What got me into UX?

I write this blog post for myself, as a map to guide my sailboat in these forever-changing tides. I have a tendency to forget why I’m doing what I’m doing, so to avoid drifting from an unnecessary occupational identity crisis to the next, I’ll document my motivations and inspirations here...

As the post image suggests, everything started from European PlayStation Demo Discs (maybe someone recognizes them), or at least as far as I can remember seeing them was one of the first times when I truly took notice of user interfaces. I probably had the same kind of experiences with CD-ROMs that came with 'PC FORMAT' or 'CD GAMER' magazines, but, what struck me the most, was these PlayStation demo discs, only because I thought it was amazing someone had put effort into such a trivial thing as a menu on a disc. Ironically that very aspect of those discs was the most memorable thing, not the game demos themselves. It was a great example of going the extra mile, not doing good enough, but more.

At this stage of my life, I didn't know there were such things as a User Interface Designer, let alone a User Experience Designer, it's very likely that the people who did these demo disc spectacles weren't actually "designers" per se, but their productions left a great impact on me and developed a type of eye looking for such things in the future.

(Another very fond memory is all these CD-ROMs for the Windows PCs, which had all kinds of INTERACTIVE MULTI-MEDIA spectacles, screen-savers, and simple games. One that comes to mind is the 'Star Wars Screen Entertainment' CD, which had all kinds of cool visuals for a young mind.)

Fast forward 10 years, I'm a Linux power-user, how did this happen? When you're approaching becoming an adult, people often have that rebellious phase, where you're against authorities and the world itself. I'm glad I didn't do anything particularly stupid, but, one of my ways to "fight the system" was to throw Microsoft Windows into the trash and start using Linux. Even though I had many troubles and obstacles while I was trying to survive through the university classes with countless Linux Distributions, I remember how fun it was to customize and configure it. I could tweak all kinds of buttons, widgets, wallpapers, terminals, icons, sounds, and whatever I wanted. Though, often the idea of doing that was more interesting than actually doing it, but it was fascinating to have the power. I once lived a week by using Linux without a window system at all. I did everything via the command-line interface, I read my e-mails via Alpine, I wrote my code in Vim, I "viewed" YouTube as a stream of ASCII, I had conversations with people in IRC, I read the news through RSS, and did the Google searches via Lynx, I also had to learn how to manually copy and paste sections of a text from the screen without a mouse. It was stupid, but I loved it. These times gave me perspective on how things can be achieved in different ways. The world changes, but the terminal doesn't.

Fast-forward another 10 years, as I was actually building production software, I found myself distancing from the backend, thinking more and more of the usability and the overall look and feel of the products I was working on. There was one occasion where an actual user posted an entry to the daily newspaper of Jyväskylä, complaining about how the buttons in our product were not usable with a screen reader, all they did was say "Button, Button, Button, Button". Back then the approach was to program first, and design while doing it. I started to understand the value of not context-switching between the sides of my brain all the time and dedicating my brain to designing the user experience first before not a single line of code is written. It is also a whole lot cheaper to re-draw on paper, instead of throwing in commits of code, refactoring the already-made mess.

The last push, was when I bought my first Apple computer, just before COVID-19. Up to that point, I had lost a lot of my interest in creating art, such as music, video, or illustrations, it was because I had problems with my Linux all the time. But, with that Apple computer, I once again found the childlike wonder and joy of using software to create things. It was during those moments that I once again understood the huge impact of good user experience. It's not that you cannot achieve the same things on other operating systems, but the ease and intuitiveness of it all is what matters (to me). At work, I stopped programming altogether and chose to step into the unknown. I wanted to somehow become part of this user experience world. It was one of the best decisions of my life.

It's a cliche, but I didn't particularly choose UX life, the UX life chose me. It tickles all my skills and ambitions. I think there are way too many sub-par, or lukewarm user- interfaces, and experiences in this world. I desire to be a part of that group of people who have meetings discussing the feelings of user personas, the colors of the buttons, or the placements of the texts. The people who find happiness from adjusting the bezier curve of an animation, or adding a custom-made sound to it. I want to find ways to help people of all ages to have pleasant and useful experiences with technology, let it be computers, street signs, or even overly-complicated fridges. I want to go the extra mile.