A Designer’s Journey into UX Design

Originally posted on Phinney Bischoff


My journey as a designer in a simple diagram.

We all have those key moments in life that help shape and define our path. More specifically, the career, or what-we-want-to-do-when-we-grow-up path. I had one of those defining moments that spanned over the course of 6 weeks and culminated during an evening of shop talk over beer and pear cider with a classmate and our UX Design instructor at the Elysian on Capitol Hill.

What led up to this evening was the completion of a 5-session course in UX Design at the School of Visual Concepts taught by Michael Smith, Senior Interaction Designer at Frog. Highly recommended for those who like me, have evolved and adapted organically into an ever increasing and consuming digital space and are practicing aspects of it, but never had formal training in UX Design. The foundation and framework taught by Michael will make you feel like you can go and conquer the world… and/or the next digital project.

As I still take time to process all that I experienced in the class, there are three lessons that have already fundamentally changed me as a designer. (This is apart from the UX Design philosopies and methodologies taught in the class – you’ll have to take the class yourself for that!)

1. Sketch, sketch and sketch some more.

If there is only one thing you can remember from this class, it’s this. Michael made sure this was engrained into our brains. And it made me realize that although I do a lot of sketching at the start of every project, it benefits to stay in this part of the process a little longer. It provides a platform to rapidly generate a lot of ideas without being married to that one you believe is perfect. And it trains you to be more patient and work through the solutions with your sketches (vs. letting it spark an idea, but then working through the solution on the computer). There is something very freeing during this process which opens up the creative thinking and problem solving even more. And it’s just fun.


Compilation of sketches for our class project – ideas on improving the user experience of buying groceries using a self-checkout machine.

2. Be iterative – (i.e., Don’t obsess over the end deliverable… too much).

This ties into my previous point. Don’t be in a hurry to have a finished product (to hit that budget or stay within your hours), so as to miss out on all the collaborative, idea-generating opportunities that can happen with iterative steps along the way. This can suppress taking more risks and pursuing different ideas that may or may not work, but could take you down the path to an elegant user experience that will dramatically improve engagement for your client’s business.


Our group post-it notes and discussion based on our initial observations during the research phase of the project.

3. Ask the question, as a designer, am I playing the game to show that I can differentiate or am I actually doing something that is contributive to the user? (Question posed by a designer in the film Objectified – a documentary film we were assigned to watch at the beginning of class.)

As a designer whose job IS to differentiate in the brand world, I had to let this one sink in a bit. And I confess. I like doing things that are different and unexpected. But as Michael pointed out, there is a difference between branding and the brand promise (the DNA of the product). This question helps to keep me in check and the user in mind when making decisions about the interaction, visual design, or the entire user experience of the product.

To say that it’s been an interesting and challenging process as a designer to evolve and adapt organically into an ever increasing and consuming digital space is an understatement. It can feel overwhelming at times. But this class brought back into perspective what I appreciate about UX design – the focus on human behavior and interaction. As a Japanese designer in the film Objectified stated, “Design needs to be plugged into natural human behavior.” So simple and yet so profound.

And so it all came together and hit me over my pear cider at the Elysian. As I look back on my journey as a designer, the constant and unwavering inspiration and motive throughout it all has been about connecting with human emotions and behaviors. (Check out my blog post on Reconciling Process and Intuition for more.) The practice of UX Design has increased my focus, given me a way to fine tune my intuition, and the language to articulate and formalize it as a process.

Posted on: September 7th, 2015 by audreyn

France Road Trip

I didn’t think we would be back to France so soon… Our curiosity of the French countryside and our newly found appreciation for all things wine were reasons enough to bring us back within a few years. This video is a glimpse of our road trip, from Paris to Provence and all the beautiful places in between.

The photos can be seen on Flickr.

Posted on: September 7th, 2015 by audreyn

Design Thinking and the Industrial Revolution

Originally posted on Phinney Bischoff

I was in New York City to attend Gain: AIGA Design and Business Conference. It was my first time there, and it did not disappoint. From the sea of yellow cabs, fashion that will stop you in your tracks, and the beautiful architectural skyline, it was everything I ever imagined and so much more.

Yellow cabs in front of The New York Times


Track suits


One World Trade Center


The conference centered around two days of listening to innovators and thought leaders from around the country and the world, all speaking on a central idea—design thinking is essential for radical change. The design principles that designers live by to create meaningful experiences with the end user—the human being—in mind are what’s needed to redesign systems, business, commerce, culture and society for not just a sustainable world, but a regenerative world that will thrive for generations to come. The business world is catching on and valuing creative leadership more than ever.

“Someone has to represent team human.”
Douglas Rushkoff, Author of “Present Shock: When Everything Happens Now.”

As we discussed the future, I was surprised at how much the speakers looked to the past.

Marty Neumeier and his inspiration from the hand prints found in the prehistoric Lascaux caves in southwestern France, reminded us how our biology hasn’t evolved that much over time but how our technology has.

Sanford Levinson challenged us to consider if the U.S. Constitution written for the 1787 America should have a sell-by or expiration date (like milk?). Asking the question, is it right to assume that the decisions made in 1787 should last forever?

And Roger Martin gave insight into the stock market and how the financial and real estate bubbles and crashes were not accidental but rather features of the fundamental design of the modern economy.

At Gain: AIGA Design and Business Conference in New York City. Conversation between Michael Bierut, Pentagram, and Roger Martin, author of “Fixing the Game,” on the Stock Market: It’s a Design Problem.


Various speakers referenced the Industrial Revolution and the age of machines and automation as the start of society, systems, economy, and more being established in a way that drives us further and further away from the value of creativity and human interaction.

“Everything we do is out of our humanity, so why do we leave it out.”
Bob Dunham, Founder, Institute for Generative Leadership

It’s like the artists during the Industrial Revolution brilliantly saw what was coming.

“Government Bureau,” 1956 by George Tooker, The Metropolitan Museum of Art.


It’s this connection to the Industrial Revolution and American history, with design thinking, which continued to resonate with me for the rest of my time in New York. As I visited The Metropolitan Museum of Art, Ground Zero, Rockefeller Center, Brooklyn, and even the subways, I saw these places and events not only through a first-time visitor’s eyes, but as a designer with renewed perspective and understanding of our history.

Ground Zero


Police officers outside One World Trade Center


Atlas statue outside Rockefeller Center, facing St. Patrick’s Cathedral.


The Brooklyn Public Library


Solider’s uniform and American flag displayed at a flea market.


Buildings and signal lights


Gyro stand outside The Metropolitan Museum of Art.


Just as it took a revolution to establish the society and culture we live in today–the good and bad–design thinking is a revolution leading to radical change in business, society, and government. And it’s important to remember that as designers, we represent team human.

I returned to Seattle feeling even more grateful for this awesome responsibility we have partnering with our clients. It truly is a privilege to go to work every day and be immersed in a team of smart creatives and clients, working on some pretty amazing projects.

As we enter into the new year, I’m challenged to look around in my life and ask, what are the things that are broken and that I’ve accepted as status quo? How can I apply design thinking to create more meaningful human experiences for a better tomorrow? And by extension, how can you?

More photos from New York on Flickr.

Posted on: April 12th, 2015 by audreyn

Japan Through the Eyes of a Seattleite

Originally posted on Phinney Bischoff

Every time I visit Japan there are so many new things to discover about the people, culture and food. Knowing how often I go back, a friend of mine once asked me, “Don’t you get tired of going there?”

What? No! Never.

Especially memorable about my recent visit was going from the very northern part of the country, Aomori, where my husband is from, to the southernmost prefecture, Okinawa, also known as Japan’s Hawaii. In between Aomori and Okinawa, we also visited Kyoto and Osaka, with a few nights in Tokyo. By going in March, we were able to experience the snowy winter in Aomori to the sunny beaches in Okinawa within a 2 week timeframe. This made packing for the trip very difficult, but also that much more fun and adventurous!

Snowy field in Aomori


Yakitori in Tokyo


With such a diverse range of cities, climates, and what promised to be amazing new food experiences, I made the decision to expand capturing my travel experiences from just photography to video.

Hence, the birth of my first travel video journal.

Inari Shrine in Kyoto


Kyoto Station



Needless to say, this video project was the most work I’ve ever done as a “hobby” (a.k.a. creative development), ever. I had to dig deep into my soul to complete this project, with numerous technical challenges and problems along the way—learning how to use a new camera, shooting video, adapting to new software, and endless hours of editing. Down from an hour long movie, to about 30 minutes, then 20 minutes, then 9 minutes (a more bearable length to watch and share with family and friends), to finally the one I’m sharing with you at the end of this post, about 5 minutes long.

Anime figures in Osaka


Books on the street in Osaka


This creative journey reminded me that anything worthwhile and meaningful takes investment of our precious time. (I seem to be reminded of this every time I travel.) It’s also when we are most passionate about our creative vision that gives us the energy, perseverance and patience to see it through. Shooting video gave me a unique perspective and lens for inspiration. Much like what still photography does for one’s appreciation of the world around us—from seeing beauty in the everyday things, to capturing the most breathtaking view—video opened up my eyes to observe and soak in even more. It was a labor of love.

Okinawa soba


Beach in Okinawa


Nothing will replace my passion and appreciation for photography. But it was the combination of both photography and video that more deeply captured the beauty and diversity of Japan through the humble eyes of a Seattleite.

UPDATE: I have decided to go back to sharing the original version. It’s the 9 minute version, which I understand in this day and age, it’s an eternity and many will not watch it. But as this is viewed through my eyes and a personal log of my trip, I’m not going to fret over that. 🙂

Posted on: April 12th, 2015 by audreyn

Taking Time to Cultivate Creativity

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The clock from Musée d’Orsay in Paris, France.

This is a post I originally wrote for Phinney Bischoff almost exactly a year ago today. Time is a ubiquitous subject matter that until I can hang out with Jesus in heaven for eternity, will continue to be a challenge, regardless of what you do for a living or what stage of life you are in. 

So as I spend this 4th of July with family and friends, being thankful for our freedom and for the service men and women who have and continue to fight for our freedom, I am also thankful for what I’ve been able to learn from the Europeans about taking time to be… present.


I’ve been thinking a lot about time lately… Definitely spurred on by my recent trip to Europe. My friend and I (who had also just come back from a European vacation) were going through Europe withdrawal together. As we were reminiscing about our amazing experience over dinner several weeks ago, we shared this same simple, but awesome observation–the Europeans know how to slow down and enjoy life. To essentially live in the moment, and not be rushed or hurried for time. This caused us to reflect on our own life and how we view time here back at home.

This is obviously a gross over-simplification and yes, stereotype of Europeans (and by default, Americans). It’s not meant to be. But there is a very real cultural and societal difference in how we Americans view time. It seems like we’re always running out of it and can never have enough–perpetually striving for more productivity and efficiency. Constantly asking, how can we fit in more and do more? We value it so much that in some ways, we’ve become very greedy with our time, professionally and personally.

The consequence of this is that while the value of time is increasing (i.e., time = money, efficiency, productivity, etc.), the value of creativity and thoughtfulness that are cultivated with time is rapidly decreasing.

The time required to develop meaningful relationships and dialogue with people, the thoughtfulness and creative thinking in our work, the attention we give to one single task at hand without being pulled (or choosing to be pulled) into a million other tasks. I can go on and on.

In that way, I think we’re missing out on something valuable that the Europeans seem to have gotten right. By focusing so much on maximizing productivity, we risk leaving behind or devaluing the intangible fruit that is hard to measure, but is foundational to our growth, development and yes, success.

Ironically, I was inspired by this Fast Company article that provides a different perspective on what being stingy with your time means, but leads to the same conclusion–you need time to cultivate creativity (and ultimately anything else that is meaningful and worthwhile). Of course, there is balance to everything, as this should not be a manifesto of sorts to excuse laziness… please.

Simply put, if we rush through life (or in more tangible terms, the process), we have to be willing to ask, what are we giving up? What are we missing out on? What brilliant idea or connection did we miss cultivating because we didn’t take the time?

Life is all about compromises of course, but as designers, the responsibility is on us to fiercely (but politely) protect and defend this grand pursuit.

Posted on: July 4th, 2014 by audreyn