What I'm Supposed To Be When I Grow Up: An Interview With Designer Jaimee Newberry

Jaimee Newberry is a designer, consultant, coach, speaker, writer, and all-around awesome person. She contributed to the broadcast of the 2000 Summer Olympic Games; helped lead mobile strategy and design for Zappos and user experience for Black Pixel; and is currently hard at work on two (count ‘em) startups and two podcasts. We stole a few minutes of Jaimee's time to talk about old-school web tutelage, sculpting metal, and her talk for the upcoming AEA Orlando: Special Edition, taking place this month.

How and where did you get your start in design, web or otherwise?

Right after college, I worked as a production assistant at a small film and video production shop in the San Francisco Bay area, with a lot of “holding down the fort” responsibilities. During slower times, I taught myself how to code websites by doing the whole “View Source,” copy-and-paste-into-BBEdit thing, and simultaneously taught myself Photoshop by creating graphics to swap out with the copy-and-pasted source code until it all started to make sense. I built my first website for that film and video company in 1998.

In college, you got a degree in metal sculpture, which sounds pretty awesome. How has that background influenced your career?

Most of my metal work was creating wearable, feminine clothing items out of really, thick, rusted, gnarly scrap metal. I have a keen appreciation for texture and contrast. That helped me a lot as a web designer. And studio classes taught me a lot about communicating and sharing ideas with people, which helped a ton when it came to pitching and selling design as a solution to a problem.

How do you approach the “pitching and selling” of design? Any tips you can share?

Let's see if I can boil this down into some bullets…

  • Listen. I always make sure I truly understand the problem or challenge I'm being asked to solve.
  • Research. Doing enough research to back up design choices is a time investment that always pays for itself.
  • Communicate. For me, selling is communicating. Communication creates understanding. Understanding allows your client to have confidence in you. When clients feel confident, that confidence leads to trust. Trust rules the world. I sell in a way that tells my clients, “I hear you.”
  • Listen. I listen some more. My research usually comes in handy in response to questions. I avoid “designy” jargon and explain things plainly, directly. And then I listen some more.

What do you love most about the coaching side of your consulting?

It's 100% about the people. As much as I love making products more empathetic to and practical for the folks who use them, I really care about the people making the products. I still address a lot of UX practices in these engagements, but most of my coaching is around listening and observation: cultivating teams and individuals to improve the focus and alignment of their goals and outcome of their efforts. Coaching feels like I finally discovered what I'm supposed to be when I grow up.

You have a talk in Orlando called "Designing Engagement". What will attendees take away from it?

First off, let me tell you, Disney is a part of my DNA, so speaking inside DisneyWorld, at An Event Apart, is pretty much the most insanely awesome combination of things that could ever happen. There's a chance I'll explode about it. If not, though, I'll be doing this talk!

“Designing Engagement” was originally designed for iOS developers but it scales nicely for website makers, as well as mobile product makers. I believe the products we make are the connective tissue between human beings. If we can think about our products with more human attributes and more human language, there's a truer sense of empathy that will be felt in our work. More succinctly, in this presentation I'll talk about some nifty tricks to help you make sure your products attract the attention of users, gain their affection, and earn their devotion.

What excites you most these days?

A whole lot! Disney-ing and cats. And mom-ing. And Wednesday morning hikes. I'm working on two different web startups and co-hosting a couple of podcasts. Coaching is perpetually rewarding. I'm very excited about sharing all I'm learning through improved focus and frequency in my writing and speaking engagements.

Life feels pretty darn exciting!

Thanks, Jaimee!

Jaimee Newberry will present “Designing Engagement” as part of An Event Apart Orlando: Special Edition, to be held at Disney's Contemporary Resort October 27–29, 2014. Don't miss your chance to see this and seventeen other incredible talks—register today!