When they sold me on the Information Studies program at Florida State it was all about preparing 21st century careers that connected humans to information– the “new media.” They said I’d have more than a few jobs in more than a few industries. Thirteen years, they couldn’t have been more right.
I started in a creative services agency as an Information Architect in 1999. It was a small field almost no one had heard of. I learned how to create deliverables from conference proceedings, the “Polar Bear Book,” and anything I could find on the Internet. I had learned the academic side of usability testing, how to organize information, and to design from the user’s perspective. Applying the theory to real clients while finishing my degree was an amazing experience. I also soaked up a lot of design and advertising knowledge which helped me understand the value of balancing user needs with the goals of the brand.
My next stop was at a start up called EzGov. My title was Information Architect again, but I ended up leading a project to define the online strategy for a large government agency in the UK. A large-scale site redesign involved multiple rounds of stakeholder interviews, concept and user testing, taxonomy development, content strategy, and governance planning. I also go to design several transactional e-government applications in the US that made me fall in love with Interaction Design.
That led me to UPS. UPS.com had been redesigned, but there was still lots of work to be done in updating legacy applications to new brand standards. The team I worked on defined new interaction standards, helped steer business and functional requirements, championed user needs, and tried to make sure our work had real value to the business. It’s a big company and we lost a lot of battles along the way. Our IT department had some outdated technology restrictions that made it hard for me to stay passionate about my job. Awesome things were happening on the Internet and I couldn’t be a part of them.
I made a lateral move into a more marketing-focused group and began managing campaign-based projects being delivered by our digital agency. Project management turned out to be a strength and I found that I loved owning a project from the idea phase all the way to launch and measurement. I wasn’t unhappy when I left UPS, I just found a job that I couldn’t say no to.
Digital Blue is a small consumer electronics company that built hardware and software for big brands. You may not have heard of them, but if you’ve even seen a digital camera, microscope, or music player from Disney, Lego, or Smithsonian, that’s what we built. I started out building a social community for middle school students based on a curriculum being developed by a partner. This was a National Science Foundation funded project and I was responsible for everything from vendor identification and management to user experience design to grant reporting. When that project was over, I transition to managing non-Web-based products conducting. My biggest project was for Disney and was ground-up development of a iTunes like music player for Disney that included some pretty neat features (Genius before iTunes had it) and strong device integration.
Disney is a great client, but their standards are high — especially when it comes to the play pattern of hardware and software bearing their name. I guess they liked me because they asked Digital Blue if I could be involved at the Interaction Design level for all their products going forward and it seemed like the right fit for my skills. Not managing projects also freed me up to help the marketing team with SEM and social. I would have never left on my own, but the low-end digital device category got really crowded and then started to evaporate as integrated phone/camera/music devices became ubiquitous. Digital Blue is still around but much smaller and with no new software development taking place. Two years later, I’m still sad to see a company I helped build have to make such a drastic cut to stay alive.
Luckily I knew some people at IQ. I thought I’d just go back to cranking out wireframes all day, but the strange path I took to get there made me perfect for Experience Strategy. I can empathize with clients because I was one, I understand planning and relationship management, and I have a deep understand not just of how people think about content and functionality, but also how to find out what they think. Knowing what I don’t know and where to look for answers, being curious, and asking questions are the skills I use most often and are why I love what I do.