Career Path, Skill Development and Future Planning

What Brought Me Here

Raised in a home of graphic design influence and the privilege of having some of the first Macs around the house it’s no surprise I’m where I stand today. I took my high school’s 2 year immersive AV course using news room quality equipment. Then though the Art Institute of Dallas’s curriculum to get an Associates Degree in Computer Animation and Multimedia.

I moved to Austin, TX in 1996 and have been working in the multimedia and now web industry ever since. After working at several boutique firms I started my own one man full service web design shop. I focused on design (writing some XHTML and CSS) and online strategy for small businesses and would manage contractors for the rest of my client’s needs. After running the business for 10 years I sold it in 2011 to take a job as a Program Manager in Digital Marketing at Dun and Bradstreet.

I’ve been missing the creative and design side of my career recently and I’ve decided to become a freelancer again to give myself the opportunity to sharpen my skills and become a more solid designer.

To Stay On or Off the Beaton Path

Being an independent entrepreneur I’ve learned two things. It’s very difficult and it’s very fulfilling. However, working for a larger company offers a clear and accomplishable career path. It typically provides the training, mentorship and practice opportunity for a sure fire decent career. As long as the work culture has standard hours and stress levels, there’s still plenty of time left in the week to pursue other hobbies and projects to make you a complete person.

This is my career safety net. This is also my baseline to improve from. I consider myself somewhat risk averse and should start here. When I’m here though my urge  of being an artist and entrepreneur typically eats away at me until I go for it again. I’m ok with this cycle. My only fear is that by being the “generalist” I’ve become less attractive than a specialist, which is what company’s consider when hiring.

As the Design Specialist

Being a digital designer has grown quite complex in the past several years. Even to the point where one can’t be great at all the skills required to make a digital product. It’s time to choose what skills you have that shape you as a designer. Here are mine.

I consider my self a well rounded designer taking a user-centric approach and also design solutions that are easy to build and improve upon. I engage in standard user experience design methods for research and ideation. Research methods include surveys, interviews, screen recordings, and web analytics. Design deliverables include personas, flows, sitemaps, and wireframes.  I have a firm grasp on these currently.

As a front end designer I have extensive experience in creating the visual design of web pages in Photoshop. My current goal is to gain the front end development skills to code the pages as well. I need more experience in writing the HTML/CSS and some JavaScript. I write some code currently but easily get stuck and spend hours where I should be spending minutes. I need the ability to switch from Photoshop to code at any time during the design phase to speed up the delivery of the product. I like the idea of rapid prototyping and getting working pages out much quicker to polish the details with code later. I see this as the industry best practice and where I need my skills in order to be a mid-high level digital designer. I see my self always more of a UX and visual designer in my career and less of developer. However writing HTML and CSS is required if you really know your medium.

As the industry evolves I will along with it. Going from web to apps to mobile to wearables. I will practice UX design, Lean process and trust in metric driven design to measure what is working. As user demands and trends change so will my designs and code but not my core foundation in user-centric design.

As the Artist and Entrepreneur

Creating and publishing content or apps of topics that interest me will always be a desire of mine. Making these sustainable and profitable will be the work. There are many hats to wear when making products in the digital age. Writing front end code is probably not one of the more important ones. However when making prototypes or editing existing web pages or templates, having this skill will be very handy.

In five years from now I can see my self, either solo or with partners, with a few websites or web properties that allow me to publish content, sell products or tend to a community of people focused on a particular topic. Some of these areas include eco travel, physical training, diet and nutrition. One successful project I’ve released so far is I plan to expand this one and perhaps start a couple more.

These types of projects require more time in the areas of market research, content strategy, analytics, and product roadmaps. When self funded and rapid prototyping, being able to do the front end development can give me a great startup cost advantage.

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