As an IA/UX designer, there are many experiences and skill sets that have contributed to my success. While I have always had a passion for and been involved in design, many of these other experiences have involved working with people, ranging from the military to sales. However, one that stands out for me was being involved in social work, namely working with delinquents in a halfway house. Working with young people is extremely challenging, especially when they are engaged in criminal activity and believe they know everything.
How I Got Into It
The social work was basically a full to part-time swing job (based on the season) for me as I was continuing my education in design/business and working towards entering the design field full-time. Most of the staff who worked as social workers also had other goals that they were working towards that had nothing to do with support working as a full time career.
I got in the field because a friend of mine from the military was already involved and asked if I was interested in working with him (he was able to pull a few strings to get me in). We hadn’t seen each other in about 5 years so it was good to re-connect with him and find a job working with people.
Being in the military, I had developed thick skin and knew what it was like to be surrounded by various temperaments of people; so I jumped at this opportunity.
After getting hired and going through extensive on-the-job training for Crisis Prevention Intervention & Dealing with Difficult People, I was ready to fly solo.
What I Did
I managed a halfway house and developed relationships with delinquents who were released from the system based on various criminal activities, and were making their way back into society. Duties included managing a schedule for the youths to adhere to, encouraging them to find jobs, conducting open discussions on problem resolution and basically leading a group of aimless youths to work together and become better human beings.
Remember, I was hired to do all this and much more with a group of teenage boys who didn’t want to work, or remain inside the house, and most of them simply wanted to sleep in, fight, break the rules and stay out late or not come home at all.
Needless to say, this was an uphill battle, and I believe very strongly that it was this consistent resistance to both authority and change from these delinquents that became my greatest takeaway from this field and followed me into the UX industry. To sum it up, that takeaway was the age old task of designing circumstances & interacting with people to solve problems.
What I Brought Through With Me
- A backbone of steel, and a fearless stance to look someone in the eye and not back down.
This has helped me many times when dealing with difficult clients. In the beginning of my design years, I was way too bold and direct as a result. Over time, I have learned to turn that down a bit and execute soft approaches when dealing with difficult clients.
- Empathy and the ability to listen
Many of these youths have a story. There is usually an unfortunate set of circumstances that have been compiled and dumped on these youths which explains why they are the way they are now. It is important not just to execute authority, but to be a role model and earn trust. This is done by placing myself in their shoes and imagining what it must be like for them. At the end of the day, I go home, these youths are still in their unfortunate situations.
How I relate to these youths is very important. Everything that someone says from a position of authority is interpreted as a threat or an attack. Even though these delinquents may be wrong in a situation, there is a certain tac that is involved when trying to lead someone to see the error of their ways. You can’t just point it out to them, you have to paint a picture where the error is clearly visible for them to see. This technique has helped me greatly when presenting my findings regarding a review or a new design vision. You just can’t tell the client their wrong and that you’re right. You have to perform a gap analysis and show them areas of improvement and sometimes allow them to figure out the vision themselves and take credit for it, even though we as design professionals already know the answer.
What I’ve Had to Work On
Over the years, one of the main things that I have had to work on would be soft skills. How to delicately approach clients, bite my tongue, not receive credit, and remember that it’s not about me. It’s always about the end user and the final design.
Working with delinquents have made me tough. But you can not display that toughness all the time. You can’t come across as a tough guy because these youths will want to challenge you and will never trust you. On the other hand, you can’t be a soft nice guyperson as well- and for the exact same reasons. They will try to challenge you and run the show. Throughout my employment as a youth worker, I have had to learn the balance of being in between. This has helped arm me when working in the professional design industry.
Like the theme “Anyone can cook!” from the movie Ratatouille, I say the same for design. “Anyone can design”. Don’t grade yourself against others, compare yourself to your last design. Learn from best practices and view websites and apps that get good reviews. Ask questions and immerse yourself with people who know. Be humble and try your best to contribute to the field. Contribution brings reciprocation.
What I’ve Found About Moving Into UX
The biggest thing I’ve noticed is the tremendous amount of people time that is included when designing. In order to kick off a project, you’re meeting with people. When leading Conducting meetings, you’re meeting with people. JAD sessions and going through the iterative design process, you’re meeting with people. Conducting interviews, focus groups and testing, you’re meeting with people. And finally when re-visiting the design for stats and results, again, you’re meeting with people.