A little delayed, but I am very happy to announce that I recently accepted a position as a UX Designer at Backcountry.com in Park City, UT. Yep, that’s right, Rob and I picked up and moved across the country so that I could join the herd at Backcountry. I wanted to highlight some important things I learned while at Guru, which ultimately contributed to the move. It is important to reflect on things learned when going on to a new chapter in life. More often than not I find things I learned stem from mistakes I’ve made. There’s no better way to learn than to dig in, fuck up and the reflect on things gone wrong.

Data Driven Design

I was more than ready to move on to a position where I could practice data driven design. I was designing web sites for users based on what we felt they needed instead of basing the product on data from the users.

I was alerted to this one day while talking about a portion of the site with co-workers. After I had directed them of a design decision to make, someone responded with “let’s take a vote”. I was, like any designer would be, infuriated. As the anger brewed inside of me I had an “ah-ha” moment. I was, admittedly, just as wrong as those who wanted to vote. Both of us were trying to design a product with no data to back up our decision. The only person who suffers in this type of situation is the end user.

No website should be put out without data and feedback from the end user. Whatever way you do it, use the data and test your work. And then test some more. Don’t take “we don’t have the budget” or any other excuse for an answer. Make these things as much of a priority as the development of the product. After all, they drive the product. There is no reason why you can’t test. These practices are extremely important to Backcountry and a big part of my switch. Here are a few important things I’ve incorporated into my workflow…

  • Use data from the site to drive the design
  • Put designs in front of users before they are fully developed
  • a/b test when releasing a new product to see what converts. It’s all for the user!

Move fast and fix things… enter agile development

All of us have worked in a waterfall environment and have seen it’s limitations. Agile development is the kind of environment a UX designer thrives in. Something I learned from Mailchimp’s UX Newsletter is to Move Fast and Fix Things. The speed at which a team using Agile moves in comparison to a team using waterfall is much faster and a lot less stressful.

Communication is key

If you want to be a part of a successful, happy team communication is key. Sit next to the people you work with and have face to face conversations as often as possible. This seems like a no brainer but is becoming a real problem with technology so easily at our fingertips. Stress transparency, share your work daily and know what your team is working on that day. This means the developers working on your designs too, not just other designers. Communication emphasizes transparency and results in a faster, more enjoyable work flow.

Opportunity for personal growth

The verdict is out – designers need to know how to code. Something that comes with my new position is the expectation to learn html/css (and maybe even a little js here and there). Although I won’t be kicking Photoshop to the curb, I plan on cutting down it’s time severly, making room for an improved work flow; Designing in the browser. This along with the things mentioned above will allow me to become a well rounded web designer.

In Closing

Believing in and understanding these ideals takes experience. Guru taught me a lot and paved the way for my place at Backcountry. A couple of the projects I am working on at Backcountry directly relate to the types of projects I designed at Guru. My time there is irreplaceable and I am very thankful for the experience. With the new chapter in my life, I plan on digging deeper into the above concepts as the year unfolds and writing about them regularly.

I of course will miss Pittsburgh and all of the wonderful people there. They have a truly amazing web community that I doubt Rob and I will be able to match anywhere else. Our stay in the City of Bridges was great – Now into the West to take advantage of the breathtaking mountains.