Fresh: ask Doctor Usability

XII.5 September + October 2005
Page: 13
Digital Citation

Growing designers

Dr. Usability

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Dear Doctor Usability,

A few years ago I was searching to "better" my life since the economy was not supporting graphic designers and my degree in graphic design communication wasn't getting me the kind of jobs I wanted. In my naiveté I phoned some well-known people in this field. (I found out later this was unbelievable chutzpah!). I had questions about the kinds of programs available for training as an HCI designer. I visited some schools and realized that they required a lot of computer science, which I really didn't want to do. So, I went to a program at a fancy school and paid a lot of money only to get to my first job and feel completely lost. In many ways, the master's program had little to do with the real-world working environment both in terms of ocumentation/deliverables and dealing with the politics and personalities of the corporate environment. So now what? I still need training! How do I grow as a designer?

—Miss Moxie

Dear Miss Moxie,

Art school gurus? But were they doctors? You should have come to me first and I could have saved you a lot of effort (not money but effort).

First, it's good that you have chutzpah. An old Yiddish dictionary defines chutzpah as what you call someone who kills their mother and father, then pleas for mercy before the judge because they are an orphan. An occasional shot of chutzpah often passes for high ability. In fact, if you have enough of it, please do send in and we can work out some arrangement to bottle and distribute.

Many schools can be like factories. You go in as raw material and you come out as raw material dressed up as something else. But you're still raw. Even if your "factory" was one that put you to work in real-life situations. But the real-life situations, you understand, are to be had through internships. In three short months you, too, can feel the trials and tribulations of a real live UX professional, except that you won't be around to see the results.

Please realize that the education you've received is from an educator, not a master craftsman. There are certainly some educators who are also practitioners—these are usually called adjunct professors, and they have little status and less pay, but they have loads of experience and more anecdotes than the average academic. Plus, they often have a sense of humor borne of years of ridiculous situations, so they can be quite entertaining. All the theories and methods you can fit in a laptop bag won't do you any good unless you've learned how and where to apply them, and to do this in a way that doesn't showcase your higher educational accomplishments or use words with more than three syllables.

Now that you know that you don't know everything, attach yourself to someone who is willing to take risks, and watch what they do. Note: Do not DO what they do, as that will land you in trouble. If you've already got a pretty stiff spine, you may be in trouble already.

My prescription for you: Read two books and volunteer to review papers for conferences. That's an education in itself! And don't forget about that chutzpah—I'm looking forward to receiving a package in the mail from you.

—Doc Usability

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