A Sudden Clarity

Have you ever known that you need to do something? Not like, pee or throw up, but kind of. It’s the thing that I know is what what my whole design career this far leads to: User Experience Design, aka UX. It combines human motivations, psychology, research, strategy, efficiency, design, and functionality all into one position. Sure, it pays ridiculously well and there aren’t a ton of us out there so we’re in demand but aside from that, I know in my heart that this is what my next step needs to be.

I spent this week at an Internet Retailer convention here in Chicago, per my employer’s instructions. From Tuesday through Friday, I sat in breakout sessions and took notes, trying hard to glean knowledge from those in better positions than I, who spoke about the highs and lows of running a business that exists in some large and small ways, online. Mine doesn’t, not really. My company is of the, shall we say, “old school” where it makes far more sense to spend a lot of money on the printing and mailing of 1,100 physical newsletters than it does to upgrade a website that has not changed much since – no exaggeration here – 1999. Spinning globes as bullet points, teeeeeeeeeeeny tiny text boxes in a sea of background color, two pages that say the same thing, it’s brutal and frankly, I almost never refer to it. So when they told me they wanted to send me to a convention where I should surely pick up knowledge to move the company forward (ostensibly), I was excited. I’d only been to conventions that had to do with the food service industry and even then, as a booze moocher and voyeur. And hey, paid to be out of the office in a classroom setting!

By Wednesday, I had hoofed through the exhibit hall at a desperate pace, deftly avoiding “HI PENNY! CAN I TALK TO YOU FOR A MINUTE?!” coming at me from left, right, and dead center. I didn’t need to speak to online payment processing companies, we don’t really do that. I said, “no thanks” to multiple ecommerce websites and packaging supply reps. Even in speaking to an email marketing company, it felt futile since I knew it was a company my boss wasn’t interested in. I am though, especially for my beer group emails, so it was exactly the only serious exhibitor conversation I had in two days’ worth of wandering the booths. What was I doing there? I wasn’t entirely sure.

Then Thursday came and my pre-selected classes had mostly the same theme, which was a happy accident in my favor. With a general theme of, “Is your website working?”, those sessions focused on something that has become a big deal for me: UX/UI, or, User Experience Design.

When I started at my company in February, my boss let me know that he was in the process of building a website and app meant to be used by a subset of our employees. He knew what it wanted to do, but had no idea how it should look. After much miscommunication on methodology, I chose the colors, designed the logo, built buttons and modals, and do lots of aesthetic upkeep. We tackled many questions, the software engineer and I. Did this element work? No, we already said this over here, and it will confuse people to click this button twice, etc. The SE and I poured over details and he made changes based on my suggestions. I was swimming deep in a UX sea that I didn’t even know existed. Turned out, I’d been doing it for years and now, a deep passion develops.

As time went on at the office, I learned how much I truly didn’t (and don’t) know about building functional apps and websites, which is a lot…it could fill a room. HTML and Javascript are still mysteries to me, though getting clearer. The attempt to communicate to code-builders by someone who has only ever done print was comical, and probably very common. So I attended a free info session about learning front end web design skills in a General Assembly class, basically to know what is possible in a build. I can’t very well tell the SE to do a thing if I can’t articulate what should be done using his own language. The class at GA is over three grand, a tough sell to the bosses. Online classes are ok, but I don’t learn well that way since I get very distracted with an open computer in front of me and can’t ask questions as they rise.

I brought the class results back to my boss who asked if he could try to find me something cheaper. I said ok and listed my time/day preferences. He sounded supportive, and a week passed. A while later, he mentioned our company’s busy season was approaching and that it would likely be put off to fall. Disappointed but understanding, I went to my desk and continued to do some of the work I was hired for as a Marketing Manager. As the days went by, I realized that the majority of my work, as it happened, had very little to do with that title. My time is spent about 75% doing graphic design, 5% marketing, and 20% administrative (other peoples’ admin duties, she said bitterly). The marketing plan that I researched, poured over, built and stressed about presenting is, sadly, lining birdcages and will likely never see the light of day again.

I am not a marketing manager, not in any real way. I don’t have business cards, I don’t have a budget. What I have is an empty title and don’t do much with it. UX is calling me and it’s where I need to be, but without the support of my company and the space to transition, I will effectively be parked in a holding position indefinitely. My boss wants to see me make the move, he’s said he needs someone in that position and would like it to be me, but I’ve also seen his hands tied or completely lopped off by the upper management, who don’t understand the needs to modernize and upgrade technology the way he does. It’s entirely possible that my wagon is tethered to someone who is also on hold, I don’t know.

I’m not ready to leave this job yet. that’s not my intention anyway, nor is it time for an ultimatum. However, now that I know this is what I am meant to do, everything else feels like it’s either taking me further away from it, or is time-killing and not moving me forward. I am impatient by nature, but this is a different animal. Graphic design is my first love, I have no qualms about doing it at work. The rub is all the other stuff. Updating social media seems fruitless, few refer to it. Admin jobs that are not my department even more so. Itchy feet are borne of this kind of misuse, I’ve been here before and know it can happen. My intention is to go to his office on Monday and tell him of my time at the convention and this intense revelation about a new path, and my intention to pursue it. Reading between the lines, he may realize it’s best to get behind me on it as soon as possible. If there is no urgency to move me into that position, then I may have to ready my resume, not something I entirely want to do. I keep going back to that moment in When Harry Met Sally, where *spoiler* Harry finally realizes he wants to be with Sally and says,

“…when you realize you want to spend the rest of your life
with somebody, you want the rest of your life to start as soon as possible.”

But in the meantime, I’ve joined UX groups and meetups, looked into UX and design conventions later in the year, and am single-minded in hot pursuit. I’m coming for you, future. Ready or not.

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