— Ivan W. Lam (@IvanWLam) February 27, 2015
I had been interested in graphic design at a very young age. I remember taking a stab at typography in the first grade when I used the gridded lines from a spare school workbook to draw out the letters of some phrase like “HAPPY NEW YEAR” to put up on the classroom wall. I spent a good amount of time on it (as much time as a six-year-old can) and was really proud of the quality. But when I showed it to my teacher in front of the class, she appreciated my work but said it could be better. After looking at it with fresh eyes, I agreed. It was clear I struggled with a few letters. I had trouble deciding how far out the tail of the R would go: having it flush with the curve would make it look top-heavy, having it go out just one grid block farther would make it look huge. Another dilemma was determining how wide the diagonal strokes of the Y and W should reach: having them closer together would force narrower strokes and look inconsistent; having them out more would make the letters too wide. These were the challenges I faced as a six-year-old, and I loved it. I knew then already that I want to keep doing stuff like this as much as I can.
Life with Design
Since then, I had always done something related to design. When my family moved and I got my own room for the first time, I would rearrange the furniture many times a year. When I learned what the Olympics was, I started to become fascinated by the logos, marketing campaigns, pictograms, and the designs of the medal, the torch and the cauldron from each Games. When I learned web design in the sixth grade, I created many personal websites, redesigning them every so often and incorporating new visual techniques and coding patterns I had learned through the years. When I was a senior in high school, I was the Design Editor for the school yearbook and touched practically every page, stressing over every square inch.
So at the height of my design major in my junior year of college, I was in my element and really enjoying it. I got to work with different physical and digital mediums, and learned a lot about design philosophy (ex. the grid and the golden ratio), history (ex. the Bauhaus and de Stijl movements) and figures (ex. Josef Muller-Brockmann and Stefan Sagmeister, who are my two favorite designers, for very different reasons). With so much knowledge and coursework thrown at me, it was a challenge to do everything and do it well. But because this was my passion (and I was a pro of the all-nighter), the thrill and joy that come out of doing something I loved outweighed any stress and fatigue that I experienced.
Moving to UX
In the five-plus years I’ve been at my current job, I went from a purely graphic/UI designer to a UI-slash-UX designer, with an ever-growing lean towards the latter. I owe this partly to the experience I gained from working with product managers, addressing business goals in addition to making things pixel-perfect. I feel like my design consciousness had gone from the surface level of stressing over visual details to a deeper level of examining the nuances of modern human experiences. It’s opened up a new field of design for me to learn and to grow. It’s more than just driving less clicks or taps, or showing less copy or secondary content on a particular screen; it’s about honestly answering “Why do we want this?”, “How does this help our goals?”, and “Is this the best solution for this specific problem?” In addition to questions about colors, fonts, and sizes, there are now a greater number and wider range of questions for me to consider. As a result, the trick now is to ask the right ones that get to the core of the problem. When that is done correctly, I am rewarded with the clearest, simplest, and presumably the best answers.
Design in My Future
Even though my interest in design is slowly shifting from visual to experiential, I still enjoy all aspects of design. That’s because fundamentally, design is about problem solving. It just happens to be a special form where it mixes logic (which I love) with emotion and experience, and sometimes something visual. It was the case when I drew out “HAPPY NEW YEAR” on a grid; it was the case when I co-created a convertible cardboard bench/table-and-stools (called the “Collabench”) for a design student showcase in college, and it was the case when I adapted and optimized a mobile game at work to the web platform.
I used to worry that my skills and interest in graphic design would become irrelevant as I get older. But with this slow shift to UX, I know now that what I really love and am good at is solving problems, and graphic design just happened to be the vehicle in which I did it. So as long as there are problems in the world, I will have a way to make a living doing what I love.
4, 5, 11, 15, 17, 22.