UX Design is much more than designing a good user interface. Designing a user experience, whether it is analog, digital or both, involves psychology, cognition, emotions, cultural background, social interactions, context of use in the largest meaning. This makes teaching an excellent background experience to work in UX.
Teachers develop exceptional empathy skills
One golden rule of UX is that you, as a designer, are not the user. Users will feel, think, act differently. You have to put yourself in their shoes if you want to create a good experience for them.
Stepping out of your shoes to put on someone else's is something teachers do every day. It's a necessary part of their job to understand how their students feel, or why they behave like that. All humans have basic empathy skills, but this goes beyond simple emotional empathy (feeling what another is feeling). It's intellectual empathy: understanding how and why someone thinks and acts like that.
It's hard to completely put aside what you know, what you think and feel. As with most skills, it takes practice to become really good at it. Teachers have to understand the thought processes of students who keep making the same mistake, in order to help them out. They have to read the true motivations and feelings hidden behind challenging behaviors, to de-escalate potential conflicts. They do that so often, it's a second nature to them.
So when it comes to stepping into a customer's shoes, teachers are well-equiped.
Teachers are used to manage human cognitive limitations
One of the challenges of UX is to make designs that will support how the human mind actually works.
Teachers are, in a way, experts in human cognition. Their work is entirely directed towards shaping thought processes, enabling their students to acquire knowledge and skills. They know first hand about working memory, cognitive load and short attention span. They have developed strategies to work with them, many of them are similar or directly transferable to user centered design.
Pedagogy is how teachers transform a (dry) curriculum requirement into a fun learning experience. It's not a coincidence if it sounds very similar to transforming product specifications into a compelling customer experience. It's because the same thought processes and skills are used, just in a different context. We could say that pedagogy is to education what UX is to design.
Teachers practice their psychology skills daily
Understanding users’ psychology is essential in creating a good experience.
Teachers often have at least some psychology background through their studies. They also get to test the theories they have learned every day. They observe behaviors, analyze and act upon them based on their training and experience.
Cognitive science and psychology are two essential components in crafting a good user experience. Children, teenagers and adults do differ on some of these aspects, but not so much as we might think.
Teachers constantly harness the power of emotions in the classroom
Emotional design is a relatively new concept, even if emotions have long been used in advertisement and marketing, because strong emotions generate durable memories.
Teachers are used to harness the power of emotions to improve learning. First, emotions sometimes run high, and not always positively, in a classroom. Knowing how to regulate emotions and bring things back to normal is one of their essential skills. This situation could be compared to either angry customers who weren't satisfied by the answers they got, or frustrated ones, who can't figure out how to find what they're looking for. Anticipating and planning for these situations can help appease the customers and win them back. Second, teachers know that having fun, laughing, surprising people are a great way to captivate their audience, and make the learning stick in the mind of their students. In the same way, a designer wants its website or product to be positively remembered.
Teachers take a holistic view of experience design
UX, or Customer Experience, is not limited to the design of a digital interface. You have to think and plan all the facets of an experience linked to a product or a website.
Teachers are used to think of experiences as a whole. When they design a learning experience, they create a situation or problem for their students to solve, they design the learning supports (from paper to websites, including presentations and interactive whiteboard exercises), the activities around them, the interactions between them and the students, or between students, and what's to be done before or after class.
Similarly, UX designers don't just craft a usable interface, but a whole customer experience, encompassing not only the interactions within the website or application, but all the online and offline activities (tweets and Facebook posts by friends, online reviews, customer service, package reception, face-to-face interactions,…). All these aspects are essential in creating a memorable experience and making both students and customers happy.
To sum it up
Of course, most teaching practices take place face-to-face, whereas the designer don't interact directly with users. However, a large number of face-to-face strategies can be transposed to interactions mediated through a website or a product. What's important is for both, teachers and designers, to be able to step in the shoes of their audience.
Working as a teacher gives you practical knowledge and experience in many skills essential to UX design:
- Intellectual empathy is a crucial part of a teacher's job.
- Teachers recognize and manage cognitive limitations on a daily basis.
- Psychology is essential to manage behavior and increase motivation.
- They know how to mitigate negative emotions and foster positive ones.
- They're used to design experience as a sum of different factors.
They honed these skills throughout their career, and that makes them particularly well equiped to work in the UX field.