Category Archives: Development

Changing Lanes

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In the course of your life, unless you have inherited your family’s Piggly Wiggly fortune, you will have held a number jobs. Maybe you started out in your teens by bagging groceries, or perhaps you filled up that piggy bank by babysitting or mowing lawns. That first job hopefully taught you some valuable lessons about life.

You probably learned that time is money, that you have to work hard in order to do well and keep that job, that learning new skills can be challenging but also rewarding, and that new skills make you better equipped for other jobs in the future. I hope you’ve realized that relationships are instrumental in your success in a role, and that the relationships you build in one job may prove to be a factor in roles you’ll hold down the road.

Undoubtedly, you will have at some point realized you no longer wanted to keep doing the same job. Depending on your circumstances, you may or may not have been able to act on that impulse immediately—many of us certainly have tales of a dramatic exit from a job we’ve held! Hopefully, you gave some thought to your decision to leave the job, but–regardless–you did eventually move on to something else.

Think for a moment about what led you to move on in each job you’ve held over the years. Can you pick up any patterns in your thinking or in the circumstances that triggered your desire to move to the next gig?

This kind of introspection can be illuminating in that it can help you consciously account for the factors that could lead you to stay in a role as it exists, make changes to the role so that you continue to reap rewards in the current position, or determine it is again time to look for that next great adventure.

A few types of job changes

One type of job change can be thought of as linear progression. You start out waiting tables, move up to shift manager, tend bar, manage a store, manage a region of stores, and then run the company. This kind of change tends to value domain knowledge highly: how WE do things in THIS restaurant. It also values generalist knowledge: THIS is how you bus tables, how you handle a customer who’s had too much to drink, and how you report (or don’t report) tips.

Another type of change is when you keep the same role but change companies or divisions. You can be a graphic designer, an insurance salesperson, or a registered nurse just about anywhere because the skills you must possess and the tasks you must be capable of performing well are going to be quite similar anywhere you go. Generalist knowledge is valued here, but more important is subject matter expertise. If you’ve been a nurse for 20 years and have worked in six hospitals across three countries—chances are you’ve seen it all, you’re hard to rattle, and you can do a good percentage of your tasks by instinct while focusing your active attention on more complex challenges.

The last type I’ll mention is what we’re going to focus on today: moving in your career from one archetypal role to another. For example, starting your career as a librarian and then becoming a chemist, followed by a stint as a stunt car driver. This type of change can be very challenging, but very rewarding as well.

One quick note: This can happen within a single organization or it can happen when you leave one company and join another. There will be some differences in how you evaluate the pros and cons of a transition versus an exit, but I believe my experience holds true in both cases.

The more similarities and overlap between these roles, the more your existing knowledge will be useful in the new role, but if you look closely you’ll find there are many skills and realms of knowledge that ARE actually transferrable between widely divergent roles. The real magic happens when you can bring a fresh perspective to the table when tackling challenges in the new role.

I’ll address the following questions based on my experiences in moving from role to role:

  • What drives someone to consider a lane change?
  • What are some factors to take into account when deciding if the move is the right one?
  • What could make your transition more successful?
  • What should you expect once you’ve made the leap?

My own experience

In my own career, I’ve been an illustrator, graphic designer, art director, multimedia developer, web designer, web developer, ad operations trafficker, and more. I’ve managed designers, developers, and non-technical folks. I’ve worked on the revenue side as well as the content side of small to large publishing/entertainment properties.

To channel Sesame Street for just a moment, you might imagine that some of these things are not like the others. As a matter of fact, all of these roles share similar aspects as well as having striking differences—and that is a damned good thing.

So what motivated me to consider moving to a radically different position (different at least to outside observers)?

In my role as a visual designer, I designed interfaces for websites and applications. Often my designs would brush up against the edge of what was possible with then-current HTML, CSS, javascript, and Flash. At the very least, some design decisions I made would prove to be problematic for those tasked with building a template from the design. This led to me learning new skills–namely HTML, CSS, javascript, more advanced Flash, and PHP.

Jumping from designer to developer came about to provide a better product (visual design artifacts) in my role as a designer.

I also knew that learning more developer-centric skills would make me a good fit for a far wider selection of jobs in the future. I’d be able to apply for roles that went beyond visual design.

Moving to a new role was in service of increasing job security and preparing for more opportunities in the future than a single set of skills would provide.

Some people prefer to pursue excellence in the same type of role for their whole career. This, however, is not me. I simply get bored with the same role over a long period of time with little to no variation. Now, doing similar things while changing up other elements is another story—for example the context, the complexity, the subject matter, the environment, or the team members. These factors are part of what determines one’s experience in a given job, so changing one or more can significantly extend the period of contentment one feels with that role.

Simple boredom was a significant factor. For me, passion breeds excellence; boredom breeds mediocrity.

In many cases, it can be difficult to get a raise when you hold the same job over a period of years, while a change to a different job entirely is likely to come with amenities: a bump in pay, a cooler title, better facilities, more chances to travel, or more training opportunities. In recent years, the data has shown that those that change jobs every three years or so advance more quickly in their career than those who hold the same positions over longer periods of time.

Compensation and benefits played into my decisions to change jobs each time.

What factors should YOU take into account when considering a lane change?

  • The skills you currently have that will be directly or indirectly applicable to the proposed new role. This one will take some reflection, because it’s not immediately apparent what kind of overlap that might exist.
  • The obvious/traditional career path the new role would offer, PLUS the flexibility the potential role would add to your repertoire for future lane changes.
  • The compensation and benefits offered by current and potential roles, weighed in terms of how much each of those benefits matter to you personally.
  • The teams and individuals you do and would work with on a daily basis. When you see folks more days a week than not, you’d better like them! They should compound your enthusiasm, your drive to innovate, and share a similar value system to your own. If there’s a marked difference in culture, values, workflow, or communication styles, don’t take this lightly!
  • If you’re pondering a jump to a new company AND a new role, factor in the equity you’ve built in the existing company. Seniority has perks, so make sure the leap is worth your while.

What could make this transition more successful for you?

I’ve found transparency to be effective here. When you are talking with your existing supervisor/peers AND when you talk with the prospective team members—be honest. Tell them where your head’s at, why you want to make the move and how you think your particular background would make you a great fit in the new role.

Ideally, there are real benefits to both teams. In one case, the team I was exiting depended on the team I was moving into for support. They knew that I would carry the concerns and sensibilities forward, and that they would have an inside connection and more responsive support since I knew their pain points.

If you’re leaving your current organization entirely, there will be less overlap in domain knowledge specific to a given company/brand, and significantly less benefit to the relationship aspect—knowing who to deal with in other teams to get things done efficiently or influence strategy outside your new team.

Lesson: Identify and communicate the win-win.

Want to know a surefire way to avoid burning bridges? Ensure adequate coverage for your existing role. Take the time to share with your current team all the intricacies of the things you are responsible for. Verify that all the things you do have a new owner or are at least acknowledged as items that need new homes.

Take it a step further and document all those little nice to know details that people may take for granted you’ll be able to provide if asked. You may not have the luxury of dropping everything in your new role to address someone’s need in a timely fashion, and if you can point them to a resource or forward them a detailed explanation that already exists, you’re ahead of the game.

Lesson: Keep intact the bridges you’ve built. Leave good notes.

Finally, what can you expect once you’ve made the leap?

You’re in the new job now, kicking butt and taking names. Everything is copasetic… except that you keep getting emails, phone calls, IMs, and drive-by visits by folks who just “have a quick question” or would “like your input on something.”

As part of your transition strategy, take the time to negotiate a period of interim support. For X number of weeks, you’re willing to provide limited support of your prior role’s responsibilities (and your new boss has authorized the time to do so.) This makes it clear to all parties that there WILL be some support and eases a lot of fears in the process. It also makes it clear where that line is drawn, beyond which you cannot commit to helping out the old gang any longer.

If you’re leaving your company for a new one, the expectations for interim support are unlikely to be significant. Regardless, making the effort to avoid leaving landmines will be noticed, and good karma never hurts.

Lesson: Set boundaries and stick to them.

Another important step in today’s world is ensuring that your communication channels are updated. Distribution lists, chat rooms, trade publications, physical mailings, and the like all take time to wade through, time that isn’t productive and can extend your on-boarding time as you remain stuck between two worlds.

Lesson: Fill out those virtual change-of-address forms.

Finally, the way you’re perceived by internal and external contacts is something that can take a long time to shift, if it ever does. If you met someone in your role of designer, don’t expect them to refile you under “content strategist” in their head just because it’s so. It may never occur to your team lead that you can put together a styleboard. You will have to be your own champion, diligently switching out your various hats and making opportunities to integrate your different skills into your new role.

Lesson: Habits are hard to change. You’ll need to help that process along.

Final thoughts

Throughout my career, in every case where I have made a significant change in the role I am pursuing, there have been challenges—of course. But I can honestly say that each lane change has led organically to bigger and better things and that I’ve learned a ton, which is a crucial part of my happy place.

Your own lane change may result in a greater appreciation for how other team(s) work and greater empathy in your collaboration with them in the future. It may cause you to realize you actually enjoy the new role more than ones you’ve held before and that you’ve found YOUR happy place. Or you may simply take your new insights in stride, apply it to your growing skillset, and move on again when the time is right.

Nomad or permanent settler—there is no right answer, but don’t be afraid to explore. There’s so much out there to experience, and the knowledge gained and the overlap between roles can be significantly to your benefit, to that of your team, your organization, and, ultimately, your users.

Further reading
http://www.forbes.com/sites/jacquelynsmith/2013/03/08/the-pros-and-cons-of-job-hopping/

http://www.forbes.com/sites/work-in-progress/2012/08/06/8-pros-and-cons-of-job-hopping/

http://danschawbel.com/blog/job-hopping-is-now-part-of-career-management/

http://hbr.org/2012/07/why-top-young-managers-are-in-a-nonstop-job-hunt/

Also published at Boxesandarrows.com/

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Optimism in Designers, Developers and Managers – Part 2

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In part 1 of this series, we talked about the inherent optimism of designers, developers and managers, as well as specific elements of our professions that increase our sense of optimism. Now let’s touch base with some real people as they consider how optimism is reflected in their own lives.

I polled some coworkers and friends who can be loosely grouped into designer, developer or manager roles, and I asked what made THEM optimistic. Interestingly, almost without fail folks had a hard time identifying this at first. It seemed easier for them to come up with what kept them from being optimistic than it was to define what kept them engaged and hopeful.

I’ll start with the manager role, and with my own experiences in management.

In my own life, I’ve felt optimism in several ways. First, it’s amazing how good it feels to make a fundamental and positive difference in someone’s life – someone who relies on you to keep them informed, supplied with projects, needful resources and sometimes even advice. For every crappy situation I’ve had to deal with as a manager, there has been a more impactful moment where I realize the difference I made for a person, a team or a project. I’m optimistic that if I can trend towards keeping my eyes and ears open, my mouth mostly shut; if I can focus on striving for a healthy balance in all things and on being a servant first and boss second, my optimism will continue to be justified.

What does a management peer have to say?
Tripp:

“What drives me the most is my role as a teacher. I don¹t view myself as someone who has a long list of things to get done. Instead, I view my role as someone who teaches others how to get things done and to do so while producing exceptional quality…

“Nothing is more satisfying than watching your team learn and grow over time, and I look forward to preparing them for that growth everyday.”

Tripp’s comments echo the sentiments I’ve heard from many of the great managers I’ve worked with over the years.

Next, let’s talk to developers, starting with my own reflections on the role.

As a developer, nothing makes me more optimistic than being given the chance to implement a new tool or new feature within the scope of a well-defined project. By well-defined, I mean that the requirements are actually spelled out with enough clarity that I’m not having to chase down specific interaction details, approved copy or the latest round of graphic assets. Optimism comes from knowing I’ll be given a tough challenge AND the breathing room and time to do it well. Bonus points if I get to collaborate with other developers to come up with something extra special.

Let’s see what other developers have to say:
George:

“It’s like the Wild Wild West all over again. The number of devices available to assist users in consuming content is growing. Mobile browsing is exploding, wearable tech is just on the horizon. Content and information about almost everything anyone could want is at your fingertips… as developers, we’re the ones with the power to unite the content with the users and display it in such a manner that it delights the user, that it informs the user, that it makes a difference in their lives.

… for all those reasons, I feel like despite the number of challenges we face as developers… how could you be anything BUT optimistic!?“
Matt:

“As a coder/developer/programmer, I’m excited about how fast we’re now able to create powerful new tools and applications with new languages and methodologies, mostly spurred by a large organic open source ecosystem (or ecosystem, depending on view). I’m also glad that our profession, to a degree, has been able to grow its talent pool beyond its initial, small, arguably insular, group of practitioners.”
Jeff:

“Being given the chance to write code which can stand the test of time and be used again and again… Code that deals well with changing circumstances and can be adapted pretty easily to meet the needs of tomorrow. All that pie-in-the-sky kind of stuff. I like writing code that makes writing code easier and more fun…”

We’ll hear more from these folks later on when we examine some of the challenges each group faces as they look to the future.

In these conversations, it was obvious that the simple act of verbalizing something positive about their design or management gig was followed by an uptick in their outlook. Now if you’re paying attention, this means that we’ve made something from nothing. We’re outlook alchemists! Where once there was a lukewarm, gray day with nothing interesting on the horizon. Haven’t we all been there?

Take a few seconds every day, snatched from whatever your day already holds. Think about those things you’ve identified that are essential to your vision. Then make such efforts as you are able to bridge the gap.

Next time, we’ll take a peek inside the minds of designers to see what makes them flourish and what makes us feel like we’ve died a little bit on the inside.

Editor’s note: Also published on GIANT UX

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Optimism In Designers, Developers and Managers – Part 1

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By looking at what raises our spirits or crushes our souls, I think we can increase our awareness and take back a little control of our work destiny. Join me as we delve into what makes designers, developers and managers optimistic, and what fills us with dread.

I recently heard a line that stuck in my head: “Designers are inherently optimistic.” This was casually mentioned by Simon King, a designer presenting on why we should step up and design apps for ourselves, to “scratch our own itch.” He added an observation that all designers do these two things: seeing and making.

“Is that true?” I wondered to myself. Simon feels this is true because designers can often envision a better way (be that a better future, a better product, or a better interaction) – and more often than not, designers can visualize the steps necessary to reach that better place.

My own background is certainly grounded in design, but I’ve made some fairly broad jumps to other disciplines in past years which have given me a somewhat different perspective on many things. Immediately after coming to the conclusion that there was some truth in Simon’s assertion about designers’ optimism, my developer voice jumped into the discussion.

“Hey. Developers are optimistic too! We also envision a better product and often feel that achieving the goal is within our reach – we can code a solution!!! Also, we SEE and MAKE too! Of course, we often see differently than designers do.” Silently, I agreed (yes, with myself if you’re following along) there was some merit to the claim. Developers ache to be given a substantial challenge – one with clear expectations, well-documented requirements and a reasonable timeline. We want to build things that will be used en masse, that will gain a following and be appreciated. Not to be outdone, my manager voice chimed in next.

“Well, managers are CERTAINLY optimistic. Whether one is managing a team, a project or a product – there’s certainly a lot of optimistic thinking going on when one takes on a new management role.” True, I thought. And if management is defined as “adding value through optimizing the contributions of others,” or by “facilitating a high level of productivity at a minimum cost,” etc., then it could be argued that the whole SEEING and MAKING paradigm holds true with managers as well. Managers should see the whole, the composite made of many smaller pieces. We MAKE by facilitating a more efficient trip from A to Z, or one that’s more fun and rewarding, or cheaper, or that benefits more users. While jumping into a new management situation can be terrifying, it’s also exhilarating. Think about the amazing things your team can accomplish, the growth you can foster in your team members and in your organization, the real impact you can have on someone’s career and life.

So if designers, developers and managers all are capable of seeing the world with a positive outlook, and of jumping into projects with an innate sense of hope, determination and joy… if we’re all immersed every day in SEEING and in MAKING… what’s the deal? When does the milk turn sour? At some point, we all lose that fire – that very sense of optimism that makes it a treat to head to work each day because you know you’ll build something worthwhile, tweak a process, refactor that block of code or simply have a stimulating conversation about work with a coworker. (imagine that!)

Next time, we’ll take a closer look at some of the factors in the modern workplace that might influence how optimism of our designers, developers and managers can ebb and flow as we navigate this evolving world together.

You might be surprised by how little it takes to change someone’s outlook – perhaps a friend’s, or perhaps your own.

Editor’s note: Also published on GIANT UX

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Midwest UX 2013 – Recap

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I’m back in Tennessee after spending four days in Grand Rapids, Michigan where the MidwestUX 2013 conference was being held. I was turned on to the conference by an old friend whose advice I’ve sought out as I work towards moving back to design roles. I’m grateful Christian steered me to MidwestUX, and glad my family and my job were able to facilitate the time I needed to attend.

Despite having gone to Columbus College of Art in Ohio (and being born in Iowa), I don’t have a lot of ties to the Midwest any more. After witnessing the degree to which the brains behind the conference had their acts together, and having met so many clever, kind folks from all walks of life who joined me there – I have to say I was really impressed (and consider MidwestUX a new connection to the Midwest!)

Impressed with the city

Grand Rapids, huh? For those folks NOT from the region, this may conjure up vague associations with cold weather, lake effects, and proximity to our Canadian neighbors in the north. I was surprised to find instead a city whose downtown was quite a bit more developed than Knoxville, at least 25% more populous, and FULL OF DESIGN.

larger than life fortune cookie message

There’s an art school there: Kendall College of Art and Design. It’s pretty big, pretty modern, and housed in some pretty swanky digs.

There’s a lot of really good beer here, too. Also some whisky, burgers and arcade games. I can vouch for the first two bits there.

beer?

There’s also some really good coffee here. The first day, we hit Biggby’s Coffee. It wasn’t bad – better than average coffee, but nothing life changing. The second day I went to Madcap Coffee. If I could, I would teleport there and back every morning from now on. I would marry their machiatto, but polygamy isn’t legal in Michigan or Tennessee. I wasn’t the only one either – fellow drinkers would note the cups held by other attendees and simply raise them up and wordlessly acknowledge the religious experience we shared.

madcap mmm

Also a great art museum. More on that in a moment.

Impressed with the pre-conference work

Every point of contact I had with the conference was well designed, well managed and question-free. Seriously. I had no questions after reading the website. Signing up for the conference triggered confirmations, friendly advice about the city and venues, and timely reminders and new info via email and the website as it became available.

Impressed with the conference logistics

Again, no questions. No drama. No issues with instructions, with missing presenters, with spotty Wi-Fi, or unclear directions. There were volunteers stationed for maximum effect to direct foot traffic between buildings and events, signage up everywhere you could need it to be, and things ran on time across the board. It was almost spooky.

The food and beverages provided at certain points were fresh, plentiful, tasty, and served with 100% recyclable or compostable materials. There was next to no waste produced by this event.

The sessions and workshops themselves comprised a nice mix of disciplines and interests, though I had a couple hard decisions to make.

Session notes

Thursday
I missed a great workshop on drawing communication practices by MJ Broadbent, but enjoyed a workshop on design practice led by Matt Nish-Lipidus. Given the simple task of coming up with a clock that describes one’s relationship to time, there was a surprising variety in what our breakout teams came up with.

Since I covered all costs myself versus having the conference/travel paid for by my company, I opted to only do one workshop. After lunch I headed to the GRAM, or Grand Rapids Art Museum. There I enjoyed the permanent collections as well as a few remnants from the ArtPrize event they apparently have each year in Grand Rapids. There’s a very well put together art library within the museum as well.

GRAM reflecting poolGRAM stairway

Friday
Abby Covert’s keynote on “Making Sense of Place” did not disappoint. I’d heard a bit about her, and I can see how she’s got the reputation of being a smart, kind, and energetic designer and presenter. Her talk focused on relating IA (information architecture) specifically and UX as a whole to the theme of ‘place’, and place making. Aside from her amusingly caffeinated story, she presented a hierarchy of terms to make sense of a given design challenge, and how to zoom in and out of that hierarchical framework to gain insights. Ecosystem to Object – from a simple object like a button up to a complex collection of systems like a large pharmaceutical company.

Hierarchy - making sense of place

Dude, Who Stole My Community
Charles Erdman led an interesting session that focused on how our developing technology and our dependence/addiction to it has effected our sense of community. From I Forgot My Phone to stories of how technology helped keep communities in touch during the recent Colorado flooding, he made some good points for designers to consider carefully when using and building future products and systems.

After orientation: making room for a novice UX designer
Megan Schwartz had a lot of really sensible things to say about how organizations can better support (and learn from) novice designers. Some of it was common sense (though not necessarily practiced in the workplace very often) but her insights into the ways novices can turn the tables and really help a company out were interesting. As a manager myself I took away some notes I intend to put into practice. Good job, Megan!

Excursion
I joined a gaggle of folks and we soon arrived at GRID70, a coworking space shared by a number of non-competitive companies with roots in Grand Rapids. Here’s the description:

GRid70 is currently the world’s largest experiment in coworking which brings innovation and strategy teams from Steelcase, Amway, Wolverine Worldwide, and Meijer together in shared spaces. This Excursion focuses on ways space can be designed to create the “happy accidents” of collaboration essential to fostering new work structures and inter-industry collaboration. The participants will engage in a conversation about Grid70 – what it is, how it works, and the challenges it addresses. The Excursion will culminate with an exercise to expand the concepts discussed and deconstruct a proposed experience solution.

First we talked about the space itself, the groups working there, and the mindset that brought it all together. Then we toured the building, poked around the collaborative workspaces, and generally grew quite jealous of their marvelous workspace. Finally we got back together and tossed around ideas on how to achieve a sense of community in Amway’s international physical storefronts – designed to be a coworking space, a distribution point for merchandise and a support structure for the independent business owners. It was a fun outing to be sure.

a walkway - brought to you by Dr. Whostickies as far as the eye can see

Keynote #2 by Christina Wodtke
Another well-known figure in the UX community, Christina had some nifty insights to share about Place. For one, stop thinking purely in terms of how you as a builder are creating spaces. Stop and think about how places make you. Places, communities, heartlands.

Another insight was to consider carefully how a user’s speed of browsing should be consciously designed for… on a social site’s homepage when NOT logged in, you might design for high speed ingestion – users will likely only see the page for a brief moment and can scan a well designed page quickly to find what they need. Contrast this with a comments feed from friends – this highly dense information must be put together so that one’s low speed browsing experience is optimized. If the internet is our new third space (since bowling alleys are nearly extinct and not everyone likes Starbucks), what is the internet’s heartland?

Saturday

In the morning, Christina chaired a panel (you’ll see what I did there in a sec) with design leads from Steelcase, Herman Miller and Haworth. Each had brought a chair with them (and sat on it for the duration) that exemplified the design philosophy their company was known for. It was rather cool seeing three competitors on the stage at once, sharing some challenges and some lessons learned that they found they had in common. Everyone in the crowd wanted those chairs… badly.

Lunch was served, and some of us chose to take in some quick lightning sessions in a format called Pecha Kucha. I caught three of them, and resolved to take part the next time we have a Pecha Kucha night in Knoxville.

Pecha Kucha

After lunch, I took in a thought provoking session about the Essence of Experience (Design can be dangerous), and another on how “The Place You’re In Is More Than The Place You’re At” by Phillip Hunter.

A takeaway for me was Phillip’s comprehensive list of different continuums – a sliding scale indicating ‘more’ or ‘less’, ‘hot’ or ‘cold’ as related to user experience evaluations. This isn’t a list of good and bad, just a way to think about a product or service to ensure you’re designing with the right factors in mind. Stay tuned for tweaks to this – I think he said it was still in beta 🙂

photo 3

Finally, the closing keynote began, featuring Karl Fast. I had the pleasure of sharing lunch with Karl and two other gentleman before the excursion to Grid70, and his insights into the state of UX education, MOOCs, and technology trends had me wishing we could have a longer lunch.

Karl’s talk led from physics to astronomy to electronics to biofeedback to data. BIG DATA is all well and good, but Karl exposed us to the idea that SMALL DATA is where we as designers can build experiences and leverage the growing sea of data to improve the lives of individuals, at a local scope, in real and measurable ways. He’s a great speaker and a very sharp fella.

The conference closed out with credit to volunteers, sponsors, organizers, and attendees. Lots of genuine applause and positive feedback – (I wasn’t the only one to feel like the logistics for MidwestUX were flawless.)

I had a blast. It felt so good to talk design and experience again with folks from all over engaged in all sorts of roles. Invigorating, exciting… like a Zest commercial with empathy and a sense of place.

On the way out of the city, I dropped by to say a sad goodbye to my new sweetheart: goodbye, MadCap. And goodbye, Grand Rapids! I hope to see you in Indy next year, MWUX!

Madcap latte

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Getting back in the saddle

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It’s been some time since I redesigned Minotaurdesign.com. (2006, to be precise.) It’s been my business site since I had a business (1999) and it has gone through intense periods of work with much love/attention being paid to it – alternating with periods of inactivity.

I’m now coming off several years of letting the website sit untouched. If it mattered, I could point the finger at a number of things: parenthood, juggling the duties of a part-time landlord with a full time job, and feeling a lack of creativity fueled by having roles that put increasingly less emphasis on DESIGNING vs MANAGING, to name a few. Regardless, regret at having let the site sit idle does no good – so onward and upward!

As I gear up for a substantial redesign and some strategic shifts in focus, I have to credit a number of factors when looking at what has moved me to action:

  1. Recruiters

    I know what you’re thinking… recruiters? aren’t they the underbelly of our working world, constantly pinging you when you have no interest and making statements and promises that simply demonstrate their lack of any real knowledge about your chosen field…? Well, that can be the case, certainly.

    In my case, being contacted by one of the most influential companies for me on both a personal and professional level was an eye opening experience. When Apple first pinged me (via a well known business social media platform) I thought it was spam. After a bit of research I found the inquiry to be legit, which led to a number of conversations with recruiters and hiring managers on the west coast. The long and short of it was that our discussions led to one recurring observation:

    They felt I wasn’t solely dedicated to the discipline of front end development, and that I (still) seemed to harbor interest in the design side of the web.

    After much reflection, I realized they were right. With a background in illustration & advertising design, with a large side of fine art – I had to admit to myself that despite a full time job with an incredible company, serving terrific family-friendly brands, and working with amazing people – in the end i could not say I was fulfilled by the roles I’d held in recent years.

  2. Old friends

    In the first few years of my professional career I was part of a rapidly growing company that built multimedia sales platforms for auto dealers and which eventually turned into doing websites for automotive OEMs and dealer groups. Our team was home to a group of truly talented, passionate folks – many of whom are still in contact today. 2013 brought some significant career changes to three of those very influential friends from the early days:

    • One fellow had been out of the loop so long he no longer felt able to get back up to speed and took a retail job to pay the bills. He despaired of every returning to the web industry. This was a gentleman to whom myself and other young folks had looked up as an early adopter, a pioneer – with many different skill sets and a daunting intellect.
    • Another close friend was a renowned expert in his field, and a published author several times over. He was a trusted source for guidance in many forums over a number of years, a born teacher, and a truly remarkable human being as well. This friend had been a full time freelance developer for more close to 10 years, but his chosen area of expertise began to lose relevancy and his work dried up. He had to take a corporate job, and he too felt the pinch of having let his skills in many areas fall out of practice – easy to do in a world where innovation and major shifts in accepted practices happen all the time. In conversations over the course of the year, I had to admit I was very much in danger of falling prey to the same kind of threat.
    • A third friend, who some would have voted ‘most likely to remain a no-good punk for life‘, instead went on to consistently make wise choices in the roles he took on and the contacts he made in the industry. He adopted an attitude of humility and eagerness to learn, and was rewarded by the well-earned regard of his employees, employers and peers. His path remained aligned with his core values, with the things he’d grown to value: open, clear communication, advocacy for the users of the products he touched, and the courage to call BS when necessary. This year brought an amazing opportunity for him and his family, and hearing the joy he found in continuing to pursue his chosen path was encouraging to say the least.

  3. Family

    My family has been supportive over the years – grateful for the extra income my work has brought in under the Minotaur Design banner and happy that I was content in my work. It’s been obvious in recent years that I was left somewhat incomplete by the roles I’ve held by day, and my family has urged me to indulge in creative outlets while remaining understanding when I didn’t feel I had the energy or will to do so. My wife and daughter are the subject in many portraits done over past years, and so too are they supportive of my desire to steer back towards more creative professional roles.

  4. Twitter

    I admit it…

    I didn’t really GET Twitter when it launched. In fact, I didn’t really get it for years. It didn’t help to have set my privacy settings to “Ostrich with head in sand” when I initially signed up.

    Not until somewhat recently did I awaken to the second-by-second stream-of-consciousness zeitgeist that Twitter had become. Taking part in active conversations with other designers, developers and assorted experts has been at once humbling and exhilarating. Keeping up to date via blog entries and published articles has gotten harder year by year, and I’m starting to see how much more accessible it is to use tools like Twitter to stay abreast of the always changing world of the wide, wide web.

There are so many more choices available today than when I last redesigned the site. It used to be you simply coded out your design from scratch, did some testing with friends, peers and prospective clients, and breathed a sigh of relief when it was done and you could get back to paying work.

These days there are a lot of factors to juggle:

  1. Goals: Are you building the site to get new business? To show off your chops in hopes of scoring a plumb day job? To demonstrate hard-won expertise and hawk your latest book, seminar or conference tour?
  2. Platforms: Are you building from scratch or Using a publishing platform like WordPress or Drupal and/or relying on a framework like Bootstrap or Foundation?
  3. Deployment methodologies: Are you pushing everything up to your server manually via FTP, or are you using advanced IDE software, employing enhanced workflows, and jumping through the hoops of Node.js, NPM and Gruntc?
  4. Stylesheets: Still writing your CSS the old fashioned way? Pull up a stool and skill up on dynamic stylesheets: LESS, SASS, mixins and varying levels of automation wired any which way.
  5. Speed: Do you have site performance in mind? Think it’s still enough to just watch the filesize of your jpeg files? Are you loading all your script and style assets for every page, or building things in a modular fashion and only loading what’s needed, ala Require.js, Yepnope, or LabJS?
  6. SEO: It’s not enough to have a nice website these days. You’ve got to have it set up so it’s searchable, relevant, semantic and well-liked (well-linked). You may even have to pay for some exposure – SEO isn’t enough, SEM to the rescue.
  7. Research: Operating on hunches about what your users are doing? No bueno. You’ve got to wire up your site to some analytics – get some real insight into traffic patterns, user behavior, and the effectiveness of your marketing efforts.
  8. Marketing: What, you’re not doing much marketing? Too bad, you just lost the first round. Many FREE and PAID options abound, from Facebook and Twitter to LinkedIn, Tumblr, Quora, Pinterest and more. Seperating the signal from the noise is part of the challenge, as is learning to employ your research in focusing your marketing efforts.
  9. User Experience: Great, you’ve got users on the site. Now, CAN THEY USE IT? Usability was a concern back in the day, but now it’s become an increasingly important discipline to practice, and one that relies on many of the prior factors – research primary among them. Is your content organized well? Does the visual design enhance or obstruct your message? Can your users follow the desired courses of action you’ve laid out for them? Are your objectives served by each and every choice you’ve made along the way?

All of this is enough to induce a case of decision paralysis – but I’m powering on.

I’ve finally rediscovered the passion I felt in the early days of designing for the web, and I can’t wait to find out what comes next.

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