Archive by Author

Diving Into A New Creative Path

Before I became a part of Degas, I was living a reasonably relaxed life in California working as a freelance designer, painter and illustrator. That was eight months ago.

Now I’m a Washington resident helping run a startup business as the Art Director, UX designer, office manager and overall Director of Etc. Along with my fellow Degas teammates, I’m working countless hours every week to launch our product on time. This has definitely been a huge shift in my career. I’ve gone from painting in a garage studio to working at my laptop all day.

Not only have these been extreme changes to my lifestyle, they’ve caused shifts in my creativity and how I solve problems. I’ve noticed large and obvious differences between UX design and painting. However, I have noticed similarities between the two as well.

Both painting and UX design call for a certain attention to detail. Although they’re different mediums, they each have their respective problems that require solving. With UX, I need to think of the design in terms to how fluid I can make the user experience. Otherwise, the ease of using the app is compromised and there are a lot of files to back track on and fix. It can become a very prolonged process and there’s even math involved!

With painting, there can be a lot of happy accidents and looseness of strokes. It can be a freer and more therapeutic process, but if something isn’t quite looking the way I envisioned, I need to figure out why and how I can fix it. This leads to a lot of trial and error and can also be a prolonged and difficult process.

Even with the differences between the materials and creative forms, these two are similar in their formation. They both start out as an idea and lead to sketches. These sketches lead to mockups and notes. Then it’s on to the execution, different problem solving, confused staring, long nights and pulling out of hair. There are “AHA!” moments and moments of disappointment and starting over to improve.

Going from painting to UX design has been an exciting, frustrating and educational experience. It’s pretty different from what I was used to before, but it’s a valuable and rewarding craft that I’m happy to have added to my skillset.

Catching the App Bug

There is a saying that every person has a book in them. As in, every person has a story to tell and could probably write a book.

What if apps are the new books? Similar to books, there are tons of genres, different audiences, and different series. Some are fantastically entertaining and useful. Some are poorly executed and impractical. Few become so popular they evolve into franchises like Angry Birds or the Harry Potter series.

However, does that mean everyone should get up and start creating their own apps?  Ideas can be great and perhaps do really well, but I think it’s the execution that counts. Occasionally paired with the saying above, I’ve also heard “Yes, but not everyone is a writer!”

As we’re building our app, I find myself wondering if I’m a “writer”. I keep thinking more and more about what’s next to come. Don’t get me wrong, I’m growing increasingly excited about our current app and watching it unfold into something great. However, I now know that this isn’t going to be my last app. I have a desire to work on more projects in the future, whether they’re my ideas or helping develop another’s. It’s a frustratingly neat process that I can’t deny has hooked me.

So this gets me thinking: “Do I have a great app idea in me? If I were to design and develop my own app, what would it be? Would it sink or swim in the deep sea of the app store?” I, like so many others, appear to have caught the app bug.

How one handles this contagious condition is important. Like any great idea, it could flop without thorough execution. There’s so much thought and trial and error that goes into an app. Not only should it be aesthetically pleasing, it needs to flow and function well. I’ve learned that first hand while working on our current app.

Speaking of our current app, I’m glad I’ve realized my condition and thought about future possibilities, but its time to come back to the present. We’re not done yet and we’ve got a lot more to go. We’ll see how I feel about this bug after August.

Image Source

Sacrifices of a Startup

While on this startup adventure, I’ve found that in order for a big plan to follow through, sacrifices are bound to happen. Sometimes, no matter how much we want it to all end in our favor, we find we can’t have it all. I think everyone sometime in their lives discover that they can’t have everything they want (with or without the help of The Rolling Stones). Although disappointing, some sort of sacrifice must be made to make a grand plan work. This can pertain to one’s career or personal life.

These sacrifices can be big or small. Whether it’s something small, like giving up going out for lunch and piling on more hours in evenings and weekends, or something more significant like, seeing less of family and friends, these have all come up during this process for the Degas team. As we head into crunch time for our product launch there will surely be more sacrifices to be made.

For me, it’s been a major commitment of time away from home. Originally a native Californian, I’ve moved out for the first time to Seattle, leaving family and my significant other behind. I see them occasionally, but even so, it’s been the hardest thing I’ve ever had to do in my life thus far. How’s that working out for me? Well…

How an individual or a business endures these subtractions from their lives is what I think builds character and strength. The fact that sacrifices are made in the first place shows dedication to a goal. I don’t quite favor a quit-when-things-get-hard mentality. Nothing would get done! If successful ideas or businesses were super easy, everyone would be doing this, right? This is how I think people become stronger. They’re faced with difficulties through life and somehow deal with them. As painful as they are, life goes on and we’re left with new knowledge to handle ourselves in the future.

Is a start up difficult? Absolutely. Is it getting easier? Some aspects yes, some no. Is this all worth it? I do believe so. Will Batman and Robin escape the clutches of Penguin this time or are they doomed? Stay tuned.

Image Source

Seeing Red… Lines

For the past few weeks, I’ve been finalizing our app’s UXD – user experience design. This means how our app looks and works – where various buttons and widgets are located, what happens after a user makes a selection, how action sequences work and so on. I need to thoroughly think through the app’s pages in order to make it a fluid experience for the user.

As part of the process to get these pages coded by our developers, I need to redline the design. Now, I wouldn’t say redlines are the current bane of my existence…actually, yes, yes I would. They’re now invading my dreams. However tedious and meticulous this is though, it’s a vital and very necessary step in getting our products developed efficiently. By redlining designs we’re dramatically maximizing our developer resources, turning two to four hours of a developer’s time into 30 minutes or less.

Redlines are basically a blue print or translation of our aesthetics for the developers to easily code. It’s my responsibility to make sure the structure, labeling, and placements of text and assets are clearly indicated. I start with the finished png of our design and then overlay it with bright red lines, text and arrows.

The task of basic redlining itself isn’t so bad. It’s the trial and error and the ever-evolving harder levels that haunt me. It’s also the many different rules that come with different platforms. What I redline for an iPad won’t be the same for web. The colors and text are displayed and formatted differently and I’ve found it’s very easy to mix them up and save them incorrectly. If a mistake or fix is to be made in one file, it will most certainly need to be corrected in fifteen other files. The continuous feeling of thinking I’ve accomplished a whole set of redlines only to find out that the pages need to be revised yet again can be really discouraging sometimes.

What I’ve learned and still am learning about redlines is that I need to have patience and a lot of it. Mistakes and revisions will be made and redlines will have to be done over and over again. The mistakes may be my fault or another’s, but I’m responsible for fixing them. The pages and our app aren’t going to get anywhere if I don’t continuously pick myself up and push forward through all of the frustration.

There is an upside to all of this redline madness though. Besides saving developer efforts, there’s the whole end result. Being able to see the app come alive and move with working buttons and actions is really rewarding. It’s a great reminder that all of this frustrating and hard work is producing something thought out and well designed. At the end of a long redlining day, I usually remind myself that I’m really excited and eager to see our finished app and that makes it all worth it.

Second sketch by Demetri Martin, author of “This Is A Book”

The Concept

The creative process has always fascinated me: how an idea can evolve from a simple sketch to a finished product. I found that freelancing gave me an opportunity to experience this enjoyable process over and over.

Although working for myself was rewarding, fun, and interesting, it was also somewhat limiting. I began wanting something more challenging; a way to grow and expand on my creativity and hone in on my interactive skills. I felt a need to apply myself to something greater. I also missed working with others and being part of a creative team and environment.

Kristoph and I had been working on a number of freelance projects together and I would often work with him to help define and explore ideas. He ultimately ran a particular idea past me that really appealed and excited me. It was different, challenging and had great potential. Along with Mel, we started to discuss how this idea could evolve and really impact how people used technology.

Not only was this an intriguing idea, but it also gave me a chance to become part of an awesome and creative team again. I’m excited by the opportunity to help start and lead a forward thinking company that will not only impact the lives of individuals but also help change the technology landscape.

-Alyssa Mees