One of the things I do at Legacy.com is focus on the user experience. Every month, millions of people navigate the site—searching, browsing, leaving messages, getting directions, sending flowers. Helping people find what they are looking for, and maybe pointing them to something they didn’t know they were looking for, are the most important goals.
A few months ago, I realized that a lot of what I was doing in my new position at Legacy.com had a connection with a course I took in college. The course was on Human Factors—how what we know about human cognition can guide us to create better designs for products or systems. Since then, applying this knowledge to website design has become a popular area of study.
The course’s subject matter was fascinating, but it was the enthusiastic professor who made it resonate.Looking at good designs and bad designs, he connected the theory to real-world examples, and I’ve never stopped noticing those patterns since.
I decided it was my turn to make a connection: I would let him know where I was and how I was in a unique position to be able to apply all of these good-design principles. And I knew he’d laugh when I told him it only took me fifteen years. We kept in touch after graduation, but I hadn’t spoken to him since I moved to Chicago from Boston in late 2003.
So I searched for him on the web. But instead of finding his email address or his office phone number, I came across his obituary. He had died two months before I left for Chicago, after a four-year battle with lymphoma and leukemia. He was only 51.
I regret not having the opportunity to reconnect. But I’m grateful that I could learn more about his life—and he had a great story. Some parts I knew (he was a University of Florida alum, like many of my family members), and some I didn’t (he had worked since the 1980s on research into childhood developmental disabilities).
Thousands of personal stories like this come across the website every day, and I hope that our users continue to read, be inspired and tell others. And once in a while, I am a user, learning about a life well-lived and sharing that story.