Fresh Practices is a blog about the processes, inspiration and best practices I’ve employed in over 20 years of experience designing software, sites, sales and marketing collateral, social media campaigns and creating real-time experiences for users from a user-centric perspective.
My name is Kristi Colvin, and I am Chief Experience Officer for Fresh ID, a boutique agency I have run as a self-employed person (mostly) since around 1997. Back then it was called Fresh Pages, and I specialized in sites, web apps and branding for clients. I changed the name in 2003 to escape the “web page” connotation and make it clear that clients could get a broad range of creative services.
I am a self-taught web, print and software designer, beginning back in the early days of the visual web, when there were ugly beveled tables around everything you saw online. After hands-on experience running a popular vegetarian magazine site called Good Karma Cafe, I began offering web design/branding as a service around 1997 and my first client luckily happened to be a web-app developer with a suite of 7 applications. So I very quickly got involved with what I call “designing for users” and that would become my specialty, having a keen interest in the psychology of why users do what they do (sometimes while saying something different) and the challenge of getting them “in the zone” being something that I find mentally stimulating.
Since that time I have designed thousands of sites and web/mobile/social applications as well as marketing campaigns with user experience principles. I am a certified Human Factors Analyst, and I constantly research UI design, psychology of users, human factors issues, neuromarketing, and pay attention to how users feel about the things brands and platforms do to them on a regular basis.
My Two “Real Jobs” as User Experience Manager
Anyone who has been self-employed long knows that we have a special designation for those brilliant times in life when we got paid on an actual schedule, and could safely pay our bills and make plans like a normal person, instead of operating in the realistically annoying mode of feast or famine. Twice, I went to work for software companies as User Experience Manager where the role/department was created for me and it was at these jobs I learned even more about usability testing and had the opportunity to do a lot of visual integration to completely redesign the disparate products into a market-leading, competitive product suite. Some of the products were physically integrated on the backend also, and so we had to work through how the data would flow and from where, and make sure those relationships were clear on the frontend for users and anyone who installed the enterprise software.
PentaSafe Security Technologies… the glory years!
I was initially hired as a consultant by PentaSafe Security in Houston, Texas to redesign some web apps, but then Bill Vance, who would become my biggest champion and had been brought in to change R&D, asked what it would take to bring user experience into the organization in a more deliberate, planned, effectual way.
They created a UXP department for me with the goal of bringing together 9 disparate product development teams working on varied platforms. I had a team of 4-6 people and I built a $95k usability lab connected to my office where I conducted formal and informal usability tests on users and sales techs that installed our products. I was responsible for all the visual design for 32+ products and prototypes and planning the phases of release to get all of the products redesigned, because this could not be done all at once. And I managed the documentation for the products, indirectly managing the doc writers that sat on each product team, with the architect who managed standards and workflow working on my team. The work I did for PentaSafe, where I was able to effect change across the company and serve as a bridge between R&D and Marketing, was ultimately too effective. NetIQ acquired us and prior to them releasing me with the majority of all the other managers, I had to rebrand everything I had worked so hard to get just right! 🙂
I did co-channel branding, rebranding, packaging, have been responsible for everything the user interacted with, from pre-sales to post-sale to end-of-life of a product. I also worked to create new processes and procedures to integrate UXP principles into the software development process as well as into the Distribution, Sales, Marketing and Customer Service processes at PentaSafe. My time there was invaluable and I continued using these skills for clients. I have done field studies to observe users and a lot of usability analysis (go over a product or site and then present a report on improvements they could make.) I do journey mapping, info architecture and wireframes. For PentaSafe and others, I have worked with lots of data-intensive products where I had to make things more organized and intuitive to use, given the sheer number of features and tasks users could do and amount of information that could be searched (such as legal documents, or large inventories.)
SigmaFlow (Six Sigma Products)
After PentaSafe, I moved to Dallas, to be closer to my Mother where I grew up in Wichita Falls, TX, just 2.5 hours away. I changed the name of my little company from Fresh Pages to Fresh ID, and immediately branded, designed and did marketing collateral for the other PentaSafe product managers, many of whom went into business for themselves.The owner of SigmaFlow in Plano, Texas found me online one day, saw my resume and what I had done for PentaSafe, and determined to hire me, so I finally relented and closed up shop again to work as their User Experience Manager, where I visually integrated 7 Windows-based apps and built their first web application as well as dozens of prototypes. I have a lot of experience with planning and executing user experience design/improvements/consistent functions for multiple products and did a lot of this there. They were a much smaller company so I also served as the Marketing Communications department and did all the branding, website creation, marketing collateral, presentations, tradeshow graphics, etc. during my time there.
Then I moved to Kansas to get married, with the agreement I would cut my salary in half and work part-time remotely to begin, to let me get settled into a completely new environment. I was shocked when my boss told me he changed his mind abruptly after I moved.
My Work Today: Fresh ID
So I was in Kansas, with no contacts at all, having shut down my business to work as an employee and unfortunately alienating some of my clients in that process, and I now had to rebuild from scratch. I rebooted Fresh ID and hit the social media scene, which was just starting to really take off in 2008. I can honestly say Twitter probably saved my life, as I was way too isolated in my new situation and becoming depressed.
Fast forward 8 years, and I have had several attempts at including partners in the company, thousands of hours spent working on WordPress sites (more sites than I can count), tons of time spent on web apps and even apps in WordPress to push it to its limits, and I am still doing some software design occasionally but not as much as I would like. I’ve also done a whole lot of social media campaign work and continue doing print design but I miss my roots. I would like to focus more on user experience, software/app and complex site design or solutions around real-time events. It has not been easy for me here and I feel that the move has hurt my career to be honest. I live an hour outside Kansas City, and a city girl around more cows than people has led to a lot of strange adventures and a fair amount of social media venting.
I also have a real passion for real-time events, because I have designed software around them (virtual and physical) that collate data, tweets, posts from varied sources, presentations, shopping capabilities, etc. and bringing those events live to people around the world is very energizing. Plus, it’s the ultimate user experience, that you get to see played out live in front of you to see how it’s going. 🙂
I developed my own product called Intefy, which Twitter was aware of and had in presentations at times, but needed money to continue and did not go raise it and get involved with others so I had to end-of-life it for lack of development resources. It has still not been recreated today and people are still doing work-arounds to solve problems I solved years ago, so it sort of lingers in the back of my mind as something I would like to do.
Right now, I am seeking user experience employment that is the perfect fit for both my broad range of creative skill and depth of user experience skill. After planning to launch this blog for a long time, to focus on how I approach user experience, the time was right to get it planned, organized and launched. I’m glad you’re here for the ride! If I can land a great job I will continue blogging about user experience, conversion experiences and usability of anything I have an opinion on as we go forward into an interesting age of the Internet of Things (IoT) and the increasing use of artificial intelligence.
But what are Fresh Practices?
I’m glad you asked. This blog will become the culmination of all I have learned, ponder and criticize in the realm of the user’s experience interacting with things we design for them. There are so many “best practices” that new user experience practitioners and companies that don’t have an experience uxp designer pick up on and decide they just must use them. Take wireframing for example… I do not do elaborate wireframes for every single project. In fact, if that is all I ever did, all day long, I might be miserable. So I have sort of coined this term to describe how I approach things at Fresh ID and for the companies where I was an employee, that worked pretty well and struck a balance between good planning, but an ability to adjust those plans and change pretty quickly when needed, like to respond to a competitive offering or a big market need.
Traditional website/software procedures – and even large ad agency procedures (Fresh ID has won projects away from some for this reason) do not always suit today’s real-time, gotta have it now reality of fresh content and live interactions. I will show you through these articles and Fresh Practice methodologies how I blend quality with agility and flexibility, where I am comfortable cutting corners and where I’m not, to give you an example of how a seasoned UXP practitioner gets her work done.
User experience, in my world, is a multi-faceted, multi-task role that incorporates a lot of the following, all mixed together and not everything is needed for every project (these are not in order):
- Visual design concepts and brainstorming
- Branding and research on branding and competitors
- Usability analysis (of existing products, prior to redesign)
- User feedback obtained a number of ways: user testing, user interviews, field studies (watching the user at work), secret field studies (i.e., visit a stadium as a fan and document the real experience)
- Analyzing online data (but I do not consider this my primary source of user info, merely one aspect)
- Sketching and Wireframing
- Brainstorming with developers and giving them direction and asking tech questions
- Presenting simulated visual prototypes to stakeholders
- Getting stakeholder agreement and input on design direction we want to take
- Icon design… endless, constant icon design
- Taxonomy definitions and education
- Task analysis and improvement or consistency design (especially important when users use more than one app from a company)
- Packaging design and errata that goes with physical installers like CD’s
- Getting Started processes or tours designed
- Marketing datasheets, presentations, brochures etc. that align with product taxonomy and messaging – this is something I really pay attention to because the user needs to feel familiar with the product already, not like there is a disconnect between it and the marketing collateral
- Information architecture planning, design, and sitemaps detailed for devs
- Dev notes with visual designs or wireframes or sketches
- Frequent design reviews to ensure the design is being developed correctly and that it actually works
- User testing: formal or dirty
- Beta feedback gathering and analysis
- User experience requirements as part of Functional Requirements documents
- And that is just a general list that doesn’t include ecommerce specifics or functions being redesigned, persona development, journey mapping, etc.
On this site you will find thoughts about creating great user experiences, the Fresh Practices, a few marketing critiques and uxp rants, product reviews, and inspirational finds to get your creative juices flowing. I’m nothing if not opinionated, yet I’m not that attached as I believe there are usually 4-10 ways to do something, and that doesn’t make all the approaches you don’t choose inferior… sometimes we just have to go with what is right for us and the organization at that time.
So feel free to explore the blog, ask me questions on a post or over on Twitter @kriscolvin, and if you want to check out my portfolio and business services, head over to Fresh ID. Thanks for stopping by!