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What (X) Taught me about UX

A few viral posts are going around, making fun of the overused format on LinkedIn: What X taught me about X.

You’ve seen them. I got engaged, this is what it taught me about sales. I just went to a funeral, here’s five principles on negotiation tactics.

I’m all for making fun of it. LinkedIn and Medium — and any kind of social media tied to work, really — come across as fake and reaching. But there’s still something to it…I mean, there’s a limit, but we do learn things from everyday life.


Here’s 3 things an aborted takeoff taught me about UX

I‘m in Bulgaria for the week. I travel often enough that I don’t really pay attention anymore; I have my book out, headphones in. But this time — after speeding up and the nose of the plane starting to ascend — I suddenly felt the brakes. The pilots had aborted the takeoff.

Everyone immediately started murmuring and looking around. Eventually, we were told that the airspeed indicators weren’t working. After a few engineers came to take a look, we deplaned, waited on the tarmac, re-planed, and got on our way.

So. Let’s get into it.


Things felt calmer once we were told what the problem was. Could we do anything about it? Absolutely not. But it was nice to know. It gave a sense of control.

When we’re communicating with our users, especially with error messages or other high-friction states, it’s important to clue them in on the status.

To be clear: We were just told, hey, there are basically two speedometers, they’re supposed to show the same reading but they don’t. We weren’t told the aircraft’s pitot-static system is presenting differential discrepancies in indicated airspeed values across the primary and standby airspeed indicators, suggesting potential anomalies in pressure sensor calibration or system integrity.

We’re not engineers. We’re tired passengers, just wanting to know if and when we’ll get to our destination.


Do I wish we could have taken off the first time? Absolutely. But I’m glad we didn’t.

Sometimes what’s best for the user isn’t what they want. Good UX provides safeguards, and takes some decisions away from the user. If an action is going to have major consequences, think about whether or not the user should be the one making that decision. Sometime the answer is yes; other times, destructive actions need to be controlled by the team.

Not that I inherently love the airline industry, but there is a sense of trust. I wouldn’t fly if I felt like things would always go wrong. Just as passengers trust the crew’s judgment, users trust well-designed interfaces that consistently meet their needs and transparently communicate about issues.


The captain knew what he was doing. He knew what the metrics should look like and, when they differed, went through a pre-defined response.

Don’t wait until you’re up in the air to learn. UX designers should anticipate user pain points and design solutions proactively, testing and researching before anything gets released.

Prepare by reading more about design. Trying new things. Reaching out to experts and colleagues. Then, when it’s actually time to design, you’ll be ready.


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