and stand in awe as your ideas transform.
Now pick up a pen and paper, grab your cameras and step away from the computer. Head out into the world and let me know of your real world UX observations. I look forward to seeing your discoveries.
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