Visual design or development? Neither, User Support..

By Posted in - Experience Design on February 19th, 2012

How did you get in to User Experience?

So often the answer is either visual design or development. In some cases both; design and development each allow for a unique perspective into UX. A developer may be frustrated with current software and the lack of focus on those who actually use it. This situation provides a great opportunity to introduce the importance of UX. A visual designer may realize that an interface can be beautiful and still not make sense to a user. This also provides a great opportunity for the visual designer to discover UX. Backgrounds in either of these fields are a great gateway into learning more about User Experience.


These two industries are not, however, the only ways into user experience. My background is not completely unique to me; yet I find surprisingly few people who come from the same industry I do: User Support.


User experience is all about the use of technology —  individuals trying to accomplish tasks using a tool that was designed. It is, of course, the goal to design a product so that the user can flawlessly navigate the situation accomplishing their goal without hesitation but we all know at times people get confused and frustrated when a tool is expected to work one way, but it does not. When we hit a snag who do we call? User Support. It is also user support that is responsible for user training if the tool being used is complex in nature and requires an explanation or demonstration of use before the user takes control.


As a User Support professional I spent years working as a user support professional. I spoke with users on a daily basis and, in a way, conducted ethnographic research with actual users in context dealing with the frustrations of using technology. I encountered all levels of user proficiency dealing with all levels of issues with web applications, hardware, networking, mobile phones, and all other forms of technology. The emotional connection between a user and a piece of technology can become so aggravating and frustrating it can drive a user mad. A support person has to not only fix the issue, they also have to work with the user to understand how the user became frustrated in the first place and then explain to them in a language they understand how to properly use the tool.


However, this background puts a UX designer in a tough spot when dealing with people who expect a UX professional to come from either a developer or a visual designer background. For those who view UX from a visual design perspective,  User Support is “very technical.” However, those who come from a development background don’t expect a user support person to understand the technical concepts and jargon of development. Visual designers can say they are a “photoshop wiz” and developers can list of all the coding languages in which they are proficient;  it is not as simple to list a specific technology that sums up a user support background. However, for an industry that is concerned with Human Computer Interaction and User Experience, User Support professionals have a first-hand understanding of users interacting with computers and all the encompassing emotions.

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