As a UX researcher, I have become more aware over time that UX research and design methods have spilled into my life, or maybe I have just become more aware of their presences. As an artist, I have been aware that art depicts life as art depicts life. Combining these thoughts, one can argue that UX imitates life imitates UX just as art imitates life imitates art.
Everyday, at least for me, life is never moving in a straight line. Life moves fast and there are bumps around every corner. What we thought was going to be our biggest obstacle that day could turn out to be something else. What we thought would be the solution to our problem may not actually help at all. Asking people for help can make it better. Sitting in silence can help us gather our thoughts and give us clearer ideas. We’re constantly problem-solving and looking for outlets for our well-beings.
There is a saying that art imitates life imitates art. To describe this at a high level, Vincent van Gogh’s sunflower paintings are paintings of real sunflowers. Now, at least for me, we see sunflowers and may quickly think of his paintings. We may even purchase flowers with the intent to make the room feel like a painting. On a more existential level, it, unfortunately, is not a radical idea that one can argue that Pablo Picasso’s Guernica may be an accurate depiction of the current state of the world as well as how history repeats itself. This is a painting of a real and tragic event, depicted in cubism to express chaos, and it translates just as well today as it did in 1937.
From a tech standpoint, user interfaces can imitate life from virtual reality, artificial intelligence, accessibility, apps that remind and reward us to water our plants, etc. User interfaces are just as prevalent in our daily lives as art is, but we use these user interfaces to get through life, so they have to mimic life to help us through the day. It’s clear that art imitates life imitates art in the visual world, but it also goes beyond that.
Art imitating life imitating art goes beyond visuals and into the realms of research, thought, and practice. For instance, take a look at the UX double diamond (below). In UX, we approach a project with a problem space and then explore the space through series of analyses, interviews, tests, etc. to better define our problem. From here, we ideate different approaches to the problem and execute these ideas to eventually get to the solution. But maybe our approach could have been different, so we go back and re-define our problem, ideate new solutions, try again, and eventually we get to that solution. Does this not apply to life?
In life, we are given daily tasks and obstacles, some larger than others. Do we not go through this double diamond process to try to solve these problems? Perhaps we don’t affinity map our issues or sit down with our friends to draw a storyboard of how to best approach a situation, but our thought process may be going through these steps. It may look something like:
What’s the issue?…Okay, let me think about it, maybe talk to my friend about what they think…After some thought, I think I should approach it in this certain way…Okay, that way didn’t work, let me rethink this…Okay, I’m trying it differently this time…Okay, cool, the issue is resolved.
In life like in UX, we are always overcoming obstacles and solving problems. We go through experiences in tech just as we would in life, so why would it not translate into each other? One thing that this process has taught me, aside from making me more aware of my own problem-solving methods outside the field, is to trust the process. We can think over and over again on an issue and not find an easy solution right away. When this happens in a UX project, it is encouraged to trust the process and see where it takes us instead of scrambling for an idea. The best solutions don’t come from rushed thoughts. Applying this approach to life reduces the stress we may have while waiting for an answer— we’re not always going to have our answer by the end of the day.
Going back to the double diamond, you’ll notice that the diamonds have two labels each. Design or do the right thing, and design or do the things right. In UX, we need to design the right experiences for our users and design them right. If we ignore our users’ problems, or focus on something different, we can’t design right by our users. Without defining what the problem is to grasp the right thing to design, we cannot design it right or get to that solution our users need.
This translates into life in the sense that, if we ignore our problems in life, we can’t resolve them. Ignoring or focusing on the wrong part of a problem can end up hurting us or even the people around us. Even if we’re not ignoring our problems and just going about them the wrong way, those problems still don’t go away. Comparing these perspectives and approaches to the UX double diamond can show the importance of how we look and approach obstacles in our lives. It represents a natural and rational way to define and solve an issue. We, as humans, solve problems to get out of them and to reduce the stress in our day-to-day, so naturally we want to do the right thing to fix it.
At the end of the day, one can argue that UX imitates life imitates UX because UX practitioners are people solving people’s problems, just in tech instead of at a philosophical level. UX is all about problem-solving, so it makes sense that it would take natural human tendencies and thought processes, build them into the process, and then funnel those practices back into our day-to-days. With that, I want to challenge you to compare your own problem-solving methods to the UX double diamond and see what you find.
Picasso, Pablo. Guernica. 1937, Museo Reina Sofía, Madrid.
Salvador Dalí. The Persistence of Memory. 1931, The Museum of Modern Art, New York.
Gauguin, Paul. Vincent van Gogh Painting Sunflowers. 1888, Van Gogh Museum.