Giving Thanks to UX: How My Job Made Me Better at Holidays with the In-Laws

How much could user experience design possibly relate to holidays with the in-laws? Turns out, a lot. And my hope is, maybe it can help you too this year.

Recently, someone asked me if it was weird spending holidays with my in-laws. I answered honestly: No. It’s not, and I enjoy spending holidays with my husband’s family. I got back a look of mild surprise – like I was just saying that for nice, easy conversation.

That got me thinking about why holidays with in-laws are hard for us. Why do I enjoy the holidays with my in-laws, why isn’t it taxing for me? Then it struck me – I create experiences for a living. It’s what I do every day. Maybe I’ve subconsciously taken the spirit of UX and applied it to my life outside of work.

We can all relate to the topics of holidays, in-laws, tradition, and, dare I say, annoyance. My experiences – for what they’re worth – could serve as an example of how practices from your profession can also positively impact your personal life.

Meet Matt

He’s my best friend. My person. We’ve been married for almost 5 years. It’s just the two of us right now, so we travel to visit our families for holidays, alternating each year.

Posing for the obgligatory church Christmas tree photo.

Matt and I both enjoy our in-laws. For us, there are no overly dramatic situations or people who can’t stand each other. We’re both very thankful for that. But spending holidays ‘away from home,’ especially for the first time, can still be hard.

"What am I getting myself into?" -every person ever, spending holidays in a new place for the first time

This is where UX meets Real Life:

Let’s take a deep breath, roll the shoulders back, and learn how to hack the holidays. It’s like working out, you might not really want to put in the effort, but you do it, and you’re glad you did afterwards.

1. Define Your Goal

Goal statements are critical to the success of a project. They are the starting point, they let us know where we’re going, they help us decide which course of action to take, and they allow us to evaluate the end results.

For our upcoming holiday adventures, let’s start by thinking positively, and set our personal goals – our yogi intentions, our attitudes – to enjoy ourselves and the people we’re going to be with. My personal goal statement this year is: To set aside my personal preferences, have fun, be encouraging, and go with the flow.

2. Different Doesn’t Mean Bad

Reviewing work from other team members can be a challenge. As a growing professional, I’ve had to learn that a different approach isn’t necessarily the wrong approach. We’re all creative people on our team and in this industry, and everyone has different styles, ways of putting thoughts on paper, and organization methods. When I review things and want to make a change, I have to stop and ask myself if the change is making an improvement or if it’s just personal preference. Just because I might have done something differently doesn’t mean another way is less valid. In fact, in a lot of cases, it’s a great opportunity to open up to new ways of doing things that may be a better approach for deliverables or internal processes.

Holidays are a touchy time of year, and people really care about traditions. I used to think Christmas wouldn’t be Christmas if I didn’t eat Chinese food on Christmas Eve, and if I didn’t have my mom’s biscuits and fried turkey nuggets for brunch. Last year with Matt’s family, we made a Christmas Eve spaghetti dinner using my mother-in-law’s family recipe for the sauce, and it was delicious. Now we have a new, fun tradition with his family, and I get to have two traditions I like, instead of one.

And check this out...I get to help out with cool food projects and experience things I didn’t growing up.

Reindeer Chow. Yum. They make a big batch for Christmas. I crave this every December now. 

I got to decorate my OWN batch of cookies. Coming from a family of a zillion people, this has never happened to me before. It was amazing. 

It’s not that we shouldn’t care about the traditions we grew up with, but if we want to grow as people and enjoy new and different things, we have to be open to different ways of doing them.

3. Set Clear Expectations

On our UX team, we define satisfaction as the difference between what you expect and what really happens. To create good user experiences, we, at the very least, have to meet expectations. To create great user experiences, and thus great satisfaction, we have to exceed those expectations. For my first Christmas with Matt’s family, I went in with the expectation to just experience the holidays that Matt grew up with. With that in mind, when I had my first Christmas morning at Matt’s house and learned that they do stockings before opening presents (we always did them after), I was fine. I survived. The world kept spinning. And shh...I might even like it a tinge more doing it that way. It all comes down to opening your mind; new and different traditions are much more enjoyable when you allow yourself the room to be satisfied. They don’t have to be perfect, and they may never be, but you can still have a good time.

Moral of the Holiday Story

Let’s clear our minds of preconceived notions, and reset our expectations. Expect new, expect different, expect hectic, expect uncertainty. Then our actual experiences will exceed those expectations, and we’ll be overly satisfied with how much we enjoyed our holidays. It’s okay to have multiple right answers – especially during the holidays. And if nothing else, do it for the reindeer chow.

Written by Lucy Allison on November 15, 2018


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Written by
Lucy Allison
Associate Director, UX