Emily Wright – Designer of Prepared.ly

[quote style=”boxed”]If you want something to exist, start building it. The faster you can get it out there, the easier it will be to test and iterate in the real world.[/quote]

Emily Wright is an experience and interaction designer focused on usability and information visualization. As a 2012 Code for America Fellow, Emily partnered with the city of Austin. Working across departments and city groups, her team hosted a few awesome hackathons and got to work on some really useful and important projects, like:

  • Prepared.ly a project to help residents of Austin prepare for and assess the risk of natural disasters
  • ATXfloods.com A site to show open and closed roads during flash floods
  • Open Data Circle of Awesomeness graphic to explain benefits of open data
  • Should I Go To A CfA Hackathon? a chart to help explain who should be attending civic hackathons

Before becoming a Code for America Fellow, she worked as a freelance designer for several Bay Area groups including Banned by the Bay, Red Ink Studios, Intersection for the Arts, Visual Ink, and Babeland. Check out more of her work at emilyville.com.

What are you working on right now?

I’m working on a project called “Color me Timbers” (or “Textmas”, haven’t decided) where I’ll put lights in the trees outside my house in San Francisco for the holidays and people can text in to change the color. The trees will respond via text. I’m hoping to get it done in the next couple weeks with a solid DIY so that I can get some more neighbors and even my local book store to do it.

Where did the idea for prepared.ly come from?

Prepared.ly was started as a project where we (Code for America) partnered with the City of Austin. We spent about 6 weeks in Austin in February and March meeting with city departments and community organization to figure out where the needs were, and which ones we might be able to address in a year with technology. We found that people were really worried about the threat of wildfire, and wanted to be more prepared but didn’t know where to start. The tools that were out there started with tasks like “chop down all the trees within x feet of your house” when really there’s a lot of easy and straightforward things that will help out a lot.

What does your typical day look like?

A typical day working on prepared.ly involved meeting with Austin residents and doing research, and bringing that back to the Austin Fire Department to see what type of tool would serve both groups. And lots of coding for my team, and designing for me.

How do you bring ideas to life?

We have a motto at Code for America: JFDI (Just F***ing Do It). If you want something to exist, start building it. The faster you can get it out there, the easier it will be to test and iterate in the real world.

What’s one trend that really excites you?

Civic tech! People taking a proactive take on citizenship. Showing up at Civic Hackathons, hacking on civic data, and joining the Code for America Brigade!

What was the worst job you ever had and what did you learn from it?

Man, worst job was probably working for this little design shop that made photo books for weddings. I like solving problems, and coming up with innovative solutions. I kept trying to reinvent photo books! It didn’t last long.

If you were to start again, what would you do differently?

If I were to start again on Prepared.ly… I think I’d have spent more time shadowing the fire department to learn in advance what some of the problems were. We did a lot of rework down the line when we started to piece together wildfire safety.

As an entrepreneur, what is the one thing you do over and over and recommend everyone else do?

Talk to everyone you can, ask questions until their answers stop surprising you.

What is one failure you had as an entrepreneur, and how did you overcome it?

Staying 100% invested on a project can be tough. Sometimes — especially at the beginning — the rewards can be few and far between. Finding ways to celebrate the small stuff can be tough, but you have to set smaller milestones and make a big deal of them when you can.

What is one business idea that you’re willing to give away to our readers?

Fork prepared.ly on github, it will work for Fire, Water Conservation, and disaster preparedness.

If you could change one thing in the world, what would it be and how would you go about it?

I like to make the world feel smaller with technology, I think we’re getting there, but we’re not going to do it without working better with citizenship and local government.

Tell us a secret.

I’m really not that interesting!

What are your three favorite online tools or resources and what do you love about them?

The Gov.UK design principles: gov.uk/designprinciples
The Noun project, open source icons:
IFTTT: if that then this ifttt.com

What is the one book that you recommend our community should read and why?

Right now I’m reading “Design Is A Job” by Mike Montiero. It’s good.

Three people we should follow on Twitter and why?

Tim O’reilly: @timoreilly
Code for America: @codeforamerica
and your city! for Austin it’s @austintexasgov

When was the last time you laughed out loud? What caused it?

I think I laughed at my dog in her halloween costume. She was a skeleton.

Who is your hero?

I have a lot of respect for those innovating within local government. They deal with a lot from all sides, and are fighting a good fight!


Prepared.ly’s Email: [email protected]
Prepared.ly Team’s Email: [email protected]
Emily Wright’s Website: emilyville.com
Emily Wright on Twitter: @emirlyville
Emily Wright on LinkedIn:
Emily Wright’s Teammates: Joe Merante @joemerante, Aurelio Tinio @tinio