On starting

17 Oct

Next month, I am speaking at the Institute of Ergonomics & Human Factors (IEHF) Ergonomics Careers Day 2012, a day aimed at students and newly qualified graduates of ergonomics and human factors and related disciplines.  That was me once, so I’m happy to accept the opportunity to talk to a roomful of students wondering what their next move after uni was going to be.  But what to talk about?

Getting into User Experience

My path into user experience started with a degree in psychology at the University of Glasgow, and 5 fateful lectures tacked onto the end of the cognitive course, where the supremely eccentric long-haired academic Steve Draper wished to tell us all about instruction manuals.  Or something like that.  All I DO remember is that the prescribed book was a golden gem, which I read from cover to cover, while listening to things falling into place all over my tiny brain.  The Design of Everyday Things by Donald Norman is essentially one man’s frustration that push doors have pull handles, expanded and expressed in one of the greats in the UEx library.

The Design of everyday things by Donald Norman

One man’s rage against the fact the cooker rings don’t correspond to the knobs properly.

This led me into reading about ergonomics, which I had heard of only in relation to office chairs; and BINGO, I knew what I wanted to do with my life.  Reading about ergonomics and the ethos of person-centred design lit lightbulbs and gave me a clear career path – more uni! A Masters! No need to go into the real world just yet!

Studying ergonomics

Some research led me to find that Loughborough University was considered the heart of ergonomics and human factors in the UK, and so I headed there to take up the Ergonomics MSc.  Like a wee sponge, I soaked up transport ergonomics, environmental assessments, and how to make sure you don’t accidentally send a nuclear plant into meltdown (key trick:  don’t place the ‘Initiate reactor meltdown’ button next to the intercom button).  It’s fair to point out that, much like my time studying psychology, I was not particularly sponge-like in my absorption of statistics, which I fear and revile to this day – mercifully, I have not needed to explain how an ANOVA test works to anyone, ever, so far.

The research in lboro was (and still is) focused heavily around safety critical systems, product design, and things of the real world, so I didn’t come across web usability as part of the course.  What I loved, though, was that the principles of human-centric design, and the principles around things like error prevention, held fast and true across the physical world, and the virtual one.  Of which more next time…

One Response to “On starting”

  1. Carien October 26, 2012 at 6:11 am #

    “The Design of Everyday Things” and “The Inmates are Running the Asylum” (Alan Cooper) are two books that changed my outlook on the world, and possibly both had a hand in me deciding to pursue a career in UX Design. I often find myself assuming that everyone in the field have read both. (After reading Norman’s book, I’ve never looked at light switches and door handles in the same way!)

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