Apr 13

What Do You Do At Work?

"What do you do at work?" I saw my mother last week, and she asked me this question.  In the past, when I said I "was a programmer", or a "web designer", or even a "web developer", she was able to at least vaguely understand what that entailed. Now that my job has been formally declared in title to be an "Experience Architect", she is confused -- even though I am doing at work much of the same things that I was doing back (way back, back in the day) in 2009. "What does he do at work?" I've heard this question increasingly more about someone in my discipline. There seems to be an expectation for him that as someone in my industry, he should produce something that is tangible, that can be pointed to as "visible work being done". He is doing a little more of that, but also quite a bit more involving strategy, research, and change management. It seems that people don't quite know how to understand that, or how to evaluate it. They seem genuinely confused. I've been noticing this, and I don't tell them that I'm involved and interested in much of the same tasks. "What do we do at work?" This seems to be an ongoing question in the information architecture and experience design communities. What do we do? What should we be doing? What words do we use to describe ourselves? What words do we not longer use, and which words do we outright reject? What rejected words do we re-introduce? How can we explain ourselves and our work to all the people who don't understand? Are we all in agreement, and do we all understand each other? So. How do you explain to your 60+-year-old mother who works in a non-technical field what you do, when even those who work with you might not understand? How do you do it, when your own industry isn't quite sure how to describe itself right now? My answer to those questions: you try your best to explain yourself. You seek to understand others' language, so you can explain yourself in terms they understand. You seek to fully explain your language so they in turn truly understand you. You support your fellow experience workers around the world as the industry works towards defining and explaining itself. You iterate, as none of this will work the first time around, or the second, or even the third. So, what do I do at work? Do you know when you visit a website, and you have to work really hard to understand where to go or what is being presented to you? Have you felt confusion as to whether you were in the right place on the site? If what was happening was to be expected, or if it somehow was an error on your part? Have you felt frustrated, irritated, or even dumb because things seemed just Not Right? It's my job to try to keep the websites that my company creates from creating those feelings in you. Right now, I am an experience architect for the internet in the sky, specifically the Web. That means that I work with awesome cross-disciplinary teams on the websites that you see when you fly and connect to my company's Wi-Fi and entertainment-on-demand offerings. I perform quantitative and qualitative user research, which means that I talk to actual people and let them test actual products and product prototypes. I build taxonomies, which are organizational structures for various types of content. I sketch layouts that display web page structures and hierarchies, and design the flows and interactions between and on pages. I present detailed placement and visual specifications through wireframe documents. I compile requirements that affect or impact the user interface. I don't do all of this all of the time for every project, but I can do any of this. I can also do a great bit more than what I've described, and I'm actively trying to do so. I seek out lots of people in order to gain information to help me perform my job. I ask lots of questions as I seek to help create great products. I aim to constantly improve, not only my company's products, but also my ways of working within my company and myself in general. What do I do? I do great work that makes life a little (or a lot) better. It is not a full and complete answer, and maybe not even the right answer, but it's the answer I have at this point in time.