As part of my final capstone project for my Emerging Media master’s, I wrote an article describing my project from ideation to implementation. This was originally posted to Medium here.
Sitting in my undergrad marketing classes, I felt envious towards some of my other classmates. They kept talking about this department at UGA, the New Media Institute, (NMI for short) where they were learning to do cool things like creating websites, coding apps, and flying drones. Compared to my advertising and marketing classes where you just sat in lectures, this sounded amazing! I wanted to take classes where I could actually do things!
Imagine my surprise when I found out the NMI had an Emerging Media graduate program. While the graduate program differed from the undergraduate program, I was still excited for the opportunity to be involved with the NMI in any way possible.
I quickly learned one very important rule of graduate school:
Undergrad ≠ Graduate.
You can’t think of graduate school as just ‘undergrad on steroids’. It’s so much more than that. It’s sleeping less than you’ve ever slept in your life. It’s scheduling your life down to the minute because there’s so much to get done. Even mundane things like grocery shopping and hanging out with friends had to be scheduled weeks in advance. However, I think the worst thing was trying to convince yourself that going to bed at 3:00 A.M. was okay, even if you weren’t done with everything on your plate. I learned a lot about holding your mental well being to a high standard, despite all the other influences tugging on you.
Overall, the classes I took as an Emerging Media student were interesting. I learned a lot about design aesthetics, design thinking, and project management; these were all fields I had never explored before. But the biggest, baddest, most important class of the Emerging Media program is JRMC 7015 Emerging Media Capstone. This is the class the above going to bed at 3:00 A.M. is most applicable.
The short story is that for capstone, you need to come up with a project idea that can solve a problem you’ve observed. Then you create said idea. The long story is below — my entire capstone journey, and the project I created out of it.
Coming up with a capstone project was extremely difficult for me. Like, insanely, extremely difficult. Maybe bump that bedtime back to 5:00 A.M. difficult. Every Emerging Media class I took mentioned that, eventually, we would have to have a stellar idea to use for our capstone project. I tried my hardest in every class to come up with this idea. Every class, I presented a capstone idea thinking, This is it. This is finally my idea.
And then I proceeded to scrap that idea come the next class.
I think I might have had pitched the most ideas out of everyone in my cohort. Over the course of two years, I pitched multiple different projects- from various apps to digital magazines to career-focused brands, I never had the same idea carry over. Even going into the final capstone class, I knew I had to have a project idea, but I still wasn’t sure of what to do. I pitched an idea to my major advisor at the beginning of the semester… and it was rejected. (Awkward). In front of other NMI students. (More awkward). I even heard that my advisor was talking about me behind my back about my inability to come up with an idea. (Super duper awkward).
I knew I had to come up with an idea, and fast. I began to analyze everything I interacted with. Was there a problem I could fix? That I could make better? That could also align with my career goals of working in analytics? A new idea came to me while (ironically enough), going over my Google Calendar for the week. I had a Talking Dog Agency meeting that week.
Talking Dog Agency (Talking Dog for short) is the student-run advertising agency based out of the University of Georgia. It mostly comprises of advertising and public relations students who apply every fall to become an agency member for that school year. I had participated in Talking Dog as an undergrad and decided to apply again for my last year at UGA. Previously I had served as an assistant account executive, but this year I had a different goal: I wanted to be a research analyst.
The agency had recently launched a research division, appropriately called Fetch, a year prior. Fetch primarily serves Talking Dog in two ways: conduct research for Talking Dog’s clients in the fall semester, and conduct research for the division itself on Gen Z in the spring semester. The division primarily does this through creating and launching surveys through Qualtrics as well as hold focus groups. I was fortunate enough to be selected as the division’s project manager for this school year. While I had been enjoying my time with the division so far, there were a few issues I had noticed as the fall semester rolled on:
Fetch Is Talking Dog’s Ugly Stepsister
Hardly anyone knew what Fetch was. Even other Talking Dog members stumbled over explaining the division’s main tasks. The director of Fetch and myself spent countless hours explaining to other members of Talking Dog in an effort to explain what our division’s members (called strategists) could do and what they couldn’t do. Yes to create and launch surveys about customer preferences. No to Googling other event spaces in Athens. Anyone can use Google- Fetch is supposed to conduct the research our clients do not have the means to do so themselves.
Fetch Doesn’t Have Much To Show
Fetch only had three JPG images of research findings from the previous school year. Three. JPG. Images. This was all that was included on the Fetch section of Talking Dog’s website. Most of the findings were things anyone could find from Google, too. It did not showcase the research Fetch specifically conducted, so strategists have no resources to show other Talking Dog members or clients what types of work they should be doing. There was also an issue with getting access to the previous years’ research as the former director’s UGA account got deleted upon their graduation, effectively deleting all of last year’s data as well.
Fetch Needs Funding
The current faculty advisor of Talking Dog, and therefore Fetch, has the goal of pitching Fetch to potential clients for funding. This would allow Fetch to buy various software licenses, offer items for participation in focus groups, among other things. But if no one knows about Fetch, and Fetch has no research to show, how can the division successfully pitch it’s skills to clients?
Thus, my capstone idea was born. I wanted to create a database of Tableau data visualizations Fetch could use to not only easily showcase their work to explain to Talking Dog and curious visitors to the agency’s website, but also help the division eventually use the visualizations to help pitch to potential clients. Although there are many different software companies that create data visualizations, Tableau is slowly becoming the industry standard. It would be best to use Tableau to show that Fetch is a professional research division.
I also knew there was a concern of making sure that whatever I created could easily be transferred down to the next director of Fetch. If the research we conducted this year wasn’t carried over, the future director would have to start from scratch all over again just like this year’s did. This isn’t conducive of building a strong and professional research division. Fetch needed a sustainability strategy to make sure all of its assets got passed along. My project also needed to keep in mind that many Fetch strategists had never conducted research before, and probably wouldn’t be familiar with creating data visualizations. I needed to make a guide on for new strategists on how to make a simple data visualization.
I have a strong dance background- I took ballet lessons for almost 18 years. One of my favorite parts was the seemingly magical things that can happen backstage during a performance. Audience members can be mesmerized by a performance while any sorts of things are happening in the wings- dancers goofing off, warming up for the next number, or quickly changing costumes within seconds. Yet to the audience, none of this chaos or preparation is seen. The only thing visible is the result of hard work. I loved the idea of creating a backstage for Fetch strategists- one that potential clients wouldn’t have access to that housed this database of visualizations.
With that in mind, I came up with an official project summary:
Fetch Backstage is an internal resource website for Fetch, the research division of the student-run advertising agency based out of the University of Georgia. The resource aims to solve issues Fetch is currently facing: the division is not well known, the research from previous years was not passed down to current leadership, and the future goal set by the division’s faculty advisor to pitch for funding from potential clients.
With pre-made Tableau data visualizations, a “how-to” data visualization video guide, and a sustainability guide, Fetch Backstage serves as a resource to the agency’s strategists as they work to gain awareness of the division itself, to present their findings in a professional manner, and to pitch their serves to potential clients for funding. The pre-made Tableau data visualizations can be found and downloaded quickly to be incorporated into a report or pitch presentation. The video guide walks newer strategists through the process of exporting data from Qualtrics, cleaning the data in Excel, and importing it into emergent technology Tableau to create data visualizations. The website uses a WordPress installation to make it easy to pass down to future division leaders.
This idea was accepted! So I (finally) started on my capstone journey.
While it might be a bit strange to think of Fetch having competitors, the idea of making sure my project has an competitive advantage was essential. Although I already knew about competitive advantages from my advertising and marketing undergrad classes, we also covered it in the JRMC 7011 Project Management and Innovation class.
From my design class, I knew aesthetics were important. I fortunately had the opportunity to work off of what was already in place for Fetch, although it was not much. I thankfully had a logo, and a primary color to use. Creating my branding standards was a bit tricky, since I wasn’t created branding standards for Fetch the organization, but Fetch Backstage, the internal website. I decided to buy the domain talkingdogfetch.com to best match with the agency’s overall website at talkingdogagency.com. This helps to show that Fetch is a part of Talking Dog from a branding and organizational standpoint. The website is password protected, so no outside visitors or potential clients would ever see it. But I still wanted to make sure the Fetch Backstage felt like a part of Fetch, and to a greater extent, Talking Dog.
I was fortunate enough to already have had Fetch’s logo created before me. Although the division had no official colors, I took the red from the logo and named it ‘Good Boi’. This serves as Fetch’s main color. I also knew I wanted a darker color that could be used in conjunction with Good Boi. From my design class, I learned that you should avoid straight black as many times it seems too harsh to viewers. I decided to go with a dark grey that fit well and named it Zoomies, a commonly used term on the internet to describe the energetic, running around action dogs typically do. I decided to only have two main colors because I wanted Fetch Backstage to stay as clean and minimalist as possible. One of the biggest issues of research and data is making sure it stays simple enough to comprehend. I wanted to make sure that the ideas of professionalism and organization were portrayed in the Fetch Backstage website just like the research itself. For fonts, I went with Roboto Slab Bold & Regular. These fonts won’t be used for the data visualizations themselves — so don’t worry that they aren’t super modern sans-serifs. We’ll get to that in a little bit.
I also had to decide on the style of the data visualizations. I couldn’t rely on just two colors since there would almost always be more than two variables. And besides, using your brand colors for every single visualization would get tacky and old quickly. To keep things simple, I used the Tableau 10 color palette. While Tableau does have a way to import your own colors, it would just be another thing to explain to a new strategist who has never worked with Tableau. Also the lovely folks over at Tableau wrote a whole article on their redesign efforts for this pallet, so if that data experts say it’s a good palette, I’m not going to argue. I also picked the Tableau-only font Tableau Book for all visualizations. It’s the default font that comes up when initially exporting, so this too will keep things simple for strategists.
When it came down to the actual creation of the website, I knew I had to turn to the project management skills I learned to keep myself organized. In the aforementioned JRMC 7011 Project Management and Innovation class, I experimented with the Kanban methodology. It helps you to visualize the work that needs to get done and what stage of completion each piece is at. Since that class, I have been using this method at my assistantship with the UGA Small Business Development Center, where a previous Emerging Media graduate also works. Kanban was especially helpful for me as I tried to keep track of all the data visualizations I was creating. Like I said earlier, data can get messy quickly. It kept me on track to make sure I was creating visualizations I had not already done. It also helped me to make sure I was actually uploading the final visualizations because staring at data in Tableau for hours on end gets tiring, and I found myself almost not uploading what I had created because I just wanted to shut down my laptop and take a nap.
With my initial website created, I went on to user testing. I knew from JRMC 8016 Media Interaction Design and Usability that testing websites is an extremely important and integral part of design and product creation. I needed to make sure that Fetch Backstage, a resource created to serve Fetch strategists, actually helped serve Fetch strategists. If the people I created the website for cannot use it effectively, then there was no point in creating the website. I created a user experience (UX) study that I used with 5 current Fetch strategists. The study had a list of tasks the strategists needed to perform on the website. Some of the tasks were impossible by design- I wanted them to feel comfortable to say a task was impossible to do, even if it was possible. If a task was possible but strategists said it was impossible, then it told me that the website design was too difficult to understand.
As I found out, no website is perfect. I got some amazing feedback from the strategists like:
“That site’s going to give me nightmares.”
Most of the struggles came from trying to find the right link for things. I ended up creating buttons for easier navigation- ones that showed strategists where to log into the website and that showed visitors to the page how to get to Talking Dog’s main page. I changed the title of a few pages to more accurately describe their contents. I also added a toolbar so that strategists could more easily navigate through the website’s pages. This was also something we had learned from our design class but I had forgotten- you need to make things as easy as you can for people. My website shouldn’t be a scavenger hunt where people need to click a bunch of pages to find what they’re looking for! I need to display all of the options available so that visitors know what’s there. How would a strategist know to look for research about a certain client from a previous year if it’s not listed in the toolbar?
With those changes implemented, I finally had a solution I could happily present to Fetch! It is exciting to see everything come together. Fetch Backstage has real-world impact for the future of Talking Dog. It will help Fetch by creating a large database of past research that can be used to increase awareness of the division and to pitch for funding as well as help future Fetch strategists learn how to create their own data visualizations and get further experience in the research field. As Fetch becomes more and more renown, the University of Georgia will benefit from having the bragging rights to an extremely successful research division. Talking Dog’s future clients will also benefit from a more experienced and better-funding Fetch in terms of getting research of a better quality and greater quantity. And since Talking Dog’s clients are local Athens, national, and international companies, there’s a large wingspan of impact here. There’s also the very selfish impact of me being able to reach back and help an organization that I’ve had a great experience with, and to help them prosper in the years to come.
Now that my Emerging Media journey is coming to a close, I’d like to impart some wisdom I’ve learned on future students in the program:
Analyze all your interactions with people, organizations, and life in a problem-solution mindset.
…Or at least until you figure out a nice and solid capstone project. Odds are, there’s a solution right under your nose that you can solve! You just have to put on the right type of glasses in order to see it. People you know might complain to you about an issue they’ve encountered, organizations you’re a part of or have had history with might have a problem you can fix, or sometimes you’ve encountered something yourself.
Pitch something that (if possible) aligns with your career goals.
To be honest, I hadn’t worked in Tableau in over two years when I pitched this idea. This idea that had me primarily working in Tableau. Yeah, I know how it looks. But I also knew that I wanted to pursue a career in analytics, and Tableau is starting to look like the industry leader when it comes to data visualizations. Having a capstone project that fits well with your career goals gives you the added benefit of being able to work on something you’re passionate about, which will help make the grind more enjoyable.
Work on your capstone in increments.
It is so, so, so much easier to do this project in little baby steps than to do it all at once. I’ll admit, at times, I had to do fairly large chunks because when you work three jobs, that’s the reality you face. However, if you work on the requirements whenever you have a little bit of downtime, you’ll find the experience much less painful than if you chug four cups of coffee and whip it all out in one night.
I am so thankful to the New Media Institute for launching the Emerging Media program. Without it, I would have never learned the skills I needed to create something that will be able to outlast me at the University of Georgia.
Check out my website at talkingdogfetch.com.