Meet a Mentor:
Brian Hanson, Designer at One Design Company

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Brian Hanson is designer, developer, illustrator and Designation mentor. A classic multi-disciplinarian, Brian’s began his career as a traditional advertising art director. But his range of skills have taken him down a development route, and now works for the exceptional Chicago design and dev shop One Design Company.


Please tell us a little bit about yourself! Where do you work and what is your title?
Hello! I’m Brian Hanson a designer and developer for One Design Company in beautiful Chicago, IL.

I moved to Chicago about 3 years ago after spending the first 20-ish years of my life in Iowa. My career started in Des Moines working for a large advertising agency. I started working there as an intern in college so I had the opportunity to do a few different roles through the years. I spent time as a production artist, art director and eventually a digital art director before making the jump to Chicago to work with One Design Company.

When I’m not at work I do a bit of illustration work, lettering, and lots of reading blogs. In general I just love making things.

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What does a typical day for you look like?
One Design is a fairly small (but growing) agency so I get to work on a lot of different projects from week to week. Since I started I’ve gotten to design and build several websites, create a logo for a co-working space and even designed some album artwork. I love working at a small agency because frankly it keeps me from getting bored. One Design allows me to do a lot of different things and to experiment with my skillset throughout the course of a project.

A typical day starts with a morning standup to check-in with the project managers about what happened yesterday and what you plan to do today. We follow an agile workflow so these short meetings are pretty important to keeping everyone in the loop and staying on task.

If we’re in beginning phase of a project I’ll spend a lot of time sketching things out, mocking them up in illustrator or creating a quick prototype using Framer. Once I have something workable I’ll test it myself, get someone else in the office to try it, and ideally test it with real users before starting the process over again, honing and revising over and over until the UX is in a good place.

If we’re in the development phase, most of the day is spent making things real. Not only coding up the front end but also hooking the templates up to our CMS of choice. I really enjoy figuring out how best to code our sites in order to create a great UX not only for the end user but also for the person managing the content.

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What was your path to becoming a UX designer? (How did you break in, what was your first job like, etc)
I went to college for traditional Graphic Design and graduated from Iowa State University with a BFA. While there wasn’t any UX focused curriculum I’ve always believed the principles of good UX are very similar to the core principles of design.

After graduating, I immediately got a job at the advertising agency where I had been interning. I spent all four years of school and the first few after focused almost entirely on print design. Since my day to day didn’t involve much web work I took things into my own hands. I bought a few books, took courses on CodeAcademy and read every blog I could get my hands on to get up to speed with the web design and development world.

With my new skills in hand, I started positioning myself as the “digital” guy at work. Eventually that allowed me to work on pretty much any project that had a web component to it. Unfortunately these projects were almost always simple contest registration sites (essentially just a form). I decided that even if all I was designing was pages to hold a form, I should make those pages as easy to use as possible. It would benefit the users and our clients. So I dove as deep as I could into form UX. I read a great book and a bunch of articles that Luke Wroblewski wrote on the subject in order to make these little microsites as good as I could.

I’ve consistently found that reading blogs is one of the best things you can do for yourself. Not only do you get great information from a lot of different people but it really helps you keep a pulse on the industry as a whole, you can see where things are going and get a good sense of the consensus out there.

How did you first get involved with Designation?
I kind of lucked into Designation. One Design is actively working to get out into the community a bit more so a part of that involved finding ways to share what we know with the community. I’ve always liked the idea of a mentor / mentee relationship since I’ve has some great mentors that were always supportive and full of great advice. When our creative director got an email from Designation he put me in touch and the rest is history.

How many mentees have you had so far?
Only one so far (shoutout to Tanya!), with a second that I will be meeting soon.

What does mentorship mean to you, and why is it so important?
I think it’s really important to share what you know with those around you. It’s one of those crazy things about our industry that I hope we never loose. I feel like in other industries all information is thought of as a secret and held close to the chest which makes innovation difficult and can make it feel unwelcoming to a newcomer.

Our industry is all about the open flow of knowledge and information which I love. I thought mentoring would be a great way to contribute the little knowledge I have with the community.

Obviously your role as a mentor is to teach and instruct your mentees. But what if anything have they taught you?
More perspective. It’s always interesting to get someone else’s perspective and to see the world through their eyes for a moment. Chatting with my first mentee helped me to remember what it was like coming out of school and how scary that can be. When you’re graduating, you’ve spent a lot of time and potentially money gambling on this industry and there’s a lot of pressure to make that investment worth it. It’s interesting to put yourself back into that position and to gain some empathy for people going through it.

It was an important reminder that everyone isn’t you. Everyone you meet throughout your day and everyone who will use one of your products is vastly different. They will approach the product differently, have different issues using it, different problems they’re trying to solve with it, and different things happening all around them while they’re trying to solve that problem. As designers we want to provide an experience that can cut through those myriad situations and work well for as many people as possible.

“Everyone isn’t you. Everyone you meet throughout your day and everyone who will use one of your products is vastly different.”

And finally, what do you think is the future of UX design?
Quartz recently released an app that brings you the news in a conversational format. It’s a really interesting, different way to experience a news app especially since news apps are typically just a simple list of titles and excerpts. That app combined with Slack’s global takeover has me thinking that conversation could be poised to make some major waves in the UX world.

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