Teaching Teenagers About UX

I didn’t always know I’d end up in UX, obviously. I remember anxiously trying to figure out what I should major in as a teenager.
Sam O'Hara, UX Designer at 16

Me at 16. Is that a floppy disk drive in the lower left corner?

I knew I had to land on a degree before I picked a college, but it was 1996 and the most I could narrow it down to was “something to do with computers or… art?”

My mom suggested I chat with a family friend who was a graphic designer, and – just like that – I was introduced to the world of digital design. I found my niche in web and interactive instead of posters and brochures, but I’ll forever be grateful for that moment when a world of possibilities opened up.

Last week I was invited back to Northwest Christian High School, for a second year, to give a presentation on my career path. One year ago, I talked to a class full of teenagers who were convinced that game design was the only tech career worth having, which makes sense. Video games are sometimes the first technology that kids are exposed to, and they’re certainly designed around and marketed towards them.

So my goal this time around was to give a bit of a glimpse into that world of possibilities I experienced. Not just to give an intro to what UX is, but to design a simple hands-on UX project that gave the class a better feel of how UX helps people use things better.

First, I gave the presentation (numbers were correct as of February 18th, 2016.)

Then, I had the class sit down and look at their school’s website – specifically the navigation, which was a left sidebar of twenty-five different choices. We talked about who the different users of the site were, and how easy or difficult it might be for these user groups to find what they were looking for within that list. We started a card sorting session, and they caught on quickly. They always kept the user groups in mind as they thought about what would be expected under each category they created, and by the end, we had this:


I was super proud of them. With eight streamlined categories (down from twenty-five) grouped according to what each user group would be looking for, the students all felt it was a great improvement on the current layout. When it was time for me to leave, most of the class was trying to convince their teacher to get permission to ACTUALLY change the website’s navigation, and I smiled to myself.

Mission accomplished.

About the Author

Sam O'Hara

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Sam O'Hara is a Seattle user experience designer, currently working for Pacific Lutheran University. When not UXing, she loves traveling with her husband and daughter, shooting and editing film, most geek culture, and a great craft cider. She once named a cat Tendency. He didn't seem to mind.

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