Skills & Approach

I am a design strategist with a love of systems, psychology, and building things that have meaning and merit.

Providing the means by which a positive customer outcome is facilitated is my core professional ethos. Blending business results and creative integrity is a balancing act, and the person I am trying to engage, educate, or entertain is the fulcrum.

I am a high-level practitioner, deeply experienced in both hands-on execution and abstract theory. Below are my professional skills and some of the facets that power my approach.

Skills, hard and soft

When it comes to the hard skills of design, I have expert-level experience in most tools, methods, and practices.

  • Expert-level visual skills with Figma, Sketch, Photoshop, Affinity, Illustrator... anything that makes pixels. Wireframing, information architecture, and interface design is a part of this.
  • Coding: Fluent in HTML and CSS (and preprocessors and dialects), Atom, SublimeText, Github. I am conversational and understand most frontend js frameworks, and have decades of experience working side-by-side with developers.
  • I am a well-known expert in Bootstrap and mobile-first responsive grid systems, with instructional publications nearing 2 million views.
  • I am a capable prototyper comfortable with any tool needed, including raw HTML and CSS.
  • Deeply experienced in audio engineering and video editing.

Along with the hard skills, I also maintain expert-level experience in the soft skills of design strategy and leadership as well.

  • Research project construction, execution, and synthesis
  • Strategic design project planning, roadmapping, and timeline creation
  • Leading participatory workshops with research participants or team members
  • Mentorship and coaching
  • Organization and culture design and influence
  • Service blueprinting, journey mapping, use-case diagramming
  • Design team management and leadership, community leadership
  • Speaking and conference presentations, seminars, trainings

Systems thinking and choreography

I am a born systems thinker. My mind can't help but see their structures, constraints, and possibilities. Each individual component of a system has its own nuance and inputs and outputs, and are assembled together into what we see as the system.

Good, bad, or ugly, all systems have some sort of design, it just may not have been intentional. And while the person interacting with the system owns their resulting experience, we as "systems designers" own the choreography of how the individual components were assembled.

One of my favorite systems theorists of the 20th century is a British scientist and professor named Stafford Beer. He is quoted as saying "the purpose of a system is what it does."

This means that what a system does—not what the designer or operator intended it to do—is the system's purpose. If you design a system and it leaves people feeling frustrated and in pain, that is its purpose. It is not the person "experiencing the system wrongly." The system is doing what it was designed to do, intentional or not! All systems are designed, some just more poorly than others.

This is why systems-thinking and a systems-based approach is so foundational to my work. People experience what we create as a continual medley of interactions, carrying the emotion and sentiment from one to the next. When looking at the individual component we want to improve, we have to look at the component's place in the system and understand how all these individual choreographies result in the final felt experience.

Understanding the outcome to be had

With "the purpose of a system is what it does" guiding my approach to how I view systems, for viewing the complementary human motivation, the paradigm which resonates with me the most is Jobs to be Done.

It's a popular view with a few different interpretations, but for me it distills the core question of voluntary human experience down to a deceptively simple concept: people enlist the help of things to bring about a desired outcome, so what is the outcome to be had?

It's my own rephrasing of "job to be done" which takes it a little further past the job part. The classic example is "people don't buy a drill and quarter-inch bit because they want those things for their own sake, they want a quarter-inch hole."

But I think the essence of designing for an experience is exploring the person's desired final outcome: watching their favorite shows on the new wall-mounted TV. Drilling quarter-inch holes is a required dependency, not an outcome.

As a customer-backed designer, I am acting in service to the desired outcome: kicking-back and watching that TV. Maybe I design the drill, or wall mount, or the TV itself. Knowing where I fit in the chain and the "outcome to be had" determines how I gauge whether I am designing in service of the outcome (relaxed TV viewing), the job (quarter-inch holes), or the utility (a drill).

Research as the core of understanding, and gaining the perspective needed to serve others

I have a limitless capacity for curiosity, but my career started out organically as a teenage web designer with no formal training of any sort (which you can read about here). It was not until I was an undergraduate getting a degree in psychology that I learned the value and

My university treated psychology as "the scientific study of human behavior" and research was held to the same standard as all the hard sciences. Studies had to meet the requirements of the institutional review board, and as most studies dealt with human participants, the ethical considerations of how research was done and the interpretation of the results was the top priority.

Reliability and validity of data was tantamount, and I learned to design research to have internal checks to make sure it was "testing what it was saying it was testing" and could be repeated. It was a level of training that is normally not required in user-experience research.

The other aspect of my research approach is on deep, conversational empathy as a skill, not a trait you have to be born with. My focus as a student was on being trained in applied psychology, which is simply put as "doing therapy."

This meant participating as a facilitator in hundreds of hours of individual and group therapy with a licensed supervisor, in a private practice and with the state's Department of Child and Family services. Reflective listening, intentional dialog, and validation of experiences is a technique that can be learned. Any human being you are researching wants to be heard—and know that you heard them—more than anything else.

It is the combination of the scientific training in research and facilitation of conversation that underpins my research style today. My goal is to hear what others are saying, empathize without introducing my own bias, and reflect back what I heard to validate the person's unique experience. Whether I agree or not is irrelevant, because the truth of human experience is a pathless land.

The business, art, and science of design

I've spent many years in almost every size of business, some you could barely call a business. Enterprises with thousands of employees, late-stage startups with 100-200-300 people, non-startup small businesses with 30 folks making things happen, tiny operations with 5 or 6 people just gutting it out to get by, and even did several years as a solopreneur.

These wildly varying experiences have sharpened some of my understandings, and ground down others. What I've come to believe is businesses are systems with an outcome to be had, which usually means provided a livelihood for the people within the business system.

This is usually done through customers exchanging money for value—or the perception of value. Believe it or not, not all companies are ethical, and it is exceptionally easy to be profitable while only providing a placebo effect and broken promises.

Through the ups-and-downs of a long career, I've arrived on a core personal principle: I want to provide genuine, durable value to people in exchange for their customership. This means I don't ship MVPs, I ship MVEs: Minimum Viable Experiences.

I believe I can be a good business person while still maintaining that the quality of the customer's experience is the key performance indicator, with the financial results being a quantifiable measure.

This means paying attention to the big picture, the JTBD of both the company and the customer, and maintaining that delivering durable benefit for the customer's "outcome to be had" is what leads to both their and our success.

The DNA of a hands-on practitioner

I maintain an active interest in the methods of designing for experiences with technology. I regularly contribute hands-on to projects in any and every way necessary. Design, code, content, form, function. There is no part of the lifecycle of creative production I am unfamiliar or unexperienced in.

My career grew with the web. I build my first Internet page in a format I don't remember, because the web didn't exist. It was posted to my local community college's BBS.

Soon after, HTML and the "world wide web" became a thing, and I build my first webpage with HTML 1.0 in Notepad on a Windows 95 Pentium 100MHz, using Corel Photopaint to make graphics.

I have a hard time summing up my hands-on skills. Many don't even feel like skills anymore, but instincts driven by my mutated DNA from too many years sitting in front of a computer screen. Here's an attempt:

  • 25+ year practitioner of the tools of the web: every graphics program you can think of, every code editor, every flavor-of-the-month technique and trend. I have created things in every era of the web for every kind of device and context. I witnessed the day Photoshop 3.0 added "layers" and remember when CSS was first invented. I understand design tools on an innate level simply because I've grown right alongside them.
  • Deep professional experience and fluency in technology. I am a computer-science enthusiast and conversational in most technical topics about software development, engineering, and the nuance of different approaches. I am not a programmer, but I am a programmer's best design friend as I fully understand what they do and how they do it.
  • The things we build would be incomplete without a message, and I have studied the craft of content creation as a marketer, psychologist, non-fiction writer, fiction writer, playwrite, commercial (like for radio) writer, and have the utmost respect for "the message is the medium" when it comes to how we convey thought through imagery, text, and language.
  • Deep professional experience with audio and video production, both on-location and studio. Recording, editing, engineering, post-production, live performances. If there is a lens, light, or mic, I am all over it.

I have an insatiable curiosity and need for learning, and while my professional interests have changed to be more focused on leadership and systems, if the job required we dig footings, pour concrete, build a studio, rig the lighting, install the soundproofing, network the computers, play the instruments and record an album, I am capable of it and happy to do it all.

If you want some flavor about how I got here, go check out the history page and take a little journey with me.