What are you currently fascinated by and how is it feeding into your work? Learning more about user experience, lettering, and illustration. I solve problems with creativity for a living, and being a user experience designer in a workflow catered to a software engineer’s process provides its own challenges; I need the know-how of other people who have forged the path before me. Understanding more about how others have gone about it stirs me up to not settle for excuses about circumstances or time frames and just give my absolute best 100% of the time.
When we focus on one thing for too long we can grow stale. Working on things I love like lettering and illustration outside of what I do at work keep my imagination flowing and enhance my ability to see a customer’s challenges with fresh eyes.
Who or what has been the biggest single influence on your way of thinking? Paul Rand and Kelly Bryant. I always loved Paul Rand because he used his reasoning and intuition more than he listened to the rules of what has always been, and in doing so he shifted the paradigm of design for future generations to come. Learning about him and appreciating his work has taught me to take nothing at face value, be intentional, and have fun. Kelly Bryant trained me in excellence; understanding why you do what you do and being passionate about your craft. She taught me to slow down and take the time to really look and see in a world that thrives on instant and rushed. The whole design department trained me this way, but I can remember getting points demerited in Type I for craft early on and hearing lectures about why every detail matters in Type II. I cherish those words now, and when I feel myself getting too frenzied I find myself returning to that same mantra of excellence.
What project or design problem have you faced (in the past or recently) that seemed to be a “failure” but was perhaps an extremely valuable learning experience? There are plenty I can think of, but 2-D Design Class with Professor Dunlop was a serious struggle for me.
It’s interesting that that class was the genesis of my design career, because I was so VERY bad and intimidated by the whole thing. I felt so strongly about the discomfort of my struggle I could have easily justified quitting. If you let failure mark you, then you end at failure. But if you choose early on in your career (and in life) to let it drive and not hinder you, then you’ve already succeeded. You can’t let fear of what is inevitable keep you from what you were made for. You have to start somewhere, and you have to be mediocre (or just plain bad) for a while if you ever hope to get better.
While you were in school at Auburn, do you remember a specific graphic design project that challenged you the most? The first Type I project with Professor Bryant. I had no idea what I was doing, and the requirements felt so obscure it didn’t feel like any solution was good enough. I was feeling my way through the dark for the first couple of Type projects. I can remember being in studio for long hours at night and on weekends, staring at those letters just trying to get it together. Now I can laugh about it, but at the time I sweat it pretty hard. Starting from scratch like that is always tough because you have minimal understanding for design principles like grid or composition.
How would you define success? Do you think you’ve found it yet? Continuing to fail, fearlessly and unapologetically, while walking in humility and gratitude for small beginnings. I am in process of making friends with both of these principles.
I think I’ve spent a great deal of my life fighting that little voice inside my head that tries to convince me of what I’m not capable of. It’s exponentially more miserable to accept a lie for truth than it is to take the risk that things spoken against us might be, in fact, just a lie. Even if it slows you down for a day, don’t let it stop your momentum. It would seem that successful leaders aren’t defined by how many successes they have, but in how they respond in the face of what appears to be failure. Great successes are composed of a whole lot of small victories. Being diligent even when you don’t feel like it, getting up and going at it again and again is key for cultivating a habit of success. If it is true that leaders aren’t born, they’re made, then they’re made in the long backstory of faithfulness to showing up and giving there all, whether anybody sees or not.
Are there any rules or habits that help you design more efficiently? (1) Set clear, specific goals for myself. When I work on a big project, it helps to have daily landmarks that push me toward the end goal. Defining the end goal through process, as mentioned before, and breaking down my large, several week long project into smaller tasks creates a road map for me to identify progress on. I’m less likely to get lost in the voids of confusion and procrastination that way, as well. (2) Stop being a perfectionist. Hear me now, this will kill you in the professional world. Doing things in excellence is about making people in your team a part of your design process and getting the design conversation to the next point, not holding onto it until you feel like the product is where it needs to be. Don’t be afraid of your engineers or stakeholders (or any other teammates you may find yourself interacting with), communicate with them and figure out how to keep the design process transparent so that you can work as a team, and not simply as a one-man show. Ideas are better when we can get feedback, so talk to someone besides yourself. (3) Get it all out of your head.
You are currently working as a UX/UI designer. There seems to be quite a demand for designers with skills in that area. Do you see many women going into this discipline? Did achieving a degree in graphic design prepare you for working UX/UI design? I see a lot of men in the field, and while there may or may not be fewer women in the field, the women present are quite remarkable. The gap is slowly decreasing, but I think there’s this stigma among many of my young creative female friends about what’s going to give them the most fulfillment and freedom as a designer. Because many don’t feel the desire or interest to become front-end developers I often see them shying away from the digital and user experience side of things entirely. As females and designers, we tend to have this innate ability to empathize and connect with a user in a way that an engineer-driven culture might overlook entirely. I think women have something truly great to contribute to this field, and it isn’t strictly the technical side of things. There is great freedom and creativity in cultivating an environment within a product, digital or otherwise, with the user in mind. And the great thing about it is that there is a place for you as a user experience designer. Just as the term “graphic designer” can mean so many things, “user experience designer” is also its own kind of umbrella. I encourage men and women alike to find their niche within this developing field of design. Understanding user experience design can only make you a better visual designer, because it strikes at the heart of why we do what we do.
Auburn’s graphic design program was spectacular in preparing me for user experience design because every professor I had instilled the core value of user experience design into me: good design is intentional. UX best practices boil down to this: develop a solid process. In school they emphasized process above all else. Research, sketch, develop your ideas before you ever put them on the computer. This is the money-maker of all concepts to take away from any design education: learn the discipline of articulating your user, identifying your problem, and defining your direction before you ever begin clicking around. Defining your guidelines sets you up for success because you have clearly established your boundaries, and the world is your oyster within those walls. When you’re in doubt in the middle of project, you’ve got the process you’ve developed to anchor you. The best part about those boundaries? They’re maleable. If something isn’t working, you can readjust as needed. It’s a lot easier to adjust here and there mid-project than it is to start asking about foundational issues with a deadline quickly approaching.
Do you believe that it is harder for women to become successful in the various design fields? (Expand upon the things that you perceive to be the biggest challenges if possible). I truly believe women are their own worst enemies much of the time. You define your own boundaries and limits. What happened in your past needs to stay in the past or come out and make you stronger, not push you into a cramped box. No wiser words were spoken than those of Theodore Roosevelt when he said, “Comparison is the thief of joy”. Women are terrible about this. I think the greatest challenge women are posed with in creative fields (and life, for that matter) are treating other individuals with talent as threats instead of teammates. If someone is better than you, learn from them. Humility is key in a creative field because we associate so much of what we do with ourselves, and that can trigger a desire to safeguard, in which we hoard our creativity and attempt to conceal anything less than perfection. If you’re better than someone else at something, that is only useful if you’re sharing with other people to make others better. Otherwise, your talent and skill simply dies off with you. People may judge you for your gender, but they’ll judge you for just about everything else, as well. Do not let that stop or intimidate you. Remember that the world of design needs your unique perspective, and that there’s room and time enough to be exactly the person you need to be to develop that, in yourself and in other people.
Is there a difference between working in design with women or with men? Have you ever been treated differently because you are female? Of course. Women are different than men, so the process of communication is often going to be the biggest difference. I work predominantly with male engineers at the moment, which is a switch from my past experience working moreso with other female designers. No matter which gender you work with, communication can be tricky because it is difficult for you and the person you’re trying to communicate with not to bring emotions into a situation, but it is worth it to press past our fears about vulnerability to find a solution. What good are you to your team if you don’t feel like you’re contributing or you feel stuck on a problem but you’re too scared to tell somebody so you can work through it? Men and women will have different reactions and perceptions of what communication should look like, but it comes down to being prepared to fight for clarity and productivity, and making it about the problem at hand, not the person. There is mutual respect found when people see that you’re willing to work through a challenge and not just leave them to guess what’s going on with you or a project.
I have been fortunate to walk on fairly equal ground when it comes to being treated “differently”, but I have seen in my colleagues the reality of not getting paid the same as a man, when I know the female has more time and training and may even be better at what she does. In my freelancing days I saw a hint of being treated differently because I was a young female designer and employers wanted to see what they could get away with on payment. It always boils down to know why you want what you want, and sticking to your guns.
If someone (male or female) confuses your unapologetic confidence in your design choices with being “bossy”, ask them to give specific instances and then listen, without offense, to what they have to say. Unintentional bias can often work itself out with clear-cut communication. You can’t win the whole war overnight, but you can cut to the root of the problem when it rears its ugly head in everyday work situations.
Different personalities will push your buttons, but try not to make it so much about gender. Let the finger point back to you when you can, not others. Do you know why you’re doing what you’re doing? Can you explain why you’re asking for what you’re asking for? Can you communicate with the client why their choice is good, but you think there is a better way? Our confidence and communication abilities as women are inevitably what shift the paradigm. You are a capable designer, and you love what you do, which makes you the expert in this area. It’s hard to ever feel like an expert, but walking that out is key to your success in any industry, design or otherwise.
Would you recommend some resources that young designers might find useful? My advice for UX/UI is to familiarize yourself with the tools and trends of the trade. Prototyping tools like UXPin, Pixate, and inVision are free, and inVision comes with an AMAZING email newsletter that has articles on a variety of design and experience-centered topics. They also have helpful free webinars and other opportunities they offer to grow your knowledge base now, while you’re still in school.
UX Notebook (List of resources coming to your email inbox every Friday for free).
UXPin (an entire page dedicated to free ebooks they’ve compiled/written for you).
Smashing Magazine (free articles as well as materials for purchase)
How to Make Sense of Any Mess, Abby Covert
Don’t Make Me Think, Steve Krug
Lean UX: Applying Lean Principles to Improve User Experience, Jeff Gothelf, Josh Seiden
What do you know now that you wish you knew when you were in school? You absolutely will get better, but you will have to work for it. It honestly doesn’t matter who the best in your class is, or even who gets all the recognition and accolades in student shows. What matters is that you do your best by giving everything you do all that you have. Designers have growth spurts in their creative life as adolescents have in weight and height. Similar to adolescents, each designer has their own unique growth pattern and they all make progress at different rates. You cannot look around at your small pond of design mates and compare yourself as if that were some kind of accurate guage to how you measure up in life. There will always be someone more talented than you, but hustle is 90%.
(1) There will be a lot of failure in order for you to grow. Embrace it now and don’t be such an uptight perfectionist.
(2) Don’t take criticism personally, learn from it. Don’t take criticism personally, learn from it. Don’t take criticism personally, learn from it.
(3) Go the extra mile to cultivate good habits. Develop every part of your process NOW while you’re in your infant stages as a designer, it’s easier to develop good habits than it is to break bad ones.
(4) Don’t cater to your professor’s tastes. What gets you an A doesn’t matter, and your professors care about what grows you as a designer, not what makes them happy. If you give it all you’ve got then 95% of the time the grade will reflect that. Let everything you do be a growing and learning experience for you, not an attempt to get good marks.
(5) Enjoy the ride, it goes by fast. Design school has its own creative atmosphere that is not easily duplicated in life outside of college. Feed on that, learn all you can, and do as much as you can creatively with the time that you’re given.
What should a young designer avoid doing when applying for jobs in the design field?
(1) Get a website. The “don’t” here would be “Don’t think you can get away with attaching a bunch of indvidually designed project pages and get hired”. Yes, you can be hired without one, but yes you need it in today’s world. It’s so much easier to send a link to your website than it is to attach a file in an email. I’ve been through this myself, and I’m telling you – it’s worth it for you and those looking to hire you.
(2) Don’t put in work that isn’t your’s. If you recreated something for a previous job, don’t put it in your portfolio. Your portfolio is for original work, and original work only.
(3) Don’t put in every project. I look for conceptual depth and quality, not quantity. Have a blurb somewhere about your design process in your portfolio (website or PDF).
(4) Design your resume. It doesn’t have to have bells and whistles to look good, but you’re a designer– at least show me that you are competent in layout and type by having a strong layout, good type choice, and intentional kerning and leading. DO NOT put fifty fonts on your resume–it feels clever, I know, but it has the potential to be perceived as unprofessional and inexperienced by your potential employer.
(5) Avoid inconsistency. I want to see variety in your portfolio, but that doesn’t mean I want to see ten mediocre projects with one or two redeeming pieces thrown in. Remember what I said earlier? Always quality over quantity.
(6) Avoid taking credit for a team project. This can put you in a bad spot, so try to only show parts of a team project you worked on, or make it clear in your presentation or on your website which parts you worked on. If you can’t make it expressly clear why your hand in this team project is worth being in your portfolio, don’t put it. Put the experience on your resume, and let that speak for itself.
(7) Don’t say you can do something that you can’t do. It will get you in quite a pickle if you claim to know HTML and CSS when you really don’t come the first day of your job. Best to be honest about what you can do and avoid the awkward moment of having to explain yourself.
Designer responded to questions in 2016 via email.