The Design Graduate's Toolkit
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The Design Graduate's Toolkit



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The transition from university graduate to design professional can be daunting. A strong portfolio is an essential piece, but what makes a strong portfolio? Design thinking can provide certain advantages in the workplace, what are they? How can you recognize the parts of your game that aren’t working and improve them? In this talk, we’ll discuss the attributes and skills a newly minted designer can use to find opportunities and build a successful career.

Zac Bedell graduated from the University of Washington with a Bachelor of Fine Arts in Visual Communication Design in 2005
He is currently manager of web application development at webtrends, tackling complex design problems involving business processes, big data, and emerging technologies.
Zac has been shaping software through design for over seven years, as user experience designer, project manager, illustrator, usability researcher, writer, and innovator. He loves transforming complexity into intuitive interfaces.
Previously he was user experience designer at Microsoft and Widemile, a content optimization technology startup purchased by webtrends in 2009.



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  • Hello my name is ZacI’m a ux designer turned web app team leader/mgrlead a team of developers and designers in creating analytics and optimization solutions for business. I graduated eight years ago this summertwo kidsinspite of that, I’m happyso happy that I sometimes tweetI’m not here to tout how successful I am. I think there are a lot of people that could give this talk, I was just able to take the opportunity.I am pretty happy, can provide for my familyopportunities along a career path I find engagingchallenging, begin to expand to the next level which includes things like coming to speak with you.. so thanks the School of Art, the UW IxDA, and UW AIGA for having me.Let’s get started; I hope to get through in timelively and wide-ranging Q&A afterward.What I’m going to attempt here is to give a my story. Beginning at the end --- of my time at UW up unto todayWithin the story, is the distilled part; the attributes and skills mentioned in the excerptseven points I want you to be take away
  • six stops in the story but what I want to focus on are the
  • the spaces betweenThere are five major transitions in my storyeach of of these transitions has built on the other, and presented new challenges.
  • How many of you plan to focus on some aspect of design related to IxD?My story is UX-specific because when I was a student I discovered this mode of applying designyour industry du jour and think of the whole thing as a metaphor. :)
  • I design because I must create--I love making things-- I am an artist at heartI work in software because i love to solve puzzles;I find technology fascinatingUX is the best mix of these things. I enjoy making abstract concepts and rich data easy to use. And working on the cutting edge of technology; truly revolutionary hardware and software are under construction right now that will affect us all...I find it very exciting.This is why the bulk of my professional experience has been in the software industry. If I had not focused myself into this particular application of design then I would not be as happy and constantly inspired to drive and work and build.
  • Find your design avenue; what’s the application or aspect of design that jumps out for you?.. commit to it.Why is this valuable to you now? It producesbetter design productmotivating everydaymakes your job infinitely interesting
  • I had all but completed the program, having worked harder at that process than anything yet in my lifeso by the way, work hard... that’s a freebee :)
  • BFA Show 2005; At a show, I was talking with a grad from the previous year when he suggested, by his own experience, I look at contract work as a means to gain a foot in the door in software. He recommended an agency.
  • FILTER MSFTThis worked for me, not the sexiestright industrypays the billswas a design jobI took that advice and soon was working as a UX designer at MSFT by way of Filter.
  • Contract work has more advantages than i had though;steady employment and benefits; not like freelance... (another talk)exposure to real processescan be used as a door to full-timea trial for that company or application of design
  • there are two in one hereLooking for opportunities will make them appear: I was looking for leads out of the BFA and was happy to chat-up any passer-by. same contract chat but missed the opportunity if I didn’t have it mind.Taking opportunity is more difficult. requires taking a risk which is hardBut be ready to take what you find, even if its something you’re not expecting...I took the opportunity to contracting but didn’t point my ambition to contracting specifically.How do you I Find and Take Opportunity?new situations. Attend a talk -- :)a lunch or tourdesign conference Leverage the university’s resources. New paths will be found in new places.Having trouble deciding?then write down the pros and cons--it sounds mundane but you’d be surprised how obvious complex choice becomes when you have two columns of facts to look at
  • So now, I’m a contractor.I have a paycheck! this is great!My portfolio was good enough, it was serviceable--not the best, not at all, but good enough to get me in the doors I wanted and once at MSFT I was able to improve it and raise it up a level.
  • Before that though while still a student;
  • I built this during my senior year ART 480, does that still exist?goal of particle physics, easy to understand and deliver it in a web interaction, using edge cutting tool: Flash. This was not a beautiful thing of design but I was also able to practice many
  • aspects of software design:storytellingillustrationanimationtypographycompositioninformation architectureboils down to interaction design and UX
  • This was not the most masterful thingnor the application of design most in vogue at the time. This was the first time able to really USE my design training on something that was sincerely mine.three people in mind; Professor, my mother, and my future interviewer. It facilitated a dialog between myself and its viewer. With a dialog going I could employ my other skills. Your thing might not talk about theoretical physics... but the more likely it’s interesting to you, the more likely others will find it interesting too.
  • YOUR portfoliois full of good designfinely crafted, well presented, and entirely considered... but
  • a strong portfolio ALSO tells a story. with the physics thingI could geek out with the devs on Flash tech and content,make software (barely)really was a designerI was able to use this project during three interviews cycles; it worked for me, like an employee.If you’re worried your portfolio’s not strong yet...First let me just simply reassure you. Great work has been coming out UW for years... and they are getting better all the time because of this faculty, trust them.go back to your interests--outside of design; consider incorporating some of that subject matter if possibleHit the portfolio review scene--the AIGA routinely hosts these.seen a variety of portfoliosPortfolio isn’t everything in the long-runexcept for you right now it is everything. and that is good.that is simple and focused and a beautiful state of being... keep building that work now because later you will have other things to work on.
  • My work as a contractor was solid enough to get me an interview when the FT position opened. The work matured my portfolio to a point where I had a fighting chance at any equivalent job across the industry.???? How many of you have been to MSFT or other large campus like that? BoeingAmazon now is SLU... its a world unto itself; mass transit, social classes, even a nicer end of town. access to some very smart, very knowledgeable people.Lots of opportunities to find and take, especially in broadening your skillset. FT gave me confidence that my design game was professional so
  • I started learning new things;usability researchprogram/project management-writers and information architects--same drillI added toolsidentified a skillset to add to the toolkitObserved and researched on my ownAssisted, just helped outContributedImplementedRepeat, Profit
  • I point this out now b/c it was different than in schoolbe ready to adapt it if the context changes. Lots of structure is provided for you here, part of what you’re paying for.Tomorrow, you’re being paid, for the work and to constantly teach yourself new things in new ways.My MSFT school was on way.Now I use conferences, blogs, books, to a much lesser degree coworkers.If you’re not too clear on the methods you use to learn, assign yourself the design task Analyze yourselfwrite a short document 10min preso to teach your system to your roommate. Even if you think you’re super-organized, the exercise should be useful.A greater and greater portion of my current applied knowledge was learned on the job, post graduation. this is not to say I don’t use ALL my design nearly ALL of the time, I do that too, which is actually my last point tonight.
  • A friend-of-a-friend calls. He’s at a startup in Seattle and they need a full-time UX designer for an emerging product.Assessed the opportunity, took my chancelike jumping in a
  • cold lake.. there was no design process... I was the entire had to actually pay for soda. not the case at MSFT... I focused on the design work until I became established I started applying my previously acquired skills to
  • show value above and beyond my job description.If something needs doing and no one’s there to do it, step up.Stretch yourself to fill those gaps and cracksWhen I participate in hiring today; my primary task is to hire a great employee for the company, not limited to their role as designer or engineer.How you you show value?Contribute to the success of your coworkers, always help them, even if you’re directly competingFight the feeling of entitlement; earn everythingbe resourceful; don’t ask a question until you’ve looked for the answeract before you’re told to; ask forgiveness if neededbe decisive in your speech, your posture, with yourself; just as you’re decisive in your compositions.take extra projects/extra effort, be first to the meeting, set up the next one. design the email for that marketing guy because it would shit if he did it and that’s not good enough for you.
  • GOOD THINGS our startup was purchasedby a middle-sized company (about 300 employees at the time I think)The engineering dept. was retained some of us have used the skills we acquired in startup land to
  • climb the ladders at here’s number six tonight
  • Be Ambitioushas played a part in all my professional
  • transitions. I mention it sixth b/c it’s near the end so I can point out that it has been there all along this road or whatever that series of pits represents it is behind me. :D Turn: maybe Transitions are important to me because I feel like I’m climbing out of a hole... :D
  • In the startup, everyone had generalized ambition; we all wanted the company to succeed. Very little competition for promotions/etc. b/c they don’t really exist or apply in a startup, everyone succeeds or fails.You’re all after something, a job most likely, and you’re out taking the opportunities to learn anything that may provide an advantage in the fight for that job. This drive is are competing in one of the biggest vocational pools there is; the unemployed masses.
  • Here is my interview advice slide:extra energy & effortPreparednessattentivenessfollow-throughresilience,If you do these things, you will stick out...
  • and it’s pretty easy to see someone like that in a big crowd. As the interviewer, you know you’re looking for the outlier. it’s easier to spot that when you’re a dot in the lotAmbition become more important though...
  • Today, I compete with a small group to compete with Even to gain ground on the more experienced players.
  • I want to call it out now though because it’s becomes more important as the pool of combatants shrinks.corporation has increased competitionyour ambition must be present to make yourself more valuable advantage because it shows you are more willing to work.What if you’re not feeling particularly ambitious?Build your ambition through goals. Write down your big goals, break them up into smaller ones. Fight for some successesprocess will feed on itself. Revise them to be as accurate as your knowledge will allow; Not ‘get a job’ write ‘full-time employ at [studio X] on the fourth floor with benefits and great perks.’Use your time to engage with those more experienced and knowledgeable. I’m still surprised at how encouraging and energizing talking to an industry peer is.Don’t let failures bum you out, be happy that you failed! you won’t do it that way again. Growing is making mistakes and if you’re ambitious, you want to grow, so in a way ambition welcomes mistakes. You can’t go wrong, but you can go backwards and that is what you want to fight against because you’re ambitious.
  • THE DESIGNER’S UNIQUE PERSPECTIVEDesigners are made, not born. It takes time, but you can get to a valuable place
  • designers are uniquely positioned within any organization; they must understand a problem so well that they can create a solution with purpose. often can even build that solutionIn software, this meansunderstanding the spec/storythe users,the research,the competitive landscape,the business driversAND thetechnical feasibility of the solutionthe processes of other rolesthe end user experience and its delivery;very often with web technologies it is the designer who is involved with or responsible for the implementation of the design itself.No other role has that  broad perspective in addition to keen expertiseand no other role has the skills in place to purposefully craft communications. Which is another advantage for you. If a person can see it, we know something at least about how to make it better, a lot better.In my view, anyone that does work, is a designer.Be we stand out amongst the talented because we are trained and educated as well.You have the facility to essentially design anything, including
  • yourself. This may sound a bit crazyI’m not suggesting you reprogram yourself, as if that were possible. What I mean is that you can think of yourself, your surroundings,your upcoming interview, as a design problem and then apply your rational design thinking to your preparations.You are the deliverable but who is the audience?What do you know and not know about that audience?What is your message?What is not your message?how are you delivering the point you want to make?these answers are part of your presentation and will stem from your personality, not from a contrived ‘persona’ you designed:D unless you really are a psychopath.
  • Approaching all this as a design problem helps you deliver on all the previously mentioned points.I use design thinking to break anything down in terms I can understand.must understand a problem in order to solve it, visually or otherwise. I call this last bit the Designer’s balcony partly because it reminds me of a pivotal point in my design pathand because it works to remind me, now us I guess, that we have a rare perspectiveDesign is a powerful and common human tool, but we are scholars of that practicewe can use it for more than visual designIt has tremendous business value
  • and I think if youfocus on an application of design you enjoy,find and take opportunitygive yourself a story to telllearn to learnearn everythingset goalsthink like you mean it--you will find a job, keep it, and enjoy a career. :D For at least eight years anyway...
  • Thanks // Q&A

The Design Graduate's Toolkit The Design Graduate's Toolkit Presentation Transcript

  • 1. Focus on an application of design you enjoy Why is this valuable? • Better design product • Motivating • Infinitely interesting
  • A CASE FOR CONTRACTING – Steady employment with benefits – Exposure to real business processes – Possible to go full-time – Trial run of job and company
  • 2. Look for and take opportunity How do you find opportunity? • New situations • University resources Take it or leave it? • List pros and cons
  • ASPECTS OF SOFTWARE DESIGN – Storytelling – Illustration – Animation – Typography – Composition – Information Architecture • IxD • UX
  • YOUR PORTFOLIO – Full of high quality design – Finely crafted – Perfectly presented – Entirely considered
  • 3. A strong portfolio has stories to tell Worried your portfolio is not strong yet? • Trust the faculty• Feature the type of design or content you enjoy • Portfolio reviews • It’s not everything
  • ADDING TOOLS Target a skillset 1. Observe 2. Assist 3. Contribute 4. Implement Repeat
  • 4. Establish patterns for learning How do I learn? Assign yourself a design task: • Analyze your learning, identify steps • Create a 10min preso • Teach how you learn to your roommate
  • 5. Show value beyond your job description How do I show value? • Contribute to your coworkers success, help • Fight entitlement: you deserve what your earn • Be resourceful: don’t ask until you’ve looked • Take action before asked• Be decisive: speech, posture, self presentation • Take on extra projects
  • 6. Be ambitious
  • INTERVIEW AMBITIOUSLY Demonstrate 1. Extra energy & effort 2. Preparedness 3. Attentiveness 4. Follow-through 5. Resilience
  • 6. Be ambitious Not feeling it?• Set and achieve goals: write them down • Engage with those more experienced • Welcome mistakes: you can’t go wrong
  • DESIGNER’S UNIQUE PERSPECTIVE In software design…• Spec/story • Feasibility• User • Other roles• Research • Delivery• Competition• Business drivers …and design the UX
  • DESIGN YOURSELF You are the deliverable – Who is your audience? – What is your message? – What are the best means to deliver?
  • 7. The designer’s balcony All work is the result of design, but we are a rare operators. • Highly trained and skillful • Able to design oneself• Design thinking has high business value
  • THE DESIGN GRADUATE’S TOOLKIT1. Focus on an application of design you enjoy2. Look for and take opportunity3. A strong portfolio has stories to tell4. Establish patterns for learning5. Show value beyond your job description6. Be ambitious7. The designer’s balcony
  • THANKS Q&A @zbedell