“And you found a User Experience designer job there?” The question was still ringing in my head as I stepped off the plane into the hot evening air of the Caribbean island Curaçao. Not a surprising thing to ask – when someone tells you they are moving to a tropical island, your first thought is that they are taking a sabbatical or have decided to become a diving instructor.
Before moving to Curaçao I worked in London, the place to be for funky design, web development and UX consultancy. From dog-walking to vegan baking and from carpooling to working out together, you can be sure that there is a London-born app for that. Dynamic start-ups are popping up like mushrooms to realize such ideas in refurbished warehouses transformed into creative hubs.
For my friends and colleagues, it was therefore an unexpected move to try my hand at User Experience Design in a remote location on the other side of the world. For me, it was a calculated one. Risky? Sure. But I needed a change, a breath of fresh air (quite literally) – an opportunity to make a difference in a world that wasn’t already filled to the brim with solutions for ‘first-world problems’. Curaçao presented that opportunity.
A change of perspective
I am currently six months into my job as a UX designer in a software company on the island and I have noticed that UX is still a bit of an alien concept here, which has yet to make a name for itself. “I am a UX designer” does not result in the same understanding reactions as in other parts of the world. Yet, it is an exciting new world full of opportunities and room for growth. One where I am excited every day to walk into my office and get cracking.
Through a series of four articles, I will offer some reflections on UX on Curaçao and how it differs from places such as the UK and the Netherlands. This will hopefully be inspiring to designers in the Western world as well as to those considering a location change.
The facts: UX is in its infancy
Nothing brings a message home as unambiguously as a simple Google search. A search for “UX design Curaçao” results in 223,000 hits, of which none are job vacancies and many are not even about Curaçao. Tellingly, one page that promises in its title to tell me about “the best UX examples in Curaçao” then crushes hopes and dreams with the message: “No UX design work in Curaçao yet. Be the first!”
In contrast, the same search results in 2.5 million hits for London, and 325,000 for Amsterdam, both featuring pages upon pages of actual UX job ads, courses and agencies.
Reflection 1: UX still offers a Unique Selling Point
There simply isn’t a lot of UX on Curaçao. Of course, it is a small island – it houses roughly 154 thousand inhabitants, versus London’s 9 million and Amsterdam’s 800 thousand. However, it also has a strategic geographical location and is home to international businesses and large software and consulting corporations. There is a lot more to Curaçao than meets the eye and the lack of UX does not match the range of products it delivers.
Educating our clients: What is UX and why do I need it?
On the bright side, in a world where UX is not as ubiquitous, it is a Unique Selling Point for businesses that can communicate its value to their clients. Therefore, we are always finding new ways to answer that ever-present client question: “what is UX and why do I need it?”
The software company where I work has fortunately embraced UX and employs 2% UX designers (that’s two of us). As a UX department, we feel responsible for not only representing our users, but also educating our clients on the value of UX. We do this by quoting studies that found huge Return on Investment values for usability and by showing videos of users struggling through processes that are not thought through.
On an everyday level we also do this by simply doing our jobs right, showing our faces in the right meetings and digging our heels in on those changes that will have a big usability impact. It is a challenging journey. The quality and impact of a developer’s work is easy to see for a client – the application either works or it does not. For UX design it is a lot more nuanced and, as in most companies, there isn’t always time to do the user research that shows the usability effects.
Motivation from user-satisfaction
Fortunately, acknowledgement and motivation for a UX designer do not only come from the explicit “well done” from a client or project manager. I live for those moments where a user says: “Oh, this works so much better now,” or: “Finally I can do [insert great new function]”. These are the examples we draw on to show the value of UX and explain to our clients why they need it. These moments form our showcase and motivate us to do even better next time. They balance out those moments where a client turns to me after a multidisciplinary team meeting and generously says: “Now you can go off and give it some nice colors.”
Clearly, we are not quite there yet, but we are on our way. Using these strategies and repeating the message helps to give our business that extra edge and advocate the value and use of UX. And it is needed. In my next article I will reflect on the state of UX in local websites and software as I encounter them in my job and in my everyday life. Stay tuned!