Thursday, March 21, 2013

The UX Meditation

Honbo Garden in Osaka (CC license).
I can safely say I'm doing what is my core passion these days: UX. In some sense, it's my zen garden; a chance to say "stop" to manic, unmeditated design requests and the breakneck turnarounds found in the industry formerly known as advertising.

High visual design is often thought of as coming from an R/GA, Wieden Kennedy or one of the thousands of sexy, boutique digital agencies out there today. However, one of the problems I've had with Madison Avenue's approach to design for digital is a culture of rock stars and one-off, "campaigny" executions that, though they have their place, don't really do it for me. There seems to be a problem accommodating scale given the culture and expertise found in such environments. And the last thing I want to work on is another glorified digital rubber chicken, hand buzzer, whoopie cushion, or a fake fly in a fake ice cube that thrills for a quarter and is never seen again. Worse yet, I'd dread working on an enterprise-level site that is treated more like a small campaign microsite.

I like to build products that last; ecosystems that one can nurture and grow into something used on a massive scale on a daily basis. After several years of seeing it done wrong at some of the largest interactive shops, I decided to pursue design and creative direction under the newly-coined term "UX" as Lahiri Studios.

User experience is something I treat as an umbrella term under which we find user research, information architecture, prototyping and visual design. A UX professional, therein, is a more involved architectural and strategic thinker; someone who doesn't push pixels in Photoshop without stopping and thinking several levels deep into the implications of a design decision. I can't imagine it being done any other way these days, but I know it is, all the time, and I'm just thankful that it's not my world anymore.

The fact that Valley companies are pursuing design aggressively is the light at the end of the tunnel for me. I think Apple spearheaded this and left an indelible mark on the lives of design professionals in technology. It's led to a new level of respect in the industry for what is as much a deeply personal passion as it is a professional role now for the last 13 years. Companies continue to take notice of the importance of design, and the importance of Austin's explosive and extremely disruptive tech culture as well. I truly appreciate the methodical approach of tech as it has existed in software and systems development for decades now, and would love to see that same approach applied to design. I truly believe it's not just the right way, but the only way to design for digital media at scale.

Saturday, March 16, 2013

Taking the Leap

What are social networks good for again?

Rumors abound, and LinkedIn stalking is at an all time high, so I figured I'd write a complementary post to the last one. 

Five years in Atlanta was enough to build my career and complete 13 years in the creative business. Now I can safely say I have some relative freedom to define my career as I choose. 

Southby - Geeks being herded into the keynote presentation.
Moving to Texas and witnessing the Austin startup ecosystem has made me acutely aware of the power of thought leaders and what attracts (and repels) the intellectual class. I'm not speaking of the monetarily wealthy, the privileged or the famous, but the minds among us who are defining the future, and the environment needed for those minds to thrive. 

These conditions have done their part in encouraging me to lawyer up, incorporate and start my own consultation practice, pursuing my creative passions independently. I'm doing things my way, both out of choice and out of necessity, given the changing marketplace for creative services. In the back of my mind are the words of an industry associate, entrepreneur and branding genius Barry Deck: "Agencies are dead. Nobody wants another agency."

I must say, the design consultation model has changed considerably since I've started in this business. With Adobe switching to a subscription service, entry costs are lower than ever for creatives to at least learn the tools of the trade. With a degree of entrepreneurial panache, a good eye and a strong knowledge of the digital medium, the sky's the limit. Given that I work virtually and share coworking space with other entrepreneurs, I can't imagine working at a traditional office anymore. I work remotely from each of the four Texas metro locations depending on my client needs.

It truly is the new Wild West out here. Houston with energy and health care, Austin with it's focus in technology. Dallas is the biggest city in Texas with something for everyone; San Antonio is arguably the most beautiful of the four with an equally diversified economy. The unforgettable San Antonio River Walk harkens back to my days with Volvo and Dan Criscenti, my good friend and former boss.

158 people a day are making their exodus to the city of Austin alone, many from Silicon Valley. The result of the brain exchange couldn't be more obvious than Austin's recent approval for Google's new fiber optic Internet service. A host of mind-blowing Texas startups both within and outside of Austin are making huge changes in how we live and work in the 21st century. I even managed to find the perfect client here in Houston, closer to my family, and haven't looked back since. I'm working on the things I've always wanted, in a way I could never have imagined. 

All four burgeoning Texas metros are within three to six hours of each other and I consider all of them "my city;" a self-contained economy seeking remarkably little from it's neighbors, while contributing in excess to the world's economy and cultural landscape. 

That's about all there is, really, behind my going independent. On a personal level, family had been my initial reason for returning to Texas. But friends quickly followed. I realized the distinct feeling that I was caught up in something bigger, something with its own magnetism, almost immediately after arriving. Between my new found friends and family, I find it quite a blessing to call Texas my home.