Tag Archives: project



Start with the End in Mind

“I have an idea. Let’s play a game. A puzzle game. Or maybe a numbers game? How about a word game? Or a scavenger hunt?”

On my twenty-ninth birthday, I published the first post of the “A Number of Things” series on my blog, and I continued to post one every eleven days for twenty-nine more times. The original idea of the series was to conduct a “social experiment” (an item on my “Before 30” list) where I post my thoughts on certain topics, embed hidden puzzles in the posts, and have the audience participate and work together to solve puzzles while using my posts as a springboard to learn about one another’s approach to life.

In short, my goal was to connect with the world. I wanted to develop both a relationship between the audience and me as the content creator and a relationship among the audience members to discuss the content and to collaborate on solving the puzzles.

Like most of my goals, I started with the end in mind, and worked backwards to figure out the details, timeline, and the amount of work and planning I would need to do. Typically, it’s the most logical and efficient way to accomplish goals.

For this goal and this project, I knew that I wanted to 1) share thirty posts regarding my approach and philosophy to life as I see it at the moment, 2) plant clues to puzzles for the audience to find and try to solve, and 3) enhance both my posts and the clues by accompanying them with something visual and creative.

I started creating posts with the sincerest of intentions, but by the third post, I quickly realized that I may have bitten off more than I could chew. Creating each post took a lot of time from my day-to-day life. To raise the level of complexity and planning that it needed to be a world-connecting-fuzzy-feeling-creating project would take even more work than I could afford. Still, I had many reasons to continue with the project, and even though I just started at the time and had a long way to go, it was subconsciously important enough for me to see it through.

Fortunately, the three things I knew I wanted to do (thirty posts, hidden puzzles, and visual pieces) addressed other smaller goals I had. So I pivoted a little bit and readjusted my plan based on those new smaller goals so the project could be more manageable. So in that sense, starting with the end in mind proved effective in that it allowed me to use what I originally planned, and then repurpose them for similar goals if necessary, all without needing to start over or give up.

Looking back, the series captured a good collection of my ideas about life, and it proved out numerous design experiments I wanted to try. Even though I knew from the first post that the topic of this post would be “Start with the end in mind.”, I was for a large part (as I mentioned in the second post) making it up as I went. As a result, the journey was both trying and delightful at times.

Yet for many reasons, I’m glad I did it, and I must be grateful for the way that I did. I had a grand and ambitious idea, and I ran with it. Fortunately, it was the type of project where I could start from the end and work backwards to build out a plan. But if I encounter projects where planning backwards feel impractical, I can always take another of my own advice: start somewhere.


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Simplicity is Freedom

Simplifying for Efficiency

I learned about Getting Things Done through a SXSW podcast near the end of my college career. Being obsessed with organization and eagered to begin the next chapter of my life, I quickly adopted the system and have used it ever since.

Getting Things Done, or GTD, is a task management methodology created by David Allen that helps people manage every piece of incoming information, thought, and idea in order to achieve whatever they want to achieve. Instead of requiring the use of a dedicated tool or software, GTD is a set of principles that can fit different people’s particular task-management style; it could be set up with just a pen and paper, or it could live exclusively in a virtual environment, or it can be a mixture of both.

I am practically evangelical about GTD, even though I have yet to fully master it, as I had gone through multiple reincarnations of the system. I usually start with high hopes and create a sophisticated system to ensure I am functioning as best as I could. Inevitably, managing the system becomes a chore, leading me to revert to my old ways, slowly becoming unproductive, and then motivating me to start the GTD system back up again. With each generation, though, I learn a little from my previous attempt and resist setting up more functionalities than I typically need, like filling out project templates for every medium-to-large project I do and manually recording my weekly progress that I rarely retrospectively review anyway. With every GTD reboot, I aimed to simplify my system a little more, learning from past mistakes and avoiding overcomplicating the process.

Simplifying for Productivity

One GTD principle I find valuable is to break an action item down to smaller items if I seemed to be stuck or hesitating to begin. A task usually stalls when the goal is unclear or if it involves multiple steps that I have yet to realize or define. So what I often do when I hear myself say, “I’m not ready to do this yet” or “I don’t want to do this”, I asked myself a series of consecutive “Why?” questions to get to the real reasons I have yet to start on the task. To some people, a task like “Replace an old pair of shoes” involves just going to a shoe store and try out shoes they like. But for me, I would need to answer a list of my own questions, like “Why do I need new shoes?”, “Do I just want the same pair or different?”, “How different?”, “In what occasions do I want to wear these?”. These questions would help break down the task, defining my goals for the new shoes, setting a budget, researching different stores online, reading reviews, generating a shortlist of shoes available in my area to check out, and mapping out an itinerary for a half-day where I can try on the shoes. And if after a half-day of shoe shopping I still come home empty-handed, the process semi-starts again with more research, reviews, etc.

This may seem excessive, but it’s valuable and actually fun to ask myself “Why” and in the process learn about my own motivations and desires towards certain things in my life. And practically speaking, breaking down into actionable subtasks lowers mental hurdles and allows me to make progress quicker. And if during the “Why” questioning process, I have a lot of difficulty answering meaningfully, most likely the thing I wanted to do came from a passing feeling and had low priority, in which case I should drop or ignore it, and move on.

Simplifying for Mobility

As I entered my late twenties, I realized I needed to travel more. It would’ve been nice to travel with friends, but I was also okay traveling by myself. I just had to be careful and watch my own back and my own things. For this reason, I wanted to travel light.

I traveled many times with just one carry-on, and each time presented different needs. For a surf trip I needed an extra swim suit, for a “New Year’s in New York” trip I needed extra boots and nice New Year’s outfit, for a Little Big Trip around the world, I need ultra-versatile, quick-drying, lightweight clothing that work for a wide range of climates and occasions. Regardless of the needs, they all lead to the same problem: I always want to bring more than I can fit in the luggage.

This is why traveling with only one carry-on is an excellent exercise in figuring out what is important, both on the practical, trip level and the philosophical, “life” level. A common advice I hear on the Internet is that if you’re bring something “just in case,” you can probably leave it at home instead, and buy it at the destination if I really needed it. After a couple of times doing this, I began to realize that there is actually little that I really need, both on the trip and in life; everything else is a “nice to have” or “comfort” item. Having only one luggage allows me to be flexible, move quickly, and change plans at a moment’s notice because for the duration of your trip, your entire life is on your back. It also gives me less items to worry about, especially during transit.

Simplifying is Complicated

Being simple is often difficult. I adopted Getting Things Done because I literally wanted to get things done (and faster). The flexibility of the system led me to, for better or worse, experiment with task management styles, figuring out what works and what I could do without, simplifying with each reincarnation. But it takes time, experience, and trial-and-error. Ideally, I would like technology to reach a point where my task management system would just be something implemented in my brain, and the most important, appropriate thing I should be doing at any given moment has already been automagically defined, processed and filtered, entering into my consciousness right when I need it. But until then, I will continue to find the most simple but still valuable version of GTD that I can sustain using.

When I get ready for a trip, my imagination takes over and I think of all the things I could and want to do and therefore may need to bring. But I realized with each trip I take that I usually ended up taking it easy and decided to do less, which means some of the gear I brought would go untouched. So with each new trip, I try to be strict about each item I bring and ask my future vacationing self if I would really use it.

I had to do that with my six-week world trip, when the things I originally wanted to bring was over the capacity of my carry-on by half or even by one. I had to systematically fill the bag with the essential items first, and then one by one select the “nice to have” or “comfort” items to add to my bag. I made some sacrifices with a few pieces of clothing, meaning I had to wash my clothes on the trip more often. In the end, it worked out pretty well; I practically used everything I brought. If i had brought all the things I wanted to bring, carrying two bags instead of one, it would’ve been harder for me to maneuver at certain parts of my trip, and i would’ve enjoyed it less. Simplifying my “life,” in the form of my luggage, definitely yielded me more freedom to experience as much of the world as it can offer.


16, 23, 29



Always Keep Learning

Good Advice

By my senior year of college, I was beginning to keep up with the graphic design industry through blogs and podcasts. Occasionally, I would come across interviews of well-known designers talking about their design philosophies, including advice for new designers coming out of college. One advice that kept coming up from different designers was to always keep learning, even after school.

In their experience, sometimes newly graduated designers have the tendency to assume they know everything just because they completed their training at school and thought that they could take on any project and immediately excel at it. Even with just a few years of real-world experience myself, I would agree with the general sentiment as well. There is already so much I had discovered and experienced between graduation and now that I look at new grads the same way, sort of like how most adults feel about teenagers: foolish and naive. At the same time, I’m still relatively young (fortunately), so I’m sure more experienced professionals would probably feel similar about me (and rightly so).

So Many Things to Learn

Regardless of what stage you are in life, the important thing is to always have the appetite to learn. The subject matter could be an extension of what you studied or what your job needs, like new software and tools, or it could be a side passion of yours that you now have more time to explore, like cooking or new sports. It could even be as simple as consuming information, like following certain blogs, podcasts, or talks. Whatever it is, I believe that learning new things helps one become a more well-rounded member of society.

For me, since the last time I had been in school, I continued to teach myself programming languages, partly to set up my website for my career and partly for fun; I continued to work on improving my health by finding the right exercises and diet for my goals; I started learning new sports like surfing and snowboarding; I tried out different language learning programs in an attempt to be fluent in more foreign languages; and I explored my dancing abilities by joining local flash mob groups and performing in public spaces and planned events, including a wedding.

New Opportunities

The benefits of learning something new goes beyond just that thing you’re learning. It opens you up to opportunities to learn more things. Earlier in my college career, the teacher from one of my design classes shared with us a student discount for the subscription to the graphic design magazine Communication Arts. Subscribing to it led me to an article about the online personality Ze Frank. I became a fan of his creative, multimedia work, particularly his year-long vlog The Show. One of his episodes mentioned attending South by Southwest (SXSW), so I subscribed to the SXSW podcast and discovered a session covering the productivity methodology Getting Things Done (GTD). It revolutionized the way I work, and I now approach life with a better sense of purpose.

Also through Communication Arts, I encountered the article about Stefan Sagmeister’s class that focused on emotional connection through design. This helped shape the idea for the “thesis” project “Why Don’t We Care?” for one of my senior design classes. In the project, I also referenced Ze Frank and The Show.

At a higher level, I probably would have learned about some of these things in other ways, but it’s the progression of discoveries and the potential for serendipity that make this experience special and exciting. It also probably would have taken longer to discover.

Learning is Ongoing

It is worth noting that learning is always ongoing. New content may surface, existing information may become less important, and longstanding opinion may change. This is overall a good thing, because it usually means whatever you’re learning is improving itself, and by keeping up with it, you are improving as well.

This is important to me because 1) I often feel like I know the least out of everyone in most situation, and 2) I’m naturally curious and want to learn as much as I can about things that have the most of my attention. The fact that learning is ongoing sort of levels the playing field so those who are behind can try to catch up, and it helps satisfy my curiosity and feed my mind with more and newer content.


2, 3, 7, 11.

Dream Project of My Career

I just watched some On Demand programs promoting the Summer Olympics next month, and I was reminded of how much I am infatuated with the Olympics and the ideals and the visual branding campaigns that they’ve had (yes, including the London 2012 campaign by Wolff Olins).

I have long since dreamed to be a part of an Olympic Games visual branding team, preferably where the host city is in the States (although anywhere is totally fine with me; that way I get to take on the challenge and learn about other cultures). The Chicago 2016 campaign is too soon, and it seems like they’ve got it covered already, although they had to redesign their bid logo. So hopefully, 2024 or 2028, since 2020 is probably still too soon in my career.


Voting and Polling (Places Photo Project)

It’s probably annoyingly tiring to hear people say, “I voted!” today, so I won’t say it, even though you know what I did.

I Voted Sticker and my personal Access Code to the machines

For the past few days, I wondered if I should participate in the Polling Places Photo Project, organized this time by the New York Times and AIGA. The main reason for not doing it was that I was scared, scared that the poll workers would yell at me and kick me out, or that the other voters would feel uncomfortable with someone taking photos. But fortunately, that didn’t happen. The poll workers were very nice.

At first, there was some confusion about where I was in their roster since I registered “late.” But it got all cleared up and I painlessly cast my ballot on the fancy electronic ballot. Turns out that supposed iPod-like thing that I saw in the sample ballot was huge; I thought it was going to look like a BlackBerry and whatnot.

The electronic voting machine

Anyway, I didn’t take the photos of the space, but just the machines, because I was scared that other voters were uncomfortable, and I didn’t want to ask them personally for permission. I did ask for permission from the poll workers to take photographs, and I said that it was for a “national project” called the Polling Places Photo Project by the New York Times, but they didn’t seem to know about it. I mentioned “national” and “New York Times” just to gain some credibility that I’m not doing this just for myself or as some sort of partisan spy.

Three voting machines

I took a few pics of the machines and quickly left the polling place to take photos of the signage outside, which I believe are as important as the inside. (I guess I should mention now that (for the locals), I voted at Westborough Rec Building on Galway Place in South San Francisco. I looked up the city on the NYTimes site and they don’t have any photos from SSF posted, so I’ll see mine up there soon and hopefully, someone else will post theirs, too, especially someone who had the guts to photograph the space inside.)

Directional sign with orange cones

Here’s the farthest sign I found from the entrance. The cones were leading towards the alley-like path to the venue. Notice the yellow sign temporarily slipped between the rock things to let you know where to go.

Intentional directional sign

Here’s a more official, intentional sign for the event. (Same sign as the one off-right on the previous photo.)

Alley to the entrance

Here’s the alley that leads you to the entrance. It kinda made voting a shady thing where you go to the back of some building to do it.

Entrace of polling place

Here’s a Photomerged composition of the end of the alley and the entrance (Click here for the entire image). Lots of blue painter’s tape with information in three languages. I didn’t bother to read them; I don’t know who does/did. Nice touch with the American flag, with the blue painter’s tape.

So that concludes my voting experience for the presidential primary. I want to thank my old roommate Mike for informing me that citizens vote for the primaries, too, and making me register, because I probably would’ve been apathetic about it and wait for the candidates battle it out before I do it for sure in November.


My DIY Light Tent

My DIY Light Tent

Warning: Photo-Heavy Post.

As I continue the journey of putting my portfolio together, I realized more and more things that I need to do to have at least a decent, presentable portfolio. When school started again last Fall, Core77 posted a “Hack-2-School” Guide for design students. I read through it and found some pretty useful things, one of which is a light tent. We didn’t make light tents to photograph our class projects in Davis, and I really think the kids there should start doing that. I believe it improves the quality of your portfolio presentation, because how that design exists in its environment, in a three-dimensional world, matters as much as, if not more than, the design of the piece.

So ever since I read that post, I really wanted to make a light tent for myself, even if I only have two thin book things that I would photograph for the portfolio. I wanted to have it for future projects so I have less of an excuse to take pictures of whatever I will design for my portfolio and archive. So here’s an annotated photographic journey into the construction and testing of my DIY light tent. I pretty much followed the instructions from Instructable’s tutorial, with a few modifications.

The Construction

Box with two square holes.
Box with four square holes and bottom cut out

Cut squares from all four sides of the box as well as the bottom.

Exterior bottom taped

Tape the exterior bottom.

Interior bottom taped
Foam core to level the bottom

Tape the interior bottom. Put foam core or something with the same thickness of the cardboard to make the bottom even.

Black matte board as base
White matte board as base

Line the bottom with a black and/or white matte board to 1) level the bottom, and 2) serve as the base backdrop color in case the main backdrop is not large enough. I had a leftover matte board that’s black on one side and white on the other that I could use for both backdrop colors.

Tracing paper

Get three large pieces of tracing paper. The tutorial said to use something semi-transparent like Tyvek or whatever. Yeah, I’m not that fancy. I used tracing paper leftover from Art class. Cut each piece of the paper to the size of each of the frames.

Velcro dots at corners of tracing paper
Double Velcro dots

The tutorial said to just glue-stick the semi-transparent paper over three of the holes, leaving open the frame you’re going to photograph through. I’m adding an extra step here in case I want to use colored tissue paper or something in the future. Left: Put Velcro dots (they call them “coins”) at the corners of the tracing paper, but make sure those corners would go over the cardboard part of the frames and not where the holes are. Right: Get the opposite side of the Velcro dots and stick them to the first dots.

Velcro dots on the cardboard

With all corners “double-dotted,” hold the paper over one of the frames, stretching it flat, and stick the dots to the cardboard one by one. It’s better to start at the top corners first and stretch the paper downward.

Velcro dots at centers of the edge

Since my box was larger than the one in the tutorial, and that I didn’t just glue-stick the sides like in the tutorial, I noticed after the fact that the paper was still a little loose. So I added another dot in the centers of the top, left, and right sides of the frame. Gravity automatically pulls the bottom side down, so no Velcro dots there.

Tent in progress

Your tent should look something like this at this point.

Black and white paper for backdrop
Overlap paper to create one large sheet

Get large sheets of black and white paper for the main backdrop. Try to find paper that is long enough to cover a length that is the sum of the height of the tent and the length of the tent running from the front to the back. If not, use two pieces like I did; you just have to deal with the seams later on in Photoshop. You could also try using fabric. I might switch to fabric later on, but at this time, I couldn’t find any good, cheap ones that are not reflective. Left: Two black posterboards and two Bristol boards. These posterboards were not super black; they were as black as I could find, which means it’s another thing I have to deal with later on in Photoshop. Also, Bristol is good to use because it has a solid, low-to-no-texture, bright white color. Right: If you’re using two sheets, line them up and overlap one on top of the other.

Taping on the seam on the back side of the papers
Applying glue on the overlap

Left: Tape the back side to temporarily secure their overlap. Right: Fold one sheet over at the tape seam, and glue-stick the overlapping area.

Applying double dots on the paper and the back of the frame
A second Velcro dot on the paper

Left: Once you glued the two sheets together, do the double-dot thing at the center of the shorter edge of the sheet and stick a Velcro dot to the center of the top of the back frame. Right: This is an optional step: take another Velcro dot that’s the same side as the one on your backdrop sheet, and stick it a few inches from that spot. This will allow you to pull the sheet higher and make the curve at the bottom smoother.

Completed DIY Light Tent

And that’s how you make a low-budget DIY light tent!


First test of light tent with Velcro box

First test of the tent with the Velcro box as the subject.

Original photo with yellowed lighting

One thing I’ve discovered is that not everything is black and white even when you made it so. Here’s the photo from my camera.

Photoshopped photo made the lighting more neutral

Here’s the exact same photo, but I did an Auto Levels in Photoshop. This is not at all a surprise, but it’s just really interesting to see how different it can be and how yellow my light source is.

Close up of the Velcro box in the black-backdrop tent. Auto Levels'd.

A close up of the Velcro box without the frame. Also Auto Levels’d.

Close up of the Velcro box in the white-backdrop tent. Auto Levels'd.

Here’s the white backdrop. Auto Levels’d.

The following three pairs of photos show the difference between using one light source and using two.

Light tent with one light source
Light tent with two light sources

Book lit on black backdrop, one light source
Book lit on black backdrop, two light sources

Book lit on white backdrop, one light source
Book lit on white backdrop, two light sources

The differences aren’t too noticeable here, but that’s because I haven’t really experimented with the light source, yet. Side note: that book is my “Why Don’t We Care?” book that I made for class almost a year ago, refined and “professionally” printed and bound.

Light source at the bottom
Light source near the top

One of the problems with my black backdrop is that it’s not black enough. Whenever a light source gets too close, it starts turning brown in the photo. Here, the two photos compare the differences between placing the light source near the bottom and placing it near the top. Placing it at the top also illuminated the subject a lot better.

Close up of the book, Photoshopped

Here’s a close up of the book, Photoshopped.

Opened book

There’s me holding the book while the tripodded-camera took the photo with the ten-second timer. You should see my stance as I tried to position the book so that the pages didn’t glare and that I wouldn’t bump the camera with my chest, all the while holding still before the timer goes off. But I think that was worth it, because this is pretty much why I wanted to build the tent: to show book pages the way they’re meant to look, curved like real pages, with a gutter, maybe with hands to show the scale and the way it’s handled.

Black backdrop easily scratched by finger nails.

An extra advice for those building the tent: make sure your black/dark paper doesn’t scratch that easily (or just try to not scratch your paper). Mine’s already shown signs of wear created by my recently-cut fingernails when I was holding the book open.

Photo of flourescent tube light on the white backdrop

And an extra photographic treat: a portable fluorescent tube light on the white backdrop. It’s going to be fun experimenting with this tent.

Here’s the link to the tutorial if you’re too lazy to scroll up. Instructables—Super Simple Light Tent.

And I found this link yesterday on Core77. Just when I make something new, other people make it a lot better.

If any of you are going to make a light tent of your own, please show me photos (completed and/or in-progress) so I can see what other people are doing/using to make this tent!