Photo by Pierre Bamin on Unsplash

Allow Me to Be a Little Bit Vulnerable for a Minute…

On my hitting a Hurdle when it comes to my Skills

I think we all have some mental images of what “stuck” or “crash” means.

A few ideas come to mind and allow me to explain with the Internet’s Official Currency, Gifs:

A prairie dog getting unstuck from a hole and being assisted out by a kind human soul…

Stuck Prairie Dog Bring Freed (Gif)

Austin Powers trying to parallel park out of a basement hallway (my fiancé calls a particularly tough or small parallel parking job “Austin Powers-ing” it and I love that he’s introduced me to this inside joke/term)…

Mike Meyers as Austin Powers Stuck in Hallway (Gif)

The Classic Chuck Jones’s Wille E. Coyote crashing into a cliff…

Wil E Coyote Flying and Crashing into Cliff (Gif)

And, finally, a cute crash of a panda falling down a slide and bumping into a fellow Rival for Cute Attention…

Panda Bumping into Another Panda on Slide (Gif)

Gifs aside, I do have a point:

Re-thinking My Current Design Skill Base

So, some of you may know that I graduated from an Associates program in 2016 for Web and UX design. I am really glad that I was able to learn from a lot of really great professionals, have the structure to plan and complete various projects, and learn and present growing skills. When I wasn’t in class, I was supplementing my coursework by going to UX meetups and lending my skills with internships/mentorships.

A lot of the curriculum was centered around using and mastering Adobe creative suite which was a challenge but also one that I really love to say that, by the end of the program “I mastered Photoshop/Indesign/Javascript to make my work/designs”. Hours would fly by with me focusing on making anything I was making for class absolutely perfect. Classes were divided between learning Graphic Design and Full-Stack coding, and, even though my focus in the classes was to learn about and advocate for the user in my creativity, I’d still feel a bit insecure when showing off my work, and seemingly having it dwarfed in quality compared to my classmates’.

Sometimes, today, I still feel these past insecurities, but I know that my strengths lie in being able to spot usability problems, sketch ideas, gather research from users, distill it and revisit my sketches to engineer a better user experience. Crafting sleek, flashy final Interface designs as the final steps of the UX design process has always been an evolving process for me.

The approach to teaching, too, was focused on having students like myself make a lot of our own assets, icons, or edited pictures…from scratch. I can see why this approach can work (I do, sometimes, need to make customized assets which does happen every so often, though rare) but trust me…having to do that all the time for.every.single.project. gets exhasting….FAST.

After class and work, I would spent countless hours, hunched over my 2011 MacBook Air, well into the early morning working on projects (listening to old MST3K episodes in the background), creating my own customized Wordpress theme for a Wordpress class (obviously) or posters using both Adobe Photoshop and InDesign for my typography class. Good times indeed…

Tom Servo typing on a Keyboard Singing the Praises of the Internet (Gif)
“I hate the outside” (Gif)

And, yes, my habit of watching/listening to MST3K episodes when I’m focusing on work has been woven into my DNA at this point and I wouldn’t have it any other way. I’m basically a lost Deep 13 Experiment gone “MIA”…

Sketch and Adobe XD were on the radar back in 2016 (and Figma came onto the scene in September 2016 [thanks Wikipedia!]), we got to play around with Sketch a little, but more so at the end of the two year program and not long enough for a semester-long design project. Corporate and contract roles I worked in offered tools like Microsoft Office or Axure in doing either design and research, but I didn’t get to gain fluency with Sketch or Figma on the job to build UX deliverables such as making style sheets, tracking heuristics, crafting wireframes/mockups as well as engineer some animation and motion into the prototypes.

Incorporating newer tools can be an evolving process in a professional setting with many people having to sign onto changing tools and approaches and updating my portfolio by sharing my work by still using Adobe Photoshop, Indesign (or sometimes Illustrator) proved to be getting more harder as time went on.

In writing all this, I’m not trying to downplay my skills with Adobe CS/what I had learned in the past, place blame anywhere, make excuses or throw my hands up in frustration, but I do think that growth begins in realizing when a system isn’t working, being stuck and needing to try a better way can be a catalyst in making change for the better.

What I’m Doing NOW to Master New Great Skills

I have good experience in applying my Anthropology background to dive deep into problems, asking questions when conducting research, put myself in the user’s shoes when assessing interfaces, and designing better interfaces and experiences for users.

Yet, in the past few years, I’ve become so inspired in looking at case studies and work examples from other UX professionals on how they present the more in-depth experience work and design thinking using tools like Figma, Sketch and Miro.

Fast forward to 2020, as Covid hit, and I realize that my prototyping skills needed a serious overhaul. I did some research to see if other UX professionals even use Photoshop or other CS tools as extensively as I was taught in their jobs (using Reddit and search some Year-End UX Tools surveys) and found out that a good number of professional designers still use Adobe CS, but only for putting finishing touches on pictures or illustrations used for prototypes built with other tools.

Instead of dwelling in comparing my aesthetic work to other professionals (or my classmates like I’ve written above), I’m eager to start using lot of new tools, sites and groups that have popped up in the past few years to help in both craft more polished UX deliverables and clearly explain steps in my UX problem solving and process and in mastering Figma, Sketch and Adobe XD.

I believe it’s not enough to just be working only on UI designs, but to use the tools now available to show how I’ve solved design problems, asked questions from users in getting their feedback, incorporate feedback and to ensure that designs are Accessible and Inclusive too!

My current goal is to update my past work, ideas, projects-in-progress, design challenges and come up with effective and creative ways to communicate my critical thinking, design process and “thoughts buzzing around in my head” that would also be applicable to my case studies.

I’m always in the process of gathering these tools/plugins, bookmarking sites, and joining groups/attending events and I’m looking forward to writing about the best ones I’ve found in a future post!

Napoleon Dynamite Talking about Skills (Gif)

Mastering Skills Requires Courses to Dive Into

I’ve always open to learning new skills and tools, which usually has me going to Youtube to look up videos. I’m subbed to Figma’s Youtube channel on projects they upload, updates they make to their software and other news.

Watching a playlist or video series from Figma’s channel on Leveling Up my know-how was my default idea on sharpening my skills, but my fiancé recommended looking up more structured, short courses to help in applying more advanced tools, tips, and tricks after knowing the basics of Sketch, Figma and Adobe XD for a few years.

So, after doing some research on some good courses, I chose a few on Udemy that I can complete and apply the coursework fairly quickly. The first course I completed was…

  • The Complete Figma Course — A course I finished last week. I might see if I can do the Clean Kangaroo project featured in the course with a few tweaks, but I’m even more excited to use the tips, tools and plugins mentioned to design projects I’ve had in the pipeline for awhile now!

In addition to taking a new Figma course, I’m taking four more that I think will round out some of the “missing pieces” in my skillset:

  • Sketch from A to Z — A quick 3.5 hour course to brush up on Sketch, fairly simple and a good refresher course.
  • User Experience Design Essentials — Adobe XD — A longer course for revisiting Adobe XD and see just how much the software has changed in the past few years. I’m curious to see how assets made in Photoshop or Illustrator can be folded into Adobe XD prototypes.
  • Master Digital Product Design: UX Research and UI Design — I’m looking forward to seeing how this course can help weave together more complex UX Research work and findings to translate them into effective UI Designs!
  • Research Methodology: Complete Research Project Blueprint — I have a lot more experience in working with users in gathering research (aka the qualitative side of User Research) so in the past year or two, I’ve been eager to take up more quantitative/analytical skills in areas such as analytics, stats, A/B testing, survey designs, unmoderated testing and other methods. I’m looking forward to having this course be a foundation for future quantitative research endeavors and help balance out my skills!

In conclusion, I’m very excited to rev up my skills in revising my previous and current work, shape blossoming ideas into reality, and I’m looking forward to sharing my work here on Medium soon.

Stay tuned for exciting updates!

And, as always, Stay Curious!

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