I’ve been designing things for 17 years. I started in print, designing catalogs for Home Depot, who I worked for as a retail clerk for 7 years before I got a certificate in Adobe programs. I was an early adopter of the internet – I had a Gateway and an AOL disc. I am an ardent autodidact – I taught myself how to code the web by printing out the HTML and CSS of websites I liked and pinning it up on walls, drawing connections between the markup and CSS rule-sets. I dedicate a portion of every day to learning more about the evolution, science, philosophy and toolsets for creating digital experiences for humans. I know enough to know there is so much more to know. And I find that awesome.
How I became a designer
I knew how to draw when I was a kid. They called me gifted. I grew up in a blue-collar home near Boston and college wasn’t an option. I came from a hard-working family, so I got my first job at 15 as a waitress. I painted houses, cut hair, and worked retail.
It started in retail
My first retail job was at the first Boston area Home Depot. I immediately took to the rugged physicality of it. It was the first big box store anyone had seen. There were no signs. People were completely lost. I saw an opportunity. I created a way finder system using cut plywood and chains. I painted the main items within the aisles on these boards. I worked an overnight and used a machine to lift myself 20’ in the air so I could stand on a 6’ ladder in order to throw the chains over the rafters. Instant success – people could finally find things. I soon found myself with a full-time gig signing the entire place. I built how-to displays and gave classes on how to paint. I created a large cartoony mural-map at the front of the store so people could see where they had to go. I reset entire departments so people could shop more easily.
My journey into eCommerce
eCommerce was in its infancy. I was now designing Home Depot catalogs. I then found a corporate job with CompUSA designing planograms for products and traveled all over the country tearing apart store sets and rebuilding them again. I was working towards creating a better customer experience in the brick & mortar world of retail all along, not knowing it would go digital.
When I transitioned into the growing eCommerce space as a Photoshop retoucher for online product photography, I became an evangelist for a better online shopping experience for my company. I did it with markers, paper and Photoshop – essentially redesigning my first eCommerce site myself — from the art direction, content management, site architecture and simplifying flows and eliminating steps in things like our shopping cart. I had no idea I was doing something that would lead to this thing called UX.
This “UX” thing
UX became a real and rewarding discipline to me when I was working at Office Depot as a visual and promotional designer. More and more they kept feeding me wireframes and I started designing the UI and pixel-perfect layers. I was getting more involved with strategy and melding the worlds of promotional / marketing with UX in order to create a cohesive CUSTOMER experience. I still couldn’t call myself a UX designer then. There was so much more to know. But I’m confident that is exactly who I am and I get to contribute my 17+ years of cumulative knowledge and desire to learn and improve to the ever-evolving world of human-centered design. There may be zillions of new UXers coming out of code-camps these days — there may be designers better than me — but nothing beats coming up hard and dirty like I did. #battletested
I have a lot of people and organizations to thank for everything I’ve learned. Morten Rand-Hendriksen, Chris Coyier, Joe Natoli, Luke Wroblewski, Steve Krug, the minds behind W3C, Smashing Magazine, the WordPress community, Elegant Themes, A List Apart, Sitepoint, UXPin, Dan Cederholm, Ethan Marcotte, The Neilson Norman Group, Adaptive Path, etc. The name-dropping I’m doing here comes from a deep sense of gratitude for the experts in their field whose books, articles and videos I’ve consumed. The best designers at their core want to help others as well as make the world a better place — and for that, I’m thankful. I am also grateful for the brilliant designers, developers, marketers, content people, and directors who have contributed to my experience and made me a better designer. I promise to pay it back.
I’m married to my high-school sweetheart who is a boat captain and we have 2 cats and one extremely happy dog. We live in south Florida. I enjoy painting, music, writing, travel and fitness. I also regularly volunteer my time to a local leadership and personal development program mentoring adults in how to achieve their goals, work in team and contribute to the community. I have personally created and donated murals and physical labor to local organizations who provide for families and children in need.