Don’t mind me staring at you, I’m just sketching

Drawing has always been a bit intimidating to me. I can see an idea or concept in my head but when it comes to putting pen to paper and communicating it visually, I would freeze up.

So when we were given the assignment (challenge?) to draw 100 sketches in 2 days, I was nervous. So nervous. But, I love observing and people watching, which is an integral part of sketching.

All pictures

A few of my sketches

Over the past few days, I’ve opened my eyes to lines, shapes and flows. I’ve found more grace with my drawing ability.


Things. All found in my house.

We were given exactly 100 cards, so if I mess up, I push on rather than trash the card and start over. It was surprisingly freeing.


People. Ladies chat during lunch.

People were the biggest challenge for me but I learned to focus more on their shapes than details.

With laptop

Context. I sketched many of my fellow Tradecrafters interacting with their phones and computers.

The more I sketched, the easier it became to do this- especially helpful when I tried to sketch movement.


Flow. A lady pushing a stroller, a man running in the Embarcadero

Sketching a space from above proved to be an interesting challenge and it made me consider space between objects more closely. (It also inspired me to rearrange my furniture.)


Space. Aerial views of my bedroom & living room.

As hesitant as I felt on Monday about sketching, I really enjoyed this assignment. It gave me a little more confidence in drawing and helped me to see the space around me in a different light.


The Elements of User Experience

In some ways, Jesse James Garrett introduced me into the (official) world of User Experience. His book, the Elements of User Experience, was the first work on UX that I read. As such, I appreciated the simple, clear and relatable language that Garrett used to introduce newbies like me to the UX world.

Garrett described user experience as “the experience the product creates for the people who use it in the real world.” Sometimes we have great experiences with products (I’m looking at you, nostalgic Timehop), other times the experience is frustrating (like anytime I try to navigate Netflix on my tv). Our jobs as designers are to make that experience one of joy, delight and ease.

While there are many things that Garrett’s book helped me understand better, I’ll share with you my top highlights:

  • The Five Planes

Garrett describes the five planes as layers that build upon one another and influence how a site looks and behaves. His five planes are: Surface, Skeleton, Structure, Scope and Strategy. What I loved about this is how it broke down a site into the many, many different facets, from abstract (strategy) to concrete (surface). Garrett emphasized the importance of each plane’s dependence on the other. For example, if you miss getting the strategy right, it will affect the scope.

  • The Plane Approach

While each plane is dependent on one another, that doesn’t mean that you have to finish each plane before you can start work on the next section. That could lead to frustration for everyone involved. Instead, Garrett provided a straight-forward, great piece of advice to keep in mind: “have work on each plane finish before work on the next can finish.” I appreciated this clarification because I have been a part of teams before that have tried to finish one plane before starting another. It did lead to frustration- both from the team and our users. Had we taken Garrett’s advice, perhaps we would have all been better off.

  • “Understand the consequences of your solution to the problem.”

This was one of the most influential statements that Garrett made and I hope that it’s one I will always keep top of mind. Sometimes we can be so focused on fixing the problem that we don’t take a step back to consider how that solution could possibly cause a ripple effect throughout the design. It takes your team thinking about each plane to avoid this. Garrett provided this helpful diagram to show what this might look like:


“If you approach your product development process with the complete user experience in mind, you can come out of it with a product that’s an asset, not a liability.” Yes, Mr. Garrett. Yes indeed.


My First User Study (The Shaky, Grass Roots Edition)

One of the things I’m most excited about at Tradecraft is getting the opportunity to study and implement user studies following the lean startup philosophy.

From Laura Klein’s book UX for Lean Startups, “Lean UX is solidly data driven.” In other words, you test first, assume never.

I should set the stage now and share with you that up to this point, my experience with user studies have been purely grassroots. Really grassroots. But, since my goal for this blog is to be one that highlights (hopefully) progress, let me introduce you to User Study #1: The Grassroots Edition.

Right off the bat, I can tell you how we wrongly went about this study: we didn’t first form a hypothesis that we were trying to answer.

Here’s what we assumed: our website messaging wasn’t clear, the website flow made no sense and our checkout system was confusing.

Basically we went into the user study looking for validation for what we wanted to do, which was completely rework the website and messaging.

I joined the startup after the website had launched but I wished this study had been done prior to launching the site. Again, that’s where the lean startup school of thought makes so much sense.

We started by interviewing 16 people, all non-users of our product. With the exception of 4, they had never heard of us.

We had them walk through our booking process, from the homepage to choosing a product they were interested in, booking and reserving that product. Finally, we asked them about a couple of specific pages we felt were lacking in clarity and flow.


“$60 is too much. What am I getting for that?”


The user study validated a lot of what we already knew, like:

  • Messaging: It wasn’t clear to the user what exactly we were offering or where they could have the meal. Would the chef come to their house? Was it at the chef’s house? Was it delivery? The user really didn’t know.
  • Dynamic Pricing: The need for pricing that changed depending on how many people you have at a dinner. The price displayed isn’t what you would pay if there was only 2 people…or a larger group like 15. Users were unaware that booking a dinner under the minimum number of people shown would result in a higher price per person.
  • Flow: From the homepage to the meals page, filtering down to what you wanted to see (cooking classes, meals, tours) wasn’t intuitive. Part of that stemmed from hazy messaging.


“I thought you served only Italian food.”

New Insights:

We also got a lot of great feedback on issues we didn’t know were issues:

  • Consistent Images: One thing we heard was about our H1 image on our homepage. It conveyed (to a couple of users) that we offered one genre of food. Of course, there’s no way a picture of food will convey every genre but still, this was interesting feedback. If only to reiterate how important visuals are to our site.
  • Menu Clarity: We have pictures of food and a menu listed on the meals page but you’ll notice they’re not listed side-by-side. We heard from some users that this added to their confusion, especially when the menu featured food they were unfamiliar with.
  • Social Trust: We offer Facebook login but not using the Facebook symbol (it simply says “Login”). The study showed us that users wanted to see the Facebook symbol. To them, it added validity and trust.

Next Steps:

The raw feedback was enlightening enough but when it came to actionable items to provide backend, we focused on three areas:

1. Messaging on the home and meals pages

2. Dynamic pricing

3. How it Works

(Our reasoning for putting How it Works as a high priority was because of heavy site traffic to that page.)

I would love to share the before and after images but my path took a quick turn while in the middle of this study. Instead, I handed it over to my very capable coworkers and look forward to seeing the end result as a user.

The Journey from Journalism to Design

In the days before iPhones and internet, while other kids were playing teacher or house, I was reading the newspaper into a tape recorder, “anchoring” my own tv news show.

From the time I was young, I knew what I wanted to be when I grew up. It never wavered or changed, like other things in my life (such as that dark period before I loved avocados or when I hated wine), I never second guessed this dream.

Enter college. No major change, no shift, no worries. Print journalism was dying and I was told that the probability of anchoring in a large market was small. Still, that didn’t deter me. There was something about communication- pure and simple with your audience- that was innate.

But things changed and sands shifted. Like many journalists, the allure of PR drew me in. It was a semi-regular schedule, semi-regular hours and more pay that my measly producer salary drew. And though I didn’t love it, it taught me well. Through PR, I was introduced to tech. I was still a storyteller and (in theory) the audience was still my main priority.

I found, though, that I increasingly wanted to connect with a brand’s audience in a deeper way- to help build the trust and customer experience. Essentially, I wanted to manage the community. And so, earlier this summer, I jumped at a chance to direct the community for an early stage startup.

It was lean….incredibly so. But almost immediately after accepting, my role shifted completely. And while that’s to be expected to a certain point in the startup world, it became something that I didn’t recognize for a vision I didn’t understand. But nonetheless, there were opportunities to learn everyday.

We were building everything on our own. The messaging, the voice, the experience. It was all on us. And these things I loved. I loved conducting a grassroots study to figure out how people perceive us and our website. I loved figuring out what people liked and what they hated and why. I don’t think I realized I was doing user experience. But what I realized is that I really, really liked it.

And so a few weeks ago, when I received word that funding wasn’t going as expected and that wasn’t any money to pay me…well, I guess you could say that it was my first taste of the not so glamorous world of startups. They’re not all the 1% success stories. Some crash and burn. And while it hurts, it can also be a chance for a new chapter (“One door closes” and all that jazz….).

So on November 24th, I began a new journey, studying UX at Tradecraft, under the visionary Kate Rutter.

In a way, my childhood passion has come full circle. When I was a journalist, the audience was my main focus. It mattered most that I understood my audience and how to communicate with them.  In critical times, if I did not understand them, I would fail  as a communicator.

The audience- the user- will continue to be my main focus. I have a lot to learn but between you and me, I haven’t been this excited since I was a kid, reading articles from the Picayune Item into my tape recorder. So raise your glass with me. Here’s to a new journey.

What if we put Gatsby in the Bayou? (Wedding Planning Part One)

I am, in many ways, embarrassingly girly. Not in the “I love pink and heart Valentine’s Day” way. But definitely in the “Of course I’ve been planning my wedding since I was 5 years old” way.

Seriously, I’ve had this thing planned out. My mama has a wedding program that I drew up at the tender age of 7. Apparently the venue was going to take place in “London, the countryside.” I would come down the aisle to Trumpet Voluntary, naturally.

As far as tastes go, luckily mine have evolved a bit since 1989.


Older sister’s 80’s prom dress made a nice wedding ensemble.

Even so, when I became engaged a few months ago, I pretty much threw any “pre-planning” (like my secret Pinterest board) out the window. I realized that while I knew what I wanted the wedding to “feel” like, I didn’t really know how to translate that into reality. The feeling I wanted was of a formal, gracious Southern party- say if you dropped Gatsby into the bayou.

That’s where my dear friend Alee comes into play as an incredible wedding stylist (and if you’re not sure why you need a wedding stylist, check out my interview with her discussing the challenges of DIY weddings). Her role is to work with my wedding planners (who serve as the purely logistical arm) to bring this vision to life.

First up, the venue. I spent a long, long time looking for the right venue and when I found it, I knew…it was the one.

opera house

The Marigny Opera House in New Orleans

The building is crumbling, a hundred years of history within its walls. It’s hauntingly beautiful. Once we had the venue, Alee created a vision board to keep us on track.

Screen Shot 2014-10-12 at 9.31.03 PM

Alee’s vision board, which we’re sticking pretty close to.

We had a few of these elements already chosen ( like the Reformation dress, pictured above left, for the bridesmaid’s dresses).

When it came to the paper- save the dates, invitations, place cards and menus- we chose to have a vintage, Southern feel. (There can be a thin line between vintage and rustic, so we’re erring on the side of purely vintage.)

We went with Lucky Luxe, a lovely boutique paper company out of Mississippi, for the save the dates and while we’re still looking for the right vendor for the invitations, we’re using their handkerchief line as the inspiration.

More to come as we move (really quickly…) towards April. In the meantime, here’s to everyone planning a wedding and trying not to lose their mind. I’m lifting my glass to you gals!

Fall Finds Under $25

Hello friends! It’s been a while. Like a long while. Turns out that wedding planning and starting a new job have a way of eating up time, despite good intentions for blogging at least once a week.

Well, after a few unexpected changes (more on that later), I’ve gotten a few minutes of my day back…and just in time for my favorite season of all.

I adore fall. I always have. Even living in a climate that doesn’t really see the true beauty of the changing season, I anticipate the end of summer and beginning of cozy autumn like a kid on Christmas Eve.

When it comes to fall decor, I tend to keep them simple. A few pumpkins and gourds here and there, a couple bouquets of orange and red mums scattered around, and adding a cozy throw to the bed. That’s about it!

So let me introduce you to my favorite finds right now for under $25- super simple finds that you can add to your home for just a touch of fall. Nothing overboard. Consider it “autumn minimalist.”

11. These salt & pepper shakers are perfect for your fall table. West Elm, $19

2. A little bit of whimsy that will take you through November. West Elm, $5-11

3. Be a little glamorous with your gourds. Target, $22

4.Cozy up your couch with this knit pillow cover. H&M, $24

5. Why not candlesticks that can go from spooky Halloween to modern-glam Thanksgiving? Crate and Barrel, $5

August Finds: 5 Under $25

Obviously it’s almost September. Which means….my intentions of getting out this post during the first week of August obviously failed. In my defense, August  lasted about 30 minutes. I blinked and it’s suddenly almost Labor Day. (Tell me you feel the same way.)

Anywho, I am so ready for fall. The most lovely of seasons is really a tights & scarf lover’s time to shine.  Granted, I wear scarfs and tights pretty much year round in San Francisco but even though it doesn’t really make this seasonal transition known in the way of weather (or foliage), I still get excited at putting summer behind me.

So in honor of the quickly approaching fall season, my top 5 finds are items that will transition with you into the upcoming cozy days. Two of the items are currently on sale at $10 (snap them up!) and one of the items is just the loveliest cookbook from SixDoors, one of my favorite places for finding local treasures. I thought it was perfect for baking with your kiddo this fall. Enjoy!


1. Anthropologie, $18; 2. Six Doors, $19; 3. Target, $19; 4. West Elm, $10; 5. Anthropologie, $10