I laugh to myself when people talk about making a plan, following it to a tee and landing at the exact place they methodically set out to arrive. I am not saying it can’t go that way, but it almost never does and in the event that happens it is probably less than satisfying and somewhat disappointing in the end.
I majored in musical theater. Really, that is what I thought I wanted to do with my life when I was 18. There was no internet. No cell phones or Google or Netflix. I loved the theater, it was all I knew. About one semester into college I came home on break and auditioned for a dinner theater production of The Sound Of Music and was cast as the oldest daughter. BAM, dream come true. Who needs college, this was my destiny. I called my parents and informed them I was dropping out of college. I packed my bags and hit the road to live my dream. What did I learn? Life as a performer is really hard. You sleep late, do a show, get paid almost nothing…rinse and repeat. Then when that job ends you go back to auditioning and fighting for your next job. Quickly the “love” of it all gets old. The path you chose hits a wall and you realize your parents were right you should have stayed in school.
Five years later fast forward after wandering through life. I went back to school and graduated with a degree in…wait for it….”music business”. I worked for Arista Records for a year in the music licensing department watching cut throat executives prey on young music “wannabees”. As a creative person, this business was evil. I hated it. I once shared the elevator with Carly Simon though. That was a thrill. She smiled at me and asked how my day was going. I smiled back, but I was thinking to myself… “ya know Carly…it sucks. I hate this job, I have no idea what I want to do with my life and I want more than this”. But what I said was “Good thanks, how is yours”. She flashed her toothy grin and exited the elevator on the 8th floor. I then proceeded to ride down to the first floor and exited the building, for good.
I walked right to the store and bought a MAC on my credit card with money I did not have. The little boxy thing with a floppy drive. I bought some books and read about graphic design. Every day I tried to learn something else and I became somewhat obsessed with technology and the wonder of creativity. I literally made up a resume and got a job in advertising as a graphic designer. As technology happened I bought more books and I read, and read. I taught myself to code and got a job as a web designer. Now on a path that I had a love for, but still searching for my exact fit…at least I felt like I was on the way “somewhere”.
At 26, I got married and had kids which takes life in an entirely different direction. I began consulting and freelancing to juggle and manage all the new responsibilities. Over the next 15 years of my life my kids oddly, or maybe not so oddly got involved in show business. No joke, it went far further than I ever expected. Like my son was on Broadway at 8 and my daughter had a major movie at 9 that was #1 at the box office for three weeks. I was an official stage mom. I traveled and did my own consulting work on the road while managing their careers. It was an off beat curve that I have no regrets following. But like all roads at some point it came to the same end as my dinner theater career. The kids grew up, and out of this business. Neither wished to pursue it any further as adults. That part of my life was over. My marriage also didn’t survive and that road came to it’s end as well.
I was in a place I never expected with all sorts of things in front of me but nothing defined. On my own, wanting to be independent, creative and successful. I needed to breathe, and ask myself what I really wanted to do. In the midst of chaos, dusted myself off, looked at all I had already accomplished and look forward to what I wanted my life to be. I loved being creative (design), I loved solving problems (code), and I loved collaborating with people (agency). What did I not love? The disconnect between most creative and technical people, a combination that defined who I was, but most people where one or the other. Neither knowing or understanding each other. Why the conflict? Creatives seem to build for their own egos and with no knowledge of the constraints of the technical side of the equation, coders seem to code based on what was easiest for them having no care about what the designer was thinking, feeling or trying to emote… navigating the struggle, I stumbled upon UX (User Experience). A concept of designing an experience that the human has when interacting with a product. Not creating a pretty picture… but an experience. How cool is that. I was hooked. I wanted to know more. So far, my career has been 100% self taught…so why not this. I signed up for a certification program, took online classes an read everything I could find.
What I love more than anything about this methodology is the way it changes almost daily, makes you think, makes you keep learning and growing. It applies to most design/digital projects in general so I try to use the thought process on all jobs, not just UX. It becomes an obsession where you look at everything in the world differently. As an experience that may be good or may be bad…and you find yourself ideating ways all sorts of tasks could have a better experience to get the end result. Who is the user, what do they want? Sometimes the user just wants to make toast, they don’t care if the toaster can bake a cake….they just want toast. The experience has to be simple, delightful….and make toast. That’s all.
If I was to go back to the beginning I could not have imagined this path because the roads had yet to be built. But this unexpected journey to get here, the successes and the failures have guided me. An iterative process not much different than the philosophy of UX. I continue to empathize, define, ideate, prototype and test as I navigate this product called “life”. It has been an evolution of discovering something magical that fascinates me and clearly defined my niche as a digital hybrid.