Note: In August 2018, the UX/UI school, Designation, became a part of Flatiron School. Designation's leading UX/UI curriculum, course structures, and quality learning experience are the driving force behind all of Flatiron School's UX/UI Design courses across the globe. The story below — one of our favorites — was originally published for Designation.
Katarina Lauritano is a graduate of the Magenta Cohort. After living in Thailand, Katarina attended Designation, and went on to take a job at SapientRazorfish in New York.
Digital design may not be the first career path that comes to mind for those who hold a foreign language major. Understandable as that is, writing as someone who holds a foreign language degree and now works as a UX Designer, I have noticed benefits from my studies that have carried over into my career. These advantages are not restricted to those who majored in a foreign language but also more generally to those who have studied a new language.
The Cultivation of Empathy
Perhaps the most obvious similarity between the study of a foreign language and design is the necessity of empathy to be successful in either endeavor. When learning a new language, you inevitably learn about the culture of those who speak it. Language is so intertwined with culture that fluency is not only about proficiency in grammar and vocabulary but also about digging deeper to gain an understanding of the underlying culture. To fully recognize the nuances of a new culture, a language student must retain an open mind and avoid imposing their opinions. There is a likeness between a language student’s desire to learn a language and designer’s desire to understand their user. A good designer looks to gain a thorough understanding of their user; they will examine a user’s behavior but also try to understand the potential influences that shaped such behavior. This examination must occur without judgment to be able to design without embedding personal bias. This shared effort to comprehend to a greater degree while maintaining an open mind allows for the empathy that is critical in both the study of a new language and in design.
Your Curiosity of Other People
One of the driving forces behind why people start the journey of learning a new language is a genuine curiosity of other people. With the ability to speak another language comes the opportunity to communicate and interact with more people. This same curiosity is very much at home in the world of design. A designer creates solutions to benefit their user. Users are people, and an interest in others is essential to continue developing your craft and enjoy the journey of doing so.
The Essentiality of Patience and Observation
For both a designer to gain a deep understanding of their user and for a student to gain an in-depth understanding of a language, it takes patience and purposeful observation. When studying a new language you can learn a great deal by observing native speakers, but it takes time to pick up on the colloquial intricacies of a language. Similarly, in design, you can learn a great deal by observing your user, and in fact, learn things that a user might not directly tell you. It takes time both in language learning and design for those valuable observations to surface. Patience is also necessary to improve your abilities in any learning journey, be it learning a new language or improving your skills as a designer; they are journeys which take time (and of course, effort).
The Willingness to Make Mistakes
Learning a new language requires the ability to accept making mistakes. It’s inevitable that you’re going to commit countless errors when you’re studying a new language. You have to overcome the reluctance of committing mistakes to progress further. This willingness to make mistakes is extremely valuable for designers. In design, it is crucial to be able to listen to and absorb critique of your work without taking it personally. Though receiving design critique is certainly more personal and subjective than making mistakes while speaking a new language, it leans on the same confidence to know that both are stepping stones towards improving your skills.
Studies have suggested bilingualism improves the capacity for divergent thinking (Ghonsooly & Showqi 2012). Divergent thinking refers to the ability to produce a range of solutions to a given problem in an effort to find one that works. The benefit this proposes to designers is straightforward, enhanced divergent thinking could assist a designer to come up with more potential design solutions thus helping them land on a more well-considered final design.
Overall, the soft skills that are developed when studying a new language can certainly strengthen the toolkit of a designer. Though at first glance the two don’t seem related, there are definite parallels, so if have a foreign language degree or enjoy learning new languages don’t discount a career as a UX/UI designer!
Ghonsooly, Behzad, and Sara Showqi. “The Effects of Foreign Language Learning on Creativity.”
English Language Teaching 5.4 (2012): n. pag. Web. <http://www.ccsenet.org/journal/index.php/elt/article/view/15947>.