Category: Miscellaneous Stuff

Random Thought – How does a UX designer become one?

I thought this round I’d post about an interesting conversation I had the other day with a fellow UX designer. I had invited him as well as a UI designer and his family over for dinner at our house- I had planned on grilling lots of good stuff outside with everyone being able to relax on the patio looking out at our expansive view, but being it was 105 outside at 5:00, well, my wife and I went with plan B by everyone just staying inside and doing barbecue indoors (crock pot and iron skillet..). And that worked out pretty well. But I digress.

The conversation was about how we all got involved in UX/UI design. My buddy Mark had studied Cognitive Science at UCSD. Zach and his family hadn’t arrived yet so I didn’t get to hear about his education. I commented that I was in fact a film student at UCSD (for a brief period) as I was working towards a film major (but with the dream of landing in Disney Imagineering as I loved to animate, draw, and engineer things), and that at the time I went there, they didn’t offer any classes in CogSci, or HCI, or Human Factors. As a matter of fact, no university was offering classes in anything computer/human related. No, I’m not that old.

Back in my day (which really wasn’t that long ago), we did have classes in computer science which consisted of BASIC, PASCAL, ForTran, and some other fun languages. So then the question came up of how I landed in UX Design, which is a good question. Being that my goal was to be a Disney Imagineer, I was reflecting yesterday how wonky my career path (and job history in general) has been, or at least seems to have been since the first job I had. But if I really look at where I am now, and know where I’m going to be eventually, then it all kind of makes sense.

So what’s my education in user experience design? Experience. Lots and lots of experience. My first job at 15 was as a video editor for a local TV real-estate show, and also working the front counter of the video rental business that was tied to it. That summer I worked as a graphic designer for a large sill-screen and T-shirt shop.  Then I went on to work for a mobile electronics shop (as in CB’s and car stereos) where I mostly did installs at 16, which then led to a retail job at a Radio Shack (when the employees knew electronics). That led to a job at Sea World, where I worked in retail (at Captain Kids ToyChest demoing magic tricks). I then ended up working at a pizza place- delivering pizzas, washing dishes, prepping food; and then another one at the same time. I then found myself working for 60 minute photo, which then led to a job working at a Famly Fun Center, where I fixed arcade machines, and occasionally had to dress up as a big Panda that loved miniature golf. Eventually I went back to Sea World to work in production in the entertainment department (I filmed the birth of a baby beluga which aired worldwide), and later with my comic robot for the beginning of Sea World Summer Nights), which then led to a job with a local TV station, and then a production company, and that led to a job working for the city schools as a multimedia production specialist. I also ended up teaching interactive multimedia at night school.

That led to a job with an interactive multimedia company as a programmer and project manager, which then led to me having my first company – a digital media studio, and that led to working in the web. And that led into industrial design (which I studied in college along with architecture). Which then led to working with designing ui’s and experiences for mobile devices as well as designing mobile devices. And then next thing I know I’m doing software design and interaction design at HP. Which lead to having a job as a real UX designer (okay, though I had been doing UX design already more than 10 years prior..). And now I’m designing UI’s for iOS and Android.

And that’s the experience I draw on every single day in order to create great experiences.





Random Thought (more or less) – Wake Up San Diego, UX is here

I read an interesting article posted this morning through the UX Professionals LinkedIn group, in regards to why UX salaries will continue to rise – the article is here.

It goes on to say that UX Designers and UX folk in general are in high demand but in short supply. Okay, I’ll buy that. I get that a lot from recruiters about how we are hard to find, especially good UX designers.

I’d say the software companies (custom solutions, government, video games, e-commerce) and retailers in the big markets get that, and the importance of UX design. Los Angeles, New York, Austin, Chicago, Seattle, Atlanta, the San Francisco surrounding bay area — they all get UX and covet the importance of having great user experiences designed. It’s mature in those areas. There are LOTS of openings for UX design folks in those places.

But somehow, the place I grew up in and love so much, San Diego, isn’t really getting it. I don’t know why, but it was kind of the same back when the web was forming. Those other places got it and San Diego was slow to the race. Okay, to be fair there are a few companies that get it, and there are single champions of UX in lots of companies shouting out loud how good UX is needed, the importance of it, and to the point of going hoarse because no one is really listening. In San Diego, for the most part, UX is a luxury. Most companies figure they have good developers who can code really well, and that’s good enough to get the job done.

The problem with that is even though developers make good code, they don’t have the insight to make a good product, or good customer experience. I often tell people that UX designers are like an architect and the developer is the builder. We listen to what a client wants and needs (we emote and listen to their feelings), and then design the perfect house or building (their app or website) for them. We design the plans, pick out the colors and furniture, or in some cases work with the interior designers to create a great experience. Then the builders come in, follow the plans, build it, and see the thoughts and vision come to life. THAT is one of the most amazing and rewarding parts of being a UX designer.

But a lot of companies are happy with having the builders. Until they hire or contract a UX designer. Then suddenly all the stuff they’ve built in the past pales in comparison to what the UX designer has created. And hopefully they get that UX design IS important. And sometimes they don’t.

So, when companies here in San Diego interview or are looking for a UX designer, most don’t seem to know what to look for. At least that’s been my experience as I’ve either worked on contract for, or interviewed at. Usually when I leave after an interview, it makes them consider really what UX is, and that they need to reassess their needs. The good thing is I’m helping them understand what UX design is. The bad thing is they then aren’t ready to hire – anyone.

Some want a UX designer who can do wireframes (check), interaction design (check), visual design (check) and program (uhh..). Okay, so three out of 4 ain’t bad. Some places I interviewed at have interviewed other UX designers who won’t even touch visual design (what??), and would rather farm it out (again, what????). Some want a UX designer who only wants to create wireframes… and some want them to come up with great ideas and leave all the other stuff to the experts.

So, I guess I’m not like a lot of UX designers, since I grew up drawing, designing, storytelling, engineering (you should see my plans for a flying Delorean..), taking really complicated things and making them simple, and yes, at one point even programming. Okay, so I don’t program now, but I get programming enough to know what can and can’t be done, to be able to look at code, or talk to coders and understand what they’re saying and respectfully speak their language enough that I don’t sound like some design lunatic. I can tell them what I want, point them to good examples, design out the kinetics so they get what the experience is supposed to be for the customer, user, audience.

I’m very passionate about great user experience design. And there are a lot of great user experience designers here in San Diego. It’s time companies stopped relying on doing so-so, “good enough” projects, whether they’re e-commerce, government, educational, consumer, marketing, or even entertainment based.

Time to wake up San Diego. UX is here and we’re ready to do great things.

And that’s my Random Thought for the day.

Greg – Renaissance something or other guy.

Design – Taking the Complicated and Making it Simple

I love to find ways to make something simple out of something that can be so complicated when it comes to designing an app or product. I just have this innate feeling that no matter how complicated something can be functionally, for the end user that something should be the most simple approach to create a great experience.

There’s some great examples of very complicated products or devices we use everyday, that in the end are a very simple solution for the end-user. The iPhone, the iPod, the iPad, a toaster, a clock, a pen, a mouse – and so on.

Usually in software development, a business case is made along with requirements, and sometimes those requirements are very complicated. I tend to have some crazy idea pop in my head (really!), especially when put on the spot and there’s no real time to do research, or flesh things out, that almost all the time solves a complicated problem in a very simple way. It’s something I’ve done since I was very small (I’m now very tall..), and maybe it comes from approaching things from both a user perspective, and sometimes a child-like innocence as well.

So it dawned on me today during a conversation to use a leaf as an analogy for design from both the complicated to simple.

To the average person (the user let’s say) a leaf is nice looking, pretty, leafy.

When the seasons change, it changes color- still leafy and pretty to the passerby.

And that’s the simplicity of a leaf- at least to the user.

Now for the fun part…

Ever look at a leaf up close? Really up close? There is a LOT of coding going on in one of those little guys. Complicated coding.

First off, look at all the structure. Lots and lots of structure. There is no mistake in what’s going on in a leaf. Next, it converts carbon dioxide into breathable air. Nothing else does this as easily or efficiently. Who thought of this? (answer: God)  And the whole changing colors thing? WOW!  Millions of people flock to the east coast to watch the changing of the colors…

So next time you’re designing and developing an app or product, think of the leaf.


Random Thought – An interesting morning…

I have a Honda Rune. Google it.. really..just Google it.

When people ask what I ride – after they’ve seen me walk into work with my helmet, or see it at my desk, they ask “So, what do you ride”. I tell them, and either they say “Oh, nice” (they really don’t know what I’m talking about..), or look puzzled, and in either case I tell them to Google it.

At the bottom of this I’ll post a pic. But Google it, because the pictures of it only tell maybe a tenth of a story about a bike Honda decided to make for only 2 years, at what’s reported at a production cost of $100,000 per bike. So, the best guess is there were only 3,000 made, and a quite a few were shipped to Japan, and then deduct how many were wrecked by bad riders, etc.

As a kid, I loved cool muscle cars, as did my older brother, which was something that was in us from birth, and my dad was more than happy to help us along in that when he brought home a 1971 Ford Ranchero Boss GT with the 429 Cobra Jet engine and Hurst shifter… yeah…I’d say we were pretty lucky to have such an education. I think almost all boys, and some girls – my wife loved muscle cars since she was a kid as her dad had an appreciation for them, and my daughter digs old muscle cars t0o – get it.

So it’s no wonder when they see a Rune, which pretty much doesn’t look like most of the other bikes out there nor sounds like one – it’s been said the sound of a Rune, as well as accounts from people I know who have commented on it, is akin to: An angry Porsche 944, a Corvette, a 1971 Mustang GT fastback, a 1970 Camaro SS…and even a p51 Mustang airplane in flight..

All I know is it sounds cool, like a muscle car, and not a Harley or crotch rocket.

The other day I decided to ride into work- I ride the Rune in pretty much 2-3 times a week depending on weather, or if it’s really foggy in the morning (won’t ride), and so on. I take the same route every time though.
But the other day was different, because I was at a stoplight on the bike in front of a church pre-school, specifically the yard area where all the kids are playing in the morning.
As I was sitting there, I looked over to see them playing, and noticed not one, but 4 or 5 boys at first stop what they were doing, and run up to the fence to check out the Rune. They waved as I looked over, I waved back. Then a few more came to look, until there were about 10 or so kids staring at the bike.
As the light turned green, I revved up the Rune and went, watching as they stood motionless, heads followed, mouths open and eyes locked on this rolling piece of art.

That was a pretty cool morning.

User Experience Design — What is it?

This question seems to come up often. Not just from people who ask me what it is when I tell them what I currently do for a living- “You’re a what?” or “What kind of designer?” or more often just a puzzled look from people like deer in oncoming headlights.

However, this question was posed to me by a past boss (well, he was the manager of the department I worked for when contracting with HP, so he was kind of a boss for me). His question was “What is User Experience Design?”, to which I gave him some pat answer about how UX folks look at software (which I was doing at that time) and figure out how to make it a more engaging and user-centered or user-friendly experience, whether it was a website or mobile app, or software you use on your computer.

His response – user experience design is much more than that, and it mean something different to different people. The problem is I gave him the answer I thought he wanted to hear, since I was hired to do software design (both interaction design and user experience design), and wanted to show I knew what I was doing. However, my mind and heart always believed it went way beyond that.

There’s been a lot of talk or words thrown about in regards to user experience design, or even user-centered design. And as I mentioned earlier, most people think it falls into software or web design. To some degree, that’s where it is needed a lot — there are too many websites and apps that just don’t work. Not just little small company sites, but huge sites that belong to mega-corporations.

But I believe that UX touches everything we do, or at least it should. When people say to me “A what?”, my answer is that we, as user experience designers, find ways to make the things people use everyday easier, simpler, and more engaging. That can be an app, a website, a device, a product, theme park attractions (and even the theme park itself, which is the main attraction), vehicles, a coffee cup, luggage for your motorcycle (I mention this because I designed aerodynamic luggage for motorcycles), and other everyday things we encounter and use all the time.

I believe in all that. My desire is to be doing any of those whenever and wherever needed. My brain is always on go, thinking of the next cool thing or how something can be made better, whether it’s something as simple as a stapler, to something as big as an attraction at Disneyland. I want to be known as an Experience Inventor.

The problem is people see my resumé, or my profile on LinkedIn, and peg me as someone with a lot of IT experience and think my goal is to be a user experience designer in IT/apps/software. And to be honest, there have been a number of jobs I’ve had that are IT based. But there’s also film work and video production which were my first loves, but I had a knack to change with the times as interactive multimedia and then the web surfaced, and I survived and adapted.

Yes, I know IT pretty well. I like working in IT, and doing user experience design in app development. The majority of my friends I have known for a long time all think  I should be an Imagineer – they’ve seen the entertainment robot I built when I was 15 (and had a pretty good business running at Sea World, local malls, and parties in La Jolla), my video and animation work, my photography, graphic design work, and currently my full-size interactive replica of R2D2 that I’m working on.

The bible says “I can do all things through Him.”  To me that has always been true. I have no other way to explain how I’ve been able to learn things quickly, adapt to jobs I’ve never done, succeed in everything I’ve attempted when I probably should have never attempted things in the first place. I’m an inventor, creator, designer, entrepreneur, problem-solver and more.

I’m Greg Schumsky- Experience Designer  Inventor.

And thank you for taking time to read this post.


Random Thoughts — The Wireless Mobile Web

We’ve been pretty much accustomed to having web access the past number of  years now on laptops, tablet PC’s or home computers thanks to WiFi, and even more so since the introduction of Apple’s iPhone.

Since the iPhone came out, and gave people true web access from anywhere without having to carry multiple devices, letting us view the web the way it was designed (anyone who had a Blackberry device and tried web surfing pre-iPhone knows what I’m talking about), it now seems all the phone makers have followed suit with their smartphones, hoping to be the ultimate iPhone killer.

This post is not so much about the iPhone, or other smartphones, but something I wrote about nearly 8 years ago. While at Stellcom, I was pretty hot about where we’d be in less than 10 years with technology and devices we could carry in our pockets that would let us surf the web, see movie previews as we drove past a theatre, and even buy tickets. This was before the advent of 3G. There wasn’t a 3G network, and we were still pretty much in what was the first generation phone or data network – eg it was very slow for any data transfers.

So, I present to you a white paper I wrote on what I called the wireless video world, though I do talk about how wireless devices would allow us to do so much more. I focused on video because I was really into video production and streaming, knowing someday soon people would be able to watch real time video on handheld wireless devices (FloTV anyone?).

Qualcomm hadn’t even begun to work on it yet, but a small company in San Diego called Packet Video had, though what they offered could be considered at the time something similar to the very early days of Apple’s QuickTIme — 5 frames per second video sent in packets to one’s handheld device. Note that only some phones allowed this as well as some early handheld devices, tethered via WiFi. The Blackberry could not – it was merely a portable email device when it first hit the streets.

So, I give to you the white paper I wrote. Keep in mind this was written about 8 years ago. Though my writing has improved over the years (whose doesn’t?), you should get the gist of what I was getting at at the time. I don’t consider myself any kind of futurist or Svengali of Technology. At the time I was just a senior designer, but I  wanted to take my best guess as where technology should be heading.  I think I came pretty close, but I’ll let you decide.

Although the paper was in it’s second draft (I never got to finish it), I challenge you to look at what I predict in it, and then look at what we have available today, less than 10 years later.


Web Design — Online Portfolios

I’m a big fan of LinkedIn. Not so much for all of the network connections I have (which til now have not proven to be of much value…), but more for the different groups one can join and contribute to as well as learn from. All of the groups, unlike Facebook or mySpace are designed by professionals for professionals.

One recent post under the Creative Design Professionals group had a link to a pretty great post focused on people’s online portfolios. The question was should designers spend the time creating a web site for their portfolio from scratch, thus showing off their mad web skillz (yes,that’s a Z), or use some third party tech and a template. I highly believe in creating a portfolio site from scratch using the latest web technology (web 2.0, Joomla, or whatever a designer is comfy with).

HOWEVER, if a designer is busy working making a living, and really doesn’t have time to focus on building a site from the ground up, then by all means I do feel that one should and could use a template or otherwise to get their site up quickly in order to generate more work. Just because it begins with a template doesn’t mean it has to look like everyone else’s site. Also, the focus should be on the content of what that designer has worked on — i.e. their portfolio. And sometimes templates keep designers from making mistakes with how their site is laid out, no matter how good of a designer they are.

A portfolio site should be easy for your customers or future clients, and or future employers to easily navigate so they can see your work, find your samples quickly, and not have to go on a treasure hunt within your site to find your best work. The website points this out perfectly, because that designer realized how badly his portfolio sucked, and wanted to prevent other designers from making the same mistakes.

Admittedly, my portfolio site at was built with Apple’s iWeb. Yes, I could have spent countless hours making it in html, or some web 2.0 tech, or even Joomla or otherwise, but my focus wasn’t on all the programming. It was on the design of the site and all of my design, animation and video work, and I really wanted to get it up quickly, while making sure the site was easy to use and my work easy to find. So sue me.

I love Apple products and how they work without me needing to put a ton of time into making the software work, and I can spend more time on the creative process. I have yet to see anyone else’s online portfolio that looks like mine as far as the look and feel. And it’s easy to use and navigate. Plus there aren’t all the tiny thumbnail images that are some part of a bigger image. Bleh.

Meanwhile as I wait for more work, I’m busy designing a sound recording studio here at home for my daughter, who by the way is a pretty amazing singer — yes I get to say that because I’m her dad, but I’ll let you be the judge of her singing ability. Check out her youtube video here: After Hours.

Or I suggest you listen to some of her work, admittedly recorded by her and her friend on her MacBook and is on her mySpace music page. We’re building the studio so she can cut a better sounding demo, and get some of her tracks up on iTunes. Having been an audio engineer early in my career path (which that path looks like it was designed by someone who can’t draw a straight line…), this should be both fun and rewarding for both of us.

I’ll post some pics of the studio when it’s done.

Website Design — Chevy’s Transform Your Garage

I just got an email today from Chevrolet to enter their “Transform your garage” contest. In it you can win one of two Chevy vehicles, including a Camaro or Corvette  — the only reasons to really enter IMO. So I clicked on the email and was transported to the site here: Pretty slick site as can be seen in the screen grab, including an animated Bumblebee from Transformers.

Chevy Transform Your Garage site

Nicely done Flash piece but with some minor flaws. First, the images of the cars on the right scroll up and down so you can select your two cars. Good idea, but if you roll over a car just wrong, it pops up the description, and then leaves you there so you really can’t scroll up more or down to see the cars off screen. Second, when getting to the part to fill in your information to enter the contest, they present you with a standard pop-up calendar to enter your birthdate. I ended up having to hold down the left arrow button to scroll all the way back to 1963 for the year, which took a while. It was only after that I noticed the next entry field that let me select my birth year. They should have gone with 3 drop downs- Month, Day and Year. Simple enough.

Lastly, the biggest flaw, which isn’t related to the site’s design — they don’t offer as part of the sweepstakes to really have one’s garage transformed. I was kind of hoping that meant new shelving and storage, a cool checkered floor, insulation, good lighting, a nice work area — something worthy of putting a new Camaro or Corvette in….

Some Great Reads for the Creative Mind

I’ll admit I’m a fan of Disney, specifically the work of the Imagineers- those men and women who took Walt’s ideas for a theme park that could be enjoyed by both kids and adults alike and made them reality. I’ve had a thing for Imagineering since I was very young — around the age of 6 if I remember correctly. My family made the long hour and a half trek to Disneyland from San Diego, and I remember being completely impressed by the shiny white architecture of Tomorrowland, and even had a picture of myself with two “astronauts” — a man and woman in white space outfits and big dome helmets. It was so cool.

I already had an affection for mid-century architecture before I realized it, and this was the epitome of where mid-century design was going to go in my mind. I hadn’t known about the Imagineers until watching an episode of the “Wonderful World of Disney” and Walt did a piece on them. It was then I knew what I wanted to be when I grew up (okay, when I became an adult…).

So, here I was at Disneyland, enthralled by Tomorrowland. Sure, the Imagineers created all the other areas of the park, but those were things that already existed somewhere. But Tomorrowland was something from pure imagination, and to me seemed to be a lot more difficult to create than the other “lands”.

In my ongoing quest to be an Imagineer someday, I came across some great books on Amazon, which I think are great resources for anyone who has any creativity within them. The first is “Designing Disney” by John Hench. A great book on how Disneyland was actually designed, involving show, character, color and story.

The next two books I recommend are “The Imagineering Workout” and “The Imagineering Way“, both great reads for anyone who has any level of creativity within them, needs inspiration, and wants to work out their creative muscles.

And if you know anyone high up in Imagineering, tell them I can begin working for them right away.

Where are all the jobs?

As I mentioned in my last post, it seems like there’s not a lot of work to be had in sunny San Diego, Ca- my hometown where I grew up and have never left. In the past, there seemed to be tons of work in video production, multimedia, IT, the Web, etc.  Lots of very talented and creative people, and lots of work to go around.

However, it now seems to be not so easy these days to find good paying work in San Diego. Sure, most any San Diegan can tell you the pay scale here has always been a bit lower than other big cities due to what everyone refers to as the “Sunshine Tax”, but that doesn’t help in that the cost of living here is very high. Always has been and most likely always will be.

So, as I’ve been scouring job boards, Craigslist (yep, I’ve sunken to checking Craigslist), company websites- the fact of the matter is most all creative, IT, multimedia, video and so on jobs are north of San Diego, starting in Orange County and then getting denser the closer you get to LA. Even my wife who’s background in purchasing is finding that most the jobs for that are in about the same areas. Sure, I’ve found some great ads for jobs here, applied for them, sent nice cover letters, but never get a call back, and I think I’ve figured out why. Even though most don’t advertise what they want to pay for someone with say 10 years experience ( I have way more than that), some on Craigslist do say they pay $35-50k per year. So my guess is most the jobs I’ve applied for that seem like a perfect match won’t even consider me because they know I need more than that, which breaks down to about $20 or so an hour.

The big question is, how does anyone in San Diego survive on that, unless you’re fresh out of college (which means you don’t have 10 years experience), don’t have a mortgage, take public transportation, don’t have a family to support, don’t eat often, or have two or more jobs to make ends meet. Even freelance work which used to be in abundance seems to be far and few between as companies are cutting back on media production services for now. I’d be happy for now to be working a full-time gig at something reasonable and doing freelance work at night, which I used to do all the time. I would rather be working full time with a decent salary so I could be home to hang out with my wife and kids, help with homework, and enjoy evenings with them, but beggars can’t be choosers.

It’s either that or move to LA (or Orange County CA), which my wife and kids have agreed that we need to go where the work is, and trust in where God wants to put us. And to be honest, LA seems very exciting and I felt a very long time ago that’s where I’d eventually end up working.

In the meantime, I want to wish all of you looking for jobs the best of luck.