An Interview with my musical side

I have published a new video which is essentially an interview with me, where I answer some commonly asked questions about my music, how and why I became a neoclassical composer. The interview includes excerpts from some of my compositions.

Advertisements

Feeling Blessed -or- How I became Lead Designer of an awesome company

In March 2012 I graduated from the Art Institute of Pittsburgh with a degree in design. I remember the day I got my diploma and I stood there looking at it, wondering, “what do I do now?” For eighteen years prior, I had been working in Information Technology, supporting Mac systems and UNIX systems, I had changed careers at the age of 42, a move that some of my former co-workers said took “balls of steel.” I have always been very driven to do things that make me happy and that I have a passion for. After all, life is way too short not to be doing something you truly love!

In 1989 when I accepted my first computer job, I thought that was my passion. It wasn’t – in the end I was only doing it for the money. There was no spark, no drive. I didn’t get up in the morning excited about answering questions and fixing user’s computer problems. Many years before I got into computers, I was excited about art, drawing, design. But the computer age swept in and took me along with it. In 2004 I was hired by US News and World Report magazine to support their Mac systems and to act as liaison between the IT department and the Art department. This was the spark that reignited that childhood passion for design, art, drawing, creation. Seeing the people who worked on the design team, doing design work, brought back that desire to do design. I became good friends with two of the designers at US News and they inspired me to change directions. So I decided to go back to school, I wrote a resignation letter that I intended to deliver on December 15, 2007. I did my research on what school I wanted to attend so that when the time came I could enroll in classes. But as fate would have it, I was laid off in October 2007 and got a nice severance package. The next day I was enrolled in classes.

Now fast forward back to March 2012, with diploma in hand, hand scratching my head and wondering what to do next. I didn’t have anything that anyone would want to see – so my chances of getting a job were pretty slim. So my very creative mind started chugging and came up with the only solution that might, and I mean MIGHT, work. I went into business for myself, launched my design studio, incorporated it, opened a business account at my bank and proceeded to find clients. I also made a plan that in 2-3 years I would find a job with a portfolio, hopefully filled with real-world work.

Thankfully I had a good friend who knew people. His name is Sean and he helped me find my first two clients. For that I am sincerely thankful. Those two clients got me started down the path to success. I also employed social media to the letter, making sure people knew I existed, knew what I did and knew that I had a service I was providing. During this journey I met four incredible people through social media: Joel, Rogie, Brian and Adam. These four creative and talented people had been in the business a lot longer than me and to my amazement, they actually gave me the time of day and helped me in more ways than I could imagine. Their work inspired me, they provided me with valuable feedback and constructive criticism. If I was a plant, they were the water and fertilizer that helped me grow and develop into the graphic artist I am today. I am truly blessed and thankful that God allowed our paths to cross.

But honestly I didn’t know where my true passion was. Was it web design? Illustration? Sure I was passionate about design, but what part of design drove me and made me excited about getting up in the morning? I would explore many genres of design but nothing really struck me as THE ONE.

That is until February 2014 when I met two guys named Chip. Chip T., as I will refer to him, approached me because he had heard from a former colleague, who was at that time co-founder of a company called RemarkableHire, that I was an awesome graphic artist. I had done some work for RemarkableHire in 2013 and had impressed the powers that be. Now Chip T. was looking for a graphic artist for his own project and my name came up. This project was to design the user interface and user experience for a mobile app called Whiteboard (later renamed Unite). I was astonished because I had done next to ZERO user interface and experience design. What made things even harder was that Chip T. told me in not so many words, “we have no money.” So I would be doing work on an incredibly complex app and not getting paid. Well obviously red alerts and big red flags and fireworks went off spelling the words “NO!” in my head. But I decided to think about it and draw upon the experience of my friends. Nearly all of them said, “Tuck tail and run away as fast as you can!”

But something inside me was saying, “GO FOR IT! Take a chance!” I knew that UI/UX Design was an area I was absolutely weakest at. Heck I could do illustration better (and that’s not saying much)! But something was telling me to do it, to take the big risk of never getting paid. It was mostly because I felt this app could be an incredible thing! The whole concept excited me. So I called Chip T. and told him I would do it. It was the best damned decision I have ever made!

I spent weeks studying books, online tutorials, videos, courses, lectures, everything having to do with UI/UX Design – I was a sponge soaking up everything I could get my hands on that had to do with UI/UX Design. And I started sketching out my ideas for each screen of this complex app.

I was more nervous than a pig in a bacon factory. Would I be able to do this work? What happens if I fail? What happens if the startup folds and all this work is for nothing. STOP! No! That’s not how to think about this, I told myself. Even if the startup folds and I don’t see a dime, I will still have something awesome – more work for my portfolio. So I pushed forward, using my gut instinct and what I had learned years earlier about software design and how things should work in favor of a good experience for the user. I went through several iterations of designs, scrapped things that didn’t work, fixed things that needed fixing, kept learning, kept growing, kept being inspired by other apps that I used each day. Eventually the design was done. It took almost a year (not entirely because of me, there were some other hiccups along the way), but when all was said and done and I look now at the work I have done, what I have learned, I feel so blessed, so thankful for having taken the chance. I have grown by leaps and bounds as a designer.

But the story doesn’t end here. In October 2014 I began looking for a UI/UX Design job. I applied to so many companies, went on so many interviews, hired five staffing companies to help me and got NOTHING! As my savings dwindled I began to wonder if I would end up having to move, if I would lose everything I own. It was very stressful. But work started to come in from people who could pay me, thanks to the incredible work I had done on the app design for Chip and Chip. My work was out there saying, “Hey! This guy that made me is an awesome UI/UX designer! You want him to design your app too!” And the work came in and helped me out a bit. One company I did an app redesign for was Omnilert (www.omnilert.com). It wasn’t long before the co-founder of this company and I established a good working relationship. One day he and I spoke on Skype and I unleashed this heart-felt, passion filled, sermon about my methodologies, beliefs regarding good user interface design and my overall philosophy about how design should be done.

About a week or so later he called me and offered me a job. I was already going to be interviewing for another job in Colorado at the time, so I didn’t accept right away. But honestly I almost cancelled the Colorado trip and just accepted, but I felt that would be foolish of me. When the Colorado opportunity fell through, I called him and said YES, I would love to work for Omnilert. So here we are, right where I wanted to be. Three years after launching my design studio I am Lead Designer for this company and feel incredibly thankful for the opportunity. It’s been a long road, but in 3 years I have accomplished a lot, I have learned volumes and I am very proud of the work I have done. Most of all, I give thanks to God, because I have prayed so much in the past six months for something like this to come my way before I spent my last dime and ended up homeless. He listened!

In closing I would like to thank the following people for everything they have done for me over the past three years:

Rob, Stephen, Sean, Joel, Rogie, Brian and Adam – for your support, inspiration and tough love!

Chip T., Chip S., Philip and Nick – for the tremendous opportunities you have given me.

Feeling blessed!

Stuff

I have been a bit busy lately and haven’t been able to rant and complain about things on my blog. LOL! But the good news is, I have landed my dream job – I am now Lead Designer at Omnilert. I really am grateful for the awesome opportunity these guys are offering me. I can’t wait to get to work on all the cool stuff they need my design expertise for.

I took a two month hiatus away from World of Warcraft, but now I am back. I am not playing as regularly as I used to, simply because I have too many irons in the fire, but I am playing once in a while. I am thinking about picking up the whole WoW Shot of the Week thing again sometime soon.

In the meantime, stay tuned for stuff. I’ll post as soon as I am able.

Great UI Design -or- What I have learned in the past year

In late January 2014 I was approached by a guy named Chip about joining a startup company it is infancy. Chip and his business partner, who is also named Chip, had this incredibly cool idea for an app. They came to me because a client of mine had recommended me. But there were some problems: 1) I had hardly any UI design experience and (2) they had no money. Chip was honest and told me up front that the company had nothing, no way to pay me, but that the rewards down the road would be great if this app took off. I told Chip I would need some time to think it over. I then fell back on my friends who were also designers, and who had been doing this a lot longer than me. I wanted to rely on their experience to help me in my decision-making process. Nearly all of them said to tuck tail and run the other way. But something inside me said otherwise, I felt a crazy urge to do this, even if it meant never getting one red cent for my work. Because I felt the idea behind the app, the concept, was sound. It was promising to do something no other app has done. That alone inspired me to become passionate about the product – and I knew it would be a good idea to accept his offer.

Here’s why: I felt that even if the app idea fell flat on its face, I would still come out on top because I will have learned more about UI design and will have built a sizable portfolio. So I accepted Chip’s invitation and joined his startup, to create his app which would eventually be called Unite.

That was over a year ago and in that time I have learned so much. My skills have grown my leaps and bounds. Several of my design friends have complimented me on how incredibly fast I learned this genre of graphic design and how beautiful the app design was overall. In fact, many people who aren’t even designers have applauded the design of the app – both in function and aesthetics.

But what they see is just pretty pixels. There’s a lot more to UI Design than just plopping down buttons, icons and making an app look slick. And this what this blog post is all about.

A good UI designer just rushes through the process, makes a decent design and hands off the assets to the code team. But in the end, there are flaws in the way the app functions because of poor UI design methodologies. The reason is, we who call ourselves UI designers, have an immense responsibility! It’s not just our job to make elegant interfaces, it’s our job as we develop and design the UI for an app to understand how this app is going to be used and to take into account that fact when we do the design. We have to make something that is functional and intuitive, not just pretty pixels. We need to step away from the design and become the user. This is the most important aspect of our profession! Many designers just don’t take that step, or just are incapable of thinking from the standpoint of a user. They rush through a design thinking that pretty pixels alone will win the day. They don’t! And any UI designer who doesn’t act responsibly and doesn’t take the needed time to go through the process, is not a great UI designer.

Look, we are all users! You, me, everyone! We all use apps in our everyday lives, so why not take that same stance when designing an app? I have sent app developers emails telling them, “Hey, I think this could be done better – maybe like this…” or “I think your design is good, but I find it cumbersome to access these features…” etc. We all have to behave like users! Before you pick up that pencil or grab that mouse – put yourself into that frame of mind. You are the user – how should this app function? Once you know that, then the pretty pixels can spring forth.

When I was designing the UI for Unite, when I was sketching with pencil in hand – I wasn’t just thinking about aesthetics, I was thinking about this: “If I am the user, how do i want this app to function – when I do THIS…it should do THAT. To achieve a particular goal, I need to make sure its a simple process for the user.” In my mind I played through the actions and thought processes of the user. And that is our job! We must strike a balance between aesthetic design and making the app easy to understand for the user and functional.

I can never stress this enough, and it is something I, myself, had to learn. When I came into this project, I was wet behind the ears. But over time I taught myself to understand this important responsibility, this vital methodology, to great user interface design. I hope that if anyone reads this who is just starting out in UI design, you can understand what it is I mean. Don’t just make pretty pixels, make something that is useable, user-friendly, clean and elegant in form, function AND design. If you don’t get that right the first time, scrap the sketches, trash the wireframes and start again. Never feel ashamed if you miss the mark, because you will learn from these mistakes.

I know I did. In the end, I created something I am incredibly proud of. When I look at the UI for Unite, I feel proud of the hard work I did, the hundreds of hours put in, the learning process I went through and how, at this point, I understand what it is to be a great UI designer. I am not perfect, I would never claim to be perfect – I still make mistakes, and that’s part of being human. At this point in my career, I have learned a lot and I feel blessed to have had the chance to work on such an awesome project as Unite, even more blessed to have been able to learn what I have learned and to be able to share that with others.