3 creatives who are making waves in Colorado tech: RJ Owen, Universal Mind

by Carlin Sack
March 17, 2014

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Although he is new to his position as Director of User Experience at Universal Mind, RJ Owen is well-versed in the Colorado tech scene. Most recently at Convercent and EffectiveUI, Owen is a University of Colorado Denver MBA and a product pro (he studied computer science and physics before that). Now, outside of Universal Mind, Owen runs CreativeMornings in Denver and is heavily involved in non-profit Project Worthmore.

Whether in his work inside or outside of Universal Mind, incorporating data in the design process is key for Owen: "I'm not be being a designer wearing a pink beret," he said.

Built In Colorado sat down with Owen to hear about his design process, his projects in the community and his ever-present desire to become a comic book artist:

How do you tackle solving problems?

I'm suspicious of my own creativity. I research to ensure that my creativity is not taking hold of a project. I find out who is going to use it, why it's important and observe why they use it. The steps I take include: meeting and observing users in person, then going back and reviewing data. I use a whiteboard for sketching ideas (and use headphones when I'm 'in the zone') I also work with high-level management to discuss the problems because part of my job is making sure X is the most beneficial problem to solve for the user. If I end up discovering that the client has presented a problem that is not the No. 1 problem to solve, my best technique is using data to change client's mind. It's not an emotional conversation.

 

When does the ‘aha moment' usually begin to take shape for you?

In the analysis phase - the magic happens for me when I start revisiting everything I've heard from customers or learned about their needs, but before I really get into the minutia. There's a period of small epiphanies for me where I start seeing patterns in my data and that's the fun part - that's what really gets me moving toward a solution. It takes a considerable amount of skill to analyze data and bring in design and pulling user needs out of that data.

I brainstorm with the team and individuals and divide customer interviews into groups. Then we present the ideas back together. A healthy critique of each others' designs is needed to pick pieces from everyone's to mix-and-match. But, too much collaboration bad and can take over ideas.

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What feeds your creativity?

I run CreativeMornings in Denver so I am always hearing from other people doing interesting things. It feeds my own creative impulses. Hearing about someone else doing it well and gives me confidence that I can do it myself.

 

How does a deadline affect you?

I love a deadline. It helps to plan and run timeline in a good structure. I am structured about how I spend time and understand that I will not have too much done when I am home with my kids. Being a parent has been a defining constraint, but constraints drive me.

 

What type of projects excite you the most?

Projects that I can see clear value in. I don’t care about how boring it is because knowing that I can solve a problem for people is exciting.

 

What other advice to do you have for creatives in Colorado?

Focus on being good at your own work and skills instead of what the popular sensation is. Steer your attention towards a good professional path that focuses on your strengths instead of the popular trends. Most successful people don’t have that impulse to play the game, they follow their passion.

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