Design & User Experience at AmericaEast

Earlier this year I was asked to participate in a panel discussion/presentation on User Experience and Design in news media websites and applications. My role was to come in as a general industry expert on a panel of folks with significantly more experience in the news industry than myself. We discussed the benefits of atomic design, general user experience rules and design fundamentals to follow when considering a website redesign or overhaul, and where news media is currently, in the larger realm of design trends.

My AIGA

Last month, Jared & I were invited up to New York to visit the national AIGA offices and share our experiences as board members of the Central Pennsylvania chapter. In February, two national staff members came to visit for our February Coffee & Create, where Joshua gave a presentation on presenting work to clients.

The opportunity to share our story, as a chapter, and our journeys as board members was incredibly exciting. AIGA has played a large role in my development as a designer, and community leader, and there were so many stories and lessons I wanted to share with the national staff. 

Our chapter covers Harrisburg, Lancaster and York, for the most part. We also occasionally reach the Reading and Penn State areas, as well as all the little towns, in between. As President, two goals for my term are to 1. creating sustainable community among our cities and 2. listen to our membership to provide what they want and need in order to thrive in their roles.

 

The presentation I gave to the national staff chronicled my journey with the chapter, where it was before I got involved and where we are now. I shared what got me involved initially, which began as Joshua's request and later became a need for a creative outlet, and what keeps me with the chapter (our community, my board, the empowerment I've found to create). I shared my proudest professional accomplishment to date: becoming the first female President of the chapter, and perhaps the youngest.

I say it often, but I wouldn't be where I am today if I didn't have AIGA backing me up, supporting me, sustaining me. I've found an outlet to test leadership, create community and empower the people I surround myself with.

Sharing Knowledge: AIGA Philly's Get Ready!

Being as involved as I am in AIGA Central Pennsylvania means I have a huge AIGA family spanning the entire country, with some of those folks being as close as Philadelphia and Blue Ridge.

I try to make it out to the Philadelphia chapter as often as I can for their events, and most recently, I was asked to participate on their panel for design undergrads! I started my design journey in Philadelphia, before transferring to Millersville and moving to the Lancaster.

I was thrilled to moderate the panel, which included four Philadelphia-based designers ranging from a year out of school to six. The all-day event also included mock portfolio reviews, workshops and impromptu portfolio reviews by the panelists and myself. 

And then, I taught.

Last weekend, I taught my first front end development class! Can you say, exciting?

Back in November, I was invited by Girl Develop It Lehigh Valley to lead an Intro to HTML & CSS workshop in Allentown over the course of two days. I immediately (and enthusiastically) replied yes, eager to finally lead a class and share some knowledge with a curious group.

The class went wonderfully. So wonderfully, that I am still beyond psyched about it. Our group ranged greatly in age, ethnicity, background and experience-level. We covered a good bit of information (all of GDI's courses are open source btw) ranging from the basics-basics, to a layouts 101, and the fundamentals of CSS.

Teaching the class, and not just watching, but participating in helping the women understand the rules, semantics and rhyme and reason to HTML & CSS was an incredible, overwhelming feeling of positivity. Here I am, self taught out of curiosity, explaining how to structure a document, and what elements you'll need in the head of your document. It's pretty awesome and personally, teaching some of the aspects that I had learned on my own, with little explanation, helped reframe some of the concepts in my own mind (I'm looking at you floats & absolute positioning).

I loved being able to explain and walk the women through building a basic, first website, but, equally, if not more than that, I enjoyed the opportunity to really practice and build up on empathy. I strongly feel that it is incredibly important for designers and developers to take some time out of what they do, and teach someone else something.

The act of teaching is a learning experience, in itself, and one of the most important traits of a good teacher is empathy. Teach someone, who knows a bit about what you do, the basics. Teach a group of students how to write their first few lines of code. In order to succeed, you have to not only be able to explain the concepts you're teaching, but consider what you know about the people you are teaching and how you have to adapt what you want to say, in a way that just about anyone is able to pick up on it, and, with some help, dive in.

I marched.

Last weekend I marched.

Taylor and I went down to DC on a charter bus full of women we found to be our neighbors who also wanted to be seen, and heard, just like us. We walked and chanted and yelled slogans for women's rights and then some. Sunday, as I sat and rested my legs from the day before, I felt overcome with determination to not let my anger and motivation disappear: I am going to be an agent of positive change.

To keep myself accountable, I'm writing my list here. I am acknowledging the resources I have, and can utilize to make positive change. I realize I can make the most amount of change in advocating for more diverse tech and design teams, creating opportunity and scholarships for minorities within design, and by bringing communities together, and that's where I plan to focus the majority of my efforts. I think, right now, that's the best I can do: figure out where I can make the most effort and do that.

1. AIGA's Diversity & Inclusion Initiative
Design in Central Pennsylvania is overwhelmingly white, and seriously lacking the diversity it needs to see design thrive, as well as solve that diversity issue on its own. So, we'll add a little growth. I plan to work with my board to establish at least one scholarship fund, providing at least one student of minority background some type of financial assistance while studying design at a local university.

I also plan to use the mentorship program I'm establishing with the chapter to focus on women and other minority emerging designers, pairing them with someone in the field, to help them grow as a designer and professional, and hopefully opening more doors for them, as they continue on in their career.

And, as I have been, I plan to continue to do everything within my power to find more diverse speakers. Our last two panel events I spent an overwhelming amount of time, emailing, calling and tweeting, only to come up empty handed and moving forward, I will continue to search and push for better representation.

2. Empowering ALL women in tech
Earlier this month, I finally put together the women in tech meetup I've been talking about for months (since elaConf, really). My plan, with that meetup, is to use it to reach out to, and bring together women in tech. Empowered women empower women and it is my hope that by creating a space for women to come together, learn together and celebrate one another, we will see our tech community continue to grow in every way it can. I'm also hoping to reach out to enough organizations and groups in the community to bring folks into tech, who maybe never saw themselves there!

I still plan to keep my involvement in the tech scene in other cities, to help bring knowledge back to our area and create opportunities for other women to attend those events too (carpooling, scholarships, etc.).

3. Creating Healthy Opportunities
This year I'll embark on a yoga leadership training program, where at the end I'll have enough hours to get my yoga teacher certification. Initially, I had no idea what I was going to do with it, other than use the certification to donate some time and classes here and there. Now, I know I'd like to use it to offer donation-based and free classes to benefit my community; reach out to local organizations and shelters to offer the services I have.

4. 52 Things in the Next 52 Weeks/10 Things for 100 Days
At the very least, I can help to provide space and community. But on a larger level, I'm working hard to hold myself accountable to follow through, check off the weeks on the lists. One one account, I want to make art that resonates with those who are feeling similar to I, and on another, I know I need to write my senators, my politicians, and make productive noise. Even if it's just space for right now, even if it's just postcards and protests. I try and tell myself that every little thing counts, when all of this feels overwhelming and so very large.

I want to donate my design, my development, my lettering services however I can, and if that sounds like something you maybe need, please, do, get in touch. I try to do a bit of pro bono each year, I think this year might be more than most.