The Unicorn Institute – A future of UX reimagined

I just backed the Unicorn Institute on Kickstarter.

This is an important project brought by a UX hero of mine, Jared Spool, along with the help of Leslie Jensen Inman.

I’m proud to call these folks peers – mentors actually. It is an awesome thing that they are attempting to build. I would love to go to this UX school one day, but even if my kids were able and wanted to, that would be a dream come true.

Take a moment to check out the project and consider giving at least a little in support of such an awesome initiative.



Now that I found some focus, I have my coffee within reach and diagramming tool in hand. Time to crank some stuff out, finally. Time to listen to something new.

Hazes creates those sounds that you just kind of lose yourself in – the zoning kind of tune that forms a plane of creativity your brain just sort of glides along with no regard to time. Their sound is trippy and low beat enough to not send brain cells into chaos mode, but energizing enough to fuel the creative process. Maybe it’s the echoey lyrics being pulled like whispers between chords that keeps a parallel between the music and my brainwaves.

Some music you sing along to. Some music you dance to. And then there’s that music that you create to. That’s Hazes for me.

Check them out on Bandcamp. You can also find them on Soundcloud.

The featured image of this post belongs to Hazes band as seen on their Bandcamp profile.

Eight Knives

I’ve been in a music sharing kind of mood today, with working, snow, and kids. I have definitely been in need of some energetic jams to work to. Do you know how hard it can be to focus when you have to stop and plastic wrap your kids’ shoes and sock-mittens so they can go play in the snow? Yeah, it’s been that type of day, with little to show accomplished on my timesheet. Unless of course music and snow kids are billable.

I bring to you another interesting sound, this time from a band called Eight Knives. If you like jammy White Stripes-esque tunes, these guys are sure to help you crank out some productivity and tapping feet. Their sounds is somewhat eclectic, in that I could dig them in a gig bar or driving with my windows down steering through backroads to anywhere. I am still discovering them, but I like what I’ve been exposed to so far.

On that note, here’s a quick track list to cure your curiosity.

This post’s featured image belongs to Eight Knives as shown on their Bandcamp profile.

Rigoletto band

I love music. I cannot play any instrument. But, man, how music stirs emotion. And, awesome how it stays with a person whether the music stopped playing out loud or not. Thus, I love to discover music. I’m not some elite connoisseur of the hippest of hip. But, I unapologetically express an interest in many forms of music. Took me a while to get to that point, but I’m here, and I’m sharing with you.

A friend of mine mentioned Rigoletto in a casual skype chat one day. I checked them out and instantly liked them. I haven’t gone ape shit obsessed over them … yet. I revisited them yesterday and was drawn in once again. I can’t quite put my finger on the sound. I want to say it’s nostalgic. But, the young gents in this group look at least a decade younger than me. What nostalgia could they possibly conjure that would ring something inside of me? I’m still not quite sure. But, it’s such a sweet sound.

My favorite track so far? Queen’s Hotel, without a doubt.

Check out their Delusions of Grandeur (Deluxe) ablum. I’m still discovering each song, but each person has their own pace, as it should be. To fully appreciate music, you allow yourself to embed the sound inside, much like the way I’ve embedded their track list below. Enjoy!

And, while you’re at it, check out the video for Northern. It definitely has a nostalgic feel to it.

This post’s featured image belongs to Rigoletto, as seen on their Bandcamp profile.

Where to start in UX?

So, I am obviously a huge advocate of user experience. Like anything, if you don’t already know the scope of something you’re new to, it can feel a little overwhelming. Rest assured, there are many routes you can take in learning UX – there’s not necessarily one right way.

The beacon of hope

This is honestly just a quick post to capture a few resources that I recently shared with one of my great designer colleagues. He feels a natural inclination toward user experience thinking, which is awesome.

Like him, I was once in need that simple push, a reassurance, toward what these natural abilities are – that others could see and understand what I was talking about even when I didn’t know the right nomenclature to use. Sometimes, that’s all we need in order for that giant learning bubble to shrink down to something consumable and less overwhelming.

So, I shared with him some things I found with a quick Google search. There are tons of awesome resources out there. Google image search has worked wonders for finding UX deliverables. Sometimes it helps to see the format others have used to capture their thoughts. Don’t get too hung up on how the deliverables look though aesthetically. In the end, it’s about what’s being communicated and less about perfectly designed documentation.

In my own experience, UX has been about bridging a gap between designers, developers, end users, and business stakeholders. That looks different from organization to organization. The value you can bring to the table as a UX practicioner is the user-centered experience resulting from thoughtful design that balances the needs of all the players. When that translates to greater ROI, you’ve hit the sweet spot.

Learning about UX

HCI – I really really want a certification some day.

Human Computer Interaction course on Coursera (free learning, check it out). I started it, but didn’t treat it like a real course on top of my day job, so never finished. I have all the videos downloaded though. What I saw was really good, and definitely affirmed my natural abilities in UX.

Nielsen-Norman Group’s HCI day workshop. This looks promising; another on my UX bucket list.

Design Pattern libraries

If you don’t already, start thinking in terms of views and design patterns. Design patterns are visual design, but it’s really about satisfying a need. Design pattern libraries or collections typically group these by task or feature. This starts helping you see parts of design as tasks, features, utilities, and controls. Ultimately, this can help your designs become more purposeful. Many of these actually have case studies along with conversion results, which is awesome.

UI Patterns

A Flickr user’s design pattern collection

That’s all I have for now. If you’re new to UX, I hope I’ve settled your possible anxiety about the right and wrong way to learn UX (I get asked all the time). Relax. Enjoy the discovery!

If you have natural tendencies toward user flows, design patterns, views, and knowing how to balance the needs of key players, we could always use more talent in the UX industry. I recommend doing an Indeed job search on UX or User Experience and just see what skills companies are willing to pay for. You might be surprised at how much you already can apply. Use your awareness of skill gaps as a career compass. Where there’s a will, there’s always a way – I’ve seen it happen 🙂

LinkedIn Optimization Update

If you’ve been to my site before, chances are you noticed a couple of articles I’ve written on tweaking my own LinkedIn profile and keeping up with the metrics. Here’s an update, as of today, November 11, 2013.

Keywords that led to you

  1. 39% rina
  2. 4% henderson
  3. 2% area203
  4. 1% interface designer / web developer
  5. 1% valerie butt
  6. <1% rina b
  7. <1% web graphic designer
  8. <1% crashpad
  9. <1% chris
  10. <1% kenny mcminn
Visit the original articles for the full experiment:

Mobile loan application

When tasked with taking an online loan application to mobile, I designed for both the native mobile experience (an app) and a mobile optimized experience (running in a browser across devices).

The project started as native, but because of the business and technology constraints, native was not an option so I moved that experience to a more general experience that would run well in a mobile browser.

I led this project from wireframes and user flows to guiding design across three different brands utilizing the same information architecture.

UX Audit: Loan application decision pages

As part of a larger brand loyalty and optimization initiative, I audited the decision pages of an online loan application for a multi-million dollar financial services client. Essentially, there was poor use of space on each of the three decision pages that a user could see upon completion of the loan application.

The goal was to utilize the space for more branding opportunity and customer service. For instance, when a user is denied and lands on the “I’m sorry” page, they should have a better experience in understanding why and what their next steps will or should be, otherwise the only thing for the user to do is read a couple lines of text and close the browser.

Instead of allowing them to walk away with nothing else to consider, the page design would need to be shifted toward a more thoughtful experience.

FAVE TV – User testing and website audit

The FAVE TV usability audit allowed me to coordinate a user test utilizing the vendor. I wanted to survey 10 users through the process of visiting the FAVE TV website, which included discovery of the FAVE product, product details, pricing, value, and purchase steps. I kept the pool of test users to a fairly small number for cost, time to review the videos, and also felt like 10 would allow for a good mix of users who would all be attempting the same list of tasks.

After starting the test, I was able to review videos and audio of users making their journey through the site in search of answers to the five tasks. From that qualitative data, I could then begin making recommendations for improved design based, attempting to solve for the barriers encountered by test users of the site.

In short, the audit resulted in a thorough investigation into why more users weren’t converting on the site and the recommendations that would improve the rate of successful purchases. Among the recommendations, better content and navigation organization. This can be achieved through mapping the flow and making sure there are as few steps as possible from beginning to end, and, that the order in which the content should be consumed is reflected in the information architecture.