If you are thinking about a career in User Experience (UX) you may be drowning in all the areas you can specialize. How do you decide? User research? Content strategy? Visual design? Code! Metrics? Service design? Information architecture? Search Engine Optimization?
Apply UX Techniques to everyday activities
Every day you have an opportunity to try different UX techniques. I’m not going to suggest building your own mobile app, redesigning a well-known website, or designing a t-shirt for a cause. Those are terrific ways to establish your portfolio once you know what you want to do.
Instead, I’m going to encourage you to try an unconventional, low-cost, and beneficial activity that will help you explore UX specialties like content strategy, information architecture, and user research: Clean and organize your refrigerator.
What does cleaning your refrigerator have to do with a User Experience career!?!?!
The first steps in cleaning your refrigerator are a lot like conducting a content inventory and audit.
You have to decide where to put everything you have left. Use top task analysis to decide.
Wrap up your efforts by talking to users (i.e., the people who use the refrigerator). That user research will help you decide if you need to change where you put things.
I am not a domestic diva. If you do not know how to clean a refrigerator, My Boyfriend Barfed in My Handbag — And Other Things You Can’t Ask Martha by Jolie Kerr, is required reading. Instructions begin on page 21. Organization tips are on page 24.
Try it! It’s practically free.
I hard cleaned our refrigerator a few weeks ago following Jolie Kerr’s instructions and photographed the journey.
I pull everything out to see what lurked inside. We had just returned from vacation so there wasn’t a lot of rotten* food to throw out. A content inventory is a similar process but foul odor isn’t involved. This photo was taken after I washed the inside.
* A content audit is used to look for ROTten content. That’s Redundant, Outdated, or Trivial content that isn’t supporting business or user goals.
Once the inventory and audit is complete, top task analysis begins. What do we use most often? Can the taller child reach the milk when it’s on the door shelf? Will I have enough room for leftovers weeks from now?
This was my first guess.
I put all the food back in. I thoughtfully considered the placement of every single item and how it would impact my family. I grouped similar items and arranged them based on bottle height. In UX terms, I created a navigation scheme.
Then I stepped back and proudly showed my family what I had accomplished! Martha might even be proud of me!
(Let’s not kid ourselves. Martha wouldn’t but Jolie Kerr @ might!)
My husband wasn’t 100% happy. He thought we used Yellow Mustard more often than Dijon. I disagreed. I used Dijon Mustard in loads of recipes.
In the end, thanks to this user research, I concluded I was applying Self Design and that’s how the Yellow Mustard got moved to the front of the shelf.
Discovering your UX career path
If you clean your refrigerator you might discover more than just moldy, forgotten, supremely smelly cheese:
- You might love discovering what is inside the refrigerator; especially the rotten stuff. If you do, you might love content inventories and audits. (An unnatural love of spreadsheets also helps.)
- You might delight in adjusting the shelves and arrange all those bottles; especially if you have several varieties of mustard and BBQ sauce. If you do, you might love developing navigation schemes and taxonomies.
- You might empathize with your partner and appreciate how important it is to find the Yellow Mustard. If you do, you might love user research.
Epilogue: What happened to the yellow mustard?
There’s a saying that, “user research is free.” It’s true. The moment you put your product out in the wild people judge it, ignore it, use it, abuse it, stick with it, love it, or abandon it.
A cleaned and organized refrigerator is no different.
Three weeks later look where the Yellow Mustard ended up! In a place of supreme prominence, the door shelf by the milk. It’s almost like a client demanding an odd little something for the homepage.
P.S. We ran out of Dijon Mustard.