How non-designers think of interactions

Let me be honest even though I am well trained to be respectful during user research: There’s some days that I want to just say: “THAT’S SO STUPID.”

But then I catch myself and tell myself to stop being so critical.

I hear things like:

  • Wouldn’t be great if I could just tap on a corner and it would just bring up [insert some information thingy]?
  • How about make all four corners my menu? It would disappear and change to what I need!
  • I want my phone to change for my morning, for my afternoon, and my evening. Automagically!!
  • How about we make every time we swipe left, it would just always bring up what I want?!
  • I want just one button for [insert ANY function]!
  • After they say that, I grit my teeth as they stare intently at me. Sure, I could design it that way. But after years of experience, I know that modes and those “simple” but in reality complex interactions don’t work. Yes, exactly…why can’t thinks work magically? Why can’t there just be one button? Because simply put, you will be frustrated with that one button, because it won’t allow you to do the thousands of other functions you want in one button? And why not something that adapts to the time of the day…because, you puny human, your actions are so unpredictable, so random, so irrational, so illogical that no designer and engineer can ever figure out what you really want to do.

    French kids snack only once a day

    A few months ago, a friend in book club brought up Bringing Up Bébé: One American Mother Discovers the Wisdom of French Parenting. The only mother in our book club vetoed it, saying that it probably is more appropriate for parents.

    Yet, I was intrigued. Not only because there’s baby fever going around my social group, but because I really want to understand how I came to be and why I came to be. How did my personality and decision-making principles come out from my life experience? That no matter what, a clone of my genetics will never be quite the person that I am.

    I have always been intrigued by impulse control. The one highlighted by the Stanford marshmallow experiment where young kids were told that they could have a marshmallow in front of them if they wait several minutes, then left alone for those minutes. It turned out that kids who were able to wait had better impulse control in life.

    I would like to think that I was a kid that waited. But I am pretty sure that if I did wait, I was afraid of something. Afraid of the adults of what they would think of me. Afraid of anything. That I didn’t feel comfortable in my own skin. But there’s a lot of deep stuff there. Rather, I had control.

    I would like to think that.

    In the book, the author talks about how French kids are taught to “wait”. That they can wait for their rewards and desires. That American kids, on the other hand, are catered to every demand and need. As a result, they rarely know how to manage their disappointments and failures.

    When I was younger, my parents claimed that they rarely bought toys. As evidenced by our small stockpile of toys growing up, I didn’t even have a Barbie until I was nearly 11. The one time that I desperately want a doll that I saw on TV…I felt so guilty about demanding it and playing with it for less than a month. I never asked for it. At a Chinese supermarket, my sister and I would go down the candy aisle and load up our shopping cart with bags and bags of candy. Snacks were never present in my house growing up. As a small subtle suggestion. My mom only would occasionally say “well ok, just one small bag of peach gummies.” I saw many commercials and other things for Mcdonald’s Happy Meals, but I just thought, “Oh my parents just wouldn’t get that for me. They just wouldn’t.”

    I have always wondered if it was this sense of we just aren’t that type of people or I truly believed that I didn’t need it.

    Yet today, after almost 8 years of working professionally (in the real world), I stomped around my apartment desperately looking for snacks. It drove me crazy. I wanted the snacks. The random Red Vines. The jar of peanut M&Ms (and I hate chocolate covered nuts). The plastic clamshells of blueberries, raspberries and strawberries. Chips, yogurt, cheese sticks. I was going out of my mind. I wanted it right then.

    I mean, the reason that I didn’t have any was because simply put, I didn’t want myself to gorge on them. But at that moment, a tantrum wanted to burst open like the American kids described in the book. Then I settled down. Because I can be patient. I can wait about 12 hours until I walk into the office and take a handful from the jar downstairs in the kitchen. I have turned from the person who never snacked to a person who wants to snack every 30 minutes.

    A sign of being an introvert

    Today, I led a workshop. Facilitated that is. After the constant 6 hours of talking and moderating, I wanted to curl in a ball and rest. Read a book. Read articles. Anything that I could do by myself.

    That is the most interesting thing about me. I naturally do not like standing in front of people to communicate and perform. It takes my energy. And rarely do I enjoy it.

    And yet. I know that part of me is just trying to prove to myself how much I don’t like it. But there is a stronger part of me that wants to be in control and believes that nobody else can do it exactly the way I can. My own self-centeredness and ego leads me to this path.

    And yet, that is the very reason that I have fallen. It’s because there’s this performer inside me who wants to tell people things, wants to show off, wants to express emotion, wants to make jokes and tell stories. That performer enjoys the attention and revels in the presence of others.

    During college, which was the beginning of when I let my performer peek to the surface, I took on a computer consulting job. Not because I actually wanted to do it, but because I wanted to prove to people that I wasn’t dumb. My dad heard about the job and frowned. “You?” he said surprised. “I don’t think that it’s good for you.”

    It wasn’t really. I went through multiple interactions that were awkward, geeky, and uncomfortable. But I did it anyway. Because inside, I hated being trapped.

    As witnessed by the empty wrappers

    Or is that how that idiom goes?

    I love snacks. And I love working on a hard problem, solving it, and rewarding myself with a snack. Whether it’s just a single red vine, a small handful of M&Ms, or a perfect peach. If you watched me at an office, you may wonder how much productive work I actually do.

    The answer is: a lot. If you put me in a space with the right amount of (read: tasty) snacks, comfortable lighting, and engaging problems (let’s throw in a touch of a facebook read and a twitter scan), then anything can happen. My focus when in the moment is deep and intense.

    A lot of it, I admit, is due to the act of snacking. In my kitchen, due to my frugality and sense of “healthiness”, I don’t keep many snacks. I resort to the remainders, the unwanted snacks in the bowl above my microwave. They often are a random (old) assortment of Hershey’s kisses, fortune cookies leftover from my roommate’s Chinese takeout, one or two pieces of candy from my international travel. And now I have gone through that too. The empty wrappers next to my keyboard remind me of what I am missing. A hasty attempt to satisfy a craving for belonging.

    As I sit here preparing for upcoming freelance projects and working on my book, my concentration keeps getting interrupting by a desire for snacks. And then I wonder, why don’t I just buy the snacks? Then I remember, I have occasionally. And it isn’t quite the snacks themselves are satisfying.

    It’s the joy of walking to a cupboard, a refrigerator, and shelves to see it filled with snacks. A diversity. Serendipity. Things that I didn’t choose. I delight in the discovery of the new, and it’s doesn’t have the same novelty when I carefully select it from a grocery store. The novelty wears off as I check out, put it in my bag, and travel back to my place.

    In the end, what I miss the most is the delight in a mysterious someone (thank you office managers all these years!) who has supplied the kitchen with snacks for me (and everyone else in the office). Now that I am alone working from home…is it asking for delivery? is it hiring someone to just stockpile my kitchen (which is already bursting at the seams with my random tea purchases)? Or is it just to get myself to an office and work from there?

    She had a little bit of green

    Instead of doing the “right thing”, we continued chatting while she had some salad in her teeth. After all, it only distracted me 10% of the time since I only saw it when she opened her mouth wide (when she laughed). And it was late and it was getting dark and she was going home soon…so what’s the deal?

    Knowing how I would have reacted, I didn’t want to break her flow. I would have embarrassed…so embarrassed so especially during the awkward moment where someone would say no, your left, just a bit more, back to the right, no, there you got some of it, got it. That it would have frazzled me for a good ten minutes. In less than five seconds, I pondered saying something, but the moment passed by. Because I just couldn’t bring myself to say something. To spare her the future agony. Allowing herself or someone else tell her…or hopefully let it wash it away later.

    So then we talked. Small talk. Professional chat. Challenges in our professional lives. Ways to overcome challenges. Our personal interests. The service where we met professionally.

    And then suddenly the hour was over. “Oh! I have to go,” she said looking down at her phone exactly an hour after we started speaking.

    We parted ways, and I let the little bit of green stay.

    What if I had my own HBO show?

    After watching the season premiere of Girls and series premiere of Looking, I thought…well, why not? Why wasn’t there a series that discussed the traumas and comedy of a unmarried thirty somethings living in a city? Oh wait, wasn’t that Sex and the City, Friends, Seinfeld…and Thirtysomething? And nearly a majority of tee vee shows that dominate the air?

    Yet what bothers me most about the two shows is the twentysomething angst that I am (hopefully) departing. And yet what bothers me more is that I tend to swing more in the social conservative side of the world while still maintaining interest in the city’s whimsical nature and super liberal perspectives. And on my side, hey…diversity! And what person like me doesn’t really quite luxuriate in the city’s collaborative services but probably can afford it and still says things like “It’s just 12 blocks away, I’ll walk” and “I think that I’ll cook my own dinner today, no thanks to that fancy pants bar selling $10 a pop”. And still owns craigslisted, hand-me-down, college era, Ikea furniture. And when going out, it has to be “free”, “cheap”, and un-noisy. But living in the city in the most desirable neighborhood in the city?

    An Asian American designer, obviously. In her early thirties. Still holding onto technology that is sooooo ten years ago (aka instant messaging and email).

    Sometimes I say yes, but wished I said no

    If you were to ask me, I would describe it like this:

    Blonde girls in black Lululemon yoga pants and tops trimmed in some bright color doing jumping jacks on the green. Their hair pulled back in a pony tail. Their shoes were all new. Brightly colored as it was the current style. All pink, all blue, all orange. Their faces were carefully made up, with the sweat-proof makeup to puff up their cheeks and widen their eyes. They shouted with glee, with intense optimism. Only because the fitness trainer told them to do so. I felt a knot form in the back of my throat, and an uncomfortable ball twist in my stomach.

    I shoved my black bag into a larger bag where they claimed that they would watch. By habit of politeness, I put my sunglasses in there. Then I tip toed to the group, letting my fear present myself, but letting it make me too stubborn, too unwilling.

    In the 45 minutes, I barely said any words beyond hi i am… (quite often letting the words trail off) and i am ok, really. I became a non-presence, drifting along the edges. At some point, I jogged fast to one side of the green, following the crowd, not wanting to be last as I usually was. I was proud of myself for not being last, but then my vision slightly blurred. The world became less blue, more yellow, then suddenly green. I breathed in and stopped my steps, sensing that I was losing it.

    Then it was ok.

    In truth, it was a free fitness class taking advantage of outdoor benches, a small grass field, and the odd sunny San Francisco winter of January 2014. Almost everyone was new. I wonder if it’s because I don’t like being around large groups of females. Or was it the workout when I preferred just riding my bike throughout the city? Or was it because I never liked the female camaraderie?

    As I watched the millenials…

    Thoughts ran through my head as I thought about the early twentysomethings I knew. How they had such deep need to express and share their lives. And how they told everyone…and I mean, everyone about how they were feeling and what they wanted to do. The instagramming. The facebooking. The texting.

    I think now: that is so overwhelming. It’s too much.

    Then I kicked myself.

    Because that’s exactly how I was like at that age. Even though it wasn’t that long ago. I was self-absorbed, self-centered, and so so overly anxious. Was I doing this right? I kept asking myself. And I blindly tried so many things, while trying to find acceptance and and identity.

    And slowly I mellowed out.

    In college and graduate school, I distinctly remember spending hours upon hours on my computer. I would talk to multiple people in instant messages. Oddly enough, that behavior has barely translated to text messaging. I absolutely hate having conversations over the phone via text message. But I am stunned when people can’t engage in anything insightful through an instant message—whether it’s through the ancient AIM, gchat, and Facebook.

    I remember having the emotional connection built through words that I carefully typed on screen. I remember yelling, screaming, crying over those conversations. The I don’t think that we should be friends and the Let’s not see each other again and the dramatic I see you never messages all exchanged. Those kind of things happened then when I was in my early and mid twenties. It’s probably the same, but in a completely different context—of still images, of short “edited” video, and self-possessed messages of #yolo and #winning

    But most of all, I wonder why the word “detox” keeps coming up.

    More than ten years had passed

    I don’t even remember the last words exchanged. Was it over im? Was it in person? All I could remember was that the words spilled out of me angrily and suddenly that was it.

    More than ten years have passed since we last spoke.

    Yesterday, I entered the room and saw her immediately. A short wave of hesitation passed across my face. Then I spotted a friend. Then another. And another. I stepped around others and entered a conversation, almost facing her, but turned to the person to her left. Her body language suggested that she didn’t know anyone. She was new to this crowd. Pity dug at my mind.

    While making small talk with the friend, I told myself that I would for the first time in over ten years to talk to her. The last words we spoke must surely have been forgotten. Our emotions left in our immaturity and pettiness so common to college.

    I saw her once at La Mar during happy hour when I was waiting for friends for dinner. I had arrived at the edge of happy hour. So she was in a crowd of suits and ties, carefully adorned appropriate attire. I was in my usual tech outfits—hip but not too hip, casual, and city practical. I stared at the pisco sours dotted with the drops of Angostura bitters, breaking the white foam. I don’t think that she ever noticed me gazing at her.

    Back in the room, I took my time, letting conversation and free food lead me to conversation. I naturally drifted from group to group. Then when I finally lifted up my head an hour later, I scanned the room. I stepped around the tables, chairs, and standing people, glancing at the faces. Gone. Not present. My chance to break the silence of ten years and acknowledge a friendship slipped away. But really, all I wanted was to acknowledge her. For a moment.

    Come on, Mail!

    Yes, Mail, I still use you even though everyone else has moved onto the web clients of gmail and the like…and all the fancy pants mobile email apps.

    I still use you after all these years, and obviously prefer you over Outlook. That old eccentric relative.

    I started using Apple products again after a hiatus of nearly 4 years in college when everyone was using Windows. It was after all where napster and kazaa and the like required Windows…at least to work well. Then when I started working as a RCC, an IT consultant to the lesser-educated residents in the dorms, I started panicking about the security of my well-maintained Windows computer. You see, those lesser-educated residents didn’t know to update their computers frequently and install antivirus. I surely didn’t want any havoc from computers turned into monsters eating anything within its reach.

    So I switched to Apple. I was a hipster then. Really. I had one of the few powerbooks in the area. But within the tech world…I was like everyone else.

    I loved mail. It gave me everything that I needed. Seamlessly. Straight lines. Great integration with everything across the operating system. If there’s a link that said “mailto:someonewhoishouldcall@butididn’”, then you would automatically pop up at the right time.

    Well, typically in most writing, this is where I would say goodbye. But no, that’s not it at all.

    But emailing from the wrong email account! COME ON. If I am replying to an email from my account, don’t suddenly default to my account.

    Yeah, that’s all. For now.

    I am upgrading to Mavericks soon. If your improved self is better, let’s have a good relationship, yeah?