Psychology is something that I constantly use in my design from how my color choices with affect my users to what my users are looking for while navigating a website. It is a muscle that I have exercised since I was a kid. It runs in my blood through my mom’s side of the family. Recently while I was in the middle of my internship with Philips, my grandfather who was a psychologist for the VA passed away. This post isn’t to flex another design muscle. This post is for my grandfather, Peter Furek the man who taught me empathy and compassion for people.
Picture it. A gangly 8 year old girl with long brunette hair, glasses that took up her face because it was the 90’s and they didn’t have children’s glasses, and a NEON YELLOW poodle skirt. Why? Because at my school poodle skirts were all the rage, and I didn’t want a pink one. I hated pink. I wanted to be different, and when my grandmother offered to sew me a poodle skirt of my very own, I CHOSE NEON YELLOW. Now, I did not look nearly as glam as this model on Glam Radar, but you really need to imagine the gloriousness of this dress.
Now you might be wondering what this has to do with psychology, and why we are talking about my 8 year old self. It is important because when I was 8 years old I was part of this “groundbreaking new program” at my school. Are you ready for it? Peer Mediation. Fly your freak flag high, kids because I am here. Peer Mediation at my school involved a few of us wearing absurd shirts, resolving fights on the playground, helping lonely kids getting connected with other kids, and paperwork. Now who in the world trusts a kid with paperwork is beyond me. I’m sure the handwriting was atrocious at best. Peer mediating came easy to me. I found it easy to identify the kids on the playground who needed a friend. Why? Because I was often one of those square peg round holes kids.
And why Peer Mediators? I heard stories of my grandfather helping people whether it was at work or at church. I loved and admired him, and I wanted to be like him. His office was fantastic. It had a huge desk, an extremely loud printer that had corrugated paper, and an entire wall dedicated to his book collections. He enjoyed sharing the things he loved. He pushed me toward psychology and towards writing. Don’t worry, he’s got a book for that.
When I got to highschool, I took every psychology class I could as an elective. There was Sociology with Coach Bliss. Imagine being stuck with that last name. Then there was General Psychology. When I couldn’t get enough of psychology I went for AP Psychology. AP classes allowed you to get college credit if you passed the test. I was CONVINCED that I wanted to be a criminal psychologist. It was driven by my desire to figure out the inner workings of people like Hannibal Lector and the suspense of him helping Clarice solve the case of Buffalo Bill. OI! And The Cell! That one pulled me in deep. Jennifer Lopez in the mind of a serial killer, and playing in his dark recesses. Who wouldn’t want to play in a nightmare? JLo, that’s who.
I had spent a lot of my high school and middle school years counseling my friends. This is something that just came naturally. I can easily read people, identify what they’re trying to say, figure out their motives, put myself in their shoes, and really empathize with them. I had spent phone calls with friends playing word association games and how their choices revealed who they really were. Some of my friends viewed it almost akin to parlor tricks. I just really like observing people and unlocking them like a puzzle.
When it was time for college I was taught that you can’t make a career at art. Art was a past time that brought you joy and fed your soul. It took me YEARS to figure out I could join art and science. It’s embarrassingly obvious that science and design belong together now. In college I took Gen Psych (I didn’t take my AP test in HS), Sociology, Developmental Psychology, Psychology of Human Sexuality, and Abnormal Psychology. Wanna know what derailed my college experience the first time? Math… Our local college enjoyed making money off making people take pre math classes that did not count towards your degree before you finally took college algebra. I hate unnecessary steps, and I had taken 3 pre math classes before I even got to Algebra.
That’s okay, though. Taking a break from school is when I learned that science belongs in design, and I CAN make a living creating things tailored, intended, and perfected for users. I discovered this project after project with school. I was the classmate who POURED into research, dug into scholarly articles, and backed my designs with psychology for the user. That is why I chose to go into UX.
So there you have it… a very brief surface scratch on my love for tickling the mystery of what makes people tick.