All day, I think about user experience. I create wireframes and worry over making every interaction on the site I’m designing intuitive. I often scoff at disorganized interfaces that don’t put information or controls where the user needs them.
In my personal life, however, I seem to do things in the most unintuitive way possible. I have a habit of cramming things into what can only be described as ‘rat holes’. Tiding up for me usually means throwing stuff into the nearest cabinet and shutting the door really fast. Every few months, fed up with things tumbling out in a heap when I open a cabinet, I go into turbo-Art-of-Tidying-Up-meets-The-Purge mode and beat the dark corners back into submission.
It lasts for ~5 days. After that, all my careful organization has already devolved back into chaos.
During my last major cleaning phase, I finally realized my problem isn’t that I have too much stuff, or that I’m just bad at putting things away nicely. The real problem is that the things I use aren’t where I use them. To put it in web design terms, I had a cluttered website with confusing navigation.
For someone who gets paid to create great experiences, I’d created a pretty crappy UX in my home. So I tackled this problem the way I tackle a design problem.
Defining the problem
When I’m not noodling around with pixels, I like to make things IRL. People even ask me to paint or sew things for them. For money! And yet… I can never bring myself to delve into my many hide-y holes to get my supplies. The sewing machine is in the bedroom closet, paint brushes are rolling around in a kitchen drawer, and most of my fabric is stacked in a cabinet where I also keep vases and stationery.
By the time I’ve extracted my sewing machine from the back of the closet and pawed through countless tubes of dried paint to find the few good ones, I’m too tired to work on my project. Not to mention I’ve left an avalanche of hats and gift wrapping tubes piled in my wake. I don’t have the space to have a dedicated studio for my crafting (who am I, Martha Stewart?). So how can I access the things I need, when I need them, without introducing clutter?
This sounds like a design challenge to me, and the first step when designing a user experience is to define the problem with a statement.
How does the user (me) navigate the experience (my apartment) to perform the tasks I need to accomplish (make cat portrait pillows at the kitchen table)?
The dreaded “More” menu conundrum.
I have a large closet under the stairs (think Harry Potter’s bedroom at the Dursley’s) that I use to store food, the vacuum, and …. lots of other cruft. The cruft includes inner tubes for river floats, a cat carrier, some rope, etc. It just seemed like it should go there when I moved in. But I realized I was wasting a huge storage space in the most used area of my home by throwing rarely used items deep into it’s recesses where they compact into the tiny triangular crevice.
Sticking often used items deep in a closet is like hiding your primary action inside a nondescript dropdown menu. I would never do that in my professional work. Why am I doing it to my home?
Rethinking where I put my crap … ahem, belongings.
When I plan the navigation for an app or site, I create a flow diagram and make notes of all the actions the user should be able to take on each page. We all do a form of this in life when moving houses. We label boxes with pillows, blankets, and stuffed animals “bedroom”. The box of toiletries goes in the bathroom. The hard to define stuff goes into the “Misc.” box, and usually gets shoved in the largest closet or in the garage.
But if you actually want to use something from the miscellaneous box often, shouldn’t it have a better place than under the baseball trophies and next to the snow skis? (Note: I don’t actually own either of those things.)
This is why starting with the activities is important. By defining all the activities you do in your home, and where you do them, you can make better decisions about where to put things and how easy they are to access. After listing the activities I perform in each space, I realized I do most of my creating in the kitchen. Meanwhile, most of my creative supplies were upstairs… in the back corner of the extra bedroom closet.
Slaying my clutter demons.
I rescued my art and sewing supplies from their oft-forgotten existence and put them in plastic drawers that slid nicely into the cupboard under the stairs. If creative inspiration strikes, I can simply walk in, find what I need and work at the kitchen table. All the rarely used objects that floated around in the back of that closet found a new home upstairs where they could gather dust in peace. Since I made this change, I’ve done so much more sketching. I’ve even successfully put my materials back where they belong. 🎉
So that’s how I UX’ed (that’s a verb right?) my house. Any other designers out there put their problem solving skills to work IRL? Tell us about it in the comments!