Saturday, August 19, 2017

Focus group participants at Gallery 114
For much of my life, I've been designing things for other people. As a kid, I drew ladies in gowns, designed board games and even designed and sold soft sculpture pins. My first career choice was designing costumes and from there I designed apparel for people with special needs. It wasn't until this new century, around 2000, that I realized there was a formalized process to understand if people would want those designs, but all along I was gathering feedback to know what to make more of or how to alter my designs.
For the last 12 years or so, my sewing machine was in mostly hibernation, but its siren call got loud enough this summer to bring me back. I started to design a line of coats and accessories out of polar fleece, the Northwest's favorite fabric. I'm a one woman shop, but I sewed up four sample coats and a range of accessories in short order, excited to get them manufactured and hopefully sold at craft markets and on Etsy. Before manufacturing a short run, I wanted to see - do people even like the designs? Do the coats fit? Are the scarf designs appealing?
It took about a week to put together a focus group. Because I have a wonderful Portland network, people showed up for the promise of a fun evening and some appetizers, and two lucky winners got to take home samples. An amazing colleague loaned me her beautiful gallery space, and we were off.
The evening was planned as a formal focus group (although I did break my own cardinal rule of researching your own designs) complete with a get to know you exercise, surveys and a frank conversation as a wrap up. It was rewarding to see others touch, use and try on the items, but it was their candid feedback, seeing the fit first-hand and discussing the emotions around apparel that was so valuable. Like all of you, I sit in my office, coming up with designs and ideas (if I like them, surely someone else will). But, this group proved, once again, that not everyone is like me in fit, taste or lifestyle.  
Although there were many take-aways, the biggest learning was that it is not time to manufacture! There is a fit issue that needs to be addressed. Even for this little company, that saved me thousands of dollars in materials and apparel that would have been wasted on items that don't fit right.
So, I encourage you, whether you are in a large company or small, to find the time and budget to gather consumer insights. Research spans from surveys to a small local focus group to multiple in home visits across the globe. Whatever size you have time and budget for, its value should not be ignored. As Mark Twain succinctly said, “supposing is good, finding out is better.”

Monday, July 31, 2017

Being Inspired

I missed my week #3 check in since we were out of town Friday and Monday. So on to a new week!

  • 3 hours volunteering at Dress for Success
  • 3 jobs applied for
  • 2 networking meetings
  • 1 proposal presented
  • 1 interview scored!
  • 1 coat finished
  • Many flowers cut
  • 4 scarves finished
  • 100 labels ordered
  • Finished Project Runway season 12
The Job Hunt
Again, this week, I want to talk about how important networking is. All three jobs I applied for were at organizations where I had at least one connection. Two people offered to forward my resume again, which was awesome. That way, I can be sure that I get at least 10 seconds in front of the eyes of the hiring manager. 

I spent many, many hours on a proposal for a project that I'm still hoping will come through. It's an organization I can help based on my years in healthcare. Fingers crossed on that one. (Much of it was written while waiting for a friend having a colonoscopy. Nothing helps you focus like sitting in a medical waiting room with nothing else to distract.)

Two of the people I talked to last week were inspiring. Chris at Evolve Collaborative is inspiring because he and two colleagues left a large agency to start a smaller one several years ago. From the looks of things, it's going quite well. Being in their space also reminded me how important a workspace is. they have an open space full of light, snarky sayings, lots of tea and an impressive coffee maker! It has the vibe of a positive, creative space. Of all of the places I've seen, this one really stuck with me.

Donna Davis, professor at U of O, and I also had a very inspiring conversation. She's taken the path of looking at technology, specifically VR/AR and showing how it is being used by seniors and people with disabilities. Her main focus is Second Life and how it's brought incredible value to these populations. Donna herself is inspiring, having earned her PhD at 50. I thought that getting my Master's at 35 was late, hah! There are many more dragons to slay. She's one of the many proving life is for learning and pushing yourself at any stage. Check out these other late bloomers

Thursday, an email came through inviting me for an interview for a job I'm really excited about. It's an industry pivot and could be very cool. Stay tuned. 

The Stitch Is Back
We came home from a long weekend to my Sizzix at the doorstep! What is a Sizzix you may ask? Well, they are nifty, desktop die-cutting machines used for paper and fabric. You simply sandwich the fabric and a die between two plexi-glass plates and roll them into the machine manually. Out pops multiple cuts of the design on the die. 

My intent is that with this, I can make the coat embellishments more uniform and they will be faster to cut. It's pretty darn cool. I put the finishing touches on a sample coat and am headed to take photos today. Fingers crossed this photoshoot works. 

Have a great week, all! 

Friday, July 14, 2017

Getting Creative

Here we are already at week #2! It turned out to be a whirlwind week. I focused a lot on getting my newly minted business up and running and of course networking and applying for jobs. I worked a number of 12 hour days this week, so much for my relaxing time of unemployment.

The Stats

  • 17+ hours of patternmaking and sewing
  • 4 networking meetings
  • 3 jobs applied for
  • 1 job talk

The Stitch Is Back
It's official! I've grabbed the name on Instagram and Facebook, so it must be true. I'll be making and selling a line of fashionable polar fleece apparel. I love fleece but don't want to always look like I'm going for a hike! Thus, this clothing line. Check out the Facebook page or follow on Instagram @thestitchisbackpdx for all of the details.

Mock up from new pattern

Scarf designs
This week ended up in what felt like boot camp for fashion designers. I signed up for a class to create a pattern in 4 nights for 3 hours a night. It was a crazy week, but wow, I did it! I now have the pattern I've wanted for years.

I also managed to sew up a few scarves and get some advice from an amazing woman who is a partner in Layneau Lingerie. Her work is insanely beautiful. She was so open about sharing process, explaining tear sheets and laydowns and how to go about next steps. Did I mention she made my wedding ring? A truly talented soul.

I also was connected to a woman who seems to be my brain double. Molly Fuller works in health care and is creating a line of compression clothing to help autistic kids. Check out her work. Molly is a finalist in the InnovateHER challenge. Good luck Molly! 

The Job Hunt
The business is intended as a side project, so I continue to search for a great fit for my next gig. I started the week at the unemployment office which was an experience in and of itself. It had the expected dull gray furniture and cubicles, but also the unexpected experience of an agent who actually knows about user experience and specialized in hi-tech workers. I had NO idea. He even has a great webpage listing jobs in hi-tech.

I met with a trend analyst (hoping we can do one big primary and secondary research project together), presented my research work to a potential employer and had coffee with another potential contract opportunity.

I keep threatening to start a coffee shop rating service, as that's my office du jour right now. (Grand Central on Fremont = great coffee, great service. Village Coffee in Multnomah = cute and quiet. Seven Virtues on Sandy = Delicious GF bagels and serves the new shi-shi Cortada coffee).

Proving that social media works, I also re-connected with a colleague from many years ago who is looking for consulting support. Have I mentioned that I love my network?

That's it! Until next week...

Friday, July 7, 2017

Week #1 - Cultivating Relationships

In the next few weeks, I'll be documenting my search for my next adventure(s). In business, we often have weekly updates due. Since I'm on my own right now, this blog will be a proxy for emailing management with highlights from the week. You, my readers, are now my managers!

Weekly tally:

  • 3 face to face meetings with new potential partners
  • Newsletter sent to 212 people (sign up to the right)
  • 1 networking call
  • 1 volunteer event - Dress For Success
  • Accelerate Biotech and Digital Health Meet up
  • Resume updated
  • Presentation draft for potential sub-contract work
  • Filed for unemployment (blah, but necessary)
  • Zero sewing (next week for sure)
Being unemployed isn't easy, but it can be an opportunity. A time to connect with colleagues from the past and a reason to reach out and meet new people and learn about new projects. I'm not so much "unemployed" as I am a free agent, able to pursue multiple opportunities. 

Last July, I received a call from a recruiter for a likely temp to perm position with the wearables team at Intel. Whoo! My thesis work 10+ years ago was in wearables and finally I'd be able to work in this field. It's a slowly growing space and I live in what is still a relatively small town. Although they found me via LinkedIn, it was a team I knew well and had been talking to the manager on and off for a year or so about the group (yes, cultivating relationships has been my thing all along). It was worth the risk to try something new. All of our work was on new devices and my focus was on the New Balance Run IQ watch and augmented reality glasses for enterprise (think of hands free screens for warehouse workers). It was a new space for me and I soaked up information enjoying a multi-phased research approach from contextual interviews to human factors work. 

Fast forward to November and layoffs, the FTE researchers were all let go, but we contractors were spared. I did another few months of work, but slowly the project was grinding to a halt. Alas, the project was cancelled, and with it my contract. 

However... I'm excited to have the time to relax (it is summer after all) and think about my next steps. I'm having some amazing conversations and talking to interesting people, so I am going to capture some notes here to share, for whomever finds this interesting, helpful or just something to pass the time during your commute. It's so interesting to be open, to be in a place where I don't have a vision of what I must do, but rather following the path of what feels like a good collaboration and interesting work. My vision for the future is a few months of project work and then landing an inspiring FTE position. 

So, week #1 started out great with a 4 day weekend relaxing with my husband and exploring all the fun Portland provides in the summer (Blues Fest was fantastic). Wednesday, it was back to work. 

Since I knew this was coming, I had some meetings set up for informational interviews and possible projects. I met with a partner from a local agency, Uncorked Studios, who is doing what seems to be very grounded, interesting and human centered work creating products at the intersection of physical and digital. By the way, for those of you on your own networking path, I had no real connections to him, but was really interested in their work. I reached out, and he reached back. Easy peasy. 

I'm quite enamoured of their work and hope I get to work with them at some point. We talked a bit about networking groups, and the man I met with told me about this very cool concept of creating a party where you invite 5 people, they invite 5 people and you can go on as large as you'd like the gathering to be. Imagine how cool a room full of 5 very interesting people and their very interesting friends would be! Someone I know should do this (and invite me). 

Later this week, I had the chance to talk with a local health care company and discuss a potential project. Time to wrack the old memory for information about the work I did at Cambia with personas, journey maps, and learning what people want from their health care provider. Could be another great partnership. 

Both meetings will likely lead to other meetings with additional team members to continue exploring how we might work together. 

As my employment has waned, my ability to volunteer has increased. I've just gotten involved with Dress For Success, an organization that "empower(s) women to achieve economic independence by providing a network of support, professional attire and the development tools to help women thrive in work and in life." It's humbling and inspiring to be there at this moment. I've seen women who didn't necessarily have the resources I was given but who have worked to overcome hardships and make a living and a life. One woman even talked about her day job and her side work creating an apparel business. We are clearly more alike than different. 

Speaking of which, I've also been spending more time sewing and putting together a small business of my own designing scarves and coats out of polar fleece. I LOVE that I can make something in an afternoon. Eventually, I will be selling product. I may even have a business name...but that will be revealed as I'm ready. Right now, I just enjoy sitting at my machine and creating. 

And I love my network. I put together a newsletter this week, something I've found to be successful in the past, as a way to both stay connected and share a curated list of things happening in research and design. I've gotten wonderful responses, potential opportunities, and people who, even with the glut of emails these days, appreciated the information in their inbox. I'm filled with gratitude for my colleagues, many of whom I am lucky enough to be able to call "friend." 

So whether your are gainfully and happily employed or seeking a new adventure, I encourage you to reach out to just one new person next week. What can you learn? What can you share? Cultivate those relationships. They feed our body, our soul and sometimes even our wallets! 

Until next week---

Monday, June 12, 2017

21st Century Liberation – Virtual Reality

My Avatar. I always wanted to come back in my next life as a strong, black woman. 

A caveat to this article, I’ve been working in augmented reality, certainly tried some virtual reality, but haven’t personally taken the plunge into purchasing a VR headset, so much my information is hearsay albeit from reliable sources.

Last week, I had the great opportunity to attend 2 events discussing AR/VR and what some are calling XR (any kind of altered reality). In some ways, XR has been around for a long time (although not the first example, anyone who has used a ViewMaster can attest to this), yet for a mainstream technology, it’s just in its infancy. I will be using XR to refer to all AR/VR/MR in this article.

The topics varied widely from how and when users are engaging with XR, to how XR allows people to be something other than the physical self we are trapped in every day. We discussed the technology and projects people are experimenting with to find the most compelling use cases.

For me, the topics that resonated were about people – how does this change how we learn, how we empathize, how we interact and how we think about self and other? Today I want to talk about the last example, self and other. Many virtual realities, and some augmented realities, allow you to create an avatar, a version of yourself that exists only in this online world. I have never personally given thought to these “personas” and who and what they represent.

The overarching sentiment was that virtual reality lets you be anything or anyone you want. For many people, this is an absolutely liberating experience. The exception to this rule – that I’m aware of – is  Facebook spaces which apparently doesn’t allow for creating a personal avatar who is overweight, despite the multitude of other options for customization.

Back to the liberating experiences; Portland artist Stephanie Mendoza talked about the ability to create a creature who can do and be whatever you want in Anyland. She told the story of a transgender individual who had been bullied. Stephanie showed this (reluctant) individual how to create an avatar on Anyland. After creating an anonymous avatar that represented her true self, the individual felt empowered, emboldened and her new way of being in this virtual world carried over to a new way of being in the real world. There, she also felt empowered and emboldened.

Donna Z. Davis, Director of the Strategic Communication program at the U of O, talked about her decade plus of research in Second Life. (yes, it still exists) working with people who are often house, room or bed bound. She spoke of a 90 year old woman with Parkinson’s who gets to be her younger, vibrant self while in Second Life. Although it’s difficult to leave her home, she meets many people through this virtual portal, reducing the feelings of isolation. In this virtual world, communication is leveled for deaf people who can easily have conversations via text since typing is a common communication tool. With additional examples of a blind person who created a custom virtual, sound-driven environment and a dwarf who created a cute, approachable alligator that people loved which was different than her experience being teased as a little person in the big world. It became clear that VR allows people to not just have a Second Life, but an entirely secondary persona.

It’s really powerful to be able to create an avatar, a representation of that which represents the best in us, or the hidden part of us, or maybe a characteristic we didn’t even know we had until the virtual anonymity allowed us to be what and who ever we wanted. People should be able to create their online presence to fully represent themselves if desired, as fat, skinny, tall or short and, they should be able to create a representation that is their best “self” be it younger, skinnier, furry or feathered, human or other-worldly. In this way, some people are empowered by the fact that they are in the skin that feels right to them.

There is, of course, a flip-side; a very dark flip-side where anonymity allows for bullying, harassment and discrimination. I will leave that for the next article. For now, we will focus on the positive, the ways in which this new technology can give us wings (literal and figurative), help us find our voice, our community and be empowered to be our best selves.