Confronting ‘Onism’

Onism (N) -The Awareness of how little of the world you will experience

Since I was a little kid, I’d always been fascinated by culture. The memories, fresh in my head, of my beautiful birthplace of Costa Rica, with bus rides through the mountainside as colorful as any children’s book, and people with personalities even more vibrant would leave a lasting, impactful impression on me.

In grade school I was captivated by Discovery Channel programs portraying the almost forgotten tribes of the Amazon rainforest. The images of quaint European villages in the National Geographic magazines my Father subscribed to engaged my curiosity and freed my mind to the possibility of adventure.

The more I became aware of the endless world outside my own, the more I wanted to explore it. So much so that I fell into a spell of great sadness when I realized just how many cultures there were to experience, while I was to live just this one. To remedy this I did what any curious kid would do, and I traveled, be it via fiction, film, or foot.

Fortunately for me, I was blessed to have directly experienced other cultures at an early age. By the age of 10 I had been to Costa Rica, Puerto Rico, and Colombia on unimaginable adventures with my Father. At the age of 18 I decided to backpack from Spain, through France, Switzerland, and finally to Germany by myself (and ran out of money while at it). At 24 I decided to leave just about everything I knew behind and move to Japan, a whole world away. At 28, back to Costa Rica, the place of my birth to study coffee. And now, finally, on the cusp of 30, I find myself full of amazing stories, with amazing people, in amazing places.

“Great, but how does this relate to UX Design?”

Well…there is nothing more authentic than connecting with another human being. It’s an undeniably “human” experience, as human as it gets in fact. Our minds, but advanced iterations of a once primitive design, yearn for these relationships that remind us that we are in fact, human. It’s not until we interact, engage, and understand our brothers and sisters that we come into form and distinguish ourselves from the species we share this space with.

“Well, ok..but what exactly does that have to do with travel.”

Travel affords interaction, engagement, and an understanding of people, so unique, so different from you that you are plucked from your singular, forward looking outlook on life and gifted a much broader field of vision. It becomes much easier to understand how different and difficult life can be for someone halfway across the earth. Less effort is required to acknowledge that there is rarely only one point of view. And most importantly, imaginary barriers are broken down and finding compassion for strangers becomes almost effortless.

For me personally, travel has changed my life more than anything else ever could. Exploring coffee farms on the lush mountainsides of Costa Rica introduced me to a hidden side of coffee. I met coffee farm owners who, competing with Coffee Giants like Britt Coffee Costa Rica, were never sure if sales would last them throughout the next year.

I met Nicaraguan farm hands who, every year, travel to Costa Rica by foot, only to make less than a dollar per kilogram of coffee they pick. And when picking season is over, they trek back to Nicaragua with the change they earned.

In Japan, through the various personalities I encountered, I learned the value of true humility and how conformity and independence both had their required place and time. I appreciated the confidence my American upraising had afforded me, but began to respect the modesty that was celebrated in Asia.

Most importantly, after reflecting on all of my adventures, I learned that in order to understand, I must first let go of my preconceived notions and just listen.

And that, of course, is what User Experience is all about.

Thanks for reading! If you’re interested in reading other UX or coffee related stories or would like to learn more about me, check out my portfolio!




An Engineering Naval Officer turned UX Designer

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Mario Smith-Mena

Mario Smith-Mena

An Engineering Naval Officer turned UX Designer

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