26 Jun

The User-Experience, Experience

I remember graduating from college in 2014 and while Graphic Design was a hot commodity at the time, there was another fad I remember starting to emerge in full force– User Experience Design. While I was aware that this was something that has always been around, there weren’t *many* positions open for it and the title itself, was still a little taboo. Now, thanks to major tech giants like Apple, Microsoft and Google, we have a mainstream idea of what UX is and the importance it brings to any company– big or small.

If you’re interested in breaking into this lucrative field, I’m here to give you some tips as to what that experience is like and what are some of the best practices to stay AHEAD of the game:

There is no “one way” process. Depending on the needs and goals of the project and your stakeholders, it’s important to know that there is no “one way” of starting a UX project. Sure, you’ll outline needs/goals and conduct User Research– but when it comes to thinking through user journeys, will it make sense to create a User Flow or a Task Flow for this project? What about both? and yes, there’s a difference. Point is, what I’ve come to learn is that there is no specific way, and this is OK. It all depends upon the stakeholder needs, budget, timeline and of course, the users needs.

It’s all about how you think. Do you know what is going to set you apart from those wireframes and mockups you spent all week churning out? Your design thinking behind them. If you’re able to identify a problem, come up with a solution and defend those solutions supported with evidence in a succinct way, you’re already more than half way there. In the beginning of a project, UX managers are actually not all that concerned with your solution just yet, but more so how you got there. If you’re able to explain your rationale and show how it falls along user goals and needs, you’re bound to be successful!

Storytelling is your secret weapon. It’s important to be able to frame a situation/task/problem to someone who isn’t as familiar with design thinking or terms– which may be 90% of your stakeholders. Putting a “human face” to the analytical data makes it easy enough for everyone to put complex design ideas and decisions into perspective. It’s also a great way to understand existing scenarios and test the potential of any others. You can even kick it up a notch and use rough sketches and illustration to Storyboard. This can give you and your colleagues a low-level visual of the idea of each frame of the customer’s journey, but supported with a high-level narrative. This is a great way to keep iterating until every task is accounted for!

User Needs vs. Stakeholder Needs. While the needs of both users and stakeholders are incredibly important, you’re eventually going to find those needs conflicting. A great way to prevent those needs from clashing in the first place is to always keep them in the loop. Stakeholder participation can help remove any obstacles early on while user research could assist stakeholders in putting the goals and needs of the product into priority/perspective. Aligning your user research with stakeholder goals is crucial in product success and overall effective communication. Happy stakeholder + Happy user = WIN/WIN!

Always be ready to learn. Now that the supply of UX design has reached the demand, there is no excuse for not keeping up with the latest news, resources, toolkits and programs relating to UX. A genuine interest in the topic, outside of work, is important to have. We now live in a time where free, downloadable UI toolkits and Podcasts with industry experts are within our fingertips. So, be ready to continuously learn! This field is always evolving and it’s really important to stay on top of it all– from design programs to emerging experts, I’ve learned that while I am able to understand a lot of what I do on the job, it’s also important to learn the theory behind it all. This is something that will always resonate no matter what stage you’re at in your career.

So… to help you get you started, here are a few of my personal favorites to get those wheels turning:

Recommended Programs / Plugins:

Sketch (Industry standard! You know Sketch, you know them all!)

InVision Studio

Adobe XD

Framer

Sketch Craft Plug-In (Easy to update designs for InVision prototypes in real time)

Recommended User Flow programs:

Primary

Miro (formally known as RealTimeBoard)

Recommended programs for Development collaboration:

Zeplin

Figma

InVision Inspect

Recommended YouTube channels:

AJ&Smart

Jesse Showalter

The Futur

TED

Recommended Readings:

Nielsen Norman Group

Lean UX: Designing Great Products with Agile Teams by Jeff Gothelf and Josh Seiden

Literally anything on Medium, but I do love the articles Tiffany Eaton writes (Product Designer at Google)!

Recommended Podcasts:

99% Invisible

The Hacking UI Podcast

Product Breakfast Club

 


WRITTEN BY
Ashley Philip

Ashley Philip has worked as a Commercial Designer at Eleven Peppers Studios for over three years. She has over six years of experience in graphic design and is currently pursuing a Master’s in User Experience Design at the Maryland Institute College of Art. Ashley has a profound interest in solving user problems with a focus on the development and design of products themselves. 

02 May

Course Review: UX Design from a Print Designer

This past February, my fellow pepper, Dave Meade, and I wrapped up a 10-week User Experience Design course through General Assembly. It was quite an experience, with many highs and lows, but we both walked away with a greater understanding of the complex UX field and a fun final project. I came into the class with a print design background, and it was exciting (and a little terrifying) to translate those skills into UX design. There are many takeaways I could share from our experience, but here are my top three:

It’s all about PEOPLE.

It shouldn’t be a huge surprise that user experience design is about the user. As designers, we’ve all been enthusiastic about the next big idea only to have the client not understand it. That scenario can be even more crushing when a user can’t actually use your product efficiently. It’s the UX designer’s job to listen to and observe human behavior (especially things they struggle with), and then make design decisions that will ultimately solve people’s problems. No sweat, right? It’s a challenge, but the end result is worth it. Bottom line: you are not your user.

Try something NEW.

No matter what point you’re at in your career, you should never stop learning. The design field in general is always moving and changing, and it’s our responsibility to move and change with it. User Experience Design seems like the hot new thing, but really it’s been around for a long time…it just has a fancier name now. Humans have been trying to optimize their surroundings for maximum user comfort for centuries. Today, we are focused on doing this through technology (apps, web sites, etc.). For me, it was the technology that was intimidating. But once I learned about UX’s history and how it’s impacted our culture, I started to think about the field in a more accessible and enlightening way. I still have a lot to learn, but I am more confident in my approach and what I can bring to the table. You’re never starting at ground zero; we all have a unique perspective that can be applied to any new skill. That doesn’t sound so scary, right?

Stay CONNECTED.

I was hesitant about taking an online class. How would I interact with my classmates in a meaningful way? While relying on technology to run the class had its’ challenges (dropped audio, trouble sharing screens, etc.), it turns out there are other benefits to online classes than being able to attend in your pajamas. We were all so used to connecting in a virtual space for the class, that the conversations continued in that space after the lectures were over. Slack message chains were developed, where classmates could post links to resources and funny memes. It felt natural to connect on other virtual platforms like LinkedIn and Facebook. And even though there were people in the class from all over the country, Dave and I found there were a few classmates in Maryland (and very close by!). I’ve already met with one such classmate for coffee, and we talked for 3 hours. Expanding your personal and professional network is possible in any setting if you are open to it.



WRITTEN BY

Audra Harvey
Designer at 11p, Avid Traveler, Miniature Golf Pro, Baker of Delicious Treats.

 

 

30 Jun

Pepper Talk with Kate Coates

Welcome back to Pepper Talk, this month we have Kate with us… nope, you’re not seeing double, we just have a lot of repeated names. Just a little background before we get started, Kate just celebrated her 2 year work-aversary with Eleven Peppers Studios. She is one of our esteemed Art Directors and spends a lot of her time working with customers to improve their user experience designs.


1: Do you have any nicknames?
My parent’s original intention was for me to go by Katie but I rebelled in 3rd grade and decided from thence forth I was going to be Katherine. That was a bit short lived though. It was the year of learning cursive… and so I ended the year as Kate. It’s kind-of funny that I started my journey as Kate out of pure 3rd grade laziness but it stuck. Really it worked out perfectly because I ended up with a sister-in-law that goes by Katherine.

 

2: What is the first thing you do when you wake up?
Hit snooze! It’s a terrible habit that I developed during my marriage. I used to be able to get up and out the door in ten minutes flat, nutrigrain bar in hand, but once you discover that button, there’s no going back.

 

3: How would you describe your design style?
I tend to lean towards a more flat, Bauhaus style. Just the Bauhaus’ notion of placing profound focus on the purpose or function of the design is something I relate to very strongly, especially within UX design. Really that is what UX is all about, not just making things pretty but making sure the site or tool is usable and efficient…not saying it shouldn’t look good too.

 

4: How did you get started?
My first official foray into design was in 12th grade when half of my school day was an internship in the design department of a company called United Communications Group (UCG). It’s there that I officially found that graphic design was the place for me and launched into my undergraduate design career. But really growing up in the house of an architect father and a crafty mother, it came as no surprise to friends and family that I ventured off in the arts direction…

 

5: What are your favorite tools of the trade? What are the worst?
Hmm, I’m not sure I can think of a worst off the top of my head but favorite is pretty easy. A few years ago I would have said Photoshop hands-down but in the recent years Illustrator has become my best friend. It’s great for everything that I currently focus on at work, from wireframes and mockups to logos and branding. I live in a digital world. Vector all day, every day.

 

6: Do you have a set process when beginning a new project?
I tend to start with the question: “Who are the users and what are their goals?” It’s only through answering that question that I can make sure that the design that’s going to follow makes sense for the end user. If I miss answering that question, the design will just be a lofty guess that is half-baked at best. I’ve found desk-side interviews and lots of research is key for kicking off a successful, user-experience focused tool.

 

7: What do you draw inspiration from?
From my peers. It’s great to be surrounded with other UX people to bounce ideas off of and sketch out new possibilities. On top of that using websites and mobile tools daily to see what other people are doing is a huge source of inspiration too.

 

8: Rapid-Fire Round:

Caffeine or no: Caffeine. No coffee, no tea, just the occasional Dr.Pepper [grins]
Sweet or Savory: Sweet (Really gotta kick my new brownie obsession…)
Favorite Movie: Honestly, I’ve become more of a T.V. person then a movie person…so I’m not really sure.
Guilty Pleasure: Did I mention brownies? [laughs]
Hobbies:: Refurbing my 1908 home (two rooms away from being done!!) and spending time with family.

 

9: Okay, admission time… If you could pick one design that you wish you had come up with first, what would it be?
Hands down, the Design Army’s campaign for the Washington Ballet’s show, Alice in Wonderland. The combination of photography and typography is absolutely breathtaking. I actually have several of the images at my desk for inspiration.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

<


Thanks for meeting Kate. As always, stay tuned for next month’s Pepper Talk to meet another member of our team!