From Thin Mints to Augmented Reality, Putting User Experience at the Center of Design

Written by: Nicole Hunt

Alex Fox wasn’t always interested in UX Design, but after realizing vocational work was not, in fact, his vocation, he took a chance and went back to school to study Graphic Design. Needless to say, he was hooked. Today, he spends much of his free time learning how to incorporate AI into his daily life and studying Augmented Reality. We’re so fortunate that Alex is a part of the Urban Emu team.

Q. You’re a Senior UX/UI Designer at Urban Emu. Can you tell me about a typical day for you?

A. No two days are alike, but most of them start with proper hydration and establishing childcare for my daughter. Once those two things are settled, I go over my work queue. I work on a wide variety of projects for many clients, so that comes with a mix of priorities and timelines. I’ll start by assessing anything that needs immediate attention – like if a project needs to be in internal review by noon or we need to update a design before it goes out to a client. Then, while that is getting a second set of eyes from other designers, copywriters, and strategists, I am able to move into a project that is either in maintenance mode or has a due date much further out. We have access to a library of powerful programs, but I find myself working primarily in Figma, where I can create design systems and take products from low-fidelity to high-fidelity and into interactive prototyping for internal testing (and client review). Mixed in with all of that are client meetings where we discuss future and current work and team scrums where like-minded coworkers come together to ensure we deliver premium services.

Of course, occasionally, we find time to chat and catch up with one another to help foster friendships and personal relationships. We discuss shared interests, the evolving landscape of our respective disciplines, and our lives away from our desks, with the added bonus of being able to take a call like that while walking the dog when the weather is nice.

Q. How did you get started in design work?

A. After working a variety of vocational jobs out of high school, I realized that I was not enjoying any of it and felt I needed to correct my path to better my future. I had always gravitated towards creative projects and the arts, so I enrolled at a local community college that offered Graphic Design and Computer Imaging courses. For years, I worked my 9-5 and attended night courses until I earned my degree. After graduating, I landed a position at the corporate level of the Girl Scouts of the USA at their headquarters in Manhattan, which kicked off my professional design career.

Q. Did you design the Girl Scout cookie boxes?

A. No, unfortunately. I was a member of the art department, so we developed the design standards for the GSUSA social media and web design systems.

Q. In any case, on behalf of Thin Mint lovers everywhere, thank you for your service! So, after the Girl Scouts, you eventually made your way to Urban Emu, where you’ve been for just over four years. What has it been like to watch the company grow?

It has been a wild experience to see the growth and be a part of it. Not too long ago, there were only a handful of us located close to one another, and now we have this much larger team spread out throughout multiple states and with an additional office in D.C.  I remember all these older management and communication systems and methods that worked well for a smaller team, but we simply got too big for them, so we had to adapt as we grew. It all happened so fast, and the expansion was so impactful that it felt like watching a hermit crab grow out of its shell in a time-lapse video right in front of me.

Q. Are there any Urban Emu projects that stand out as favorites?

A. Hands down, my favorite project has been an app we developed for a healthcare company. On my first day at UE, it was an idea being lightly tossed around as something that could happen in the future. I was eventually fortunate enough to join the team who brought it to life. It’s currently in the development stage and will soon be a tangible product. It’s the product I credit with developing my initial interest in UX design. I was involved in the research and conceptualization phases from the launch. It taught me about the critical thinking and strategizing that go into the early stages of UX design and showed me I had so much more to learn about the practical applications of Graphic Design. I am so excited to see it launch and be able to interact with it on my phone in real life! 

Q. So, that sparked your interest in UX design. What do you enjoy most about that kind of work?

A. I enjoy learning about and observing how different people interact with their surroundings. A lot of design is about problem-solving. Being a UX Designer, I have been able to merge my enjoyment of problem-solving and learning about how people think and act differently into a profession that challenges me but also feels natural at the same time. I also like the fact that UX expands beyond screens and apps into real life. I think it’s interesting to think about the fact that UX Design has been around since the horse and buggy – though we didn’t call it that at the time. Someone had to decide the most beneficial way for a person to access the buggy, interact with the horse, and make them both work together. That fascinates me. I like knowing that the work I do affects the way people interact with the world.

Q. I know you’re interested in continuing education and learning new skills. What are you most excited to learn about right now?

While I am excited to see how fast the AI landscape is growing, and I’ve enjoyed incorporating it into my everyday process, I’m most excited about the future of AR (Augmented Reality). The instant success of AI has been (in part) due to its widespread accessibility. VR and AR/XR are less accessible since you have to purchase expensive, high-tech gadgets to access them. But I think this will eventually change as these gadgets become more affordable. When that happens, I think the demand for AR will increase – and with it, the need for AR UX Design. Modern UX designers are focused on how a user interacts with the products that are displayed on screens. With VR/AR/XR, the user experience expands beyond that into what I would call “spatial design.” I would love to step further into the thinking methods and design processes for a discipline like that. I’ve been fortunate to attend courses that have given me technical and conceptual knowledge in that field, as well as being able to tinker on my own with specific programs to try and stay on top of industry trends and standards so I can hopefully bring some of it to Urban Emu in the future.

Q. What’s your favorite thing about working at Urban Emu? 

A. The work-life balance here is amazing and unlike any other I have experienced. I recall working jobs with literal punch cards that created environments where you felt like a burden to the agency when life got in the way of work and needed to take priority. Here at Urban Emu, there’s this amazing agency-wide mindset that prioritizes our mental health, and all team members are more than willing to make sure everyone gets the help and lift they need when life does pop up and pull you away for a bit. There is a strong investment in each of us here, and a large part of that is making sure we are all able to keep our heads above water. I feel like this focus on well-being makes the agency that much stronger, where not only are we all proficient in our respective fields, but we’re happy workers.

We’re so grateful to have Alex on our team to create thoughtful, user-centered designs for our clients.  Stay tuned for more teammate spotlights.

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Urban Emu is an experience agency with a fast growing team of experience designers, facilitators, strategists, researchers, UX/UI designers, and software engineers that create innovative experiences to improve and transform businesses.

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