By Alexandra Scandolo (2018-2020 UXD Student)
“I’m not really even sure what I signed up to learn after today,” I joked with my roommate one evening after my first UX lecture. I spent time researching User Experience before, during, and after applying to the program—reading endless Medium articles, discovering the “design side” of Twitter, and digging through old syllabi couldn’t clarify what an immersive experience would enlighten. But even when I thought I’d put a finger on what “user experience” was, I’d be introduced to a new piece of history, another methodology, and more job postings that confused or conflated other types of roles with UX.
I genuinely didn’t know what I had signed up for in the beginning. Studying user experience design isn’t a one size fits all discipline—it’s a toolkit that opens up possibilities in many fields. The tip of the iceberg is thinking this will be a professional gateway to the tech world, what lies beneath—as you understand tools, research practices, and ways of doing things—is a valuable way of looking at the world. It can apply to any number of named disciplines—UX design, product management, or service design—and even beyond into other lines of work. I couldn’t have prepared myself to know how to define UX because that would have meant learning the lessons the program was about to teach me.
You will hear a lot about empathy in design if you’re new to this world. The consideration of the person first is a unique quality and skill that has to be honed. Yes, relating and putting yourself in someone else’s shoes will be step one in making something, but empathizing and understanding what others want is much more than just a muscle you will flex while creating. Rather, it’s the skill that allows you to create something bottom-up, but it also helps you talk to the people who will use the things you build and create. It’s also a skill that lets you examine the discipline itself.
Critical thinking became the biggest thing I discovered underneath the iceberg when I plunged in. Pulling apart data and bringing together stories about users and what they genuinely wanted felt difficult at times because of how easy it could be. Pinpoint a problem the user has, focus on solving it—there you have it, an idea for a new product! It seemed not to dig in enough for me—I understood that you need basic methodology to keep exploring the discipline, so I decided to figure out how I wanted to delve into that more. Turning my intention to focus on visual and UI design towards research, I began to find a niche I could see myself growing into.
My biggest lesson was you are a whole person—your approach to UX will be different from someone else and their background. I came from Art History and student journalism, I have interests in language learning and academic research, but also love working with others—my approaches will and should look different than anyone else, and so will yours because of what you bring to the table. I felt a sense of freedom when I realized all my preparation couldn’t have gotten me ready to understand this about myself. Approach the coming year with an open mind—a willingness to learn about UX and yourself at the same time.
Alexandra Scandolo is a recent graduate from the Master of Information, UXD program and completed her Bachelor of Arts at the University of Toronto in 2017. She is currently a digital product consultant at Four Seasons Hotels & Resorts.