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.


I was up playing card games with family last night until almost 3. I slept until after noon, and didn’t rise until almost 2.

I write this because sometime in the future I’ll be flipping through these archives while in a state of anxiety, wishing life would slow down. Future self, I don’t “have time” to ignore the laundry and the chores and the mounds of to-do items for work. But today, I took the time to stop.

And having done so, I’m filled with readiness to do so many things… I get things done faster when I’m ready to do things than when I have to.

So, future self, stop. You’ll likely say you don’t have time, or someone will be angry, or you will be angry. I understand how important you think the things you doing are. But like a flywheel, you build momentum slowly when you need to keep running for a long time.

Stop for a day.


Macguffin hunting

It’s hard to describe last night’s sleep.

OK, I take it back: “crappy” is just fine as a descriptor.

First I was at a meeting where we were trying to do some visioning, but it required 3 full-sized whiteboards and a ladder for me to start documenting everything. I should have started that process before the meeting but for some reason didn’t, so everyone was milling around the room waiting for me to catch up.

The meeting was supposed to run from 3-5. Sometime around 20 after 3 I realized that I needed a thing. I think it was a piece of software. We can call it a macguffin. In a fit of dream insanity I decided to go get the macguffin right then, accompanied by my business lead Danielle, my prototyper Karen, and my husband, who was so skinny that he shared the front seat with me and didn’t get in the way of my driving.

I think the macguffin was supposed to be at Best Buy or a craft store, but rather than going to any of the real Best Buys, my brain dialed up one that was only reachable by driving through a bunch of Prnnsylvania small towns and confusing back roads. I missed the Best Buy and had to turn around to go back, but somehow that made things worse. Eventually Karen volunteered to be dropped off at the Best Buy and the other three of us would proceed to the craft store.

The craft store looked like a mix of hardware store shelving and Old Navy clothing, with no crafts whatsoever, and lots of bins of technology. We spread out to look for the macguffin in the bins of phones, PDAs, and mice, but came up empty.

Then I realized I’d set my iPhone down and couldn’t find it. Cue the panic. But I realized I couldn’t find it because I was so exhausted that I kept forgetting what I was looking for. I constantly picked up mens’ wallets (the men in question were trying on clothes & would keep their clothes folded neatly on the floor with their wallets on the top of the stacks. I was fascinated by the abundance of wallets, and kept forgetting about the macguffin and the iPhone, until Nighthawk would remind me again.

Finally I pulled out my iPad, intending to use it to find my iPhone. The iPad was the same size as my current model, but roughly the thickness of a filmstrip, and I kept it rolled up in my pocket when I wasn’t using it. But I couldn’t get a signal on the 3G so I couldn’t use it to find my phone. I did find my sister, so I borrowed her flip phone circa 2003 but I couldn’t convince it to log into the Mobile Me website.

Danielle reminded me at that point that we still had a highly critical 2-hour visioning session to run, so we left, with no macguffin and no iPhone. (Why I didn’t use my husband’s iPhone to find mine I don’t know.) but it was clear by they point that exhaustion had totally consumed me. I had to keep reminding myself that I shouldn’t leave the store without Danielle, who had gone back inside to use the restroom or ask directions or something.

Once everyone was in the car and heading back, in extremely rainy dreary weather, I started reminding myself that we still had to pick Karen up. But that thought would leave immediately on someone mentioning that I needed to stop driving like someone falling asleep at the wheel. A quick glance at the car’s clock revealed it was already 17:30 (why my clock insisted on doing 24 hour time I don’t know, but the math was *hard*) and we’d missed the Very Important Meeting, plus we still had no macguffin. We decided (since I was in no shape to be driving anyway) to go home.

Danielle & Nighthawk had to keep giving me instructions on how to get home, but we arrived safely, although a bit wet and miserable.

Then I realized we’d forgotten to pick up Karen. The 2/3 majority vote was to let her stay where she was (across from the Best Buy was a hotel, magically) but I insisted I could still drive, so we got back in the car and drove to Best Buy where a soaked and angry Katen revealed she had the macguffin. We drove back to work and found that everyone was still waiting in the meeting room, with a couple of pizzas. They were annoyed.

I didn’t get in trouble right then but I knew the next work day was going to be hell, especially since as soon as I arrived they announced that it was too late at night (8:30) to vision now & we should all go home.

I woke up then, to a screaming headache. I feel like someone’s been trying to flush my sinuses with hot air. I feel as exhausted as in my dreams. I should probably stay home, but I have too much to do today.

At least I know where my iPhone and iPad are.

So far.

Needs, or, pruning in order to grow.

The world is trying to shake me at my roots, and I’ve been resisting.

I read an article years ago called The Sex & Cash Theory which says, in short, that if you want to be happy with your life you have to balance the things that pay the bills against the sexy, creative stuff. If you let your life swing one way or the other too far, chaos will ensue.

I’ve never had the problem of letting my life swing too far into the creative endeavors.

I get up, take care of the dogs, go to work, try to solve problems and occasionally create things that are useful. I sometimes feel like I’m genuinely making things better. Whether I succeed or not, it’s exhausting work of juggling competing priorities, competing egos, varying interpretations, and menacing deadlines.

When I’m done working, I come home, take care of the dogs if Nighthawk hasn’t beaten me to it (some days run, well, loooong….), source and prepare some sort of foodlike objects, and try to find something that will take my mind off of the work I left and the work I’m going back to the next day.

If I’m lucky, I get six hours of sleep. If I’m really lucky, it’s not filled with nightmares about work. Then it starts over.

(As an aside, have you ever tried to type around a dog? Chance says hello.)

Even as little as two years ago, I had the energy and drive to create after work. I drew a comic. I worked on the five novels I’ve got written in various pieces around my hard drive. I knit. I cooked crazy-ass things. (I’m pretty sure the peanutbutter fish story has never actually made it into this iteration of the blog. Someone remind me someday…)

But slowly those things have been sliding out of my life. The novel writing was displaced by the comic authoring (except for every other November). The comic was displaced by martial arts. That, in turn, has been forcibly displaced by injuries, health issues for Nighthawk, the holidays, more back issues, more health issues for Nighthawk, a conference, family vacation, and just when I thought I’d be going back, a strained shoulder. And a work deadline schedule that pushes and pushes and pushes. Oh, and more health issues for Nighthawk.

Slowly I’m coming to the conclusion that I’m not where I’m supposed to be, mentally, physically, or emotionally.

Nighthawk’s health has recently provided me with an extremely large burst of nervous energy. On May 12th he’s having oral surgery, but not like the nice friendly “let’s pull a tooth” surgery. More like the “let’s put the lung patient on a respirator, do all the work, take you off the respirator, and give you soft foods for at least a week while trying to keep your calorie count above 3000/day and your blood sugar normal” oral surgery. Not. My. Favorite. Kind.

What do you do with a nervous breakdown on the edge of your peripheral vision? Well, if you don’t have a creative outlet for it, you take it to work and try to get it to be useful. This is somewhat akin to putting a bellman’s uniform on the most violent rabid dog you can find, and chaining him up outside your cube, where he’s in charge of greeting everyone. Not necessarily successful, and generally requires a mop.

The universe has decided to combat this insanity by making April into “Kirabug reassesses her values” month.

The first shake-up came from the conference at the beginning of April. An Event Apart re-fired my desire to create, but not my ability to find an outlet. The inspiration-with-no-outlet problem made everything else worse.

The next shake-up came as a Studio Ghibli movie watched on my iPhone while I was feeling burnt out and sick and tired. Whisper of the Heart reminded me that creation is hard work, and you don’t get better from hiding from it.

When I started writing the thyroid cancer part of the comic, which Christ knows I’d never intended to write back in 2004 when I started the comic, it got hard. No, let me reword that. It got haaaaaaard. I lost the enjoyment of the craft because I was frustrated at my lack of skill. And I lost focus when a new sexy toy (martial arts) caught my attention.

But creating stories is what I was born to do. I create stories in the shower, on the way to work, in the comic. Some of my best web design was expressed in a comic strip, not a wireframe. New ideas are literally scrawled in every file and on every note of every piece of paper I get my hands on. I haven’t stopped creating stories, just because I lost time and motivation. I just started drowning them out in news feeds and bad TV and RSS feeds and comic strips and timewasters.

(By the way, Whisper of the Heart is my new favorite movie. It requires two things: one, that you remember how it felt to be sixteen. Two, that you forget how it feels to be your current age. If you get those two reversed you’ll think it’s horribly corny.)

So I threw out a bunch of distractions. I cut from 78 webcomics to comics folder to 36 core stories I’ve been following for years and still love. I threw out all but 15 RSS feeds (down from 50-ish.) Repeat ad nauseum through Twitter and Fark and Facebook ad nauseum.

Progress. Still, I felt lost, like I’m not sure what I’m creating for.

But tonight Nighthawk and I watched Train (or How I Dumped Electricity and Learned to Love Design. Now, Nighthawk turned me on to Brenda’s twitter feed months ago. He happens to know that I’ve wanted to write RPG video games ever since I discovered Final Fantasy in high school. And game design is a bit of a passion for him as well.

Brenda reminded me tonight that I create to grow. Not everything I create is going to be pretty. Not everything I create is going to be valued. Certainly not everything I create is going to be useful. But everything I create helps me step forward.

I have neglected the pruning. The grass has overrun the garden, and the important branches have been left to wither.

I need to walk away from martial arts. It’s a great experience I will return to, but I can’t fit martial arts, work, and my home life all in the same jar. I certainly can’t do all those things and add any other form of creativity into the jar.

I need to leave work at work.

I need to do hard things again, not because they are easy, but because they are hard.

I need to reconnect with my characters and find out what they have to say, before I forget how to speak their language.

I need to give this nervous energy someone to chase that doesn’t wear a tie. Figments of my imagination are suitable candidates.

I need to listen to the earth, stop resisting who I am and what I do. At least for a little while.

Tales of a 31-year-old white belt: 3 lbs of furious wattage

So things have been a little crazy the last few days or so….I have a major project due on Monday at work and it’s brought with it a lot of new challenges, particularly around project management. The root of the issue is that when you take a new businessperson and team them up with a new information architect (me), and a few other individuals who haven’t necessarily ever filled their exact roles before, and let them loose on a project with a vague scope, well, there’s a lot of cat-herding going on.

And I’m not afraid to say that I panic easily, am terrified of upper management as a general rule, and get obsessed with having pixel-perfect wireframes (yes, I know that’s a contradiction in terms). The end result is an all-nighter last Friday into Saturday (along with a few other assorted hours throughout the weekend) to get my wireframes done, crazy hours Monday, crazy hours again yesterday, and crazy hours today.

And OH MY GOD I’m exhausted.

The problem is I’m so exhausted I forget I’m exhausted. Case in point: I was smart enough to go home Monday after work instead of going to martial arts because I knew I couldn’t get through the calisthenics and I’d collapse. So that was smart.

What wasn’t so smart was not realizing that I wasn’t any better off yesterday.

Yesterday, I ate a healthy breakfast, ate a healthy lunch, and then spent four hours in an intense stress-filled situation cramming to finish a presentation that I then had to give to upper management (see point A about my feelings on management above). As soon as the presentation was over, I literally ran to my car (choking down a York peppermint patty on the way) to go to martial arts, which is in another building down the road.

At class, we did the usual warm-ups, then this cruel thing where you go from standing, to a squat, to kicking your feet behind you, do a pushup, back to the squat, then stand back up, then do it again. Ten of these. This was new exercise to me. My heart started pounding.

Then 50 jumping jacks. OK, I can swing that.

Then we went from standing into a squat, into a jump to tap our partners’ hands, back into a squat, like hyper frogs, for a total of 60 seconds. I think that’s probably when I started to lose my breath.

Then what I’ll call “laps” up and down the room – front kicks, then side kicks, then this cruel thing where you hop on one leg while kicking the other.

OK, look, I’m 175lbs on a good day and I’m 5 foot 3 when a generous nurse runs the scale. I’m built like a fire hydrant. Hopping on one foot sideways is freakin’ impossible to begin with, forget all the way up and down the room. Each lap I fell further and further behind the rest of the crowd, breathing harder and harder, heart feeling like it’s going to explode, which because I’m one bullheaded sunovabitch, just made me push myself harder. If all these other folks can do it, then the problem is I’m just not trying hard enough.

And I continued with that attitude until the edges of the room started to get kind of fuzzy and both Mr. and Mrs. Robinson made a point of saying “If anyone can’t handle this, you can bow out” while looking pointedly and directly at me.

Even I’m not dumb enough to ignore that particular mix of signals. Which is good, because by that point I was panting so hard that I couldn’t catch my breath at all. I think I might have been hyperventilating. Thank God I have a class of caring intelligent people — one of our highest ranking red belts came over and talked me through holding my breath just to slow my heart rate down so I could breathe again. And I got a good (positive, effective) talking to from both of my instructors, which I totally deserved for being so dumbass stupid and bullheaded.

But I couldn’t figure out what the hell happened. Yes, I’m out of shape. Yes, I shouldn’t try to keep up with people who have been practicing since 2005. Yes, I’d totally screwed my sleep schedule over the weekend and skipped not one but two workouts since the previous Wendesday. But I haven’t had a full breakdown of physical mechanics like that since college, when I discovered that not eating for an entire weekend is not conducive to crossing campus Monday morning.

And then tonight Nighthawk and I watched Human Body: Pushing the Limits, which we’d DVR’d, and something clicked. We were watching the episode on the human brain, which talked about the need for sleep, the need for cooling, and the need for energy. Turns out this three pound lump of grey matter between our ears uses on average 1/5th of our energy in a day. That’s right, the brain’s a giant energy sucker. And I ran it ragged for 4 hours.

Even though I’d eaten a good 1000 calories or so yesterday, the same amount I usually eat, and I’d had plenty of water, I’m now realizing that I’d burned through a lot more energy than I thought I had. (Keep in mind that if I eat more than 1550 calories in a day I gain weight. 1000 calories through lunch is actually *high* for my slow-ass metabolism.)

By the time I got to class, as my cousin would say, my stubbornness was writing checks my body couldn’t cash.

When I finally did catch my breath, by the way, I recovered enough to practice forms with the rest of the class with no further issues except for the blister I got on the bottom of my big toe. (Apparently they are not yet made of iron.) But I popped that nasty thing and it’s healing nicely, so I should be fine by Monday.

Monday — when I have to give two more presentations and hand over this project. Yeah, I’m thinking that had better be a 2000 calorie day.

In other news, I think I’m going to have all my ducks in a row without resorting to another all-work weekend by Monday, and then I might just get to revert back to a normal work schedule. As an added bonus, my brother and I are going to the Phillies game tomorrow, so life is really damn good. You know, if you ignore the screaming thighs, angry toe, and pure flat-out exhaustion.


Federal and state taxes – done
2 loads of laundry – done
Bills – done
Usability testing screens for monday – done
Wireframes – as done as they get until I corner my co-workers monday
Food shopping – done thanks to Nighthawk
Comic for Saturday – done, late, but done
Brunch and dinner – done
Now, maybe I should sleep.