Loren Lee-Flynn always has a story to share. Sometimes it is about someone she met at a yoga class, or her enormous family, or her work in the classroom. Other times it’s about a fun conversation she had with a client or something crazy that happened the night before with Baxter her cat. No matter the situation, Loren is never short of stories.
Perhaps it is only fitting to begin Loren’s FableFriday with her journey to FableVision story – one that is entwined with another FableVisionary.
“My FableVision journey started long before I was on staff — about 10 years before. My then boyfriend (now husband) Bob Flynn and I moved to Boston from St. Louis. We had been living in St. Louis after graduating from the illustration program at Washington University, but wanted to return to the east coast where we were both originally from. We didn’t have jobs yet, and FableVision Studios was one of the first places we looked,” she shared.
Bob was hired as a staff artist and eventually became FableVision’s Director of Art and Animation. Loren freelanced at the studio while she was teaching in an after school program.
“After I got my Master’s in Early Childhood Education, I expected that I would begin teaching and my FableVision days would be over,” she said. But, fate had another plan. While she was looking for a teaching position, a role opened up at FableVision.
“The Studio was looking for someone to create wireframes and spec documents for their educational projects. I saw this as the perfect opportunity to combine my background in the arts with my passion for education,” she shared. “I started out as an independent contractor and later I joined the team as FableVisions’s first in-house UX/UI Designer, with a dual role as an artist.”
As FableVision’s UX/UI Designer, Loren is often called on to craft fancy interfaces for apps and responsive designs for websites, all while keeping her toes wet on the art side of the studio. As August’s FableFriday, Loren shares more stories from FableVision, her time in the classroom, and her huge extended family.
As an artist with an education background, you have a unique perspective on the educational projects created at FableVision. Can you share a few moments when your experiences in the classroom have helped on projects?
My education background gives me a unique insight into how FableVision’s products will be used in the classroom by both teachers and students. A good example is the Institute for Community Inclusion/UMass Boston’s Future Quest Island (FQI), a web experience that provides students, many of them with special needs, the opportunity to explore career options and other possibilities for their adult lives. A huge part of the FQI experience is the portfolio, where students gather and showcase all of the work they’ve done on the site. I knew from my work in the classroom that it’s important to allow students to not only save their work, but also to reflect on it, self-assess, and make decisions about what they want to present and share with others. This really informed our strategy for how the portfolio should work.
Tell us about your experience with teaching! What is your best memory of working in the classroom?
My best memory of working in the classroom comes from my time as a teaching intern in a first-grade classroom. The district science curriculum included a multi-week unit on animal adaptations. I modified the unit to include as many hands-on experiences and literacy connections as possible.
One of the learning goals for the unit was to have students understand that animal body parts like skin, beaks, and claws often evolve to fulfill a specific purpose, such as protection from predators or obtaining food, and that by observing these parts closely, they could make hypotheses about how the animal might use that feature to help it survive.
I had the students first practice the observation process by giving each student a “mystery-tool” to examine closely, sketch, and make an educated hypothesis, backed by evidence, on what the tool might be used for. The mystery tools were all random gadgets I had gathered from around my apartment, and it was funny and interesting to see their guesses about the purpose of each tool. The next day, we repeated the process using models of animal beaks, claws, and hides. It was so rewarding to see the students, especially some of the more reluctant writers, excited about observing and writing. They enjoyed it so much that they asked if they could create a museum display to show off the models, and many of the students repeated the writing activity by observing different models during their free work time.
Let’s talk about user experience. What are the top things on your mind when you’re designing a webpage or interactive?
The first questions I ask myself when designing a website or interactive are, “Who is the user?” and “What is the goal/what problem are we solving?”
For most FableVision projects, goals often include specific learning objectives or benchmarks, so a huge part of the planning process is figuring out how to make sure our users meet those targets. Just as importantly — and this is key to the FableVision mission — is keeping the experience fun and engaging. Ideally, our users engage with our products because of the fun factor, and the learning happens naturally.
Responsive is the “it” word when it comes to websites, how does a responsive design change user experience?
Responsive is more than just a buzzword. It is absolutely necessary in a world where more and more users are accessing digital content through mobile devices. A good responsive website optimizes the display of content and provides a smooth experience for all users, whether they are using a PC, a tablet, or a phone.
Let’s talk Doorways to Dreams Fund’s Con ’Em If You Can, what was your role on the project?
Working on this project was a blast! The challenge came from the sheer number of characters that needed to be designed. There were about 50 in all and each one had unique attributes and personality traits that needed to be reflected in their appearance. I ended up going with a “paper-doll” approach where I assembled characters by making different combinations of face and body shapes. The fun part was giving each character a unique outfit befitting the great ’50s vintage look of the game.
What’s your favorite part of Con ’Em If You Can?
There is the secret chinchilla theme that recurs throughout the game. That touch was added by our hilarious writer and creative director, Leigh Hallisey.
You’ve done everything from print books to websites to apps for preschoolers, what’s your favorite project?
One of my favorite projects was an interactive we created for longtime FableVision client, Maryland Public Television (MPT). MPT’s Succeeding in the New World teaches students about the challenges faced by early colonial settlers in America. The interactive takes them through the process of outfitting a ship with supplies, laying out buildings and farms, and then watching as natural disasters and extreme weather descend on their settlement, often destroying it. Students then reflect on what went wrong and replay, trying to improve on their results. I was involved with all stages of the project, from early planning to final art, so I’m pretty proud of it.
What inspires you creatively?
The thing that inspires me the most is watching people who are great at what they do. To me, that’s the best thing about being at FableVision — I’m surrounded by people I can learn from every day.
You have a passion for fonts, currently, what is your favorite font and your least favorite font. Why?
We use a lot of Google fonts at FableVision, because we do so many web projects. Lately I’ve liked Karla, a nice, clean sans serif that still retains plenty of character. My least favorite font is probably Arial. I get the hate for Comic Sans, but after working with teachers who had to make hundreds of cubby labels and classroom notices for small children, I can see it at least has its place. Arial just looks homely in any context.
You have a huge family (especially cousins). Can you share a bit about your cousin Christmas traditions?
Between all the aunts, uncles, cousins, spouses, and assorted children, there are about 50 of us, so we take up a lot of room. We always get together on Christmas Eve for a gift swap, but in our version, you cannot simply steal a gift. My cousin, Alex (who has a real knack for game design) has come up with a series of little games (think Minute to Win It). If you want to steal a gift that the person you’re stealing from wants to keep, you need to challenge them to one of these games — winner keeps the gift! It changes a little every year as Alex keeps the favorites and improves or replaces those that don’t go over as well. This year’s favorite was New Roach City. You can see a video of it here.
Who is Baxter?
Baxter is my cat. He’s too grouchy to come into the studio, but he’s been featured on the FableBlog before.
More about Loren:
Meal to Cook: Roasted chicken and Brussels sprouts
Thing to eat: Tapas
Snack: Cheese, crackers, and olives
Movie: The Big Lebowski
Book: Midnight’s Children by Salman Rushdie
Animated Movie: Fantastic Mr. Fox
Song: New song: Sunday Candy, Chance the Rapper; Older song: Fantasy, Mariah Carey
Meal to cook: Chicken pot pie — I can never get it to come out right
Thing to eat: Cilantro
Snack: Anything with artificial sweeteners
Movie: Un Chien Andalou — I still haven’t recovered from being forced to watch it in college art history
Vacation: When I went to Chicago for St. Patrick’s Day with college friends and got food poisoning. I still went out, but couldn’t even have a beer.