A Good Reminder

Recently I have been teaching my students CICEROS, an acronym for seven traits or skills that I believe are important for anyone who wants to be involved in the discipline of User Experience:

  • Curiosity - a desire to learn or try something new
  • Imagination - the ability to form new ideas or concepts
  • Communication - the ability to connect with others through words & images
  • Empathy - to understand the feelings of another for yourself
  • Rhetoric - the art of effective pursuasion
  • Open-mindedness - being receptive to new ideas
  • Synthesis  - the combination of observations & ideas into a coherent whole
CICEROS slide from my teaching materials. 

CICEROS slide from my teaching materials. 

The only mnemonic device I could come up with happened to be a reference to Cicero, one of the most famous Roman philosophers and statesmen. Not a bad reference these days considering the political atmosphere we live in. 

Like a majority of Americans who voted in the presidential elections on November 8, 2016 I went to bed in a state of shock. It was a rude awakening for those of us who had hoped for a different outcome, especially considering everything we thought we knew going into it. 

I realized how out of touch I was with the electorate. I thought I had a clue. I didn't. I was wrong, and it was astounding to feel as ignorant as I did that day. 

Living in the matryoshka doll-like progressive-culture bubbles of Silicon Valley, California, and the West Coast, it's easy to get lost in our own echo chamber. I've worked with many companies who try to be very mindful of this phenomenon when it comes to understanding technical and consumer sentiment. To counteract the selection bias of geography, we travel near and far in order to get feedback from people who are more representative of our potential customers. We try to meet people who are not like us. This maximizes our ability to get fresh & relevant perspectives so that we can design better products that truly serve the needs of people who aren't necessarily like us. In other words, normal people. 

It was a good reminder of the lesson I have been trying to teach my students – we must develop empathy. As designers, we often say that we shouldn't design for ourselves; we aren't our users. By building up our ability to empathize, we are better able to understand others' problems, feelings, and needs in order to design something that makes their lives better in some way. In light of what's happening in the world around us, this seems like good advice.