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Learning to Swim & Finding Design

It's my 4 year benchmark since beginning my design career (UX, UI and Branding). I wanted to write this post because I had a tough time finding design and user experience. I learned that following my gut and just jumping in was the most rewarding decision.

4 Years Ago: The Deep End

After graduating college I decided my long path of becoming a psychologist wasn't the right path for me. I had my doubts, but always pushed it out of mind. I did enjoy psych, though I had always wanted to be an artist. I just couldn't give that up.

Because of this situation, and being a perfectionsist, I was having frequent panic attacks. I didn't want to make any new decisions because my biggest one so far had led me to this huge rut.

I was afraid to fail and totally paralyzed on trying anything new. I learned to put my chin up and say I'm fine, though I was a mess and the more I said I was fine, the further I got from the truth.

There's a theory in psychology that if you move to a new chair from the one you have been sitting in your mood will completely change and you will think differently. I kept lingering on that thought. That (plus the movie 'Eat Pray Love') prompted me to move out west.

Fish out of water

Out in California I worked on a small farm to earn food and board. I took care of horses and giant turtles (seriously), harvested grapes, and lived in a yurt. I spent nights swimming laps and talking to the property owner who might be the most interesting person I've ever met. In the back of my mind however I kept thinking how I was wasting time, and how crazy it was to up and leave all my friends and family.

The farm was located outside San Francisco. The first time I visited the city I was blown away. The amount of tech and hustle was incredibly inspiring. For the rest of my stay I went into the city as often as I could. I now knew why my gut had told me to explore new things. I needed to find something I hadn't known existed. I decided I wanted to help shape this digital future. I wanted to be a designer.

Water Wings

I moved from the Bay Area to the tech hub of Chicago to pursue the new idea. Since I was short on cash, I started by teaching myself the adobe creative suite in my free time. This was not a good route for me and wanted to give up. But because I felt my old friend anxiety start to take over, I figured my best chance was to jump in before I decided to quit.

My idea of 'jumping in' was designing a logo for a small business owner (insert google search: 'how to design a logo') I actually enjoyed the ups and downs of the project so ended up spending quite a bit of time on it. The logo was a (moderate) success. I became a branding intern for that company and got to work with a great close-knit team who accepted me as a fledgling designer.

After creating that brand I wanted to learn more about the facets of design. Time to jump again. I took my hard earned intern salary, and instead of buying new shiny things, I enrolled in a digital design bootcamp. It was at this magical place that I discovered User Experience. I fell in love. Using art and psychology while making things and helping people? The sky opened up. Everything finally made sense.

Belly Flop

When the bootcamp ended I took a job as a Junior Visual Designer at a small tech company in Chicago. I thought I was prepared but was in for an awakening. I struggled for awhile. I never thought I was ready or good enough in such a fast-paced environment. But slowly after biffing it on quite a few hurdles I learned the ins and outs of not just staying on brand and designing usable interfaces, but how to work and communicate in a professional setting. After gaining some tougher skin and confidence I was ready for another challenge.

Eventually at this job I did all. the. things. I made web pages, print design, branding, advertising, a motorcycle helmet... Anything someone asked me to make my answer was "Yes I can do that, when do you need it?" Even if it meant staying up late in my tiny studio. I learned how to wear many hats, what I liked doing best, and how to make the biggest impact. I learned how to stay organized and juggle multiple projects, execute quickly and with proper timelines. Most importantly I learned the most exciting projects I tackled were UI/UX and branding. 

Currently: Swimming Laps

My current choice is less variety in projects -- I have honed my focus primarily to UX Design, where I first fell in love. But along with that I carry a skill set of branding and user interface design, and a steady work ethic which makes me more capable of helping the user and the team I'm working with attain the end goal.

Now, when I'm struggling to learn something new I just jump in and go for it. If there's anything I could tell new designers thus far that is it. And after jumping you will realize you don't have to be the best candidate, or think you are good enough, and you can be riddled with anxiety and still be successful. Trust your gut. Jump in and get your hands dirty. It will take you where you need to go.


If you're interested in living in a Yurt check out this program: WWOOF -- a great experience, maybe my favorite so far. If you're interested in digital design checkout DESIGNATION -- the bootcamp I attended and recommend.


Betsy Mary
What Coco Chanel can Teach us About Branding

Leaning Tower of Clothing

I opened my closet the other day and wondered why I am so obsessed with clothes. I'm building something, but what is it? 

"In order to be irreplaceable one must always be different." - Coco Chanel

I realized fashion has the same principles as branding. For me, my closet is a visual display of who I am, the first impression people have of me, the ultimate form of silent expression, my own unique display.

The Last Thing Someone Will Notice About You is What You Say

This poses the question: "Is everyone judging us?"

The average person will take note of your clothing, appearance, then body language, how you speak, and finally, what you say. 

Let's apply this to a brand. Someone searches for you online and sees the description, this is their first impression. They then check out the site . . .

At any point in time this process can be interrupted by something off-brand. From the visuals, to the office entryway, to the call waiting music, it's ideal that everything convey the same cohesive message to build trust. Having a strong brand can back up your copy, but not the other way around.

"Pure, intense emotion. It's not about design. It's about feelings." - Alber Elbaz

Betsy Mary
It's November 12th -- It's World Usability Day!

Ever yelled at your phone? Ever pulled a door handle when it's meant to be pushed? Ever got your head stuck in a railing? (that only happened one time.) The list is endless and that's why usability is more important  than you think.  

Usability is the ease of use and learnability of a human-made object. Usability is removing roadblocks --The ability to do something easily. Usability is good design.

It's shocking that design has been around for so long and usability is a relatively new field (around the 1980s). Luckily it's making up for lost time, growing like wildfire among designers and businesses alike. 

I have three core rules around keeping user-friendly design in mind.

It's never the user's fault

Designers must aim to understand and accommodate. Every designer should have a solid understanding of usability. Often at work I feel more like a researcher and problem-solver than a visual designer.

Usability takes priority over aesthetic appeal

Ideally, there is both! But if forced to forgo, studies have shown, and most would agree, that something easy to use always trumps something beautiful to look at (just think of the last time you yelled at an inanimate object).

Design for the user, not for yourself

This is where research comes in, which could be a book in itself. Remember your audience, how would they interact with this product? 

So next time you can't enter a building without feeling like a fool, or want to throw the remote across the room, remember, it's not your fault. It's the designer's responsibility to make it easy to use. And at the rate usability and technology is growing the future looks bright.


If you hate doors as much as I do check out these 'Norman Doors' coined after Don Norman, the father of human-centered design.

Betsy Mary