An Obligatory First Blog Post
…I think most people who’ve taken a CS course or bootcamp are very familiar with the titular programming phrase from the 1970s (whose origins are unclear) . I thought it’d be fitting to use it here to introduce myself!
So, Who Am I?
I assume you have a little bit of information about me just from my Homepage and About Me pages. But I want to go a little bit deeper into my background to explore how I even got into UX design in the first place. I grabbed a little body copy from one of my old About Me pages:
“On Valentine’s Day 2014, I was on a search for a career and I came across various UX Design and Research roles whose job descriptions excited me. Having an Anthropology degree and a background in customer service, and fixing technical problems for people, user experience designing and research felt like a calling that was career custom made for my interest in people, technology, wanting to make an impact along with my problem solving skills!”
Sounds like a pretty romantic or dramatic depiction of a career change, huh?
But it’s absolutely true: I’m fascinated in people and I love trying to understand human behavior, especially when it comes to technology. That love of learning more about people emerged as I was going to college for Anthropology but not a whole lot was talked about learning about people and the rapid change of Technology (with a capital T, the abstract or theoretical aspects of tech) except for some aspects of technology (as in tool-making, less so about using tech tools in carrying out tasks). I think that’s the silo-ing environment of academia, unfortunately, and I assume that others who were Computer Science majors at the U of MN Duluth at the time I attended had more of a fast track to entering the User Experience and Research career track than me.
Heck, I was planning to go to grad school and become a librarian right after graduating in 2012 (why not make a career of me loving to work in a place that has all the free books you can read?).
However, I’m glad that I went back to school for Web/UX design a few years later. And with that….
What, exactly *was* UX Zen Design?
As part of an associate degree program for Web/UX Design for two years, one class had to address the issue of how to brand yourself as a professional. At the time, I was fixated on the idea of “zen” and finding the right balance of ideas when solving design problems.
To me, UX Zen *was* the active practice of balancing clients/businesses, technology constraints and the user’s needs in coming up with solutions.
(Even though the UX Zen “brand” is no more, I still believe in this balance and will discuss this later in future posts).
I had to work the title/name a few times since my classmates thought that putting “zen” with my name sounded like I was maybe opening up a yoga studio vs. having my being a User Experience professional/Wizard/Ninja/”Unicorn”, etc. See, a lot of my classmates were choosing monikers that had their name in it, which isn’t a bad thing, but for me, that felt kind of weird: “Rachel Smith Design”….eh….no. That string of words just seems off to me, even a couple years after that class.
A few years of me working with this design philosophy worked out well enough until…
The Change to Forever Curious Design
I think most people would agree with me that saying that Covid-19, in many ways, was disruptive would be an understatement. My 2020 started with my being laid off from my contract-to-hire role, followed by a mix of sharpening my skills and taking up UX volunteer opportunities in addition to networking, connecting with other professionals, attending UX webinars/events, and applying to new roles.
A huge Sea Change for me would start in February 2021, when I was diagnosed as being Autistic and having ADD (I think it’s important to disclose that here but I won’t talk about it too much unless the work and writing on my blog unless cases studies call for more details on the experiences I want to share). As I’m writing this post, I’m still doing my own research and work on figuring out what my Autism/ADD mean to me and how to best work and thrive with my Neurodivergent (ND) brain.
One of the more empowering concepts or lessons I’ve learned about Autism, in general, is that Autistic people tend to have deep, passionate interests in different topics. These are strengths for us The saying goes is that, “When you’ve met one person with Autism, you’ve met one person with Autism”. As I wrote in the So, Who Am I? section, from the time I was a teen, I’ve always been curious about understanding people, groups, behavior and anomalies.
In affirming that my curiosity about people was a strength of mine, I decided to lean into it when engineering experience design solutions and working with users to continously improve them. My being able to put myself in people’s shoes when designing for them and their goals has always brought me joy and satisfaction that I’m making a difference, no matter how small.
The more I’ve been reflecting on my personal philosophy or paradigm in regards to UX design/research in the past year, the more I felt like I was appropriating the East Asian concept of Zen.
I, for one, am NOT Alan Watts…
So far, in the past few months, I’ve felt more empowered than ever in working through problems, creating and crafting design solutions from a Place of Strength that puts people first.
So, in essence….I’ve always been and will be Forever Curious!
What’s this blog about then?
I originally wanted to publish my blog on my personal site using Webflow, but the CMS capabilities, post sharing and finer blog detailing left something to be desired (the topic of another upcoming post).
This involved titling the page with a good, dare I say, “punchy” label than the purely descriptive “blog”. I had a few other ideas to dub this space including “sandbox” or “playground”. I consulted my sister, a freelance writer, on what word worked best and “studio” came to mind and, even though I’m a “studio” of one, I think that’s the best word to describe my Medium blog/writing space.
What can I say, finding the right words matter when designing and optimizing responsive web and app content for users.
This blog is meant to be provide more insights into what work I’m doing on a more consistent basis — work that will hopefully be featured in its own projects page on my portfolio, depending on the project (look out for an additional blog post listing some projects I plan to write about for the rest of 2021).
With all that being said: Welcome to my “studio”! I’ll be sure to update either once or twice a week depending on how often I’m working on projects or would like to write about what’s fascinating me about my work, design conundrums around me and various other design and behavioral tidbits.