Apprentice reflections

by AUX

Our tenth cohort of apprentices has officially completed the Apprentice in User Experience program. Brian, Trevor, and Alex had some final thoughts they wanted to share, reflecting on the past 15 weeks. Check out what they had to say:

From Alex Holachek:

I’m writing this on my last day of the AUX program. It’s the end of one stage of my life and the beginning of another-working as a full-time employee of Fresh Tilled Soil-and I find myself thinking a lot about what has happened in the past few months. I’ve been looking back, evaluating my progress, and trying to distill some lessons for the future.

Lesson 1: Put new knowledge into practice as soon as possible

For the first nine weeks of the program, we completed a series of reading assignments and discussions of various aspects of UX: user research and interviewing, personas and experience mapping, and prototyping and usability testing, while working simultaneously on our personal projects. I learned that I assimilated knowledge much more quickly if I was able to immediately put into practice what I learned. It was great to be able to read a varied selection of writings on mapping user journeys, for instance, and then iterate through my own version of a user journey diagram for the app I was developing. Reading about exploratory user research, as helpful as it is, is very different from actually getting out and talking to people about their lives and needs.

Lesson 2: When learning from the best, don’t just pay attention to their technical and creative abilities, but also the way they interact with others

As the AUX participants were working on our respective personal projects, we were able to sit in on a variety of client meetings and observe client projects in various stages of completion. This was edifying in a “learn how the sausage gets made” type of way, but just as importantly, it enabled me to watch the way Fresh Tilled Soil employees collaborated with each other and the gracious way they treated clients. The atmosphere at Fresh Tilled Soil was very supportive: the feeling was very clear that if one person succeeded, everyone did. It was a very collegial and motivating environment.

Lesson 3: Foster the apprentice mindset

Because I was an apprentice at Fresh Tilled Soil rather than an employee, I felt very comfortable asking questions and not trying to maintain any kind of illusion that I already knew everything that was going on. I really enjoyed the perspective shift of viewing myself as a novice who was supposed to ask questions, rather than someone who had to have a total handle on everything from day one. As an apprentice, I also felt confident that people at Fresh Tilled Soil would take the time from their packed schedules to help me learn, and that I wasn’t abusing their goodwill by asking for their help (within reason of course). Even though I begin my first day as a full-time employee tomorrow, I hope to continue being confident in going out of my way to learn from others and acknowledging that I’ll never be done learning and improving.

From Brian Madrigal:

Before applying to Fresh Tilled Soil’s AUX program, I understood it was going to be difficult because I was a beginner in web development, which would like lead me to fail many of the challenges presented if I got accepted. Instead of doubting myself, I applied.The first days of AUX were as if I had taken my first steps toward climbing a challenging mountain on a cloudy and foggy day with just enough equipment to get me up a couple of miles. I was intimidated and excited. As I was climbing up the first mile of the mountain, I met my AUX team: Alex, Lindsay, and Trevor. All experienced, hardworking, and talented individuals who come from diverse backgrounds and were enthusiastic about this climb we’d all embarked upon together. We quickly got to work, and that is when the fog and cloudiness slowly started to disappear for me.

Development:

We received front-end development challenges that taught me many flaws I have to improve on. I didn’t know how to gauge the amount of time it would take me to complete each challenge. I realized that as a developer, I have to know my own pace of work and improve upon that. Most of the time I found myself asking the wrong questions like, “how long does it take you to build this?” or “Should I be learning JavaScript or Node?” Asking these questions in no way helped me improve because they were irrelevant to the work I was doing. I should’ve asked more technical questions on what I had done and could be doing better. It is important for me to understand that the questions I ask can lead me down the wrong path. Overall, observing the development team has helped me see how intricate web development is. As a developer, I should be intentional with every single line of code I write, and know why I implemented each line. Progressive enhancement is an important strategy and anything I build in the future should be accessible to everyone.

Design:

In AUX, we apprentices have a major challenge where we implement the UX design skills and methods we learn to create a product that solves a problem for an end user. The major challenge is split into three phases which are research, prototype, and final presentation. When I was in the research phase I had a preconceived idea of how I wanted my product to look by the end of the major challenge. That was a mistake that misdirected my project because I tried to make my idea work for me instead of my end user. This overwhelmed me because I saw too many opportunities and solutions that were not cohesive with what my end user’s needed. I felt like a toddler frustrated by a puzzle piece that was not solving the puzzle. Learning from the design team and observing the high level of thinking that goes into every decision for a product was insightful. A UX designer has to do plenty of research to make great design decisions. I also learned that a UX designer has to be in tune with the reality of an end user’s lifestyle in order to see opportunities for improving the end user’s experience. A designer should not marry their ideas.

Witnessing how developers and designers work together has helped me see the importance of compromising at times. Working collaboratively is key. Developers work with designers to see what is feasible and collaborate on many more factors to ensure the success of a product that is being built.

Strategists:

Learning from strategists has helped me realize the importance of process and articulating it verbally or visually. While being a part of a design sprint, I learned that you can find opportunity and answers even in what may seem like chaos. The design sprint method can be applied in any situation to research for solutions or to further develop an idea.

Project Managers:

Observing project managers taught me how organized one has to be to be able to coordinate teams. More specifically, how organized one has to be with time and priorities. Time is extremely valuable. Money is lost and and can be gained, but lost time cannot be regained. I also got to observe their great communication skills with their teammates and their clients.

Leadership:

The conversations with Richard Banfield, the CEO of Fresh Tilled Soil, have taught me what great leadership is. Leadership serves more than dictates. Leadership trusts others and is compassionate. Leadership sticks to the facts and knows when to challenge the team. Leadership is transparent and has a vision.

Being an apprentice in user experience design at Fresh Tilled Soil has equipped me with the tools to continue this climb. This climb has not been an easy one, but I will confirm it has been a meaningful one. It is scary going into the unknown and figuring things out as you go, but that is exactly what I love about this career path. I love that with design thinking I can help solve problems by testing a hypothesis in any situation, and I’ve learned to trust the process of a design sprint. I still have many more failures to learn from in this climb but I’ve never been so energized to keep going.

Thank you Fresh Tilled Soil for letting me be a part of your 10th AUX cohort. I am glad I didn’t listen to my doubts.

From Trevor Waldorf:

FTS day 01

  • Talk to three five six new people today (mandatory)

FTS day 03

  • Settle on problem areas
  • Talk to Evan – potential mentor

FTS day 10

  • Get feedback on Form Challenge from Jimi
  • Transcribe interview notes and look for common themes

FTS day 14

  • Organize challenge part one deliverables
  • Present major challenge!

FTS day 21

  • Add new attributes to empathy maps
  • Build out experience map
  • Watch the wine documentary
  • Value mapping exercise

FTS day 26

  • Prototype POP hook-up
  • Product Roadmapping with Evan
  • Digital Illustration 101 with AUX team
  • Info Architecture session w/ Hamy

FTS day 31

  • VR storyboard
  • Service blueprint sketch
  • Prototype Most Dangerous Assumptions exercise

FTS day 35

  • User Testing with Kat
  • Talk to winery
  • Model rocks, big trees, fences in Blender
  • Fix compilation errors

FTS day 43

  • Test teleportation points
  • Write and place UI stories
  • Guitar reverb zones build

FTS day 47

  • Intro to client work with PMs
  • Feedback on visual design with Trish

FTS day 57

  • Client work, prototype clean up and link with Geordie
  • Enter time-of-day screens UI solution

FTS day 62

  • Conversations on the future with Evan, Kelly, AFed, Richard
  • Client work, illustrations draft

FTS day 68

  • Hand-off meeting for Enter UI with Enter team
  • Talk with Mike about life

Post-FTS day 01

  • VR design
  • College apps prep

New endings. New beginnings. 71 weekdays. A few weekends and a handful of late nights. It’s been a dream the whole way through.

About Fresh Tilled Soil

Fresh Tilled Soil is a Boston-based user interface and experience design firm focused on human centered digital design