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Do You Live in a Bubble? (and why it matters)

“There exists a new upper class that’s completely disconnected from the average white American and American culture at large, argues Charles Murray, a libertarian political scientist and author.” -Do You Live in a Bubble? (PBS)

I live in a bubble. I have a career I chose and love, friends who are informed and enjoy political discussions but are generally liberal and left-leaning, and I have always been lucky enough to have family that could help me out if I took a risk and needed financial support. I have had my share of struggles, but finances have not been one of them. I have fought for many things and endured tough times, but I have also had opportunities to travel and take on internships. I have always had a safety net.

Who Cares About Your Bubble?

While the quiz I referenced earlier (Do You Live in a Bubble?) refers to bubbles in terms of socioeconomics and politics, the metaphor of a bubble translates to all areas of life, education, and design. A bubble is created by self-reinforcing knowledge, which may come from cookies and online tracking, or  working with people who are experts in similar fields to you, or just the patterns of going to the same office, house, coffee place, and gym ever day. These patterns build a bubble of familiarity, and inherently separate us from people with different experiences.

When you work as a content strategist, you are responsible for facilitating communication. We remind stakeholders “you are not your user,” and validate our design assumptions through research. I care about my bubble because it can unintentionally influence my work. Even if I remember that others don’t vote the way I do, I may forget that they are also hearing different news, seeing different advertisements, and taking away different lessons from similar experiences. I care about my bubble because the thicker it is, the less I can empathize with my target audience.

A bubble can mark the difference between sympathy and empathy. I can sympathize from within my bubble, but I can’t truly understand how someone else feels without learning enough about their experience to pop my bubble.

Is a Bubble Bad?

Being in a bubble doesn’t make you a bad person, but it can be a hindrance in understanding the people you design for. Bubbles are constantly building and growing – they are as naturally occurring as mold, and as important to scrub away. It’s our duty as designers to find our bubbles over and over again and learn about what’s on the other side. To do that, we need to stop berating ourselves and others for having bubbles, and instead focus on the important work of seeing through them, making them so translucent as to eventually wear away. And then we need to move onto our next bubble, and the next, for they are constantly building around us as new devices come out and our experiences make us into experts in some areas and novices in others.

Here are 5 steps to make sure your bubble isn’t holding you prisoner:

  1. Look for your bubble, and find its edges
  2. Dig into user research to learn what’s beyond the bubble
  3. Catalogue ideological and behavioral differences between you and your target audience
  4. Identify your audience’s bubble(s)
  5. Keep questioning, keep learning, keep going

 

Marli Mesibov

Marli is a content strategist with a passion for the user experience. Her work spans websites, web applications, and mobile. Marli is the VP of Content Strategy at the UX design agency Mad*Pow, and she serves as managing editor at UX Booth, a publication about all areas of user experience. Marli is a frequent conference speaker, and has spoken at conferences including Content Strategy Forum and LavaCon. She can also be found on Twitter, where she shares thoughts on content strategy, literature, and Muppets.

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