UX – The Universal Language

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Although my blog posts seem to always revolve around DIYs and whether or not it’s ok to wear black and brown together (and it totally is!) I wanted to change my tune for this particular post and focus on the subject that takes up the large majority of my life: Marketing. I don’t talk about my professional life and expertise a lot on californ-ia but wanted to share some thoughts on a topic I’m quite passionate about and have spent the past 12 years devoted to. Website User Experience. So without further ado, I give you UX – The Universal Language

When poised with the question, “What is the Universal Language?” the hopeless romantic in me would say Love. Period. Drop mike. Regardless of background, native tongue or location in the world, love is the one language that every person on Earth can understand without translation. Love, my marketing friends, is the one true Universal Language.

Or is it?

When tasked the other day to analyze a specific service on a client’s competitor site (which just happened to be in Russian, to which I don’t speak a lick of) I will tell you that although I understood practically nothing on their website, I could easily navigate and find almost all of the information I was searching for.

Mind you, I couldn’t read their introduction or mission statement—but it was clear what kind of company it was. I couldn’t pronounce the services they offered, but their iconography led me to the details I needed. Their imagery was impactful. Navigation clear. So was I able to pick up fluent Russian in a moment’s notice or was it that I had been trained on a different type of language? Perhaps something a little more Universal?

UX, or User Experience, has become the life-blood of website architecture and design. It is the way in which a website user interacts with its products, services and systems and encompasses the ease of use and the site’s overall efficiency. In short, UX is the language we use to understand a website.

Users today expect a specific User Experience and, like learning any language, have spent years developing this proficiency. This self-taught proficiency is what UX professionals spend so much time harnessing, all to create the most efficient and effective pathway to the end goal: conversion. Whether it be the title or placement of a navigation item or the on-state rollover effect on a call-to-action, each and every site element must be strategically determined and placed to provide users with the language they have taught themselves to expect. It is our job as marketers to be fluent in our user’s anticipated actions.

When analyzing a site’s UX, there are a few rules one should try and follow.

Remove the guess work and utilize your metrics

You may think you know what your clients are after, and there is a good chance that you do, but the proof is in the analytical pudding. Use your analytics to understand your audience and their habits and then use that data to everyone’s advantage.

Understand your customer’s journey

Identifying the flow in which a user travels your site, from the first point of entry to either contact or purchase, is essential in establishing an effective UX. Chances are you have multiple audiences accessing your site. Walk through how each of them would ideally navigate your site. Does it make sense for each group? Understanding your user flows will help you determine and remove any obstacles between your viewers and conversion.

Test your site experience and test it some more

Many clients will launch a site, pat their agency partner on the back and then disappear into the mist until the next sexy web design fad comes along. Launching a website and leaving it to chance is a stake in the heart when it comes to UX. Use your analytics, talk to and survey your clients/customers, and always be trying to understand what site elements can be improved upon.

It is clear that UX plays a major part in our everyday lives. It impacts how your customers interact and engage with your brand. It is a predominant factor in lead generation and conversion. So whatever language you find to be universal, I urge you to become fluent in your site’s UX. Much like love, it’s how we communicate with one another.

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Our Engagement Story

OK. I realize I haven’t posted anything in awhile. Ad agency life will do that to you. But in order to jumpstart my routine, I wanted to post something worthwhile… We’re engaged!

Every year for our anniversary, Kevin and I run off for a weekend together, typically in the mountains somewhere–our anniversary is in February after all. We try to hit up a ski resort we’ve never been to, with the goal of someday snowboarding all of them. For our five year, we booked a trip to Vancouver and Whistler.

If you haven’t been to Vancouver, I highly recommend it. It’s clean, beautiful, full of breweries and offers so much to do. I attended my first NHL game (Go Canucks!) and the scenic views were breathtaking. Whistler and Nita Lake Lodge were equally magical. We snowboarded, bobsledded, hiked, drank ourselves silly and did all the other things you do on your five year anniversary. ; )

On the last morning of our Whistler adventure, following our morning coffee routine, Kevin and I took to a lake hike behind our lodge with the hopes of capturing some picturesque footage with his drone–he takes the damn thing with him everywhere. Once situated on the opposite end of the lake from the lodge, with his drone strategically following us, Kevin popped his question. Will you adventure with me forever? Between a mass amount of tears and hopping up and down like a caffeinated bunny, I said yes!

On cloud nine, he told me the details of his plotting which, to my surprise, included a six hour drive to see my parents to ask their permission. I think this meant just as much to me as the physical proposal. With my dad’s favorite bottle of whiskey in hand, Kevin proposed to my family. My father, also a caffeinated bouncing bunny, cried yes as well. Kevin had Bob’s blessing.

Fast forward to today, I still haven’t made a single wedding plan. I plan for a living so perhaps this is just one thing I want to bask in for while. I’m honestly just in love with being engaged. One thing Kevin and I do align on is a date. The day we met, our proposal and our someday wedding will all fall on our special date in February. I think it’s romantic and he won’t have to remember another date–a magical combination!

 

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My Eggs Might Be Dying But I am Living

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This past year will undoubtedly go down as one of the best years in my life. I lived. I loved. I am experiencing the life I have always hoped I would. But with self joy comes the inevitable need to also defend the accomplishments that I, as a woman, have yet to summit. In particular: I am over 30, I am unmarried and I have no children. With that said, to some, all of my other accomplishments can be damned to hell.

Any single woman over 30 will tell you that at least once in their life someone has directly or discreetly questioned their decision to be in their current situation. They will phrase these comments in such a way that leaves you wondering if you caught some type of disease. You came down with the being single or have a case of the not being pregnant yet. With each passing year into my thirties I am convinced that by the time I reach 35 they will no longer ask questions but simply have me quarantined into a far off ghetto for women with my condition.

These interrogation tactics are not limited to friends and family either. Clients, colleagues and complete strangers will ask you to explain yourself to them. At least once a month I will have someone ask why my boyfriend of five years had not yet proposed to me. By being asked questions like this, you are put into the awkward position of making excuses or inevitably considering the worst ridiculous thoughts. Maybe he doesn’t love me?

For the longest time, I was one of the women that made excuses for herself. We’re saving money. We’re waiting until after the next promotion. We have to wash our hair this weekend. You name the excuse, I’ve probably used it at some point in the last five years as to why I’m not married with a babe on my hip. But what I’ve learned is that excuses don’t help your situation and only bring you down—making you second guess some of the biggest decisions you have made for yourself. Don’t ever second guess yourself. If you’re in your thirties and have built the life you have imagined or are on your way to doing so, remind yourself that you didn’t get there by second guessing yourself and by listening to those with different ambitions.

Now, when anyone questions my rockless left-hand or when we’re planning to start a family I oh so proudly state that I’m simply having my cake and eating it too—a polite middle finger that means, unlike you miss or mister interrogator, I can both adventure now and have a family when I’m ready… and unlike you have the established means to do so…

To quote another strong woman and the reason behind my use of Aveeno and consumption of Smart Water:

“We are complete with or without a mate, with or without a child. We get to decide for ourselves what is beautiful when it comes to our bodies. That decision is ours and ours alone. We don’t need to be married or mothers to be complete. We get to determine our own “happily ever after” for ourselves.”

Jennifer Aniston is not perfect. She knows it and isn’t afraid to say it. But I admire her ability to stay her path and encourage other women to do so as well. Like Aniston, I have been let down time and time again but keep my chin held high and continue to kill it on the journey there. We’re in this together, Jen. We’ll get there.

Perhaps naïve, but my positive self has me convinced that the eggs I do have left (the dwindling 10% left according to most medical resources) are still there because they have endured and have the strength to fight off my apparent dying uterus. Standing tall and waving their Darwinism banners proudly, my 10% shout “We will not go quietly into the night!” as they wait determined on the front line, being picked off one-by-one as the dooms day of 40 approaches.

Will it be harder for me to conceive children? Maybe. But would it have also been hard for me to bear children at a younger age and have potentially given up all of the experiences and personal growth I have accomplished in the last 10 years? Absolutely. My point being, that there is no right answer and either path chosen could have been the wrong path. The path is yours and yours alone to make.

I will continue to grow whether or not I have something growing inside of me. I want to have children someday, but the keyword there is someday and someday is different for everyone. Someday does not mean 34 and a half on the third day in October. Someday for me means the day I decide that another life and their experience and growth is more important than my own. When the taste of champagne falls second to an apple juice-box and the Inca trail holds less luster than Disneyland, then and only then will someday have occurred. And until that day I ask all of the self-appointed doctors trying to diagnose me with dwindling egg-count to refrain from their prescriptions.

After all, we have the ability to determine our own happily ever afters. Maybe mine just ends a little differently and a little further down the road.

Morning Routine – Drinking Warm Water with Lemon

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As I’m sure we’re all too aware, it’s wedding season, and whether you’re the bride-to-be, the maid-of-honor or a guest trying to look dynamite in that cute little floral number you purchased last month, we’re all thinking and trying to accomplish the same thing—Must. Fit. In. One-Size-Too-Small. Dress. ARG!

I truly try my hardest not to crash diet. I eat fairly healthy on a regular basis but I’m in no way a tyrant when it comes to my eating habits. Did somebody say donut?

I believe in true foods without preservatives, sticking to the outside aisles of the grocery store and cooking at home as often as I can.

One new addition I’ve added to my morning routine and daily intake is a cup of warm water with lemon. I’ve heard rumblings of it being good for you but when I watched Victoria Hodgkins of She’s a Competitor sip her lemony concoction before her morning routine (she’s got a great routine!) I knew there was something to be said there.

I started looking into it and it wasn’t long before I too was replacing my morning cup of Joe with this simplistic home remedy. Warm water with sliced lemon is recognized for all types of health benefits.

Warm water with lemon…

Detoxifies your body
Jump-starts your immune system
Helps digestion
Works wonders for your skin
Freshens your breath
Promotes Healing
Boosts Energy
Aids in weight loss (ding, ding, ding!)

If you’re wondering why warm water opposed to ice water. It’s simple. Warm water is easier to break down than cold water.

I’m not much for hopping on the bandwagon for health tips or remedies but I will say that I really do like this one and have stuck with it. If you’re wanting to try a subtle change to your daily routine to jump-start your healthy habits, this is a very easy one to start with—and a good one!

Let me know how it goes and if you too feel it working!

 

 

Making the Most of Maui, Hawaii

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Although we visited three islands during our much needed-Hawaiian holiday, I can easily tell you that Maui was everyone’s favorite part of the vacation. With so much to do, whether you wanted to relax or hit the scenes, Maui offered something for everyone regardless of age, mood or interest.

When it comes to travel, I take pre-planning very seriously. I plan so I don’t have to lift a finger or think critically once my plane touches down at its destination. So, for all of my fellow planners out here, here are my helpful tips and recommendations for everything Maui, Hawaii.

1) Stay Where you Want to Stay

Of course you can visit Maui on a dime, well multiple dimes, but you know what I mean. But, when you envision your Hawaiian vacation, something tells me you’re not imagining Motel 6. If you’re like me, you want ocean view luxury, peace and 18 different spa tubs with a swim up bar.

My biggest recommendation, stay at the dream resort of your choosing but at half the cost. Services like VRBO can get you the same room and amenities (yes, the same!) as a hotel but at a fraction of the cost. We stayed in a three bedroom penthouse at a leading Kaanapali resort for almost 30% less than we would have if we booked through the hotel directly or a major online booking service.

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2) Rent a Jeep

Sure, it’s a little bit more expensive but it’s so worth it. We took the top off and cruised the island in the warm ocean air. Just make sure to look up your personables. Hawaiians are super friendly, but that doesn’t mean you shouldn’t still protect yourself.

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2) Drive More Than the Road to Hana

Almost everyone will tell you to drive the Road to Hana, and you should. But, the Road to Hana only covers about a 6th of what Maui has to offer.

In one day, and it’s very doable in one day, Kevin and I drive the jeep the full way around the island. Now, everyone will tell you how unsafe this is but having done it, I will tell you it’s very doable. It is paved. It is safe. Just know that it isn’t always two lanes and you do need to be respectful of drivers opposite of you. That said, don’t be the guy making this trip in a mini van or full-size SUV—the locals will not be happy with you. Also note, you are driving these unadvised roads at your own risk—they are not covered by all rental companies.

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3) Taste Maui Wine

A nice little drive out of the resort towns and you can find yourself at Maui Winery. They offer two tours a day and tastings from open to close. You can enjoy three sample tastings, including their famous pineapple wines, and shop their gift shop. I personally found their wine much too sweet for my pallet but it was certainly worth visiting.

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4) See the Nakalele Blow Hole

It’s not everyday that you get to see a blowhole, especially one with such beautiful surroundings. The blowhole itself is very neat, but the drive to and past along with the easy hike down to the actual blowhole were one of my favorite parts of the trip. The north-eastern area of Maui is absolutely stunning and I highly recommend making it a part of your vacation.

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5) Visit a Plantation

Hawaii is home to many different types of agriculture, including bananas, coffee, coconuts, star fruit, macadamias and most importantly, pineapple! We visited a plantation that offered a bit of everything, enjoyed demonstrations and a tasting at the end. Some of Hawaii’s main resources are the fruits that it sews so make sure to stop by a plantation for a literal taste of it!

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6) Snorkel

I love snorkeling and Maui offers some very unique landscapes and wildlife for you to witness. We joined The Blank of Maui, a large boat that included equipment, breakfast and lunch, and yes, BEER & MAI TAIS, for our snorkeling outing. We saw fish of all shapes and sixes and my brother was even lucky enough to see, very close I may add, a green sea turtle. And the whales, oh my goodness did we see whales, on our trip. The whole experience was just completely worth it.

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7) Luau

Although our Luau wasn’t all it had been hopped up to be, I’m going to stay positive and tell you that you should still see a luau when in Hawaii. When in Rome, right? If you want the luau experience you’re probably imagining, you’re going to have to pay extra. I was between three different luaus and decided on the one that promoted drunks, fire dancing and an all-you-can-eat buffet. If doing it differently, I would recommend sticking to Luaus that boast authenticity and plated meals. Also, splurge on the flower lei. An extra $30 a person seems expensive, but it’s one of the big things you expect and hope for when in Hawaii.

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8) Food Trucks. Period.

Neither Kevin and I were impressed with the fair we had during our Hawaii trip. The best food we had throughout the duration was from food trucks. In fact, I cam back to California only wanting food truck food, boycotting everything else. Some of the trucks may look a little rough, but trust me, when that plate of complete fresh and amazingness comes out, you’ll be glad you stopped there over the 4 star restaurant you were considering.

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9) Eat Banana Bread and Coconut Everything

Some blogs will tell you where in Hawaii you can find the best banana bread. I am hear to tell you that is false. Everyone claims to have the best banana bread. Even our cab driver was selling his version of the best banana bread. It doesn’t matter where you get it, just do it. It’ll be amazing.

As far as the coconuts go, try a little bit of all of it. The milk, the flesh, this amazing toasted candy concoction you’ll see at farmers markets. So good!

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10) Whale Watch

If you don’t have a chance to go snorkeling or have watched Soul Surfer one too many times (enter JAWS theme song) you absolutely MUST go whale watching. I’ve been whale watching before in California, super romantic surprise from Kevin, but it just doesn’t hold a candle to the amount of humpback whale activity you’ll be able to see in Maui. the experience is almost spiritual and something you’ll never forget.

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OK. So maybe I didn’t get any amazing pictures of whales–I was too immersed with the experience to care about my camera. But what can I say, I love this photo! 🙂

Are there other items aside from my top ten you’d recommend in Maui? I’d love to hear it and make sure to tackle it on my next return…which is hopefully sooner than later!

Looking Back on an Amazing 2015

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Finally having my first breather in 2016, I wanted to take a moment and reflect on an amazing year in my life. 2015 brought so many opportunities and changes and I feel nothing but blessed to have shared these experiences with the people I love with my entire heart. Here’s a look back at an amazing year.

 

San Diego HomeWe moved! And not just any move, we made THEE move. Kevin and I decided that if we’re going to be working our tails off, we might as well be working our tails off right on the water. Why not have our morning cup of coffee with a view. When in San Diego! We love our home and that is exactly what it is, Our FIRST home together!

 

IMG_2764I turned 30. This number might scare some women, but I am honored and blessed to be 30. I’ve had more than my share of obstacles and heart-break to get here, but you know what, I’m here. I might not be exactly where I thought I’d be but I’m exactly where I need to be and, above all, I’m happy. Cheers to being 30 and fabulous!

 

IMG_3126Kevin’s company, Block Risers, launched. Not only did his company get started, but he, alongside Sven Anders Alwerud at Jelly Skateboards, completed a successful crowdfunding campaign that generated over $102,000! I am so ridiculously proud of Kevin and his team. 2015 was only the start of this amazing venture!

 

IMG_4695I started a new job! I joined Jacob Tyler creative group as Senior Brand Manager in July and I couldn’t be more thrilled. I cannot believe how fast the last seven months have gone and the projects I’ve been able to be a part of. This is the career I’ve been working towards and I couldn’t think of a better agency to grow with. We’re going to see big things in 2016!

 

IMG_4514My family experienced Lambeau Field. We’ve always been Green Bay fans, and my sweet heart almost sister-in-law planned the perfect birthday present for my brother–a surprise Packers VS Seahawks game with friends and family in tow! We drank, we cheered, we won and I got to see my brother with the biggest smile ever when we walked through that door to surprise him!

 

IMG_3758Amanda Mac Studio celebrated its one year anniversary! Whoa! If you would have asked me a few years ago if I would have my own business I would have giggled you out the door. This is a major accomplishment for me and I love seeing how my little etsy shop has grown. I love my customers (well, most of them) and the inspiration and creativity the community brings. Look for my new item “Mac Stacks” summer of 2016!

 

IMG_5936The Iowa Hawkeyes made it to the Rose Bowl! For Christmas, Kevin bought me six tickets to Pasadena, a bowl game the Hawks haven’t seen in over 25 years. It was an experience of a lifetime and that’s how I’ll always remember it! If you want the score, you’ll have to ask someone else, I’ve already misplaced it! 🙂

A Travel Guide for the Fifteen-Year-Old Me

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As I watched the sun set on the last day of my twenties (yes, I seriously went out, wine glass in nostalgic hand, and watched the sun set) I took a moment to really wrap my head around what turning thirty really meant to me. Some may see it as a turning point, an extra wrinkle or gray hair and for some simply a number. At one time or another, I saw thirty as all of those things. Now, as I sit here hanging on to the last rung of ladder 29, I see thirty a little bit differently. Thirty was my mountain.

Climbing my “summit” has not been an easy one. Sherpa-less and ill-prepared, I’ve struggled to cover ground. I’ve been frost-bitten and snowed in more than I care to admit, but my mother would tell me it’s all to make me a stronger climber—and she’s right.

There are so many paths that I probably should have chosen more wisely. So many “local villagers” that I should have stoned instead of giving my heart to. So as I look back at my climb, there are a few traveling tips I would give myself. So, miss fifteen-year-old Amanda Jane, here are some guidebook bullets for you:

  1. Wear your Jnco Jeans, corduroy jacket and that vintage tuxedo blouse you found in mom’s closet. You WILL be made fun of time and time again but your fashion pioneering will pay off. You will “Bloom” soon enough. I can’t say the same for the girls who made fun of you…
  2. Your Grandpa will not live as long as you think he will. He will not dance with you at your wedding. He will not hold your first baby. Spend every chance you get to be with him and make sure he knows you love him as much as you do.
  3. I know you don’t want to hear this, but you will not be an architect. Stop taking so many CADD and drafting classes.
  4. Don’t try to beat up every unworthy floozy your younger brother tries to date. Let him have his fun. Let him get hurt. These lessons will help him discover what type of woman he truly needs in life. And rest assured he does finally find her.
  5. Your hot wing and beer diet is only good for another ten years. If you want to keep that size two waist (and I promise you that you do!) start cutting out the carbs and dairy sooner than later.
  6. On second thought, eat and drink whatever the hell you want. We’re a size two!
  7. Continue to keep your nose clean and skin un-inked. These are things you’ll never regret having not did.
  8. If a boy cheats on you, hits you or makes you feel constantly insignificant and alone, he does not love you. Don’t spend so many years of your life being convinced otherwise.
  9. Take technical English classes. Become a grammar and spelling queen. I know you don’t think so now, but just trust me on this one—it’s a career thing.
  10. Don’t take out so many student loans. Please.
  11. Although adorable, try not to wear so many pointed heels in your twenties. Oddly enough, they are not good for you and can “re-shape” who you are. Or at least who your feet are…
  12. All the girls that bully you to tears (both in high school and the few in college) do in fact become exactly what you hope for them to become. Take the hurt in stride and keep pushing to make something more of yourself.
  13. Don’t try that one cigarette when you’re 17 to prove to a bunch of kids you won’t cough. You will cough and then you’ll have to say you tried a disgusting cigarette. To this day I am SO mad at you for trying that one pride ruining cancer stick. SO mad!
  14. Wear your retainer. Do it.
  15. Your mom and dad are really good people. They’re ridiculously hard on you, but it’s because they love you more than anything in the world. They’d give up everything to see you have more than they ever had—and they do give up a lot for you. Give them some slack and tell them every single day how much you love them—because you really do.

I wish the fifteen-year-old me could take all of my advice above, but at the same time, it might have changed the horizon that I’m looking at right now. The view at thirty is a beautiful one, but I know it’s because I’ve stumbled countless times, gotten back up and worked so hard to get where I am today. Thirty isn’t exactly what I expected (OK, it’s nothing what I expected) but it ended up being everything I could ever hope for. I’m not scared, I’m taking wrinkle cream and I’m looking forward to the next climb in my life.