A get-started guide

I am the sole UX-person for a startup. I have never been in a role like this before. But, I tend to figure things out. I taught myself code, after all. Here’s how I learned to build a user persona. Thanks for being interested in my journey!

snowman
snowman
Me and my user persona (via GIPHY)

Understand the value

If you’re working on a team, you will want to share why you have endeavored to create a persona. Otherwise it might look like you are trying to engage in some imaginary play.

Here are some benefits to building a user persona.


purple tiger
purple tiger
Photo by my niece, with permission

In second grade we had open house with Ms. Norwood. It was not open nor a house. It was a dark school. The playground was ready for bedtime. Lights out, wrapped in blankets. I was behind stage waiting for a performance. Was I supposed to be quiet? Would there be xylophones?

Adults with their smells, hair, and complicated jewelry mulled about the classrooms. Their bodies drifted like planets in orbit, dwarfing anything close. They paused at shelves, display boards, and desks to tilt their heads, to consider. “Guess how many beans are in this jar.”

Ms. Norwood gave me a hug that covered me like an umbrella. Her arms softened the pitter-patter of the adults. “Baby, Phillip, I’m happy to see you,” she said. Her hair was stiff in curls. …


a paper slide
a paper slide

A Covid-Friendly Makerspace Activity

This is part of a series on Makerspace activities that require few materials. Check out the last one, Making a Crane.

I run a Makerspace. We have a dedicated lab, but we cannot use it. Microwaves, cellphones, irons, and iPods sit in boxes labeled ‘Makerspace.’ To observe health and safety guidelines in age of coronavirus, we have had to get creative. And scrappy.

These days, I travel to the classroom where my students meet for contact tracing. This creates practical constraints. I cannot use all the materials and spaces I was used to, which is appropriately a very “makerspace” thing. The maker movement takes after a scrappy, rapid prototyping culture. …


Image for post
Image for post
I am the one not in uniform

A playful critique on camping, scouting, and the future

The magic show

A woman in leather boots and thick socks padded onto stage. She skipped like a comet. Gentle branches embraced her at a distance. People huddled under the blanket of a warm night, in aisles, with an assembly of southern live oaks aching in their wisdom and invisible creatures warring in clear skies, hiding in hallowed trunks. Ants carried off carapaces. Snakes digested things. The wind whipped stretches of fire gathered in torches. The stairs, the platform, and the podium were thick wood. They resembled a meat, a marbled slab. Frogs rustled the leaves of quiet corners. …


a crane activity in action
a crane activity in action

A Covid-Friendly Makerspace Activity

I run a Makerspace. Usually, we dig into buckets of electronics. The kids explore microwaves, iPads, CD players, laptops, cell phones, blenders, drills. They take things apart and put stuff back together using shared materials in an area just for us.

With Covid, I have had to rethink the way things are done. For starters, I have to travel, so my Makerspace Lab became a Makerspace Kit. I also had to think about transfers to virtual learning. Could the activities and culture we were building together continue online?

Some things never change. We still start with a greeting, a share, and a creative warm up (like making a giraffe behind your head with just a sticky note— so more in the “extra” section). We still talk about the design process: sketching, ideating, prototyping, getting feedback. We still practice the 4Cs: Collaboration, Critical Thinking, Creativity, Communication (though I haven’t found it important to name those skills, we use them). …


(Fixing stuff that doesn’t look right)

I taught myself HTML/CSS during my winter break in 2019.

That year, I was teaching beginning code and makerspace (thanks to a friend), and I wanted to know more about how all that worked.

While I was learning more about areas like education technology, the maker movement, and computer science, I discovered freecodecamp.org, which I absolutely recommend.

screenshot of bookmarks
screenshot of bookmarks
I really recommend starting to bookmark useful resources like freecodecamp.org and roadmap.sh

I learned that front-end web development (“web dev”) is a popular entry to object-oriented programming, physical computing, server/database management, and other tech stuff of personal interest (thanks, roadmap.sh)!

I felt good about what I had learned in my research (“scoping”) and decided to get to work. So, I spent about 300 hours doing coding exercises on freecodecamp.org. I got good enough that I built my very own website hosted on github.io — something I am proud of, having had just a few months of exposure to HTML/CSS. …


Thanks, yale.edu

Introduction

I recently started working as a User Experience Designer at an education technology start-up in the Bay Area. I’m the dedicated, full-stack UX person. I validate the products we’re building and make sure we’re meeting real needs. It’s great!

So, my first order of business was to understand the people we’re building for. Instead of developing and shipping new products out of the gate, perhaps proving myself as a capable and fruitful designer to my team, I went to the start-up’s Facebook page, which has over 40k active members, to ask for help (aka beta testers).

This was an essential step to create purpose for our small team with limited resources. We had to make every little thing count by doing our homework, research, due diligence — to ensure the target we aimed for was indeed a worthy, focused, intentional goal. …


Posters filled with sticky notes
Posters filled with sticky notes

and finish with a funnel that leads to action

I was speaking with a friend, a translator, about the culture of work in his industry. “Translators spend a lot of time by themselves,” he said, “and there are different translators: technical, literary. They care about different things.”

I held to the idea of solidarity.

Moments at work alone feel tinged with magic for me. The isolation presents a zone of controlled, frenetic opportunity. The bubble of safety makes construction and deconstruction a joyous exploration. …


Image for post
Image for post
there are many places where things can go wrong with pencils

The broken pencil problem

I’m reading The Design of Everyday Things by Don Norman. My friend, a postgraduate student at Carnegie Melon, recommended it to me. “Just buy the book,” she said.

So, I read the book. And while it’s not a master’s degree, it’s transformed the way I experience my work as a classroom teacher.

Consider a broken pencil. To the “average user,” a broken pencil is probably no big deal. You have had years of experience handling writing instruments. You know how much pressure to apply — both in your grip and in your contact with the page. You know how sharp of a point you desire. You know how to use a pencil sharpener. Children first learning how to use a pencil take none of this for granted. It is fresh, new, and exciting. …


Here’s what I learned.

Analytics graphic
Analytics graphic

You can have good ideas for days, but it doesn’t matter unless you do something about it. This is the story of how I took “the leap” and doled out cash for a video project.

First, I got inspired

I started watching people make stuff in live streams. In February 2020, I watched one in particular, a Livestream with Paul Trani, about the principles of design in Adobe Photoshop.

Paul talked about scale, hierarchy, similarity, dominance, and color. That got me thinking. …

About

Phil Mendez

Teacher | Designer

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