Professional development through regular communication and rigorous role-play

On our first capstone kickoff call, my mentor laid the groundwork for how the next three months would go: In additional to the regular curriculum deliverables, I would be required to complete — and be accountable for — an additional three items each week:

  • a meeting agenda, due 24 hours before our next mentor call;
  • an updated Trello timeline task tracker, which I am expected to stick to and keep up to date;
  • a slide-deck presentation of all work completed since our last meeting, to be discussed in the first part of each of the three role-playing calls allocated per capstone.
A look at my full Trello timeline for capstone 1. Click to zoom!

All deliverables were to be consistently branded and delivered in order and on time. If I fell behind, my mentor would pause my progress in the program.

Hello there, stakes — look how high you are!

As per my Phase 2 mentor’s design, the first part of each of the subsequent calls would be entirely role-play based, with him playing the part of the client and me the part of the hired designer, running a full presentation just as I would with real clients and project stakeholders.

“During these role-playing calls I’m going to ask you questions just as a client would. You will need to be prepared to defend the reasoning behind your design decisions,” he said by way of a warning. “I may be blunt and direct. Don’t be intimidated or put off by this. I do it because it will give you the experience of running a real meeting.”

There would be time opened up in the second half of the call for mentor–mentee questions and answer. Beyond that, I was encouraged to reach out to him directly throughout the week with necessary questions (those I’d need answered in order to proceed to the next step in the design process), rather than holding them all for our next meeting and losing valuable hours in the already tightly packed project timeline.

While the prospect of additional work on top of the high demands of the existing UXA course schedule was undoubtedly daunting, more than anything else I was excited to have a chance to dive into some intense training — there would be no time to entertain any of the questionable habits I’d flirted with in Phase 1.

It was time to whip myself into streamlined UX designer shape.

Selecting a project brief

The only task left was to pick a project brief. The first capstone centers on responsive design, but what that means, and exactly what it will involve, depends on the details of the subject matter. And as someone with enthusiasm for many competing interests, making a quick and definitive choice is always a struggle.

The curse of the passion project. Image credit: Mitch Goldstein, an Assistant Professor of Design at the Rochester Institute of Technology, from his series of Venn diagrams aptly called A Helpful Diagram.

The options were as follows:

  • rebrand and redesign for a famous and now defunct airline (PanAm)
  • a local bicycle shop (or another local business of your choosing)
  • a national non-profit (an organization connecting animal shelters).

My mentor strongly encouraged me to select one of these rather than devise an independent project, which he said would be more difficult, especially considering the tight three-week deadline.

I geared up for option two, and settled on either a local neighborhood spa or coffee shop, narrowed down from a long list due to another stipulation from my mentor; if I would be redesigning, he requested that the business not have an existing responsive site, even if it was a very bad one. As it turns out, it’s quite hard to find a non-responsive website these days.

But after a day and a half of ruminating on the two local business options available to me — and feeling less than thrilled about each — an invisible light bulb suddenly turned on over my head in a last-minute “aha” moment, and I cheated a bit by pitching a project that was very personal to me.

The first branded deliverable from my first Phase 1 capstone: kickoff meeting notes.

A friend and coworker, who has over 20 years of experience as a teacher and a developmental educator, has been running a specialized program for afterschool, holiday, and summer camps for years. She has an existing brand and burgeoning clientele, but has never had the time or bandwidth to hire a designer to build her online presence.

Knowing I was running out of time, I feverishly pitched the new brief. One of the reasons I decided to take the plunge into a UX design career change was my desire to get to work with an array of different industries, and to access the opportunity to take on and indulge in coveted passion projects when they happen to come along.

It took a little defending, but after making a case to my mentor, I changed tack and — reinvigorated — barreled full steam ahead. I’m crossing my fingers that I can stay on track.

Until next week, happy blitz designing!

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