THE RIGHT PATH FOR ME

As I mentioned in the very first post, just over two years ago, realizing what I want to do (for a career) hasn’t been the most straightforward process and definitely hasn’t followed the most common path. But around three years ago I understood where I wanted to go and I started down the path to reach my goal: a career in User Experience. (You can read more about my background here and here.)
    
To get to my goal I knew that it was important to first finish my undergraduate degree. I also knew that in order to move into a lifelong, valuable, and enriching career in UX I would need to do extracurricular training in user experience practices.

In April of 2015 I began the task of completing my undergraduate degree though Washington State University’s Online Bachelor's Degrees program. WSU afforded me the opportunity to take courses around my full-time work schedule and offered coursework that I could shape to enhance my pursuit of a UX career while completing my degree. 

So, I began pursuing a Social Sciences degree with an emphasis in Administrative Studies, Communication, and Psychology. As I suspected, I was able to tailor my coursework (particularly in the communications and psychology emphases) in a way that has contributed to my goal of a UX career. For example, in one communication course I learned content creation in several mediums that have aided my reporting skills. Additionally, several of my psychology courses gave me insights on how to design, conduct, and report on research studies, which are a key part of the work I hope to someday do. 

On May 6th, 2017, I completed my first step and graduated, magna cum laude, from Washington State University. I heard my name called, walk across the stage, and received my diploma with a great sense of self pride and accomplishment. (I would be remiss not to mention my amazing wife, Beth, who has been a huge support to me while working full-time and going to school. Thanks Beth!)

With my degree completed I will be focusing on user experience practices to grow the skills I have and to learn new ones. In fact, I have started to shift into a user experience research role at my company. This summer I’m scheduled to be an assistant researcher on several projects. 

My path hasn’t been the most common one but it has been the right path for me and I’m excited for the next step in my UX pursuit.

EMPATHY: A CORE VALUE

As I gain more knowledge and experience in the field of user experience several values have emerged as the core values that I want to epitomize and demonstrate when I practice UX research and design. The first of these is EMPATHY.

Stanford’s d.school is a prominent leader in the design thinking process. They use design thinking as a powerful tool (or methodology) in the user experience research and design field. They believe that empathy is the centerpiece for creating great user experiences. “To create meaningful innovations, you need to know your users and care about their lives.”

I have seen this first hand and agree that empathy is extremely valuable in creating meaningful innovations or experiences. Over the past three years I have assisted UX researchers running usability sessions both in our office and out in the field. In this time I’ve sought to understand all that they must do while running these sessions. They are responsible for taking notes on participants’ words and actions, occasionally communicating with clients or team members in the middle of the session, and navigating some challenging technical equipment, all while cordially leading participants through the session. In observing this I understand that if I can lighten their load in any way I can help them to focus on running great sessions which in turn helps us discover great insights into the problems we are trying to solve. Because of this I’ve designed our labs and our field equipment to be as easy to use as possible while still delivering quality videos. I do whatever is necessary so that the technology used during sessions becomes invisible to the researchers.

As I’ve talked about in the past, empathy is a crucial part of creating great experiences. In truly caring about your users not only do you better understand their needs and desires but you also build meaningful (and often lasting) relationships.

TRAINING: A CONVERSATION WITH JAKE FLEISHER

“Good user experience: great. Bad user experience: frustration."

Jake Fleisher, Principal UX Researcher at Blink UX

Jake Fleisher, Principal UX Researcher at Blink UX

Jake Fleisher has had a somewhat unique path to get to where he is today. Similarly to me, Jake had passions, interests, and skills in areas that he thought couldn’t all be utilized together. That changed when he discovered industrial design. On Jake’s journey he discovered the important activities that go into industrial design (aka product development), like “research and assuming a user-centered standpoint.” Now Jake is a Principal UX Researcher at Blink UX where he utilizes his talents to deliver insightful and compelling work.

I’ve had the opportunity to work very closely with Jake on several projects. He exemplifies passion, curiosity, and a drive to make user experiences great. He has also been a great contributor to my UX training. I sat down with Jake and he shared a great example of some of the work he’s done in the past.

If you’d like to read more about Jake and his eclectic set of skills and passions head of over here.

 

*Photo for audio piece by Mark Gsellman.

A LONG OVERDUE UPDATE

It’s been some time since my last post so I want to take a moment to share a quick update.

This summer and fall have been jam-packed with so much good stuff. As a part of completing my degree, I took two courses this summer and I’m in the thick of it right now with a Social Psychology and a Social Research course. This puts me on track to graduate in May of 2017! At my job I was an assistant researcher on a physical prototype usability study. I’m working on writing more about this but some of the highlights were that I wrote the participant screener and session guide for the study, handled many project management tasks, moderated one of the sessions, and co-wrote the project topline report and final report. I learned so much and I’m excited to share more soon.

Also, I made some subtle but nice changes to my logo. [I guess the corporate branding website, Brand New has been rubbing off on me.]

Lastly, please check back soon. More posts coming including another audio interview piece.

#CommutesCount by Strava: MORE DATA-DRIVEN BICYCLE AND PEDESTRIAN PLANNING

In the United States May is National Bike Month. The tradition that started in 1956 by the League of American Bicyclists as a way to “showcase the many benefits of bicycling — and encourage more folks to giving biking a try.” Across the country cities are hosting various events throughout May to promote Bike Month. The pinnacle event of this month long celebration is without a doubt “Bike to Work Day.” Here in Seattle, Bike to Work Day is actually “Bike Everywhere Day” and falls on May 20th.

But what if your city doesn’t have an organized Bike to Work Day or if your country doesn’t observe Bike Month? Strava, the excellent cycling, running, and [various other] activities tracker app, has come up with a unique solution that is uniting cyclists around the globe and providing valuable data that can be used to improve urban infrastructure for cyclists and pedestrians.

If you are a Strava member you can join the Global Bike to Work Day challenge Strava has organized. To complete the challenge all they ask is to upload a ride on May 10th that starts in one place and ends in another. If you're not a Strava member don't worry. You can signup for a free account here. The challenge is simple enough and the impact could be huge. 

In 2014, Strava launched a data service called Strava Metro. The mission of Strava Metro is to anonymize and analyze the trillions of data points it collects from the “more than five million rides and runs uploaded to Strava each week.” In cities, the majority of these activities are commutes so these data points can provide “ground truth” on where people actually ride, run, and walk in cities.

Strava is taking a data-driven approach to make cities more bikeable and safer for pedestrians.You might remember that I shared my experience assisting the Washington State Bicycle and Pedestrian Documentation Project who is also working toward this same goal. You can read more about that here.

With May just a few days away and Strava’s Global Bike to Work Day challenge just around the corner you still have time to join Strava and participate in the challenge. By doing so you personally can help make a difference. Find out more about Global Bike to Work Day on their blog. I also encourage you to find and participate in any Bike Month activities in your area. 

See you out there.

#CommutesCount #bikeseattle

NOTICING UNNOTICED DESIGN

As I eluded to in (one of) my first posts, I care about design. And as I said then, this is a huge statement in itself. But I'm hoping to unpack it from the perspective of a small design podcast called 99% Invisible

In the late summer of 2013 I spent an average of three hours commuting to and from work every day. To pass this time I filled my ears with podcasts like This American Life and Radiolab. On one of these commutes I was catching up on the backlog of Radiolab episodes and began listening to one entitled “Radiolab Presents: 99% Invisible.” The host Roman Mars described the show as a “tiny radio program about design and architecture and all the thought that goes into the things that people don’t think about.” I was instantly intrigued and after listening to this introductory episode I was hooked.  

Roman Mars. photo by Bert Johnson

I proceeded to download the nearly 90 episodes of the podcast and filled my commute with the beautifully created audio stories of the innovative design solutions all around us. As Mars eludes to in his introduction, his podcast has helped me notice more of the designed world around me and continues to spark my passion to design great user experiences (or solutions). As a quick aside, last March Mars gave an amazing TED talk about good design from the perspective of vexillology. I highly recommend you watch it. In it Mars reveals the five basic principles of flag design and shows why he believes they can be applied to just about anything.

Mars and his amazing team have now created over 200 episodes and most recently, they have added written pieces as well as a short video collaboration with Vox exploring the concept of Norman Doors

While I encourage you to listen to all the episodes of 99% Invisible let me direct you to a handful of my favorites.

Episode 52 : Galloping Gertie - The story the original Tacoma Narrows Bridge. It used to dance in the wind.

Episode 86 : Reversal of Fortune - The story of reversing the flow of the Chicago River. Yup, they reversed a river.

Episode 110 : Structural Integrity - The story of how a 59-story skyscraper was built with a potentially fatal flaw and how an architecture student discovered the problem. Spoiler: it didn’t collapse because they fixed it in secret.

Episode 197 : Fish Canon - The Story of wildlife corridors and designing solutions to get salmon around the nearly “88,000 water flow barriers in the country.” Yes, it’s a cannon that shoots fish!

Episode 156 : Coin Check - The story of a unique way “to show appreciation, love, sympathy, or professional connection.” And it makes a fun drinking game.

Last fall the 99PI team challenged it’s listeners to become sustaining members of the podcast network Radiotopia, of which 99% Invisible is one of its founding podcasts. It was a no-brainer for me to support 99PI and the other fantastic podcasts of Radiotopia. And to make the deal even sweeter, for being a supporting member I received a 99PI challenge coin that I now carry with great pride. 

Now, head over to 99percentinvisible.org and enjoy. I suggest you start at episode one

Wait, one last thing. If you have a podcast, book, movie, or something that has impacted how you see the world please share it by leaving a comment below. And, if you’re already a fan of 99PI, what’s your favorite episode?