Jen takes is behind the scenes of the This Old House redesign, why navigation excites her, and how Wordpress led her into UX design.  You can also find Jen on Twitter @Shadow4611.

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This Episode's Guest

Jen Witkowski

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Jen Witkowski is passionate about creating well-architected websites that provide a great user experience for desktop and mobile devices.
Transcript

Transcript

Chris Albrecht:
Today I am going behind the screens with Senior UX Designer, Jen Witkowski from Lullabot. Hi Jen.
Jen Witkowski:
Hi, how are you?
Chris Albrecht:
I'm wonderful. How are you doing?
Jen Witkowski:
I'm doing pretty well.
Chris Albrecht:
Excellent. Thanks for taking a little time to talk to me today.
Jen Witkowski:
Yeah, no problem.
Chris Albrecht:
Tell me a little bit about yourself and how long you've been at Lullabot and what you do there.
Jen Witkowski:
I am, as you've mentioned, a Senior UX Designer living in Buffalo, New York. It does not snow here every day, we actually do get a summer. We have air conditioners. Somebody had recently asked me, they're like, do you have air conditioners up there? I was like, yes we do.
And I've been at Lullabot for a little bit over three years now. Holy cow, it's been three years. [inaudible 00:00:55] over three years. And I work along with our design team, I help ... Let's see if I can articulate this. I basically help create great user experiences for websites. Most of the time they're large content managed websites that our team builds out, but sometimes they're smaller engagements where we're just wire framing a couple ideas for a client so they can move forward with an idea that they have in their head.
Chris Albrecht:
You work with the design team here at Lullabot, but they're not always for Lullabot clients? The design team is actually getting their own clients?
Jen Witkowski:
Yeah. The design team does get approached from clients who just want a design engagement and not design and development engagement. I should say design and strategy engagement. A lot of times we work with the strategy team, which is merged into one now, strategy and design team. We work alongside our two strategists to take a look at problems, analyze the problems and [inaudible 00:02:03] solutions.
Chris Albrecht:
Gotcha. What are some of the projects you've worked on lately or can you pick out one project that was especially fun to work on?
Jen Witkowski:
A couple years ago we worked on This Old House. And that was a dream client for me because I grew up with This Old House. I grew up watching it. We got the magazine in our house, and when I purchased my first house I also subscribed to the magazine. So it was a dream project to actually work on the site to make it a better experience for everybody who have been long-time fans like me who use it as a resource or to watch the videos, and it was great to go onsite and actually meet some of the people in person that I've heard about or you see in the credits running across the screen at the end of a show. And you're like, oh you're that person.
Chris Albrecht:
That's fun. Get a little starstruck with it?
Jen Witkowski:
Yeah.
Chris Albrecht:
What was, on that project, This Old House project, what was your favorite piece to work on there? What was really fun about that project?
Jen Witkowski:
I think one of my favorite pieces was working with the navigation. Their navigation that they had on the original site was very complex and there was a lot of duplicate categories and different main navigational categories, and it was very confusing. Very overwhelming to the user, and we bounced some ideas off of each other while we were at the onsite and we decided to very much simplify the navigation to basically four main categories. Instead of, I think they had eight or nine. We did some usability testing against it. It tested pretty well. So we decided to move forward with it, and so far from what I've known, it's been a success.
Chris Albrecht:
I don't think I've ever heard anyone say, I really liked working on the navigation before.
Jen Witkowski:
It was definitely an interesting challenge. Just because we were trying to decide ... We basically broke the navigation up into user modes. Thinking about the user and what they're going to the site for. It ended up being that they were going to either watch This Old House videos of the show. They were looking for inspiration, so they're gonna redo a kitchen and they wanna see photos of other kitchens to get ideas on what they could do. Or they can ... or how tos, which is basically the step-by-step on how to build a deck.
Chris Albrecht:
Excellent. So you really kind of brought the navigation to where the users got value out of each one. It was easy to pick between the options, kind of like, I kind of want that category, but I think I also want this category.
Jen Witkowski:
Yeah. It's very straightforward basically.
Chris Albrecht:
I can imagine when you actually have that user's response that you can see when you're doing the usability testing, it must be really rewarding when you see people getting it, something you designed and people are like, yes, that makes sense to me.
Jen Witkowski:
Yes. And we did usability testing across lots of different age groups and lots of different people who were versed in the web. One of the usability, one of the participants [inaudible 00:05:35] of my mother, who doesn't know about the web. She uses her computer to go to her Facebook and that's basically it. She didn't know that Google was a thing. And she got the navigation. It was very easy for her. And then we did some usability testing for people who have lots of different, who have lots of experience on the web, who have several accounts set up, he used Dropbox and who have Gmail. They also found it very straightforward. We wanted to make sure because This Old House does have a wide range of people who do use the site who are fans. We wanna make sure that it was usable for everybody.
Chris Albrecht:
That's excellent. So we've talked a little bit about what you really like about this project. Tell me something that's been a really unique challenge for you lately that you had to overcome.
Jen Witkowski:
Let's see here. I'm working with a client now who is looking to improve their onboarding experience for a product that they have. This client doesn't have a lot of budget to spend, so we're looking for ways to slightly improve the onboarding experience for users within a very, very limited budget. That's been a challenge at this point because basically the onboard experience does need a little bit more love, but at this point they don't have enough time or budget to give it that love, so we're trying to figure out okay, how can we improve this just 10% or what are the small things that we can do to make the biggest improvements without spending a lot of money. That's been an interesting challenge [inaudible 00:07:27].
Chris Albrecht:
The classic budgetary hands tied behind you back clients.
Jen Witkowski:
Yeah. And she's a great client to work with. We've worked with her for a couple of years now, and I really believe in her product and what she's doing and what she's trying to promote and get everybody involved in. It's like I really, really just wanna take some of my free time and do it myself. Donate some of my time, but it's gonna be an interesting challenge. And we are proposing the big pie in the sky idea, so if down the road that budget does appear, she has an idea of what she can move forward with the onboarding experience.
Chris Albrecht:
That does sound like a pretty big challenge there and sometimes all you can do is work with what you got. If you could give one piece of advice who is trying to find their way in the industry as a designer or UX designer or maybe just talk a little bit about how you got to be a UX designer. How'd that come from. How would you help guide somebody or take someone along the way?
Jen Witkowski:
This is an interesting question because somebody had asked me this question a couple weeks ago at a UX meetup. It seems that most of the people that I've met recently that are looking to get into UX design are the traditional UY/front end developer. They're one of three guys that does everything in their agency and they're trying to get into UX design. They're not exactly sure where to start, if they should take classes. I was like, don't spend the money if you don't have to. Don't go back to school for this. Because it isn't something that I feel like you can take two years of a class for and come out and feel like you know everything when it comes to UX design.
What I've been telling people is, as people have approached me asking these questions, do your research out there and start following people who are in UX design. Read books by Steve Krug who is I think it's, "Don't Make Me Think" and "Rocket Surgery Made Easy." Follow Jared Spool go to the Nielsen Norman website and start reading some of the studies that they've done. And create pet projects for yourself to post on your website. If you can't freelance doing this stuff and getting into UX design, start, create your own projects. I had somebody who recently just was like, okay, I'll start redesigning Pandora because there are certain things that made him angry about the Pandora app. That's a great pet project. Think about, go through the whole process of doing the research, who the users are and do the wire framing, do usability testing and document all of that and post it on your site as [inaudible 00:10:32]. Post the final product and be like make sure that anybody who's looking at the site knows that this isn't really for Pandora, this is just [inaudible 00:10:44].
Chris Albrecht:
Right. My wishlist for Pandora.
Jen Witkowski:
But it helps you get into the process and learn the process of UX design. And understand what are some of the challenges and look at some of the different solutions for solving those challenges.
Chris Albrecht:
That's really great advice. So you mentioned pet projects in there. Do you have any pet projects of your own or anything you wish you could really just dive into?
Jen Witkowski:
I've recently wanted to get back into my roots of graphic design because I graduated with a classic, practical design background. Advertising and branding and that type of stuff where logo design ... I was really interested in logo design when I graduated college and I had never really done anything with that passion and I haven't really ever since working on the [inaudible 00:11:36], I don't really do logo design anymore. I feel like just getting back into understanding branding and logo design and [inaudible 00:11:46] design may not directly apply to what I'm doing but I think it could help a lot with the visual style when it comes to a website and me improving that visual style. That and basically getting back into drawing too. I was trying to get back into that some sort of classical art design pottery. I would start with drawing first and we'll see how that goes.
Chris Albrecht:
Maybe dive into pottery after that.
Jen Witkowski:
Yeah. Dive into pottery after that. The pottery classes are a little bit more expensive, where the illustration I can just do on my own. All I needs is pencils and erasers, paper and a little still life set up in the kitchen, we're good to go.
Chris Albrecht:
Sounds like you got this all planned out.
Jen Witkowski:
I do. I actually worked on a schedule today and some ideas for different still lifes that I can start sketching.
Chris Albrecht:
Very cool. Well, Jen, one thing I like to do to finish up these interviews is, none of us got to where we are on our own. Everybody in the industry had someone along the way who helped them, picked them up, pushed them, gave them a nudge in the right direction, is there anybody out there that you would like to say thank you to or that you would just like to mention or share some gratitude with who is sort of an inspiration or just helped you along the way in your career?
Jen Witkowski:
I would like to thank Ben and Jeannie Dunkle. I used to work for them before I joined Lullabot. They're a small person team who works on the web in WordPress and they had hired me not having any WordPress background whatsoever and they taught me everything I know about designing for contact management systems and setting up contact management systems. It's how I learned a little bit about Drupal so it was easy for me to pick up Drupal because I knew WordPress. And even today I saw Ben today and he was designing icons for an open first project. He's an amazing icon designer and he was just gong on and on about designing icons within a grid and I was like, oh man, I wanna learn how to do that.
Chris Albrecht:
It's funny how many people have that gap bridged between Wordpress and Drupal at some point.
Jen Witkowski:
Yeah and basically when I had started with them, I didn't know as I mentioned I didn't know any Wordpress and they gave me a project to work on and it didn't really have a deadline. And they were like, yeah just take your time, here's the WordPress, here's all the documentation on WordPress and if you got any questions just let me know. It was a lot of copying and pasting and a lot of Googling.
Chris Albrecht:
If anyone out there wants to get in touch with you about any of the stories that you shared or the designing or has any questions, what's the best way for them to do that?
Jen Witkowski:
I have a Twitter account, @shadow4611 so just send me a tweet.
Chris Albrecht:
We'll add that to the show notes.
Jen Witkowski:
Okay great.
Chris Albrecht:
And thanks for being here, Jen. This was great.
Jen Witkowski:
Yeah. Thank you Chris. This was fun.

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About host Chris Albrecht

Chris Albrecht
His backend brings all the nerds to the code. Skilled in Drupal development and architecture, you can often find him running through the Colorado wilderness and hosting the Behind the Screens podcast.