What my younger self would have liked to have known

A photomontage of a jumble of metal type fading into a sketchbook page showing user screen flows.
A photomontage of a jumble of metal type fading into a sketchbook page showing user screen flows.
The journey from print to UX design was a long and winding one. Images: Amador Loureiro (metal type) and Kelly Sikkema (UX sketch), via Unsplash.

I’m mostly happy with my job as a UX designer. I think that I make a difference within the teams I’m part of, and that I’m helping further my organization’s mission, which played a large role in accepting the job.

But recently I had a small epiphany: A coworker was designing 404 pages with cool images and funny copy, while I was building a spreadsheet totaling up and categorizing hundreds of responses to a user survey. …

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Our court fell silent in March. Photo by Chandra Abhishek via Unsplash.

Even at my age, it hurts.

43-year-old star Vince Carter, remembers making the last shot of his covid19-shortened basketball career — a three-pointer from one of the greatest dunk artists — right before the NBA shut down in March.

Every athlete, whether a multimillionaire superstar or a weekend warrior (or mid-week warrior in my case), wants to go out on her own terms. I’m no different.

I don’t remember anything specific about my last game except that we — responsible middle-aged women including an ESL teacher and a pathologist — washed our hands with soap in the girl’s bathroom at the end of the game, at the middle school gym where we’d been playing basketball three Tuesdays a month for more than a decade. …

I know what it means not to be able to say goodbye.

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My father designed the motif for the bench. He cut roses for her all summer long.

Twenty-six years after my sister’s sudden, untimely death, I still don’t know where her ashes are. As with both my parents, I had no chance to say goodbye before she passed.

Each of us during this pandemic goes through what Dan Sheehan called “hell zones.” Mine have to do with being reminded of the “lack of closure” that comes with a loved one dying in an ICU they can’t visit, a funeral they can’t have, a shiva they can’t sit.

A few years after my Mother passed away (thankfully, as she wanted, in her sleep), my Dad and I had a phone conversation about dying alone. In my father’s view, everyone dies alone, because they are the only one taking their last breath. …

THE DESIGN LIFE

Have your skills become second nature? You‘ve arrived.

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A number of years ago, I attended a talk by Petrula Vrontikis* where she described the four stages of competence: first is the period when you are unconsciously incompetent (you don’t know what you don’t know). Then comes a phase when you are consciously incompetent — which should spark you to hone your craft and aim for conscious competence! Finally, after struggle and learning from mistakes, you should arrive at unconscious competence, at least in some areas of your field, where the practice of your skills becomes second nature. This past year, I think I’ve arrived. Here’s how I know.

*The concept of four stages of competence goes back to Martin Broadwell’s “the four levels of teaching.

A graphic representing some common visual elements of bullet journals: habit tracker, tasks, and goals.
A graphic representing some common visual elements of bullet journals: habit tracker, tasks, and goals.

THE CULT OF PRODUCTIVITY

It reflected it — in illuminating ways

Search on the term “bullet journal changed my life” and you will get more than 13 million results. This article won’t be one of them.

My age may make me immune for life-changing-ness, though I will confess that I can recall a very few such events earlier in my life: going to an art colony at age 30, which started me on a lifelong creative journey; overcoming a personal crisis after blithely imagining that selling a condo, quitting a job, and moving to a city where I knew no one would be a piece of cake at midlife. (Spoiler: it wasn’t. …

UX

A woman casts a shadow on tarmac, with the words So M!sundaztood in the foreground.
A woman casts a shadow on tarmac, with the words So M!sundaztood in the foreground.
It’s not that complicated, I’m just misunderstood: Lyric from P!nk’s breakout record, M!ssundaztood

When I started writing this piece, I thought I’d declare the death of the user story. Instead, in a nod to P!nk, one of my favorite songwriters ever, let’s just declare it misunderstood.

Some “user stories” seen in the wild:

As a stakeholder, I want the website to use bright colors and a nice font.
As a parent, I want a large hero image.
As a user, I want to see cards on the left rail.
As a user, I can see the most recent N articles.

What’s wrong with these user stories? They aren’t user stories. They’re tasks or business requirements dressed up in the linguistic “trappings” of a user story… and sometimes not even that. …

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Communication between developers and designers should be a two-way street. Photo of code by Markus Spiske from Pexels

It’s spring in the Northern Hemisphere. The days are longer and the spirit lifts— even those of designers who grow weary of being told that they have to make all the effort to build bridges with developers. There’s at least one blog post a month preaching to, if not haranguing, designers to:

  • learn to code
  • develop a shared language with engineers (actually, learn to speak “developer”)
  • make sure that they don’t do any number of things to “piss off” developers
  • not propose designs that are “too visionary” (translation: hard to code)
  • validate their designs with “rigor” so that developers will “respect them”(!) …

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Even no-budget research can yield insights if coupled with creative thinking. Photo courtesy of Pexels.com.

You don’t always have the time, budget, or organizational support to do user research the way it’s laid out in General Assembly or other UX bootcamps — especially if you’re a UX design department of one working for a tiny start-up.

But take heart! That doesn’t mean you can’t better understand users.

Empathy is a state of mind more than anything else. If you have it, you will find ways to understand users, even if it requires some inventive methods.

The examples below are mostly drawn from my time working at Speak Agent, Inc. Speak Agent is a platform for teaching academic vocabulary to English language learners (ELLs) in grades K–12. …

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Prototype with a side of post-its. So sorry, you’ve been chopped. Illustration, Chris Raymond.

Like any good designer, when I was revamping my portfolio site to reflect my work as a user experience designer, I researched like mad: how were others presenting their work? What sections and information were common across portfolios? What were UX directors saying online about what they wanted to see in portfolios?

Two words: Case Studies.

I put in countless hours drafting case studies, gathering imagery, and hand-coding a new version of my website. More hours massaging page titles, descriptions, and blurbs for SEO. I know I’m not alone. …

WORKLIFE

How I bit the bullet and designed a resumé for natural language processors. Spoiler: Typography.

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Examples of beautifully designed resumés I’ve been inspired by, but now realize might have hurt me in getting job interviews.

Every graphic designer I’ve known—including me—has agonized over designing a resumé that will stand out and reflect who we are as creatives. Color palette, typography, interesting layouts, clever headings, perhaps a monogram and/or headshot: all sources of angsty indecision. This approach made perfect sense—in 2008, applying for graphic design positions.

Over the past decade, resumé fashions have come and (mostly) gone: infographics; using progress bars to communicate your skill level; headshots; listing hobbies with cute icons. (Coffee? Srsly?) Even a timeline from birth. Really.

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From DesignerNews, a critique of skills progress bars in resumés.

Over the years, I collected a lot of examples to inspire my own resumé designs: one used the infographics approach; another used two columns and included a monogram. They got raves from fellow designers, art directors, and coworkers. …

About

Chris Raymond

Designer. Craft artist. Point guard. Collector of wind-up toys & push puppets. chrisaraymond.net | chrisaraymond.dunked.com

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