My online portfolio, www.kbellamartin.com turned eight years old this past January. (Happy belated birthday, old pal!) When I originally designed the site in 2002, my goal was simple: to build a platform that would help me meet the requirements of the CMU Master of Design program admission process. (Which it did. Thank God.)
Fast forward eight years. During that time I’ve embarked on two site redesigns. Both times, I was surprised at how much I enjoyed the process, the gratifying and intense state of flow, and as with all things that are a labor of love, the pride in the end result. (ta da! Here’s the latest:)
During the most recent redesign last May, I tried to pinpoint exactly why I was getting so much enjoyment out of the process. After all, as an Information Architect and Design Manager, coding lines of PHP and pushing pixels are not what I would traditionally call my strengths.
So here’s what I came up with. The first thing I realized is how good it felt to …
Stop the Gratuitous Excuses
I for one am not okay being the proverbial cobbler whose kids do not have shoes. Just because I architect web sites for a living, doesn’t mean I deserve a get-out-of-jail free card when it comes to building my own site. And yes, I do realize how seductive it is to use it as an excuse. I mean, we are all busy, right? And the last thing we need is another item on our to-do list. We do this stuff all week, why would we want to spend our free time doing more of it? Well, that leads me to my next point. An online portfolio provides us each with an opportunity to articulate and visualize our processes, projects and personalities in one tidy package. Investing the time in your online portfolio will make you…
A more well-rounded designer
After rebuilding the site twice now, I’ll be the first to admit that it may seem counter-intuitive (illogical! preposterous!) to take on tasks that are outside of our areas of expertise. But it actually is quite a luxury to wear all of the hats that are necessary in pulling off a successful design project. I personally love the feeling of taking ownership of everything that has to get done, and if things go wrong, I only have myself to blame. Whether it succeeds or fails beautifully is entirely up to me.
The fact of the matter is, I love all of the roles that go into designing user experiences, I just don’t get to do them everyday. The redesigns provided me with an opportunity to stretch and build the mental muscles I don’t usually get to flex. A few of the roles I had to step up to the plate and do include becoming an:
- Art director
- Information Architect
- Content Strategist
- Visual Designer
- Interaction Designer
- Developer / Coder
- Usability Evaluator
- Quality Assurance Tester, and occasionally…
Without fail, after wearing these hats (and perhaps a few others), I not only learn a few things but I also get a….
Deeper appreciation for the work of others
Oh yes, the flip side. We don’t always want to consider how hard it is to walk a mile in someone else’s shoes. And yes, I’d be lying if I didn’t admit that some of the tasks associated with these roles take me a REALLY long time. There is a lot of trial and error, rewriting, saving copies and backups during a redesign.
But frustration is an important part of the process. The act of actually doing all of these tasks (particularly coding) renews my appreciation for what the awesome folks in these full-time roles do have to do. Although I don’t love to code, I do love knowing enough about it so that I can have an intelligent conversation and be taken seriously. It makes me a better designer, a better manager, and better at calling BS when someone claims something is “impossible.” Ultimately, all these valuable lessons learned from hands-on experience will help you….
Get more respect
Think about it…how can I expect others to embrace what I am preaching about UX while I stand by and make no attempt whatsoever to understand what they do? When tensions rise, I can usually bring a conversation back to center by reminding my colleagues—usually in their terms—that I know where they are coming from. A little understanding goes a long way in building bridges (and talking people down from ledges).
I’ve also found that people will give you props for breaking out of your comfort zone. If you aren’t a writer but start a blog, or not a developer but install and tweak the hell out of a WordPress theme, people will sit up and notice. Stepping outside of our regular boundaries, and putting our work out there for the world to judge doesn’t necessarily evoke the warmest of feelings. It can actually be pretty scary. But demonstrating that you have vision, the ability to execute on that vision, and the guts to put your work out in the public domain will both open doors for you and contribute to….
Expanding the UX Platform
I am a firm believer that to grow UX as a discipline, we each need to take responsibility for building our individual platforms, and articulating our value and purpose to the world. To me, a “platform” includes everything that could come up about you on Google: whether it is your blog, Twitter, LinkedIn, Delicious, Flickr, or your online portfolio site. All of these things shape what people see about you and in turn, will define you. (If they aren’t finding anything about you, I fear that too will define you.) An online portfolio gives you a chance to find a voice for your creativity. If you’ve got something to say, say it! And if you think that the personal site is disappearing, first check out some of the amazing ones out there and then make your decision.