Why couldn’t things just be easy? What feels like forever ago, I graduated high school with high hopes for my academic future. I knew I was interested in computers, but nothing more specific than that. When it came to college, all I knew was that I wanted to stay local to keep things simple as my life grew more complex. I had always excelled at science, mathematics, and computers, so I chose a technical degree. No one with respect for their career chooses a major in art, right?
Yet I knew that in the back of my mind, I liked art as well. Nothing major. I never took any formal art classes or anything. But even still, my artistic nature stuck out. On CS projects, I was the interface guru. Semester after semester, I would be the guy who would draw out interactions and plan the user experience. It’s not that I felt that I wasn’t contributing, I just felt like I didn’t get it. Why were we made to learn about relational databases, machine code, and graph theory? Was computer science not for me?
I felt disillusioned. I went to the school counselor for guidance and took a number of personality tests. I took job-preparedness tests. I visited our school’s co-operative education department. The results that came back confirmed my fears. I wasn’t meant to be a programmer. In fact, the results said that I would have the most pleasure being a singer or a performer. An actor or a teacher. A photographer or an archaeologist. Anyone who works outside or with people on a technical level. Worst of all, it told me to avoid office (especially their politics) and cubicles.
So I broke down and bought a camera. I joined local artist groups on campus. I changed my major to discrete mathematics. Math was the most philosophical degree I could get without choosing something I felt was a “soft” science. I really didn’t know what to do. I read a lot of books outside of class. I read Godel, Escher, Bach: An Eternal Golden Braid.
I knew that my dream career was out there. There had to be some job where my technical skill set and my design sensibilities could coalesce.
At this point in my career, I decided to try everything and just pick which one felt right. To make a long story short, as the phrase goes, here were the options I considered:
Being a hobo without a job
Discovering myself through photography. Bleh. This meant that I would either end up as a supreme self-centered introvert or some wedding photographer trying to hone their craft. While I have respect for both fine-art photographers (Aforementioned introverts) and wedding photographers (aforementioned craft-honing hipsters), I really didn’t see myself bringing anything fresh and new to the scene. If I wanted inspiration, I could check flickr.com.
This art, done well, makes me extremely happy. I don’t know what it is about it. I think it’s the matter of communicating a message with good aesthetics; making the reader feel smart. What I liked about this idea the most was that it was based on something I felt I was at least slightly good at. Plus, I had a desire to communicate well. The message is what’s important, not the path you had tot ake to get to the message. That’s what made fine-art so unappealing (and pretentious feeling) and GD so appealing. This was the deal-breaker for me.
Growing up with the world wide web lacking CSS (I’m old.), I didn’t ever consider this an option. At the time I was making this decision, however, things had improved greatly. This was and still is a serious consideration for me because it plays to a lot of my strengths.
I considered this career briefly. I have much respect for people that consider the design of everyday things. However, it always felt that this would take me farther away from my interests in the internet, collaboration, and graphic design.
HCI is a massive field encompassing things from Virtual Reality to login screens. With that said, it’s also the most intriguing. Every discipline listed above is used in-tandem, in addition to business-logic and psychology. For me, this is the most robust area of study, and also (in my opinion) the youngest. There are very few schools that have a solid degree program in HCI, and for good reason: most people still don’t know what it is.
Image by assbach
So I was left with a conundrum. Did I really want to become a designer? Surely I had more respect for myself than that.
The list is ordered, roughly, from most “artistic” to least “artistic”. I tried all of these career paths on for size, one by one. The journey looks easier than it was. I encourage anyone looking at the options above to take their time. Explore websites that teach you the basics, and see what other artists are doing with their medium. What appeals to you? Do you feel challenged by that medium? (That’s probably a good thing!) Remember, everyone has different strengths and weaknesses. What you bring to the table is infinitely more valuable because you have an uncultured vantage point.
Thanks for the autobiography, what do these mean to usability?
After studying all of these disciplines for a period of time, I’ve decided a number of things:
- Knowledge of Graphic Design is essential to communicating ideas quickly and effectively.
- The medium progresses quickly and without fail.
- What works for some cultures does not work for others.
- The same questions that troubled industrial designers years ago have an equivalent in the contemporary sphere of human-computer interaction. What more, learning about any of these “applied” artistic mediums will teach you more about the others.
- At the end of the day, design and usability is all about learning from others, making generalizations and paying attention to best-practices. Any of these related mediums will teach you to question yourself and your design abilities.
- Through introspection and repetition, any aspiring designer will become better. Always try new things and push yourself. Find inspiration from as many mediums as possible.
The path is a rough one. I still wonder where my background in a hard science comes in. I know that the possibility of a career using design, computers, psychology, and logic is very appealing. I hope that for others looking into this career path that they don’t just see “web design” and think that’s the stopping point; there is so much more to learn. Even after working for 3+ years in this field, I feel like I learn something new every week. Keep pushing yourself and pushing the medium. The web is changing for the better and it’s people like us who are helping every step of the way.