America under Trump: Next Steps

I did a lot of thinking this weekend about the countries I’ve lived in, and the countries I’ve visited, and how they compare to life in the United States. It’s given me some perspective around the election and upcoming inauguration, particularly around the issues we have in the United States with racism, sexism, and homophobia.

Perhaps surprisingly, it’s made me more optimistic – though feeling just as much urgent need – when it comes to improving the society we live in.

I also read Gigi Griffis’ recent piece, recommending where to live to match your values. She suggested France for quality healthcare, Germany for self-employment, Spain for LGBTQ rights, and many other places. Consider this a companion piece; a recommendation for why to stay in the United States, and why to take action now.

And as Gigi reminds us all in her article: “If someone wants to move abroad for any reason, that’s their decision. Let’s respect it.” So please, take this piece as it is intended: as a sharing of information, not a judgment on those who do decide to leave. Knowledge is power.

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Lessons Learned

I only lasted one year as a teacher. I had entertained the possibility of teaching ever since 8yr old me had mistakenly assumed my mother’s classroom was a monarchy. For a few weeks I had mentally planned how I would take over when she retired, and the knowledge that I was not predestined to become a middle school special education teacher both relieved and disappointed me. But when I entered the classroom myself, I quickly discovered a world of discipline-happy teachers, irrational rules, and bored, angry students. I didn’t last long.

I still struggle with having made that decision. I love UX design in part because we find ways of teaching without the rules of the traditional classroom. And I love volunteering with Atlas Workshops, because I get to meet and travel with students, and teach them outside those traditional confines. I’ve had some particularly inspiring and some particularly challenging experiences over the years, to the point that I now feel comfortable sharing recommendations for teaching the design process. Continue Reading


Why Can’t We All Just Get Along?

Three days ago, roughly 128 people were killed in mass shootings across Paris.

Four days ago, roughly 40 people were killed in a double suicide bombing in Beirut.

One month ago, roughly 95 people were killed in a bombing in Ankara.

Today, my Facebook feed is divided. Many people have changed their profile pictures to honor Paris and show support. Many others are posting frustrated, angry responses, criticizing that support when so many other places, such as Beirut, receive no attention.

Of course, they’re all right.  Continue Reading


Empathy Map to Action Map

Atlas Workshops trips are divided into the three phases of the design process: Inspiration, Ideation, and Implementation. In each phase we have design meetings during which we introduce students to different design activities. The activities vary depending on the project. We’ve done card sorts (and themed card sorts), 45 minute designs, and post ups. The activities, though based on ideas from Gamestorming and IDEO and other UX entities, tend to take on a life of their own as we adapt them to the students’ needs. Our most recent invention was the “action map,” a variation on an empathy map. Continue Reading


Themed Card Sorts

In my experience, there are two types of card sorts: closed card sorts and open card sorts. In a closed card sort, participants sort ideas/words/phrases into pre-defined categories. In an open card sort, participants sort ideas/words/phrases into categories and then create titles for the categories.

I’ve had many excellent experiences leading open card sorts with clients as a way to define navigation on a website, company values, and even voice and tone guidelines. I’ve also had some frustrating experiences with open card sorts, most notably with a team of high school students on last summer’s Atlas Workshop’s trip. So I was perhaps understandably nervous when it became clear that a card sort would help this year’s Atlas Workshop’s team of students move forward with their project. Continue Reading


Are You as Creative as a 15yr Old?

This week and next I’m once again traveling with Atlas Workshops, teaching students to learn the design process to solve location-based problems. Sorry – did I say I’m teaching the students? I should say they’re teaching me. Because, of course, they are.

Today we did a 45min design exercise to practice basic user interviews and ideation based on research (based on IDEO’s exercise). Each student interviewed another, then designed a wallet for their partner based on the values they had gathered. Each wallet was a masterpiece, complete with everything from magnets to hold change, to zippers to separate the two halves of the wallet (for days you only need cash), to waterproof leather, for both style and practicality.

Adam and I prefaced the exercise by explaining to the students that this is also an activity we use in design agencies. So after presenting, the students asked how their wallets compared to business executives we’ve worked with. While I considered the question, Adam had an immediate answer: while adults tend to be more excited about the opportunity to create, but they also don’t tend to be as creative.

It’s a good thing to remember. We could all do with a bit more creative juice. Maybe we need to start thinking like high school students.

Looking for more articles on Atlas Workshops? Check out my trip from 2014.


International Usability

Travel always opens my eyes to new concepts and UX alternatives. In Warsaw last week, I found a sign on the bus that wowed me with its usability.

This bus sign has three levels:

  • The top level lists out all the stops, consistent with every other bus map I’ve encountered.
  • The middle level (in red) divides the stops by neighborhoods.
  • The bottom level divided the stops by street. As a tourist this was fantastic; I knew I wanted to get as far south on Ujazdowksie Street as possible. This map showed me when I was at the southernmost stop before the bus turned onto Armii Ludowej.
Bus Sign

The Warsaw Bus Map

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Lost in Translation

We talk a lot about localization in content strategy, and the importance of doing more than merely translating the exact words in a sentence. After all, true communication is about tone, manner, style, voice,  connection, and connotation as much as it is about denotation.

That said, I love finding signs during my travels that communicate an idea while butchering denotation. This is one of my favorites from last summer’s time in Sweden.