084: Raffaella Isidori on the importance of user experience

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This episode is sponsored by Ninja Forms


About Raffaella Isidori | Humanise:

If too long I’ll send you a shorter one

A creative polymath, I have been designing, consulting, building brands, optimising communications for businesses around the world, and producing awesome events for over three decades.

My history, a past of working with nonprofits, and the urge to share my knowledge and values, propelled me towards social entrepreneurship and the founding of Humanise, my social startup, focused on fostering human skills, mental wellness, enhanced learning, and inclusion as well as the founding of Design Culture Collective, a non- profit cultural association dedicated, well, to fostering the culture of design.

I also study, teach, write, translate, take pictures, speak at conferences, and coach and train professionals on communications, design, and language. And I’m currently working on designing two podcasts.

An empath, curious as a cat, and in love with diversities, I live and work in the Milan’s hinterland – surrounded by some flora and lots of fauna.

When not working or hatching ideas, I study, practice mindfulness, cultivate dreams, push boundaries, and collect books, fonts, and essential oils.

Online, I’m Zetaraffix.

Find Raffaella Isidori | Humanise: Raffaella Isidori | Twitter | Facebook | Instagram | LinkedIn


Women in WP | WordPress Podcast
Women in WP | WordPress Podcast
084: Raffaella Isidori on the importance of user experience
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Transcript

Speaker 1:
Welcome to Women in WP, a bimonthly podcast about women who blog, design, develop and more in the WordPress community.
Angela:
Welcome to Women in WP. This episode is sponsored by Ninja Forms, a professional form builder plugin for WordPress that allows you to make beautiful forms with ease.
Angela:
I’m Angela Bowman.
Tracy A:
I’m Tracy Apps.
Angela:
Our guest today is Raffaella Isidori, a creative polymath who has been designing, consulting, building brands, optimizing communications for businesses around the world and producing awesome events for over three decades.
Angela:
Welcome, Raffaella.
Raffaella Isidori:
Thank you and ciao from Italy.
Angela:
We’d like to start off each episode asking our guests how they got into WordPress. How did you get started?
Raffaella Isidori:
I guess, I did a little with WordPress, but not seriously before 2016, and then let’s say that the years before 2016 have been rather interesting, but that could be a whole other podcast. In 2016, a friend of mine invited me. Well, actually, she just told me that she was involved with organizing the first WordCamp in Torino, and she said, “Why don’t you come over, and so you visit and you come to WordCamp?” and I was like, “What’s WordCamp.” That’s how it all started because, after that, I’ve been to many WordCamps and I got closer to WordPress and I, obviously, started using WordPress a lot more also for my clients and for myself.
Angela:
Wow.
Tracy A:
That’s fascinating because, like many of us, I didn’t know there was a word WordPress community, and I did the same thing, I was like, “WordCamp?” Except for writers, that was one of those that I was like, “Okay, well, that’s really, really cool.”
Tracy A:
How was your first experience at the WordCamp? Did you go to any talks? What was that like especially coming from no-WordPress development?
Raffaella Isidori:
I’m trying to remember because it feels like ages ago. It was very interesting in the sense that I was… again, WordPress was something that I had… I think I had opened a little blog that I never wrote into on WordPress, and I remember just going like, “Oh, this is cool.” I actually heard a few talks that were, all right, that I don’t remember, but I remember listening to a woman that then after became a friend, and she’s also a developer. We just recently did a few projects together.
Raffaella Isidori:
Because as I grew, since I’m a designer and I’m not technical, I can put together a website on WordPress, but if I can not do it and have a WordPress developer do it, I am so much happier. Of course, I do a bunch of stuff that I would not dare do if I have to actually do it, put it together.
Raffaella Isidori:
I remember this feeling of wow, but I have to say that this was April. No. This was I think November, and then I got tickets for the upcoming WordCamp Europe, which was the one in Vienna, and I decided, okay, I’m going to go. Again, it wasn’t easy. My life was really… had been really complicated, and I remember arriving in the Square in Vienna and, there, really having this oh-my-God-I’m-home kind of feeling.
Angela:
Wow.
Raffaella Isidori:
Yeah.
Angela:
In Vienna. Yeah.
Raffaella Isidori:
Yeah, in Vienna, and it was just like, all these weird people, they’re like me, family. It was that that really changed my mind, and then, from then, I became pretty involved with the community. I was pretty involved with the community up until 2019, and then it got… and then my work picked up more in other context and then… and so… and I got a little out of it and out of touch and, of course, the last two years have been like in Zombieland.
Angela:
Yes. Oh, it’s so hard being in this limbo. I’m looking at your website. You do these logo designs, branding designs. They’re incredibly beautiful.
Raffaella Isidori:
Thank you.
Angela:
You’re a very talented designer. You call yourself a polymath. How did you make that transition from doing maybe what was more print design where you’re doing logos and collateral material for businesses to getting into UX, UI? What has helped you to grow in that space?
Raffaella Isidori:
I must say that I have age on my side because I’ve been working for over 30 years in the design context and I studied advertising design, and I started with that. I started in advertising as an art director, and then I started freelancing in 1998. Obviously, it was pre-everything. It was like the Mesozoic. I mean, we worked with computer, but there was no real… I remember I went… I think, yeah, ’97, something like that, I heard… I met some people. I don’t recall the details, but I remember meeting these people, that they were working on internet and it was like HTML1, and so I proposed them to do a little exchange, that I was going to go in for one day or two just to see what they were doing and they were going to show me, and I was going to show them or give them whatever feedback.
Raffaella Isidori:
One thing I remember is that I arrived and someone was doing a page, and it was all caps, all these long text in all apps, and I was like, “Don’t do that. Do not do that. That’s not readable at all, unless you don’t want people to read it,” but then again we could get into this. I did print mostly. I did branding and I did marketing design and some supporting my clients. I’ve always worked with rather small clients because I liked the idea. I hated it. I was in advertising for… Well, I was in advertising when I left New York. I went to school and I lived in New York.
Angela:
Oh, wow. That’s cool.
Raffaella Isidori:
I was working at McCann Erickson, and I loved it, and then, for the stupidest reason why a woman, lives in New York, works at McCann Erickson, and goes back to Italy, which is a man, obviously, I moved back to Italy, and then I just tried to get into advertising.
Raffaella Isidori:
This was 1992. It wasn’t a good moment at all, but in 1993, I went to work as an art director to… in the largest Italian advertising agency, which is called Armando Testa. I was there for almost two years, and I hated it. I mean, I hate it with a passion. It was just like, “I don’t want to do this. This is not me. I don’t want to do it,” and so I did a few other jobs as an art director, getting more seniority, and then, in 1998, I started my own business freelancing and then I had this, and I go back to the small clients because I liked that I was working with the client, with the decision-maker, which I didn’t get to do when I was working in advertising. Then things evolved, and obviously I started. I made my first websites around 2000.
Angela:
Yeah, that sounds right.
Raffaella Isidori:
Obviously, they were made with Flash, not by me, but they were super graphic because, of course, Flash allowed for that. I had all these nifty animations, and then things just progressed, depending on the client’s needs and on whatever the circumstances were.
Raffaella Isidori:
I was always weary of coding, and then, in 2009, I started my master’s. I was accepted at SCAD, at the Savannah College of Art and Design, and I majored in motion media design, but I also auto minored in Web design in the sense that every class, every Web design class that they had, I took it. For many of them, I was like I just cannot wrap my head into it. Then, as it always happened, I had the teacher, and she was able to make me understand. From there, I was like, “Oh, okay. I got it. I got it,” and so, from that point on, it was easier, and it was also easier and obviously helped me when I started with WordPress, having a clue about HTML and CSS and all this stuff.
Raffaella Isidori:
Then, for a long time, I looked at user experience designers on LinkedIn, saying, “What’s a user experience design? I don’t get it. Am I numb?” I don’t know. Imposter was pumping hard, and then I realized that I was an experienced designer and I got better at it.
Raffaella Isidori:
For the past couple of years, I’ve mostly done experience design and, for most of the projects, I was supported by developers, which obviously changes the world because it’s a lot cooler when you can just be free to design and someone is brilliant and they can take your design and do things with it.
Tracy A:
Yeah.
Angela:
Tracy can you relate to that, I’m sure.
Tracy A:
Absolutely. I was sitting there and thinking. I had the same kind of progression of seeing user experience designers. I was like, “What does that entail?” and then I was looking at that because, when I was in college, I did the same thing. I took all the Web design classes. I got my degree as, literally, a BA art and because I… My design teacher said I would never be a designer. I had a Flash Web development instructor who told me I would never be a Web developer, and so… But I was doing all the stuff on the side and realizing, once I saw that term, user experience, I was like, “That’s what I’ve been doing,” because I care about, like you said, the animation, the motion of it because that is a part of the design. It’s also a part of development to understand how, at least the concept of it, and so that was also an aha moment.
Tracy A:
I also remember at least I was dabbling in Web development and HTMLs back in 1996, but I remember people in the design department that were more print focused, and they had a really hard time translating that to the Web because it makes you have to basically give up some control. Right?
Raffaella Isidori:
Yeah. Also, it’s just like a different way to think. It’s just like a really different… I don’t know if I can think of a metaphor. It’s like walking, and then walking in mud or water. You’re still walking, but it’s not… You can’t rely on what your body knows about walking on earth, and it’s really different.
Raffaella Isidori:
I was listening to you, and it just dawned on me that a lot of it was that digital design appropriated a whole bunch of terms and changed them, and all of a sudden I remember like, “Oh, yeah, you got to have the storytelling,” and I’m like, “Yeah. Yes, obviously,” and it’s, like, “I come from advertising. Let’s talk about this.” We just called it having an idea, having a concept, and obviously it was a story.
Raffaella Isidori:
I remember distinctly the… coming into contact with the information architects and just going, “Whoa, information architecture,” and it’s like, “Well, I’ve been doing it.” If you do graphic design, you don’t learn information architecture, but you learn the principles, Gestalt principles of size, of something bold is bigger than… and you learn that you have to give priorities to things, so you have to architect the information on your printed work. I kept saying like, “Oh, okay, so this I know. It can’t be it, because why would they give it a whole different… It must be something bigger and different that I do not know nothing about.” Again, the imposter going, “Why would you know?”
Angela:
Yeah. I mean that makes a lot of sense because I think something that really clicked in for me, because I don’t have a design background, so I did come from more the computer technical thing and learned HTML back in 1996 and which was way before. I mean, websites were pretty, pretty boring then.
Tracy A:
Well, yeah, at least any of the sites that I made, they were not good.
Angela:
They might have a logo or something, but it was pretty much straight up text, and it was information. I worked for Quark. Do you know Quark, makers of QuarkXPress?
Raffaella Isidori:
Yes, I know the software.
Angela:
Yeah. I worked at Quark as tech support. That’s how I got into the design world was being a tech support person and having to write all the technical notes for Quark back when they had their big releases and we had to write, “Oh, oops, we didn’t have this in the documentation.”
Angela:
Anyway, so I was… But I was like attracted to design, and when you work for a software that does design, in our department, we’d have contests to design things, and I’m like, “I’m just going to try this” I actually really enjoyed it and so I learned. I learned through copying. I’d buy these books that had… Back then, it was a big deal to buy books in the graphic design department at the bookstore of really cool brochure designs. I’d collect all business cards, all the “Here’s 3,000 cool business cards”. I’d buy these books and I’d study them and, if I had needed to make a brochure for someone, I would just copy. I learned design through copying other designs and borrowing. It taught me some principles, but I still faced with a blank webpage.
Angela:
It was so hard. It was so, so hard, so I took a five-week class with a friend who is a very good, well-trained designer like you, and she taught us about hierarchy, and she taught us about color. It was just like she broke it down into these like, oh, this is… there’s… It’s not just this creative flow. There’s a meaning to this madness. There’s a reason it works. It’s not just creative gibberish.
Angela:
With that hierarchy of design, and you’re talking about information architecture, I think you are starting to tap into… Yeah, when you start to break down what’s the priority of this information, then you go to the third dimension, which is the relationships now and how does this piece of data relate to this piece of data and how can we organize it so it’s more systematic and archivable.
Raffaella Isidori:
Well, actually, in my opinion, of course, design, it’s actually quite scientific. It’s a method. It’s a method, a methodology to approach something, and art is really very distant from design.
Raffaella Isidori:
I’m from the school that does not consider designer an artist, which doesn’t mean that a designer can also be an artist, but I don’t think design is art simply because art is self-expression and design is… It banalizes when people say design is problem-solving, but it’s actually more than problem-solving. It’s actually structuring a solution to something that can be used by other people. The focus when you make art is you. The focus when you design is the people that are going to use that design.
Tracy A:
Wow. Absolutely. Yeah, it’s absolutely. I started up in engineering and then I became a UX designer, and I was like, “It’s like the same thing. You’re designing systems, but with creative means as opposed to architecture or something.” Yeah.
Angela:
We had a quote on our last episode about this where the person said, “Some of the challenges in working with graphic designers and coding websites for them is they’re trying to be artists and express themselves, and it’s like you have to go to this ‘designer’ and say, ‘It’s not about you. It’s not about your creative expression.'” If you want to be creative, go somewhere else and do this creative expression thing you want to do, but, this, you need to keep it simple here and make it functional for the user.
Angela:
It was just mind-blowing because, as a person who has to code sites that designers create, I’m that person that Raffaella needs to make things happen. It can be really hard to tell the designer, whoa, you need to back off because this is not going to be responsive. I understand it’s very, very, very pretty, but it’s not very functional. It’s not going to be usable. You have to be creative in a different way.
Tracy A:
It’s not like I-
Angela:
It’s not about you.
Tracy A:
Yeah, exactly. I like that.
Raffaella Isidori:
Yeah, and, on that, it always puzzles me that, if you’re a designer, a graphic designer, you understand that. You may not understand what the limits are for that media because it’s a different medium, but when you’re a graphic designer, you have restraints. You understand restraints, so maybe it’s just wanting things to be magic more than… I worked recently with… I love her.
Raffaella Isidori:
I did the website for my friend that I was mentioning that I met at WordCamp. She is a costume designer, and she does this. I mean she does really, really big projects for theater. She’s worked for Olympic Games. She’s worked, and so she’s artsy and she does sometimes get away with this, like, “Oh,” but then you can… You use her design to bring her back, so I did all this.
Raffaella Isidori:
We did her website. We put it online. We had agreed she had a lot of content, that she was going to get somebody else to put the content in, which she never did. Right now, she’s online with this Laura Mipsum thing, and I’m like, “Sylvia, you got to… I mean, can we just put the suit online on?” and she’s like, “No. This is like the Dada-est thing I’ve done in my life. I’m loving it,” and I was like, “Okay.”
Tracy A:
Celebrate.
Raffaella Isidori:
She managed to have an art statement by not having real content or having pieces of real content and pieces of Laura Mipsum on her website.
Angela:
She should have done Hipster Ipsum.
Tracy A:
Or Bacon Ipsum.
Raffaella Isidori:
She’s wild.
Tracy A:
That’s really funny.
Tracy L:
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Tracy L:
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Tracy A:
That’s funny, too, well, but if you think about the… that restraint, but also you look at it being creative. You want to create for whatever the design is, and it has to be applicable. I might want to use all of the colors, but if it’s a lawyer’s database and it looks like a kindergartener’s website just because I wanted to use all the colors, that’s not a very successful design anyway.
Raffaella Isidori:
Yeah. Sometimes, you have clients that don’t understand, and so that’s part of the process especially, for example, when you do branding and you try to make them understand that your choices are never, “Oh, I ran out of the blue marker, so I did a green marker,” which sometimes people, I think, think that that’s how it works, but, again, that’s why I’m saying there’s a lot of science that goes into design.
Raffaella Isidori:
I remember once I had a client, this was years ago, who had this big hotel with restaurants and everything. I did this system. It was a small design system for all the activities that were all separate with their own logo and their own thing, and then it was like, “For the restaurant, we use the green,” and he was like, “Well, I hate green,” and I was like, “Well, don’t buy furniture in green. I mean, who cares? I don’t care if you hate green. It’s not your living room and it’s not your clothes.”
Raffaella Isidori:
You have to use a language that people understand, and we have a background of semiotics and meanings that… and symbols that we associate with things, so what you like is totally irrelevant. I was like, “Well, okay, don’t buy green furniture or don’t buy green clothes,” but sometimes-
Angela:
That is exactly what we were talking about last week, and it was… That was also mind-blowing that you could actually say that to a client that it doesn’t matter in a way even what the client likes. It’s what works for the Web. Yeah.
Tracy A:
One of the things that I learned early on, because I made this mistake as an early designer consulting and I would make a couple of designs and I’d present them to the client, I mean, because, I mean, I was… That Imposter Syndrome, right? All right, so I don’t know. They’re going to choose the better one. Right? Well, no, and then I would be like, “Well, what do you think of this?” and that was like, “No, don’t ever do that.” Then, when I realized, because then I would get all this pushback and then it was like, “Change this, and then move this, and then do this,” and I literally was just changing things and sending it and changing it.
Raffaella Isidori:
You were a pencil pusher.
Tracy A:
Exactly, and I was like, “No. No. Wait a minute. There’s a reason why I did this,” and so, instead of just presenting it to the client, I would sell it to them and explain, “So, because of your clientele or your messaging or your bottom line goals, this is… and then, well, a little bit of the science behind it, this was the design choice that will achieve that goal of yours,” and then I would say, “Did I miss anything from your goals or misunderstand any of your goals or your business goals or your client’s or whatever?” and I got so much less pushback of, “I wish that was purple.”
Raffaella Isidori:
That’s the right way to do it because the idea is that people come to you because they know they are not able to do it themselves. Otherwise, they would do it themselves and, very often, they do, and you can tell.
Raffaella Isidori:
One of the things that I’ve learned with age, which has a lot of perks, and experience is one of it, is that I generally… I mean, having done this, especially branding, I’ve been doing it for so long that it’s really… Sometimes, I get the solution clear in my head almost right away and, sometimes, I know that’s the right thing and, sometimes, I have to push myself to come up with a couple of other options because I feel like I should have more than one option, but I have the solution clear in my head, and I’ve learned that, yes, you explain things, and then sometimes you let them make wishes and then, if there’s something you can… When I was younger, no.
Raffaella Isidori:
When I was younger, I was more like, “No, this is it,” and then I’ve learned that it’s like, “Okay, so you want it a little bigger, a little… Okay,” because sometimes it really doesn’t matter. I mean, it really makes no difference, but you make them happy. Or sometimes, another thing that I do when they’re really stubborn, I show them, and I’m like, “Okay, this is what you want,” and they see then that it’s not working, but I only do this either if I really like them or if I’m getting paid enough to do this because this is going to useless. It’s a waste of time educating you, so it has to be either in the fee or not.
Tracy A:
Or you can build in some choices just in the process. I’m going to give them a choice. My sense is that, as long as clients, you… Sometimes, I’ll deliberately build in some mistakes because then I know they’ll catch them, and then they feel like they’ve done their job, too. If you give them no choices at all, they’ll find something, but… so you build in some choices or you build in some truly awful thing that you know they’ll catch so that then they’re like they contributed and they had a say and they feel like they participated and got their way. You can strategically manipulate those.
Angela:
That’s hilarious.
Tracy A:
This way, it works. I promise.
Raffaella Isidori:
Yeah. One thing though that… Okay, two things, one is, again, when I was younger, I would bring maybe, oh, one more idea even if I didn’t really like it. I’ve learned that that’s the way that-
Tracy A:
That’s the one they’re going to choose.
Raffaella Isidori:
… they’re going to pick.
Tracy A:
Always. Every time.
Angela:
Never give them a choice you can’t live with.
Tracy A:
Exactly.
Angela:
I tell everyone getting started that, like, “Don’t present the alternate design that you don’t like because 100% they’re going to go with that and you’re going to be like, ‘Oh.'”
Tracy A:
Always.
Raffaella Isidori:
The other thing that gets a huge no right off is the Frankenstein design, like, “Oh, I mean, I really like this thing from here, and could we put that here?” and it’s like, “No, we can’t because, otherwise, I would have done it.” If it’s there and not there, it’s for this reason or not reason because, otherwise, that’s like… and I can… and sometimes you see something and you get it that the client was really pushy and they wanted their vision and it really didn’t work and, I don’t know, I can spot it sometimes. It was even in advertising where sometimes you’re like, “Jesus, why?”
Tracy A:
This was designed by a committee.
Raffaella Isidori:
This was the client’s idea, and he was unwilling to budge, and so the people just said, “Okay, whatever.” Just don’t put it in your portfolio and-
Tracy A:
Yep, exactly. I’ll wash my hands of this, and you’re on your own.
Angela:
You mentioned that you connected with this woman in the WordPress community when she brought you into the WordPress community and that you participated in the WordPress community. What ways do you feel like you’ve benefited from the community? If you hadn’t ever gotten involved with the community, would things be less for you in some way?
Raffaella Isidori:
Well, absolutely, in the sense that, without getting into the story of my life, let’s say that at the… I think it was actually… Well, no. It was 2016. I went through a very, very bad experience with work and I was basically cut in pieces professionally. There’s a word for it in Italian which is mobbing. I don’t know what it’s called in English. It’s when you get abused at work, and it’s really mental abuse and professional abuse. I was basically chopped up in pieces, and it took me about seven years to put… to heal. That’s when I also went through my master’s. That was part of the healing.
Raffaella Isidori:
When I stuck my little head out of the hole where I was healing, there was the community, and I was like, “Oh, okay, let’s go into this,” and I’ve met a lot of wonderful people. I also had the opportunity to really finish healing, but also I started doing… I did a lot of talks and a lot of… I brought… For a very long time, I was like, “Well, who’s going to care about branding in the WordPress community?” I remember my first talk, which was about branding, and I remember the feeling of giving that talk and then people coming up and saying, “Oh, you know what? I loved it,” and I was just like, “Really? Wait.”
Raffaella Isidori:
Yes, the community helped me heal, helped me find a voice, helped me also get to know the person that I had become, because I basically found myself starting from below zero at 50, and so it wasn’t easy. There was a lot of hurdles and a lot of… Yeah, I have to say that even though, again, I’m not super young, but the WordPress community in that, in terms of inclusivity, I have to say it’s a very open community, and I’ve met a lot of people and I liked that a lot. They certainly have helped me be where I am today.
Angela:
Oh, I love that. I wish we could just talk and talk and talk, but I’m afraid our time is coming to a wrap up here. Can you… and I do look forward to seeing you at a future WordCamp Europe when we’re all feeling a little braver, and Tracy will be there for sure. She can’t make it to Porto this year, but she’ll be to the next one.
Tracy A:
I’m sure.
Angela:
Can you tell people where they can find you online if they’d like to follow you?
Raffaella Isidori:
Well, I have a very cute nickname that was given to me by a kid a long time ago, which is Zetaraffix. That’s Z-E-T-A-R-A-F-F-I-X.
Tracy A:
Love it.
Raffaella Isidori:
You can find me everywhere on Twitter, on Facebook, on LinkedIn. I am rather weary of Facebook. I have clients, so I go in.
Tracy A:
Yep, got that. Yeah.
Raffaella Isidori:
I go in and I see things, and I run out before I get into arguments. I’m more active on Twitter. I’m also not too fond of Instagram, so I know I’m like offbeat socially, but I can be found. Also, my website is my name, raffaellaisidori.com. From there, people can also find me everywhere because I am not maybe present, but everywhere.
Tracy A:
I love it.
Raffaella Isidori:
You love them spacious.
Angela:
She can be found. On the podcast episode, we’ll have links to all of her socials and website, and thank you for joining us today.
Raffaella Isidori:
Thank you very much. It’s a great honor. I was really thrilled you guys reached out to me, and I look forward to seeing you both very soon maybe in Italy and, if not, in Europe in some cool places, hopefully, all of us with a little lighter spirit, a little of less or maybe we can have WordCamp Europe in Kyiv and have a real blast.
Tracy A:
I love that.
Raffaella Isidori:
It’s like a cool place to just get together when all this thing is over.
Speaker 1:
Thank you for listening. Interested in being on the show? Sign up on our website, womeninwp.com. Follow us on Twitter and Instagram, and join our Facebook group to have conversations with other women in WordPress.

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