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An Enlightening Experience

This summer, I worked in lovely Ann Arbor as a UX/IA intern.  (Seriously, people will tell you that summer in Ann Arbor is awesome.  No matter what they say, it will be an understatement.  It really is that great!)  I worked for Enlighten, a digital creative agency.  I enjoyed my time there immensely.  The people are cool, the atmosphere is great, and I learned a lot.  

You can check out my projects in more depth on the projects page (as of now they're still under production and I can't disclose too much), but I'll briefly describe them here.  

My main project was for a client in the insurance industry.  They sought our help in designing a product that would allow them to be the first to make a common paper/phone insurance process completely digital.  There is obviously a lot of opportunity here to create value for customers.  However, dealing with firsts always presents challenges.  Here, the main challenge was to keep the process as simple and streamlined as possible, while still providing enough support that users would feel as comfortable online as they would in front of an agent.  

My other major project was a for a client who is in the financial sector.  This client was looking for us to help them redesign a microsite for financial advisors.  This project was unique because advisors have their own specific needs that do not necessarily overlap with the general public seeking financial information.  This made our research even more important.  I also had smaller roles in projects for a health system and a franchised food chain.  

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Before this internship, I assumed that I would prefer being part of an in-house UX team than an agency.  Now, I'm not so sure.  I really like the diversity of projects agency work offers.  It's fun to learn about different industries.  Each has their own unique set of challenges that provide new learning experiences.  Still, I am definitely not opposed to in-house.  As I go through the job hunting process over then next 6-9 months, I'll see what my options are.  For now, I am staying open-minded.

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Another interesting thing I learned was the importance of showing, rather than telling.  When you work with people you know and that know you, often it's easy enough to just articulate your ideas and they will be able to follow.  However, I did not have this rapport the first few weeks of my internship.  I soon found that simple diagramming, whether a hand-sketch or a quick digital mock-up, was an effective communication tool.   This is especially important when dealing with clients with whom you do not work closely.  Communication is so important, so why not communicate in the best way possible.  Having sketches affords comments and critiques.  They can drive conversation and open up brainstorming.  Good communication leads to successful teams and happy people.

Showing and not telling, is also important in design work.  As we all know from Don Norman, affordances can be critical.  Usually, the most important part of a website or app is the content.  We need to use design and structure to support and focus on the content.  All of this should be done so that users will just inherently know how and where so they can focus on completing their goals and not waste time or energy.  The more design shows, the better the design will be.  Of course, this is easier said than done.  Especially when there are multiple stakeholders whose goals may or may not align with an optimal user experience.  The best thing to do here is to show them, don't tell that user experience is at risk.  Show them the research (you did do research right?), show them the data.  Show them how the interactions and flow can be affected.  

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To sum up, my time at Enlighten taught me that I really love UX and IA work.  I'm not so bad at it either.  I learned a lot from my team at Enlighten, and I'll keep learning during my time here at Michigan.  I have several projects lined up for this coming year.  I intend to be an expert on all things UX and IA and the most sought after hire of the class of 2014.  I'm going to do big things. 

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