Civic UX?

Things have changed in the last few weeks. I recently landed a not-UX job that promises to be interesting but not overwhelming, and I’m looking forward to it.

On one hand, this leaves me feeling like I trained for nothing – the interviews I’ve had have been interesting but nothing’s come from them. I had had visions of moving into this brand-new shiny career and translating all my old skills easily.

On the other, there’s a real opportunity here:

  • This job pays well enough to support us and (theoretically) won’t have regular crunch/overtime, so it leaves room for breathing.
  • I’ll be on a campus with a LOT of resources & people who Know Stuff.
  • The rejections I’ve gotten for UX positions have all pointed to my lack of experience.

But most of all, when I started looking hard at UX, I was excited by the idea of making people’s lives better – fixing the places and sites that were most maddening. Those sites aren’t Apple or Google or e-commerce; those sites are places like the RMV, or student loan websites, or permit application sites. In other words, civic sites, not commercial sites.

And civic institutions rarely have cash to afford UX.

So if I had a job that could pay my bills, leaving some time on the side both for my sanity and for side projects…I could start doing UX research for places that need it most and can pay the least.

It’d boost my portfolio, give me experience – and it wouldn’t be experience toward the end of “someday I can put this to work making civic UX good” – it’d be doing the Someday work Now.

I’m getting a little  too old to keep saying Someday, after all. Time to do Now.

…Well, maybe after a month on the new job. But the principle’s the same.



From general to specific?

I revised to v2.0 on my portfolio (more notes about that shortly) but found it vaguely unsatisfying by the end. Partly this is a matter of design irritants (incompatible font choices argh), but mostly it’s a feeling that I’m offering something too generic.


I’m trying to be something for everyone, because I’m not sure where to find the next UX job. But the net result isn’t flexibility, it’s blandness.

What I want to do is become a UX expert for places that need to serve everyone – government organizations, city and town sites, legal aid sites, etc. The main obstacles there are my lack of experience and their lack of funds. (Plus whether/how they’d implement any changes I suggest.)

So how do I make this the core of my site? How do I make it clear from the start that I want to be a UX researcher for the nonprofit world / the government site? To make it possible to do low-cost UX research with donors, members, constituents, citizens, audience members?

Being just another UX person, even a well-trained one with an academic background and advanced degree, isn’t very memorable. But becoming a UX researcher who focuses on nonprofits? On citizen/constituent experiences? That’s what I wanted to be eventually… so why not start there?

I need to think hard about what steps I’d need to take. People to meet with, resources I’d need to have, how I’d need to present myself.

There’s also the issue of how to make this possible if I end up with a non-UX position elsewhere. If I get a job that pays the bills, then I can devote time to really specializing in the UX I want to do – UX of service, of government, of nonprofits. Of ensuring that a site can aid its users and ease them through a process, especially stressful ones like accessing unemployment or finding help/assistance of some kind.


In the meantime, to-do list on the portfolio is:

  • Reorganize each individual UX project page – currently they’re in “infodump” stage
    • Fix links within them, especially those that linked to the old blog
  • Write up my reasoning for each step of the revision
  • Add this info to the Portfolio Site project page
  • Determine two-three more projects I’d like to take on – hypothetical ones, like a usability review of a nonprofit site or gov’t site
  • Decide: does this portfolio need a manifesto?

What is this?

Readers and Texts is an informal blog where I talk about my experiences moving into UX from academia / market research / religious studies. Originally it existed on my SquareSpace portfolio, but I decided to separate out the informal tone from the more polished portfolio work.

Topics may include:

  • Discussions of my UX projects
  • Accounts of how I designed, revised, tested, etc. a project
  • Thoughts about my process
  • Meta-commentary on how I got here from religious studies – the links between “readers and texts” in the title

If you’d like to know more about my work, visit my portfolio.

If you’d like to read my blog about religion in speculative fiction, visit Prose Gods.

If you’d like to contact me, here’s my resume and a contact form.

Designing intentionally, not accidentally (Portfolio vs. Future Self app)

When I started this portfolio site, I ended up doing a lot of “design by default” – adding things because I knew they needed to be included, but without intention and care about where they would go and why. To use Jesse James Garrett’s term, I was designing on the skeleton level only, without paying much attention to the lower levels except as unstated assumptions.

I knew the site needed to help me get a job, I knew it needed to have my resume, show my experience, and be reasonably visually pleasing. But I didn’t do much to consider the scope of the project, and I didn’t articulate my structure except in the Wall-of-Post-its.  So a fair amount of the work ended up being done by default, and questions like “where does the blog go?” and “which template is best” were answered by “just put something up there and fix it in testing.”

On one hand, this did fix my own hang-ups, which include inertia and terror of the blank page. Having something to revise is better than having nothing.

But it’s very easy to stick with a flawed project because it’s *something*, especially if the flaws run deep. (For example, my continuing puzzlement over the best template.)

So for Future Self, I decided to back up and start from the beginning. Using Garrett’s five levels of design (via Bill Hartman’s lectures during the Bentley UX bootcamp), I wanted to be articulate about each stage. This is especially important because this isn’t just my project – I’m collaborating with my partner on this, and thus we need to be really clear with each other about expectations and ideas.

More in the next post, including drafts of Strategy, Scope, and user scenarios.

Revision list from moving v1.2 to 2.0

After reviewing the notes, I compiled a list of “critical” and “easy” fixes, as well as several “desirable” fixes that would require more thought.

  • Decision: Make Current UX Projects the top item
    • Reasoning: Commentary (like this) does a better job of showing off my process than the review of my past projects
  • Decision: Reorganize the header navbar
    • 2 out of 3 had difficulty finding it or did not use it as I’d imagined
    • Increased the size of the font and reorganized so that “resume” was farthest right and Portfolio, now renamed “Research Experience” had the top right position.
  • Decision: Content edits
    • Meaning was unclear –
      • “Doctoral Candidate” in my resume could imply that I am ABD instead of completing the degree
      • In several places, it wasn’t clear that I was part of a team on a project.
  • Decision: New pictures
    • “Field Management” proved hard to read; “Web-assisted testing” was difficult to interpret; “Quant” was messy.
    • I changed the pictures for Field Management (and renamed it) and Quant, but didn’t yet have a good idea for Web- Assisted Testing.
    •  Also upped the font size for the labels, so that they’d stand out more against the images.
  • Decision: Reorganize the UX Projects page to highlight the process
    • Less of a finding from the test, and more of a finding from running the tests: I wanted to bring this to the forefront.
  • Decision: Mention the new project
    • Although it’s not ready yet, I wanted to highlight that I’m doing something other than recursion here.
  • Decision: Reorganize projects within each skill page
    • I had put my diss first in several places, thinking to show off my strongest work. But it ended up feeling repetitive.
  • Decision: Lose the white space at the top of the Contact and Resume pages
    • 2 out of 3 lost the resume “below the fold.” As a stopgap, I moved the resume above the bio (which is less critical information)

In progress / Delayed

  • Decision: Lose the white space at the top of the Contact and Resume pages
    • Delayed implementation til I can work out the issue with the Squarespace template.
  • Decision: Give an option to show all projects on one page
    • All respondents wanted to see the full list of projects – especially since the dissertation came up a lot. But the “all” link in the index navbar takes them back to the portfolio.
    • Delaying implementation – requires a deeper redesign.
  • Decision: New pictures
    • New one needed for Web-Assisted Testing (image was not clearly conveying meaning)
  • Decision: Move the portfolio navbar to the top and rename “All”
    • “Finding the back button” proved an issue for 2 of 3
      • However, I’m not sure how to move this in this Squarespace template. Delayed implementation til I could fix this.

Issues identified from user tests on v1.2

Decision: Navigation bar at top has  “Resume”, “Contact”, and “Making the Shift” on the far left.
Problem: This ended up being an issue, since the blog now seemed to be the focus of the site.
Problem: This also had the effect of making the blog as important as the portfolio and resume, which it isn’t (or shouldn’t be)

Decision: Navigation bar at top had “Portfolio” to the right of my name,
Problem: The Portfolio link looked not like a homepage, but like a secondary goal.

Decision: Use the initial photo choices for the portfolio
Problem: “Field Management” font obscured the actual title; my quant sketch was, well, sketchy.

Decision: Keep the portfolio navigation links at the bottom
Problem: One respondent read these as tags, not links. Another had trouble finding the “back” button and easily navigating through the portfolio

Sample raw notes from testing v1.2

Test 1: 2/23 evening, JK respondent. Didn’t get to tests – spent more time exploring and critiquing site.

  • Navigation
    • Doesn’t explore the portfolio – goes to res/bio first
    • Move contact to farthest right
    • Move blog (lose blog?)
    • Move search bar to navbar
    • Move portfolio link to nav area
      • Rename it “experience”?
        • Stretch goal: Would be nice if “all” in the nav links took her to a list of all projects, chronologically ordered
  • Specify “PhD” not just Candidate in Resume area
  • Lose “version 1.2” in footer – or link to Current UX projects
  • Images
    • New quant picture
    • Fix font size / color
    • Very beige
    • New field mgmt pic (can’t read it easily)
    • People who aren’t me
  • Portfolio pages
    • Move nav index to top? Initially read it as tags, not nav list
    • Add dates?
    • Change up order of projects (diss is repetitive)
  • “There’s a gallery?” Add link to UX project page from blog (and from within blog) and other places it’s linked to
  • Next steps on the UX page – explanations for why the nav went here, changes and a marked-up printout of what changes need to be made

Script for user tests on v1.2

What we’re doing tonight is testing this site. Not you, but the site, so that I can see how people use it.

Normally I’d take a moment to say that this isn’t my work, so I’m not emotionally attached to it, so don’t worry about criticizing it  – but this is my work, of course! However, I’m more emotionally attached to the idea of improving it, and I can’t do that without criticism.

I’d like you to perform a few simple tasks on the site, and to think aloud as you do so. I won’t give you any hints or suggestions, but I may ask for more information from time to time.

Before we get started –
Can you tell me how much time you spend online in a given week?
How do you usually spend that? Work, entertainment, etc
Have you ever tested a site before?

Imagine that you’re a hiring manager for a mobile app company.
Can you think of some information you would want to see on this site?
Please try and find that information.
Where would you look for a resume?

Imagine that you are a project manager at the same mobile app company. This person is being brought in for an interview, and you’ve been tapped to start the interviews.
HR sent you a link to this site. What do you do with it?
What information do you need?
Can you find it?

Imagine you’re the same project manager, who just realized they need to know what software this person is familiar with.
Where would you look for that?

Are there places where there is too much information? Not enough?

  • What is missing?
  • How would you get in touch with this person?
  • How would you evaluate this portfolio?
  • What do the pictures convey?
  • What’s your impression of the intro texts?
  • What do you want to know more about?

Notes from version 1.0

[Entry dates from 2/7/17 and was originally on the Current UX Projects page]

Current Status – Developing the site

Although UX testing can be done at any point, and doesn’t require that the site be finished (or even begun!), I discovered that my hesitation over whether something would be “wrong in testing” was causing me to delay site creation. So I pushed ahead to have something to work with. The whole point of a draft is to be revised.

The User Profiles that I’m working with include:

  • a hiring manager who isn’t sure how or why a PhD in religion would move to User Experience
  • a team member who’s less interested in how I got here, and wants to know if I have experience with pivot tables
  • a friend of a friend who’d heard I was moving into this field and wanted to see what I was up to

My current dilemma is how to make each skill page more story-like while still ensuring that information is easily accessible.

Next steps:

  • Review Redish’s Letting Go of the Words and make content edits accordingly
  • Set up a remote test with a friend; determine tasks and script
  • Revise landing page images to be a related set