Creating a Pattern is a lot like Building an App: The Product Design Process

The Product Design ProcessI have been creating patterns for my other blog, MyCreativeBlog, which is targeted towards my creative hobby side and as a software engineer, I have learned through this process that creating a pattern is a lot like building an app.

– Design
– Prototype
– Testers/Quality Assurance
– Release
– Customer Feedback

Allow me to elaborate.

Design
Much like building an app, when creating a pattern, you generally start by sketching out your idea or jotting down ideas that you would like to see in your end product. The design process can take on other forms, like researching different techniques or in the engineering world, different technologies.

Prototype
Next, you might work out how to create the product by working up a prototype. A prototype can take many forms, a visual representation of the product, such as a wireframe, or it could be a proof-of-concept, which showcases the overall idea of the product, but not how it might actually look in the final design. Another type of prototyping is a presentation prototype, which may be ultimately how the product will look and function, but use different material or have different functionality from what your final product may look like or how it may function. Through the process of creating a pattern, you might create many of these prototypes, but ultimately, you will end up with presentation prototype, so that you can showcase how the pattern will look in the end. This can still end up differing somewhat from your final product after you have gone through the process of having it tested.

Testers/Quality Assurance
To produce any quality product, it should be tested or passed through quality assurance. Adjustments should be made based on feedback from this process and tested again until a quality product is produced free of errors. In the case of creating a pattern, a quality product means one that is clear and easy to understand, has no typos or grammar mistakes and can produce an item similar to your prototype.

Release
Once you have gone through the testing process and feel happy with your final product, you can release it to your consumers. This doesn’t necessarily end the process. More often than not, you will have requests and recommendations from your customers. And any good business owner wants their customers to be completely happy with their purchase, which brings me to my next subject, customer feedback.

Customer Feedback
Any vested product owner will value the feedback from their customers. They want their customers to be fully satisfied with their product. So when customers make requests or recommendations, this may have you re-evaluate your product and possibly make alterations, updates, and improvements if the requests or recommendations add value to your product. For example, I created a pattern and had a customer request a print-friendly version. I personally, had never given that idea a thought, but I was happy for the request as I knew others would likely appreciate that improvement, as well. Thus I created a print-friendly version and that customer was very happy to have their idea heard and acted on. And a happy customer can translate to a solid product.

Having worked this process many times in engineering, I found this process could easily be applied to creating patterns, as well, and produced amazing results.

Insights on My Marketing Strategy

Market Your Creativity

I recently released my first paid crochet pattern on My Creative Blog, which is another blog I run targeted towards my creative hobby side. The pattern has been a huge success despite the little literature out there on selling a crochet pattern. Therefore, I would like to provide a little insight on how I ran my marketing strategy to sell my crochet pattern.

Building Your Reputation
Let’s start with the fact that you need to build up your reputation. You likely do not want to just jump straight into selling patterns. People won’t know what to expect from you and won’t know if they can trust your pattern. So I started my blog by creating free patterns. This will build traffic to your site and followers to your brand.

Test Your Product
Once you create your pattern or product, you will need to have it tested. This is important, do not skip this step. Testing your pattern gives your pattern another few set of eyes to find any issues or anything hard to understand. Having your pattern tested will also give your customers some faith and peace of mind in your product.

Run a Giveaway (Free Advertising)
It is good to build up a following prior to any release of your product or pattern so that way you have people to promote your product to. The best way to build up this following is to offer a giveaway that requires people to follow your brand and share your brand with others. Giveaways also help people to feel good about your brand because they can possibly receive something for free.

Build your Fanbase
Again, find ways to build your following. This way when you release your product or pattern, people will actually see it as opposed to just stumbling across it. A great way I found to build my brand, besides the giveaway, is to find groups on facebook that are targeted towards what you are selling and promote your brand there. In my case, crochet groups.

Offer Discounts
When you release your product or pattern or around special occasions such as holidays, offer discounts. It will almost always create more sales as people will want to take advantage of the discounted price. It may even entice people to share your product with others so they may take advantage of the discount, as well. It will also build your reputation and make people feel good about your business.

Broadcast to Multiple Networks
Advertise your product or pattern through multiple networks. Everyone has a different preference on what social platforms they like, so try to broadcast to lots of different types. Twitter, Facebook, Instagram, Pinterest, those are always some good ones, but some of the ones people also may not think about are ones like StumbleUpon, Tumblr, and Imgur, as well.

Make people Feel Good
Make people feel good about your business and product, as well as, themselves. If people comment on your posts, always try to respond, even if it is just liking their post. Address their issues whether big or small. Always try to be positive, nice, and energetic in your responses to them. If they make a request, try to find a way to address it. Show them that you care. It can seem like a minor thing, but can make a world of difference to your customers.

Have a Product worth Buying
When it is all said and done, the success of your product is still dependent on having a good product to sell. Something that people are genuinely interested in and something well executed. No matter how much you master the rest of these tips, it won’t help if your product is crap.

Insights to Designing Solutions

A good, thoughtful design can help eliminate a lot of burden and cost later down the road in the form of less development time, client satisfaction, and extensibility.

Parts of a Camera

Don’t Repeat Yourself (DRY)

When designing your solution, consider future growth of the feature or product. Build reusable components to reduce repeating yourself to solve similar problems. Set yourself up to have good extensibility and reuse for later in the product lifecycle.

On a recent design, I created it as an extension to a core framework. This design decision ensured the capability could be enabled for numerous other features at any given time and with minimal effort. Also, this meant creating an easy way to add an API endpoint without needing to change core code. This way more endpoints could be added when and as needed without needing a release or changing code to accommodate it.

Unified Umbrellas

Leverage Standards

That brings me to my next subject, utilizing standards. In this example, I utilized a standard called oembed. This standard helped reduce the effort in development time and created an extensible architecture designed to accommodate changes for future growth. Using a standard allows the developer to always know what to expect as a return. In this case, the response of an API for rich media types will always include the same properties. This allows the framework to be built in a way that will easily be able to accommodate future growth.

Innovative Light Bulb

Utilize Innovation

Along with  leveraging available standards, a good understanding of the “art of the possible” is essential to explore the best approach. This requires keeping pace with and understanding the latest technologies. In this design, we used a new html5 element, the canvas tag, to create a thumbnail of the video element. Using the latest technology allowed us to save time in development by not having to develop the same functionality in a more burdensome .Net framework. This technology also created a more elegant, cleaner, client-side user experience.

Summary

A good, thoughtful design tells a story about a design that is scalable, reusable, less burdensome technically and requires less time to develop all while satisfying the user’s needs.

UX Design Dream Team

The perfect mix of UX Experts and Software Architects

I am lucky enough to work in the perfect design team with a lovely mixture of talents and specialities. This perfect design team consists of UX Designers, as well as, Software Architects. It is not commonly seen to have Software Architects and UX Designers working together, but why shouldn’t it? It doesn’t make sense to me any other way. The attractive and highly usable interface between application and software that makes using the application so worthwhile depends heavily on the architecture. This is absolutely critical. Whatever capabilities the architecture has underneath it will impact the user interface. Having Software Architects involved in the design process can help flag these concerns before the design is handed off to be developed. The architect can determine if the user interface is even feasible based on the backend infrastructure. On the flip-side, as well, Architects can architect out a solution for an other wise difficult user experience, and by difficult, I mean the backend infrastructure to support it, before it is handed off to engineers to figure out. Having the two together creates a lovely balance. And no one person has to know it all.

We have all kinds of talented individuals that make up our team. There are content strategists, front-end engineers, interaction designers, ui designersusability researchers, visual/graphic designers, information architects, ux architects, and software architects. And often, a single person may cover several of these roles, but an amazing UX team should consist of all these areas in one way or another.

The content strategist is in charge of the message and UA being portrayed to the user. This may seem like an easy task, but it can be a hard balance of giving the user enough information to be helpful without being lengthy. Content should be considered an important part of the product, be it web, mobile or any other medium. A content strategist will be responsible for shaping up the ‘tone of voice’ of the product. They set the tone of the product by carefully planning the content. The content may not be limited to text. It refers to whatever element used to communicate with the user. A content strategist might even have a call over the design element that the visual designer created, because it communicates something to the user. It is important to convey the right things in the right way to the user for a consistent ‘tone of voice’.

The visual designer handles the visual aesthetics of the design. They are the expert for color combination, typography, texture, graphics, etc to convey a message. This should go without saying that visual design plays a very important role in any design. It is the first impression and the visual aesthetics that carry forward the experience of the product.

The interaction designer is in charge of handling the interaction of the users with elements on the screen. Unlike visual designers who usually deal with static assets, interaction designers create animation inside the application. They deal with what the interface does after a user touches it. For example, they decide how a menu should slide in, what transition effects to use, and how a button should fan out. When done well, motion becomes an integral part of the interface by providing visual clues on how to use the product.

The user interface (UI) designer is concerned with the overall feel of the product and how the product is laid out. They are in charge of designing each screen or page with which a user interacts and ensuring that the UI visually communicates the path that a UX designer has laid out. UI designers are also typically responsible for creating a cohesive style guide and ensuring that a consistent design language is applied across the product. Maintaining consistency in visual elements and defining behavior such as how to display error or warning states fall under the responsibility of a UI designer.

The front-end engineer is responsible for translating the concepts from the wireframes and visual mockups into a working prototype. Front-end development is when the product jumps into the first phase of life after much conceptualization and designing from other members of the UX team, and for that matter, this can be a vital part of the Experience design process. A front-end engineer brings together the 3 forms of an application, namely content, presentation and behavior. They generally are a rockstar in HTML/CSS/JS based techniques and use these techniques in building out the working prototype.

The usability researcher is asking the questions, “Who are our users?” and “What do our users want?”. Typically, this role entails interviewing users, researching market data, and gathering findings. Design is a process of constant iteration. Researchers may assist with this process by conducting tests to tease out which design option best satisfies user needs. Helping to keep the very basic usability issues in mind can help the team move in the right direction. Usability researchers are responsible for conducting usability tests and other usability related tasks and will have a strong understanding on the working of the product, from a user’s perspective.

The user experience (UX) architect is someone who understands each stage of an Experience design process and who will be able to connect the dots seamlessly across each phase of the Experience design. They will make sure that the UX vision of the product doesn’t get blurred across each phase. The primary job of this person will be to be involved in each phase of the Experience design process, collaborate with the experts of the respective phases and make sure the product gets transitioned between them smoothly. They will set and ensure the proper standards and processes are being followed across the entire lifespan of a design including development.

The information architect focuses on a number of things such as the target audience, the technologies related to the website, the data that will be presented through the website, and the results of early usability tests regarding the site ideas. The information architect will have the challenge of organizing the information in a huge data-driven application with complex scenarios into the screen flows, wireframes, and interaction patterns to be followed.

Finally, the software architect is a computer programmer or computer expert who makes high-level design choices and dictates technical standards, including software coding standards, tools, and platforms. The software architect will evaluate technologies and make the decision of which ones will work best to achieve the solution desired with the least amount of risk. They understand the interactions and dependencies among components and can determine the best infrastructure for the problem.

All together these roles can create an amazing design team. As I said before, not one person necessarily covers each specific role, sometimes they span multiple roles. However, if there is a good balance and a group of individuals with a strong passion and a great attitude, it will make a huge difference.

How to be Successful in a Tech field

1. Network
It’s so important to network with other people in your field. They are not only a  great help at keeping you fresh in what’s going on in the current market, but they can be a great resource in helping you to find other opportunities. Conferences are great places to network with people in your field, but you can also network locally, with local meetups and organizations.

2. Keep Learning New Things
Don’t fall stagnant in your career. Technology is a constant moving and forever changing environment. You’ll never learn it all, but you should try. Go to conferences, take some training, read blogs, whatever it takes to keep you in the know on the latest trends and new technology.

3. Find a Mentor
Mentors are great at helping to guide you through your career. They’ve already been there, done that, and they can offer a lot of great advice. Like I said before, you can’t learn it all, but having some great mentors can really help enhance your knowledge. They can direct you in the best routes and prevent you from making the same mistakes that have already been made.

4. Don’t be afraid to work a little extra
When you first delve into your career or start a new job, you will find that it takes a little bit of time to get up to speed on a places procedures, methodologies, and sometimes even the technology being used. It is important to invest extra time in getting up to speed. Work those extra hours. Use your personal, after work hours to try to get up to speed. If your job allows a remote working environment, be in the office as much as possible anyways, if you can. The investment you put in at the beginning will profit you immensely in the end.

5. Speak Up
People won’t know your opinion if you don’t speak it. You may think your idea isn’t important or fear it may sound stupid, but it often promotes innovation and collaboration. Even if you are new, share your ideas! Sometimes a fresh perspective is exactly what everyone needs. And speaking up will get you noticed!

I Believe in Empowering Women, but I’m not a Feminist

I am a woman in the technology field, and I am all for empowering more women into technology fields or science fields. There certainly are not enough of us, but I refuse to call myself a feminist. I believe in equality for both sexes. A feminist by today’s standards seems to be a way to bash men and as a mother of two boys, I can not support that. It should be about being a decent human being and treating one another with respect.

I hate these new terms being thrown around, “manterrupting”, “bropropriate”. Why do we have to victimize ourselves against men? It’s hard to be taken seriously when we are throwing around made up words where their only purpose is to bash men. How can we take a stand for equality when we are drawing a line between men and women ourselves?

I think to be in this field, especially if you are looking to grow in your career, you have to have a strong backbone, that goes for men and women. You need to have a strong, supporting argument if you want to make an impact. You also have to have the confidence to speak it and keep pushing on the subject if you stand firm in your opinion.

The fact is people interrupt people. It’s disrespectful, but it isn’t always meant to be. Sometimes people are just passionate about their view and want to get that across. Unless someone directly says, your point isn’t worth listening to, I don’t think we should be reading so much into it. The fact is that people of both sexes can be rude and impolite.

Finally, I don’t want to be referred to as a feminist because I enjoy being feminine. I can have it all. I can be smart, well-groomed, trendy, a super-mom, a geek/nerd, I can be all of it. I don’t need to hand in my heels and red lipstick because I want to viewed as one of the men or because I’m in a technology field. I’m just going to do me. I have never been one to conform to labels. I hate labels. And I think that is what we really need to rid ourselves of to start having equality between the sexes.

Source: Kathleen Edison’s illustrated guide, inspired by Jessica Bennett’s article

Can’t we all just get along? Android vs iOS

Can we just agree to disagree? I’m the odd man out in the fact that I haven’t taken a side in the argument of “Android or iOS, which is better?”. I like them both. They are both well made operating systems and generally well made phones. I believe that each has it’s own use case and does well at solving them. I have been an iPhone user, and I recently switched to Android over a year ago. It took me forever, though, to hand down my iPhone 5 to my son and even when I did, I went and bought an iPod to supplement my need to have both operating systems.

iOS is great in the fact that is simple to use. Apple puts a lot of thought into making the stock apps work very nicely on the phone right out of the box. There isn’t a great deal of setup, and they make syncing from an old phone to a new phone pretty seamless. This is great for someone who doesn’t have a lot of time or interest in customizing their phone. They just need something that works well right out of the box and won’t take a lot to set up. It’s also great for someone less experienced with new technology. iOS does a very nice job of making things pretty simple.

Android on the other hand is great for someone who wants the ability to customize everything. The stock apps aren’t usually very good and thus a user must go out and find better apps to replace them. This can be time consuming, but gives the user the ability to get apps tailored to fit their personal needs. And since android allows apps to touch pretty well anything in the OS, the customizing is pretty limitless. And to illustrate customizing even more, android allows for something called widgets. Mini apps if you will, right on your home screens to feed you the very information you desire without even having to look for it.

In the end, I like both phones/operating systems, and I may just be one of those people who will forever switch back and forth between them. What can I say, I have a love for technology and respect for what both represent, each solving their own use cases.

Branding: It’s not just important for companies – Personal Branding

Branding. It’s not just important for companies, it’s also very important for people, especially if you have a career, are a public speaker, attend conferences, etc. Let me take a moment to talk to you about personal branding and some of the ways I choose to create my personal brand.

1. Create an avatar and use it consistently. Make sure the photo you choose is of you and professional looking. Sorry no night club selfies. Use this image in all your social networking platforms. I tend to sway from this for my facebook because I keep my facebook at a very personal level. I only add people who really know me. But I use the same image consistently for all my professional, public facing platforms such as Twitter, LinkedIn, Google+, Pinterest, etc. This is so important, especially if you network outside your circle. It gives people an easy way to identify that it is you. People who may not see you every day, will easily be able to recognize that it is you because they will identify with the consistent brand being presented. You can easily recognize the big player companies by their logos. So should your following easily be able to recognize you by your avatar.

Profile Avatar

I would like to add to this with something I recently told a friend who needs to brand herself, as well as, her company. Her company, given the product she sells, needs a face to associate with the company. So in her case, I told her to make sure her personal avatar could also relate back to her company and her product, as well, while still having her personal persona show through. People will identify her by her avatar while also being able to tie it back to her company. It’s like that “one rock, two birds” saying, which is actually a pretty horrific analogy.

2. This one should seem obvious, but create those social networking platforms, and yes, even Google+. It gives people more ways to find you. Everyone has their personal preference for which social networking site they want to use the most, so be sure to hit all the avenues, so that all your hard networking skills aren’t put to waste when the people you networked with can’t find you.

Let me also expand on that by saying, keep your handles/usernames consistent, as much as possible. I try to keep my email, social networking sites, blogs/forums, even my Github account, all the same. This allows people to easily find me and contact me. In Personal Branding, we can’t be associated with a company name, but we can be identified by our handles. Also, you don’t need to be super creative with your handles, using the name you were given at birth is perfectly sufficient. It’s actually better than sufficient, it makes sense. No longer do people have to forget your name and only identify you as ‘LadiesMan217’. They can remember your name, simply by remembering your handle. And yes, I did just make a Transformers reference there.

Social Handles

3. Make your bios and taglines showcase everything that makes you, you. And in case you haven’t caught on to the theme, keep them consistent. Let everyone equally be able to see just how awesome you are. Try to include something relating to your career, your hobbies, and your personal life. Don’t let your career define who you are. More companies looking to hire employees want to hire real live people, and they want to know what those people do in their spare time. All your professional experiences can carry just as much weight as your personal interests. Companies are looking more at fit than just at how much you know, and personal interests can give employers a lot more to go on with fit. Also, companies are looking for creative individuals who can think outside the box, and showcasing your personal interests can give you that edge.

Bio Tagline

4. Make a contribution. Give back to the community. You have a great ideas, personal opinions, works of art, share them with the world. Leave your digital footprint in the world. Everyone has an opinion about something, everyone has something to say, why shouldn’t you be included in that. Write a blog, join forums, answer questions, start a github or some other way of sharing your work. Put yourself out there. The only way someone is going to know what you are all about is if you tell them. Most importantly this will give you a web presence. I know, sometimes you just don’t want to be found, but in the case of employers or your following, you want them to be able to find you and show them that you are contributing to the world around you.

So what are you waiting for? Get out there and make your digital footprint in the world.

Credits: I would like to thank JLS Creative Solutions, an advertising company, I worked at that started me on the path of branding. I would, also, like to thank the amazing, innovative team I work with currently for sharing with me the concept of personal branding and the support to come out of my comfort zone.