User Experience Professional as Beast Tamer

From The Blurred Line
"Villains of industry seek to deprive us of our humanity. Scientists, scholars, and designers prevail, and a new profession flourishes, turning man's submission to technology into technology's submission to man."
-Leah Buley, UX Team of One

I read this quote last night while browsing an article in UX Booth that featured the first chapter of Leah Buley's book UX Team of One. The chapter is pretty compelling on its own, and I'm interested in reading the rest of the book. 

But this quote stood out for me, and it informed an internal debate that has been raging ever since I went corporate. 

I've written before about how I'd begun my career expecting to teach writing. As a teacher, you have direct impacts on students' lives. Most of my academic career has been in inner city schools or community colleges where I have been instructing students who have been underserved in their prior education. Some are incredibly talented, and some are lacking in basic skills. Almost all of them, though, are not confident in the value of their stories, and I make it my mission as their writing teacher to instill that idea in them: You have a story. It is important. You're the only one who sees the world in your unique way and with your specific experiences. Tell it, and share your lessons.

This work is incredibly fulfilling, and you can see the tangible impact that it makes on the lives of many students. Not all of them walk away with their lives changed, but many, many do. And that is beautiful.

When I got my first corporate job, I was thrilled with the money, the smart, creative colleagues, and the fun projects I got to work on. I couldn't shake the feeling, though, that none of it mattered in the larger scheme of things. I was not teaching people to value their stories as sacred. I was helping a big business make more money. I could make some half-hearted argument to myself that I was providing people with information they wanted that could make their lives happier, but none of that really fulfilled my deep longing to be making a difference.

Something has been stirring, though, in my latest position. I'm working for a big bank, which is definitely not my idea of doing good in the world. However, as I wrote a while back about empathy with the audience and its role in UX, a few ideas about how what user experience professionals do truly is a kind of service have been bubbling up. 

And reading this quote made it all make sense. I'm working for a "villain of industry" in many ways, and from within, we're working to make technology submit to the needs of the people who use it. We're taming the beast. We're teaching it to sit, stay, and roll over. Sometimes, when we really do a good job, the beast even comes up and winsomely licks the users' hands. 

That, my friends, is a beautiful, meaningful thing. 


Popular Posts