Why Working in The Service Industry Made Me a Better UX Designer
I’ve been thinking a lot about my journey to and through UX lately. I know that it’s a common occurrence among most half self taught , half bootcamp educated graduates and designers for many different disciplines.
Recently, during an interview I was asked what kind of skills I believed I possessed that lent themselves to User Experience from my past, shall we say, semi professional life, and something dawned on me that I constantly think of but never really say out loud:
If User Experience design starts with the user, with listening, understanding, empathizing with a person who is not you, then I have been practicing the art UX for way longer than I’ve had the title of UX Designer.
Let me break it down and explain a little more about what I mean.
I worked in the hospitality industry for over seven years. I’ve done everything from prep, to high volume FOH (Front of House) service, to bartending, to working with catering coordinators and handling private, large scale events and dinners.
I’ve been in the midst of chaos, making manhattans and explaining to customers that while it might not seem like it, their food, in fact, was coming out just as soon as possible.
So, how does this connect and converge with the inner working of User Experience and delight?!
I know how to talk to people.
I have been doing it for as long as I can remember. I am an expert in reading a room, guessing someone’s mood, creating an experience that will leave them deeply satisfied and willing to come back for more. I can create and craft a memorable time for a stranger who I spent five minutes talking to.
I have no ego to speak of. None.
This lends itself to UX design more than most things. I’m not afraid to get my feelings hurt, and I am constantly open to new ideas, even if they don’t come from my own hand. I don’t have to check my ego at the door, I don’t bring it with me. I can accept other opinions and integrate them into my own if it makes sense.
Observation. Constant Observation.
I see more than I say, and I see a lot. I am always looking outward rather than inward and have mastered the subtle art of seeing more and speaking less. In the UX design world, that goes further than I thought it would. This allows me to understand stakeholders, developers, other designers, marketing teams, heads of growth, CEOs, you name it.
One of the golden rules of working in any kind of restaurant environment is that if you don’t know how to effectively speak to the people on your team or around you, you aren’t going to do well. A great FOH runs like a machine. And it takes everyone understanding one another to make that machine run perfectly. If you don’t speak, you won’t be heard by anyone and in turn, won’t last too long.
I have set up so many events, so many bars. I have decided the perfect placement for an appetizer tray so that guests can quickly move from one choice to another without bottle necking in a room that isn’t big enough for one hundred and fifty of a bride and grooms closest friends. You get the idea. And IA, as it turns out, makes or breaks the UX of any digital product or space. Being able to understand IA beyond a website or app is a skill that is practiced more than it is learned.
When you’re serving, your ability to make the most out of a shift depends on how good you are at making your guests feel like there are the only ones in the room. You have to want to do well, otherwise you aren’t going to make money. Anybody can be a good designer, but it takes more than that to add value to a design team.
Tangible Problem Solving
Bartending is basically a really hard hill you are trying to climb. One right after the other. With no warning and a very limited list of resources. I can figure out solutions, more than one, very, very quickly. You have to, otherwise you’ll be weeded (behind, very behind. Nothing is going right and you can’t see the light at the end of the tunnel, the tunnel is on fire and everyone is yelling at you.) Because I have been faced with this time of thing in the real world, creating solutions digitally isn’t nearly as terrifying of difficult as figuring out why four guests left you nothing and wrote an awful yelp review.
When thinking about the connections between UX design and service industry work, it’s not even a leap to say that having to work with people not only makes you a better person, but it makes you a better designer.
You’re quick on your feet, stressed out or overwhelmed tends to not be in your vocabulary, and even if you don’t know it yet, you know most people and how they’ll react.
What I’m really trying to say, what I’ve said before, is that UX design is not just creating something pretty. It’s not just testing and writing interview questions and mastering interaction design.
UX is not just a digital phrase, but a human one.
If you’ve ever served, worked on a line, or been elbow deep in simple syrup and red wine floats, think about transferring your skillset to User Experience. Trust me, you’ve already been doing it, you just didn’t know it!