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Show and Tell in UX

What Show and Tell Taught Me About Being an Experience Designer


In kindergarten, in the US at least, we had show and tell, at least my school did. Well, maybe it was first or second grade, I can’t remember. Each day we would have a student bring in something. This artifact was usually from around the house, and parents usually helped out, again from what I remember. Students would bring this artifact to the front of the class and “show” it. They would tell the class what the artifact was, it’s purpose, perhaps it’s personal history, etc. From there, other students might ask questions about the artifact, or discuss what the artifact means to them. At times the teacher would interject with learning opportunities. Wikipedia refers to this activity as a chance for students to learn public speaking. However, I think it’s also about being aware of the world around you and connectin to that world. Further, it provides opportunity for other children to see new artifacts, and (just as important) to discuss those artifacts and their relationship to them.

Show and Tell in Interviews

As I’ve been interviewing this past week for a full time job, I’ve been reflecting quite a lot. One thing that has hit me is how much, despite all that I know, I keep trying to tell when I really need to show. Instead of showing some images of my process and walking through a project, I tended to ‘tell’ about my process and just show the final outcome. While the final outcome is important, it’s more important to show how you got there. What methods were used, what assumptions made, what research was conducted, what processes were in place, and where did things fail and succeed. Show, show, show, and then tell as you show.

Show and Tell in Documentation

Wireframe Walkthrough As practioners of user experience, I think we also fall into the ‘tell’ instead of ‘show’ trap. One of the top artifacts we seem to produce (going on some assumptions here) is documentation. We produce design specs that are 60 or more pages in length. They likely have some pretty pretty pictures in them, but are very wordy and lenghty. And this makes sense, considering our higher education system. Wireframes and mockups fail at showing an experience. User flows and diagrams might start to get at this, but still fall short. These artifacts still ‘tell’ the experience, as they are accompanied by explanatory text, instead of ‘showing’ the experience.

As a field, I think we need to take lessons from our kindergarten classes. We need to show more and tell less. One way in which we can start showing more and telling less is through prototypes. Prototypes allow us to show an experience to clients and users rather than telling and explaining. Our world is complex, and our designs are often complex as well, by showing instead of telling perhaps we can push our field further and focus more on human beings.

Image: Kindergarten class by chesirekat
Image: Wireframe Walkthrough by carriejeberhardt

Leave a comment

  1. Thanks for writing this, JW. This is something I say all the time, but from a writer’s perspective rather than from a reminiscent perspective. The fact is, people don’t care until you give them something to care about. If you want a stakeholder to care about an experience you’re designing, give them something rich to work with, like a sound byte from user research, etc. Don’t tell me people are frustrated with the way things are, provide examples so I can see it for myself.

    I think this is why I like sketchnotes, too. Sketchnotes show the way my brain processes information in a visual way that others can relate to; by studying my sketchnotes, others are able to interpret and make their own meaning. And that’s the heart of show and tell, right?