Understanding

[I drafted this several years ago and never clicked “publish.” I’m thinking again about meaning in life and the things I spend time doing, so this seems relevant again..]

In the struggle of determining purpose or engaging in whatever it is that is ones life work, I’ve often set out to figure out what gives me a sense of meaning.

I was talking with some coworkers today and came to the realization that one thing that really drives me is the concept of understanding.

Understanding things is something that I’m good at. At work it’s understanding users, understanding how software tools work, understanding how to help users do what they need to.

I also see understanding as value.
I’ve for a long time held a certain contempt for superficial design work. Web design being a particularly notable manifestation of that. I’m reminded of a job I had applied to shortly before I graduated. It was a “User Experience Architect” position at a web agency. For some reason, they liked my listing in a headhunter’s monthly emailing, despite the fact that there was zero web based material in it. (I went to school for Industrial Design, got pushed into IxD, and really had no work in that space that I was proud of enough to show)

The “sample work” assignment (don’t worry, I got paid) to test my abilities consisted of doing wireframe redesigns of a couple of websites for healthcare practices. I got a copy of the existing web sites, and a 1 page “creative brief” that mainly consisted of copy from the existing sites and a two sentence design objective.. something like “they want the new site to be clean and modern”. 

I remember my interview before the sample work. I talked about the importance of research in design. The interviewer told me that the company highly valued research, but sometimes there just wasn’t enough time to do as much as they would like. (turns out, they had enough time for exactly none)

As I started approaching this work, I wrote out the site’s architecture and then sketched it out. It was basically the same as it had been, I just went with horizontal navigation instead of vertical. ..arbitrarily. They wanted me to also write copy and verbally describe images that would be on the page.. again, entirely arbitrarily. I couldn’t finish it. How can you charge a customer fees for randomly laying out a web page? Valueless. At least to me. There is no understanding. No understanding what the users of this site need, want, or are trying to accomplish.

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