The best training for UX and technology professionals: Your parents.

Posted by on Jan 2, 2013

Every Christmas, after Santa Claus comes to my parents’ home, I come: the family’s unofficial IT & Tech support person. I’m minus the red hat, white beard and (for now, knock on wood) the belly like a bowlful of jelly.

My job, like most children of senior-aged parents, is to install, connect, fix, update every device and software…and help them understand how all their devices, web sites and mobile apps work. Explanations that are rarely about all the deep or extra features of technology, but instead basic…really basic questions about what the technology they’re holding does or how it works.

“Where’s the delete button?” This said with a big delete button visible on my parents’ laptop keyboard.

“How do I get out of this mobile app?”

“Why is iMessage different than email?”

Why doesn’t “My Excite” come up (The now near defunct web portal Excite that my Mom thinks is the brand name of the Firefox web browser)?

I try to answer every question. As a son, not only because they have my telephone number and know where I live, if I don’t answer them now, or help them understand something while I’m in town, I know every “I don’t care about X” question will turn into a frustrated, “This doesn’t work!” question after I leave. In the business world, that’s gap translates into calls to your tech support team-which costs you money. One reason that comments and user perspectives like this really matter.

It sounds like I’m annoyed at my parents. I’m not. I love my folks. And when they can use the technology around them, I couldn’t be happier. I assume that’s the same goal for companies developing technology and user expriences for their customers.

That’s why parents should be appreciated as a godsend. People like myself who work around technology often forget how open-ended and directionless technology seems to less immersed users. People who work in (UX) user experience have to remember that what makes them different is “experience.” We’ve learned and understand digital constructs and models to the point we take them for granted or have a mental map legend to easily integrate new experiences into our exposure to new devices and interfaces. Things are more discoverable, because we’ve discovered a lot already. For us to expect all users to have the same point of view is like expecting someone to talk to you about big themes of a movie they haven’t seen yet.

A dedicated Apple user knows the answer, but to a newbie, why would Apple’s iMessage be different that email? An email is a message, isn’t it?

This babe-in-the-woods user mindset is really an opportunity. UX design and messaging is really about finding that sweet spot of providing a point of understanding, discoverability and comprehension that anybody can get. And your parents are like New York (If you can make it here, you can make it anywhere). If your parents can wrap their heads around your technology offering or mobile design and feel comfortable about it, chances are the majority of your mobile/web/device users will, too. That will enhance user experience, engagement and adoption of your technology.

That’s why when I consult on projects, I always do it with the mindset of “would my parents understand this?”

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