I need to explain what a UX designer does to a class of 7 year olds. I don't want to say that I just draw a website and someone else "makes" it. How would you go about it?

EDIT: I know there is a similar question that has been answered already. However, the target audience is significantly different. You can't compare cognitive abilities of non-tech adults and 7 year olds (unless those adults are mentally impaired in some way). My question is how to explain it to children and not adults.

  • @rk. I think the target audience is different enough for this to be considered it's own question. – Graham Herrli Apr 23 '13 at 19:37
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    @3nafish I was a bit unsure of how it would be different, but your answer made it clear. Nice answer by the way :) – JohnGB Apr 24 '13 at 16:52

(Fill in the curly braces { } below with whatever fits.)

Hiya kids!
My job's making websites fun. Who can name a website?
[Open the website if there's a computer available. Have a local kids' site ready if none of the kids respond. If no computer is available, make a large paper prototype ahead of time.]

[The following should explain information architecture]
I make it so that people can find the information they're looking for. Now, when I open this site, you can see there are a lot of different things you can click on. Suppose I want to find information about {dinosaurs}. How would I go about finding that? [Wait for a kid to answer.] Yes! Now, if you'd never been to this site before, how would you know that that was the right button to click on? [Wait for some answers.] Exactly! You noticed the {picture of a dinosaur}. For my job, I help make it easy for people to find the information they're looking for. So for example, to let you know that clicking there would tell you more about {dinosaurs}, the designer could have put any type of {dinosaur, but she put the T-Rex. How many of you recognize the T-Rex?} [Wait for them to raise hand.] Almost everyone! See that makes it clearer than if the site used a {dinosaur} that not many of you knew. The designer chose that {dinosaur} to make it easy to find what you're looking for.

[interaction design]
Another thing we designers do is make it so that when you look at a page things do what you expect. Who can tell me something on this page that's clickable? [Get response.] Yes! That's right {that T-Rex is clickable}. [Get a couple more responses. Congratulate each.] Now, I'll bet the reason you knew that was clickable was because it looks like a button. A button on a web page looks a lot like a real-world button, so you know you can press it. Can someone tell me about a button you've pressed in the real world? [If you don't get responses, be prepared to suggest watch buttons, phone buttons, alarm clocks, and have one ready to demonstrate.] See, you all know that you can press these real-world buttons. By making the buttons on the website look like this button, I show that you can press them too. We designers try to make it so that computers do what you expect.

[user research]
The last thing I'm going to tell you about is how I know if websites are working well. I talk to a lot of people to ask them questions about how they use the site. I'm going to ask you some questions right now, so you can help me find out how well this website works! See, I know that {it's important to eat a lot of vegetables}, so I want to know if the site makes it easy to find information about {vegetables}. Who can name some {vegetables}? [Gather several responses.] That's right! Now, can someone tell me where you might click to find out some more about {vegetables}? [If there's a wrong answer, thank the student for helping you to find a part of the design that was hard to use. Continue the "study" until the students begin to get bored.] See, now that's what a designer does. We help make computers fun and easy to use. Does anyone have any questions?

(The above is based on my own experience teaching technology classes to a slightly older audience last year. The three main categories of information architecture, interaction design, and user research were suggested by A Project Guide to UX Design.)

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    Wow! +10 if only SE would let me... – Marjan Venema Apr 23 '13 at 20:31
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    I can only echo the above comment. Incredibly well answered! – Daniel Meade Apr 24 '13 at 0:24
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    All I can say is wow and thanks. This really helps – mijata Apr 24 '13 at 14:00

I believe @3nafish has a very thorough answer. If I could add something, I would maybe consider taking along a tablet, and using that as a base of your talk. I've seen young children just intuitively understanding how to use tablets, so depending on where you live in the world, they may have experience using it.

Then pick an app (or a set of apps) to demonstrate different aspects of what you do every day. Maybe pick a game, and "deconstruct it" by asking them lots of questions to understand what they like/dislike, and communicate that back to them as user research.

When it comes to interaction, let them interact with the tablet, and show an intuitively easy interface (maybe a drawing app?), vs a more challenging interface (anything with text input might be "difficult enough"). Explain that you want to make things that are easy to use for everyone.

You could explain information architecture through some kind of library app, and asking them to find a book (or different kinds of books), but this may depend too much on their reading ability.

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