The Last Few Months, and the Future

I know, it’s been a few months since you last heard from me. It’s been busy as I’ve been taking courses and working on my novel.

I also wanted to have some time to reflect on the direction and structure I’d like this blog to take. It began as a project for a course that I intended to continue after the class finished. The structure of the class however necessitated that I do a lot of writing very quickly, which isn’t quite how I plan to approach it. It was also useful to get feedback both from the instructor and readers to see what people found most interesting, and what I found most compelling to write.

But let’s get to some of what I’ve been up to over the last while.

As I wrote before, I took a class in Adobe Illustrator last term and have continued to work on my Creative Cloud techniques, playing around a bit with Premiere (would love to experiment with AfterEffects in the near future as well) and I took a course in InDesign. I found it interesting just how many things can be done with InDesign: it can be used to create advertisements, design the inside of a book, or even make an app or a website. It is similar to Illustrator and has a lot of the same capabilities although it uses more measurements and has an emphasis on publishing more than design.

Here’s an example of an advertisement I created:

Mexico Project

Learning programs and different techniques is both exhilarating and a bit scary, as there are so many possibilities. I went into this program looking to specialize and found that a whole world has opened up and there are many decisions in the future in terms of skills to develop and jobs to pursue. There’s front-end coding, back-end, graphic design, publishing and other jobs that could potentially incorporate other skills that I have. Ultimately what I like most is what aligns most with my experience in film, education and writing as well as my desire to create a better world. This may sound vague but I think that is important as I need to be open to the opportunities and ready to take small steps.

Another course I took this past term was an introduction to a particular job that incorporates many of these different skills. It is called UX/UI, or User Experience and User Interface. The user interface consists of the icons and text that you interact with on a website or device. This is the overall look and feel, looking at functionality and design. User Experience is broader than that: it takes into account the entire picture, so if you’re working with a device the User Experience designer will look at how users interact with the product at every stage, including the physical exterior.

user-interface

If you’re familiar with Steve Jobs, then you can get a grasp of what User Experience is about. Apple was the first company to take very seriously the overall design and user experience from the store where things are bought to the design of their computers and the icon-centred interface. This worked out pretty well for Apple and today, a User Experience Designer is among the most sought-after positions.

UX also has a relationship with film, especially science fiction. In the movie Minority Report, released in 2002 but set in the future, it was possible to enter a store, have a scanner read your eye, and recommend certain products. Today, personalized advertising is used on every website and user data is one of the most valuable things. Some are alarmed by the huge amounts of data that companies like Facebook now posses of people, and others find specific recommendations for restaurants in your neighbourhood to be useful.

Personalized advertising in Minority Report
Personalized advertising in Minority Report

The movie Her from 2013 gives a look at what User Experience might be like in the future, as Wired Magazine wrote. It imagines a world where it is taken for granted that we live in a technologically advanced age and there is a yearning for a simpler experience. So, instead of having gadgets and websites with bright, flashy colours that grab your attention, the look and feel is seamless and minimalistic, with fonts that resemble handwriting, simple shapes and apps that blend into the background. Personally I’m ready for that sort of “classical” or humanistic future.

Joaquin Phoenix and his minimalistic OS/lover in Her
Joaquin Phoenix and his minimalistic OS/lover in Her

There are several different steps to user experience designing. It is similar to marketing although it is more product-centred. First, there is “market research,” or interviews and surveys done by potential users, and the designer creates “personas” of average users, and the whole process of using the product is mapped out through a customer journey map. Then, wireframes are developed as a sample of what the final product will look like, and they are tested extensively on potential users before the final prototype is created.

Customer Journey Map

Here are some wireframes from my project with partner Monika Boldak:

A rough version of a wireframe for a BCIT Students' App
A rough version of a wireframe for a BCIT Students’ App
An updated screenshot of the same page
An updated screenshot of the same page

One interesting thing about being a User Experience Designer is that there is not one specific background that is required. Degrees in psychology, visual arts and marketing are accepted along with graphic design and computing, and it depends on the company whether they’re looking for someone with more front-end or back-end coding, design or business skills, or a combination.

So for this I find it interesting as I am able to apply the study of technology and visual media that I did in my degree, as well as teaching experience where I was constantly assessing how students reacted to certain materials. There is also a lot of creative ability required in creating personas, which is a lot like creating characters and seeing common archetypes in individuals. Though while UX represents a means of bringing together many of my skills, it also opens up new avenues and areas of interest. Recently I had the chance to talk to a UX Designer and was surprised at how the vast majority of what he does consists more of analytics and the business side rather than technical skills. I’m interested in the ideas side of thing so for that I find the business aspect interesting, although I don’t have as much background in it.

Finally, I have also been working on the novel. Last fall I was fortunate enough to be part of a the six-month graduate workshop at The Writer’s Studio with Wayde Compton where I received a great deal of feedback on how to improve the novel, with everything from structure to line edits. After taking a little while off the novel to work on it, I managed to incorporate all of the suggestions and get to the next step. I’m now planning to take it to a publisher.

It’s not always simple to balance creative writing with what I do in terms of a job, or to even know all the time where one ends and the other begins. I look forward to learning things from this field that can eventually inform my writing, as I have started to put into practice here.

Right now is a time of relative uncertainty as I am not sure exactly what opportunities will arise in different areas. It’s a time of putting as many things out there as possible and seeing what pans out, what doesn’t and what options there are. There are certain things that you can control and others that you can’t, but that is life. Ultimately, it’s better to have too many ideas and things you want to do than too few.

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One thought on “The Last Few Months, and the Future

  1. Pingback: Code is Poetry: WordCamp and WordPress, Part Two | Through the Lens

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