By Doug Collins, Editor, UXNewsMag.com
My son, Henry, will be a mere 19 months old when Christmas rolls around this year. Last year, at 7 months, Christmas was as much as a non-event as it’s possible to be for any child. He slept through most of it, and his presents (some baby clothes, a few new bottles, and a couple of small toys) were geared more towards pacifying his parents than pleasing him.
This year, however, Henry is walking and talking. Watching him grow from a baby into a toddler has been one of the most gratifying experiences of my life so far, but I can’t help but think of his experience of the holiday season from his perspective.
It Begins With the Family
It all started when every member of his extended family came to visit at the same time. As Henry has lazily yet to acquire a full appreciation of the English language, as toddlers are wont to do, it was impossible for us to warn them of his coming. They came and stayed for days, and as soon as Henry was growing accustomed to having his four aunts and uncles, two cousins, and three grandparents around 24/7, they promptly left, again without warning.
For around 330 days of the year, trees have existed as a purely outdoor curiosity. Then, one day, a large pine tree magically, inexplicably appeared, decorated with the most inviting (but fragile) toys and lights imaginable, in the living room while he was asleep. Unlike every other tree he has ever seen, he is under no circumstances allowed to touch it.
Lights, on the other hand, which are mostly a subdued, indoor experience, appeared on nearly every house on the street, again, overnight, and as if propagated by some magical incantation.
The mall is normally just a relatively quiet place with an indoor play area, when we go there at all. Now it’s a packed place with a bearded stranger in even stranger clothing – whose likeness, by the way, has suddenly appeared plastered to every sign, store front, and front lawn in sight – asking unintelligible questions and trying to get him to smile.
And when he comes downstairs on Christmas Day, the same train set he’s thrown fits over leaving behind in the Children’s section of Barnes and Noble will appear, fully constructed and ready to play with, in his play room, again as mysteriously and wonderfully as the world is capable of producing.
It Will Change with Age
As he grows older, his experience of the season will change. Toys and other gifts will be labeled with their sender. He’ll help his old man put up the lights in front of the house, and help both his parents decorate the tree. Visits from or to family will become an expectation, and the magic of a fat man dressed in a red suit spreading joy to the world will be lost along with a portion of his innocent wonder at the world that surrounds the holiday season.
For now and the next few years to come, though, my empathy – perhaps the primary trait of any User Experience professional worth their salt – is getting the best of me. These are the years when Henry’s expectations for the User Experience of the holidays will be set, and I determined to make the season as magical and memorable as its possible for any working father to do.
And this will be my lasting gift to him: not a tree, or a visit to Santa, or even a coveted toy train set, but a experience of and belief in the value of the holiday season and its power to bring light, wonder, and happiness into the world of those you love.