“A Good Problem Solver”

This morning I was given the compliment by a complete stranger that I was a “good problem solver”. It was the kind of exchange that I enjoy because it makes me think about how much an individual’s experience affects how they approach a given problem.

It goes like this: I was on my way to work and stopped in at the fantastic linuxcaffe, which lies conveniently between my house and the subway station. They make a mean cafe mocha and the staff and patrons are uber friendly. As I waited for the server to make my mocha, there was the sound of 3 medium-weight thumps directly above us.

The server referred to them as the random 3 bumps that she often hears in the morning – once and only once, a series of 3 bumps as if someone was jumping. She couldn’t guess what it might be.

“Do kids live upstairs?” I asked.

“No,” not at the front of the building.

I thought for a moment, and then just blurted the first thing that came to mind and it seemed to fit the situation.

“Somebody’s putting on tight jeans”

“Skinny pants!” the server said. “I bet that’s what it is! They look like skinny pants people.” That’s when she paid me the compliment.

I thought about it on the walk up to the subway — about how much of my daily work as a User Experience (UX) designer is an attempt to extend the sum of my own past experiences into creating new ones for the users of the products and services I design. Sometimes solving the problem is easiest and most intuitive when your own life experience tells you how almost instinctively.

The ‘problem’ here was obvious to anyone who has watched their kids try to get into dancing tights before a dance class – it’s usually a 3-jump effort before everything’s on just perfectly. Add to that the time (8:30am), the fact that it’s an apartment without kids, and I figured I had alighted on what was very possibly the answer.

Of course, until I test my hypothesis, it’s quite possible that it was something completely different than what I guessed.

That’s the way it is in UX practice, unfortunately. Often, because of time & budget constraints, you ┬ájust have to go with our gut and hope that you’re right. It’s always nice when you get validation from at least one other person. It’s nicer still when someone accepts your guess with some enthusiasm.

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