Where are you working currently, and what do you do there?
I’m currently the Director of Visual Communications Design at GMHC (Gay Men’s Health Crisis) where I oversee all design projects. My primary responsibilities are to identify creative opportunities to advance the agency's mission and to show staff how design can positively impact their work.
Can you tell us a bit about your education and career background?
I have a background in graphic design, art, and photography. I’ve spent most of my career in communications and visual design working in the nonprofit sector. I also practice art on the side.
Why did you choose to study at BrainStation?
Like many folks who decide to level-up their digital skills, I did extensive research on schools and compiled a list. What sold me on BrainStation was the personal attention I received from the moment I walked into the information session. It started then and never stopped! I never felt like a customer. Instead, I always felt like a member of a community.
What motivated you to start digital skills training?
As a Graphic Designer and Art Director, I was already practicing some form of UX and UI thinking about what I was communicating to an audience and how I was doing it—but it was intuitive. I took it for granted. I wanted to take classes to formalize these instincts into a structured design process and build a stronger framework of understanding.
What was the highlight of your learning experience?
There were two highlights for me: my instructors and my colleagues. The instructor for my UX class, Jenna Brucoli, a Lead UX Designer at Ogilvy, was superb. We covered tons of material in 12 weeks, and she led us through this sprint with enthusiasm, encouragement, and great humor. Not only did she give us 110 percent during every class, but she also took time to meet with many of us outside of class. Her advice and guidance were invaluable. I was particularly impressed with the way she wove stories from her professional experience as a UX Designer into the class sessions.
This was also true of my UI Instructor, Eli Fares. Eli is a Product Designer at Moves, a fintech company in Toronto, and has an undergraduate degree in engineering and a graduate degree in Human-Computer Interaction—a background very different from Jenna, who came to UX/UI from graphic design. Eli would often show us projects he had worked on and shared many practical technical and design tips he learned on the job.
Overall, this is a BrainStation strength—not only are your Instructors industry professionals, but they’re also committed teachers willing to share their experiences.
I learned a lot from my fellow students as well. What a fascinating mix of backgrounds and ages! Even after switching from an in-person format to online (because of the COVID-19 pandemic and lockdown), the collegiality and camaraderie continued. For me, it confirmed that the digital skills taught at BrainStation are the new universal skills every professional should have in their toolset. We all consume digital products and are more dependent on them than ever before, so as savvy digital citizens we need to be familiar with the way they’re designed, developed, and marketed.
What was the most challenging part of your learning experience?
The most challenging part of the experience for me was the pace of the class. You move fast, which is exciting (it mirrors life in the tech industry), but also intimidating. I learned to move forward without knowing exactly what I was doing, or what the next step should be. I was constantly reminded that the more you learn the more you realize you need to learn. This was a weekly blocker I had to overcome. I’m thankful BrainStation gives you access to the excellent slide decks for six months after your class ends. It allows you to take the course over again but this time at your own pace!
The digital skills taught at BrainStation are the new universal skills every professional should have in their toolset.
How has your BrainStation experience impacted your career?
It has definitely added value to my current job and allowed me to expand my role. It has also given me the confidence to move a few side projects forward—ideas I have for digital products—which I hope will lead to new professional opportunities in the future.
For example, I’m interested in products that help bridge the technology gap between generations. In my classes, I developed an idea for a mobile app—targeted at older adults but appealing to all groups—that builds digital literacy by empowering people to become confident and more engaged users of social media. I want it to be a tool for managing social media accounts as a human, not a brand. My hope is that it will help non-native digital users to either start using social media, expand their social media portfolio, or re-engage with social media in a more meaningful way.
I couldn't have done this without the support and encouragement I received at BrainStation.
What would you say were the most valuable skills you learned?
I learned so many valuable skills at BrainStation, but the two most valuable ones were learning how to be a more empathetic Designer and how to translate that empathy into a functional digital experience.
How have you incorporated those skills into your current role?
I'm rethinking everything that I do in my current role, from the re-design of an online magazine to the way my organization uses video on social media, all through the lens of our users.
What advice would you give to professionals considering a BrainStation course?
You must have short-term and long-term goals. This is especially important if you’re studying part-time. Be able to explain those goals to yourself as clearly as possible, which is harder than it sounds. You also need to realize that the goals will definitely change over time. You need a game plan and you need to be nimble!
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