A few months ago, I was asked by my son’s kindergarten teacher to share what I did after I dropped my son off at school.
I had to follow on the heels of one mother who is the vice principal at the middle school in the district, and another who is a professional stylist for children. My curious 5 year old was able to enthusiastically recount in great detail what the other mothers did for a living, and how they were impacting the world.
Thankfully, I believe my job impacts the way people work, and also the world itself–by making workers more effective and productive. I worried I would not be able to explain my meaningful work to my son and his classmates. After all, Caroline’s mother (the vice principal) made her role come to life by taking my son’s class to her middle school, where they saw her office and walked through the halls of the middle school, seeing the older students. Wren’s always well-put-together mommy brought in clothes, and a makeup bag she uses in professional photo shoots. Also, she showed photos and magazines where her work was featured.
How was I going to explain that I create HR enterprise software to a group of rambunctious 5 year olds? I pondered showing them some of the screens we had usability tested a few weeks back. Nope, that wasn’t going to hold their attention. The standard PPT that I share with clients to explain user-centered design just wasn’t going to cut it, either.
I figured that I might not be able to explain creating experiences with enterprise software, but could give the little ones a lesson in the basics of user experience. I decided then to take a page (okay, maybe pages) out of Don Norman’s “The Design of Everyday Things” to aid my discussion and make it more hands on and interesting for the class.
Here is the primer with some lessons for enterprise UX design sprinkled within…
I started by showing the class the following image. I asked the class, “What do you think of these boots.”
Use of image granted by The Uncomfortable: https://www.facebook.com/theuncomfortable/
The children pealed with laughter.
“Those rain boots won’t work!”
“Your feet will get all wet!”
I explained that these boots are exactly as they had noted: not useful.
Lesson for us in enterprise software: When designing products we have to make sure they are useful and solve the user’s problem(s). Create solutions that don’t force users to create a workaround. This will enable users to achieve their goals in a meaningful and productive way.
Next we walked over to the light switch in the corner of the room. I asked the children, “How would you turn the light on?”
A number of the children burst out:
“To turn the lights on, you push it up!”
“The light switch works the same in my room!”
“You push down to turn the light off!”
I took a moment to explain that through use, we come to expect certain actions or tools to work in a consistent and known manner.
Lesson for us in enterprise software: Make sure to design interfaces and experiences that match user’s mental models:
“A mental model is an explanation of someone’s thought process about how something works in the real world. It is a representation of the surrounding world, the relationships between its various parts and a person’s intuitive perception about his or her own acts and their consequences. Mental models can help shape behavior and set an approach to solving problems (akin to a personal algorithm) and doing tasks.”
(Courtesy of Wikipedia)
Consistency is critical when selecting widgets or placing navigational objects on the user interface. A user needs to be able to complete their tasks in an efficient manner and having these known navigational or gesture patterns in place, will create an overall seamless user experience.
Call to Action
Next I reached for an iPad and showed a screen from children’s game . I asked the class where they would click on to start this game.
The eager class belted out that they would click on the green arrow. Instinctively the children knew where to press to start the game.
Lesson for us in enterprise software: Where using bold childlike imagery or text isn’t the solution for enterprise software, a clear call to action on the task or tasks a user can complete is necessary in a user interface, so that a user can efficiently do their work in the system.
Next, I passed juice boxes around so they could touch and feel a physical object and provide feedback.
As the children tried to sip and sipped their juice, there were a number of comments heard.
“Can you help me take my straw out of the wrapper?”
“I can’t put my straw in the box.”
(As I observed one student try and insert the “wrong” end into the juice box)
“Can I have a tissue?”
(In response to an inadvertent squeezing of the juice box)
After my end user observation, I asked the thirsty kindergartners what issues arose with the juice boxes. As expert end users, they described the issues:
- The straw can be hard to remove from the box (assuming that the box has a straw J)
- Putting the straw in the juice box was difficult. Often times, the little fingers were trying to insert the wrong side of the straw into the box.
- The juice can easily be spilled if the student accidentally squeezes it.
- It’s hard to know if you have finished drinking the contents of the juice box.
- You can’t see what the juice looks like.
Lesson for us in enterprise software: Understand your users. For enterprise software, you user might is not the person purchasing the software. Continuously improve the design of your product by testing it with end users and understanding their wants, needs and pain points.
My examples were complete and I had a bunch of sugar-happy students on my hands. I took a few minutes to explain the concepts we had discussed and experienced. After the discussion on user experience was complete, I summarized what I do at my work to the class: “I make sure that your mommies’ and daddies’ work can be done in the most effective and efficient manner possible.”
My presentation was done. I left the school feeling like maybe there were some design thinkers in the group and just maybe they were inspired.
That night at dinner, my son said, “Mommy, I am glad you make it easier for people to do their work! Did you bring any of those extra juice boxes home?”
It all goes to show you that everything you need to know you learned in kindergarten; and once in while it’s good to get a reminder of that simple approach to learning.