It struck me that another set of activities which have a lot in common are writing, acting, and software design. It might seem at a glance that they are pretty distinct, but I had an interesting conversation with a colleague that highlighted it for me.
He was trying to figure out what the correct design for a particular piece of UI should be, and I offered to help since I had no preconceptions and represented a fresh pair of eyes. I got the most basic bullet points from him as to what the situation was, and then closed my eyes to think deeply about it. I joked to him – “I just need to get into character, I have to find my motivation”, and I realised that in fact, it wasn’t a joke. The most important thing wasn’t to make it look nice, or balance the font sizes, or anything like that. It was to understand why the user would have reached this point. What frame of mind were they likely to be in? What were their preconceptions? Their concerns? What would be the worst possible thing we could say to them at that point in time?
I go through the same process to get into the zone when I want to write a scene. There’s no point in spending paragraphs and paragraphs describing the clouds, and the grass and the exact shape of the leaves on the trees, and counting that as establishing the setting. (It may have value for a different reason, or then again it may not, but that’s a post for another day.) What I really need to understand is the context. What’s motivating the character or characters right at this moment? What’s just happened to them that they’re still recovering from? What do they fear might happen next if they’re not careful? What’s the worst possible thing that could happen?
Sure, for my users I’m trying to steer them into the nicest possible experience, and, you know, just maybe it’s the exact opposite for my characters if I feel they need some meaningful personal growth, but the critical thing is getting the context right. Once that’s correct, the rest should just fall into place.