Fuzzy Math Focus: Angelina Cole

AngelinaFrom journalism to retail, yoga to running a book club, and advertising to UX, Angelina Cole has truly tested the waters of many life and career options. Now that she has completed an internship with Fuzzy math, here’s a look into the road that led Angelina to her current role with us.

FM: What did you study in graduate school, and how did that impact the path you chose?

I have my bachelor’s and my master’s degrees in Journalism. In school, I focused on digital storytelling for the web which included writing, photography, videography, and web design.

Since I can remember, I’ve always been a storyteller in one form or another. I have also had a very strong magnetic pull to work for social justice in some way. Journalism seemed to be the natural fit for me. During my last semester of grad school, I saw Objectified and felt completely robbed. Indignant, I wondered why I had never known Industrial Design was a thing until that moment. That massive “Eureka!” moment stayed with me as I entered the working world. I worked as a freelance journalist, retail stylist, and project manager, and in each of these roles, felt a strong need to make a human connection and impact with the people I worked with and the folks my work ultimately served. I also began to notice that everything is designed, and how good design made me feel a closeness to whatever I was interacting with. I wanted so badly to be a part of a field that was creative, functional, and ultimately served other people. I just had no idea how to get there or what that work looked like.

In 2012, I moved to Milwaukee to explore the in-between space that is the advertising department of a newspaper. As a product manager, I was continuously trying to create these feel-good moments with the products I managed while simultaneously attempting to identify new revenue opportunities, put together advertising campaigns, strengthen relationships with our vendors, and troubleshoot issues with IT. I got great experience understanding business logic and what kinds of constraints clients have, but I was missing the human-service part that made me feel fulfilled.

In September of 2013 I was watching a webinar with the luminous Leah Buley and suddenly it was as if all the pieces came together to form a cohesive picture. All roads led to User Experience and it became clear from that day forward I was going to do everything in my power to make UX my life’s work. (You can hear me ask Leah if I have a place in this space at the 33 minute mark, it’s a strange moment to have on tape).

UX became my passion and my hobby. When I wasn’t talking about it at work, I was going to meet-ups in Milwaukee and reading about it before I went to bed every night. I self-taught methods and frameworks, I talked to every person I could possibly get 15 minutes with and met some truly incredible and inspirational people. What I gained from each of them was that the space of UX needs passionate people, and by the urging of an amazing connection I had, I started the Milwaukee chapter of the UX Book Club, which I taught a few hours each month. Talk about a crash course in presentation skills!

FM: Can you tell readers a little bit more about your DESIGNATION boot camp?

In June, I left my home, my job, my friends and a city I truly loved to join the Celadon cohort of DESIGNATION. For 12 weeks, I spent 70+ hours in a space learning, growing and stretching my skills as a researcher and designer.

I discovered how much I love to code, that I have “unbridled enthusiasm” for what I do, that learning is a lifelong process, and that there are so many ways a UX designer can impact the world for the better.

Saying “yes” to DESIGNATION was the best decision I’ve ever made in my life. It was an agonizing decision to make because I was basically giving myself permission to jump out of a plane blindfolded. Once I jumped, it just so happened I really enjoyed flying.

The bootcamp itself is in the same building as Fuzzy Math. Myself and 27 other colleagues were put through our paces in UX, UI, Visual Design, and Front-End Development with daytime lectures, activities, group projects, and live client projects through a partnership with 1871. Not only did DESIGNATION teach me the hard skills of each of these fields, but it also opened my eyes to the immense impact design has on the world.

That said, a very good friend and mentor from the program once told me, “Don’t just throw technology at the problem,” and that particular point has stayed with me since he said it. User Experience is so much more than apps and pixels on a page; it’s contextual problem solving which extends far beyond our growing relationship with screens but also our relationship with the physical world. I discovered a new area of User Experience that I am still abundantly passionate about: Service Design.

DESIGNATION also showed me that if I’m not making mistakes, I’m doing it wrong. As a recovering perfectionist, this was pretty hard to swallow. However, problem solving requires you to look at something from every possible angle. It’s a messy process that requires time and energy and the willingness to open yourself up to total strangers and climb inside of their heads. The mistakes you make during the design process are really just poking at the solution until the solution pokes back, then you know you’re onto something.

FM: How have you applied what you’ve already learned and studied to what you’re working on at Fuzzy Math?

Since joining Fuzzy Math, I’ve had the immense pleasure of working through design problems with an unbelievably talented team of folks. This includes the technical skills like interviews, synthesis, affinity mapping, journey mapping, and wireframing, but also the more nebulous and abstract thinking part of the work.

One thing I try to bring to my work each and every day is simplicity. This lesson stuck with me after watching 180 Degrees South about 400 times: Yvon Choinard says, “The hardest thing in the world is to simplify your life. It’s so easy to make it complex. What’s important is leading an examined life.” So many great designers have said something to a similar effect. I’m constantly turning over how something could be made simpler.

What most excites me is being able to continuously learn with my team, grow our skills together and make positive changes for our clients and their users. Everyone at Fuzzy Math is an expert, but by that same token, we’re all quite dedicated to expanding and developing our skills in new ways. We’re devoted to finding and creating the simple, concise solution that makes the end user smile.

FM: How do you like to spend your free time (when you can find any)?

Ha! I spend a lot of time on the train commuting because I live with my parents out in the suburbs (which totally rocks, btw!), so I listen to a lot of podcasts and I read constantly. I try to attend a handful of meet-ups every month: UX book club, service design, anything that’s interesting.

I’m passionate and curious about public transit systems; the epitome of service design in my opinion. I do spend my free time learning as much as I can about them and brushing up on behavioral economics to better understand why people make the choices they do.

In my truly free time, I like to be present. I try to make it to a yoga class once a day and run as often as possible when the weather is nice. My perfect Saturday morning includes coffee made in a French press, listening to This American Life when it airs, cooking a bang-up breakfast and hanging out with my cat Louie. I daydream about planning trips around the world and how I’ll furnish my next Chicago apartment in the coming months. I love glitter, huge wingback chairs, and belting out some sweet tunes at the top of my lungs in public places.

FM: In public places? Awesome! What are some of the tunes you’re into at the moment?

Ha! If it can be classified as “pop music” that’s usually it (One Direction, Katy Perry, Gaga, of course). Something about those sugary lyrics and carefully masterminded hooks get me every time. I blame being steeped in the Backstreet Boys.

FM: How were you introduced to FM when you applied for your internship, and now that you’ve completed the internship and are employed by FM, are you enjoying it so far?

I was introduced to Fuzzy Math at DESIGNATION, actually. In passing, one of the program organizers said, “Oh yeah, the guys up at Fuzzy Math…” and I couldn’t tell you how the sentence ended because that’s where I dropped off to immediately check out the work on the Fuzzy Math website. I filed it away as a place to check in with over the course of the cohort to see if any openings were available. Needless to say, when the internship opportunity presented itself I jumped at it!

Almost a year to the day after I asked Leah that fateful question during her webinar, I started interning at Fuzzy Math. The saying, “When you love what you do, you’ll never work a day in your life,” holds true, and I can say that I haven’t worked in a long time. I spend my days hanging out with the coolest people ever doing the most rewarding, engaging, fulfilling, complex and interesting problem solving. It’s fun!

Explaining how much I love being here at Fuzzy Math could border on stage-five-fangirl-ism. I’m so happy here; the composite of Mark’s and Ben’s leadership, every member of the team, the work we do and how we do it has positively impacted my life in so many ways. It’s a powerful thing to do what you’d do in your free time as your career. It’s even more incredible to be able to do it with the support and encouragement of some of the most intelligent, interesting and passionate people I’ve ever met in my lifetime. We each bring a special talent and zeal for what we do to our shared space each day and we share it with each other. I’m incredibly lucky to be here.

FM: In your opinion, what is the absolute best part about working in UX Design?

Working in UX design is the best part about working in UX design! We have the coolest jobs in the world. We get to talk to people, understand their point of view and then do something about it. It’s not for me the designer, it’s for you the user. What attracted me to User Experience in the first place is that it truly is the perfect marriage of efficiency, research, and in small ways, social justice. Whether it’s shaving time off of a utility interface people use everyday or solving a BIG social problem, UX design is challenging, rewarding and ultimately for you.

FM: What are your short-term and long-term career goals?

Short term, I want to enjoy being a beginner as long as possible and cultivate that mindset as much as I can. I like the process of cutting my teeth, making mistakes, doing things over, and over, and over again and being vulnerable because that’s how I grow. I want to be fully engaged in this work to bring new methods to the Fuzzy Math team and make an impact on the field of UX in any way that I can.

Long term, I’d like to stay at Fuzzy Math as long as possible. I love the how and the why we work, not just the amazing work we get to do. This is the dream job.

FM: Describe the FM office atmosphere in two words.

Mighty Talented (both separate and together)

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