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What I’ve Been Up To

May 10th, 2016 by Steve | Comment on What I've Been Up To | Filed in Personal

Hello friends!

It’s been awhile since my last post. Here’s what’s been going on.

  • Education
    I just completed Semester 2 of my User Experience Design Master’s Program. Both classes dealt with User Research. Things are continuing to go well, and I’m learning a lot.
  • Creative Writing
    After my flourish of posts about getting back into creative writing, it may appear I immediately went dormant again thereafter. That’s not entirely true. I definitely have not been writing as much as I did during winter break. School and work have made it very challenging.

    However, I’ve been doing what I can. I’ve done brainstorming exercises on my bike rides to work, coming up with ideas that may or may not make good stories. On a recent train ride to Chicago, I started “penning” one of those thoughts, and cranked out a few pages of ideas. I’ll take whatever creative outlets I can.

  • Work
    I’ve been super busy at work, but it’s all going well. One thing of note – I’ve been learning a lot about industrial design through multiple projects I’m involved in. It’s an area of design I’ve barely had any involvement in, but through working with great partners and talking to industrial designers, it’s opened my eyes to a whole new world.
  • Home Life
    While Wisconsin spring has been a bit, shall we say, inconsistent, we’ve been enjoying as much of it as we can. We’re prepping the gardens, flipping the compost, and installing a rain barrel. The patio furniture is out now too, so here’s to a spring and summer of cookouts.
  • What I’m Reading
    Nine Princes in Amber by Roger Zelazny…for the umpteenth time, because it’s so damn good.
  • What I’m Playing
    Diablo 3, Season 6

I’m also very much looking forward to seeing my friend and colleague Alan Schwegler in action tonight at mkeUX, delivering what’s going to be a fascinating discussion called Evangelizing Design Leadership. Irish Pub, 6:30…be there!

Accessibility & User Experience: You Can’t Have One Without the Other

February 23rd, 2016 by Steve | Comment on Accessibility & User Experience: You Can't Have One Without the Other | Filed in art of web accessibility update, user experience

I’m woefully late posting about the presentation I did for mkeUX back on February 9th. Work has been crazy, and as if their stars are aligned, so has homework in the Masters program.

Be that as it may, I at least wanted to report that the presentation – Accessibility & User Experience – You Can’t Have One Without the Other – went great! It was a lot of fun, and there was a great turnout. Lots of good questions from the audience too.

Mike Kornacki and Steve Grobschmidt kicking off mkeUX and my presentation,

Mike Kornacki introducing me and my presentation at mkeUX, at the Irish Pub in Milwaukee.
(Photo posted on mkeUX Facebook page by Frank Dalton)

I took a similar approach to another presentation I’ve done, and started by dispelling some myths about accessibility and disabilities. Accessibility really shouldn’t perpetuate “us versus them” with able-bodied and disabled people – it should be about making sure experiences are usable and enjoyable for ALL of your users, regardless of disability, hardware or environmental restrictions.

That being said, I always feel it’s good to go over the range of disabilities that people have. It’s far beyond blindness or color blindness, which seem to get the most attention when the word “accessibility” comes up.

I also talked about ways to incorporate accessibility into user experience methods, including personas/archetypes and usability testing.

In short, it was a great time, and a great dialogue. mkeUX as always is a wonderful, informal venue for people in the greater Milwaukee area to get together and talk user experience. There are events lined up for March, April and May, that I’ll share when they get closer.

You may view my presentation on SlideShare:

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Accessibility & UX – Presentation at mkeUX

January 19th, 2016 by Steve | Comment on Accessibility & UX - Presentation at mkeUX | Filed in Accessibility News, art of web accessibility update

the Disability symbol painted in a parking spotI’m excited to share that I’ll be presenting Accessibility & UX: You Can’t Have One Without the Other on February 9th for mkeUX.

If you’re in the Milwaukee area that day, swing by the Irish Pub.

For all the details, check out:
Feb 9 meetup: Accessibility & UX at mkeUX!

And let them know you’re coming:
Accessibility & UX on Facebook.

mkeUX Logo

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Creativity – Then and Now

December 30th, 2015 by Steve | Comment on Creativity - Then and Now | Filed in Creativity

In the years since college, I haven’t done a whole lot of writing, other than a prompt here or a super short story there. That, of course, is what I’m hoping to change.

Creativity comes in different flavors though. I would be omitting a huge outlet for it if I didn’t mention a game I played from eighth grade into my 30s.

It’s no secret to anyone who knows me that I’m a huge fan of pro wrestling. I grew up with it, watching the AWA on Sunday mornings with my dad and ultimately the WWF (now, WWE). Probably the height of my fandom was the mid to late 1990s, when WCW and WWE/F duked it out in a big ratings war. I still watch classics from that era thanks to the WWE Network. I love the larger-than-life characters, the storylines, the alliances and betrayals, and of course the (simulated) combat itself.

As a kid, I collected Masters of the Universe action figures. Unlike most of my peers however, I set up the Eternia Wrestling Federation (EWF) instead of traditional adventures. I still remember details like Kobra Khan being the first champion, and Tri-Klops being the “Ric Flair” of EWF, winning the title time after time.

Tri-Klops action figure from the 1980s toy line Masters of the Universe

The most storied champion in the history of the Eternia Wrestling Federation. Like his inspiration Ric Flair, he’d finish off opponents with his deadly figure-four leg lock.
Sadly, his career was halted when one of his legs snapped off.
(Photo from: He-Man.org)

Similarly, I had a ton of those M.U.S.C.L.E. wrestlers (you know, those little pink rubber guys – see A Brief History of M.U.S.C.L.E. Figures for a great recap). I made my own ring out of wood, nails, and rubber bands, and had an elaborate league with titles, feuds, and all the good stuff that goes with pro-wrestling.

In the interests of full transparency, even today in my basement on the pool table are a pile of these figures. It’s pretty common for me to go downstairs to do laundry or grab something from the freezer, and pause to have a quick match or two.

MUSCLE action figures posed in a wrestling match on my pool table

Yes, this is a current picture. Here, we see Warlock (the red guy) battling Slim Jim for the MWF Legends Title.

What endured the longest, however, was my devotion to a game called Champions of the Galaxy. My two best friends and I ordered the first several sets back in the mid 1980’s, and while they dropped off in a matter of a few years, I stuck with it for a couple decades.

During the years I played, the game comprised of black and white cards with a wrestler illustration on one side and the stats/game mechanics on the other. You’d roll dice, follow charts, and a wrestling match would unfold.

What makes this even crazier – the game and its Galaxian Wrestling Federation (GWF) were set over a hundred years in the future, throughout the cosmos. Some wrestlers came from Earth, but most were aliens from all over the Milky Way and beyond.

Seven playable cards from Champions of the Galaxy, including characters named Bishop Hell, Thantos, Comrade Terror, Battering Ram, Pegasus, Bounty Hunter and Janus.

Here is just a tiny subset of the legends who made up the Champions of the Galaxy pantheon.
Special mention goes to the guy in the lower right, Janus the Overman, who was far and away the most successful, memorable combatant in the decades-long love affair I had with this game.

Most of the time, I kept track of results via write-ups, in notebooks and binders. In later years, I’d make fancier computerized versions. The reams of paper I went through was staggering, building up feuds, rivalries and grandiose storylines. I kept track of each and every champion in charts and later spreadsheets. When I was much younger, I’d even do promos in front of the mirror before big matches, playing the role of one of the wrestlers.

And for the most part, I had an audience of one. Thousands of results that only I saw. And I didn’t care – it entertained the heck out of me for a long, long time.

Handwritten results of two events held in my fictional wrestling federation in the Champions of the Galaxy game setting. These are from 2007.

Yes, I did this in my early 30s, nearing the end of my run with Champions of the Galaxy.
But it gets the point across of how I’d keep track of results, and progress storylines.

The game exists even today, though I dropped off several years ago. What’s sad is expanding beyond my audience of one and meeting other players via online communities ruined everything. I was exposed to a clique of gamers that soured me to the entire game, though I fortunately made a couple genuine friends out of it that I still talk to now.

I really miss the game though, and the creative outlet it provided me. I mentally conjure up scenarios and storylines when I play modern video games like WWE 2K16, but it’s just not the same. There are go-to fictional wrestlers that I always make in wrestling games that allow character creation like: Prince Ali, the young, brash Middle Eastern aristocrat; Marcel, the creepy, enigmatic French mime; “Java” Jose Cortez, the Hispanic high-flyer; Golden Saint, the masked hero inspired visually from characters in the Elder Scrolls game series…

I’ve tried to recapture the magic with Champions of the Galaxy in recent years, but you can’t always go back home.

So that was then. Today, there are dozens of story fragments on my computer, in Dropbox, etcetera. Many of them came from memorable dreams I had, others conjured up after things picked up from books or video games.

I’ll close here, with much thanks again for taking this journey with me. It’s been a lot of fun reminiscing about these creative forays.

How, pray tell, does this all relate to User Experience, Accessibility, and my career?

Well, I wouldn’t be in the UX role I am today, and the web design roles before that, without these experiences.

Everything that got me into design has been self-taught, up until the graduate program I’ve currently in.

All those years fiddling around with MacPaint, all those mind-expanding sessions writing stuff for the fun of it, all those hours I spent teaching myself HTML so that I could make my own web site for that wrestling game….it all parlayed into an entry level job updating web sites. That took me into web design, which took me into accessibility, which took me into UX.

You get the point. A creative mind questions experiences. It explores ways to make them better. It doesn’t settle. And whether you’ve studied art, business, or programming — or history and Latin like me — your brain can be wired for user experience if you’re an explorer and thinker.

I’ve done well for myself professionally, even though some of my favorite creative outlets have gone dormant.

Here’s to a 2016 where I bring some of that back. Wish me luck.

Creativity Series

  1. Creativity
  2. Creativity – Me & the ’70s and ’80s
  3. Creativity – More Fun in the ’80s
  4. Creativity – The Late 80’s and 90’s
  5. Creativity – Then and Now

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Creativity – The Late 80’s and 90’s

December 29th, 2015 by Steve | Comment on Creativity - The Late 80's and 90's | Filed in Creativity

I hope everybody has had a good holiday season. Welcome back.

Last time, I shared King Richard’s retelling of the exploits of Colwin, Sabrina, Panama Joe and others.

Me at Walt Disney World posing with someone dressed as Prince John from the Disney animated classic Robin Hood

Back when my writing alter ego was King Richard. Apparently this is Good King R. consulting with fellow royalty.

Luckily, my creativity streak continued beyond the grade school years into high school.

Sadly, not much remains from that era. I remember writing a story called “Lightpool: Drugs & Diamonds”, that was heavily influenced by the computer game series Police’s Quest.

Box cover of Police Quest - In Pursuit of the Dark Angel computer game

Cover of the first Police Quest game, from Sierra On-Line. I spent a ridiculous amount of time on this one, as well as the Space Quest series.
(image from Wikipedia)

From the little I remember, it was about a South Milwaukee cop (yes, South Milwaukee, Wisconsin, where I grew up) who stumbles upon some drug ring, and embarks on an adventure that takes him undercover and even to Mexico for some reason.

Far more exciting for me was the second round of Knight’s Quest stories that I wrote. The originals that I wrote in grade school featured a warrior named Larky (again, with the “clever” names) and another Sabrina, working for King Richard and taking on all manner of enemies, both domestic and interplanetary.

The next series I wrote, in the late 80s and early 90s was about a different band of heroes. Once again, some of the names were just me being quirky and weird, like the main character being a warrior named Wizardry.

But the party of adventurers were: Wizardry the warrior; Sperry the thief; Moonshadow the warrior and healer; Sazzor the wizard; and Guild the guardsman/archer.

I just learned that my brother has copies of most of these stories, including the “spin-off” called Thief’s Quest, which was a backstory for Sperry. I’m sure they’ll be a treat for me to read (and cringe-worthy at times).

I was so heavily influenced by Dungeons & Dragons and role-playing games that I rigidly stuck to terms like fighter, thief, and cleric because I wanted to stay true to the whole genre. I didn’t feel comfortable enough striking off on my own and being more inventive.

One of the prime inspirations for writing them was the bestselling Avatar Trilogy in the Forgotten Realms book series.

Cover art from the three books in the Avatar Trilogy of the Forgotten Realms series - Shadowdale, Tantras, and Waterdeep

The three books of the Avatar Trilogy, set in the Forgotten Realms.
Photo from:
Comic Books & Novels Sales

As I mentioned, not only do I have the original stories but I have tons of notes detailing how I could re-write them. I have the notes for an 8-story saga. I’ve spent literally my entire adulthood thinking about the characters, setting and other details. Obviously, lots of things require changing, like uncoupling it from Dungeons & Dragons’ jargon and renaming goofy characters like Wizardry, Narchanzar, Fizzle and who the hell knows what others I came up with.

After the second Knight’s Quest series, I don’t believe I finished many other stories on my own. I did have another run during early college though. In my first year, I planned on being an English major and took a couple creative writing classes.

I still have some of the stories from then. Most were forgettable, but a couple still stick in my mind.

Most notably, I wrote Aphrodite. It was a story about a Classics professor named Sidney Timbers, who loses his wife in a car accident and spirals into alcoholism and eventually screwing around with a student of his who reminds him of his wife.

He gets visited by a strange old man, who eventually reveals himself to be a poet from Ancient Greece. He tries to convince Timbers that the classic gods are real, but barely in power because most people don’t believe in them. Timbers professed to not believe in any Greek mythology, at last consciously – he always had considered his wife his Aphrodite. Well, the old man tells him that his wife actually WAS Aphrodite.

Eventually, Timbers figures “What the hell” and winds up getting whisked to ancient Greek times. He tries to track down the goddess Aphrodite. Just when he about loses hope, he gets an audience with the gods and, while the goddess Aphrodite doesn’t know what the hell he’s talking about, he tries to convince her to do things differently far in the future, and avoid the car crash.

He awakens from this back home and dismisses it as a dream, but then is greeted by his wife, who reveals she heeded his advice and they live happily ever after.

What I remember (I still have it, thankfully) is that the first half felt quite inspired and unique, but when I took the story to ancient Greece, I completely lost my direction and it wound up pretty lame. Were I to do it again, I’d tweak the beginning but come up with a completely different ending, probably without a literal trip back in time and not necessarily with the fairy tale ending.

I also wrote a decent story about two college guys who dare themselves to visit a supposedly haunted house in the neighborhood, as well as one about an aging pirate who goes on one last voyage in hopes of finding his lost sister.

And that, sadly, was about it. In my final post about this whole creativity thing, I’ll talk about the dozen or so fragments of stories I’ve still got, many of them inspired by some great dreams I had, that I was smart enough to take notes on.

Creativity Series

  1. Creativity
  2. Creativity – Me & the ’70s and ’80s
  3. Creativity – More Fun in the ’80s
  4. Creativity – The Late 80’s and 90’s
  5. Creativity – Then and Now

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