Dear Braggy,

As a granny you deserve all the bragging rights you’re asking for, so don’t let that little twerp make you feel bad for asking! But you see, it is a tricky question to answer, mainly because there’s still no Webster’s dictionary version of it which we can rattle off.

In fact it is so difficult to communicate what we do, that it sends every designer into a professional existential crisis each time the most fear-inducing words are uttered.

“So what exactly is it that you do?”

And that’s the way the cookie crumbles.

I think your grandson probably shouldn’t have spoken about wireframing and user testing — that’s just design jargon and it makes it all harder to understand. But, like my editor says, ‘misunderstood’ is the first sign that a person is doomed to be a designer. We eventually learn to accept it as an occupational hazard. So your grandson will get over it… eventually.

But as to your question, let me give it a try and answer.
Although, this attempt to find answers will send me spiralling into another existential crisis— 42nd time’s the charm! (I will accept a box of your cookies as fee).

But first things first:

A designer is a type of designer.
A doctor heals, a designer solves problems (vaguely).
Specifically, an orthopaedic doctor is a type of doctor (healer of bones), a user experience designer is a type of designer (problem-solver of how a human can interact with computers to get them to work for them). In today’s digital world where almost everything comes with a computer chip in it, UX commonly work with digital products.

A digital product could be a software, app or website
Products like a traditional coffeemaker make life easier for humans by doing their tasks for them, using mechanical and/or electrical power (like grind beans). While digital products use the power of computers to do tasks for humans (like make a cab appear at your doorstep!).

The way machines need electricity and oil to keep working smoothly, some digital products need an internet connection — to start up, do tasks and also upgrade themselves with latest improvements.

A designer decides how it looks and feels, an engineer builds it.
Your grandson plans how the app or website should look and feel. And the software developers and engineers build it. A machine needs a lot of questions answered by a human to do any task successfully. Engineers reduce the number of questions, by creating new technologies. And the designer presents these questions in a pleasant way so that you can understand them and answer easily.

Imagine a form you need to fill out to tell a machine exactly what you want it to do. Ideally it would have a minimum number of questions, worded in a crisp and clear language. Maybe even supported with multiple choice answers, so that you needn’t think too hard. And as a bonus, it’s all typed out in a lovely font. All of these tricks give you the feeling that the form is very short and easy to answer— and it certainly looks pleasing. The whole effect gives you an enjoyable experience, while you get some work done by the machine. That’s the kind of experience a user experience designer aims to give you (the user), when you use a digital product.

I hope this profession is a little clearer to you now and that you can finally brag about it, as every granny should!

But hey, if my explanation was completely useless in clearing up your doubts, you can always use it as a way to unleash utter confusion on your most annoying bridge club friend.


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