To be a better UI/UX designer, go to a foreign country, rent a car, and drive.

Recently I took a holiday to Ireland. It was a fantastic way to decompress from work and escape the hustle and bustle of everyday life. But my trip reminded me what it’s like to feel real user pain.

Doing UI/UX design day in, and day out, it’s very easy to become numb to user pain. You want to make things as easy as possible, but you just can’t feel the pain anymore. Experiencing user pain in some other realm causes you to think about pain points in your own experiences that you may not have noticed.

My brother and I rented a car to drive all over Ireland, see the sights, and drink Guinness. Driving a car on the opposite side of the road wasn’t so bad, and neither was driving from the opposite side of the car. There were some challenges overcoming years of depth perception skew, but for the most part, business as usual. The trouble came while trying to navigate. The street signs are in weird spots, or are non existent. Often times they were located after an intersection. Traffic lights were conflicting, there would be a red light on top and a green arrow pointing forward on bottom. We didn’t understand any of the icons. We were always a little nervous pulling up to an intersection and we were out of our comfort zone. There were cues on what to do, but they were never clear and obvious until it was much too late. We missed turns, exits and ran a few lights along the way but we made it through.

Feeling that powerless was a big eye opener for me. A lot of the signs were absolutely beautiful (great typography/lettering) but they weren’t useful. I would have traded in for more functional signs in that moment. I think that’s what I really took away from my trip. The beauty in design is for your savvy every day user to keep things less mundane; the directives in design are for the people trying to fumble their way through. What we are all trying to achieve is the harmony of the two, form and function.

I see so much emphasis on how something looks and less on why, in todays UI/UX world. It’s not because you don’t want things clear, it’s because you are numb to pain.

A good dose of pain now and again is just what’s needed to keep you looking in the right places. Be a better UI/UX designer. Go to a foreign country, rent a car, and drive.