Great Climate for UX in Cincinnati

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I have been ready to graduate for some time, but I must say that these last couple semesters in undergrad have been a great experience for me to begin setting my sights on what I want to shoot for in the future.  After visiting a UX job market panel at UpTech in greater Cincinnati, I have received one more inspiration towards integrating my skills together into a value-creating profession.

Why UX in the Midwest?

This panel discussed what UX is, how people usually define it, and then finally what the UX market is like in the region.  The four panelists had a wide variety of backgrounds, from startups to corporations, from designers to financiers.  Their experience supporting their claims showed that they clearly got around, from working in The Valley to Boston to Chicago, they ultimately had ended up in Cincinnati and love the environment it provides.

  1. The coasts are looking to the Midwest for reasonably priced services.  An affect of minute specialization is higher cost.  As skills become more and more niche, premiums on that experience jump to astronomical proportions, and for many companies these rates are simply unrealistic (one panelist quoted $70/hr).
  2. Midwest UX professionals are well rounded.  Once you start heading to bigger cities, specialization occurs to the nth degree, and while that may lead to greater efficiencies, it doesn’t make for a better team player.  The panelists agreed that most professionals fall to either the engineering-heavy side, or the design-heavy side of the skill spectrum, and that this dichotomy is difficult to make a great UX professional.  UX requires prudence and diplomacy between performance requirements and realistic technical constraints, and these qualities are much more likely to be found among those with wide experiences.
  3. The Midwest favors meritocracy (in a practical way).  One of the more encouraging statements made that evening was from a panelist of an agency: “We’re not looking for the graduate two years out, but five or more years out.  We want to see the mistakes they’ve made, and what they’ve learned from their experience.”  This theme found itself played out in a general demand they all shared for professionals who can take charge in bridging the design/engineering gap.  “There’s no one approaching it as a product manager.”  Only with years of experience in various industries will this blend of knowledge be able to synthesize into something new and original.

Why is Cincinnati Well-Suited For UX?Cincinnatus

On a personal note, I also had a pleasant chortle upon seeing a parallel between the required traits of UX and the symbolic character of Cincinnati.  From a history course (hooray for liberal arts education), I remembered learning about Roman virtues being exemplified through the nearly mythological tale of Cincinnatus, who performed his high duties of office without any assumptions of power or privilege beyond his minimal service.  For a little bonus history lesson, here are 7 Roman Values (mirroring the 7 hills of both Rome and Cincinnati):

  1. Auctoritas: possessing authority, and being able to lead
  2. Dignitas: having prestige and charisma
  3. Gravitas: not being flippant, but having an intentional focus
  4. Hospitium: being welcoming of new people [and new ideas]
  5. Otium: understanding the power of leisure, and pursuit of personal interests
  6. Pietas: being rooted in religiosity
  7. Virtus: having boldness and valor

With the exception for some recent irreverent marketing campaigns for felines, you don’t have to look farther than what you can see from the Carew Tower to find examples of these values: from a world-class museum, to a refreshing Eden Park, historic (and active) Catholic parishes, and a well-programmed Fountain Square, Cincinnati has all of the necessary elements to support a culture of UX.

The Luxury Segment Demands Value-Add

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luxury tax, you must pay for what you getFinishing up my BBA, after many class presentations for various entrepreneurial projects, “capturing the high-end luxury market” is often the elusive El Dorado to making it big in business. Sure, the 1% demographic is pretty visible, they probably do indeed have a high purchasing power parity, and they want the best, right?  Just appeal to their senses of luxury, and let the inflated margins start pouring in!

But seriously, no one in the world thinks about luxury like that, right?

I recently attended a marketing workshop in Ann Arbor, less than an hours drive from the headquarters of a near half-dozen American auto manufacturer’s headquarters in the Motor City [metropolitan area].  The guest speaker was a marketing executive for one of these companies, and in response to other foreign auto makers capturing this lucrative market, he disclosed their rebranding strategy to our intimate gathering:

  1. Emphasize Quality
  2. Lead in Design
  3. Deliver Great Personal Service

I added a couple words to cloak their identity, so Google-researching would be more difficult, but honestly I didn’t find this blanket strategy particularly original.  Whether or not all of the detailed nuances of their strategy were fully encapsulated here, are not each of these attributes important for any product, regardless of demographic?  How is this any different for a luxury demographic?

It seems as though the googly-eyes for this segment are not restricted to this company, or even to just American companies.  Case in point, as I was looking up “purchasing power parity” to ensure that I was using that term correctly, on the financial investment page I was on, this familiar ad of a different auto manufacturer popped up:

The coincidence was uncanny.  No longer surrounded by friends with good food and drink in a good mood for commercials, while watching this ad again I had a similar feeling to that I had in that Ann Arbor room: this executive was revealing his company’s multi-billion dollar strategy to crank out a new line of luxury cars, with the value proposition all hinging on “this is what luxury looks like.”

I don’t believe I was the only one concerned about more sizzle than steak.  During the Q&A, one of the first questions was something along these lines:

Sir, you say that your target is for a younger generation that is open to trying new experiences and brands. But what about sustainability? My nephew recently decided to purchase a new car, and because of those qualities, he went with a hybrid. What is [manufacturer’s] strategy for this green-conscious generation?

The response was that “this was a long-term consideration, as part of their 5-year roll out of their new product line.”  I’m not the expert, but if the whole goal of this company is to redefine their brand, would not a totally new model be a great addition to their existing line than simply giving modern facelifts?

So how should we think about luxury?

I’m going to cop out and share a general observation: from my studies in my Sociology minor, what I have read and seen is that the world is headed towards diverse segmentation and specific activity-centered cultures.  Within each of these subsets of cultures, specific, unique products will be needed to satisfy segments (or even create activity), and in many arenas a sharp knife will outperform a Swiss army knife.  Of course everyone likes to feel special by using a “luxury” item, but what gives luxury its true value is the craftsmanship for those who are able to discern it.  And that is high class.

: “Specific, unique products will be needed to satisfy segments.”

I would like to make a prediction: as the Internet continues to shape our cultures and the way and where we interact, I think that the emphasis on “luxury” will shift to “quality.”  Just look at the profusion of Patagonia jackets, name-brand shoes, and Macbook Pros in the world, divisions of labor are making themselves all the more evident in our world.

In summary, here is my four-fold strategy to not luxury goods, but quality goods in meeting a market:

  1. Be specific
  2. Be unique (differentiated)
  3. Understand the usage culture around the product
  4. Ensure the value created matches value pursued

Time Management is Like a Coding Project

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Code

I was reading another time-management article recently, and sure enough they usually say the same types of things… but this time around I had a new realization: when working on any project with coding, the process shifts back and forth between mapping out the form and then going back in and creating the content. This seems to be one school of thought for coding processes, the other beginning with the eventual form in mind and linearly plowing through the project.  Both are pretty similar in principle, just differing in method. For managing time, the typically-recommended process has to do with breaking down projects into individual tasks, and laying out a time-bound schedule of when they should be completed. This is project management on a small scale, and this process is even more critical the larger the scope and more people involved in a project.

In particular, I was intrigued with these common themes:

  1. Direction: you need to know where the ship is pointed before you set the engine to full-steam ahead. Is this currently a priority? Is this the most urgent task at hand, or is there something needing to have time invested now?
  2. Structure: once you know the direction (i.e. specifications/requirements or goals), then the method must be laid out for how it will be accomplished. Will we take a great-circle arc?  Or would we value a scenic route along the coast?
  3. Details: once we know the general outline, then this is the stuff that actually makes it.  What route exactly will we take to get there? Between what rocks and cliffs will we traverse? What will the specific wording be? Which of the “if?then:other” statements will be “>=” or “>“? These must be decided in the moment.

My favorite approach to learning has been to dissect a concept, and learn what the pieces are for and how they function. This way, when put back together again, it is much easier to identify each piece in how they all fit, and appreciate how they work together. Time management for me still largely remains “do this, try that,” but the more musing done on a topic, the more able we will be in understanding how to best manage it.

Communication Cures Confusion (Celebrate Collaboration!)

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We’re all different.  We all have different perspectives.  How do you coordinate this variety to actually do something useful?

I was talking with a friend who is reading a book about methods of gaining and acquiring power. One of them includes being aloof, and withholding information. This leaves the other party in the dark to a degree, and creates a reliance on you–the beholder of knowledge–to bequeath to them what they desire when you see the time is fit. Ok, not the most ethical, or maybe not even the most mature, but I can see it.

In practice however, at my current internship and in my numerous group projects in business school, I’ve been frustrated with not being in the communication loop, but not for the reason of this method of acquiring power. I have also found myself on the side of unintentionally siloing information from group members, and feeling anxiety of them inevitably lashing out in distress… or just falling off the boat completely.

My experience both at my job and in group projects has been misdirected efforts, and frustration from incompatibility with pieces constructed in isolation. I’m sure this isn’t much of an off-beat observation. So while we don’t always have to disclose every detail, I am resolving to communicate intent and direction at every opportunity to ensure we’re going the same direction.

A quick caveat: I’m a middle child, I’m all about trying to blaze a new path and be original, be it in rhythms for a music setting or finding a new PowerPoint template that everyone hasn’t already used. Moreover, I firmly believe in diversity, where different elements coming together creates an amalgamation that is greater than the sum of the parts. So my approach to being different isn’t just to successfully find my ecological niche for survival, but because I’ve experienced that this posture of contributing something original is better for all.  This is the ideal I’m holding onto, at least.

Problem Solving Model: A Tool

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In my Management Skills class today, we went over problem solving. As basic as it sounds, it was amazing how easily we get off topic from solving the problem effectively, but are stuck in old habits of approaching things or are stuck using the lenses that we are most recently familiar with (i.e. Availability Bias, Self-Serving Bias, Escalation of Commitment, etc.).

When it comes down to it, solving a problem deals with changing behaviors leading to different outcomes. This model is a very robust way to plow through all the smoke screens that our own creativity can put up sometimes:

1) Identify Problem
2) Determine Source
3) Establish Criteria
4) Implement
5) Evaluate on Criteria

Being involved in several student organizations, I firmly believe that steps 3 and 5 are critical to creating any kind of lasting effect, and have been the downfall for many well-intentioned efforts put forth on my campus. With many sources of opposition to actually getting productive work accomplished, I hope this is a firm support to helping push great ideas through the crowded pipeline.

My Modest Attempt At The Meaning of Life

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This past week, I attended a conference for my Christian student organization with over 16,000 fellow members.  With 21 pages of notes and over 30 original summary Tweets (not including retweets or conversations with others) in 4 days, “I learned a lot” is an understatement.  While there were a lot of nuanced ideas I captured, they all shaped a new paradigm for me that I believe captures the meaning of life: find your niche and help complete our world as it was intended.  God designed our world with excellence to be enjoyed, which has since been messed up by sin, and is now restored through Jesus Christ.  I won’t summarize everything I’ve learned, but pulling from three experiences in business school, academic research, and music performance, I have paralleled those experiences to what I’ve recently learned:

To survive in business, you must provide a good or service of value that a consumer is willing to pay you for.  Competition dictates that not everyone can produce the same goods and services, so differentiation is required.  What is often described within industries is that there exist unreached pockets of the market, or “niches” that still have needs unaddressed, and this creates a market opportunity.  In my “Business Changing the World Track,” the themes between seminars can be summarized as “God has given us entrepreneurs a lens to look around the world and see what is missing.  We may then go about our means of business plans and finance to bring it into being, with profit being the indicator of growth and the measure of sustainability.”  The first characteristic we know of God is that He is a creative God (Genesis 1:1), and extends that characteristic to us in His image.

In the world of academia, learning leads to research, which serves the purpose to “contribute to the existing body of knowledge.”  If we already know a good deal about how the water cycle works, someone investigates it in terms of how it is affected by pollution.  I need not go into how many topics we do not yet fully understand, such as diseases, behavior, zooming in to cellular structures and zooming out to explore economics.  Knowledge impacts decisions of use and affect, and is ultimately for better use of resources, or to better serve and interact in others in relationship.  God intended us to not only enjoy the world, but to understand it and take care of it (Genesis 2:15).

Music is richest with different layers, twists, and sounds contributing to it. While the emphasis is on lyrics and melody, percussion establish rhythmic structure, bass establishes the melodic structure, guitars and pianos dance around the melody to complement it and embellish it, and strings or synths fill the space in between.  One of the things musicians (and event organizers) can’t stand are repetitive roles, such as multiple guitarists playing the same strumming pattern or drummers unable to work with the complexities of world percussion (i.e. Latin), because every instrument has its place, and to be effective is to be different.  Christians are not conforming robots, far from it… in heaven diversity is valued, and “the kings of the earth will bring their splendor into it” (Revelation 21:24).  We should all celebrate differences, and use them and share them with others.

Yes, “God loves you,” as we’ve perhaps even been beaten over the head with by Christians in our past, but I’m happy to report that I’ve discovered this aspect is only the first part.  We’re designed to collaborate with a King, who urges us to desire that “thy kingdom come, thy will be done, on earth as it is in heaven” (Matthew 6:10).  I’m convinced this is the root of our ambitions, our dreams, and our desires to both enjoy our world along with others in it, so I’ve committed myself to seeing my corner of this kingdom restored.  And if you’d like to experience this, I’d urge you to join, because I’ve only had my first real taste and I’m excited about it more than anything in the world.

Blog Take 2

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Since creating this blog for the first time, I have upgraded to a better web server, a revamped personal website, and a much more sane frame of mind now that one of my most difficult semesters is over. And I also accidentally deleted what I had worked on so far.

Additionally, all the quirks I learned about web hosting and how to run this blog have been figured out, and having redone the process of re-setting this blog back up, I hope that you will appreciate its efficiency and organization! There is much more to come, and here is my list of what I desire to write on soon:

Personal

What I wouldn’t have learned if I WASN’T at Eastern
  • Strong bonds/connections/reliance on family is not weakness
  • When it all shakes down, it’s not about doing… it’s about being (with people, and with God)

business

An Entrepreneurship project–more conceptual than anything at this point

Sociology

Ray Oldenburg’s “third places
Two papers for my Finance class:
  • Ethics, a trader getting into medical marijuana
  • International business

SOCIAL MEDIA

How does Twitter work, and what’s it good for?
Becoming a thought leader through Twitter and blogs