Bri Piccari

Developer at The Infantree

Bri Piccari

Developer at The Infantree Episode 16

Episode Notes

Episode Transcript

Gary:
Hello, and welcome to Episode 16 of Design Edu Today, the podcast series discussing topics concerning the state of interactive design education at institutions of higher learning. I’m your host, Gary Rozanc, Assistant Professor of Graphic Design at the University of Maryland, Baltimore County.

Today’s guest is Bri Piccari. Bri is a front end developer at the Brand Experience Studio, The Infantree. At The Infantree, Bri works with the digital team to conceptualize, design and develop user-friendly web experiences, as well as staying on top of the ever-changing world of development. Prior to joining the Infantree team, Bri worked at PLEDGE IT and Listrak, and gained valuable experience through internships with Inovat and White Good. Bri also serves as the President of AIGA Central Pennsylvania, and teaches front-end development courses with Girl Develop It. Bri graduated from Millersville University with a degree in Art with a concentration in Graphic & Interactive Design. When not attending meet-ups and being completely immersed in the local design scene and tech community, you can often find Bri wrangling her two cats, baking cupcakes, antiquing, practicing yoga or hiking through nature. Welcome, Bri.

Bri:
Thank you! Thank you for having me!
Gary:
Oh, you’re welcome. I’m really excited to have you on as a guest today for several different reasons, but the first one has to do with your title at The Infantree: Developer. I think Developer is a loaded word when it comes to interactive design. Can you tell the audience what you specifically do as a Developer?
Bri:
Yeah. So, at The Infantree as a Developer I work mostly with HTML, CSS which I write as Sass which pre-processes the CSS, JQuery, JavaScript and then we also build everything, well, most of our websites, on WordPress, so there’s a tiny bit of PHP in there but it’s mostly copy paste. And then when I was at PLEDGE IT, my title as Developer was a little more immersive in the JavaScript world so it’s definitely a title that changes from place to place.
Gary:
And so that is the exact reason why I asked that is because everybody interprets it a little bit differently.
Bri:
Oh definitely. I just watched a webinar by A List Apart the other week where they went over the state of front end development and they and they had four or five panelists just all giving their opinions on what front end development really is right now and no matter who you ask, it’s going to be different!
Gary:
Yeah. So, you were given, I’m assuming you were given the title of Developer but is that what you self-identify as?
Bri:
I self-identify as a designer and a front end developer, so I guess my technical title at The Infantree is Developer but I’m so involved in the design process. The really cool thing about The Infantree is that all of us have a design background, no matter what we do, so even our Project Managers, the owners of our company, everyone has a design background and they have a specialization; so, some of our designers are print designers or brand designers and then in my case, I’m a front end developer so we tend to go by our specialization as our title but all of us really get involved in the design process and doing all those fun things.
Gary:
That’s pretty cool, but I love that everybody is a little bit of a designer. But you’re like the unicorn, that you can…because I’ve looked at your design work and I think you have very strong design work.
Bri:
Thank you!
Gary:
If you’re able to pull off the coding side of it, if you’re getting into writing JavaScript and JQuery, that’s one heck of a range of skillsets.
Bri:
It is, and I’ve always wanted to be that hybrid because I remember back in College when I was designing websites, I loved designing and I loved that process but even more than that, I loved the challenge of making it come to life and making it a real thing that you can use and interact with and play with and it’s just always stuck with me and I’ve just become more and more immersed in front end development, but I’ll never, ever leave the realm of design either!
Gary:
So, that’s interesting; I’ve never actually heard anybody articulate it that way. So, you’re not happy with just doing the static mock-up: you want to see this thing work?
Bri:
Yeah. I want to see it work and I want to make it work. That challenge of figuring out the best way to bring it to life with the ever-changing best practices and accessibility and user experience, all of that tied into it: I just want to make it work!
Gary:
I’m kind of sitting here in shock but that’s…because the reason being is (a) I’ve been that way. I’ve always been that way as I want to see it, just like somebody sitting down at a letter press, they’re doing it because they want to see a finished product in their hand. When I sit down and mock up a website, I want to code the thing too; I want to make this thing work; the performance, I want to be involved in that whole process, but a lot of the students that I teach and I work with, they just don’t have that side of it; they’re excited to do the mock-ups but when it comes to the coding part, not so much interested in that.
Bri:
I think it’s tough and I think there’s also definitely a level of, not fear, but something about code is kind of intimidating because sometimes you just don’t know where to start. Even now, I’ve been doing front end development for a few years now and when I start a project sometimes, There’s that blank page fear where you’re like…OK, now, where do I start? And, is this the best way to be starting this? And I think as a student, that fear is even bigger because this could be your very first project and you’re like, I have no idea what I’m doing!
Gary:
I find the fear to me is not so much starting but experimenting.
Bri:
Yeah; that’s another thing that I’ve noticed. I’m still pretty involved with Millersville Design program, especially being the President of the local AIGA Chapter and I talk with students at our portfolio review all the time and they’re like, a lot of them I think it’s just kind of figuring out the resources of, oh, it’s OK to do this and it’s OK to try this and we don’t have to do it the same way all the time. Front end, it has standards but it doesn’t have standards and I think that’s hard for some people because there’s not necessarily a right or wrong way of doing it; there are just so many ways that you can build so many things and that’s why I love it but I can also see why someone else would be like, yeah, that sounds crazy!
Gary:
And I try; actually that’s pretty funny because that’s one thing I work with my students on is, I’m showing them what I perceive as best practices from doing readings and staying current, but I also say, does it work? Can you see something on the screen? If you can see something, you did it right.
Bri:
Yeah! Definitely.
Gary:
It’s as simple as that.
Bri:
Yeah, that really is as simple as it gets so at The Infantree, I’m the only in-house developer so it’s just me developing by myself and then we have some contractors but when I was at PLEDGE IT I had a lead front end developer and we would sit down for hours at a time and pair program and that’s how I got a huge foundation of the developer that I am today and we did code reviews and things like that and that helped me grow so much. It’s boring sometimes but wow, does it make you grow!
Gary:
Wow! OK, so how much of that do students really need to learn if they want to be visual designers at an interactive design studio? I think you’ve gone the extra mile. What do you perceive as the happy medium for a student to get an entry level position?
Bri:
I’d say definitely it varies on the size of the agency and what they’re doing. My first job out of College, I worked at an email service provided called Listrak and all of their designers had to learn how to code because we were building and coding emails which is 1999 development standards. It was really hard! But then I worked at a start-up where everyone was wearing different hats and now I’m at a really tiny agency again where there’s twelve of us so the more skills you have, the better off you are but if you’re going somewhere larger, you might not need that code skill at all and personally, I think any designer that wants to be designing websites should maybe have that basis, be able to understand how to build a basic web page, even if they don’t want to be a developer but just understanding how a web page comes together and how responsive design works, things like that, because those kinds of things make talking to developers a lot easier and helps you understand their frustrations and then that’s how you also learn how to educate developers as well, because sometimes developers are like, I don’t know why you’re complaining about this line: this makes no sense. Trying to explain that frustration to one another, it helps to be able to educate yourself and the other party to make things a lot easier in the end!
Gary:
Yeah; you don’t have to speak the same language fluently, but you’d better be able to at least get across the basic ideas.
Bri:
Exactly. I think everyone should at least try to learn how to code a little bit; you’ll either figure out that you like it or you hate it. I don’t know a lot of people who are in between! I’m sure there are people who are very in between but most people I know either hate it or they love it.
Gary:
That’s another observation I never thought about but yeah, there’s very, very few grey area where they just are like, eh, I could take it or leave it. It’s either they get into it or they’re just like, oh I can’t wait for this class to be over.
Bri:
Yeah, yeah, definitely, and I see a lot of that with students when they come to the portfolio reviews and they’re like, yeah, I tried coding this for this class and I hated it and I never want to do it again and I’m like, yeah, but you got that experience and you have that foundation and not every school is teaching development or teaching any kind of that, so you have that, even if you hated it, you still have that step up where you’re like, I understand how a basic web page works.
Gary:
All right. Another question along the same lines. I noticed that you have experience working with Sass, Grunt and other development tools. Did you learn those in school or was that on the job?
Bri:
A little bit of both. I learned when I was a Senior in College I interned at Inovat and they are a tiny design agency in Elizabethtown, Pennsylvania, and when I was interning there, I was starting to get more and more into development and I was talking to their developer one day and he was like, yeah, so I write in Sass and I do this and I do this and I said to the Creative Director, I want to learn that. I want to figure this stuff out and for a week, we sat there and he showed me how he codes and that’s how I learned Sass, from sitting down with him. He explained to me how he set up his files, he explained why he was doing what he was doing; he walked me through setting up Grunt and stuff like that but then after I graduated and I went to Listrak I didn’t really touch that stuff for a while and then I got the job at PLEDGE IT which is a start-up; it’s a technology start-up so we had a development stack that I had to learn how to use and I had to learn how to install it all and deploy it all and when it broke, how to fix it! And why terminal was freaking out half the time so, school didn’t teach me those things but internships did which I kind of count as school and then the real world experience came from having a lead front end developer who took the time to be like, all right, so this is how we’re writing it and this is how we’re doing it and this is what we’re using, so now that I’m at The Infantree, I still write in Sass but I don’t use Grunt as much, because it’s just me and I’m just building WordPress sites, but I’m trying to find a way to implement it back in, in the future, just because I think it’s really awesome!
Gary:
I like it, because I’ve used it and I’ve tried it and I’ve built a couple sites using that to run things and…you have to really…it’s not just for the casual, as a designer, most fo the websites that I design, I’m either doing it just for personal use or I’m doing it for a lot of in class demos.
Bri:
Yeah, I think Grunt is one of those things that you really need tasks to be running.
Gary:
Yes.
Bri:
So, when I was at PLEDGE IT, we were using Grunt to put our local server up, so when I was developing locally, that put my server live and we also used it to compile all my Sass and link my Sass and minify the Sass and then to compile all the JavaScript and minify the JavaScript. So they were specific processes and we had a huge development process there because it was three of us working on these projects and there were different facets that each of us were working on. It was essentially a web application that was built on JavaScript and now at The Infantree, I’m just building sites on WordPress; not just building websites on WordPress but I’m building on WordPress, I haven’t really had a need for Grunt just yet, but I could maybe see it happening with a larger site at some point. I’m fine with just compiling my Sass through Terminal. The less things, the better!
Gary:
Yeah! But how important…on the spectrum of should designers code, you definitely all in the camp, they should at least experience it? But how…
Bri:
Yeah, I think they should at least experience it and kind of figure out how they feel about it but at the same time, if you don’t enjoy coding and you’re not very good at it, you probably should not be coding because personally, one of my least favorite things is going through bad code; it’s like taking a Photoshop document that five people have worked on and nobody knows about layer groups. It’s just a nightmare and it’s going to take way more time than anybody wants to put into it!
Gary:
So, do you think…I’ll throw it out there, I’ll use my classroom as example, so for a couple of semesters, we have one class within the program that we teach HTML and CSS and I actually tried for a couple of semesters teaching them also to use Sass and GitHub in version control.
Bri:
Oh man!
Gary:
Yes! And it was great because it was all foreign to them so it wasn’t like it was any more difficult than just introducing pure CSS: it looks the same. But, on the back end, it was just too much to learn. So, what do you think about that?
Bri:
I think for me, when people ask me about learning about Sass because…so, this is going to sound so nerdy, but all of my best friends are designers or developers and I know a lot of designers and developers through the local Lancaster Tech scene and AIGA and stuff like that and so when people ask me about getting involved in Sass and learning how to start rating is Sass or Less, I always advised them to have a really solid understanding of CSS, otherwise you’re just wasting your time; if you’re going to be using Sass, you should be able to use the shorthand properties behind it and really be able to use Sass to the potential of what it is. When I’m writing with Sass I’m usually using Bourbon as my framework because I like all the mix-ins that it has but even if I’m just writing Sass without a framework, being able to use things like extends and mix-ins and defining my colors and just different things like that can make that writing faster.

I’ve had friends try to jump right into Sass without learning that much CSS and they’re just like, this is too complicated and I can’t do it! And I’m like, just go back to the CSS, start there and then once you’re ready we’re going to move you over to Sass but things like GitHub, I think that’s so important to learn right away because I didn’t get involved in GitHub until I think my job at PLEDGE IT and at first I was like, I don’t get this: what is this? How do I go backwards? It was so confusing and I had so many merge conflicts all the time! It was a learning experience, but if you can learn, if you can use version control, even at the very beginning, you’re going to do great. But at the same time, I’m going to go back on that a little bit and say, there is a learning experience when you code something, break something, try to fix it and then break it even more!

Gary:
Yeah. The problem that I came to is that I’m teaching…when I was doing Sass, GitHub, HTML, CSS all in one semester, all from the beginning, it was too much and nobody was remembering anything, so this semester I’ve dropped the Sass and the GitHub and went back to just straight-up HTML and CSS …
Bri:
Yeah, and I mean, even HTML and CSS, that can take a little while to even have a foundation.
Gary:
Yes.
Bri:
Especially now as I’m becoming more immersed in JavaScript, I forgot it was like to not be able to write something off the top of my head and be like, oh, I can write this out, no big deal. And then with JavaScript I’m constantly looking things up and I’m like, oh my gosh, am I ever going to get good at this?
Gary:
And it takes a while and I show them how to use somebody else’s JavaScript plug-in, and leave it at that.
Bri:
Just being able to do that alone is huge. I know so many people who try to do that and can’t do it and just being able to just pull a JavaScript plug-in off the internet, figure out where to put it, figure out how to use it, that’s a great first step because eventually, you’re going to be able to look at the plug-in and be like, oh I know what this is doing; it’s telling this to do this on that and it’s all stepping stones.
Gary:
So, another reason that I was excited to have you on as a guest is that you recently graduated from Millersville University, which does focus on interactive design.
Bri:
Yes, we do!
Gary:
Yes, one of the few places. So, how do you think this helped you enter the field compared to peers who didn’t have the same interactive training, or maybe a print only experience?
Bri:
For me, I think it really helped a lot. From the very beginning I wasn’t a huge fan of print design because I just really don’t like printers and every time I would try to print things, they usually never printed right and that would just make me really angry, and then I started getting into web design and I was like, I love this! I can do so much with it! And there are schools in my area that don’t do web or interactive design, so Millersville having that web interactive piece was just really, really big because it gives you a really big foundation to start off as you’re trying to figure out what it is that you want to do when you graduate. I have a friend right now, she works over at Burdell, which does women’s health and men’s health and she helps them put together the e-versions of their magazines and that was something that the interactive part of our program taught her.

We had a class that was dedicated to e-books and how you create the e-books and things like that; she completely fell in love with that class and then when she graduated, she happened to find this job where it was essentially an interactive production artist where she helps take the print magazine and then create the digital magazine and then create the interactions and all those secret special extra features that you get when you buy it on your iPad instead of at the news stand and that thing alone, if she hadn’t gone to Millersville, she probably would have never learned that, because that’s something that our interactive program brings to the table. And it also brings to the table user experience and how to get involved in user experience and what is user experience and that helps some students go into the user experience realm of things and they’re like, I love this, I want to be doing wireframes and persona and user reports and things like that and some schools don’t do that. So it’s like while Millersville doesn’t get too deep into any of those, it gives you a wide selection of things to get your feet into and mess around with for a little bit just to kind of figure out where your passion within design really is.

Gary:
OK. To follow up on that, you mentioned that you do wireframing and the user personas, I don’t remember the exact term you use. User reports, I think you said?
Bri:
Yeah.
Gary:
I struggle with this in that, OK, let’s walk in, I’ve been doing some exercises that teach them HTML and CSS and then when it comes time to build your first website, it’s like, OK, build your first website. But they haven’t had that training yet of wireframing; they haven’t had that training yet of designing the interaction; they haven’t done the user report. So, how hard is it for…don’t you need that whole entire experience to be able to fully get why you’re designing for the web or you end up, you might as well just be like…do you see where I’m going with this?
Bri:
Yeah, I do. I’m kind of back and forth on it, so now as a professional, I use the term professional loosely, but as somebody who’s in the industry and doing this stuff for a living, I definitely see the importance of it and I can’t imagine designing a website without having wireframes and a site map; I would be so lost. But I think as a student, when I was a student, which wasn’t that long ago, I learned how to design and build a website and we didn’t do any user experience at first and then it was after we built a website or two it was like, all right, now we’re going to introduce this whole thing called user experience and it was just kind of like: what? And then that gives a whole ’nother level of purpose to your designing because you’re like, wow, I have to start to consider this, that, the other thing; mobile, tablet; different languages; how big an area needs to be on mobile for touch to work out; things like that and I’m kind of glad I learned it backwards because after I got that immersion into web design and web development, we took a step back and we saw user experience and it’s like, all right, this isn’t as overwhelming as I thought and I think we had one project where it was like we designed a website…

I think we had to re-design a website, a local website or something, and we built it and then we kind of took a step back and we looked at it and we started talking about user experience, so then we re-designed the website again to think about user experience and think about user needs and we came up with personas and we came up with a wireframe and we did some site architecture and things like that but kind of going backwards and then going forward again, that really stuck with me because then I was like, all right, well now I have a bigger understanding of why I’m doing this and what the purpose for my placement of this is and my placement of that, because before it was just kind of like, well, it looked nice there and after you start to consider user experience you’re like, OK, why put this here so that a user can access it? Put this there, that way the user goes to this and then goes to that. And I think if we had done it the other way round, it might have been a little over-whelming! As backward as that sounds. It’s tough when people are such beginners and so new to all of it because there is just so much and there’s just constantly more and more and more and it’s trying to find that beginning spot’s a struggle.

Gary:
No, it really is. When you were describing that process, kind of like taking one step forward, two steps back and then to get where you were going, did that happen over the course of one semester in a class or is that the course of two semesters or three semesters where classes sequentially built off of each other to be able to do that?
Bri:
It was a little bit of both actually. We would have one class where we would build a website and learn the basics of HTML and CSS and if you wanted, you could take a user experience class after that, but at the end of that first class we were learning HTML, the last few weeks you would kind of start to get into web design…start to get into user experience and things like that and then if you did decide to move on and do that next class, that’s where you would then take that site that you had already designed, kind of re-work it because…those things take time!
Gary:
Yeah, and as an educator, that’s the part of the problem that educators face is that we build curriculum by, oh, we need to teach web design, so we just add a class. We need to teach…every time we need to add something like new skills, we just add a class but we don’t leave that ability for classes to build off of each other.
Bri:
I know I think it was right before my Sophomore year, something at Millersville, we ended up re-structuring all of our classes and they actually just got…you can now get I think it’s a Bachelor’s of Design, something along those lines, and it’s one of the first ones in Pennsylvania, one of the first schools in Pennsylvania doing that and it’s like AIGA approved or something like that and instead of getting a Bachelor’s of Art and Design, you get…I don’t know if it’s a Bachelor’s of Design but it’s something along those lines and they approved it right after I graduated and I was like, can I come back and do that? I want that degree! I like my Bachelor’s of Arts and all, but I want that degree!
Gary:
I think you’ve done well; I think they probably got you what you needed!
Bri:
This is true. And they also got quite a bit of money from me!
Gary:
Most universities do! Most universities do. But it sounds like to me, just from listening to your skillsets, they already had it in place; they were just shifting the names around what they already had.
Bri:
Yeah; then they started to be like, all right, here’s your pre-req for this and then you could choose your own path so it was like, if you’d gone to the web design class, and that was kind of like a broad overview of everything and then you really liked user experience, you could go into that way, or if you really liked just web design, you can go on the web design path and with the way…Millersville is a liberal arts school so there are so many geneds you have to take along with your design classes, so it’s hard to really focus as much as the educators would want to but on some of these design things because you just can’t take as many classes as you would like! But that creates an interest, then students go and get an internship and they learn more; they start to learn it on their own and they do side projects and all those kinds of things.
Gary:
Well, that’s good that you put the responsibility on the students to kind of go get that extra learning.
Bri:
Yeah, and that’s so important because that becomes such a life-long skill, being able to go and learn the next step and constantly stay on top of what’s changing and what’s new and design’s always changing; and that’s not even including development. Development’s even crazier!
Gary:
Yes, it is! So, even the best school can’t fully prepare you to enter the field.
Bri:
Oh my gosh, not at all!
Gary:
So, what are some of the things that you weren’t prepared for but you felt like they should have included in the school experience?
Bri:
I’m like a weird, not exception to this, but I’m like a weird, I don’t know. I went to a vo-tech school in High School where I did commercial art and I got my first taste of graphic design, a little bit of web development and then I went to Art School for six months and then I transferred to Millersville, which is where I eventually graduated from and when I transferred to Millersville, I actually transferred into higher classes so I ended up taking senior level classes as a Sophomore and then fulfilled the rest of my credits through things like independent studies and internships! So it’s really hard for me to answer that because I did five internships before I graduated College because I just wanted to know more and I wanted to get involved in everything and I kind of counted my internships as things I learned in school but then talking to my friends who maybe didn’t have this internship I had, or this, that or the other thing, I started to pick up on things that I was like, wow, if I didn’t have an internship, I wouldn’t have learned how to compress jpegs properly or how to use version control or…trying to think off the top of my head…maybe even research development problems; a good productive way of doing that.

Or even things like, at one of my internships it was a little more print-based and I learned how to do a pre-print checklist, I’m blanking on what that’s actually called because I don’t really do it any more. Pre-flight; I did a pre-flight checklist, and that was something I hadn’t learned in school. I remember when they told me, they were like, yeah, we need you to pre-flight this and I went, you want me to what? And they were like, yeah, we need to do a pre-flight. I’m like: I have no idea what you’re talking about! Even things just like font licensing; I remember when, I was at one of my internships and we were talking about the fonts or something that this client needed and the client was throwing a fit because they couldn’t have it and just kind of understanding font licensing and how important that is or stock photos and how you can’t just grab something off Google. They’re super-super-basic things that sometimes aren’t maybe as emphasized as much as they could be and so then, entry level designers get into these positions where maybe they don’t have someone looking over their shoulder and they’re making mistakes but it’s all learning process at the same time; it’s impossible to sit there and learn every single thing that you would need to learn before you graduate, so that’s why I’m a huge fan of internships.

Every student I talk to I’m like, do at least one, if not, three. Do as many as you can because you will learn so much. Even if you don’t get any work out of it, just learning to work with other people and how they work and project management and understanding the different roles within agency or an in-house team; all of that kind of stuff is just so important and it’s just such a learning experience. Even if you do an internship or five, when you go into your first job, you’re still kinda like, wow, I didn’t know about this!

Gary:
Well that kind of leads me into the next question. I would assume designing a scripted project for a professor in the classroom is radically different than working with a team at a digital agency.
Bri:
Definitely!
Gary:
Definitely was. So, can you describe your working process now compared to what it was in school when you start a new project?
Bri:
Yeah. Definitely. OK. Everywhere I’ve worked it’s been a little bit different process-wise and so I’m just going to go off with what we do at The Inventree here. We’re a brand experience studio meaning that we work with a lot of our brands from the very beginning; they come to us, they want to be re-branded or they want to start fresh, they have a brand new name or whatever. So I’m really lucky in a sense that if we do do the branding, it’s amazing branding because our brand designers are incredible, so I have all of my brand assets right away and we also have interviews with clients and we also have their expectations. So, my director will sit down with them and do a little bit of an interview, figure out what their needs are, figure out what they want, figure out what they like about their current site, what they hate about it, if they want to lose something, if they want to keep something, things like that and then we sit down and we talk about it, him and I and our project manager, and then we start to do some site maps. We do a site map and then we send it to the client and say, hey, does this look good? But our site maps are a little more in depth where we’ll have an overview and then we’ll have a second page where it’s kinda like, this is what’s on this page; this is what’s on this page so that way, you might have an About page, but if you have programs within your About page, you can say this is an About landing page and then this is about this program; this is about this program, this is about that program and then once that’s approved, we then move on to wireframes and we’ll wireframe out most, if not all of the pages, so if some of the pages are going to end up being essentially templated off of another page, we only do one but we wireframe out as many as we can and show those to the client.

Sometimes we do style tiles just to kind of get an idea of what direction they want to do in if we’re going to do branding for them. And then we get into the design and we design everything out. We have such an in-depth branding process and interviewing process with our clients that we’re usually pretty close when it comes to the design. I’ve only been there for two and a half months now, but so far, every project I’ve seen come through the client is like, this is pretty spot-on; this is great, we love it and I’m like, oh thank goodness! So we do that and then we sit down with the client and we’re like, hey, this is the content we need, this is the photography we need. Sometimes we’ll go and art direct the photoshoot, because a lot of our clients are local so we have the luxury of being able to go to them or them come to us or go on location with them. That way we can be sure we’re really getting what we want and what they want and then from there we get to the development process and I work really closely with my director, Derek. If he designed it, him and I sit down, we go over the different pages, we talk about how is this going to work, how is that going to work. Even in the design process, Derek’s constantly asking me; he’s like, can we do this? Is this going to be too hard? What’s the best way of doing this? What do you think about this? And then if I designed it, that’s even easier because I already know how that’s going to go but there’s just so much communication all the time so no one’s really in the dark and we’re never really guessing on things. I think our clients like that because it really makes them feel like they’re a part of it without being too a part of it.

Gary:
Yeah.
Bri:
So then after we build out the site for a while, we have a Beta site for them to look at. We do an internal review, make sure things are working and then we give them a Beta site and we say hey, check this out, tell us what you think, does anything need to be changed? And then we kind of move from there. We’ve had instances where there are large changes and I would say change order has come from that but as long as everything’s good, we launch it and then we’re good to go!
Gary:
All right. I don’t know any educator who’s teaching that process from start to finish.
Bri:
That’s definitely not something I think that would be…
Gary:
So what of that would have been good to kind of pass off into the classroom? Or at least, even if you’re not doing it, at least saying hey, this is a process that we are bypassing, but this would have been a step?
Bri:
I think one of the most important things is learning how to talk to a client; really figuring out what a client wants and what their expectations are; learning how to communicate those things with them because some clients are very literal. You can have a place-holder in there and they’re not going to realize that and they’re not going to be able to get past that. And then there’s other clients who have the craziest imagination ever and that’s great. But I think learning how to communicate with clients; what are good questions to ask a client? What are bad questions to ask a client? What kind of things should you be expecting from your clients and then learning how to do research off of that. Something that’s really big to me, because I am a web designer and a web developer and I enjoy user experience is, always ask clients, or I try to ask clients, who are your users? Who are you trying to reach? And then that really guides a lot of what I do but if I know that they have an older user group, I’m going to keep that in mind. Not that their audience isn’t…not that they don’t have younger people in their audience as well but being able to say, OK, I understand you as a client.

You can teach them on the design all day long but if you can’t communicate right with a client, you’re not going to get paid! And even if your practicing with other students, sitting down and doing a mock client communication thing or whatever. Millersville did this really awesome program where we brought in non-profits and designed for them and that was one of the ways where I learned how to talk to my client and set boundaries with my client and get some expectations going with them. Obviously that radically changes once you’re in an agency and you have other people talking to clients and you’re not always in all the meetings but just having a foundation of how to talk to them and how to communicate right and how to get ideas across.

Gary:
That just gave me…actually we’re getting close to being out of time too, but that gave me an idea because I’ve seen from Mike Monteiro, from just about anybody and everybody that’s always saying, students don’t know how to work with clients; students don’t know how to work with clients. I think I’m actually going to throw it back on the industry and say, you’re right: the students don’t know how to handle clients. Let us come to your office as a class when you’re in a client meeting and let us observe.
Bri:
Yeah, and tell us about it because one of those things with clients is, you don’t learn that until you really start doing it and you learn by process and hopefully you have a senior designer or a director that you can sit in on meetings. As an intern, I sat in on so many meetings and I didn’t say a word but I learned so much about how to talk to them and how to answer their questions. Students don’t know how to talk to clients but they need to learn it and eventually they do. But it’s just patience.
Gary:
There needs to be a better model for learning that. All right so, one more question just before I let you go. I’m asking you this one, it’s not a profound question, it’s just something that I’ve been bouncing around in my head and that’s the Daily UI project that you’re doing on Dribbble.
Bri:
Yeah!
Gary:
I see that; it’s been going around and a lot of people are doing that and I’m wondering to myself, how useful would that be as a classroom project where for the semester, you’re doing one UI element a week or one a day, whatever the metrics, but how useful do you think that would be?
Bri:
I’m definitely twenty five days behind right now!
Gary:
But you also have a job; you’re President of the AIGA, Central PA.
Bri:
I’m just a little involved in my community. But personally I love it because it has me designing things that I might not be doing every day or things, when I was at PLEDGE IT I was doing a little bit of app interface so that was really neat and I’m pushing myself to do different design styles than what I usually do so for a bunch of them I was following Google’s Material Design because I never really had to design that way and I just thought it’d be neat to try it out but I think that’d be awesome for students. I’ve encouraged a few students I know to give it a try and even if you do one every two days or one a week; I try to give myself maybe two or three hours to get one done and then I’m done with it and sometimes I’ll do a rebound of it on Dribbble but I try to just be one and done and it kind of encourages fast thinking and fast sketching and production style art. But I think it’d be awesome for students because how often do you have a project where it’s like, hey, you need to design….user settings or you need to design…a music player. I think that one was actually one of my favorites. It’s just things you’re not used to designing and I think that really helps you grow as a designer and think differently about things and it pulls in a whole level of user experience and interface and that’s exciting!
Gary:
All right, well good, like I said, it was just personal curiosity.
Bri:
You should totally tell all of your students to do it!
Gary:
I tell them to do it, but that doesn’t mean they do it. I would have to outright make it a project for a class.
Bri:
Yeah, they’re going to have a hundred days of it so you’re going to have quite a few topics to pick from!
Gary:
All right, well before I let you go, is there anything that you’re working on that you would like to share or something you want to promote personally?
Bri:
Hmm, let me think. I actually don’t have anything to promote off the top of my head; my Chapter just finished our Year of Programming yesterday; we had Timothy Goodman come talk over at Pennsylvania College of Art and Design; so that was pretty nifty.
Gary:
So, when does the new programming year start up for you?
Bri:
It’ll be the beginning of January probably. We’re starting to get our programming figured out and finalized. It was a really, really busy year for us.
Gary:
Good!
Bri:
But just being able to end it yesterday on such a good note was really awesome but I guess the only other thing I can really think of is telling students just to get super-involved in everything. Even if it’s going to meet-ups or hey: AIGA; there’s Chapters everywhere!
Gary:
Yes, there is. I’m the Education Director for ours in Baltimore.
Bri:
Perfect!
Gary:
I drink the Kool Aid.
Bri:
Yes, once you get involved, it’s really hard to not be supervised and want to get everybody else involved. I have done that!
Gary:
Well, you are close enough to being a student that, what was the benefit of you being involved in AIGA or Girl Develop It or any of the other things that you did as a student?
Bri:
Networking. Networking was so big for me; that’s how I got so many of my internships and so many of my jobs. The job I have now I had met the Director at a portfolio review when I was a student and he remembered me and he was like, hey, we’re looking for a front end developer, do you want to maybe come interview? And it put me in a position to be like, wow, I have a reputation before I even walk in the door and being able to do that as somebody so early in my career right now is just mind-blowing and humbling at the same time; it’s just like, wow, I’m doing things that speak for itself now.
Gary:
Well, you have the skills.
Bri:
Oh, thank you!
Gary:
So the rest just comes; you’ve got to have the skills.
Bri:
One of the biggest things is just networking and going out there and talking to people. Even if you’re not looking for a job, just getting to know people; I think there’s a whole missed thing with the current generation and I’m part of this generation where we don’t have conversations and talk to people and do meaningful things and so just even going to a Happy Hour at a bar and learning about what somebody does, or talking to somebody or creating connections one way or another; even if it doesn’t pay off for you, it might pay off for one of your friends or you might learn something new; there’s just so many what-ifs.
Gary:
Well, one last thing. One of the problems with that is, so much of that is available online.
Bri:
This is true.
Gary:
You don’t have to go to a TED Talk to see a TED Talk; you can just go online to see a TED Talk. So, it’s those ancillary things. So, before you would go, you would learn something and you would network.
Bri:
Yeah. You also get a sense of community that you might not get online and that’s something that I’m really, really big on with AIGA and when people come out to events they’re like, well why should I become a member? I’m like, because you’re getting a whole community. You come out for something and you meet these people and you remember them, or they remember you and you get a whole community!
Gary:
And that’s very invisible and very abstract, so that’s why students don’t see it until they get into it; then they see the community that comes from it.
Bri:
It’s so hard to explain and it’s so hard to convince somebody and so you’re like, just go and do it and find out for yourself and then it’s just like, wow, I can’t believe I didn’t do this sooner!
Gary:
Well, all right. That’s all we have time for today on Episode 16 of Design Edu Today. I want to thank today’s guest, Bri Piccari of The Infantree, for being so generous with her time.
Bri:
Yeah, definitely!
Gary:
Thank you so much. And I want to thank the audience for listening and I want to thank the Design Edu Today hosting sponsor, Digital Ocean, and CDN sponsor Fastly, for making the hosting and distribution of these podcasts possible. Finally, I want to thank the AIGA and the AIGA Design Educators’ Community for their generous support of my research that led to this podcast series.

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