In 1998, I’d had a pretty busy couple of decades.
I’d started in radio (koff koff) 19 years earlier, in 1979. That lasted until about 1992, when – tired of trying to raise two kids with another one on the way on $7 an hour, I got into technical writing – mostly writing user manuals, online help, reports and fdjdjweim asklssssssssssssss….
…sorry I fell asleep just remembering that phase of my career. Technical writing didn’t agree with me much. It was good for me – it got me into the software business – but a good technical writer is a stickler for details in a way that I really just don’t much care to be.
I’d been a technical writer for about a year, working at the old Cray Research facility in Eagan, when I ran into a fellow tech writer who was in charge of building a “usability lab” – a room where users could be observed doing the jobs they were supposed to be doing on Cray software, noting the problems they had, developing trends, and eventually making recommendations on how to design the software to be easier to learn, less obtuse – better.
And I thought – instead of explaining how to work with badly designed software, why not just design the software to be more self-explanatory, and make more money and get more respect in the bargain?
It wasn’t quite that easy; at the time, user interface / human factors / Human Computer Interaction design was seen rarely outside of highly regulated industries like medical devices or defense contractors.
And most of them had masters degrees in industrial, cognitive or experimental psychology. I had a BA in English.
But I spent four years of spare time reading, practicing designing things, and learning about the trade from the few people I could find as mentors. And twenty years ago today, I walked into my first User Experience job at StorageTek in Brooklyn Park.
And, to my amazement, succeeded. For twenty years.