A wonky red teapot with an unnaturally bent spout standing on top of a block with a purple U and a block with a navy blue X on a yellow background.

Why We Should Teach UX Design to Children

As I’ve learned more about user experience design in graduate school and read a lot about it online, I realized that most people in the field are like me: we only started to learn about UX as adults doing other things.

The only evidence of professionals teaching children and teens about UX I could find were articles about isolated workshops. These include a bring-your-kid-to-work day activity hosted by Caryn Gallis and a Girls in STEM event in New York.

This is actually a huge problem. Apps and websites designed by UXers and corporations rule over our lives, but not everyone understands how critical a good, ethical user experience is.

As Mike Montiero frequently documents and as headlines continue to show, this has lead to societal turmoil.

Part of this turmoil comes from the Silicon Valley philosophy of moving fast and breaking things. This has lead to both improvements and problems in society. However, do you know who should really move fast and break things? Kids.

We Teach Them About Other Critical Jobs

Kids learn that a firefighters save people from burning buildings. They also learn that doctors and surgeons help them when they are sick and injured.

Children should also learn that UX designers make all of their apps, games, and software usable and fun.

Even though UX is in everything touch, most of these jobs are tied to the technology we use. It is the reason why we are addicted to social media, why many parents ignore their kids to play on their phones, or why our politics are polarized by party-based echo-chambers.

If kids can start learning about UX at a younger age, they’ll have more time to experiment with it. The more they experiment, the closer they get to designing in a way that helps the common good instead of harms it.

Even if most children never go on to work in UX, most of them also never become firefighters or doctors.

We are still better off having kids know about all of these jobs because they learn to respect their importance. Even if they don’t design apps, they would be equipped to demand better.

There Aren’t Enough of Us

According to Profiles, user experience design is one of the most in-demand jobs of today, but many employers are finding themselves lacking a qualified pool of applicants to choose from.

Part of this stems from the lack of junior designer roles that would allow these employers to train new people to do the job in the way they’d like it due to a lack of resources.

Part of this is also how many people only find out about UX when they’re already in another career.

Many people who switch their careers to UX work tirelessly to enter the field, but most people aren’t willing to make that commitment.

If tomorrow’s designers had more time to choose UX before they entered the workforce, there would be more of them. This would help them prepare to tackle major design projects because they would have more time to train.

Parents: The Kids Will Earn More

Let’s say you’re a well-meaning parent who just wants the best for your kid. They find out about about user experience design and they tell you they want to study to enter the field.

You’ve never heard of the field and now you’re worried about if your child can make a living in it.¬†

¬†Luckily, the Creative Group’s 2020 salary guide says that the average earnings for entry-level United States user experience designers is $75,000.

This’ll vary depending on where the designer works, what part of UX they decide to specialize in, and their experience. I have around ten months of experience with UX and three years of digital media experience, so I’m not expecting the national average.

However, the national average is still a great indicator of potential. Your kid could make $75,000 annually if they work in the field. At the same time, getting $60,000 or $40,000 a year at the start isn’t bad either.

My Solution

The app icon for the edutainment game about UX I’m making (Illustration by Ethan McElvaney).

I’m still early in my career, so I don’t claim to know everything about UX. However, Don Norman should.

User experience design seems like a complicated topic to explain to children, but Norman explained it to a world unfamiliar with the topic through explaining how ordinary objects function in The Design of Everyday Things. This book spawned many industry terms and inspired many of us to become UX designers.

In the spirit as Norman’s landmark book, I’m making an app that will help children enjoy learning how design works: Fix the Stuff!

Kids will play the game by fixing everyday objects to make them smile again. I will target seven to 12-year-olds with this app because they are the youngest demographic to think seriously about college.

If we have incredible apps such as Tynker to teach kids how to code, we can have an app to train their designer’s eye. Hopefully, children’s parents can learn about UX alongside their child.

A study published in Springer’s Journal of Child and Family Studies says that middle schoolers still trust their parents to help them process the media they consume, so I’ll provide them a list of resources they can read so they can help their kids understand what they’re learning. This should provide a good bonding opportunity as they get to learn together.

Future Updates

As I work on this project, I will publish articles about my progress. I will learn many lessons along the way.

Society as a whole improves when we’re aware of how it does and doesn’t work. Kids will make a better planet if they learn how technology is designed earlier in their lives.

Featured Image: Illustration by Ethan McElvaney.

Ethan McElvaney

A eLearning developer and civic tech designer with several years of digital media experience. I aim to make engaging training for healthcare, civic, and education professionals so they can do their best work. I also like volunteering with Code for America, hiking, and playing action role-playing games.