A new path & a new geeky job

I’m changing jobs again (she says, as if this happens every few weeks instead of every 3+ years). I’ve been hoping for an opportunity to get into prototyping for a while, so when a position opened up 3 weeks ago, I applied. Interviews were last week, and I got the call late Friday, which I accepted.

For those of you who don’t live in the day-to-day of web design, the difference between my new role as a UI Designer and what I do today as an Information Architect can be summed up this way:

Information architecture: heavy on strategy (user research, experience design, balancing user needs and business needs, personas, scenarios) heavy on wireframing the “happy path” and providing design strategy descriptions, very light on visual design, component specifications, and almost no HTML/CSS/Javascript work.

UI Design: lighter on strategy (hopefully it’s been decided before it gets there), heavy on prototyping (the aforementioned code elements) and the prototyping includes ALL the paths.

In other words, the UI Designer takes the output of the Information Architect (and the rest of the visioning team) and turns it into a detailed design with a working prototype.

(Note: this is specific to where I work – other organizations have very different definitions of what their information architects and Ui Desisgners are expected to do.)

In my head, I’ve always identified myself as a software engineer specializing in UI, even though I’ve only ever been paid to do the job in bits and pieces of contract work. Information architecture is a critical piece of designing great systems, but (in my current situation) it tends to be more strategy-centered than I really love.

Or to put it a different way, if you asked me to choose between a conference session on the three mental models primarily used by people searching a website, and a session on implementing drop shadows on layers using CSS, my role as an IA would suggest I belong at the search session, but my heart would be in the CSS session.

On the other hand, I can’t think of a better way to start a career as a UI Designer than spending almost 3 years studying the “whys” of user interface design. I’ve had the pleasure of working with brilliant, and very patient, Information Architects and Information Designers, who have given me a host of skills in facilitation, user research, and design heuristics that couldn’t be matched through any educational program anywhere. I’m profoundly grateful.

I am really really excited, very sad to leave my current team, and a bit terrified. The last time I changed careers, I did it through a 6-month internship in our most excellent User Experience Group, so I had time to get my head around the transition and hand off all my projects with room to spare. In this case, it hasn’t even been a week since my interviews and I’m already moving projects off my plate in preparation for a move in less than 2 weeks. If there was such this as “career whiplash” this would be it.

So November is going to be very interesting. I’m writing a novel, starting a new job, moving to a new building, making new friends, and getting into some very geeky things that they’re going to pay me to do. There are definitely worse ways to start the winter.

Too much to write, here are some links instead.

And now: Kittens riding a Roomba.

More Health Care info….

Wow, this health care stuff is complicated. Let’s check out some charts. Informational graphics by our politicians are designed to make it all clearer, right?

There’s an article pointing to some charts here….Ezra Klein – When Health-Care Reform Stops Being Polite and Starts Making Charts and over here…. Political Chart Wars: Health-Care Reform Obfuscated by Infographics.

They include this doozy:


(yes, I hotlinked the images in this post, yes I’m against that, yes, I’ll fix that later.)

Hmm, charts by idiot politicians, maybe not a good idea…

I also have to admit, I was amused by the Democratic comeback:

So now that everyone’s had fun trying to make readers blind by putting bright colors on a dark grey bakground, maybe we should let an actual information/graphic designer give it a shot. This one’s called do not fuck with graphic designers.

Hey, something usable!

The letter below the image pretty much says how anyone in charge of presenting accurate and understandable information feels about that monster you see above. You can see the full pdf here and, OMG, it actually makes a bit of sense.

Now, if only any of them were indicative of a simple health care system….

With thanks to Joe Lanman on this thread of the IXDA discussion board.

Non-stop, but rising to the challenge

Wow, I have been flat-out busy the last two days.

Yesterday, the conference session on Visual design for the web (check out the nifty podcast) I attended started at 8:30 and ran until 5:30 — with generous breaks to keep us all sane, but most of the break time was eaten by things like waiting in line to use the bathroom and waiting for the elevator.

(Quick elevator aside: I’m in a hotel with no less than 26 floors. I’m on floor 21. The conference is on floor 2. If you want to get on the elevator to go up, the easiest way is to go downstairs to the lobby via the escalator, and push the up button from there, because despite the volume of folks at the conference, it’s still easier to catch the elevator at the floor it almost always has to touch on a “down” trip. Once inside, we’ve been playing “elevator bingo” — we won earlier today by loading a full row (floors 5-6-7) on one trip. I’m hoping to see us win with a column sometime before we leave. As for catching the elevator going down, rule 1 is wait patiently for it to arrive, rule 2 is wait patiently some more, and rule 3 is once you’re on board you’ll be stopping on every floor, so wait patiently. Patience is a virtue I don’t have, so it’s been a challenge.)

The session was highly interactive and quite interesting, though, so it wasn’t a challenge to get through it. And I feel a lot better about the basics of visual design and the idea that I can have an intelligent conversation with a visual designer and not make quite as much of a fool of myself.

After the session, some of the guys I work with and I met some other PhillyCHI people that are also at the conference, and we went out to dinner at Cambridge Brewing Company. The food was good and the conversation was excellent. It was a relief that we didn’t spent the entire time talking about user experience, but instead spent most of our time on more pressing topics, like “Why hasn’t Anne ever been on a subway before this week?” and “How old do they potty train kids in Brazil?” and the weather in Chicago and how the Phillies were doing. I had a great glass of Riesling wine, some sweet and spicy wings, and a butternut squash soup that was just sublime.

The weather here has been crisp — definitely fall in the air — but not cold, so we’ve been able to walk back and forth to restaurants and the like without any issues. It’s been quite nice.

Anyway, got home to my ivory tower and turned on the Phillies game, and at the time we were winning 2-1, which was awesome. I talked to Nighthawk on the phone for a bit and then chatted with my sister online, and the Phillies were going downhill and more downhill, until the score was 5-3 and I was just waiting for a horrible loss. Not having the energy for it, I shut the TV off and instead did some desk work and fought to stay awake.

When I’d just about finished that, I decided to go to bed, but my curiosity about the game was killing me. I finally killed the cat and checked out the Phillies search feed on Twitter (which is filled with folks tweeting all throughout the games) and discovered that holy shit, the Phillies had tied the game. I turned on the extremely sexy flat-panel LG tv in my room just in time to watch Matt Stairs park one, putting the Phils ahead. Well, there was no sleeping after that until the game ended, that’s for sure.

I didn’t drag my sorry butt out of bed until almost 8:00 this morning and barely made the first of the 90-minute mini-sessions today, but once the day got started they were pretty damn awesome. And also flat-out. Watched a session, then a break, then another session, then a lunch with other information architects, then the keynote, then what was supposed to be an ice cream social, but my head said no. My sinuses said “hey, moron, we want water and pain drugs or you pay.” Two tylenol sinus, a bottle of water, and a power nap later, and I was back on my feet for the final session. By then it was 5:30, so we were done, right?

Wrong. After that, there was a really cool social down in the ballroom, where we ate totally excellent pasta and other foods (jerk fajitas, olive bar type doohicky, lots of little desserts, oh, and alcohol) and chatted with existing and new friends about what we’d learned and how everything was going. I had a great time and overate, of course, so when that finally broke up at 7:30 I was stuffed and feeling icky and exhausted.

I seriously considered hitting the pool but I’m not confident I have anything appropriate to wear over my suit and I’m 100% sure I don’t have the confidence to haul my fat ass through the halls and 17 floors down the stops-everywhere elevator in just the swimsuit. Plus, I was raised by a Coast Guard vet so I’ve got a natural aversion to swimming without a buddy because I’ve got the kind of luck that would make me the only person in the history of Information Architecture that drown to death at a conference.

But one of the great things I hadn’t really considered about Tang Soo Do when I first joined is that you can literally do it anywhere, so instead of swimming I cleared a spot in my room and did the basic stretches and kicks and punches that we do to open most classes. It was a little difficult to warm up without a kihap on the kicks (which I figured might freak out the other folks on the floor) but I pulled it off. Now I’m feeling a lot better, much less achy, and willing to sit down and be a geek for a little while.

So… my poor iBook laptop (the Dread Pirate Roberts) with its 933 MHz PowerPC chip and its 1.12 GB of RAM has been processing video and Dreamweaver downloads for me all evening and I think it’s about ready to throw itself out the window. I’m taking some down-time and reveling in it while I can, because it’s back to full speed tomorrow morning.