The first full page of Pipe Dream I designed had four photos and two articles about BU Acres. I whipped up a masterpiece with a lime-green background, script headline with stroke, a massive dark green tree and photos of broccoli I collaged in the negative space. I was so proud of it.
As I look back on that page I can’t help but cringe. It’s absolute garbage.
I later asked Zack, my manager at the time, why he had allowed my abomination of a page layout to be printed. He told me that I took a risk with my design and he wanted me to gain the confidence to take risks. He wanted me to feel empowered to take initiative on bigger design projects in the paper. Also, it was just one page of a paper, which would only be on the stands for a few days, so ultimately, if it made me happy, that’s really all that mattered.
Reflecting, I wondered how I could even begin to describe all the memories, knowledge and lessons I took away from the past four years. Then, I realized the best way to do so would be through the lens of what I know best: design.
My life is an experience and I am the user. The principles that apply to effective user experience (UX) design, including empowerment — allowing users to feel ownership and control, intentionality — deliberate decision-making based on research and goals, and delight — maximizing user happiness, have all been present in my own experiences. As they say at Google, “focus on the user and all else will follow.”
The UX design process requires intentionality. User research can uncover what people like and dislike about an experience and help the designer to make informed decisions. It’s important to not settle for surface-level answers, to continue asking “why?” After several chains of questioning, it is often revealed that the underlying reasoning to any decision made is the desire for happiness.
While the desire for delight unites us, the steps we choose to take in order to get there are what makes us differ. For some, it’s studying in the library all night; for others, it’s dancing or performing. But for me, it’s been making a newspaper. My time on Pipe Dream provided me with the delight I sought through the relationships I made along the way.
When designing, I try to incorporate elements of happiness in my designs through color, animation or illustration. Delight creates a positive experience and gives the user another reason to return.
In the human experience, delight isn’t achieved through pleasing aesthetics, but it is achieved through interactions with other people. I’ve been fortunate to be surrounded by friends who not only mentored me, but made my experience fun. I joined Pipe Dream to create a newspaper, but I stayed because I loved the community.
In my experience, delight was sitting in my corner of the newsroom and reading quotes on the wall to connect with previous generations of staff who came before me. It was the nights when I finished my work at 11 but stayed till 3 a.m. just to hang out. Delight was eating cups of pasta at 2:30 in the morning for a pre-deadline snack. It was spending 20 hours a week in the office for production but spending 30 more, just because I wanted to.
An experience can be informative, usable and useful, but the reason a user comes back every day to spend countless hours in a basement — that is because of delight.
The UX design process is iterative. We design a solution, find out why it fails and iterate again. Even after a product is shipped, it can continue to evolve with updates. In life, no one gets it right the first time, no one knows what they’re doing. We try, fail, find a new solution, and try again. We have unlimited opportunities to continue to find solutions. That’s how I went through Pipe Dream.
I started with a laughable broccoli-filled tree design, and after many hours of production work, I slowly built the skills I needed to design an effective newspaper page. I made innumerable mistakes, but every time I cringed looking back at an old newspaper page, I knew what to improve upon next time. The fast-paced twice-weekly schedule of Pipe Dream forced me to create design on demand, have it sent it out in the form of thousands of newspapers, and then get critiqued on it every week at a staff meeting.
Though I ended up becoming managing editor of the paper, my iterative process didn’t stop there. I continued to design, make mistakes and get better as a result. Now, I’m graduating with design skills far beyond what I came in with, but if Pipe Dream has taught me anything, I still have much room for improvement.
A good UX gets the job done and does it well — but it’s not the only one with which the user interacts. The user’s holistic experience is diverse. It is designed within a social ecosystem, in which the user and the product interact with other uses and the environment that surrounds them.
As Kanye West said in his critically acclaimed “30 hours,” “Remember when the whole block’d get shout out? This my version of a shout-out track.” So now, here’s my version of a shout-out track and quite possibly the longest list of thank yous ever given in a senior column.
To my parents: for always affirming in my wild decisions, whether it’s being an art major or sitting on the heat vent. Thanks for sending me to Binghamton and to Hawaii and for your support in whatever I end up doing after graduation.
To Ninny and Becca: for allowing the distance of the past few years to bring us closer. Thank you for always being the big sisters up to whom I could look.
To Eileen Head: for taking a chance on me and inviting me into the CS department. Words cannot describe how thankful I am for the opportunities with which you’ve provided me.
To Sigma: for being the support system that I didn’t know I needed. I never thought I would join a sorority and I still can’t believe that I did but I have no regrets in my decision to do so.
To Cari: for welcoming me into Pipe Dream. Being your Pipe Dream little was a choice but being your Sigma great grandlittle was b’sheret. I forced you to give me a shoutout in your senior wordcloud so here’s one to you in mine.
To Zack: for teaching me to always have fun, take spontaneous risks, and life live for the fans. I’m forever grateful that you took me under your wing in Pipe Dream. Quite a bit of your vocabulary has worn off on me but that’s a personal problem, I suppose. You generously asked me in your senior column if I’d go out with you. My answer is yes. Who ever thought a ferret and a pumpkin could get along so well? Good for us.
To Corey and John: for being the best assistants I could ask for. Thanks for keeping up with my alignment requirements and for helping me become a better designer.
To Nick: for teaching me to have an ego and that confidence and enthusiasm can go a long way. You used to tell me that I had Stockholm syndrome to our stuffy dirty basement newsroom but I think I also had Stockholm syndrome to working with you. I can’t promise that my next place of work will have bidets and heated toilet seats but I hope you’ll come visit anyway.
To Mike: for teaching me about business and beer. I’m sorry the parking pass didn’t have a better ROI. Give me a call when Pipe Dream goes public, I want equity.
To Ben: for coaching me on how to do bits and giving me a shoulder to cry on and a newspaper to shred up in the back room. Thank you for always being there when I needed life advice and for teaching me to embrace the power of play.
To Katie Dowd: for stabilizing me and for forcing me to face my emotions. Thank you for copy editing everything and always being there for me, I’m so thankful to have you in my life.
To Odeya: for being the most loyal friend I could ask for and the only one who could decipher an endless slew of acronyms. I couldn’t imagine pledging a sorority, taking an English class, hammocking on the spine, throwing what I know in the Texas House of Representatives or all the nights and days spent in the newsroom without you there by my side, nibbling at my Mogul. Thank you for your constant entertainment and for consuming all the dairy so that I don’t have to. Not having to work together this year was the greatest gift we could ask for in our friendship and I hope it stays that way for a very long time.
To Tycho: for training me to manage, for passing down the money graph and for explaining the difference between revenue and profit. Confession: I still can’t remember which is which. I’m sorry for making you pack up your stuff but I’m not sorry for nagging you to write all those papers.
To Franz: for taking those headshots of me in Philly, helping me pick VSCO filters and teaching me about philosophy and the history of religion. I suppose it’s time I forgive you for breaking my lens. You’re one of the smartest people I know and I’m lucky to have you as one of my best Franz.
To Rohit: for always going out of your way as a friend and teammate. I’m so proud of all of the work you’ve done for Pipe Dream, even though a lot if it is completely unnecessary. It’s been an absolute privilege to work with you in Pipe Dream and on all of our side projects and I know we’ll be working together again soon. You’re the Wozniak to my Jobs, the Alexa to my Google Home, the HTML to my CSS. You worried about not keeping in touch with me after graduation but I can promise that you’ll get enough “yo” messages from me to keep you busy. Stay grounded.
To the website and Pipe Line teams: for giving me opportunities to learn UX at our little newspaper. Thanks for taking part in my brainstorming exercises and making the designs come to life. Good luck finishing Pipe Line — it’s been a challenge, but worthwhile one.
To Caleb: for helping me turn my jumble of jargon into a masterpiece. You’re incredibly smart and I can’t wait to see what you accomplish in your next adventure.
To Noah, Gabby, Michelle, Georgia, Henry and all of the future generations of Pipe Dream staff: for assuring me know that Pipe Dream will be in great hands. Keep up the passion and don’t be afraid to take risks. You guys are going to do an amazing job.
And to the rest of the individuals who have helped shape my experience: my mentors, friends, family and fans, in Pipe Dream, Binghamton, Livingston, the Bay Area, Honolulu and elsewhere: thank you for supporting me, mentoring me, empowering me, bringing me delight and helping me to design the most perfect experience I could imagine.
Emma C Siegel is a senior majoring in graphic design.