Originally published in PGHTECH FUSE.
Both come from the same small town in the southwestern Pennsylvania countryside. Both formerly worked as graphic designers. And both have married the art of design and technology as UX pros to produce globally award-winning work.
UX Designer Trish Duffy and Visual Developer Amy DePalma didn’t meet until they joined the digital team at Brunner. “We each had a love of the same things and came from the same beautiful place. We instantly clicked,” says Duffy.
They are part of a skill-diverse team at Brunner. Their work process is fueled by logic and problem solving, hallmarks of each woman’s talents. “It’s a whole ‘If then’ way of thinking all day long,” says Amy. And while technical, she says it’s not all coding all the time. A love for organization and making things visually pleasing are core to embracing the front-end development. DePalma admits she’s endlessly curious – an important trait in a field where continuous learning is essential.
Duffy says empathy is a driving force behind her work. “I walk in the shoes of the user, think of what they need from the design.” She says it’s a transformational experience to watch a real user try a prototype. “This stage is invaluable. Since we haven’t invested in coding yet (the prototype is essentially a sequence of static images made interactive using a prototyping tool to give the illusion of a real site) we can identify usability problems before we’ve invested time and money developing the real thing,” she explains. This also speaks to an agile approach to the work.
“The methods I use in my work compliment the agile processes being applied by our development team. Although my part typically begins first, at a certain point many things are happening in parallel. This way of working allows us to begin building sooner. As we learn new things we can pivot quickly to incorporate these findings,” says Duffy.
DePalma’s first experience coding was fueled by her desire to make her live journal blog look good. To do this, she needed to learn how to code HTML and CSS. “Then it grew from there with me wanting to create my own website,” she says. She first found professional success as a graphic designer, and soon evolved into a front-end developer producing work for such high-profile campaigns as the 84 Lumber Super Bowl ad last year.
She and Duffy played critical roles in the Super Bowl effort, which involved, literally, the entire company. They marvel at that accomplishment, the result of hundreds of hours of work. “It was an experience like no other,” says Duffy. “To watch our contribution to this project come to life in front of 118 million people was incredibly gratifying,” says DePalma. Though the pressure was immense, they both retained their signature composure. Even when the site they developed – quickly, after the network airing the game rejected the original ad – crashed, they were on it in real time. “We had every safeguard in there, but no one could have anticipated the volume of activity the commercial generated,” says Duffy. It was promptly fixed, and the rest is history, garnering them and the whole Brunner team a place in marketing history.
Speaking of history, for all the strides women in the workplace are making, there remains a persistent deficit of female representation in technology roles. Duffy is hopeful. “I think that’s about to change. There is an explosion of opportunity for everyone. Today different disciplines can find the path to what we do. Through the content side, computer science, design, you name it,” she says. Both women agree that the proliferation of STEM programs in high schools today helps too.
“But it’s funny,” says DePalma, “I really don’t encounter math in this role. I encounter pixels and percentages.” She wonders, if technology companies invested more in nonprofits like Girls Develop It, which focuses on providing affordable opportunities for women interested in learning web and software development, whether more young women might take the tech path.
Duffy suggests the landscape for training is growing. “There really was no direct academic path to what I do, but things are changing,” she says, citing The Unicorn Institute, a brick-and-mortar user experience design school located in Tennessee.
The influence of UX in business strategy is changing too. “Design, both visual and functional, has become very important to a company’s success. We’ve known this all along, but companies are catching up. We are going to see big changes. With this will come great diversity. This is a crucial point right now,” says Duffy with a smile.