Mentoring Wrap-up….For Now

I met with D. again on the Saturday before the Monday when our prototypes were due.  At that point, I had  revised flow charts, a site architecture map, mobile screens developed for two scenarios and a few tablet screens.  D carefully reviewed my work and even though he initially said he only had an hour, he found the work interesting and delayed his departure by about 45 minutes.

He liked the work I had done but made a number of recommendations, based on the following principles:

  • Minimizing hero photos (particularly their height)
  • Avoiding tab menus in mobile and opting for ‘hamburger’ menus instead
  • Using contrast on or behind priority images/widgets/text
  • Grouping text buttons together and separate from icon buttons, versus striving for symmetry
  • Grouping related sections together as a best practice in forms

Although it was tempting to save time and proceed with the wireframes I had, I couldn’t do so after D had flagged improvement opportunities.  This meant spending a good portion of Sunday revising the screens and working through the night to deliver the prototype on Monday.

With my prototype completed, I met later in the week with M. and two agency colleagues of hers: a content strategist (S) and a strategist (J). M had kindly set-up the opportunity for me to present my project and hear their feedback.  I introduced my concept with the banner designed for Digifest (as my project is part of the upcoming student exhibit) and then walked them through my prototype.  M. and her colleagues like the targeted focus of my project, its content and the UX features I’d incorporated.  They offered numerous recommendations to strengthen the solution and highlighted a few best practices to sustain.

Specifically, S. advised me to keep in mind the following best practices:

  • Ensure a consistent voice and tone throughout the site, as often this is lost after the initial pages.
  • Keep the site focused and try not to be all things to everyone or provide content for every senior relevant topic
  • Include some sort of rotating content on the home page to keep people interested, engaged and give them a reason to return

The group’s tangible suggestions included:

  • Checking UX principles and approaches airbnb embraces for ideas
  • Adding a field to the caregiver’s profile to address their personal needs
  • Adding the functionality for someone to share via email in addition to social shares
  • Changing the heart icon for ‘follow’ to something different since a heart is commonly associated with ‘Like’
  • Replacing the map icon with something like an MLS map locator – or even Google maps link
  • Adding overall maps to show seniors’ facilities in key regions/cities
  • Replacing the Upvote button with a thumbs up icon

I was pleased by how supportive they were and surprised to hear J. say that with a few tweaks, my concept would be ready to move to the next stage of bringing a developer on board.  I didn’t think I was that close but who am I to challenge mentors with light years of digital experience on me?

Drilling Down on UX Design Details

Screen Shot 2015-04-02 at 10.55.49 PMI met D., my UX mentor, last Saturday afternoon for two hours in a coffee shop near his home. The pre-agreed purpose of the meeting was to introduce him to my senior project and walk him through my preliminary work on it.

He quickly grasped the project’s concept and purpose to enable caregivers to share proven recommendations and resources with each other. I had various documents on aspects of the project but not surprisingly, he was drawn to the visual materials. D. wanted to start with my personas. He said they were well thought out and looked professional. For future scenarios, he recommended breaking each into smaller chunks, which are easier for a UX designer to reference when developing wireframes.

I showed him process flow diagrams for the Q&A module user path and housing review user path. I also showed him the first wireframe for the Q&A screens.

He reviewed the user flow diagrams in detail and made several suggestions, including:

  • Grouping ‘Yes’ options together and separate from ‘No’ options stemming from the same decision point
  • Limiting rating scale options to three to avoid user fatigue
  • Highlighting the most positive outcomes on the chart with a background tone or colour.
  • Exploring design additions to offset the user’s disappointment in negative areas of the path, such as when they don’t find an immediate answer to their question.

For my wireframes, D suggested limiting horizontal buttons on mobile screens to three and to strive for more white space. He recommended Designing Social Interfaces, by Christian Crumlish and Erin Malone, as a great reference for social solutions. This is particularly helpful as early on I searched for UX resources specific to social and came up dry.

My biggest challenge with senior project is time, as I thought we would have more time this semester to focus on development.  D. suggested shaving time by using Axure for the prototype instead of formatting it in a separate tool, as I’d initially planned.  He also recommended proposing varied stages for the solution to manage breadth of scope and avoid scope creep.

I’m now busy implementing D.’s recommendations, which means making some time-consuming structural adjustments to my user flows.

D. has agreed to meet me again but as his best time is weekends, we can’t meet again until April 11. This is two days before my senior project is due for my semester mark. However, as I’m looking at phases, I consider this the deadline for phase one. I can iterate further for phase two, which is when I will show it as part of a digital show’s student exhibit in early May.

I also heard back from M. with a date to meet with her and a content expert just after the semester deadline for senior project. However, I can apply any advice I glean from this meeting to phase two.

Connections Prompt Plan Adjustments


It’s week two of the mentor process journey and I’ve finally heard from all my prospects.

Unfortunately, ′L,′ a subject matter expert (SME) in the topic and audience of my senior project, won’t be able to meet me until she completes an all-consuming major office move in mid-April. I will follow through and eventually meet her but it won’t be until after this term ends. As a back-up, I’m reaching out to ‘N,’ another SME who oversees communications and stakeholder relations for one of Ontario’s CCAC and is a former employer.

I had my first meeting with ′M′ on Tuesday morning. In the high level agenda I sent the Sunday before, I outlined the overall purpose of the meeting as to get a preliminary overview of her background and transition to digital. I also expressed an interest in learning about recommendations for boosting my analytics knowledge/skills.  M’s reputation precedes her and so as predicted, she was warm, congenial and professional. (Off the top, she inquired about my professor, who she knows, and thought teaching and yoga were great fits.)

M said her transition to digital was back in 1996 (earlier than I initially thought). In the early days, she explained how she made sketches with buttons and draft screens to outline to developers how she wanted a solution to look and act. Today, she works for a global agency with very specialized divisions and experts to handle those details, leaving her to oversee clients and accounts.

We talked about what I see as the challenge of being a generalist in a competitive world where experts are held in high esteem. I explained that in the PR world (where I cut my teeth), you had to master strategy to execution across the board. Ideally, you also had to keep a hand in tactics, even as you rose in seniority. M suggested that large teams with specialists/experts are great but also expensive. In contrast, smaller teams with more generalists are more cost efficient. M prefers them as you get fewer but more committed people on the team. She sees account teams shift between both types, as accounts evolve and budgets often need to scale back.

I suggested that I’m particularly interested in content strategy but also want to work toward roles where I’m engaged in developing digital strategy — or as M described it the “why” of digital. M deemed either goal feasible and saw them as integrated. She stressed the value of an effective CMS and content strategy in the projects she manages for financial service clients, as well as a large retailer.

Specifically, M said an effective content strategist can:

  • Identify and reuse consistent content across platforms
  • Develop a foundational content library with just the ‘right’ quantity of consistent assets for effective use across platforms.
  • Manage the ‘how’ components of the customer’s journey along a smooth path to purchase.

She also asked me about Centennial’s program, which gave me the opportunity to weave in my senior project, along with other highlights.  M quickly grasped the value of my project and appeared interested. She asked me if I had a field placement yet and proactively volunteered to look into options at her agency but cautioned there may be an age bias. She wants to introduce me to one of her content strategists, who can give me more insight and look at my work. As for analytics, she admits to only scratching the surface but may be able to connect me with an expert who can offer more in-depth advice.

As per action items discussed, a sent her a link to an overview of Centennial’s program, field placement dates, my available meeting times and resume. I did not expect her to express an interest in me as an intern at this stage but it’s wonderful that she did. So I’ll do my best to follow through and see what happens.

I was also recently in touch with ‘MH’ a web designer, who I’ve hired and referred on several occasions. When he learned I was studying interactive media management, he suggested we meet.  So although MH was not part of my original mentor plan, I think meeting with him will complement it.

Illustration Source: Godidwlr via Morgue File.

First Foray into My Mentorship Strategy

Untitled design

I sent out three meeting requests to three prospective mentors in the past week (on March 11, 12 and 13), through three distinct approaches/channels: a referral, a cold call and a continued LinkedIn conversation.

  • The first was a referral request a friend sent via LinkedIn on my behalf to ‘M,’ a digital sector veteran, who happens to be her cousin.
  • The second was a cold call email to ‘L,’ a subject matter expert in caregivers, my senior project’s target audience.
  • The third was shifting a LinkedIn conversation I had previously began with ‘D,’ a UX designer, to the meeting ‘ask’ stage.

Then, I had a nail-biting week waiting to see if any of these prospects would respond and for awhile, it looked somewhat grim. As life often throws off the best laid plans, M took a week to response because she was away in Salt Lake City. After waiting three business days for L, I followed up by phone, discovered she’s on vacation until March 23 and left a voice message. D responded after four days.

So I now have my first meetings tentatively set with M for this coming Tuesday (March 24) and with D on Saturday, March 28. The later first meeting with D gives me time to work up draft wireframes of my senior project, which he previously agreed to look at.

In the interim, I’m planning for these meetings and learning what I can about these individuals.

M’s facebook profile tells me she’s a skier and a mom with two little girls but I can’t see into much of her recent life, as she wisely tightened her privacy settings last spring. Her LinkedIn profile seems to show her major transition into digital came in 2000, about six years into her career, when she worked in the Toronto office of a US digital agency. She also has strong staying power, having stayed a minimum of two years in all her roles and nine in her current role as an Account Director for a global agency.

I’ve committed to send her an overview (i.e. agenda/POAD) on the weekend. One of the first things I’d like to learn is how she made the leap from ‘intense’ hard copy government/financial services account management to digital. I think it may also be safe to add enquiries about tools/training to boost my analytic skills to the agenda for this first meeting.

As for D’s background, he’s pretty quiet on social media. From what I can tell, he has a LinkedIn profile and Twitter account, which he’s set aside for a couple of months. Still, his tweets tell me he’s interested in classical music, Toronto trivia and its congestion challenges, plus innovative apps, designs and data visualizations.  I re-tweeted his post on a data visualization project from MIT to help build support and because it was interesting. His background is a mix but I really want to learn about best practices in UX to incorporate in my senior project and elsewhere.