Fatherhood and the User Experience

I have had a pretty amazing two weeks. On December 8th, my wife gave birth to our daughter, Rose, and ever since we have all been home together getting to know our new family. I’m lucky to have a job with a leave policy that has allowed me to take this time without too much trouble, and I wouldn’t trade these last two weeks for anything.

In terms of activity, our baby is like most of the others I’ve seen (except for the obvious fact that she is prettier, smarter, and clearly destined for greatness, at least in our eyes). She makes funny noises, hilarious faces, eats and subsequently runs through diapers like a champ, has skin softer than a pillowcase made of freshly laundered marshmallows, is continually surprised by her own hiccups, and sleeps like it’s going out of style. The closest thing I can compare to watching her in action is the experience of staring into a campfire — a miraculous, mesmerizing bundle of sudden responses to invisible stimuli that boggles the mind.

While spending two weeks with one baby by no means makes me an expert, I am now officially a user of the baby-caring experience. I have to say, I’ve been very impressed with the UI. From the moment of birth, it is immediately clear where food goes — watching her nurse instinctively in the first hour of her life was nothing short of amazing. And her post-digestive output makes itself pretty obvious too. If you miss the signs, don’t worry: an alert system comes standard. An ear-splitting, heart-wrenching wail lets you know that some form of discomfort is afoot and must be addressed pronto.

At this point, I’ve witnessed some pretty spirited cries. The effect this can have on the primal corners of your brain, particularly at 4am, cannot be overstated. Nonetheless, I’ve come to believe that babies get a bad rap when it comes to crying. In the movies, babies seem to cry all the time, for no discernible reason. But I’m not sure that’s a fair representation. When navigating the baby-caring experience, it seems to me — and makes intuitive sense, as all good navigation should — that when a baby cries, there’s a reason. It may not be immediately obvious, but it’s there somewhere. Either she’s hungry, she’s cold, or she needs to be changed. If it’s none of these things, maybe she needs to burp. Maybe her feet are cold. Whatever the cause, if you can suss it out and address it, you have a good chance of achieving your desired result: a happy, calm baby.

For example, when we first brought her home from the hospital, Rose would start wailing every time we changed her diaper. Now, diaper changing is never going to be a blast for anyone, but the extent of her distress over the whole thing was more than a bit disconcerting. After a couple of days, we picked up a wipe warmer, which plugs in and keeps the wipes at a nice warm temperature. Lo and behold, the wailing stopped. She’s still not exactly wild about the diaper changing process, but she’s a lot less bothered, goes to sleep more quickly afterward, and I imagine the neighbors must appreciate it too, especially in the wee hours.

Call me crazy (or sleep-deprived, take your pick), but I can’t help thinking there are some lessons from the baby-caring experience that could prove useful to those of us working to improve the value and usability of government websites. Lessons like:

  • Communicate clearly and simply with your users
  • Be sure your navigation makes intuitive sense
  • Make it clear where users should enter information — and where they can collect it
  • Form a bond with your users through social channels
  • As with the wipes, a little warmth goes a long way
  • When new content arrives, don’t just let it sit there — change your site!*

Overall, from the user perspective, I’m pleased to report that this baby of mine is pretty well designed. Although I reserve the right to take that back once she starts dating.

*Special thanks to Andy Gravatt for suggesting the final bullet in that list.

This post originally appeared on my personal blog.

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Profile Photo Camille Roberts

Congratulations on the new baby, Jeremy! Your post reminded me of my life 11 years ago. Extremely sleep deprived, yet so excited to finally have a little baby, and continuing to work. Being self-employed, I didn’t/don’t have family or sick leave. (You are very lucky!) They are SO much fun. Document everything. Pretty soon you will blink she will be 11 and you will wonder where the time went. A wipe warmer and soothing Einstein music cd’s go a long way with happy babies. And, excellence relevance to government websites. 😉

Good luck with the cute little one!

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Profile Photo nicole burton

I love your post, Jeremy. The lessons of simplicity are all around us. Give our customers (your baby) what they need and they will be satisfied. Figuring out what those needs are is relatively simple if we watch and listen to our customers “working.” No user manual required!

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Profile Photo Sandra Lopez

Jeremy

Congratulations on the arrival of your sweet daughter Rose! You are blessed beyond measure to be a father, and part of a “parental unit” that has been entrusted to care and love this new citizen of the world. You will have No greater or more improtant job than this!

Love your ‘lessons’ from what you have already learned and experienced. Good Luck and Enjoy Everything..(even the not so pleaseant stuff) it really does go FAST! Even when you aren’t feeelin it. There is no feeling better, than having a baby sleep on your shoulder so close you can feel and hear their breathing…

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Profile Photo Andy Gravatt

Congrats, Jeremy! I have to add a sixth bullet that I think is right in line with your story. Websites need to be “changed” whenever new “stuff” comes in. I’m amazed by the hundreds of government websites that aren’t updated on a regular basis. How can we expect the public to become interested in what we do, when our main interface to them was last updated in 2006?

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Profile Photo Mark Hammer

There is, believe it or not, a relatively healthy body of research literature on adult perception and interpretation of infant crying. I was introduced to it some 20 years ago when teaching an undergrad seminar on early communicative development (we spent a week on crying), and imagine the literature has flourished since that time.

One of the more interesting findings at that time was that abusive mothers, and those at high risk for abuse, tended to have deficits when it came to understanding what cries “meant”. They would misjudge the motivation underlying the cry, relative to the accuracy shown by non-abusive mothers, and interact with the infant in an unproductive manner that would only exacerbate the state the child was in, inevitably leading to maternal frustration, and impatient action.

The takehome message? Understand the client/employee needs before acting. No substitute for that sort of insight.

BTW, nice writing, nice kid, and nice improvement in your life. Have you noticed yet how all of your clothes smell like yogurt for some reason?

As a reward, I offer you one of my few money-back guaranteed parental tips. When she reaches about 3 or 3-1/2, there will invariably be a more formal dining event at some point where the speed of the meal and her patience do not align. At that time, do the following. Find the shiniest soup-spoon you can, and draw her attention to her reflection on the underside/back of the spoon. Then draw her attention to her reflection on the other side of the spoon, which will be inverted. She will spend the next 10 minutes trying to figure out how the heck the spoon does that by turning it back and forth, occasionally quickly enough to “try and outwit it”.

This trick works extremely well, but it only works once. Use it wisely. Do not waste it.

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