Wednesday, May 28, 2014

6 Questions with Emerging UX Design Star Eny Hathaway

I wondered if I could learn more about user experience design so I engaged my cousin Eny Hathaway on my quest.

Late last year, I decided I wanted to learn more about user experience design so I contacted my cousin, Eny Hathaway, lead UX designer for Kronos. My little one was too young for me to travel back then but I recently had the opportunity to see her during my week at the How Design Conference. One day after a long day of conferencing, I met with her, we chatted and she told me everything I wanted to know about experience design. Here's a Q&A that answered many of my questions. 

What's your background in design?
I graduated from UMass Lowell with a BFA, Graphic Design in 2004 and after graduating created logos, branding libraries, data sheets, booth displays and anything that would support a marketing department. In 2005 or so, I started working on designing the visual language for GUIs, after I moved to designing Interactions for products. 

How did you get started as a UX designer?

After graduating, I landed an internship in a software company founded by MIT graduates. There I found a couple of mentors that advised me to move from print to digital design, since technology was changing and it was changing fast. They invited me to join them in helping them design the GUI/UI of the products they were developing. I have been collaborating with software developers since.

Why do you think UX design is so important? 

The success of a product has with the product's ease of use. In the past, products were defined by their features, however, today ease-of-use and emotional connection makes a product successful.

What do you like about your job?

The team players, the complex design challenges and the satisfaction I get when a product is launched. Let me tell you a bit more… the team players are product managers, software architects, visual designer, quality assurance, usability researchers, and other interaction designers. We come together with different skills and backgrounds; everyone has a unique way to solve a given problem and different concerns. In the end, we all have to agree to the given solution. Complex design challenges keep my mind occupied and allow me to dream. When I'm given a design problem the solution most often does not exist. I have to dig deep and come up with something, an idea, that might solve that problem. You present this idea--a dream--in the hopes that others will imagine it. I have the best feeling when a product is launched or a feature is added to product and then I say,…”Wow, this was once a sketch, a simple idea that came to life.” 

What challenges have you encountered? 

One of the early challenges in my career was learning how to utilize feedback and constructive criticism. I often internalized the comments and was hard on myself. Now, as a designer with 10+ years of experience, I comprehend that I’m not designing for myself, I’m designing for other people. Today, my biggest challenge is getting a diverse team to agree upon a proposed design solution.

What keeps you motivated/inspired? 

The tech marketplace keeps me motivated, my unique background inspires me and my son keeps me laughing. I love adding value to products through design. Well-designed products make a profit, and it's important to be aware of the impact you will make as a designer in any project. There is tremendous potential to be financially rewarded as a designer. My roots inspire me, I always look at my past experiences and history to help me solve design problems. My son brings me so much joy; his sense of humor is great his happiness makes me smile.

I've found in life that the best place and people to learn from are those who are closest to us. Our mothers, fathers, and siblings have an indelible impact on what we learn and how we do so. I'm so thankful to have family such as mine and in particular this time for my cousin Eny. In an hour or two, she taught me so much. I do want to keep learning so she'll play a part in a future post and I will learn as we play.

Thursday, May 22, 2014

Top 5 Lessons Learned at the HOW Design Conference

Fred Harrison, one of the conference speakers, gave the audience bags to explode. We're all record holders at One of the main messages of Sam Harrison's talk was to pay attention to surroundings.
wondered if it was possible to actually learn something from everyone I encountered at the HOW Design 2014 Conference so I decided to take notes and see.

I love learning and although many people are turned off by conferences, I enjoy them. Going to the HOW Design Conference was a dream come true, not because I hadn't attended before, but because Stefan Sagmeister, designer rock star, was going to be there. I realized a dream and also learned quite a few lessons from everyone, but the five talks below made lasting impressions on me that will remain for a long time.

1. A Designed Life with Donovan/Green - This husband/wife team taught me that one can have better results working with the right clients.Their company grew and had a lot of success because they valued diversity of thought and hired those that were better than they were at their craft. But the most important lesson learned was to focus on what you want and to do what feels right.

2. Stanley Hainsworth's Stories of Success. Our most successful ideas can come after work hours. Infusing your passions into your work can yield great results. Everything you  do or have done,can inform your ideas and point you in the right direction.

3. Justin Ahrens Puts His Money Where His Heart Is. Mr. Ahrens is very passionate about helping the world through good. He devotes his time to charity and believes that passion brings out the best version of you. Ahrens thinks that we become what we repeatedly do so we must be aware of our habits. I was encouraged to listen to Drew Houston's commencement speech and it was the best advice. I'm paying it forward and have included it below:

4. Zing Zone with Sam Harrison - Our creativity ZONE can be achieved by following a five step process. The steps include Explore, Experiment, Exhale, Examine, Express.

5. Bob Gil on Ideation - This 83-year old reminded us that we're influenced by culture, but we should ignore it because trends are not ideas. Having a point of view brings out your best and most unique work.

I encourage everyone to go to this particular conference because you'll be surrounded by so many creatives that who knows... maybe you'll be the next Drew Houston!

Wednesday, May 7, 2014

Thirst Is Nothing, Image Is Everything

When I was in high school, one of the popular kids was selected to be in a Sprite commercial. I remember watching that commercial many times and until this day I remember the line "Thirst Is Nothing, Image is Everything." At the time, I didn't quite get the point  but now it has meaning. In the commercial, my classmate drank Sprite because he saw former NBA player, Grant Hill, drink and inferred that he could also be as good as Grant Hill by drinking Sprite. And that is the essence of image. It is the way someone/brand presents themselves and the impression it makes on us. 
So I wondered if it's at all possible to change our image even when people already have impressions of us. When it comes to design is image important? How do we use image to inform our decisions?

My Brand Is Really Your Brand

A Psychology Today web article states that our perceptions are "actually built largely on unconscious inferences that are made employing factors such as a person’s body language, voice, clothing, appearance, and social category." And these perceptions are the reason why I love and hate the existence of a personal brand image. The idea that success maybe linked to perception seems unjust to me. Although that is the case, being the maker of your own destiny can give you the driver's seat, it can give you power. A brand/personal image can also be created by a team of smart publicist/public relations department to change perception. But if you are a person, not a corporate brand, how can you be truly authentic when every decision you make at work needs to be carefully thought through and out. It's scary to think that personal or professional image--shaped by perception--can get us to go places or that it can harm us. Just ask Lindsey Lohan! 

It seems to me that there's more room to err with personal brands than with corporate brands. Not everyone is trained to be a brand and this means that their actions can hurt their lives and their careers. I think the quiet can get lost in translation, the young one's comfortable posture won't get them a raise, and wearing her lucky jeans might mean that she won't be invited to that very special event. 

Yes, all signs point to becoming aware of yourself and working on your entire image whether that is your body language, how people view you and what you wear.

Designing an Image

It's easier to work on a corporate image than your personal brand. With corporate brand, you're on the outside looking in and have much more data to build on and explore. And Design is just one piece of creating an image, a lot of it goes into PR territory.

As a designer it is important to define the brand whose image you are creating. Based on your knowledge of the organization, you can choose colors, type , paper and create a visual identity. Not a logo, but the identity. This visuals that will automatically relate to the brand and transmit who the company is faster than you can describe it. It's important to know the history of the brand, to take a look at materials and decide what worked and what didn't. Every decision you make is important. Once you've created the visual identity, everything is is simple. You can create marketing materials or advertising that tells the story of your brand through photographs and the visuals you created.

Change Is Good 

A a designer, I've learned to embrace changes. Image can be changed . Awareness is key when it comes to a personal brand. There are probably certain things we cannot change about ourselves but learn to embrace them or work them to our advantage. I for example use clothing with jewel color tones, not only because I like them but because they're known to look more expensive than other colors. 

When it comes to corporate brand, it takes a gradual approach when it comes to the visual identity. You ant to keep what works, and slowly transition other elements. If the perception of the product you're working on is that is cheap, you can create packaging can be so beautifully constructed that it can trick your audience into thinking otherwise. 

I no longer wonder, I know that I remember my classmate's commercial because I wanted to be cool.

Thursday, May 1, 2014

Styling My Voice

Here's me. Yes, me. It's what I wore to a recent event at work. And there goes my tiny head which is an obvious lie. I have a humongous head in all sense of the word. Lie again!
Over the weekend, I was taking a shower and suddenly wondered whether STYLE really matters and if I have one at all. Working as an inhouse designer is difficult. It presents challenges that only some designers have working at design studios or advertising agencies. The inhouse challenge is greater because we rarely create from nothing. Mostly, we create from something already existing "a brand." At work, my focus is not thinking about my own graphic design style but rather about what has been done in the past and contributing to keep the brand fresh. I wondered if adhering to a particular style inhibits creativity and do I have a style of my own? I not only think about my professional life but in my personal life, do I have style of all sorts?

#1. Fashionably Me

A few years ago, my sister gave me a book, The Lucky Shopping Manual, hoping that it would help me in terms of selecting appropriate work attire. I glanced at the book, shopped a few items, and now the book is back on my bookshelf and hasn't seen the light of day since the early 2000s. The truth is I had to find my fashion style on my own. It takes years to find oneself and one's style. Actually, I can tell you that when I realized I had a fashion style was when I started to use Pinterest and noticed that I tend to gravitate toward graphic prints, bright colors, loose fitting bohemian looks. I'm not always on point, but yes I know what to wear.

#2. Coloring the Lines

Recently, I have been drawing more. As you know, I'm completely obsessed with my son so one of my initial thoughts was to create an invitation for his birthday party months away. I wanted to take a class to be better at illustration but a friend suggested going to a meet up and drawing live. I had been out of practice. I had not drawn like that since college and never nudes so I was nervous.  I was rusty. At first, I could not see the way that artists see beyond the obvious. I could not draw like artists draw, I was concentrating on the details rather than the whole. I was not able to capture a whole person. By the end of that evening, I was back in my element and proved to myself that it is possible to learn or rather relearn a lost skill. I needed to now find my voice, my style. Starting to draw again took me back to the beginning, I have no drawing style.

I haven't developed a drawing style but I'm working on it. So far, I am drawn to dark lines and real-life subjects. I've noticed that my perspective is off but I like it as part of my style. Through my search for style, I came across this page and some others with varying ways you can find your style. One important lesson I learned from the one linked here is that it can't be forced.

#3. Design

I leave the most important answer for last. Do I have a design style? I have no clue. Most of the graphic design work I produce is not for myself. I will actually have to test this. The only point of reference I have to examine my style is my personal logo. The reality is that more personal works are necessary for me to discover my personal graphic design style. I'll probably be able to answer this question in a future post but for now I don't have an answer.

This is only the beginning to answer the questions on matters of taste. I think having a style does not inhibit creativity, what can hinder is tying yourself a style and not growing. I think it is important to develop a style (cliche alert) because that's what is going to set you apart from the crowd. However, recently I saw this post by Austin Kleon, one of my current fave people, about Bob Ross and Bill his mentor which gave me a little more insight. Both teacher and student had the same method of drawing, however, Bob was far more successful than Bill, his mentor, which lead me to believe that what matters more than style is the whole the brand.