Why I design: A pivotal early moment in my journey as an interaction designer was a result of spending time with my grandparents in the mountainside of Hiroshima, around 2009. My grandparents were deeply disappointed that it would be years, if ever, before they could meet their newborn great granddaughter in Washington D.C.
As farmers, they were anchored to their land which requires constant maintenance. Additionally, due to my grandmother’s worsening health issues, they feared the journey across the ocean would be too much for them. I took it upon myself to teach the audacious mid-80 year olds how to use a computer so that they could at least meet the baby over the web.
I called the local internet provider, installed a modem and router and showed them the “easy-to-use” iPad (a not-so-easy feat to pull off in my second language). Gathering and setting the tech was surprisingly the simple part; in terms of tech, there was little to no groundwork for them to latch knowledge on to.
In terms of life experiences, they had lived through a world war, beat cancer, and could miraculously grow food out of nothing, but computers had no place in their reality. Teaching them one on one to use computers caused me to question everything I thought was “intuitive" about them. If you've ever tried helping an older family member with technologies, you might understand a bit of my struggles here.
There were countless technological norms that I took for granted, for example the "video camera” icon on Skype. After many futile attempts to get them to click the "video camera" button, they finally admitted it was strange I kept calling the "toppled sake bottle" button a video camera. I had quite a laugh when I heard this haha. From that moment on, I became keenly aware of the countless design details that add up to make information easier to access including clean interfaces, helpful microcopy, inclusive visual icons, sound UI and functional consistency. It led me to care just as much about visual design content as functional specifications. From market research to user flows, wireframes to component libraries, style tiles to branding, VR to print, I've worked towards getting deeply involved with nearly any design discipline that I've had the fortune of being exposed to over my 8+ year career since so that I could become a better, more informed interaction designer.
Through this and other such profound experiences where I witnessed how newcomers without technological associations would navigate modern computers, I was quickly exposed to the importance of culturally inclusive, or universal design and simultaneously, exposing the potential myth of such an idea.
“I want to transform science fiction into human reality.”
It took three months of twice daily "computer lessons", (a total of over 200 hours) to get them to initiate calls to the family, browse the web, and almost as importantly, to troubleshoot the computer for problems all by themselves. I'll never forget how emotional my Grandfather was after calling his great grandchildren.
After successfully calling and hanging up, he looked up at me, proud and emotional, whispering “I was a little older than you when I first saw in movies that people could talk through videotelephony (lit. translation of テレビ電話). At that point the best we could do to communicate far away was to use the electric telegram to send Morse code… videotelephony was pure science fiction, next to teleportation. I didn't think I would be alive long enough to experience actual videotelephones first hand. 世の中 が 変わってきた (Oh the world has changed). I'm so grateful for my health, to be alive so I could experience this future dream right now.”
From that moment on, I decided that's where I wanted to focus my efforts. I wanted to be the designer that is there helping to transform science fiction into human realities, in any capacity. Humanizing technology through design is my main motivation. It's because of future users who are about to be profoundly affected by technology, much like grandparents, that I find joy in designing every day.