Looking Back on a Year of Growth

It's been nearly a year since I left the World Bank to explore new skills and industries in San Francisco.

To be honest, I loved my job in Washington, D.C., and I might still be there today if family hadn't brought me to the West Coast. I grew up and attended graduate school in the D.C. area, and I was energized by the growing community of professionals who were transitioning from government affairs to web design and user experience.

So I made a list: What had I accomplished since leaving what felt like a dream job? And as it turns out, I had a lot to feel good about.

Here's what I've been up to since my last post in January:

  • In a user experience design course, I researched and wireframed a mobile app to connect users with Chinese language exchange partners.
  • I honed my user research skills by carrying out user interviews and usability tests for the City of San Francisco.
  • Through a civic engagement consulting firm, I developed a marketing and content strategy for Startup in Residence, a program that pairs startups with city governments.
  • As a content strategist for a digital agency, I'm fulfilling a longtime goal of working on online communities and onboarding tools for patients with chronic illnesses. 
  • On the side, I volunteered my time advising a direct trade coffee company that funds education in rural Honduras.

In the words of HBO's "Insecure":


So, what comes next?

There's a Venn diagram on pursuing meaningful work that you'll find on career blogs and Pinterest boards. My version would look something like this:

  • What does the world need?
  • What comes easily to me?
  • What energizes me?*

And since I was a teenager, my answer has been remarkably similar: using my communication and research skills to help mission-driven teams solve tough challenges.

Back then, I thought my path would be public diplomacy for government agencies. Today, I'm more motivated by global development and urban technology.

I spend a lot of time focusing on areas for improvement — particularly as a digital strategist, where there's always a new skill or tool to master. But one year into this career transition, I'm making an effort to recognize how much I've grown.

* Time flies by — what some call entering a "flow state"  when I'm writing reports or designing user personas. Sadly for my paycheck, it's been quite the opposite for studying statistics and CSS.

infoDev Website Refresh

Finished at last! Just last week, we launched a refresh of www.infodev.org, the website for the Innovation & Entrepreneurship team of the World Bank Group.

The original website was badly in need of an update, as you can see from the screenshot below:


The homepage lacked a focal point and didn't clearly introduce the organization's mission. Additionally, the outdated layout, color palette, and typography didn't speak to infoDev's identity as an organization that promotes innovation and entrepreneurship in developing countries.

However, there were a couple of challenges in our way. The World Bank is undergoing a dramatic reorganization, and infoDev would likely rebrand or be absorbed into another unit within the World Bank in coming years.

Given this background, a $100,000 budget -- the price of a recent redesign for a similar team in the World Bank -- was neither feasible nor wise. Our work could not exceed the modest budget allotted to our web developers in India.

Facing these constraints, our small communications team stepped up by designing our own wireframes and style guide. We also brainstormed keywords and updated URLs, meta descriptions, and title tags as part of an effort to optimize search results.

The new homepage achieves our goals of directing visitors to important content, addressing commonly asked questions in our email account, and reflecting the World Bank's typography and color palette. Given our budget limitations, there are still a few kinks to work out, but the redesign is a strong step as the organization anticipates a comprehensive rebranding in the future.

Click below to view a case study of the redesign's objectives and before-and-after images.

The website launch marks the end of my contract with the World Bank team in Washington, D.C. Now, I'm looking forward to starting the User Experience Design Part-Time Course at General Assembly in San Francisco!

HTML, CSS & Web Design Circuit

This month, I finished General Assembly's HTML, CSS & Web Design Circuit. I was hesitant to enroll in the course at first -- I had already studied HTML and CSS through Codecademy, so why pay to learn the same thing again? But the high-quality videos, interactive exercises, classmates, and hosting of projects on GitHub made all the difference.

My project was a responsive homepage for a fictional agribusiness company, based on one of my team's clients: laurencaldwell.github.io/unit_9/index.html

To make the project extra relevant to my work, I used the World Bank's color palette and Flickr images.

This course was a lot of fun, so I'm planning to tackle another project related to front-end web design. JavaScript, perhaps?

Building Our Team's Voice on Social Media

When I joined infoDev last summer, our social media presence was inconsistent at best. On our Twitter account, there might be a flurry of unfocused photos from panel discussions followed by a week of silence, and the occasional dispassionate appeal to read our latest press release or report.

I wasn't sure where to begin when I took over the reigns, but I knew I was passionate about the topic of entrepreneurship in emerging markets. I saw compelling graphics beginning to emerge from other World Bank accounts. And I remembered a rule of thumb from a marketing course: Only 20 percent of content should contain calls-to-action -- for example, advertising an event or publication -- while the remaining 80 percent should be fascinating, shareable content.

So I began to re-tweet the type of stories I liked to read: interviews with the founders of a new business accelerator for Nigerian women, Fast Company articles on diversity in tech, editorials about what's broken in the world of global development. Significantly, I aimed to amplify the voices of African and Caribbean entrepreneurs, rather than think tanks or multilateral institutions. Soon enough, engagement began to rise.

The final challenge was to boost the professionalism of our cover photos and graphics. With the Photoshop skills I gained at General Assembly, I've been working to inject some fun into our marketing assets, while maintaining a consistent style.

infoDev Twitter Account
infoDev Twitter Account
infoDev Facebook Cover Photo
infoDev Facebook Cover Photo
Crowdfunding in Emerging Markets Tweet
Crowdfunding in Emerging Markets Tweet
Ghana Climate Innovation Center Launch on Twitter
Ghana Climate Innovation Center Launch on Twitter
Ghana Climate Innovation Center Launch on Twitter
Ghana Climate Innovation Center Launch on Twitter
Connecting Green Tech Entrepreneurs on Twitter
Connecting Green Tech Entrepreneurs on Twitter

I'm still learning my way around design and branding, but it's an improvement from where we began! Now, I'm working to familiarize myself with the process of creating animated GIFs for Twitter -- it's a great way to share project results or data from our publications.

Brand Identity and Landing Page Design

My visual design course at General Assembly is finished! I designed a brand identity and landing page for a global development organization, including audience research, color palettes, typefaces, and web and mobile mockups.

Explore a high-quality presentation by clicking the image below or a compressed version here.

Here's my landing page mockup. If you'd like to experience it like a real website, view the image at full size.

It's far from perfect, of course. See that wonky grid? Those ragged paragraph edges? That slightly illegible white text?

But I'm shifting my focus to the next phase of my project -- a real-life landing page redesign. Following interviews with colleagues, discussions with web developers, and prototyping in InVision, I hope to implement a variation of this mockup in real life.

I strongly recommend General Assembly to other career pivoters -- particularly in Washington, D.C. I love the mission on their Twitter account: "GA transforms DC's thinkers into creators."

Where Design & Social Justice Intersect

This week in my visual design course, we're diving into user experience -- a field of study that comes quite naturally to me, I've discovered. (It turns out designing a website landing page is not so different from designing a reader-friendly annual report!)

We were assigned a fascinating article, "Design as Participation." It begins with an anecdote about Modernist architect Mies Van der Rohe:

"Mies understood that the geometry of his building would be perfect until people got involved. Once people moved in, they would be putting ornamental things along the window sills, they would be hanging all different kinds of curtains, and it would destroy the geometry. So there are no window sills; there is no place for you to put plants on the window."

In brief, Mies Van der Rohe was the very opposite of a human-centered designer.

Of course, things are different today. In 1986, Don Norman invented the term "user-centered design," defined as engagement with the needs, desires and shortcomings of the user. This approach has become "instinctive and mandatory" in the design of any website, app or service.

But at some point, some participants were no longer valued. Uber, Amazon, TaskRabbit -- these services provide incredible ease and efficiency to their users. But what about the humans delivering the services? Shouldn't we consider their needs and desires, too?

I'm learning that the various projects and passions I've pursued -- global development, digital marketing, visual design, user experience -- share a few things in common. Empathy. Measurability. Problem solving. An understanding of systems.

And slowly, my career is coming into focus. At the intersection of design, communication and social enterprise -- and with empathy for all participants, regardless of which side of the app they sit.