Work Culture

In defense of open office plans

While I am always one to question everything and try to find the best, evidence-based solution, I can’t get on board with the idea that open office plans are bad!

I have read many blogs and articles stating that open offices are too noisy and distracting, contribute to higher levels of virus spreading, etc. But I am enthusiastic about open offices because I love seeing the people I work with. Even simply looking across a room full of people, I feel the spark of energy and collaboration!

Of course, most times I’m not going to pop over to someone’s desk if they are obviously deep in thought or typing. I may send them a quick ping to ask if they’re free for a minute before walking over. But the point is that it encourages a lot more face-to-face interaction, which I truly think is invaluable.

Being able to talk with people saves a lot of back-and-forth email traffic that is oftentimes confusing and annoying. How many times have you had to send a follow up email because the person tried to save time by skimming your email and subsequently asked you a question you clearly already answered?

We are in the office for a single reason: face-to-face interaction. Otherwise, companies could save a lot of money and effort by having everyone work from home.

When everyone is hidden behind a cubicle wall or office door, it becomes a much more invasive move to attempt face-to-face interaction. It’s almost easy to forget you have coworkers with whom you can talk to vs firing off another email.

When their door is shut, how are you supposed to know if they’re on an important phone call or if they’ve shut their door because they are embarrassed of listening to Justin Bieber’s Christmas album in October? Or December.

No, I’m not judging because I have definitely shut my door due to Bieber’s holiday tracks. And you shouldn’t judge, either. Have you heard his song with Boyz II Men? Talk about collaboration!

Now that we’ve come full circle on collaboration, I’ll end by saying that I don’t think offices have to be one way or the other. I think we can achieve open office plans while still giving people their privacy.

My last company had official meeting rooms to reserve, but it also had a lot of private “huddle” rooms that anyone could use with no reservation. This could be for private phone calls, work you need absolutely no distractions for, whatever. There were also a lot of large open spaces for teams to work in as to not distract those at their desks trying to work. I felt like that company really got it right on this balance, and I hope to see more of that going forward!


3 things I learned in college that I still use every day

When applying for jobs over the years I’ve felt like I couldn’t mention experiences from college despite a few of them being integral to my life as a working professional. To be sure, in the eight years since I graduated I’ve gained invaluable experience in the workforce and I have plenty to discuss! However, there are three very specific things from my college years that formed the basis of my career and still influence me greatly.

1: Editor in Chief

First was being the Editor in Chief of my university newspaper, the Indiana Statesman. Wow. That was a crash course in management if there ever was one – in terms of both people management and project management. In addition to going to class full time and having a job at the local bookstore, I had to spend at least 12 hours a day, three times a week, managing content as well as a team of 30 editors and reporters. That is a heck of a lot of moving parts!

Never in my career since that have I felt more stress and pressure – it was basically work for a year straight with no down time.

Ever since then, I’ve had a lot of respect for my managers’ time! I try to take on extra tasks to help out. I try to be the one who raises my hand when they ask for a volunteer, and I try to anticipate how I can best present information to make it as easy as possible for them to make educated decisions in a hurry.

When someone asks me if I’ve managed people, I still feel like I have to say “no” because it seems like college experience doesn’t or shouldn’t count in the “real world.” I don’t know if this is accurate.

2: Editorial Internship

The second most formative experience that influences me literally every day was my internship at Indianapolis Monthly magazine. I was an editorial intern in charge of fact-checking major articles for the magazine, including headline pieces. My managing editor had us go through every single word in every article and check off the word with a red pen.

By checking every single word you were saying you had looked at that word and both its spelling, meaning and accuracy were 100% correct. For example, is a person named Jon later referred to as John in the same story? Or, is the actual fact correct? In one story I remember a person wrote about running a race through the city, but in fact the map of the race course indicated a different route than what she’d described from her run.

Now, as a web manager of sorts, I have a mental red pen with me – always. I’m always checking for consistency and accuracy, even though my job is rarely to be a copy editor or writer. I’m often hesitant to post anything at all online if I haven’t fact-checked it. The fake news phenomenon is particularly troubling to me because I honestly can’t imagine being the type of person who posts random memes without checking to make sure it’s 100% accurate.

3: Military Training

The third formative experience from my college years was going through Air Force ROTC field training in the summer between my sophomore and junior year. Although I ended up not joining the Air Force, going through that type of boot camp training gave me a confidence I’d never have otherwise found.

Field training challenges you more mentally than physically, but pushes you in both regards to go harder and be stronger than you think you can.

You don’t get to choose what job you do there. My commander decided I was going to be the academic officer, which meant I would be given a news article or encyclopedia article and within 5 minutes I had to read it, try to understand it and then stand up in front of a team of 25 people to educate them about it.

I think of this experience frequently when I’m giving presentations to company stakeholders or explaining technical projects in a meaningful way to a group of non-technical people. I have so much more confidence in these situations because it’s never as stressful as being forced to talk in front of a large group about something for 20 minutes when you have zero knowledge of the topic!

Design Digital Marketing Information Architecture UX

How to redesign a landing page: why you should initially say no

Ever tried to buy something on a website but it was so badly designed that you couldn’t figure out how to give them your money?

One of the most important lessons I’ve learned is that the average website is a pile of reactionary, incoherent content. A lot of content on sites was posted simply because there arose a need somewhere at some point to post an asset or alter a design, and it was done with no regard to the ecosystem it was entering.

Web designers and marketers should initially say no to design requests and first ask why.

There are probably 1.3 million articles on the web about how to redesign a landing page, so why am I writing this? I’ve found that a lot of design and marketing how-to articles are talking about some fantasy world where everything is perfect and everyone is super excited about following a process.

What about all the companies that have no process and live firmly in the Wild West of the web? And no, I’m not blaming or even criticizing these companies. Websites are a beast. A big, fat, hairy beast that is extremely hard to control once it’s gone rogue (which it does in a hurry).

The truth is, not every company can afford a fancy web agency full of bearded white guys sipping cold brew laced with activated charcoal. In a lot of regards, they don’t need to.

Hiring a strong digital designer adept at asking questions and crafting a coherent architecture on your site will go a long way.

As a digital designer, you should be asking questions like this at the start of any design request:

  • What is the #1 goal of this redesign? (you would be surprised how often this isn’t addressed)
  • What priority is this work?
  • When is the deadline?

From there, create an end-to-end journey map, starting with the routes your customers will take to arrive at the new page(s).

Reassess your flow chart and ask the following:

  • Where and how will customers enter this page or set of pages?
    • Email, direct mail, search? Explore all possibilities.
  • Will this page make complete sense to someone who enters laterally, say through organic search?
  • What contingencies and dependencies are there?

A flow chart/journey map will help you more easily identify even the smallest dependencies that could put your design on hold. Break the work into manageable chunks with their own deadlines.

You can’t design a page if you have no content. Look – I understand more than anyone how much joy you can get from using Back to the Future quotes as placeholder text, aptly named DeLorean Ipsum. But just don’t. Save yourself time and sanity by simply demanding content up front.

Start with a whiteboarding session that includes your copywriter and any other key stakeholders. Create a rough layout that you can combine with your flow chart and translate to a medium fidelity prototype using a tool like Adobe Xd. When you reconvene, it’s another chance to assess the flow of content. Your copywriter will then have a good idea of how the words will fit into your design.

All of these things were not things I knew how to do when I graduated with a Bachelor of Science. College gave me the skills to create smaller pieces of work, but I learned on the job how to connect all the dots and create coherent, usable designs.

Judging by the frequently chaotic state of the web today, I’m guessing there are many millions of people in the same boat! But I think this is a positive thing for digital designers – there is a lot of room for growth and to make a huge difference!

Design Digital Marketing

Ways to prevent global websites from failing at being global

As someone who has spent nearly half my life living and working professionally in both the United States and Europe, it seems to me that people are quick to assume highly Americanized global websites are simply the result of insular thinking among Americans.

Perhaps to an extent, but I don’t think that’s the biggest reason why many global websites fail at being global. They fail because they’re failing to take care of their biggest market – at home – before expanding into other markets.

Growing sales teams and acquisitions outside the United States create an immediate need for localized and translated copy on the company website. Underfunded web teams scramble to catch up and often end up serving in a reactionary capacity, completely side-stepping strategy and planning.

This creates sloppy, half translated, outdated content that ends up being an embarrassment more than an asset.

In my experience, smaller to medium-sized companies will hire exactly one do-all, be-all person to manage the entire global corporate website and anything connected to it. The job duty includes, but is not limited to:

The content administrator.

The designer.

The developer.

The troubleshooter.

The email … everything.

The marketing automation magician.

The analyst.

Meanwhile, marketing teams are able to call themselves just that – a team – likely filled with more than one graphic designer to design outdated print collateral. And do not get me started on the fact that these types of companies will hire an entire human being to manage social media alone. </endrage>

This problem has a few solutions.

  1. Establish a designated person to be the gatekeeper of localization. Nothing suffers from the deferred responsibility phenomenon more than managing versions of a website no one understands.
  2. Decide which areas of the site are most useful to sales teams and customers abroad. Make sure the English language content is completely in order, and focus localization money and effort here first.
  3. Inventory the crap out of your current English language content. Chances are high that 75% of it can be deleted, reworked or consolidated.
  4. Create an independent web team outside of marketing. Even if this team consists of one person, placing them outside the bounds of other teams will better enable them to serve the broader interests of the company both internally and externally.
  5. Hire a content administrator. Companies throw tens of thousands of dollars down the drain by forcing a web manager or designer to do the work of a new college grad or paid intern. An experienced web manager should not spend half his or her week copying and pasting words onto a website or uploading and deleting documents. You’re paying them big bucks for their technical expertise and strategic thinking – use it!

In future posts I’ll explore these points at a more granular level. I could go on and on right now because the topic of managing global websites is a genuine passion of mine!



A lesson in productivity

If I remembered the post, I’d link to it, but Chris Coyier posted something somewhere recently about being more productive by handling short tasks as they come up. Essentially, if the task takes less than two minutes to complete, just do it now instead of throwing it on a task list.

This is a huuuuge thing for me. Any “task” goes on my list or in my email to be done later, during a mental productivity sprint. The list gets overwhelming.

Just this morning, I found a large dead bug belly up by my work table in my sun room. I thought, “I should pick that up so I don’t step on it since I can barely see it against the dark rug.”

Then I thought, “I should pick that up … later.”

Then I thought, “Maybe this is one of those 2-minute tasks. It’ll take me a lot longer to scrape the bug pancake off the bottom of my foot when I invariably step on it later, so I should move this off my task list and onto my now list.”

So I did.

Later I found myself stepping in the area where the giant bug had previously been, and I gave myself a huge thank you for not having to scrape bug guts out from between my toes.

I hope this story inspires you to get something done today. Happy Friday!


I cleaned out my digital closet and found time for people and brands who matter.

I generally don’t delete people on Facebook. I don’t feel a “cluttered” friends list is worth a potentially hurtful moment in someone’s life when they discover I couldn’t stand the look of their face hurtling through my news feed to the point where I went out of my way to unfriend them.

However, there was too much clutter in my digital life and I’ve taken steps that have not only brought back a lot of the joy I used to find in online connections but have also given me more time to be present for the connections and brands who matter.

With email, I have long maintained inbox zero. Email is such an integral part of our lives now that I saw 38,000+ unread messages akin to having a disgusting, cluttered home. Sifting through all the digital junk takes a lot time that could be spent learning or having meaningful engagement with real people.

I recently reached a point where I ruthlessly unsubscribed from everything unless it’s something I read the majority of the time. If I’m not gaining any value from the clutter, why allow it to be there and dominate any of my time whatsoever?

With Facebook, I unfollowed (not unfriended) almost everyone except my extended family and circle of friends I engage with even somewhat regularly. I unfollowed every brand and every news source – I get my news from newsletters or visiting the apps, and do I REALLY need to see ads from brands? No. I shut off all notifications on all social media accounts except for direct interactions.

And guess what – I don’t miss anything I threw out. Not a single thing.

I now enjoy checking my email and looking at my Facebook news feed. It’s 100% people I truly care about and all of my attention is on them now. I actually feel lighter. I don’t have the mental strain of deleting tons of emails I don’t care about or scrolling past Facebook posts I don’t care about. It’s easy to look past these things because it seemingly takes so little time to simply scroll past or delete, but add those moments up and it’s a lot of wasted time and mental energy that could be redirected to becoming a better version of yourself.

Beyond wasted personal time and energy, I had another motivating factor in cleaning up the clutter. As long as I’ve been in the workforce I’ve struggled to deal with people who are so overwhelmed by digital clutter that they don’t have time to properly read important emails or completely focus on any one thing at a time.

How many times have you sent an email to someone only for them to reply back with a question you already answered in the previous email? Or they didn’t even see your email because they have 23,000 unread messages, so you get an email from them asking for information you sent them three days ago? Ironically, their lack of organization and attention causes even more digital traffic for themselves and everyone around them!

On my end, I’ve worked to try to make emails as concise as possible. Before I hit “send” I try to delete a couple more sentences. If it truly needs to be on the longer side, I highlight headers in a different color and put bullet points for skimming. For the most part I cut out salutations and get straight to the point. As with everything in life, it’s a work in progress and always will be. At least now I’ll have the space to think about it!

Work Culture

Say Hello to Someone on Their First Day: Why Employee Onboarding Matters

As you progress in your career, it’s funny to look back on your first job and think about your old hopes, dreams and flat out desperation. You show up for your first day and don’t initially notice how depressing it is that not a single person looked up from their desk when a shiny new hire was introduced. You had a job! Money! Someone thought YOU were worth paying and it officially wasn’t a case of mistaken identity that you got hired.

When I graduated in late 2008 the job market was non-existent. All of 2009 passed and I’d been diligent about tracking my applications, which totaled more than 500 by the end of the year. When I got hired for my first job in March of 2010 I was so desperate that I actually told them I’d take less than they offered me. What?! I didn’t even know what I was saying! I think it was some kind of desperate plea, still in shock that I’d been hired. A kind of, “Please don’t change your mind, and if you do, I’ll take less money!!”

When I started, exactly one person spoke to me and tried to make me feel welcome on my first day. I’d been so excited to start working that I naturally assumed people would be equally excited to have me on board, so I was fairly disappointed to find out I was just another dust bunny in the basement. Eight years later and I have never forgotten her or how she made me feel welcome, simply by introducing herself and talking to me like she was happy to have me there. Eventually I made several excellent friends at the company and had a great three years of employment there, but in the beginning, it was fairly quiet and pretty scary for a person brand new to the workforce!

It’s not my intention to dog on my first company – they are the norm when it comes to employee onboarding. Most jobs I’ve had, it’s been up to me to introduce myself, try to remember faces and associate them with names, job titles and teams while also trying to simply remember where my desk is.

My last company, Midmark, was the shining star of employee onboarding. I can’t say enough fabulous things about this company and how much they truly care about their employees. (No, they aren’t paying me to say this and I haven’t been employed there for more than a year!)

On my first day, one of my teammates took me out to a nice lunch and made me feel like Midmark was a place where I’d have colleagues who cared about me as a person. The week I was hired, Midmark actually sent a box to my house filled with welcome materials – a nice water bottle with the company’s logo, a shirt, a gift card to a local restaurant they owned, etc. They also gave me a booklet that contained everyone’s names and titles, and how everyone’s teams were connected, as well as a book they’d created about the company so I completely understood the history of the company from day one. EXCELLENT.

Contrast that to another company I was at who literally dropped me off at my new workspace and it was disgusting. Push pins all over the floor, dead bugs belly up, no one talked to me for days. The culture didn’t improve from there, so it was a fairly solid indication of the company’s focus on culture.

Beginnings are so important. As I’ve been reading through Daniel Pink’s latest book, “When”, I’ve realized even more how much beginnings set the tone for everything – from first days on the job, project kickoffs, first dates, etc. As the years pass, your memory fades. I’ve been working only 8 years and already a lot of days from past jobs are fading. But I remember those first days and how they directly affected my outlook of the company and my motivation to achieve my greatest work for the mission of the company.

There has always been a clear distinction in my motivation for work, depending on my view of the company. For a company like Midmark, I thought and still believe they are one of the few corporations that actually lives up to its motto: Because We Care. When I worked, I cared about doing a good job for the company as well as myself. With other companies that put zero effort into employee culture and onboarding, my motivation was more often about doing a great job so that I could make myself a more skilled, valuable person in the workforce for the future. (I am also passionate about making the web a more accessible place, so much of my motivation rests in that more than anything else!)

Of course, there is much more to being a good company than proactively creating a happy employee onboarding experience. But it sets the tone and it goes a long way toward starting your employees off running with your mission. If you’re not a company and just a regular person, say hello to a new person. Take them to lunch. It means more than you know. If you’re the company, show your employees you care because I guarantee they’ll care about you, too.

Photo by Pablo Gentile on Unsplash

Design UX

UX Fail – Buying a Rug from West Elm

Even though I’m a digital designer and I know poor UX or inaccessibility is not the user’s fault, I still end up feeling like I’m the one who is stupid when I can’t figure out how to work a site. How unfair is that! With more major retailers losing court cases in battles over website accessibility, I’m wondering how much longer it will be until I can feel a real presence of user-focused designers on the web.

Preventing users from feeling stupid is my #1 reason for wanting to be a digital designer/marketer. Whether that’s in the form of being a UX designer, a front-end developer, digital marketing expert – those roles all have the capacity to change the web! It makes me particularly angry when I’m trying to do something simple and give a company my money, and I can’t figure it out.

Searching for a rug online has been an interesting study in usability among major brands. I wanted something specific: an 8×10 wool area rug under $300.

Why do I want a wool rug, you ask? Because my cat, Alan, is a jerk and he refuses to barf anywhere except on rugs. Wool is magical and nothing soaks into it. It never gets stained. It’s sturdy and resilient. One time Alan got pissed at me for leaving him alone for a long weekend so he pooped on a rug. I need resilience from my home products.

Lucky black cat

With West Elm, I immediately became irritated because I couldn’t figure out how to sort their clearance rugs. With loads of options, I figured there had to be a filter option somewhere. There is no option!! You have to scroll through an endless list of rugs with a clearance “tag” and a price range. To see if they even have an 8×10 in that style, you have to click the “quick look” link. Then you have to select the size. THEN you get to see the actual price, which ends up being out of budget. THEN if you want to find out if it’s wool, you have to click the product description, which takes you to the full product page. And screw you if you happen to forget to click to  “open in new tab” because then you’ll have to navigate back to the giant list.

Poor UX searching for sale rugs on the West Elm website

West Elm’s regular non-sale rug section is marginally better, offering a handful of filters (none of which are material). I can select a style and a size, but I don’t know if it’s wool until I click through a bunch of links. They decided for me that style is more important than material. “Luxe Shine,” what does that even mean on a rug??

When I searched Wayfair, the experience was totally different. Not only was I able to select every feature I wanted before I looked at any rugs, but I could select simply by size straight from the navigation if I so chose!

Good UX by Wayfair with rug filters on their site

I understand small companies not having the resources to invest in user testing or in-house digital design talent. But a pricey, higher-end store like West Elm certainly has the resources to conduct user testing on their website. Perhaps they have, and the rug section was overlooked. It almost feels insulting as a user when you’re trying to give your hard-earned money to a company, and they haven’t put much effort into helping you out.

There should be a “website feedback” section of every site. I would use it all the time as a customer (for negative and positive feedback – I actually went in person to visit a brewery simply because I was enthralled with its web design and branding). As a designer, that would also be helpful. Sometimes things are missed or things change. I’ve worked for a large company and I understand this. But I also understand the need to educate everyone on the fact that the web IS continually changing, and as a result, so should your site.



My question was answered by Brad Frost!

My question about design in the corporate world was selected during yesterday’s webinar with Brad Frost and Sophie Shepherd: Design Systems and Creativity: Unlikely Allies.

My question was selected for discussion!

I was so excited! Although maybe there were only three questions so they were forced to choose mine. In any case, I saw Brad speak about atomic design last year at An Event Apart in Orlando and he really influenced my thinking.

Seeing as how I have a degree in journalism and created the editorial style guide for PR Newswire Europe when I worked there, I could NOT believe it hadn’t dawned on me to create a design style guide for my company at the time. I set my mind to creating one as soon as I got back to work!

Once I got actually got back to real life in the corporate world, however, I struggled a little because I felt armed with so much knowledge from that conference that I didn’t know where to start. There was so much to do!! Ultimately, I decided to start with improving the site’s accessibility because consistency and good design are great, but if your customers can’t even access and understand your content, what’s the point?

I ended up moving to Charleston and leaving that job, but my next big project I was tackling was a design style guide, or pattern library of sorts. Being in the corporate world, this wasn’t as easy as the internet makes it seem. The site was creaking under twisted and hacked widgets, multiple style sheets, outdated content, poor practices in design (such as entire pages being one giant image), and back end devs talking about throwing Bootstrap into the mix on top of everything else. We had nothing close to a design system or pattern library. It was pretty much up to the designer/front end person to make things happen.

Thus, it wasn’t exactly possible to simply come up with a nice style sheet and say, “Here’s what we’re doing!” There was talk of getting a new website in the next year or two, but that’s a long time away when you’re thinking of all the new content and pages that will be created.

Brad and Sophie suggested in cases like this, it’s easiest to get stakeholder buy-in by getting a team together to collect all the disjointed pieces. For example, collect the many different buttons (or any other design aspect) littered throughout a site and put them all on a sheet to show the wild inconsistencies. It’s a lot easier to make a case when you have visual documentation vs hypothetical situations, and in a situation like this you can immediately see how that type of inconsistency does not reflect the brand.

I was really, really excited about working on this at my last company and that’s one of the saddest parts about leaving. That was such a huge opportunity and an area to really make an impact. BUT, Charleston was calling and I’ve wanted to move back down south pretty much my whole life. And hopefully I will get another opportunity to make an impact at a new company!

Design JavaScript Python Unemployment

How I’m Using Unemployment to Succeed

I moved to Charleston, SC, in March and my job back in Ohio let me work remote until they found a replacement for me, which took four months.  My job ended June 23, and here I am! Unemployed, but not depressed. Yet. 😀

First day in Charleston at Tides Folly Beach
First day as a Charleston resident!! March feels so long ago!

My plan for the move was to use my unemployment time to vastly increase my skill set. I have 7 years of experience in digital marketing, and I also feel fairly confident with HTML and CSS.  Before I attended An Event Apart last year, digital design was an interest. But once I realized how much power I have as a designer to help the world access information, I knew that’s the path I wanted.

As I learned when I was looking for jobs during the recession in 2009, unemployment can be overwhelmingly depressing if you don’t have a plan with specific goals. I do not feel unemployed right now because my full time job is learning, continuing to better my portfolio, and looking for jobs. I work every day from 7:30 to 4 or 5pm.

My first goal was to save up enough money to be able to survive for a year should it take me that long to get a job. (Hopefully that’s a gross overestimation!) With that done, we moved to Charleston!!!!

My next goal was the most crucial and detailed. I am a big fan of calendaring my time. If I only have a list of things to do, it’s easy for me to skip over some or just bump them to tomorrow’s to do list. I end up skipping things and losing track. Instead, I bought a planner that I can write tasks by the hour. (As much as I love digital – for some reason I need to write down my to do list.) This has allowed me to break my studying into manageable chunks and also track exactly how long it’s going to take me to do which courses and where I should supplement.

I’ve been hitting edX hard on programming: an MIT intro course to computer science and Python, and an intro JavaScript course. I also have three UX courses I’m finishing, and those are actually paid certifications through University of Michigan.

And, as a bonus to myself, I schedule in an hour workout every day. I’m following the Blogilates by Cassey Ho calendar. It is FANTASTIC. Getting in a hard workout early in the day makes me feel strong mentally, too! I think this has been a key part of working at home.

Also, I get to work with my cat and that is pretty cool.

Alan thinks if he sits at the table, he will get served