04 May 2008 1952H

What is a user experience professional?

I’m often asked what does it take to be a good user experience professional. Well, of course that depends on where you intend to use your user experience work. I happen to work on the web, so the UX I do is naturally a bit different from someone who works with embedded systems or industrial design artifacts. But if I were to design a whole curriculum around producing the next generation user experience professional, I would require:

1) Social science methodologies. Much much of our work revolves around the observation and analysis of human behavior. I’d say a background in psychology or social psych would be best, particularly around environmental or industrial psych, possibly human factors, although I think it is a little too quant heavy for our work, some sociology, anthro, so on. I’d want students to be good quantitative and qualitative people and to have tools at their disposal. You must be able to understand how to observe people and collect data, either narratives or numbers, accurately describe where the data came from, who they represent, how that data was collected, cognizant of threats to validity, sampling methodologies, how to phrase questions without injecting bias, so on.

2) Library and info science. A good deal of our work involves the categorization of information and information seeking needs and how users are served thereby. It is interesting to note that LIS tries to claim information architecture but I feel they focus too much on the categorization and labelling than they do on fundamental interaction design, which is really taught nowhere, unfortunately, and not at the undergraduate level where it really should be fundamental to. . .

3) Computer science. A lot of our work involves dealing with technology. So I would have to say that you should have at least built one website and maybe no less than three to five. You should have learned how to gather requirements, which is of course what no one teaches. You should have learned how to program and interface with databases and know your way around SQL. It would not hurt to understand Java or another object oriented language. You should have learned how to work with different types of scripting, like HTML, Flash, Javascript, so on. In other words you should know how to work with developers and speak the language of development. Wouldn’t hurt if you had deep chops with HTML, CSS, XML, and Javascript. Here is where comp sci could be useful but isn’t. Requirements and methodologies would be great to know here, but that would require students to actually work in teams on projects that simulate real world problems. In addition, a lot of what passes for information architecture really is in fact interaction design, which is only emerging as a discipline of its own now, but has deep deep roots in comp sci.

4) Visual communications. Now we get to the softer side of things. A lot of things we do involve designers. So a few courses on type, color, composition, grids, branding, being subject to the sometimes brutal and subjective cycle of ideation and critique, and actually doing the work of design on real world projects wouldn’t hurt you in the least. Primarily I would avoid the whole stylistic track — you will inevitably gravitate towards your own unique style — but I think I would focus a student towards information design, such as newspaper infographic designers do: how to make complex information understandable at a glance. Layout for reading comprehension and how to grab people’s attention really also helps.

5) Interaction design. Most importantly and least often presented in the curriculum, I would say, this is the most important skill. You should be able to talk in the language of decision making of choices made in the design of interfaces. Unfortunately, not very well or broadly taught and not deeply enough. Maybe it is time to actually start doing so. There is quite a deep reading list to go through actually.

6) Business courses, particularly around marketing and operations.

It will be noted drily that few people have done all of the above and that most of us working in UX now do not come from such backgrounds. Zannen da kedo! Fortunately, the tools that give a good liberal arts graduate a good head start in the world can also be applied towards catching up with the other disciplines in this list.

What about you all? What would you think would be useful for a user experience professional to know?

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3 responses to "What is a user experience professional?"

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18 Sep 2008 1312H

anne writes:

i’d be interested to hear what you recommend as interaction design reading

07 Oct 2008 1158H

Gino writes:

Sure. I actually don’t recommend people READ anything anymore. What I do recommend is that people start taking various interactions apart, whether it’s a digital thermometer or a video game console’s preferences menu and figuring out where and how to make them better. And the more you do this, the better an interaction designer you will be.

22 Apr 2012 1313H

Monica Kovats writes:

My background is in Psychology and Anthropology and at present I am contemplating the possibility to start a career in the field of usability. Do you have any advise on what would be the first step to do?

Thank you!

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