08 Sep A UX Specialist’s User Experience
My eyes are shut tight against the will of my curiosity. I want desperately to open them and witness the spectacle in front, around and beneath me; but I know that my courage will seep through the holes in my temporary metal prison if I do.
I control my breathing as I try to slow my heartbeat I can now hear over the sound of the wind. The wind, it has picked up considerably, so I know we are almost to the top. Keeping my composure is a daunting task as I hear the grinding of metal sliding over metal and feel the sway and shake of the unsteady entrapment. I also know that right in front of my face is my fearless guide, hanging halfway out of the elevator because I can feel his breath as he continues talking about his day-to-day responsibilities. We’re just that close in this cage only meant to hold one of us at a time. He continues the tour without missing a beat despite my obvious discomfort.
The grain elevator comes to a sudden and stomach-dropping stop when our ascent is complete. I open my eyes reluctantly and step out onto the narrow bridge connecting one grain bin to the next.
This type of user immersion was one of the first real strides into my understanding of user experience. Taking place years ago in the early 2000s, the term user experience was still fairly new although the sentiment behind it was not. I was fortunate enough to learn early in my career that creating an online user experience was more than picking the right colors.
At the time, I was working for an online agriculture trading company and wanted to understand our clients better. These clients were mainly farmers. Being born and raised in the city of Chicago, it goes without saying (but I guess I’m saying it anyway) that I was no expert in farming. This is a great illustration of how a career in user experience doesn’t necessarily require you to be an expert in all things. You just have to be an expert at empathizing with your users—open and willing to jump in and walk in their shoes.
We had built an online application for desktop usage, but realized very quickly that our main traders, farmers, would be in the field most of their days. Even when they were sitting behind a desk it would be on a farm in the middle of no man’s land where Internet connectivity was concerned. So my task was to see first hand how and where they worked. I took in the sights and smells. I climbed into tractors and checked out the digs. I watched the behaviors of our users in their space. And when my study was over, I took my findings back to civilization and began to formulate a way to better reach our audience where they worked. This was also a time before smartphones were readily available so making mobile decisions were limited.
As a User Experience Specialist, it is my job to study and understand users. Not one user or two users, but many users. With each product or system build, I learn about different people and how they think, play and/or work. In the early days we made a lot of information available, but the interaction with our systems had not evolved to include input from the user beyond that which we dictated.
Oh how the times have changed. We have evolved into a culture where users are empowered. So you either get it right, or hear about it—immediately. One user can gain the support of many in a matter of minutes on social channels, so it is important now more than ever to pay attention to your users’ experiences.
At Ignite Social Media, we’ve just signed a new client that will take me on my next new adventure – hunting. Stay tuned. And if you were wondering, no I’m not a hunter.