2017 product-design-existentialism 

Product Design and Existentialism

(Reading Time: 4min)

shortlink: uxin.io/11

Jaime LevyJaime Levy
UX Strategist, Author, Professor, Public Speaker

"And so, onwards...along a path of wisdom, with a hearty tread, a hearty confidence...however you may be, be your own source of experience. Throw off your discontent about your nature. Forgive yourself your own self. You have it in your power to merge everything you have lived through—false starts, errors, delusions, passions, your loves and your hopes—into your goal, with nothing left over." —FRIEDRICH NIETZSCHE, HUMAN, ALL TOO HUMAN

Sometimes, products never see the light of day, and typically never for reasons that you can expect or control. Financial crises, teams burning out, new technologies arriving, personal motivation, broken relationships, and more are a lot of variables beyond a UX strategy that will come into play.

I think it’s important that we remember there are many risks in life—some professional and others personal, and often it is impossible to separate the two. Take, for instance, my maternal grandfather, Alex Zindler. He was born in 1907 in Tarnopol, Poland (now Ternopil, Ukraine). His earliest memory was watching the walls of his home crumble apart under heavy artillery during one of the many large- scale targeted attacks, or pogroms, against Jews . During one of these pogroms, his younger siblings were all killed.* His father died before he turned six. Then came World War I (1914–1918), which lasted until he was 11 years old. His country’s name, the national language, and the street signs changed seven times while German, Austrian, and Russian forces surged back and forth, stamping their identity upon the town.

In 1923, when Alex was 16, he and his mother Ronya fled Poland to avoid suffering further persecution . In search of a better life, they made their way by train to Antwerp, Belgium and boarded a ship bound for Quebec City, Canada. Tragically, though, on the way to North America, Ronya contracted cholera and died. A heartbroken Alex vividly remembered watching his mother be buried at sea.

Alex arrived in Quebec City a penniless, non–English speaking orphan with the threat of deportation back to a country he had just fled. Thankfully, a priest on board vouched for him so that he was able to stay. But Alex had to pay back the huge cost of the ship’s passage to the priest, an enormous financial debt. To do that, he apprenticed as a tailor in Toronto for two years. By his late teens, he was enjoying his freedom, making lots of friends, and had taken up boxing as a hobby.

(Photo of Alex Zindler (right) and his friend Irving roth in 1925)

For several years he practiced boxing, but a blow to his face during one of his fights caused a serious cataract to develop in one eye. After a botched surgery to repair it, Alex found himself blind in that eye with only a weak eye to get by. Many would have become discouraged or let this physical handicap limit their activites. But not Alex. He married, settled in Winnipeg, Manitoba, and had three children. To support his family, he worked with difficulty for more than 25 years as a dry cleaner presser. In 1957, at the age of 50, Alex suffered a major heart attack and became completely blind. Two years later, his wife passed away, leaving him alone to raise their youngest son.

But my Grandpa Alex didn’t let these new tragedies trap him into a life of despair or failure. Instead, he faced his fear and got out of the house. Alex took mobility training so that he could travel independently by bus. He joined a blind bowling league and exercised at a gym. He encouraged his son to obtain the best education possible, because learning was everything to him.

But it was technology that gave Alex the most freedom. He was a true audiophile, buying the best possible gear for recording audio and listening to his massive record collection. He became a voracious consumer of books on tape and devoured the latest New York Times best-selling books.

In his 60s, through a nonprofit cooperative organization of recorder owners called the Voicespondence Club, Alex’s social network expanded. Club members worldwide would use reel-to-reel tapes (and later cassette tape) to exchange stories about their daily lives, political meanderings, and even bootleg musical recordings. The club was basically the analog version of Facebook-meets-Napster. The cassette tape also was how he corresponded with my family in Los Angeles from Canada. My grandfather passed away in 1981 when he was 74 . But thanks to his recordings that I heard as a child, I’ll never forget his Polish accent and the uplifting stories he shared.

When you are a startup founder, product director, and even UX designer, building a digital product is a deeply personal path that can seem like a make-or-break life event. We pour our savings, health, and emotions into value propositions that we hope will change users’ lives. But as inventors, we need to accept that failure, while an insurmountable barrier to some, might be an essential part of our product’s journey toward success. We need to be like my grandfather—a man who did not allow the difficulties in his life to define the outcome of it. Instead, he kept pivoting, trying to live his life to the fullest, and he even found a means of using technology to do so.

* http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ternopil


Jaime Levy

UX Strategist, Author, Professor, Public Speaker

Jaime Levy is an American author, lecturer, interface designer, and user experience strategist. She first became known for her groundbreaking new media projects... more
@jaimelevy about #Design (1) #UX (1)

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