The Off-Season

Kevin Richardson, Ph.D. / Monday, April 28, 2014


In the user experience profession, as in sports and school, there is often a time “between”… between projects, between seasons, between semesters. Call it down-time, the local minima between the peaks of craziness that is consulting or just a short breather before throwing yourself into another business you know little about, it is a special time. As I write this, it is early March, the snow is (finally) beginning to melt here in the northeast United States and there are 4 weeks till motorcycle racing season begins. Like most off-seasons, this one included taking things apart, cleaning them and putting them back together again, replacing old parts with new, and waiting. So much waiting. But to a racer, the off-season is more than cold, dark months spent preparing for the first race. It’s the time when you forget how difficult it is getting up at 4am to get to the track by 7 or how disappointing the final race of the season may have been or just how hot it feels when it’s 105°F in the shade.

Knowing the Path and Walking the Path

It’s a time of unbridled optimism. A time when last season’s unrealized dreams give way to the absolute certainty of next season’s goals. It’s a time when aspirations seem not only possible but inevitable. To paraphrase a line from the first Matrix movie, it’s when you let it all go - fear, doubt and disbelief - and free your mind. I’m serious. Ask me mid-season if I think I can drop a second off my best lap time and I’ll shrug doubtfully and stammer, “Maybe.” Ask me in March and I’ll tell you that 1 second is no problem but that my real goal is five. And I will say that with absolute conviction. The off-season is a time of magic.

The UX Experience

A career in user experience can feel like this. There are times during difficult projects when you’re just not sure you’re cut out for this job. When all your creativity and skill seem to count for little and you wonder if it’s too late to apply for that barista job at Starbucks. When the subject matter seems so complex that you’d swear the clients and users aren’t actually speaking English. These are the moments when we mumble, “I don’t know but I’ll try,” especially when asked if we can come up with an updated design by the end of the week. And yet, these projects end successfully, clients, users and management tend to go home happy, and we, if we’re lucky, get some time to regroup before the next project begins. And somehow, during that “between time”, it happens. The self-doubt fades. The self-confidence reasserts itself. You find yourself looking forward to the next project because you know, without a shadow of a doubt, that there is no challenge that you cannot overcome, no problem that you cannot solve. Magic.

Kevin Richardson has been working in the area of user experience for over 20 years. With an PhD in Cognitive Psychology, he has experience across business verticals in the fields of research, evaluation, design and management of innovative, user-centered solutions.

Kevin’s experience includes web sites, portals and dashboards, enterprise software and custom business applications for medical, pharmaceutical, communications, entertainment, energy, transportation and government users.

On the weekends, you can find Kevin on his motorcycle, riding for Infragistics Racing at a number of different racetracks on the East coast.