Katie Holmes

First Impressions Officer

How to Throw an Office Party That Everyone Will Love

An office is a quirky family sometimes. We’ve got our weird but lovable uncle developers, our zany aunts on the MatrixMaxx team, and Mom and Dad, the CEO and COO, encouraging us as well as wagging a finger here or there when the situation calls for it. From my position, the project managers are older siblings protecting and guiding those they manage. Needless to say, when one works in an intimate yet diverse environment such as Matrix Group, it can be difficult to host an office party where everyone feels at ease. Here are my tips and tricks to hosting the best small office party without having to get HR involved:

1. DO YOUR RESEARCH

Before planning anything, sit down and think about diets and allergies. If Patty in accounting is allergic to peanut butter, you should know that before she breaks out into hives and her throat swells shut. Be cognizant of allergies, because food allergies can create life and death situations. You also probably know who in your office is on a diet. Consider options that are tasty but also fit in within their specialized dietary requirements. Did you know French macaron’s are gluten free? I’m also pretty sure COOL-WHIP is vegan. If you don’t explicitly tell the more food conservative staff that something is vegan, gluten-free, or inherently different from a mainstream version, they’ll be more likely to eat it – just make sure you fill those with the restrictions in on what’s safe for them (See my post on Paleo cake for more information.)

2. BUDGET

We all live and die by the accounting department, so find out what your budget is and go from there. Honor your budget, and your time.

3. DON’T BE AFRAID OF A LITTLE BOOZE

Even the most teetotaling officemate can relax while others are enjoying a tiny cocktail. Adding St. Germane (an elderflower liquor) can turn regular lemonade into something really special for your event. The trick to having a just slightly alcoholic beverage, while also offering a non-alcoholic option that is just as special. Consider offering a fruit or herb infused water, or a sparkling water in an unusual vessel.  It’s my general rule that no one NEEDS a gin martini at 3:30 in the afternoon, so offer well balanced cocktails and mocktails for the office. The goal isn’t to get drunk, the goal is to celebrate.

4. BE MINDFUL OF YOUR GUESTS

If Sarah from IT doesn’t like to be the center of attention, don’t make her blow out the candles on her birthday cake in the front of the conference room while everyone stares at her. Just simply give her a simple, “On behalf of the company, we want to wish you a happy birthday!” Followed by an emphatic “Here! Here!” This will allow everyone to remain comfortable, yet still celebrate the motivation for the event.

5. HAVE FUN!

It is called a party after all. This goes back to being mindful of your guests. If your office needs help getting people to talk to each other, simple games can foster the conversation. If you’ve got really big personalities, utilize that! Or perphaps this celebration is a real brain break for the staff, so you’ll just want to let them mingle. They will thank you for it.

Lastly, make sure your admin staff gets to eat at these things. Sometimes the admins are too busy hosting the event to even taste the hors d’oeurves they spent hours considering.

What tips and tricks have you picked up in hosting office events?

Design Trends for 2017

While 2016 was an exciting year for design – there was a shift toward mobile-first design, video and rich imagery were hotter than ever, and animations became the norm – I’m even more excited about what we can expect to see in 2017.

 

A few weeks ago, Creative Director Alex Pineda and I held a webinar with CEO Joanna Pineda to talk about the trends that are emerging in 2017, and how you can give your members the best user experience possible by incorporating them into your web presence.

Curious about what’s in store for 2017? Check out our recap video:

 

Whether your plans for 2017 include a large-scale website redesign, building a brand new website from scratch, launching an app, or simply refreshing a few of your key pages, we’d love to help you incorporate some of these trends!

 

Which design trends are you most excited about for 2017? 
Nick Exposito

Marketing & New Business Coordinator

Tackling Your First Job Out of College

You just finished college and all that hard work is finally going to pay off. At least you hope it will.

You studied hard, got good grades, got involved outside of the classroom, had a few internships, and even took advantage of the interview coaching that your university offered. You polish up your resume, send it out, and get a few interviews. The interviews go well (hooray!) and you get the anxiously awaited call – you got the job! Great!

…but now what? You’ve had plenty of coaching on how to land the job, but few people actually prepare you for what you can expect and how you can survive those first few weeks of your first big-kid, full-time job.

So, as a recent grad, here are my tips on how to tackle your first full-time job out of college:

  • Learn as much about the company as humanly possible. Do tons of research ahead of time, and soak as much information in during your first few days and weeks as you can. The more you know, the more of an impact you can make at the company.
  • Don’t be afraid to ask questions, and ask a lot of questions. You are new and will struggle with certain tasks that are assigned to you for the first few weeks. Your colleagues will always be there to help you, so do not be afraid to ASK QUESTIONS. Believe it or not, they don’t expect you to know everything already. Phew!
  • Go to as many meetings as you can. Sitting in on meetings is a great way to learn about what’s going on at the company. By going to different meetings you will discover what projects are going on, how those projects are managed, who you are working with, and you will also get a better grasp on the inner workings of the organization.
  • Always have a notebook (or laptop) handy for taking notes. A lot will be thrown at you those first few days and weeks, and, honestly, a lot of it can sound like gibberish. Writing everything down helps enormously!
  • Have fun. I’ve already found that the old adage is true: If you love what you’re doing, you’ll never work a day in your life. So make it FUN! I am fortunate that the office environment I work in is fast-paced and exciting.
  • Never miss an opportunity to grab lunch. In addition to being a great way to socialize and make friends at work, grabbing lunch with colleagues is the best way to get a feel for the company culture and to learn some insider tips for success.

That’s it! In recap: Ask questions, go to lunch with colleagues, go to meetings, have fun, and don’t ever stop learning. If you do these little things now, down the road you will be thrilled to go to work every day, and you may even find yourself climbing that corporate ladder in no time.

Oh one more (very important) tip: know where the CEO parks his or her car. That way you won’t accidentally park in that spot on your second day of work! Not that I know anything about that…

Have any other tips for success at your first full-time job? I’d love your advice!

 

Elaine Heinzman

Content Strategist and Information Architect

User Experience in the Face of Trauma

I’m a very lucky person. I haven’t experienced anything that would qualify as a major traumatic event, and my life isn’t generally a series of inconveniences. Plenty of other people don’t have that kind of good fortune. And since I’m in the business of user experience (UX), I want to use this blog post to explore something I learned about at a recent UXCamp event that I attended: the less frequently considered usability strategy called trauma-informed UX.

Trauma-informed UX most immediately affects people during or after a traumatic experience, but also during a relapse. These are users who come to an organization because they need help dealing with trauma, including:

  • Survivors.
  • Patients living with a serious disease or injury.
  • The loved ones of survivors and patients.

The main secondary audiences include:

  • The greater communities that these survivors and patients will return to.
  • Medical, law-enforcement, legal and social-services workers serving survivor and patient and populations.
  • Donors and financial entities that provide support to these workers.

Trauma-informed UX also should consider those who’ve previously experienced a traumatic encounter with an organization that was supposed to help them. A straightforward example would be a crime survivor who’s had a negative interaction with their local police department or emergency room. A less-obvious example that The Marshall Project recently wrote about: juveniles once held in California detention facilities.

In an online survey, California’s state and community corrections board asked formerly incarcerated children and their families how the state could improve juvenile detention. In addition to “the childishly predictable [comments] — I didn’t get the bunk I wanted; they punished us all as a group,” survey respondents provided thoughtful and detailed recommendations including “more vegetables, more dental care…, [and] an easier system for sending academic transcripts from school to jail and back.”

I love that corrections officials asked for feedback from their users so the state could better serve these families and their communities. Individual interviews are my preferred UX research tool, though in this case, it would have been too expensive and time-consuming to do interviews.

Regardless of the tool you use to get user feedback, with a trauma-informed UX process, there are additional and more delicate considerations that you must address:

  • Are you dealing with a user population that needs to worry about physical or digital surveillance?
  • Can you streamline the experience to give traumatized users more control of the time they spend dealing with your organization?
  • Is a website, an app, or an SMS-based experience the best way to serve users who are concerned about surveillance and time?
  • What legal requirements must your organization meet? This can include patient confidentiality or client anonymity.

While you’re doing user research for a project that will serve users affected by trauma, or getting user feedback after the project launch, focus on speaking to those who already have healed they’ll be more open to sharing their experiences because they’re not currently living the through the trauma.

What other nuanced usability considerations have you come across?

Katie Holmes

First Impressions Officer

Chocolate Paleo Cake for a REAL Snack O’Clock

I started this job a few months ago, and everyone kept talking about this blog, ”Snack O’Clock.” I thought to myself, “I LOVE SNACKS, this is perfect!” I was a little disappointed so see so few posts on actual snacks. I mean, it is called Snack O’Clock. Then JP approached me to write a blog post about one of my cakes. And I thought, “this is awesome”!

I’ve been thinking a lot about blogging, technology, baking and how they all fit together in my new role as First Impressions Officer here at Matrix Group. As a proud Millennial, I’ve blogged for most of my opinionated adolescence, (Shout out to all the Live Journal users out there!) so I’ll keep the angst to a minimum here. I have also become an avid baker/pastry chef in the past few years. I love trying new things in the kitchen, and, above all else, I am a huge fan of eating. Not in a gluttonous, frenzied way, but in a savoring experience of flavors, textures, and ideas. Food is nourishment for the body, and for the mind.

Last week, we put together an office party to celebrate those who had birthdays in January. I was tasked with the party planning. I asked those with birthdays what kind of cakes they wanted as part of the celebration. There was a request for a banal red velvet cake, then a more adventurous chocolate and mint flavored grasshopper cake. And then something amazing happened. Elaine asked for a dessert either gluten-free or under the Paleo diet umbrella.

“WHAT? No gluten? No flour? No sugar? No dairy??? How does that even work?! I must find out!”

I accepted the challenge, dusted off my trusty Google search engine, and went to task. I learned that the followers of the Paleo lifestyle diet focus more on fruits, vegetables, nuts, and lean proteins. More of what our Paleolithic ancestors would have eaten. The focus is on nutrient rich eating, real food, and natural foods.

Now the real question, “How does one make a cake without dairy, wheat, or cane sugar?”

I found the answer in the most feminine and beautiful niche blogs. The Urban Poser is a delightful baking blog with amazing recipes which all fall under this Paleo umbrella. Her “Cherry Chocolate Naked Cake” was so striking that I absolutely needed to make it. Immediately.

After gathering the ingredients from three different stores, I was ready to commit to this nontraditional lifestyle cake. (Have you tried Ghee (clarified butter)? No? Well you should. Put it in everything. You can thank me later.)

The basics of this cake were some kind of fat (palm shortening or ghee), the coconut flour, a binding natural starch flour like arrowroot or potato, cocoa powder, coconut milk, eggs, and honey. I was SO SURPRISED to find that when the cakes were finished baking they looked, smelled, and tasted like cake! Not some weird crumbly mess I’ve made of vegan variety, but honest to goodness cake. This was like having a decadent piece of chocolate cake without that saccharine punch in the teeth. I did, however, have issue with the recommended whipped coconut cream frosting. Once I added the recommended amount of cocoa powder, the cream seized up making it look a little less than appealing. The next instructions detailed how to cover the cake in halved ripe cherries saving the cake from some kind of aesthetic failure.

This cake was what we call in my house slammin’ jammin’. This cake was a hit in the office, and a hit with the resident Paleo follower. It’s easy to reject new things because they take you out of your comfort zone. It’s even easier to buy cakes ready made from the supermarket. However, it is most important to live fully. Or with a full belly.

To see the full recipe and fall in love, visit the Urban Poser’s blog. You really need to try this cake for yourself!

What new challenges have you taken on in 2017?