Mapping Skillsets to UX

“So…what ARE you? I mean, in the context of UX or UI design?” 

This is a question I receive often, and it’s one that’s been difficult for me to answer. Designers, including myself, are only successful if they’re keeping the user/audience at the center of their design – but I haven’t been mapping that knowledge solely to software solutions. So, knowing that I’m a classic over-analyzer, and have been known to downplay my own achievements and expertise (**cough – imposter syndrome – cough**), I’m going to take a hint from colleagues who act shocked when I say ‘oh no, I’m not really a trained UXer,’ and I’ll do an exercise in mapping my actual skillset to those of ‘official’ UX or UI pros. I’ve had such a broad amount of experience that I don’t really fit into one box, so I’ll leave the final determination up to you. Here goes! And I’d love to hear what you think…

To be honest, I consider myself to be more of an overall experience designer, as I keep end-users at the center of every solution, be it a touchscreen, an exhibit or environmental experience, a print piece, marketing material, website, video or more.

Related Education & Prof Dev
Coding & Technical Capabilities

HTML & CSS: Initially, I built basic, informational sites from scratch in text editor or Dreamweaver until responsive design became a need in the industry and I began either using WordPress or art directing sites with developers for the deeper work; I still edit and write basic html/css.

WordPress: I started using content management systems once things became responsive and I didn’t have time to dive deep into development from scratch; managed corporate site for NewWave; led discovery phase, planning and project roadmap for site overhaul until a web manager was hired to take it on; building/editing touchscreen interfaces & web content publication.

Adobe Creative Cloud: Illustrator (expert), Photoshop (expert), InDesign (expert), Fresco (expert), XD(moderate), Premiere (moderate), Dreamweaver (moderate), Character Animator (beginner), AfterEffects (beginner)

C++: This is a past skill, but it shows my ability to pick up coding skills fast, and/or edit existing code; learned on job quickly at AEGON and then after economic layoffs in 2007, was hired immediately at ABIS to train a department of direct mail form developers; Was using this for personalization of direct mail, connecting to data

Other: Google Analytics, Hubspot, InMotion, Vimeo, O365

Design Thinking / HCD / Creative Thinking Advocacy

Design Thinking Training: As a certified design thinking trainer at NewWave, I am contributing time and energy to spreading a knowledge among staff of how to use Design Thinking principles to innovate better and faster; I’ve gotten feedback scores of 9/10 for each class taught, and people are excited about how actionable the info is to all roles; being the trainer and coach gives me the opportunity to truly know the material and process even though I am not currently functioning on a product team.

Creative Community of Practice: In spring 2017, I founded a Creative Community of Practice at NewWave, with the intent of liberating creativity and design thinking knowledge among staff members who join the group and contribute voluntarily; within a year and a half the group has grown to over 100 members, with an average of 20/month attending sessions on member-chosen topics that have included The Power & Principles of Design, Design Thinking & UX Basics, HCD Intro, Storytelling with Data, and Things Every Designer Should Know About People.

Human-Centered Design: I have been a constant, strategic advocate for the user while keeping my stakeholders’ goals in mind at every turn and in every medium that my team solves problems with, including digital interfaces; I have also been in many business development strategy & solutioning sessions with teams building government program solutions and commercial apps and products that are human-centered and include personas, user journeys, etc. in order to help them communicate these complex concepts through infographics, presentations and more. 

Design Thinking methodology

Visual Design: I’m a visual design (print and digital) and production expert, a master technician and short-cut guru in Adobe Creative Cloud software. I’m also an event and tradeshow experience design expert, working with large budgets to tell intentional stories through analog and digital experiences that hit multiple senses with exhibit graphics, marketing materials, social media, swag and custom apparel, touchscreen interfaces, motion graphics, sensory experiences and augmented reality interactions.

Design Principles & Conventions: I understand and utilize design principles to get the best outcomes from a design; the visual choices made direct a user in either interacting with the design or in understanding the message intended. I also train and mentor team members in using these principles effectively. I err on the side of using existing and proven design conventions, iconography, etc. on interfaces for easy user recognition and navigation. I’d like to work more with interfaces using design systems like Material or Adobe Spectrum.


I am not a content strategist, however, I see clearly how UX content writing would use the same user-centric methodology, using psychology to influence users to achieve your target goal for them, or to understand the story you’re telling. Content and language style, like visual elements, can set the stage for emotional reaction and motivated action as a result. If I were writing content for digital solutions, I’d do my best to follow guidelines like those found on Adobe’s Spectrum system. I’m able to write, won an award for it in school, and am good at using plain, understandable language. The one thing I am not good at, at all, is technical writing.

Strategy & Research

With a visual design background, I’m highly aware that we tend to have shorter-term projects that go straight from analysis to design, without doing heavy research up front. However, I’d like to think that even with that type of deliverable, I encourage my team to meet with stakeholders and learn as much as possible about the end-user in order to make a more effective design. Our research can include asking open-ended, story-provoking questions and inquiring as to why someone does something so that we can gain insight into what they’re thinking, experiencing, desiring and how we can make their experience with the deliverable smooth and delightful; it can also include observing them either using a website or interacting in an environment, etc. in order to gather insights as to how best to move forward. We do mild competitor research online, and industry research through Gartner, and we study our analytics for web and social media interactions to gain insight as well. I enjoy projects that allow us to dive deep and take time to build with the user in mind from the beginning, rather than with the engineering mindset where the product is nearly built before humans and desirability is considered.


Empathy is an area in which I absolutely excel, and have great references that can confirm. As an INFJ personality, my level of sensitivity, empathy, insight and heightened sense of awareness makes for a creative super power that enables me to feel the room very quickly, and empathize with the feelings and motivations of others quickly. I naturally operate with deep intuition (I trust my gut, it’s rarely led me wrong), and I grasp patterns and connections very quickly which help me predict future outcomes accurately. When observing users, I am cognizant of not making assumptions as to the ‘why’ of their behaviors, and instead I ask insightful questions and make factual observations to draw insight that can spur improvement of a solution.

Brainstorming / Creative Ideation

One of my favorite things to do is a good team brainstorm session. Like IDEO, I coach my team to get into an open-minded zone by deferring judgment, encouraging wild ideas, building on the ideas of others, staying focused on the topic, sketch your ideas very quickly, listen actively to each other and aim for lots of ideas. The idea is to generate as many ideas as possible, and say ‘yes, and…’ to build on others’ thoughts. Narrowing them down to what is feasible is for later – brainstorming is time for divergent thinkers to go wild.

Sketches, Wireframes & Prototypes

As you get to know me, you’ll notice that I almost always carry drawing materials (physical or digital) with me. I love to doodle, and am fast to pick up a marker and draw a mockup or concept in order to think. (On a personal note, I’m even a travel sketcher – keeping sketches and watercolor paintings in a journal when I am in a new place). In fact, my team nearly hands me a pencil every time I need to explain something complex – I am a very visual thinker. Though I don’t create apps regularly right now, I do know how to use index cards or notebook pages to draw out each step of a user journey, and I use AdobeXD to build low and high fidelity wireframes/prototypes.

Am I a UX designer or UI designer? Well, not technically by title. But it IS my job to design or direct entire experiences for audiences/users, with interfaces as only one deliverable involved, so I’ll let you come to your own conclusion. 
wireframe sample
Inclusion & 508

While I’m not a complete expert in 508 compliance, I do have experience with creating accessible designs that at the very least are respectful of 508 contrast rules, alt text additions, and focus on ease and simplicity of use. When working with The MayaTech Corp I was in charge of a 90+ page, 508-compliant Federal, digital document that also had to be branded and designed well within those constraints (quite a challenge). I worked with a 508 developer to take it to the finish, but gained valuable knowledge through that process. Now in my current role, when we create any presentations, white papers or other CMS-facing materials, we understand how to use plain language, simplicity, color contrast and alt text to make them happy.

Presentation & Critique

One of the best things I recall a professor emphasizing in my first design class ever was this (here’s my paraphrase): Your work is not you. It will naturally have parts of you in it, but you’ll have to be prepared to separate yourself from it enough to receive feedback and critique, for the sake of making it even better. That’s been incredibly true throughout my career journey, and showing it to others and actively seeking out feedback and insights from others has only made better outcomes. I am well-versed in pouring into my work, and then putting it on the table for the team to think through together and build upon for the sake of improved user experiences. I do this myself, and I coach other designers to make this mindset a practice as well.

Leadership, Process & Project Management

In the past year, I pitched & formed a brand new department as an in-house design team for corporate communications and brand interactions. In doing so, I had the large task of bringing together designers from siloed parts of the company to form a team and build a process and archival system. I purchased and worked to customize the InMotion platform to suit the team’s project management needs, and I developed an archival system within the company’s preferred file-sharing platforms (SharePoint & Teams). My current design team is in good shape – I’ve worked to build rapport, trust and the ability to mentor and guide them in their careers with transparency into each others’ work, weekly 1:1’s and daily collaboration. As part of effective project management, I work to understand and educate my stakeholders, set expectations intentionally, and communicate regularly with them.

Reading & Info Consumption

And last, but definitely not least – creativity depends heavily on your ability to connect the dots between things – things you know and/or have experienced – in new and novel ways. So obviously, exposing yourself to new experiences intentionally, be it travelling to new places, trying new things or simply changing your routine is an imperative part of being able to come up with new ideas. Another important factor here is feeding your brain with a constant flow of information. Lucky for me, I’m an avid reader for life, so I consume data as a hobby via books, articles, blogs, etc. Here’s my reading list of late – hope you find something you enjoy!

Recommended reads

Phew! Did I miss something you’re curious about? Get in touch to let me know!

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