Author: Michelle Pakron

7Feb
Yup, it's my puppeh

My UX Path

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. I find it extremely interesting to learn how others 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. 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 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 17 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. And now I spend my days as Sr. UX Analyst and Designer at an investment 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.

I have met many UX people who claim it is not possible to be a UX person and also do good UI. I beg to differ, as the dozen or so awards my work has won should prove it is quite possible to be good at more than one thing.

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 subscriptions to Safari online books, Lynda.com, Treehouse, over 30 Udemy courses, and a membership to the Interaction Design Foundation. I got my Certified Usability Analyst certification last year and I will be attending the NNG UX Week that is in Houston in March and will be going for that certification as well.

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 investment 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
My monkey likes Fireworks, too

From Fireworks to Sketch: Part 1 – 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. In upcoming posts in this series, I will document how I am overcoming the transition to Sketch. I have cursed Sketch’s existence quite a few times trying to figure out how to accomplish certain tasks. Hopefully these posts can help others transitioning suffer a wee bit less.

Happy designing!!!

26Apr
dino-4-24-2015_D714457

In Search of One Title to Rule Them All: Being a Web Unicorn in the Age of UX

Years ago, it was fairly easy to answer the question, “what do you do for a living?”. I would say “web designer”, and pretty much everyone would know that I was magical and could make websites appear with a whisk of my wand. Nowadays, it is a little harder. Not just because I have stretched my skillset to the limit over the past 16 years, but also because the web industry has a new “hip” title that everyone wants. I am speaking, of course, of UX, or User Experience, which now comes before “Designer” and “Analyst”, “Researcher”, and even “Developer”.

My first issue with my title is that I do so much more than merely design websites. I have been a web development team lead, managed a corporate intranet, and served as an interactive creative director. I have acted as a product manager, project manager, tester, and trainer. I have designed web sites, intranets, internal and external web applications, and have even designed multiple native mobile apps. I have always built the user interfaces for every site and application that I have designed, so add front-end web developer to the mix. Lastly, I have been involved in creating user task flows, information architecture diagrams, user stories, task analysis, and writing complex functional specifications filled with wireframes and diagrams and detailed interaction designs. Add user research, competitive audits, web site analytics analysis, user testing, and survey creation and you have an idea of just what I can do. So, what am I?

What title best describes what I do? Interactive Creative Director suggests that I sit in a cushy office all day and direct the work of others, safely out of the trenches. Nope. I have always been in the trenches, even when directing the work of others. Interaction Designer suggests I spend my days involved in creating task and user flows. My old standby, Web Designer, now sounds as antiquated as Webmaster. What about my newest title, that of Senior UX Designer? It suggests I spend my days talking to users and running tests. None of these titles accurately expresses the totality of my skills or the various roles that I take on within each position I have held.

I started using Full Stack UXD Practitioner lately because it suggests someone who is involved in all phases of a digital product’s lifecycle-research, design, and development. This too seems incomplete.

When I started out 16 years ago, UX activities were just activities you did to make sure you were designing the right solution. Research, stakeholder interviews, writing functional specs, IA diagrams, task flows, wireframes, prototypes-I have been doing all of these activities long before Jesse James Garret came out The Elements of User Experience. I was a UXer and didn’t even know it. I was just doing my job.

In the past few years, UX has become the newest “discipline” to demand specialization and recognition. It reminds me of the early 2000s when people endlessly tried to explain what Information Architecture was, and how some of these IA specialists wanted so desperately to be considered essential. IA was always a role to me, a set of activities within the whole of creating a digital product, not a singular position to be carried out by one person to the exclusion of all other activities. Now IA has been rolled up into the UX umbrella.

What confuses me about this newfound specialization is how un-special it is, how unspecific. The activities that are currently being pulled into UX are vast, with the consequence that those old school web designers like me, folks who can do research, interaction and visual design, and can do front-end web development, are being reduced to decorators and code monkeys. In many companies, all of the “thought” activities are given to UX Analysts or UX Designers, leaving only graphic design and production activities for everyone else. Everything that added intellectual value to the job of creating has been stripped from so many job titles. The whole “UX as field and title” situation has been plaguing me lately because these are activities, essential activities that help a team understand the users, uncover business needs and goals, and provide the intellectual and user-focused background to a project. Stripping away the activities from the titles that have traditionally performed them have elevated one group of people and lessened the value and input of traditional designers and developers.

My concerns are primarily targeted to the hoards of companies who have heard the term UX and decided that they needed these magic folks, oblivious to the reality that they probably already had UX practitioners on staff, just with different titles. Specialization makes sense sometimes, but there is immense value to being experienced in the whole of a field, and companies should really know what they need, and why, before they go the specialization route. Companies are missing out on old school unicorns like myself, and people like me are being pushed into specialization to the detriment of their intellectual and creative capacities.

As for that final title to rule them all, how about Creative Facilitator of Awesomeness, or maybe just The Facilitator? Yea, I dig it.

31Mar
loot

Notebook Aficionado

If you are a designer, chances are you start on paper. Be in scrap, napkins, post-its, or real notebooks, the creative process demands scribbling and incoherent boxes and notes (ok, maybe that’s just my creative process…). I have over 75 notebooks in my collection and I buy new ones constantly.  So, I started a new blog, all about notebooks, sketchbooks, and writing thingies. It is called Notebook Aficionado and my first post is up, about the lovely Baron Fig dot grid sketchbook. Enjoy :)

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
5764739795_ea1c2b5470_o

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.

© Copyright 2016 Michelle Pakron, All Rights Reserved