Category Archives: 30 Things

20

img780

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.

19

img450

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

18

img360

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.

17

img360

Perfection is Only a Guide.

In my senior year of high school, I was voted Perfectionist. I was sort of proud of being one, as annoying as it was for everyone around me. I fondly remember that every year all my textbooks were wrapped in the same way with brown paper grocery bags, marked and labeled in a consistent, branding-like format, which also applied to my matching binders. I had a vision for how certain things should be, and I did everything I can, even at the expense of my time and energy and my friends’ patience to achieve it.

Since then, through countless trials and errors in life, and partial successes and failures, I’ve come to realize that perfection is rarely needed in most tasks in life, and it usually has a low return on investment, offsetting any happiness I’d gain because of how much more work it needs. Therefore, I’ve accepted many realities of life and have become more laid back about a lot of things, especially when they are out of my control. It also took away some of the stress I had been carrying constantly.

The drive is still there; my vision is still there. This is undoubtedly true at work, where my eye for visual and experiential detail as a UI and UX designer is sharper than ever. And because I work in very fast-paced situations, I have also learned to better discern which less-than-perfect detail should be fixed and which are “shippable” due to time and/or resources. It’s a compromise, but it still reaches the highest possible level of quality based on the given circumstances, and that’s how I approach what I do these days. Perfection is a fantasy, but “really really really good” is still achievable. As long as I shoot for the moon, I will still be among the stars, as they say.

So for things that I can control, I still want the best that I can get. I still have visions to make my home look like they do in home decor magazines and catalogs. I still have a vision of being in the best physical health that I can possibly get. I still have a vision of being the best human being that I can be to my world and to the world. I want to live my best life.

See

1, 3, 16, 25.

16

img_195_b

I Do What I Need to Sleep at Night

The Origin

A few years ago, I attended a Financial Planning Day event to learn how to manage my money. Despite hearing advice for many years to start saving for retirement early, I had been putting it off because it all felt very complicated. But as I headed deep into the second half of my twenties, I knew I knew I had to start getting my finances in order.

One of the financial planning concepts repeated many times at the event was to invest retirement fund in a combination of stocks and bonds, and that young people should be more aggressive and invest more in stocks than bonds, because stocks can grow more than bonds, though they are more risky. Being young risk-averse, how aggressive and at what percentage of stocks should I invest? The answer, also repeated many times at the event, was, “Whatever you need to sleep at night.”

That advice unleashed the power and motivation for me to actively take charge of my finances. Eventually, it spread to the other areas of my life, because after all, from a day-to-day perspective, that’s what really matters: What will it take to give me a peace of mind every day, to reach the lowest level of continuous stress and worries, allowing me to spend my time being happy and enjoying things that I like?

Making Up for Past Mistakes

To start, I forgot to add something to the photo in a previous Thing, so to satisfy my need to complete what I started, I had to create a way to make that up. It’s less than ideal (which would be to do it right the first time), but I’m accepting the facts and doing what I can to make it work. This has little effect on my sleep, but I do think about it often enough while I’m awake.

Inbox Zero

As I strong advocate for GTD, I try to write actionable thoughts down as soon as I have them so I can free up my memory for other, potentially more important thoughts. There’s more achieving a free-mind than writing things down, but it gets me more than half way there. Therefore, knowing I am on top of my life helps me sleep at night.

Taking Care of Myself

Instead of waiting longer for my recent (and still happening now) toothache to go away, and knowing how excruciating toothaches could get, I called my dentist the second day of the toothache and saw him the next day. Knowing it was just a minor issue that will go away in a few days helped me sleep at night. Ice packs and painkillers helped with the rest.

Click for full size

anot16-150113

See

2, 9, 17, 25.

15

img30

The Olympics is My Life Inspiration

In the year 2000, I was watching the closing ceremony of the Sydney Summer Olympics when the president of the IOC admired the spirit of the Australian people and said in a monotone voice, “Aussie, Aussie, Aussie.” to which the crowd instead responded in three simple but enthusiastic grunts, “Oy! Oy! Oy!”

I always go back to that moment whenever I think about how passionate a united group can be. This is what I want to see in the world.

The Olympics is one of the few times in life where the world peacefully gathers in one place, both physically and virtually, to celebrate the best of humanity (by having people in their best physical and mental shape show us how much more we humans can push our limits). It was such a powerful symbol to my fifteen-year-old self that I had remained optimistic to this day (and foreseeably for the rest of my life) about the future of human race.

Ever since then, I had become more fascinated by everything about the Olympics: the human stories, the history of past Games, the bidding process, the mascots, the opening and closing ceremony, the lighting of the cauldron, etc. As someone interested in graphic design, I absorbed as much content as possible related to the visuals: the logo and branding, the medals and their traditions (the medals from every Summer Games are the same on one side, whereas the Winter Games medals are more open to different designs), the pictograms, and the torch and cauldron designs.

The Sydney Olympics was the first time I was opened to the world. In school, my social studies teacher created a special unit on Australia to go with the Olympics. And the TV coverage painted a very beautiful and inspirational picture of Sydney and Australia, with the iconic images of the Opera House with the Harbor Bridge, the Outback and Uluru, with the aboriginal people and the sounds of the didgeridoo, and the native animals of the kangaroo and the koala. At fifteen, I had come to believe this is what the real world feels like and that it is waiting for me to join it.

Finally, four years and a week ago, after ten years of making that wish, I finally got to visit Australia. I even got to count down and watch the fireworks off the Harbor Bridge and in Sydney Harbor on New Year’s Eve. A panoramic photo of my view that day still hangs above my bed. In terms of the Olympic park and stadium, I missed my chance to visit them, but it will definitely be on my itinerary next time I’m in Australia.

In my recent travels, though, I visited the Olympic parks and stadiums of the two most recent Summer Games (Beijing and London). I also checked out the site of the current (and future) Olympic stadium in Tokyo. I hope I can return in five and a half years and attend my first opening ceremony. I would also like to volunteer at a Summer Games someday and be a part of history. Depending on the host city, maybe 2024 will be the year.

See

4, 10

14

img3696

3:22

It’s about time that I talk about Time
And its kaleidoscopic quality.
For one, I know I should, while in my prime,
Live life with purpose (less frivolity).
A pain can worsen by the second’s tick,
Yet wounds are healed as years and days go by.
I love when I have time to choose and pick
To plan, to think, to practice and to try.
I like to strike with excellence and speed,
But hate to rush and skip and compromise.
It happens often still, which means I need
To be a friend of Time’s and optimize
My schedule to my wants and needs somehow.
To live my life, at best, the time is now!

See

2, 8, 21.

13

img1848

Don’t Reinvent the Wheel.

I was cleaning out old boxes at home and saw my notes from when I just graduated from college and began preparing for my job search. Seeing them reminded me of how I went through countless iterations of résumé layout designs. Since many of my school assignments were to redesign logos, websites, and other works, I naturally thought I needed to do the same with résumés. I know now that it was excessive; of all the places I should exhibit my design sensibilities and talent, the résumé was hardly the first.

With the portfolio, however, I had more freedom to express myself, though that may be a challenge as well. Ever since I was young, I learned to code web pages from scratch. Using the same approach, I tried to build my web site and portfolio by hand-coding everything so I could also display my skills outside of visual design. I created many custom one-off functions and scripts even though there were better versions out there. In the end, I realized that the necessary code was more complex than I could handle, so I had to leverage the existing web-building platforms out there to take care of the back-end and allow myself to focus on the visual portion of the site.

Now with a few years into my career, I’ve learned that the best solutions to tasks like these should have a balance between being effective and being efficient. As a UX designer in a gaming company, I always try to approach problems by critically looking at the fundamental issue and work my way up to a low-cost, high-reward solution. Sometimes, that may be seem excessive for the more minor problems, where the best solution may just be the obvious one. But this approach more accurately determines whether I need to come up with an innovative solution, or if I could use existing, proven work and save time from reinventing the wheel.

See

11, 18, 25.

12

img4620

In the past few years, I’ve strived to be a more positive person, and in doing so, I’ve become very thankful (and more frequently) for practically everything that exists in the world. In addition to the usual things most people are thankful for, like family and health, which are important, I am also thankful for the experiences and opportunities that I’ve had in my life so far. I am glad to have grown up in a culture of many freedoms, including independent thinking, and I’m glad to have had the exposure earlier in my childhood to a different culture where such freedoms are limited or lacking.

I am thankful to have the ability to live independently in a place and in a city that fit my needs and style. I am thankful for where I’ve gotten in my young career so far, to be working in a profession that I’m passionate about and to do it with people I enjoy working with. And I am thankful for the opportunity, the resources, the support, and the courage to go on a little world trip the way I wanted and return safely and with the desire to do more trips like this in the future.

My trip around the world has shown me more clearly the things I am most thankful for and the things I’ve taken for granted. Honestly, there are lists of sublists of things to thank, which I will share at another time, but the general categories are: my gear, the people, the places, and the countless events that make the trip go the way it did. So, as I’ve mentioned before, it’s practically everything.

Being thankful reminds me of all the things I have had and have experienced in my life up to this point as well as the things that I can have and experience in the future. Seeing how far I’ve gotten so far gives me hope that anything is possible; it makes me optimistic and it motivates me about all the other things I could accomplish and experience.

See

18

11 (Day 111)

img2926

<!– //–>

<p>I first learned about web design and programming in sixth grade. It was rea</p><p>lly basic HTML along with some sort of image editing s<br />oftware that created “J-P-E-G”s and gifs. Marrying my logical and <br />visual sides, this was the perfect medium for me to g<br />et into. Turning pure text into stylized text and shapes of differen</p><p>t colors is a beautiful type of magic that filled my brain with j<br />oy and wonder. My teacher Ms. Trask saw that I clear</p><p>ly excelled in it so for Christmas, she gave me a “T<br />each Yourself HTML 3.2 in 24 Hours” book (with CD-ROM!). There w<br />as a lot of material to cover, and some went ove<br />r my head, like the section about creating forms that i<br />nvolves back-end processes and services, which as a soo</p><p>n-teen, I clearly lacked access to. Regardless, I would sp<br />end most of my free time at the computer making <br />web pages, one better and more complex than the one before, and usually on one of </p><p>the many GeoCities accounts I’d created. Since then, I <br />had always assumed I would learn to really code someday and become an expert at both des<br />ign and programming. But visual design had <br />naturally became a greater focus, and programming had only become a <br />good-to-know. After college, I had the opportunity to work with the <br />startup Portal A as a contract designer of sorts<br />, and I designed the company’s first logo and we</p><p>bsite. It was the first time I had worked with PHP and jQ<br />uery, and while it was exciting to realize the powers of these two languages, I also started <br />to feel overwhelmed by the pressure of having to learn very quickly on the job </p><p>in my first professional project. When the opportunity to extend my role beyond the initia</p><p>l contracted project (logo and website), I had to decline for the benefit of the c<br />ompany and for the stability of my young career. When the iPhone de<br />velopment platform came out, I had high hop<br />es for things I could cr</p><p>eate. For two or three times in the past fi<br />ve years or so, I had tried to learn Objectiv<br />e-C and iOS development, but the la<br />nguage and structure was too different fro</p><p>m what I was used to, and without an actual and small pr<br />oject to work on, there was little motivation or di<br />rection to learn anything that I could practically us<br />e. So in the past year or so, I finally realized tha</p><p>t despite my seemingly unlimited ambit<br />on and excitement over every new s</p><p>kill I come across, there is only a limited amount of time I have and there are certain<br />n areas that I truly excel at. It is up to me to decide if I should continue and take the time t<br />o learn and master, or move on to another activity and discover ne<br />w things about myself. </p><p>Wit<br />h web and visual des<br />ign, I feel the level of <br />challenge is right where I need it to be, and wit<br />h programming, it is something that </p><p>I am glad to have a s<br />mall foundation in, and it is somethin</p><p>g I would pull out of my back pocket when necessa<br />ry, but for now, I will keep it as a side skill and def<br />er to the pros when it matters most. I pl<br />an to continue to keep up wi<br />th it once in a while and m</p><p>aybe learn a lit<br />tle more whenever I can<br />.

See

13.