Monthly Archives: February 2015

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Early Start

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.

See

4, 5, 11, 15, 17, 22.

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Movies are Awesome

I love movies. They do a much better job at conveying emotions and experiences to me than other media like music or prose. And it’s almost magical how they can tell so many different types of stories (action, drama, comedy, romance, documentary, etc.) just by arranging images and sound in a certain way.

For me, I particularly love movies that are inspirational, are philosophical, and/or use time as a major element in the story. Two of my favorite movies (franchises) are The Matrix and Back to the Future. Most people would say they like “the original Matrix” or “the western one” (Back to the Future, Part 3) and dismiss the other two. I, on the other hand, must consider all three movies together as one unit and appreciate how each movie help make the entire franchise great.

This past year, I watched two Richard Linklater projects: the “Before” movies (Before Sunrise, Before Sunset, and Before Midnight), and Boyhood. They tell two different stories, but they both explore the intricate complexities of how people change over a long period of time. It fascinates me because it’s the core of how I view my life.

Special Me

When I was young, I thought I was special. I thought that because my thoughts and ideas were the only ones I know about and I also happen to agree with most of them, I was a genius and a very important person, worthy to have my life written about and a movie made about me. I conducted my life with this belief in mind, being particular about everything I do, sometimes narrating in my head, imagining scenes using my eyes as camera lenses. I collected and documented my things along the way so researchers and historians can dissect them like archaeologists, making educated guesses about what I was thinking at the time, and constructing timelines based on these findings.

I still live my life this way as an adult but in a more “grown-up” and realistic approach. Since biographies of great people in the world are still written, I continue to document and date my stuff “just in case.” Conveniently, this also proved practical when I try to remember why I make certain decisions at different times in my life. It’s like I’m my own historian.

Generally, movies are contained in neat little packages, starting with a goal or purpose and ending with some form of resolution for that goal or purpose. It certainly feels good to bring closure at the end of the movie, regardless of whether I agree with the ending. With life, however (and also in the movie Boyhood a little bit), the goals and purpose are more open-ended, and it’s harder to move forward when something still needs to be completed. That’s why I wish my life is more like a movie, and I set it up to behave like one as much as I can.

See

6, 17

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Positivity Frees Me to Live My Best.

First Big Failure at Positivity

I began my freshman year of college with the goal to be happy in life. I even posted a handwritten sign in my new dorm room that read, “Be happy.” with a smiley face on each side. It was mostly a well-intentioned goal with very little strategy to achieve it. I thought that just thinking those two words was all I needed to achieve a happy life. But after months of doing that and failing again and again, I fell into some type of self-diagnosed depression that took me a year and a half to fully get out of.

A More Practical Challenge to Be Positive

In my post-college job search, I came across the advice to always communicate to potential employers in a positive manner, both in writing and in speech. This seems very obvious now, but it felt like a radical idea then. To turn any sort of potentially negative thing about my job history or competence into a positive trait felt game-changing. Sure, it was difficult at first to shift my thinking. But by learning to catch myself every time I had a negative thought and turning it around, I was able to naturally apply this thinking in both my professional and personal life. Now whenever I encounter a difference in opinion with someone on a particular topic, I can more easily stay open-minded, avoid immediately defending my side, and try to understand from their point of view.

Changing Habits

When I was in middle school, I learned to be sarcastic and loved using it as my humor of choice. But since I was also very literal and logical, people sometimes confuse my sarcasm as my real feelings, especially in online conversations, so I came off as serious or arrogant. I struggled with this well into my twenties until I decided, as part of my goal to think positively, to stop using it in most of my jokes, and to reserve it only for people I am very close with and only when it is completely understood that I am just joking and that I mean well. As a result, I feel that the relationships with people around me are healthier, especially when they are free of worries that what I say may be misunderstood as insults or destructive criticism.

Avoiding “not”

In recent years, I also made my best effort to dramatically reduce the use of the word “not” (and “no”, “nothing”) from any sort of serious, professional, formal, or “recorded” forms of communication. I did this partly because when I reread work emails, I sound like such a downer, simply because of all the “not”s! I know that “not” can still be used describe something positive and that there are other ways to be negative than using “not”. But to me, it’s an effective exercise to pivot negative ideas. Sure, it may take more time and words to circumvent around the idea to avoid using “not”, which is why I still use it when I need to communicate quickly, but the practice is paying off as I’ve gotten better at communicating more positively and constructively over time.

While I want to say that every post of A Number of Things is free of the word “not” and any of its variations, I noticed that a few of the earliest posts as well as 9 used that word many times. (To be fair, I wrote 9, along with 7, 8, and 10, during my Little Big Trip around the world, so I had less time to “positivity filter” what I wrote.) Still, I wrote the rest of the posts with a very active effort to stay as “not”-free as I can. “Don’t Reinvent the Wheel” from 13 is an exception because it’s a common phrase. I actually thought about “positivizing” it but that would go against the very message I wanted to express; I would be reinventing the wheel.

On Positivity and Negativity

Of course, there is plenty of bad things happening in the world. But there are also good. To quote one of my favorite movies/series, The Matrix Revolutions, when the Oracle tells Neo about the antagonist Smith, “He is you, your opposite, your negative, the result of the equation trying to balance itself out.” There will always be bad things where there are good things.

Assuming we want to be the good, the question becomes: how do we want to interact with the bad? By villifying, mocking, and attacking the enemy and rejoicing at their failures? Or by showing through example that positivity does more people more good? This may seem too idealistic for global human crises in today’s world, but is it better to think more like “an eye for an eye”?

To illustrate this point, this video came just in time. This is my favorite Super Bowl commercial this year:

See

1, 3, 6, 9, 10, 12 17, 22.