Seeking a new mentor

The purpose of this post is a letter to Aaron Gustafson who is offering to mentor a couple people over the next year. I have always admired the design community for the way people give back. And I’m hoping I can take advantage of Aaron’s generosity.

Dear Aaron,

Hello!

You asked the following questions: Why do you love the Web? What do you love about working on the Web? What are your goals for the coming year of your career?

Here are my answers. I started college at Virginia Tech in 1993. We were one of the first wired campuses complete with Eudora email, access to the Netscape web browser and I also have a vague memory of some early type of message board application. I surfed the ‘net every free minute between classes, DJing radio shows and studying. I suppose by nature of the beast, I haven’t stopped surfing since.

Most of my current web-time consists of: researching for work, using design software for work, listening to podcasts, reading my twitter timeline (although I’m currently on a twitter break and missing it madly), reading articles people post to Twitter, reading food blogs and saving recipes, organizing recipes and meal plans through my recipe manager app, talking to/reading posts from other design and tech people on Slack, looking for new clothes, new shoes, new beauty products and putting things in and taking things out of my Amazon cart. Oh! And since I’m a cord cutter, watching streaming television. Almost every activity in my day involves the world wide web. I love the Web because the Web is how life works now, and I've been there since its infancy.

I love working on the Web because the things I do help people, and that’s my whole aim in life-- to help people. The kind of help I offer today, through my day-job, might be as simple as re-designing a form so it’s easier to understand. It's a less painful and more efficient task than it used to be. This re-designed form could help streamline someone's workday. And I know that for the people who are filling out that form, I’m making a small difference in their lives. But I want more. I want to use my growing skills to make a more meaningful difference for people. Ideally within the healthcare system or with a local city government. I see other, more experienced designers wielding their powers in this way, and I want to too.

But first, I am a mid-life, mid-career transitioner. I’ve been employed as a user experience designer for 2.5 years. I want to use the next year to keep building my skills. My immediate career goals include: keep learning all the UX, writing more, speaking more, and building a smashing portfolio. I recently started my second UX position at a consultancy. I know that I can do all that I listed above without your help. But, I would like to get to my next step faster with your help, I would love your guidance. Thank you, and I look forward to chatting with you more!

Best,

Upma

My UX influencers

A few weeks ago someone I know posted yet another “top 10 UX influencers!” listicle. This list was the same list that gets published every other week—all white dudes, maybe a white woman or two. It got me thinking: while I do revere many of the people on that list, I think it’s time to make lists of other people. So I’m going to share with you a bunch of my personal influencers.

My Mentors

Jessica Ivins: When I started my career transition, Jessica was still living in Philadelphia. As far as I could tell, she was the most prominent UX person in the city. Plus she was approachable, accessible, and generous with her time and knowledge. She sat down with me for coffee one afternoon and helped me launch my self-guided study of UX. Without her, I’m not sure I would’ve found my way in. I am truly grateful. These days, you can find Jessica in Chattanooga continuing to inspire career shifters every day at Centre Centre.

Lis Pardi: Since I’ve known Lis, she’s been my biggest cheerleader. I cannot express the degree of gratitude I have for her. I met her when I started serving on the board of PhillyCHI. Lis was the board chair, and I was the secretary. I learned new networking tricks and everything about events organization from her. She also guided me toward other people I should know. Then she hooked me up with my first UX job at her workplace and became my manager for almost two years. She helped me connect the dots on a lot of the foundational stuff. You may know Lis as the floppy disk icon lady or the woman who likes Kung Fu Panda 2 a whole lot. Currently, she is in Boston working a total dream job at Mad*Pow.

Tina Bejian-Binnion: My second manager at my first UX workplace was Tina BB. She’s a total super-mom/wife/daughter/sister who works more than full time at her job, puts out so many fires on a day-to-day basis, does it all with ease and grace, and of course never asks for (or receives) the credit she deserves for any of it. In our day-to-day, what I love witnessing over and over again is how she is able to distill complex ideas down to simple explanations.

Local Inspiration

I wanted to use “Philaspirations” in the heading here, but my editor asked me, begged me actually, to ditch it. See how I snuck it in anyway!?

Liana Dragoman: We met while volunteering at a conference together and bonded through the experience. She is the Service Design Practice Lead for the City of Philadelphia and totally the reason I am interested in exploring government work and service design.

David Dylan Thomas: If you aren’t already aware of David, you need to become so. This five-minute talk is a great introduction. (Try to attend a live one-hour session of this talk; it is fantastic!) He used to help organize BarCampPhilly and the Philly Content Strategy Meetup. He also does many other things. I met him just as I realized I needed to change careers; he’s encouraged me every step of the way.

Mikey Ilagan: I’d seen Mikey’s name around for a while, but only recently have I gotten to know him. He may sit more on the dev side of things, but he is THE #a11y fella in Philadelphia. As a part of his accessibility learning/teaching, he thinks a lot about inclusive design. And a lot about inclusivity in general. And since that’s kinda my jam, we get along pretty well. I can’t wait to see how Mikey’s future plays out, he’s definitely one to stick by.

Vivianne Castillo: I met Vivianne when we both attended a Mike Monteiro talk in January 2017. Six days after the presidential inauguration. Mike was awesome (duh). Vivianne was telling me that she was in the midst of career shifting. I told her that I had just transitioned myself and gave her my contact info in case she needed any help. Ha! She did not need my help at all. In fact, shortly after we met she landed a UX position at a local digital agency. She wrote a series on diversity in the workplace, and then she landed a job as a user researcher at Google! I’m writing this in July of 2018, and she’s done a lot since I’ve known her. I am so excited to see what’s gonna happen next.

I encourage you to follow all the people above! I’d like to make this a recurring series. If you have someone that inspires you, let me know. Maybe they’ll end up on the next list.

Paris

I recently returned from a week-long trip to Paris. While there I got to thinking about the city design. In all honesty as a fully able-bodied person, I probably wouldn't have thought much about it had I not been with my parents. They too are fully able-bodied, but old. My mother cannot walk fast or too long distances and cannot take a lot of stairs. Her presence made me think in another way, which to me reiterates the importance of diverse design teams that bring different perspectives to the table.

Obviously, Paris is a very old city. Between 1853-1870 there was a reconstruction effort to make it more modern with wider and less windy streets. I do like the architecture in Paris, and I think the Hausman apartment buildings and houses look nice (at least from the outside). It is also a city that has a lot of pre-revolution palaces and churches. All of these buildings are tall, and they all needed stairs. Lots of stairs. In more modern buildings you might find an elevator, but take the Louvre for instance. We went there without my parents, and I am glad we didn't subject my mother to this place, it would've been really difficult for her. While the floors and rooms are huge and flat, there are still stairs to get from room to room. It was a lot of up and down for me a relatively healthy person. While my mother doesn't use a wheelchair, I thought about how one would even? In visiting the website now, I see that there is an accessibility plan, but I don't really understand it by the maps they provide. I'd need to be there again to fully comprehend it. I am not certain that someone bound to a wheelchair would have access to the whole museum, and that's just a shame. But this is the story of Paris. It's extremely walkable, which is good for a tourist and how many croissants she might consume while visiting, but for a tourist who has a hard time walking, or does not walk, it's simply difficult to get around. I do hope the city will address some of these things, I'd love to experience Paris again and again and maybe again when I also have a hard time getting around.

Next, digital. I didn't peruse a lot of websites while there, but I did often check for free wifi in parks and cafes. These free wifi sign in sites are not easy to navigate and so we spent most of the time without wifi. Getting lost happened more than once without access to Google maps! It's ok, they were good adventures. These sites though-- most of the time I just couldn't get past page one so I gave up. I don't know if the pages were translated or not, but there was no menu (that I could find) that pointed to an English (or other languages) version. A lot of these sites were also not responsive or mobile optimized in any way so they were even harder to read.

Those were a couple of negative and annoying things I noticed. But for something more positive, let's talk about the parks! This was absolutely my favorite part of our visit. On the less rainy days, we found one or two parks we had read about. I feel lucky in Philadelphia with all our parks, but Paris has us so beat. Their parks are huge. And landscaped so beautifully. And maintained. And sometimes they have all or some combo of cafes in the park, or clean public toilets in fancy looking structures! Or playgrounds for kids. Or basketball courts and boules/petanque courts. Or ponds filled with ducks. There's even a park that has a pedestrian bridge in the middle of it designed by Mr. Eiffel. The same Eiffel you're thinking of.

Next time you're in Paris, tell me what kinds of design things you notice.

The other day I saw this tweet:

I hadn't really thought about it this way, though I do often go on about how we should all be thinking ethically. I want to write more about this, but I have a lot of digging into other people's writings and talks on the subject of design ethics to do before throwing around my own take. Till then...

BBC form idea

About a year ago I ran into a BBC survey. I don't remember what it was asking me, or what I was looking for and how I stumbled upon it, but I remember the experience very well.

I love delving into form design. I get silly excited when there is any kind of form attached to a project I'm working on-- it's a little embarrassing how thrilled I get. So what made this form so great? Here's a drawing I made in hopes that I could ever steal the idea:

BBC_form.jpg

One note: I was googling for examples of BBC forms thinking I'd maybe find the real thing. I didn't, but what I did find is an awesome amount of BBC design documentation. And. Within that documentation, I learned that what we call breadcrumbs (homepage-->next page-->page you're on) they call "crumbtrails" across the pond. I think that's lovely.