Author: Michelle Pakron

7Feb
Yup, it's my puppeh

My UX Path

(Updated 11-23-2017) Everyone I meet who is a UX-something has had a different road to UX. Some folks started out as programmers, others as graphic designers. Some folks have even been lucky enough to gain HCI degrees. I find it extremely interesting to learn how others have come to UX and I thought I would share my path as well. My path is long and winding and still evolving.

Back in the nineties when I was in college, I started out as a biology major. I wanted to be an environmental scientist and save the world. Then I got into psychology and got pretty far in that. Psychological concepts are actually pretty important in UX, so this was a really good diversion. My best friend at the time was an art major and she encouraged me to take some art classes. I have always been into arts and crafts but never considered them viable career options. I took some classes and found them to be really rewarding. Another friend encouraged me to take a graphic design class-I didn’t even know what graphic design was. I excelled at graphic design and decided to change my major for the third time. I took a computer graphics class and fell in love with Macromedia Director and creating interactive presentations. I then got a student gig working on the university website and that is how I got started in the digital realm.

Even though I finished the graphic design program, I have never actually been a graphic designer. Sure, I’ve designed print pieces here and there along with many, many logos, but I have never had the title of graphic designer. I went straight into web design and production and have been an interactive something-or-the-other for over 18 years now.

Over the next few years, I taught myself HTML and CSS. I started writing functional specifications filled with wireframes and information architecture diagrams and user flows. I began to lead web development projects from start to finish, all the while doing all of the UI design and front-end production. I learned how to do QA testing. Then I became an expert in SharePoint branding and site collection administration.

I started to get into analytics and search analysis. I did competitive analysis and research and wrote a bunch of reports. I started to create training documentation, then I started to conduct in-class training.

After many years, I became a Creative Director and was responsible for large-scale redesigns of major e-government projects. Currently, I spend my days as Sr. UX Analyst and Designer at an asset management firm. My days are filled with research, wireframes, mocks, sketches, user testing and interviews, and UI design. I don’t do any front end development anymore, at least not at my day job. I also consult on the side doing expert UX reviews.

After all these years, it is easy to feel like you have it all figured out, but I feel like I am just getting started. I make a concerted effort to constantly learn new things, new techniques, new ideas. I also believe that a person’s career is in their hands and if your company won’t pay for training, pay for it yourself. Read books, blogs, newsletters, whatever. Teach yourself whatever it is you want to know-I did, that’s how I learned HTML/CSS and pretty much every thing I know that I use on a daily basis. I have or have had subscriptions to Safari online books, Lynda.com, Treehouse, over 30 Udemy courses, Creative Live and a membership to the Interaction Design Foundation. I also have two industry certifications – Certified Usability Analyst from HCI and an NN/g UX certification.

I’ve worn a lot of hats and have a wide-ranging set of skills. I feel like everything I have learned has helped me to be better at anything I do. I am able to solve problems quickly because chances are, I’ve solved it before (benefits of having a long career and working in different industries). I’ve worked at small agencies, at a death care company, an e-gov agency working with elected officials, and now, an asset management firm. I have always done freelance on the side, both for money and for the experience of working with more varied clients and projects. I am looking forward to another year in this industry and another set of skills that I hope to pick up.

Wherever you have started, you can use it as a stepping stone, just keep going and never stop. I sure won’t 😉

NOTE: That pup up there, yup, that’s critter number eight, Princess Buttercup. Adopt the planet!

31Oct

From Fireworks to Sketch: Getting your Fireworks vectors into Sketch

So anyone who knows me as a designer knows that I have a very strong love for Fireworks as a UI tool. I started using it back in version 2, in the nineties, and it is the primary tool that I have used in my career for designing user interfaces and graphic elements. I have never understood the love for Photoshop as a UI tool. Every time I have tried to accomplish a UI task in Photoshop, it took way too long, if it could be accomplished properly at all. I am a firm believer in designing in vectors and in using the right tool for the job. I love Photoshop, but for editing photos. Photography is a hobby of mine and Lightroom and Photoshop are absolutely essential to my photographic process. But for web design and UI work, Fireworks has always been number one, with Illustrator for more complex vectors and certain other tasks.

When Adobe announced they were not going to keep updating Fireworks, I was one of the folks that died a little inside that day. I had been singing the praises of this tool for years and now it was being taken away from me, with no viable replacement in sight. Then Sketch came around. I bought the first version but never really used it. Fireworks still worked fine and I didn’t see a reason to switch yet. Now it’s almost 2016 and I am seeing the bugs starting to affect my team. The other UI designer on my team at work cannot even get Fireworks to open on her system, so she can’t open any of my layered png files. I refuse to use Illustrator as a UI tool so that meant it was time to move on. Sketch 3.4 is now on both of our systems. Now the fun begins-matching up the features and functionality of Fireworks versus Sketch.

Surprisingly, I can find little info on the web to help Fireworks users transition to Sketch, so that is why I am doing this series. Giant issue number one: your Fireworks files will not open in Sketch as layered vectors. This is a huge issue. Folks like me who have been using Fireworks for 15+ years have hundreds to thousands of files that we can not open, except in Fireworks. How do I get my Fireworks vectors into Sketch?

Don’t try copy and pasting-they will come in as bitmaps. Don’t try saving as .ai, not if you want to open them directly in Sketch. You have to open them in Illustrator first and then save as .eps, then open in Sketch. I found a simpler process.

My process for converting Fireworks vectors into Sketch

  1. Open Fireworks, Illustrator, and Sketch. If you don’t have Illustrator, well, phooey, who doesn’t have Creative Cloud at this point? Try one of the other vector programs.
  2. Open your file in Fireworks.
  3. Select your vectors and go to Edit > Copy as vectors.
  4. Paste the vectors into Illustrator; with the vectors still selected, copy them from Illustrator.
  5. Now paste them into Sketch. They come over as perfect vectors.

One of the cool things about Sketch is the infinite canvas. I was able to combine multiple vector icon sets into one master icon set in Sketch because the canvas can be as large as you want it.

So, what about more complex layouts that include bitmaps, text, and vectors? There is no easy solution for these-you will have to do some cleanup.

My process for converting complex Fireworks layouts into Sketch

  1. Open Fireworks, Illustrator, and Sketch
  2. Save your Fireworks file as an Illustrator 8 .ai file.
  3. Open your file into Illustrator; you may need to click the Update text button.
  4. The file will open and all of your text and vectors will be there, but your bitmaps will have come over as x-ed out boxes.
  5. Copy from Illustrator into Sketch.
  6. Now it is clean-up time. You will have to either copy and paste bitmaps directly from Fireworks, or save individual bitmaps that have transparency. If you have a bitmap that is transparent, copy it and save it into its own Fireworks file, then export as png 32-it will preserve the quality and the transparency. You can then open these files directly into Sketch and add them back into your layout.

So, it’s a lot of work just getting your files into Sketch. I really wish Sketch would have figure out a way to work with Adobe to allow layered png files to open in Sketch, but that’s life. I have cursed Sketch’s existence quite a few times trying to figure out how to accomplish certain tasks. Hopefully this post can help others transitioning suffer a wee bit less.

Happy designing!!!

14Sep

Awesome Free Groovies for Designy Type Folks, Vol. 1

I loves me some free stuff, especially stuff that helps me grow in my career. I spend plenty of dough every year on subscriptions to Treehouse, Skillshare, and Smashing Books, so sometimes I just want something for free, you know? I plan on creating follow ups to the list as I find more resources, here is volume one of Awesome Free Groovies for Designy Type Folks.

All You Can Learn by UIE

Right now, you can get a 30 day trial to the All You Can Learn website, no credit card required. The site is loaded with ux, ui, and usability videos and presentations, most from User Interface Engineering conferences. I was able to go to UIE conference way back in 2003, I think, and it was awesome. I actually learned something, rather than just sat in in 40 minute long advertisements.

Lynda.com/Vimeo

Vimeo has mostly short 3-7 minute intros to the creative spark series, but they have a full 30+ minute one of Jeffrey Zeldman. Just go to Vimeo and search for lynda.com. Also, at Lynda.com, each course has a few free videos available as well.

Documentary on Zeldman from Lynda.com on Vimeo

Fro Knows Photo

Fro Knows Photo: Fro is funny and smart and has a ton of free training and tip videos on the art of photography on his site and on YouTube.

Pinterest

Pinterest is great for way more than finding pics of kittens and donuts. Search for a topic and you can find some great material, mostly graphical, that can help break down complex ideas for you. Lately I have been looking into Agile and Scrum, but there is much more. Awesome pins on ux, ui, this great pin on exposure in photography, web design, even pins on how to make awesome groovies and thingies.

Microsoft Expressions Web 4

This is an oldie but still worth noting. If you need an IDE to do some web work in and can’t afford Dreamweaver and you are not on a mac and can’t get one of the cool tools available to use on that platform, Microsoft Expressions Web is now free. It is a full-featured web editor and it used to cost a few hundred bucks. Even though they stopped working on it in 2012, it is a still a great editor.

LukeW

I was fortunate enough to see Luke W in person last year at an all day mobile session he did-great information, great delivery. What’s even more great is that pretty much all of his articles and content is freely available on his site right now, including his new book on mobile. Definitely go see him in person if you have the chance, though, well worth it.

3Sep

The Importance of Integrity

Sometimes I feel the need to wax poetic about non-tangibles, and lately I have been thinking about the role integrity plays in life. How many times have you thought about your personal integrity, or the integrity of those around you? What I mean by integrity is how a person chooses to act towards others, how honest they are, how trustworthy they are-all of that plays into the general theme of integrity.

I cannot express enough how important it is to not only live a life filled with personal integrity but how important it is to not be around those you feel lack it. If you encounter people in your daily life who consistently treat others with disrespect, are dishonest, possibly manipulative, these people will affect you negatively. If it means dropping friends or acquaintances, then do it. The people closest to you have a huge influence on you and what they say and do can poison the well of your own life. If it means getting a new job to ensure that the people you work with are in step with your morality, then do it. Never work for or with people you can’t or don’t trust because that lack of respect you have will become apparent, and the actions of these people can harm your work, your attitude, and possibly your career.

Beyond other peoples integrity or lack thereof, how you behave in your life and work matters. Strive to be a person who others can count on to tell the truth, to always be the person in the room that can be trusted with confidential matters. Strive to do your absolute best, no matter what activity you are working on. Lift people up around you and make sure that if you are in a leadership role that you seek out ways to mentor and grow those you lead.

More important than your reputation is your character, because it is what is real, while the former is what is perceived. Sometimes to maintain your integrity you have to risk your reputation. What value is your reputation if it is built on half-truths?

Be more concerned with your character than your reputation, because your character is what you really are, while your reputation is merely what others think you are.

John Wooden

What does all this have to do with design? Everything and nothing. Integrity and character matter, no matter what you do for a living. If you are a designer, it matters. If you are a doctor, it matters. I only ask that we keep these things in mind so that we can all, as a design community, as a community of people, strive to be more than what others think we are. Be better, and everything we create will be better.

17Jul

Tips for Getting a UX gig

I have interviewed my share of web designers over the past few years and there are always some things that stand out to me, in the “Don’t do this if you want a job” kinda way. If you are about to apply for a UX gig, keep these tips in mind:

  1. Be Findable on the Interwebs
    If I Google you and have trouble finding your digital footprint, FAIL. Create some blogs where you talk about web stuff, make a site about kittens, get a LinkedIn account, whatever. Just have a presence beyond your Facebook profile.
  2. Have a Flippin Website Portfolio
    Applying for a design position? Where’s your portfolio??? Too many people apply for gigs at my company and they have no website. I need to be able to see what kind of designer you are, and I most totally am peeping at your code (God help you if you use tables for layout…)
  3. Design Your Resume
    Please don’t show up with a generic Word resume. Take the time to design it in Illustrator or InDesign and make it look AMAZING. And do NOT show up with a scrapbook resume with glued bits of craft paper (true story). This aint Hobby Lobby, yo.
  4. Learn to Write Real Good
    Yes, I am using wacky grammar all over this thang, because it is my blog an all, but the point is my resumes and professional writing are carefully created. I craft my words and double-check everything, because the ability to communicate in this profession (or any profession, really) is extremely important. Please don’t mix cases, don’t misspell words, and don’t sound like you dropped out of third grade, because I won’t even bother interviewing you if I don’t believe you have a sufficient grasp of grammar.
  5. Do Your Research
    If you know my name or the name of my company, activate your Google-Fu and learn whatever you can about me and who I work for because I will ask you if you did any research. Interviews are a two way deal-you might not WANT to work at my company and if you don’t take the time to learn about what we do, what our values are, and how we make a living, then I am going to assume you are lazy and just don’t care.
  6. Don’t Over or Under Sell Yourself
    I will totally figure out real quick if your supposed knowledge about xyz is real or not, and if not, FAIL. Please don’t waste a companies time by lying about your skillset. If a company says they need advanced knowledge of Picklemeister Pro, you better have it.  And if you are a master at abc, let your interviewer know! Being humble doesn’t mean hiding your skills. My advice to people is if an interviewer asks you if you know how to do something and you don’t know, say “I don’t know how to do that at this time, but I will. I will learn any and all skills required to perform my job”.
  7. Don’t Be a D!ck
    Do not come up in here with all kinds of sassy pants attitude, acting like you are above it all and know everything, because you don’t. The person interviewing you probably has way more experience than you do and even if they don’t, they have the power to influence your hiring, so show them proper respect.  🙂

So there you go, 7 super awesome tips to help you in your quest to rule the interwebs.

© Copyright 2016 Michelle Pakron, All Rights Reserved