On Dec 31st, I was asked if I could make it to a series of meeting in Mequon, WI Jan 8-10th. I wasn’t sure I was going to be able to make it because my manager was going to be on vacation until Jan 4th and I need her approval to book any travel. I sent her a message anyways and she responded almost immediately saying that I could go. So, the initial and debatably largest hurdle had been jumped.
I didn’t really know what the meetings were going to be about before I showed up, except that there was going to be some discussion about the future of the product that I work on, and a lot of UX work.
For those of you that don’t know, Mequon is about an hour north of Milwaukee. If you don’t know where Milwaukee is, it’s an hour and a half north of Chicago. If you don’t know where Chicago is, you need to take some geography. I flew to Milwaukee on Monday evening. Everything went smoothly logistically, but the flight was very bumpy. However, the 1h42min flight was a welcome change from the 7h30min+ flights to Paris. But again on the not so great side, the planes flying from Toronto to Milwaukee are much smaller and older than those flying to Paris. No USB port with which to charge your phone, as I’ve become accustomed to. You win some, you lose some.
I rented a car because I did not want to be depending on Uber or taxis in a town of 20,000 people. Also, how often do I get the chance to have a car to myself for a week? I was given a black Chevy Cruze.
The first day of meetings was very technical oriented and very much over my head. I didn’t contribute much that day. I also learned that everyone was staying in the same hotel except me. That’s what you get when you’re asked to join a work trip a week before it happens. Nate, a co-worker that I’ve become good friends with over the past year, was also there, so it was good to see him again. And exactly a year after we met in person for the first time in Portland!
In the evening, some of us went to the restaurant/bar/brewery beside the hotel everyone else was staying in. The rest of them were all having drinks, and I was eventually convinced to try a French 75, a cocktail I’ve never heard of before. It has champagne, gin, simple syrup, and lemon juice in it. I thought it tasted alright, even though Nate said the bartender made it wrong. Finally at 10:30 we left the restaurant, but I had a good time hanging out with them. It’s nice to hang out with people in a non-work context and get to know them better, especially when you usually work remotely from them. It gives you a much better sense of who they are as a person and how you can be with them on a conference call (so for me, what kind of jokes I can crack with them).
The second day was a little more up my alley in terms of what we were discussing. We talked about the user journeys through the new workflows and started talking about how to handle the new steps. The truth of the matter is, we needed to do a design sprint. Had I known this before hand (and had I not been a last minute addition to the meetings), I could have planned ahead and run a proper design sprint. But neither of those things are true, so I did my best with what I could in the time that we had. It wasn’t great, but we got what we needed out of it.
That evening, some higher up in the company took us all out for dinner. The gesture is always appreciated, but it’s just not the same when A) you weren’t going to be paying for that meal regardless and B) you know they’re just going to expense it anyways. So when you say thanks for dinner, it’s really just saying, thanks for giving me one less receipt to keep track of. That dinner didn’t last nearly as long as the first day’s, and I was back at the hotel by 9pm.
The third and final day was the one where my input was needed the most. We had a deadline to have 3 low-fidelity prototypes done by the end of the day. We needed to wireframe the screens, figure out the flow, and then transfer it all into design software. I understand this is probably a lot of technical UX jargon, but just know this was a ridiculous ask. Possible, but it wasn’t going to be pretty and by no means complete.
Despite the tight deadline, it was also the most enjoyable day. The more business oriented people went and did their own thing, which made things a lot easier. Trying to discuss things with 8 people in the room and more on the phone is a lot. The prototyping group was three people in the room and one on the phone. I felt bad for the guy on the phone (also a UX designer) because we were talking fast and over each other as we generated ideas, all about visual stuff, which just doesn’t go well over the phone. The meeting room did have a smart board in it, which ended up being very helpful. It was a whiteboard, but as we drew on it, it would show up online at the link the smart board provided. So our colleague on the phone could watch us draw.
What I did not expect was how perfectly set up the situation was. As me and those in the meeting room brainstormed and drew on the whiteboard, the guy on the phone was taking our sketches and putting them into XD, a prototyping software from Adobe. Armed with our company’s style library, he could drag and drop already built components into place and have a page put together in minutes. Linking the pages together takes longer, but it was good enough. At lunch, he pipes up and says, “Let me show you what I’ve got.” We were stunned by how much he had accomplished. Every screen we had drawn on the whiteboard was mocked up and half of it was a working prototype. I had anticipated needing to do all the design software and prototyping work by myself, and I wasn’t sure how it was going to get done by the end of the day. Not because I didn’t think the UX designer on the phone couldn’t do it, but because A) up until a week previous, I was the only UX designer for this product, so if there was UX work to be done, I was the one doing it, and B) I had never interacted with the guy before that week and didn’t know what his situation was (all I’m going to say is that when joining a meeting through the phone, it’s very easy to multitask…) Normally I’m a huge advocate for everyone being in the same location, especially when doing something like designing, but it ended up being a huge help that our guy on the phone could tune us out a little bit and get some mock-ups done once he had our sketches.
In the end, we had two of the prototypes complete and the third one was well on it’s way to being completed. We were well thanked and praised for the hard work we did that day, which was nice. It was a little bittersweet overall though, because it was the most enjoyable day for those of us who were designing, and the most stressful and lengthy day for the other group that had broken off.
We were taken to a place called the Fermentorium on our last night in Wisconsin. It’s a beer tasting room off the side of a minor highway. As someone who isn’t a fan of beer, I wasn’t particularly interested in going, but everyone else was going and I wanted to hang out with people more than I didn’t want to drink beer. They release a new beer every Thursday, which was part of the reason we were going. This week, it was Toasted Coconut Safe Passage. As far as beer goes, it was alright. I’ve never really seen beer as something that has a flavouring, so when I tasted the coconut, I was pleasantly surprised.
The more interesting part for me were the signs telling you what the beers on tap were. They were beautifully done chalk art panels, created by a regular at the Fermentorium. They have a ‘mug club’ which gets you discounts based on how often you show up and how much you drink. We met the guy who holds the record for most consecutive days in a row: 523.
The Fermentorium only sells quick bites and frozen pizza, so after eating (a surprisingly delicious) frozen pizza, we headed out to a different place to get some more food. We mainly got appetizers, one of which was fries with short ribs and cheese curds. The waiter said, ‘almost like poutine.’ And in my head, I thought ‘I’ll be the judge of that.’ It was almost poutine in the sense that it had cheese curds and fries, but not poutine in the sense that the cheese curds were deep fried, so there was no melty cheese strings covering the fries and there wasn’t enough sauce from the short ribs to be called a gravy. We also got cheese stick roulette, where one of the six cheese sticks had ghost pepper sauce. I thankfully did not get the ghost pepper stick.
I noticed that there was an Oreo mudpie on the dessert menu, and debated about getting it. But by the time people were finishing up with appetizers, I was full and didn’t need anything more to eat. But Nate, knowing how I feel about Oreos, said I had to get it. It didn’t take much convincing. It was not at all what I was expecting, but it was very delicious. I was expecting chocolate pudding with Oreo crumbs, whip cream, and chocolate sauce. What I got was almost a slice of ice cream cake with a Oreo crumb base and a frozen creamy chocolate-y topping.
Speaking of Oreos, since it was the last night, I had to make my trip to the grocery store to get only-available-in-the-States Oreos. It took me a while to find the Oreo aisle, but eventually I found it. I knew it had to be around somewhere. The only new flavour I could see was a Valentine’s ‘sweet + tangy’ flavour and a chocolate peanut butter pie flavour which I think (??) I haven’t tried before. I got it anyways 🙂 I also got these mini Oreo mint thins dipped in fudge, which taste very similar to Girl Guide Mint Thins and are thus delicious. And of course, I had to get my favourite: lemon. And to top it all off, a couple of bags of M&Ms.
Being in Wisconsin, a state known for drinking and cheese, I decided to pick up some cheese at the airport. They had a block of cheese shaped like a cow, so I got that for Justine. They also had a tomato basil cheddar cheese, which is delicious. The fun part is that the TSA has a new rule about food going through security, so both of my bags got flagged for inspection (one for cheese and one for Oreos). But it’s a great time watching the TSA agent opening my suitcase to find it just completely full of Oreos 🙂
There was talk of a trip to Austin, Texas to visit the new UX guy and of course back to Portland, Oregon, where the product is based. Since we have a May deadline to get all this stuff up and running, I have faith that they will both happen, but I’m not getting my hopes up until I see a plane ticket booked. And who knows, there will probably be a Paris trip soon too 😉