A Beginner Beginner

Tonight I’m working on my list of the hour:

This was one of the first web related conferences I had ever attended.  It was actually only a year ago.  I had all of about 10 youtube videos on web code under my belt and no actual experience.  I thought, “Hey, they have a ‘Beginner’ track.”  Yeah.  ‘Beginner’.  Apparently I wasn’t even a ‘Beginner’ yet.  I was like a pre-teen, or maybe even a toddler.  I seriously left the first session having only took in about 30% of the information… and that percentage progressively dropped with each session that followed.  It was like reliving my high school freshmen year.  I was surrounded by ‘seniors’ who were all talking in their lingo… laughing at their inside jokes… and there I sat… typing… slowly.  By the time the last session came I just sat in the hall licking my wounds.  I was pretty beat up.  There was so much I didn’t understand.

So here I am again, printing off my maps and schedules.  I am signed up for the ‘Beginner’ tracks for a second time and am hoping/expecting better results.  My attitude is positive.  I feel that I’ve come so far since the last time I was there, but I also know there is still so much more to learn.  So I am keeping my goals simple:

  1. Listen intently
  2. Cram my brain will everything I hear
  3. Be inspired
  4. Meet some awesome people

Looking forward to writing the update post…

Web Designer = Storyteller

Way back in the day when I worked for a little coffee shop called Starbucks I had a manager who shared some great insight.  Above the whir of coffee grinders & mildly emo music he shared this:

“We are not in the coffee business.  We are in the story business.  It’s the stories that people remember.  It’s the stories that win them over.”

In any sales situation I have been in (whether I was the seller or the buyer) those experiences that were the most enjoyable (and also resulted in a sale) were those that centered around a story that I connected with.  Right now I work part time and have some limited sales responsibilities.  Right now I’m one of the top sellers at our branch (even in the market).  Let me share that I HATE selling.  My goal for each person I am helping is to connect with them through a story.  I don’t connect with everybody, but I continue to share my stories of being benefited by the products we carry in hopes of making someone else’s life better.  Stories work better for me than statistics or catchy one liners.  I think it’s because I feel more genuine when I am sharing it.  I can be me and that frees me to speak from the heart.    I also think the nature of stories tend to reach us as people.  Stories grab our attention and our imagination.

Stories stick.  Stories convince.  Stories inspire.

I want to be an amazing story teller.

But, sadly, I must admit that I’m not.  If I’m truthful with myself, I must also admit that I’m not really a rockstar in any aspect of UX design right now.

Honestly, this whole process of starting a new career for myself has made me feel like I am back in junior high.  I am in the adolescent stage of the UX Designer journey.  I’m all awkward, longing to be cool but being all too aware of my pimples and clunky feet.  Right now my story telling style is very self conscious.  After writing several posts for this blog, I realize that I am still trying to find my own voice… trying to get comfortable in my own skin.  It’s a very awkward stage to want so badly to be(come) a voice in a particular field and yet feel there is still so much you do not know.

Lately I have been hearing a lot of buzz around story telling among the UX community.  From personal convictions to Pixar’s guidelines… so many people are talking about the importance of crafting a good story and using it well.  The benefit of trends is that often there is a lot of good advice floating around on the topic at hand.  One resource I am checking out now is a book called Storytelling for User Experience.  I’m intrigued to read how to use a story in the development of a good website.

In the meantime, here is my list of 3 Simple Rules of Story Telling:

  1. Be genuine.  Give of yourself.  What I love hearing are stories that are personal or at least have a personal aspect.  Avoid sounding like a book report.
  2. Stick to what you know.  While I’m still learning the nuts & bolts of UX I do have experiences that are unique and helpful (years of working in nonprofit, foster parent, adoptive parent, parent, digital marketing specialist,etc.).  I have accumulated experiences and life lessons that are truly unique to me and that others would find interesting.  I’ve got to focus on sharing those things that I do know and linking them to the subjects I’m still learning.
  3. Craft with purpose.  A lot of times I tell stories b/c I like them, but I forget the purpose behind them.  This results in stories that trail off or leave your audience confused.  Stick with your purpose for sharing throughout your story – be purposeful & thoughtful.  If you are sharing because you feel you are sharing something beautiful then work to show that beauty all the way to the end.  If you are sharing to change someone’s behavior make sure you make a strong case for them to change.  End well.

I believe most people want to change the world.  I also believe that we can, one story at a time.

Web Designer = Investigator

I’m reading through the entire volume of Sherlock Holmes with my oldest son.  It’s not for the faint of heart and there are parts I have to ‘summarize’ for my 7 year old, but it is amazing how fast the amazing Holmes can put together simple and seemingly unrelated observation to unravel profound mysteries.  Being a web designer is really a lot like being Sherlock Holmes.  When working on a project everything the client is saying (and what they aren’t) is a clue to understanding the needs of the project.  A lot of times, people only know bits of the puzzle.  A good designer is able to discover the missing pieces and the client will recognize them.

But a web designer must also be a life long investigator on the technology behind web design.  I remember one day feeling particularly overwhelmed with how little I knew about coding.  I shared my discouragement with a friend of mine who has been designing for years.  He shared with me that on every project he has always had to figure out some portion of the project by researching on the internet.  I think somewhere in my mind I thought if I studied enough I would finally ‘arrive.’  I would reach this all-knowing-internet-guru state of mind.

Balderdash.  [Insert Sherlock accent here]

There is still so much I have to learn and with every project there is going to be something new.  I will always be learning.  I will always be stretching myself.  This is the new normal.  A lot like life really.

It goes back to being a turtle: I must be a patient plodding pursuer of knowledge.  Little by little, one successful investigation after another, I will be learning and adding to what I know.  I now join a league of investigators… perhaps one might say explorers.  I may still have so much to learn but in the meantime I am definitely getting myself a deerstalker.

Interview: Brian Sullivan

Just finished a phone interview with a bad ass guy who knows just about everybody in Dallas when it comes to UX design.  Brian Sullivan has been involved with Web Design for over 10 years  with an emphasis on user research and usability.  First, let me say that this guy was super knowledgeable and super approachable.  Even before I talked with him I knew he was passionate about design and connecting people within the field.  Why else would he put together a meetup group for Dallas UXers ?  Not to mention he is also one of the main organizers of the Big (D)esign Conference.  Obviously, this is one passionate guy.

I asked Brian for a little advice and what I got was a goldmine.  Among the numerous books, events & products he gave me to look into I got some great advice that I want to document so that I won’t forget it:

#1.  Be proud of your background.  I have a degree in psychology, not computers.  I may not know how to build a computer, but I know how a website must cater to human behavior if it is to accomplish it’s end goal.  That is a valuable skill to have.  When making a career jump you have to see the value in your past experience and be confident in how it can apply to your future professional path.

#2.  Be a go getter.  Put yourself out there.  You may not feel ready but take the leap anyway.  You may know more than you realize.  Also, as you get more exposure you will find people who will be valuable to connect with.  But if you never take that leap you will not accomplish anything.

#3.  Learning design is like trying to drink from a fire hydrant… so get used to it.  There is no way around it: there is a lot to learn about this field and it is changing everyday.  It’s like a roller coaster that you have to jump onto when the ride has already started.  It’s not going to slow down for you so you may as well enjoy it.

#4.  Know what what type of web designer you want to be.  I keep getting asked what field within the field am I interested in: User research? Visual design? Information design?  My past experience on smaller projects hasn’t required a specialized knowledge, but rather I was in charge of the overall website implementation.  At this point, I would like to be a Visual Designer, but I feel like there is more out there that I need to consider.  It’s time to go deeper.

Like I said, Brian had a lot of good advice and several product/publication recommendations that I am still going through.  Stay tuned for more.  A ‘Resource’ page will be coming soon.  I’ll be attending my first Dallas UX Group meeting in just a couple of weeks.  Check back for an update, or register yourself!

 

Web Designer = Problem Solver

One of the first conversations I had with a creative director focused on what he looks for when interviewing a candidate. He told me that the number one thing he wants to see in a person is that they are a problem solver. That really stuck with me. Every website has the challenge of moving it’s visitor in a particular direction.  Whether it is to increase sales for a car dealership or increase membership for a church every website should be the solution to a problem. How do we get website “X” to produce deliverable “Y”?

Clients have goals they want their website (and their business) to meet. The road to getting these goals accomplished can be fraught with layers of challenges that take tenacity as well as skillful patience to understand and then overcome. As a web designer, you have to be able to see the solutions that the client can’t get to on their own.  The solutions themselves can be completely unexpected but should always make sense.  When I think of ‘problem solver’ I can’t help remembering a ship in a bottle I had as a kid.  I used to stare at that thing for hours wondering how they got this beautiful ship that had so much painted detail into the bottle.  It was impossible… and yet it was right in front of me.  It was like looking at magic.  When I finally found out how a ship in a bottle is made I was flabbergasted at how simple (and yet painfully skillful) the process was. That same ship in a bottle now sits on a shelf in my son’s room. I think problem solving as a web designer is similar in that the resulting product should be just as awesome to the client as that ship in a bottle was to me.

That’s what I love about web design. You get the opportunity to create a solution for someone that they couldn’t do themselves. Just like magic.  #bethemagician

My Education Via Twitter

When I first wanted to start researching web design the first thing I did was go to Twitter.    Go to Twitter?  What? Well, I’m the kind of guy who likes to learn by saturation and the easiest way of plunging into the world of UX was to start following UX designers.  Everyday I would hop onto my feed and skim over the comments of people I admired, respected and trusted.  Of course there were a lot of ‘Here’s my breakfast’ tweets and ‘I hate it when people tweet about their breakfast’ tweets, but I found a lot of great nuggets in the stream.  Tweets introduced me to the concept of seductive interactive design, the artist Fabien Barral, and super cool conferences.

 

Initially, being a fly on the wall via tweets was a lot like drinking from a fire hydrant.  It became very overwhelming very quickly.  So, when faced with a problem you gotta come up with a solution, right?  Here are some rules I came up with for myself to help me sort through the tidal wave of daily sound bites:

 

  1. Be selective.  I only followed people whose work I admired & who were (mostly) tweeting content I wanted to hear.
  2. Keep twitter surfing time to a max of 30 minutes.  This safeguarded my productivity big time.
  3. Investigate at least 2 reputable links each day.  This is how I pushed myself to go deeper.  Even if the topic was something I was completely unfamiliar with I found it to be interesting and was expanding my knowledge base.

 

These 3 rules helped me to turn twitter into more than just a social media outlet for me.  It became my source for insider info and great tips.  I didn’t understand all the jargon at first (and I am googling terms still) but after a while I felt more comfortable.  I was able to zero in on the interesting things faster.

 

And I am always looking for recommendations on who to follow.  Got any?

Starting Over

Where Is My Super Hero Suit?

I’m just days away from starting my first semester on a web design program and I find that I am having cold feet. NOT in starting the program, not really. But there is this ambiguous feeling of hesitation. Like pausing before you leap on a parachute jump.

Confidence in my experience is like a very dapper business suit. You put it on and it feels great. You look and feel like you have it together… and you are unstoppable. It’s a mental Colin-Farrell-Suit, if you will. Or maybe Daniel Craig? Once you are in that zone you can kick ass and take names and not even get a scuff. However, wearing the suit can take some getting use to. Just as a tie can feel foreign to your neck if you don’t wear it all the time, so confidence can feel strange when it’s not a natural part of your personality. And if you don’t choose to put the confidence suit on… if you don’t choose to be confident… then the magical feelings of self assurance just don’t materialize. Then you lack the confidence to even get into the mindset and things can spiral down from there. If you don’t get into the zone, the zone becomes harder to grasp.

So, here I am about to start a program at a school with people are are significantly younger than I am, dress better (maybe), and are more used to a world of computer design. The field has come a long way from when I was first in college (e-mail was brand new, websites unheard of, and discussions of SEO or UX nonexistent). Good design has become so prevalent on the web and so easily accessed (i-pads, smart phones, laptops). More than ever I need to wear my dapper Collin-Ferrell-Suit… but what is this cold feet feeling I have? What am I nervous about? Why am I hesitant in embracing confidence?

Epiphany: Confidence & Courage Are Not The Same

And then it hits me. I’m afraid of change. I’m afraid of the unknown. I’m afraid that I will fail. I am flooded with questions of why am I here and what will I do if such-and-such doesn’t work out?

And that’s when I realize the most important thing about confidence: confidence is different from courage. Similar, but distinct. Confidence is the suit you put on… but courage is the heart you have inside. I found this quote by Eleanor Roosevelt that really puts things in perspective:

“Courage is more exhilarating than fear and in the long run it is easier. We do not have to become heroes overnight. Just a step at a time, meeting each thing that comes up, seeing it is not as dreadful as it appeared, discovering we have the strength to stare it down.” You Learn By Living (1960), 41

Maybe I will fail. Maybe I’ll be a terrible web designer. But better to try than not, right? So, I will put on my Colin-Farrell-Suit one leg at a time and stare down this unknown future. And I feel whatever the future holds… I’m going to enjoy every minute of it.