I am currently making a conscious effort to get out a bit more. That’s a depressing thing to say, isn’t it?

But there’s two parts to this. The first is that I am a remote worker – which I absolutely adore – but I am currently required to stay in one place because I’m in a play in March. So where I’d usually be off gallivanting about, I’m currently a little more… static. My office is my apartment. It has everything I need.

But more importantly than that, I feel like I’ve been neglecting the UX community of late. Being abroad, my face hasn’t been seen at any meetups or conferences and frankly I feel a little out of the loop. I’ve long wanted to give a talk at one of these things and for that reason I’ve thrown myself right in at the deep end and I’ll be hosting a 20-minute session at UX Camp Brighton on March 9th, 2019. But more on that after I’ve done it.

A friend of mine works at a primary school in West London who, this week, have been hosting a ‘Creative Arts Week’ –

“to expose the kids to as many different fields in the arts as possible and show them that you can make a career out of your talents and passions”.

She got in touch and asked if I’d like to be involved. So I said yeah, why the hell not – let’s get some kids thinking about UX.

Cue two weeks of panicking when I realise that I have absolutely no idea how to talk to 11-year-olds.

What was I like when I was 11 (other than a contrary nerd)? I don’t want to go ‘too young’ and treat them like idiots or babies. No one likes that. I also don’t want to launch into some spiel about mental models and eye tracking software to be met with a room full of blank faces who can’t wait for me to leave. I double check with my friend at the school – yes, they all use the internet. Yes, they all have access to apps and smartphones and such; even if they don’t have their own, they’re using their parents’.

I know I want to start with a little bit about what UX is, and why it’s necessary. I have an idea for how to begin this. I ask: “Who’s used the internet?” Every hand goes up, and I get scoffs of, “yeah, obviously”. Perfect. I explain to them what it was like back in 1999, when I was their age. I show them an image of a funny cat on my presentation which takes nearly 20 seconds to load. They lose their minds.

I started with this because it showed straight away how much we’ve come to expect from the websites, apps, and software we use on a daily basis. Could you imagine waiting 20 seconds every time you wanted to see a photo?! Or a website with a wall of text that doesn’t really make any sense, where you’ve got to hunt down the thing you’re looking for. Where there’s so many insane colours and animations that you can’t actually read anything. (Actually, as an aside, Marvel have just released an amazingly 90’s website for the new Captain Marvel movie. It’s a real nostalgia-fest. It’s got a visitor counter and everything).

A screenshot of the Captain Marvel website, 2019

We go on to talk about how the internet got faster, and better, and people start to expect much, much more from the websites and software they were using – especially when smartphones and apps meant that everything was available at a tap, on the go. What really strikes me is that these kids have no real basis for comparison; they don’t know what a pain everything used to be, which of course means that every single generation brings greater expectations for the usability of each service we create. That’s one of many reasons we can never afford to stand still – ever.

But what I enjoyed most about today was getting these kids to design something of their own. A video service, for 11-year-olds. Everything they liked about Netflix, YouTube, Amazon Prime – and nothing they didn’t. Only things that 11-year-olds would love.

I was nervous about this task. What if no one in that room understood what I was asking of them? We only had 10 minutes for the design work before they needed to present back. But my apprehensiveness was totally unjustified. These kids took to wireframing like fish to water. There were boxes with crosses through them everywhere. It brought a little tear to the eye…

But better than that, they really understood the notion of designing for your users – frankly, something that an awful lot of adults fail to grasp(!). There were designs focussed on providing age-appropriate content (no swearing and nothing naughty). They split videos into genres so you could easily find the gaming ones (Fortnight, ahem) or the Peppa Pigs. Recommendations were provided based on a combination of what’s new, what other people liked watching, what you’d watched before, and what your friends had looked at. Slightly hilariously, a lot of the groups also monetised their services – though they were very clear that adverts should be age-appropriate, skippable, and unobtrusive. By jove, they got it. They really got it!

So, what am I trying to say here? Firstly I just wanted to tell everyone about this very cool experience. I’m so glad I did it. Because secondly, we really should get kids thinking about this stuff! It doesn’t matter whether they all go on to be UXers or not (I’d feel very smug if they all did) – but with a basic understanding of how to improve the user experience at all levels in their future careers, we can get everyone working towards the same goal. Let’s raise kids to think about the people they’re creating things for and communicating to, and to feed back when something’s not good enough. With everyone making user-centred decisions, wouldn’t the world be lovely?

Here’s a few snaps from the day! Excuse the quality; they’ve been quite dramatically cropped to remove any kids from view.