The journey so far

For almost 30 years, since I was a child I've been immersed in the world of designing and creating things with computers. I can't even say I "chose" this career so much as it was a lifestyle I'd already adopted and needed to find a way to support myself with my interests. By the time I dropped out of high school after 11th grade, I was already working as a full-time web designer on the Internet of the late 90's.

My initial exposure to creativity and technology was with an electric typewriter my mom brought home from her job as a collection's agent at the local newspaper. The first thing I "designed" with technology were short stories typed out on this typewriter. I was probably 10 years old. I knew technology would be the way I make things.

The journey to how I got to today is unconventional. If you want to hear the tale of how I go from writing on a typewriter, to watching VHS tapes on how to learn computers, to being the designer I am today, well then... stay awhile and listen!

I did not have a computer before Windows, so I lack the shared experience of learning on an Amiga or Commodore64 so many others who became computer-geeks do.

My first computer was when I was 13. I had a Windows 3.1/DOS 386. I played DOS games, wrote stories in WordPerfect (white text on a blue screen), and fiddled around in Paint.

At some point that computer broke, and my dad—a construction worker who did not understand technology—didn't feel like replacing it. It was back to the pre-digital life for a while, subsisting on the Nintendo and SEGA.

A few years later, after some saving of my own money, I got my second computer, the one that changed everything: A Pentium 100MHz with Windows 95 and... a modem.

I lived on the computer. I built web pages for video games I was playing, learned how to FTP and set up hosting, how to upgrade the hardware that seemed to constantly be outdated, wrote stories in Microsoft Works, and did graphic design in the Corel graphics suite.

Then, the summer between 9th and 10th grade, I got a job as an "assistant network administrator" for $5.25 an hour at a company that made VHS instruction tapes about computers and technology for professionals to up their skills. I would fix their computers, the network, update the website, and even worked on the soundstage as a camera operator filming experts talking about Access 2.0, VisualBasic, or how to get an MCSE certification.

I took tapes home and watched them. I learned about graphic design, HTML, software development, databases, all through watching these tapes. Instead of being a teenager out playing, I had a tiny VCR/TV combo next to the family computer.

I wasn't even in high school, and my life had become about learning how to use a computer to make things. The creative energy in me veered toward the graphic and written side of what computers could do. Instead of learning programming languages like so many other young computer geeks in the early 90's, I was in love with visual design, interface design, and content design.

The design technologist, writer, and digital artist was born.

"What can these computers do?"

DOS, VHS, and designing for the new "world wide web"

The early years

FrontPage, Y2K, and a web before CSS and broadband

I started working for a 4-person web design shop called "Attitude Ink" (always mistaken for a tattoo place) in 1998. Full time, 40 hours a week for $6.25 an hour.

For the interview, I brought in some HTML I had made in FrontPage and a graphic of a jet ski racer I'd "photoshopped" in Corel PhotoPaint. That was enough to win the job. I started the first day of summer vacation after 11th grade, June 1st 1998 and never returned to high school.

These were the glory days of tech on the internet. We'd use <tables> and ColdFusion, and had a dedicated T1 line coming into the office so everyone didn't need their own modem. CSS didn't exist, and we wrote the HTML in Notepad.

"UX" (a phrase yet to be coined) was born in the world of applying Windows 95 interface conventions to the web. You could do no wrong on the web because there was no "right" way to do things. Products were not web-based like they are today. Software was something made in VisualBasic and C. Everyone else (like me) was a "web designer" who put graphics and text together in HTML... somehow this became what we know as Product Design.

It's hard to describe what it was like to drop out of high school and be a web designer in a time when it felt like every digital dream was both possible, but impossible due to the limitations at the time.

And, in order to remedy that high-school dropout situation, I obtained an Associates Degree in lieu of a diploma during this time. Took an extra year while working, but I think skipping 12th grade proved to be a smart decision.

Turns out, Y2K didn't kill us all. Google was born, everything site had to have Flash, and the web was a new place. Gone was the innocence of the 90's web. Now everything was marketing, offers, campaigns, and the pathless land of monetization.

I was a landing page, email, and marketing campaign machine. The web-design companies I worked for shifted their focus to digital marketing, creating bespoke websites and products only when they supported a campaign. Monetization on the Internet from 15-20 years ago was a lot different than it is today. The odds that you received a spam email from me are very, very high.

I also took these years to finish the last two academic years of a bachelors degree, working and attending college at the same time. I was no older than the other students, but I was the only one with a career and professional skillset in parallel.

Somewhere in here I completed the Bachelors Degree in Psychology and Creative Writing, got married, and had two kids.

Web 2.0 & the Dot-com crunch

Flash, rich applications, and the wild west of the web

Solopreneur life

Full-time freelancing, the financial crisis, and the appification of the universe

In 2006, I shifted from working for single companies and started up a firm of my own, renting a little 1-room office on the edge of town. This allowed me to return to doing more than just digital marketing and return back to full-service web and product design, often working with clients who were taking an offline business online for the first time.

Apple was "back" and changing how products were designed and marketed. I switched from Windows after 20 years of use and bought the first Intel Mac Pro. It's hard to deny how Apple's approach on "design led" technology changed me.

With the introduction of the iPhone in 2007 now bringing the "real Internet" to phones, and soon after "apps" that went well beyond what I'd seen on Palm or Blackberry devices. The moment Steve Jobs pulled up the New York Times on mobile safari, the old ways of designing for the web and applications died.

While the skills, expertise, and tools of being a web designer were still the same, the label was tired. We didn't design sites, we designed experiences, and like and army of Wacom-wielding phoenixes rising from Arizona, we were now UX designers.

Looking to the future, at some point in 2010, I logged onto my website and changed the subtitle from "web designer" to "user experience designer."

I was a UX designer. I worked on products, not websites. Software was no longer something done in C# and compiled to desktop applications, it happened in the browser. By 2010, I had 12 years experience and was evolving along with the industry down the path of experience-led design, not technology-led.

It's one of those things where I remember a key moment where my paradigm changed. It was when I was given the book "The Persona Lifecycle" by Tamara Adlin.

She introduced a method for mapping out customer experiences that her booked called a "narrative journey." This is commonplace now, but when the book was published in 2006, and when I received it in 2010, doing this sort of narrative-based mapping of customer experiences was revolutionary.

I realized that UX was not UI, and where I had been designing things to be experienced with technology, I'd been primarily a builder of things, not a choreographer of experiences. I stumbled upon the work of Jesse James Garrett and Adaptive path and saw they were doing something that made a lot more sense to me. That's when it all changed.

I attended an Adaptive Path MX conference in 2013 and was introduced to the "service blueprint" and was hooked. I came back from the conference and decided that is how I wanted to approach things.

I spent a year learning how to reframe everything I did as being based in customer narrative journeys, blueprints, and looking at choreographing experiences as the objective of UX and product design.

Hopping on a plane to San Francisco, I attended the first "Service Experience Conferences" in 2014 where I met someone from Intuit who was there to learn the same things, and a job was found.

I was hired at Intuit as a "Principal Service Experience Designer." I packed up and moved to Silicon Valley a few weeks later.

Turns out, UX is not UI

UX, product design, and the dawn of the narrative journey based approaches

Silicon Valley

Service design, customer experience, and the nexus of story, design, and technology

Working at Intuit as a service designer was a new frontier for me and the company. They had never hired a service designer before, and while I was a 16-year UX design veteran, working on intangible services was something new to tech companies.

Methods were invented, tested, and codified in the workplace. I met new people who were interested in these same topics out in Silicon Valley and founded a side-business called Practical Service Design, spending my nights and weekends iterating on methods and theory, inventing the Practical Service Blueprint based on the original narrative journeys by Tamara Adlin.

Working at a prominent technology company like Intuit allowed me to experience a wide breadth of design challenges, from hands-on design technology and building the company's first responsive grid system, to working on the service blueprints for customer care processes. I did UX, service design, customer experience, design technology, and everything in-between.

Through these 7 years of the twenty-teens decade, I learned how to apply all my years of experience at scale, and how to scale myself. My focus and interests in design and technology remained, and I added new pillars to my professional approach that were based more in customer-backed research, intentional experiences, and the tenets of empathy with the "job to be done" of the person you're providing something to.

This time in Silicon Valley at Intuit was my autodidactic PhD program. I added a whole new, higher-order layer to my thinking and philosophical approach to design. Hard-skills continued to be honed, but a whole new toolbox of soft-skills in realm of research, customer experience, design culture, and methodology emerged.

I began treating design first and foremost as a series of interlinked systems that set the stage for human experiences through technology, people, and processes, but the desired outcome is none of those things. The desired outcome is facilitating the experience a person has when they interact with the output of the creativity.

It could be some software, a video, a written work, or an interactive experience, but the "thing" is not the goal, it's the final culmination of what happens in the mind of the person experiencing it.

We had a bit of a pandemic in 2020, and as of the writing of this page (March), it's still going on in 2021. Not an idea situation for anyone.

I moved away from Silicon Valley at the end of 2020 to take up residence in semi-rural Maine. I want to approach life as a place without boundaries, which includes geographic location.

Intuit had made the decision for employees to return to work in August of 2021. As I was nowhere near a physical location, it appeared I would be unable to reconcile the needs and wants of my family, which have changed since I started working there.

As I look toward a future when my disabled teenage son becomes a disabled adult that will need to be taken care of at home for the rest of his life, setting up the home-base around his and his caretaker's (his mom / my wife) quality of life, optimizing for what the family can do has become more important than where I work physically.

Having said that: things changed in March of 2021. I searched my soul for direction, and also reached out to some people at a place that I loved, a company that not only was a remote company, but enabling remote work of all sorts across the planet. As of April 2021, I work for Mural, as a Sr. Principal Product Strategist!

The decision to be a remote professional is a harrowing experiment, but one I plan to succeed in. While not living near the major tech and design population centers has drawbacks, it also opens up opportunities for my professional and personal creativity not available elsewhere. Some doors are closed, but some new ones are opened.

A post-pandemic, remote life

The post-pandemic world, remote professions, boundless creativity