How mini golf taught me to think about user experience

Years ago, when I was just 11 or 12, my dad bought a mini golf in a small Saskatchewan resort. This was very good news for my younger brother and I. We had played the course countless times in previous summers, and now it was ours. 

My dad gave us the job of setting up the holes at the start of each season. Very quickly this became a highly anticipated task. For weeks beforehand, my brother and I would scheme about new obstacle arrangements. "What if we put the grain elevator on Hole 12 this year?" "Hole 12?! Are you nuts? With all those sandpits?" 

When starting day arrived and all the obstacles came out of storage, we would head out onto the course, feeling a bit like terraformers, hungry to make this year's course the best ever. 

It was important to us to make it challenging while keeping it fun. At 12 and 8 years old, we'd remind ourselves, "Not everybody plays mini golf as much as we do. We have to make this work for everybody." And so, after laying out obstacles with painstaking care, we would fill our pockets with golf balls and spend the next several hours playing and replaying every hole, trying to imagine the different types of people who would come to play this summer: distracted parents of toddlers, teenage boys wanting to best their friends, old grandpas who play "real golf" all the time, little kids, moms, camp counsellors, school groups... 

Though the term didn't exist back then, we were trying to provide a good "user experience" to our customers. We were establishing user personas and attempting to walk through the course in their shoes. In this way, mini golf isn't unlike digital design. Good design thinks through the needs of the people who use the things we make, attempting to empower them to accomplish tasks confidently and intuitively. Though, hopefully, without intentionally placing obstacles in their way.