Month Notes, May-July 2020

Just a mini list of all the stuff I’ve been consuming/doing. Portfolio updates, books, and courses.

Portfolio Updates

I’ve made several adjustments to my portfolio. I’ve already started another post detailing the changes, so I won’t go into much detail now. But one change was to update the website index page. Instead of the yellow and dark gray, with Courier font, I updated the page to stick with all Inter font and emphasized the portfolio link. I may change it again, but I prefer the gradient gray over the yellow.

Courses and Educational Film

The Dynamics of Desegregation

Over the past few months, I’ve been watching The Dynamics of Desegregation which is available via my local PBS station. This series originally aired in 1962 and 1963 as a 15-part “intensive study of race relations in the United States.” It is hosted by Thomas F. Pettigrew, PhD, who was then Harvard psychology professor. He is now at the University of California, Santa Cruz.


In the past few years, most of the online courses I’ve completed have been about tech, business, or design. While I find these courses valuable for work, I do sometimes wonder what I’m not learning. Serendipitously, due to the lockdowns, ClassCentral sent an email about courses and I decided to try some new topics. Here are three courses I’ve completed, or almost finished:

1. ChinaX: Creating Modern China on EdX

I’ve always been interested in Chinese history, but this is truly one of the most interesting courses I’ve even taken, anywhere. The 5-parts are:

I suppose I selected this course on modern China because I have been hearing about the country so much in the news media and from government officials, who I assume are biased. I wanted to form my own opinions about the country. I also took it because I know the history of modern China had a communist period. Supposedly the country is still communist, but given the people I’ve met, the stories I’ve heard about the growing wealth in China, and how aggressive China is towards developing technology, I wasn’t so sure.

Anyway, it’s a fascinating course. I highly recommend it. This series is Part 2. Part 1 is about pre-history of China and the earlier dynasties.

2. Design: Creation of Artifacts in Society on Coursera

This course is from the University of Pennsylvania. It’s focused on the design of physical artifacts. I really enjoyed the breakdown of solving design problems by breaking them down into separate issues and using charts to deciding which prototype to progress into the next stage. It’s much more professionally focused than the others.

Given the circumstances, where I’m not really going out and not able to talk with friends, I did not attempt to create an artifact. But I did appreciate the lectures and hopefully I can come back to this in the future.

3. Sheep in the Land of Fire and Ice on EdX

“This short course discusses the sustainability of sheep grazing in Iceland and explores how history, socioeconomic factors and environmental conditions have shaped the management of grazing resources.”

I tell anyone who will listen about my dreams of farming sheep and/or goats. When I saw this short course from the University of Iceland, on a topic related to sheep, I figured I  should try it.

What I learned is that because Iceland’s soil is volcanic, it is prone to erosion when the native plants that keep the soil together are destroyed by overgrazing or by too many sheep that simply crush the plants. There was more information about the history of Iceland, sheep farming, and geography. Needless to say, I will never be a sheep farmer on Iceland.

You can also learn more at


Last time I did a post like this, I mentioned finishing “Flights”, by Olga Tokarczuk. Since then, I’ve finished:

Food-wise, it’s now summer which means I don’t use the oven much. Due to the lockdowns, I also haven’t been buying fresh milk too much. I’ve switched to non-fat dry milk and almond milk because they are more shelf stable, reducing my trips to the grocery. It turns out I really enjoy almond milk in my iced coffee.

Image credit: Hand schrijvend met een kroontjespen, by Isaac Weissenbruch, 1836 – 1912, paper, h 72mm × w 113mm — View original at 

(I believe the title is translated as ‘Hand writing with a dip pen’.)

Skillshare Course in iOS Design: User Experience


In my last post, I discussed a project I had been completing as part of a Skillshare class. This is the second post in that series.


As I left off in my last post, I skipped over the persona portion of the course. I did return, in part, to personas but not until the visual design.

I ended up doing about 3 pages of sketches. My documentation shows how I worked out smaller interaction elements, like navigation elements.


This is the part of the workflow is where the interaction design and user experience start to come together. The instructor chose to update the Southwest app. The visual design looked great and I liked her workflow overall. But there was a piece of this workflow that was missing – and that was competitive research. There was little in the way of looking at related apps to get an idea of what people might experience from something similar.

It’s easier to become efficient with a new interface if it contains familiar elements. This is one reason why I research competitors. I’ve also found that using real life examples helps convince others on the team that the product is actually feasible and can implemented as designed.

I did some looking around on my own, finding screenshots from different library websites. The Audible, the Apple Music and Podcast apps, and SoundCloud were helpful. It may be confirmation bias, but this competitive research was far more useful than the personas I didn’t create.


The difference in the wireframes for this project, and projects I’ve done at work, is how she used a vertical layout to present her work. I thought that was pretty smart. And, though it wasn’t specified in the course, I included annotations because I wanted to include ambiguity. (Normally I’d include more.)

For the actual wireframes, I created 2 layouts. I noticed when reviewing the other apps that there’s often a large image in the center of the screen. I felt that this was unnecessary, especially on the playback screen. My solution was to reduce it and focus on the controls.

Next Post…

The next and final post in this series will be about the visual design work I did for this project.

Skillshare Course in iOS Design: Planning


As I mentioned in a previous post, I recently completed a Skillshare class on iOS design. The focus of the course is to take an existing app and update it. Part 1 of the 3-part course is all about UX design. The instructor takes students through planning, personas, user journeys, and wireframes. Here is the work I did for Part 1.


The app I selected was Axis 360. This is an app that allows people to checkout audiobooks and e-books using their library card. It’s an app that I’ve been using quite a bit and I wanted to focus on improving it if possible.

The first thing I did was take screenshots of the existing app.


The course then begins by creating a high level list of activities someone can complete on the app. I focused on listening to an audiobook. The instructor used sticky notes, so I did too.

Scenarios. (You can see sketches on the reverse page.)


User Journey

From there, I created a high-level user journey. This includes a screen with a list of checked out books, a book detail screen, and a playback screen.

User Journey
User Journey, for Axis 360



At this point in the course, the instructor introduced personas. In this case, these were proto-personas. I admit that I did not complete this part of the 3-part course.

My philosophy is that personas are only useful if they can be validated by objective data. This includes providing completed personas to a client, or by interviewing potential users. In my case, I had neither a client nor potential users. Unvalidated user needs, demographic data (age, marriage status, gender), and interests (stock-car racing) would be a work of fiction and thus useless in directing the experience. So, I skipped this step, although I came back to it during the visual design phase.


Next up…

In the next post, I’ll talk about sketches and wireframes.