Jul 01 2015

Open Source Bridge Day 2: You Are Not Your User

Day Two of Open Source Bridge encouraged us to look beyond our own experience, and try to see the world through a different lens. Not only does it help us be more compassionate as people, but it also helps us create and code better design and user experiences for everyone we want to reach.

Algorithms Can Have Powerful Consequences

Open Source Bridge Keynote: Carina C. Zona talks about using data insights responsibly.
Carina C. Zona talks about using data insights responsibly.

Carina C. Zona opened Day 2 with “Consequences of an Insightful Algorithm” and talked about the incredible number of things we can learn about people through data, and subsequently, the potentially hurtful actions that can stem from it. Zona brought up several examples of big-name companies who have used their data less-than-responsibly, such as FitBit’s public exposure of sexual activity on profile statistics, or even more disastrous, Target’s advertisements towards pregnant women exposing a teen pregnancy. Big companies can learn a great deal about their customers by gathering and analyzing customer data, but they can easily fail at using that data responsibly.

Inadvertent algorithmic cruelty–a phrase coined by Eric Meyer–is, “what happens when code works in the majority of cases, but fails to take other use cases into account.” These types of things often happen because the consequences of how data is being used aren’t being thoroughly considered, which is easy to do when you assume that your customers and users are similar to you. That means that people outside of the assumed majority can get hurt.

We all have biases, whether we’re aware of them or not, so it’s important for us all to consider what motivates our choices, and how that can affect others who don’t share our biases. Data can be an extremely powerful tool, but it’s up to us to be honest and trustworthy, to use data responsibly, and to actively counter the biases that exist in ourselves and our culture.

Good User Experience Means Seeking Other Perspectives

With the Day 2 keynote fresh in my mind, I attended multiple sessions that encouraged all of us in tech to reach outside of our own perspectives, to think and learn about users who are different from us, and use that knowledge to create better user experiences for everyone.

Amelia Abreu facilitates a session about creating better design with user research.
Amelia Abreu facilitates a session about creating better design with user research.

Amelia Abreu and Rachel Shadoan facilitated a longer-form session, Dog Food is for Dogs: Escape the Crate of Your Perspective with User Research,” which focused on escaping the limitations of our own perspective through user research. We know our own projects inside and out, but our users don’t have that same advantage, so it’s part of our job to do the research and learn more about the people we’re designing for.

The session focused on a couple of different strategies to help us learn to see beyond our own experience: first, we looked at a photograph and brainstormed about everything from the circumstances and feelings of the people in said photo, to potential solutions to their problems. Later in the session, we broke up into several groups and explored different scenarios, so we could strategically think about the different types of people who might work with our projects, what’s exciting them about our work, and what their struggles might be.

The clear message here was that we need to consider a variety of people when we create user experiences. People tend to congregate with others who are just like them, so that can easily lead us to assume that our experience is the only one that matters. Our user scenarios should be based on field research, or we risk falling into tropes and our own biases.

In a similar vein, David Newton tackled the topic of making web design more inclusive in Universal Web Design: How to create an awesome experience for *every* user.” Newton looked at successful examples of universal design in the real world–such as curb cuts to improve accessibility for wheelchairs, strollers, and bikes–and then expanded on the concepts of universal design and how they can apply to Web Design.

Creating web design that’s intuitive, flexible, and easy to use in a variety of situations was a big topic here, and it’s one that I loved talking about. A good universal design works for us, and we don’t really think about it until it’s not there when we need it. No matter what type of web site we’re building, be it business, personal, or community, our number one goal? We want people to use the site. If you have a web design that’s confusing, or that isn’t easy to use for all of our users, then your web site is falling down on the job.

Newton went into a detailed run-down of tips, concepts, and best practices for making web designs more accessible. And, he also stressed the importance of listening to and considering a variety of users. Diversity is not only about the user, but also how they access the web, what devices, connection speeds, and so forth. We were encouraged to listen to our users, respond to their email feedback, do focus groups, and do our best to learn what they need, so we can create a better web site experience for everyone.

In short: “Remove barriers. Make things easier for users, even if it’s a little harder for us [as designers and developers].”

Did you miss out on the conference? Look back at Day 1 of Open Source Bridge, and take a look at some of our photos on Facebook.

Jun 25 2015

Open Source Bridge Day 1: Everyone In Tech Matters

We’re spending a big part of our week at Open Source Bridge, both taking in wisdom and taking photos! On Day 1, I spent a lot of time wishing that I could be in multiple places at once, but I did make it to a couple of different talks which drove home the message that tech needs to strive to be more inclusive, more socially aware, and more collaborative.

Stepping Towards True Diversity in Tech

Kronda Adair opened the Open Source Bridge conference by talking on what we really need to do to encourage diversity in tech.
Kronda Adair opened the conference by talking about what we really need to do to encourage diversity in tech.
Kronda Adair kicked off Open Source Bridge with “Put Up or Shut Up: An Open Letter to Tech Companies Seeking Diverse Teams,” which gave direct talk about the problem of diversity in the tech industry, an industry that continues to be dominated by white males. One startling statistic: “50% of women in tech quit the industry within 10 years.”–not simply their jobs, but the entire industry. Hiring more women and other underrepresented demographics into tech companies does help, but as Adair stated, it is simply not enough.

Adair emphasized the importance of companies throughout tech stepping up and putting real weight behind their stated desires for diversity.  Empathy is key to creating an environment that is welcoming to all, and a supportive work environment is key to retaining people from those underrepresented demographics.

In short, it’s important to create a space that’s safe for everyone, and that allows diverse groups to flourish. It means not allowing members of your company or community to act badly without consequences. Value interpersonal skills as well as technical skills. Give access to tools and education, and inclusive healthcare. It can even be as simple as taking the time to learn an unfamiliar name. When you think on diversity, don’t simply wonder, “how do I add diversity?” but ask, “how do I make things better for everyone?”

When Fear Takes Hold, Reach Outward

Adam Edgerton shares what happens when fear hits on a project, and how to handle it.
Adam Edgerton shares what happens when fear hits on a project, and how to handle it.

In an afternoon session, Adam Edgerton looked at what happens when the project management cycle gets scary in “Project Fear.” He touched on the very real issues of burnout in all facets of tech–Edgerton suggested that burnout is one major contributor to why people quit the industry–and the feelings of uncertainty that come with joining a new project or a new company. “Impostor Syndrome is most strongly associated with high achievers,” so even those who are expert and capable, and performing well, may feel the fear that comes with uncertainty

New hires can take anywhere from 6 months to a year to gain the background knowledge about a company that’s needed for them to perform well, so patience is key. Edgerton suggests reaching outward to help combat uncertainty–asking questions and doing research to gain the background you might be missing can help you find the “a-ha” moment of understanding. It’s also important to balance your gut feelings and your logic, much like our friends Kirk and Spock. And, allowing yourself to talk about struggle and share it with others can help relieve the pressure that leads to burnout.

Your Job Impacts Your Community

Kelsey Gilmore-Innis talks on the surprisingly long reach of tech dollars in politics.
Kelsey Gilmore-Innis talks on the surprisingly long reach of tech dollars in politics.

An afternoon session with Kelsey Gilmore-Innis, “Your Job Is Political,” dove into the long reach of tech dollars in politics. Using her knowledge of tech leaders in the Bay Area, she went into extensive detail about venture capitalists in tech, the surprising number of tech companies they’re tied to and invested in, and most importantly, where their political interests lie–and subsequently, where their millions of dollars are going.

A sad truth of our political system is that money continues to command a great deal of power, and the work you do as an average tech worker contributes to advancing political interests that you may not support. If you don’t take a position, but your bosses invest revenue from your labor in politics, you are not impartial. Be aware of who is at the top levels of your company, and what they are doing (or not doing) to benefit your community.

May 06 2015

Don’t Get Left Behind – Get Your Web Site Mobile-Friendly for Google!

Upswept Creative is Mobile Friendly!
Upswept Creative is Mobile Friendly! Are you?

What’s invisible, super powerful, and affects us in Portland as much as people on the other side of the planet? Climate change? No, it’s the Google search algorithm. The most powerful search engine in the world is doing it again: changing the way sites get ranked! Not as bad as climate change by a long shot, but hugely impactful for everyone who relies on search traffic, especially from mobile devices. Roughly 1/3rd of internet traffic now comes from mobile devices (including tablets), so it was already a good idea to have a mobile-friendly site, but with this announcement, it’s even more important.

What It’s About

On April 21st, a Google algorithm change was announced for mobile users, meaning that, when we use Google search on our phones, we’ll see different search engine results on mobile than when we use Google on desktop devices.

How are these results different? Well, for searches coming from mobile devices, Google is now making “mobile-responsiveness” a ranking factor. If a site is mobile-responsive (also known as mobile-friendly), it’ll show up higher in a search performed on a mobile device than a site that isn’t, even if all other factors are the same. As of right now, this doesn’t make a difference when searches are made from desktop and laptop devices, but this may come in the foreseeable future.

What It Means

This is great news for many of our clients who’ve already invested mobile-friendly sites: it means they’ll rank higher than any competitors. But, if you’re concerned that you might not be among them, you can run it through Google’s mobile friendly test, which takes only a couple of minutes. If your site is not mobile friendly, you’ll want to make sure it is before you see a dip in revenue. Even if you’re not yet working with us, we can help you sail through this change. We’ll adapt your existing site to keep you up-to-date and running smoothly!

Get Our Mobile-Friendly Special »


Apr 22 2015

Upswept Creative at the ACT-W Conference in Portland!

Conference Sticker from ACT-W
ACT-W: Disrupting Tech with Diversity

Last weekend, we had the awesome opportunity to attend the ACT-W (Advancing the Careers of Technical Women)  conference in Portland and we had a great time! As I wrote about fairly recently, the gender gap in tech is pervasive, and ACT-W is doing its part to help support women entering into and working in tech positions. Now in its third year, the conference is growing rapidly, as the Portland tech industry continues to flourish. Here’s a run down of what happened this past weekend!


Friday Night was the kickoff to the event, and featured a rad kick off party at Smarsh – with awesome catered food from Nicholas’ Restaurant, an open bar and plenty of engaged conversation. I arrived fairly late to the game, but still got a chance to sample some fine food, have a relaxing beer and check out the new Smarsh headquarters while reconnecting with friends who were also attending the conference.


Saturday began bright and early at 8:30am – (but not as early as the conference organizers, who were up and running at 7!). We made it downtown for the limited seating breakfast keynote, which touched on being a minority in big tech companies, strategies to interrupt sexism and work, and encouraging diversity in a homogenous industry. The main floor keynote, delivered by Kristin Toth Smith, CEO of Code Fellows, was a great talk on how unconscious biases come in to play in tech workplaces, and offered ideas about how we can all make tech more inclusive!

Upswept Creative on the roster!
Upswept Creative on the roster!

After the keynote, it was time for the lightning talks – a series of 5 minute mini talks on different topics. The talks ranged from UX design to transphobia at work, and were all super compelling, and quite diverse. I was excited to be presenting a lightning talk myself – a short introduction to  the 1960’s, which was the era when my mother got into tech, as a computer operator on an IBM 360/30 mainframe with no prior experience in tech. The audience was super supportive, and I got a ton of great feedback after my presentation!

The rest of the day featured a ton of great workshops on leadership, freelancing, Open Source,  and more, as well as a popular tabling/booth area complete staffed by companies such as CDK global, Simple and Appnexus, as well as organizations like Chicktech, and Lesbians Who Tech with mock interviews. This is the area where Sarah spent most of her Saturday, as Upswept Creative was on hand to offer free headshots to conference attendees!

After Saturdays’ jam-packed schedule, Esri hosted a limited space after party – unfortunately I was unable to attend this or the Sunday workshops, but I am sure they were an awesome experience!

Overall, the conference was a great way to spend a weekend and an important resource for women and girls to be exposed to tech, as well as fostering diversity in a collaborative and meaningful way. Until next year!






Feb 25 2013

Portland Web Design | We need a WordPress developer!

Portland Web Design | Portland Professional Photography

We love making Portland web design that looks awesome, but we could use some help doing it! We’re looking for a freelance WordPress developer to help turn design mockups into living, breathing, internet magic. If you don’t have a lot of experience under your belt, it’s okay–just be willing to learn and explore.

You should be:

  • Comfortable with HTML, CSS, and PHP coding
  • Familiar with building templates for WordPress
  • Self-directed and adaptable
  • Good with communication (especially via e-mail)
  • Based in/near Portland–we’re based here, and so are our clients.

Bonus points if you:

  • Are comfy with e-commerce and building WordPress plugins
  • Are passionate about shopping local and supporting local business
  • Enjoy roller derby, kung fu movies, and/or various and sundry geek things

Pay is dependent on experience, and this has potential to grow into a regular part-time or even full-time gig, if you want it to! You can also choose to do work at our cozy headquarters in Old Town, or from the comfort of your own home. We’re pretty laid-back, but we get the job done, so we want the same for you.

Interested? Send your resume/work samples and a few details about yourself to us at questions (at) sarahgiffrow.com. We’ll get back to you if we want to discuss it more!

Want to know more about SGC? Get a peek at what we’re about, and get to know our process and our work.

Oct 03 2012

Portland Band Photography | The Slants and The Yellow Album

Portland musician photography is always a fun project for me, and I loved having the opportunity to work with local band The Slants, on a photoshoot for their upcoming new release, The Yellow Album. The Slants got started several years ago here in Portland, and they’ve branched out to tour in other cities and have gained a continually growing and super-supportive fan base, especially in the geek community. Those fans showed their love in a big way, when the band recently ran a Kickstarter to fund a much-needed tour bus–their fans came through with their dollars, and helped make a newer (and safer!) tour vehicle a reality!

We got to do the shoot at familiar downtown Portland concert venue, Dante’s, which was great for capturing the drama of stage performance, and the backstage and local club elements that echo the band’s earlier beginnings. We did group photos and individual headshots for each of the bandmates, and the photos are already featuring prominently in their new album promotions and artwork.

The Yellow Album drops in November, so be sure to check out The Slants on Facebook, catch some of their tunes and videos, and find out when the album hits.

Portland headshot photography – Portland band photography – Upswept Creative

Sep 05 2012

Portland graphic design | Pixel art for Portland Retro Gaming Expo

If you live in Portland long enough, you learn that geekery is mighty and on-the-grow here in PDX. This year, the Portland Retro Gaming Expo is continuing that trend, by expanding the event into the Oregon Convention Center. And, with the help of everyone’s favorite barcade, Ground Kontrol, they’re also debuting their new “Mega-Cade”: 20,000 square feet of arcade and pinball machine excitement! Thanks to them, I had the pleasure of breaking into a new frontier in my work: designing pixel art to help promote this well-loved Portland gaming convention.

This is the Expo’s first year doing the show in the Convention Center, so we definitely wanted that to be a centerpiece for the art. I worked up an illustration in the low-res pixelated style seen in retro video games, and turned the iconic Convention Center towers into photon-firing defenders against invading space aliens.

Pixel art can definitely get time-consuming, too–I had to painstakingly fill in each little square “pixel” on the image, and although there are ways to speed up that process, it definitely needs a unique attention to detail. The final piece involved layers upon layers of pixels for the towers, the alien attackers, surrounding buildings and trees, and parts of the Portland skyline. It was a fun project, though, it was great to be helping out the Expo in what’s sure to be a big year for them!

The Portland Retro Gaming Expo lands on September 29th and 30th, for two full days of panels, tournaments, and old-school gaming good times. Get the details on their web site, and be sure to check out the show!

Portland graphic design – Portland web design – Upswept Creative

May 10 2012

Portland Design for Print | Business Card Design | Old Town Computers

When a local business treats me right, I’m all about helping them out, and referring other people I like to them whenever I can. Last week, Old Town Computers saved my bacon, so I’m glad that blogging about my design work for them is giving me the excuse to shout praises from the rooftops about their shop.

I was already acquainted with Old Town Computers when I re-designed their business card–they took good care of my beloved old MacBook, Flexo, when the trackpad started behaving oddly, and got it back to me with no fuss.

That, however, was a mere annoyance. When one of the hard drives in my uber-workstation failed spectacularly, that caused me some serious panic. I always have plenty of backups, so my work was safe, but a dead hard drive made it much harder to do my editing work. Even worse, my computer was set up with some add-ons and upgrades that I didn’t have a lot of concrete information about, so I didn’t know where to start with fixing it.

OTC came to the rescue, though–they helped me piece together the problem, didn’t flinch when they asked questions I didn’t know the answer to, explained all of my options along the way, and were just incredibly patient with me throughout the entire process. I’m happy to report that I picked up my computer yesterday morning, in full working order, and newly set up with redundant backups! The next time a hard drive fails out on me, it should be much less stressful than it was this time.

So, yes, if you have computer troubles you can’t solve, whether they’re PC or Mac, Old Town Computers will take good care of you. And, you might even see a familiar-looking business card design on the front desk, when you get there. 😉

Portland design for print – Portland web design – Upswept Creative

Apr 11 2012

Portland Event Photography | Emerald City Comicon

It’s especially awesome when your work allows you to travel, and I recently got to do just that–I went to Seattle to capture a taste of the Portland-related happenings at Emerald City Comicon, for the Portland Mercury. Intrepid writer Joe Streckert and I made the rounds for all three days of the convention, chatting up Portland-based artists and comics creators, poking our heads in at panels, and also capturing some pretty rad fan costuming.

One of my favorite parts of conventions like these is getting to photograph so many people who are doing things they’re excited about. I got to capture artists and writers passionately talking about their work, geek performers sharing their tunes and talents, and hands-on creatives showcasing the fruits of their labors. It’s truly awesome to see all of the cool things that people are doing and making, and that’s one of the things that I really love about working with people in my own business.

A few highlights from the con are here, and you can also see more photos and read recaps of Day One, Day Two, and Day Three from the convention.

Portland fashion photography – Portland event photography – Upswept Creative

Feb 03 2012

Portland Web Design | Portland Geek Council of Commerce & Culture

I can safely say that my involvement with the PGC3 was sparked by my passion for web design and making things look awesome online: basically, while working with my noble compatriot Kenna of GeekPortland on fancying up her Portland geek events calendar, I took a peek at the Portland Geek Council of Commerce and Culture’s web site, which looked rather hastily slapped-together. Upon seeing it, I thought to myself, “that is not a web site befitting a geek organization. Oh my god, LET ME FIX THIS.”

With that, I applied for membership in the PGC3, and got to work designing a new look for the organization. After several meetings, a flurry of e-mails, and a changeover to WordPress, I was finally able to launch the beginnings of the new site in December, so things are looking good, and I’ve even been voted onto the PGC3 Board for 2012!

This is only the beginning for PGC3’s branding efforts, however–our first two board meetings have already been productive, and we’ve started making plans for blog contributors, more social media efforts, refining our mission statement, and even creating a monthly online newsletter. I also have plans for a redesigned homepage structure, and a more robust member directory that’ll highlight more of our completely awesome member organizations.

Things are already looking more lively on the blog, and we on the Board are really hoping to give the Portland geek community a much clearer picture of what the PGC3 is all about, in the year to come. Take a look at the Portland Geek Council of Commerce & Culture web site, and get a first look at what our member organizations are up to.

Portland web design – Portland logo design – Upswept Creative