Your values make you better: why being woke means being relevant

In the immortal words of Erykah Badu, “Get woke, stay woke”.

Although we’re not really acquainted, I have a lot of respect for Erykah, and consider her to be a life mentor of sorts. After all, we’re both from East Dallas, went to the same high school, though she’s ten years older than me, I feel like we come from the same context.

Over the years, I have come to admire Erykah for a number of reasons: her immense musical talent, her style, her sharp wit, her advocacy for social justice, her passion for supporting mothers in childbirth. But most of all I admire her ability to continue doing interesting work and to be successful with it, her ability to be very visible as a mother and as a working musician, and of course, her commitment to getting woke and staying woke. 

Another figure who loomed heavily over my childhood and adolescence in Dallas was Dale Hansen, the local sportscaster, telling us what to think about the victories and disappointments of our city’s sports teams. I disliked most sports coverage as a kid because I did not like being told how to feel, and I put Dale Hansen in the category of blowhard men I did not need to listen to. 

Life is long, my friends, and it often surprises you. Over the past few years, I’ve come to feel more respect and admiration for Dale Hansen than I would have ever imagined. Even though I moved away from Dallas two decades ago, I’ve seen Dale’s local sports commentary pick up steam across social media, when he gave his support to Michael Sam, or recently, when he gave his enthusiastic solidarity with NFL players taking the knee: 

“The young black athletes are not disrespecting America or the military by taking a knee during the anthem... they are respecting the best thing about America. It’s a dog whistle to the racist among us to say otherwise. They—and all of us–should protest how black Americans are treated in this country, and if you don’t think white privilege is a fact, you don’t understand America.”

Dale Hansen got woke, and seems admirably committed to staying woke. Let him be an inspiration to us all. 

***

I get anxious when I think about getting older. I’ve reached the age where women’s gradual disappearance from the tech industry becomes obvious. I scramble to think of women who have been in this field longer than me whose career trajectories I would like to emulate - there are a few, but I had to search to find them! 

But here’s the thing no one tells you- you can mix and match who you look up to, and often times, the people who give you strength won’t be doing the exact same thing as you. Hence, my hometown heroes are helpful here. Both are well into their careers in industries full of ageist, racist, sexist political bias. Both got woke, and continue to stay woke, and continue to be relevant and respected. And it’s to their, and our, advantage. 

After all, I think to myself, if 70-something Dale Hansen can challenge the sports fans of Dallas, and Erykah can challenge, well, us all, I can challenge my peers.  UX and Design Research are not value-neutral. They are not apolitical or inherently good. Anyone who tries to tell me this is suspect, and usually sent to the island of blowhard men that I do not need to listen to. 

Contrary to what you might hear - just doing your job isn’t enough to make a difference, or clear your conscience.  There are very real implications for design research: just ask Facebook, ask Uber, ask Palantir.  Ask Air BnB, whose research team quite proudly shares their interest in social psychology and behavioral economics, yet somehow has not expressed such enthusiasm in designing equitable housing or eliminating ethnic and racial bias. 

***

Design research means being aware of tradeoffs, being aware of workarounds. Whenever I get worried about what I’ve given up, passed by or been turned down for, I remind myself that life, and careers, are long. “I’m gonna work until I’m 80”, I tell myself. “I’ve gotta play the long game.” And that means being committed to being woke, and being relevant. 

Being relevant isn’t easy, but it’s the one thing that future proofs your career. If you worry about not being respected for the caring person you are, stop. It’s far better to be on the right side of history than to compromise what you believe in. And in the end, it’s what will help you build a better career.

 

Announcing UX Night School X Balsamiq Tutorial Series!

TL;DR - UX Night School is partnering with Balsamiq on a free seven-part tutorial series for UX learning. Sign up to get notified when new tutorials are posted!

Lo-fi prototyping: purposefully imperfect

Lo-fi prototyping: purposefully imperfect

How can we best collaborate online? How can we learn better with others online? These are questions I’ve thought about quite a bit throughout my career as a teacher and design researcher.

When I started UX Night School, I was insistent that it be offline first, IRL, as they say. In our workshops, we teach design research in a fairly lo-fi way. And, I stress, in a way that is community engaged - working with local activists, leaders, and local business owners in Portland. There’s a lot we can learn from where we live and work - a lot to observe in the everyday.

Don’t get me wrong, though. I’m no luddite- I was an early adopter of internet socializing as a teen in the 90s, and I still marvel at the joys of internet community, especially in the times that it becomes another sort of offline/online community.

But how do we build successful learning communities online? I have taught and taken online courses since 2003, with varying results- some great, some not so much.

What’s more, as a UX designer and design researcher, I’ve worked with lots of distributed teams - some awesomely communicative and collaborative, others fractured and dysfunctional. What is the difference that makes the difference?

Why do some online communities thrive and others fail? There is no surefire solution - this problem is older than the internet itself!

It’s also worth noting that I’ve been away from this problem for a bit - I haven’t taught online since 2012, instead running my consultancy full-time. Taking this all on again is a daunting task, but I had gotten interest in an online version of UX Night School’s workshops since their inception. For whatever gambles or pratfalls, online learning is too convenient to overlook.

One particular sticking point is that of the most cliched tool of UX design and design research - the sticky note. My favorite way to work and practice is often off-line, or as they say “in 3D”. I get my greatest insights when I’m in the room with collaborators - whether they be design research participants or clients. I love using paper - for notetaking, for iterative testing, for blueprinting.

With students in a physical workspace, we can do this on the same page - literally. But online? I’ve tried several tools, but collaboration never comes effortlessly.

I last used Balsamiq around 2010, when I was teaching in the classroom. When I met Leon, one of their team members, at Write the Docs in Portland, I was intrigued to hear about the new features, especially around collaboration. I’m excited to use it to work on projects with my course participants - “the UX Night School Crew” I call them.

 

Prototyping in Balsamiq

Prototyping in Balsamiq

For the uninitiated: Balsamiq Mockups is a rapid wireframing tool. It reproduces the experience of sketching on a whiteboard, but using a computer, which is crucial when it comes to collaborating as a remote team. We chose to use the integration with Google Drive because you can create or edit mockup projects directly from Google Drive, all within the browser. You can even collaborate on your wireframes with others, in real time.

So, not only are we using Balsamiq in UX Night School’s Intro to UX Design/Research course, we’re also partnering with the team at Balsamiq to present a series of free tutorials. Join us this summer! Sign up to get notified when new tutorials are posted!

"whatever pleases teaches more effectively"

To be articulate & discriminating about ordinary affairs & information is the mark of an educated man.
It’s misleading to suppose

there’s any difference between

education & entertainment.

This distinction merely relieves people

of the responsibility of

looking into the matter.

It’s like setting up a distinction between

didactic & lyric poetry
on the ground that one teaches, the other pleases.

However, it’s always been true

that whatever pleases teaches more effectively. 

- Classrooms Without Walls,  Marshall McLuhan, Explorations, #7, May, 1957.

What I've learned from y'all (an open letter to everyone who’s come to me wanting to “Get Into UX”)

What I've learned from y'all (an open letter to everyone who’s come to me wanting to “Get Into UX”)

I’ve been in Portland for almost five years now, and I’ve reached a point where I’m somewhat visible in the community and approachable enough. People (kinda!) know what I do, and it seems like they trust me enough to send their friends, colleagues, kids, former bandmates, et cetera — my way when these folks say they want to “get into UX”.

Here's what I've learned.