When nonverbal communication is key.

I have become a mind reader. I have learned this skill during the first year with my two children. Babies can’t talk so the only way they can communicate is by staring at you. This can be jarring at first especially for a first time ! Once you get the hang of it, more times than not you know exactly what they need. There are many nonverbal cues to look out for — tired, very tired, hungry, bored, over stimulated, over tired. Then there is the cue of all needs are met but I am still not happy and I can’t tell you why.

You have to do a lot of mind reading as a designer; this can include watching someone stare at something for long periods of time with little feedback. This is when being a parent comes in handy. You are usually being stared at at 3am when you can’t keep your eyes open to stare back. This is when the strongest mind reading has to take place so you can go back to bed.

Empathy is one of the main components of UX. It is all about the user after all! Sometimes studying someone’s non-verbal cues can communicate more information than the verbal ones. Do they seem frustrated, excited, or confused when going through a process? Are these feelings not what you expected the user to have? Uncovering these emotions can give important feedback without asking for it directly.

Unpredictably Predictable

So you think you are going to get a full night’s sleep because last night your baby slept through the night? This is the most sought after phrase to tell everyone that you know and post on Facebook. You are so excited to get that full 8 hours the next night. You are sound asleep when you think you hear a baby crying, and then realize that it is your baby and it is 3am. Just when you think there is some sort of schedule, everything changes.

Toddlers are especially good at this. I have learned with my first that nothing is the same. My son can chow down on a whole plate of broccoli one night, and the next night broccoli is the devil. He could be over the moon for that new truck that we picked out together at the toy store, and the next day it means nothing to him.

UX Design is by nature an ever-changing practice. I now have lots of experience with change. This is no small feat for me as I am the ever- predictable Capricorn. Everything is in transition, just when you think you have it down is when you have to plan for something new.

Anything can change in UX, the feature that the client thought they needed is no longer relevant. Maybe after doing research you discover what they need is something different than what is originally asked. Usually this unexpected change is the opportunity to reiterate and make something even better than the original.

Anticipate User Needs (and then anticipate them to change)

Being a parent, especially to a toddler, really trains you for this. Everything runs smoother when you plan for what is coming (or what you think is coming). My son is really great at making sure I am on top of this. He likes to have milk every morning, warmed to the same temperature and poured into a specific sippy cup. If any of these needs are not met a meltdown ensues.

This morning I went through all the required steps to prepare his milk while he was on his Amazon Kindle Fire. This morning he wanted to be an active participant in the warming of his milk. He flipped out when he was not able to close the microwave door himself to warm the milk. I tried to pull a fast one and pour the warmed milk into a DIFFERENT SIPPY CUP. Horrible idea, cue complete meltdown. I then had to pour the milk out of the rejected sippy cup back into the mug, place it back into the microwave, take his usual sippy cup out of the dishwasher and clean it. The imposter Peppa Pig cup was just not going to cut it.

Much like anticipating client needs, if something unexpected happens on a process that is familiar it can change the result. This can lead to a possible meltdown, hopefully not one with indiscernible speech and crying.

Utilize User Testing

At my son’s day care they have an open space in the middle of all the classrooms that they use for various activities. For a while, when I would pick him up he would like to play with the toys that they set up in this space. One day they had blocks that he seemed to love. He was very excited to build towers, castles, etc. I thought wow I better get those blocks to play with at home! What a great way to learn fine motor skills! I ordered the blocks off of Amazon that night. It was delivered the next day and with great anticipation we opened the box together.

I said “Surprise! These are the same blocks you played with at school!”

I think he played with the box the blocks came in for about 10 minutes. Now those blocks are sitting in the cabinet untouched.

It seemed like he really enjoyed the blocks at school. Turns out he was more excited for the box it came in. He does however really enjoy Legos.

This is not unlike User Testing, as you think you may have the most exciting, most fun thing ever only to realize it is not. Taking the example of the blocks, the new and exciting blocks that I got for him were plain pieces of wood that you stack on top of each other. The parent in me thought this will be great, he can build things the old fashioned way! Turns out that is not exciting. He prefers when the blocks can attach to each other like the Legos. This feature of having the blocks attach to each other made all the difference in his excitement level. Perhaps there is a small tweak in your design or process that makes all the difference. The only way to know this is to have your user actually use it.

Being a UX Designer takes all sorts of skills and on your feet problem solving that is not so different to parenting. Things are constantly changing and taking unchartered paths is the norm. When you think you have everything figured out, you don’t. This is what makes the journey exciting! It forces you to grow even when it is 3am and you are not fully conscious.

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