Tag Archives: What Am I Doing?

What Am I Doing? (Apr 2009)

There’s little to update for this month. It’s what you may say a transition period of things that have happened and of things to come. I’m trying to wrap up the final behind-the-scenes stuff with Portal A before I move into a different stage of this freelance life. But this transition period will be no different from any other time of my life; I will be busy busy busy trying to get through the thousands of next-actions from my 100+ projects list.

Just another plug for my client: if you need some video work done, check them out. They’re also looking for an intern for the summer. No coffee runs; real chance to do actual work.

Quote I Go By Lately

“Don’t Live in a Design Bubble.” —Me, to myself.


What Am I Doing? (Mar 2009)


Things are going well with my freelance project. We’re pretty much wrapping up with the foundation of the site, with a few more adjustments and fixes. Hopefully, in the coming weeks, I’ll be able to present it here with some process work.


I finally had some time to revamp my GTD system, and it seems to be working better than before. I basically digitized my projects list and actions so that they’re easier to look through (and therefore, less intimidating for me to review and organize). There are still parts of the system that I need to streamline, but things are definitely more efficient already.


I recently started using a public Twitter account. My username is ivanwlam, and you’re welcome to follow me if you want. So far, some of the “famous” people I’ve followed include David Allen (the GTD Guy), Ze Frank, swissmiss, Armin and Bryony at Under Consideration, and TED.


Me. Me. Me. The fact that I forgot to mention that I went to watch my friend Sam Sellers talentedly compete at the SF stop of the Cut&Paste; Competition Tour is unacceptable. Long story short, Sam did a great job and was robbed of his first prize. I love the piece he did for the first round, which was (and will be again) my Facebook profile photo.


Something happened in the past week that retriggered and intensified my motivation to advance my career and my life as soon as possible. I can’t go into the details, but I now have a stronger desire to be independent and self-sufficient and to take control of my own life. So hopefully, in the coming months, I will have more exciting things to report.

Really Simple Designer Web Comic

Within the past month, I ended one blog and started another. Really Simple Designer Web Comic was an experiment to create a daily web comic starring Point, Line, and Plane. Every start of the day, I take about half an hour coming up with a concept and quickly draw a comic for the next day on my Wacom tablet. The idea of this project was to become more comfortable with my tablet, and I definitely am now. I ended it after two months because it was taking too much time of my day and the creative juices just weren’t flowing as fluidly as I’d like.

One Per Day

One Per Day is a much simpler project. Every day, I post about the day before, using only one word or phrase as the title of the post, and only one sentence describing the day. This keeps my post lengths short and to the point. It’s sort of a practice for me to pack as much content and meaning into one word and one sentence as I could, instead of dragging on and on about an incident (which I tend to do quite often… like right now).

The idea for One Per Day originated from a revisit to Ze Frank’s The Show, which indirectly kept a record of Ze’s personal life and experiences behind the scenes during its running. I have tried to keep a record of my life ever since I could write and had self-awareness. I used to write by hand with special notebooks and special pencils, and then switched to LiveJournals for a while, then to design blogs with monthly reviews (like this one).

But all these posts were taking too much time of my life to sustain, as I write really long posts, usually about now-apparently trivial things, and I wouldn’t want to return to them if I wanted to recall events of my life at the time.

One Per Day reaches a compromise between wanting to document every experience of my life and cutting down the number of words that I would have to read later on. One year from now, the individual events that happen every day will mean very little to me. In the end, a day is just a day, even on special occasions. What’s more important is the overall mood.

I just started blogging on One Per Day on WordPress (my new friend, perhaps my fortune cookie best friend?), and I haven’t gotten to redesigning it. But the presentation is going to be more streamlined and intuitive. Subscribe to the feed, and stay tuned.

Quotes I Go By Lately

“A day is a day. Every event, however trivial, will, by definition, influence and change the rest of my life.”

“Keep it simple (and easy), stupid.”


What Am I Doing? (Feb 2009)

What am I doing? Not blogging here, obviously. Not a single blog since my last update. As I’m writing this, I am in the middle of a semi-deadline to get my client’s site up and ready to go because they’re going to a convention in a few days and passing out business cards that I designed, and leading them to the site that I also designed. (I just realized how I don’t like saying that I designed these things because it really was more of a collaboration, and I just happened to be the one who knows how to use the tools the most.)

It’s been almost three months since I’ve learned about this project and met these awesome people that are my client. And mostly it’s been an exciting and a great learning experience for me. I sort of wish I will always have clients like these in the future. And every day, I become more comfortable and have a better idea with what I want to do, at least for the next few years. I enjoy waking up every day, looking forward to do something that I love.


Since my last monthly update, I had left my job at Peet’s. It was probably a good time to have done so, both in the short term and long term. Because soon after my last shift, I put this freelance project into full gear and started working on it almost every day, putting in more hours than at Peet’s. As I had said before, some things took longer than I expected. Had I kept working both “jobs,” I’d still be sketching the layout for the site or, perhaps more likely, I would have been fired by my client!

I probably went through a week or two of old job withdrawal. I liked my job at Peet’s; I really enjoyed working with the people and seeing the regulars. It was a real bittersweet moment to have left that job. Only a few days ago did I notice how I don’t really remember how it feels to steam milk or pull shots. Ever since I left Peet’s, I had devoted my life into this freelance project; I literally couldn’t imagine working at the bar. I still love the people, no doubt, and I wish I could see them more often (if I could get over the awkwardness of going back to my old workplace).

The Future (Always Thinking About the Future)

As I’ve learned to enjoy my new “job,” my mind became more free to think about the possibilities of where I could go. It’s probably okay to say it here since my family doesn’t read this, but I’ve been thinking about moving south. And by “south,” the range spans from the South Bay, near the San Jose area, to SoCal, around L.A. and San Diego. I want to do it mainly for independence, and also for the weather. But what’s as important, if not more, is my career. If there’s a job that’s fit for me all the way in the East Coast, I wouldn’t mind giving that a try. My family’s probably not so keen of that idea, but it wouldn’t be the end of the world for them.

A “Historic Moment”

I’ve been so engulfed by this project that I haven’t really had the time to digest the fact that we’ve just witnessed what so many people apparently without a thesaurus have described as a “historic moment” in the country. It still hasn’t fully hit me yet, just as it hadn’t hit me eight years ago with the previous administration change. There are moments, though, where I realize that this man is our president.
Right now though, it seems that none of that matters. It must be a sobering feeling for him and everyone that the world and its problems don’t stop for this “historic moment.” (Maybe for a day, but that day has passed.) It’s time to get to work, employed or unemployed.


What Am I Doing? (Jan 2009)

Happy new year, all. The holiday season is behind us, and as much as I had enjoyed it, I’m glad to be at the start of the new year with a few optimistic things to look forward to.

Freelance Client

The project with the freelance client is still in progress and is still very exciting. One thing I learned from being a freelancer is that it’s almost an art to have to know how much time tasks actually need to get done. I haven’t done enough freelancing at this point to provide a more accurate estimate of time required to do a project, and it’s easy to imagine an overall picture of the steps in my head, but it’s something else to actually do them. That’s why I feel bad sometimes (or often) because my current client needs the project completed ASAP, but it’s taking longer than I expect to churn out results. But one of the things that are motivating me to continue is my vision of how it’s going to look and function when it’s up and running.

Last Week of Peet’s

Next week will be my last week at Peet’s. It’s almost a bittersweet departure. Half of me knows I’m going to miss it, and the other half is glad to be moving on. The past few weeks, I feel that I’ve dramatically improved at the bar, and all I wanted to do my whole shift is to make drinks for customers. It’s like I’ve finally gotten used to how things work there and I’m just working like a well-oiled machine. But, I don’t want to get too comfortable to the point where the quality of my service and product goes down and I get stuck, which is why I needed to leave.

This job has not been all for nothing, though, and I never thought it was. This has been an excellent environment to learn about teamwork, customer service, multi-role relationships, and immediate problem solving. I would not learn anything like this or to this extent in an office environment. Of course, the office environment has another set of valuable skills that one would learn. So when you think about it, in a way, I’m glad that I took this chance to work in a fast-pace, high-volume, not always predictable retail environment before I presumably move to a more “corporate” or business-oriented world for the rest of my career.


2009 seems like a great chance for improvement, in all fronts, no matter what the news says. As usual, I always see the future as a positive time to spend the rest of our lives.

Quote of the Moment

“The world is not waiting for you.”


What Am I Doing? (Nov 2008)

End of the Year, End of an Experience

In the past month, Peet’s had been getting ready for the holiday season with special blends of coffees, teas, candies, chocolates, drinks, promotions, etc. And that has gotten me into the holiday spirit earlier than usual. But it also serves as a daily reminder that this is the grand finale of my employment at Peet’s, after which I will hopefully be working somewhere that has more relevance with design and/or environmental issues.

Having said that, I’m beginning to make some progress with my portfolio site. The structure of the site is pretty much set; I just needed to fine-tune the content. Once that is done, I could move on to other areas of the site, including this blog.

Good Will Hunting

A few nights ago, I caught the latter two-thirds of the 1997 movie Good Will Hunting. I probably haven’t seen it for seven or eight years, and I noticed a few new things that I hadn’t before. (One would be the frequent use of the late Elliott Smith’s music throughout the film.) I also couldn’t believe how young and thin Matt Damon and Ben Affleck looked. It’s one of those things where you can’t believe how fast ten years go by, yet so much had happened.

I find this movie more relevant to me now than seven or eight years ago because of where Matt Damon’s character, Will, was in his life. While I can’t say that I am just like Will, we both have something that we’re good at and we both have the potential to succeed.

The problem is that we don’t know what we should do for the rest of our lives, or that we’re afraid to figure that out. And as Robin Williams’s character pointed out after Will’s monologue of all the bad things that would happen if he had taken a government job cracking some enemy code, Will is so bright that he thinks ten or twenty steps ahead and would envision a bad outcome, resulting him to not act, to stand still, and to not go anywhere in life, something that I can relate ever since I became self-conscious.

Current Plan

This movie made me realize that while I cannot confidently decide right now which of the two or three of my desired paths would be best for me in life, I should start at one of them. If I end up not liking it, or that I get bored with it, I can move on, while I’m still young and unattached. One thing I like about being me is that I have so many ideas about the things that I’m passionate about, but at the same time I don’t like that part of me who doesn’t have time to pursue all of them. If I explore one idea, ten more will emerge, but I become frustrated and I wouldn’t be able to get to them in a timely fashion.

With that in mind, I have more or less an idea of what I want to be doing in the coming year. If that doesn’t work out, I would have a few back-up plans, and that should probably last for two, three good years.


What Am I Doing? (Oct 2008)

Web Languages

As I had posted in the past few entries, I’m teaching myself the relatively basic web programming languages by working on my site, mostly the portfolio section. I’ve conducted a couple experiments to get a better understanding and grip of these languages. Learning Cookies, Ajax, and PHP has been very exciting and has stirred up project ideas.

Every day I wish I would have enough energy after work to work a little bit on my site or an experiment. I could see myself doing this as a career, although I haven’t been with the big kids yet, so troubleshooting one line in the haystack of hundreds that others have written might make me think otherwise. Still, it’s exciting when things work the way you want it to, and that might make it all worth it.

Economy and Job

So the economy’s not doing so well. Just when you think you’re at the bottom, you’re wrong. This isn’t really affecting me as directly as other Americans, since I don’t intend to buy a house or borrow large sums of money in the near future.

But when others suffer, we might, too. I’m talking specifically about companies’ ability (or inability) to keep their finances in the black, which may require them to lay off some employees, employees who might now compete with me in the job market, or employees whose positions that I desire but seize to exist because they’re laid off.

So that makes me reconsider the length of my employment at Peet’s. But then again, if I worry too much, which I probably already have, I won’t get anywhere.


What Am I Doing? (Sept 2008)


It is discovered and decided that I will be working at Peet’s for only four more months, through the holiday season. Hopefully, this gives me a sense of having a deadline again and I can get more things done.


I don’t know if I had made it clear a couple of posts ago that I love the Olympics, but I do. Not only did I enjoy racing home from work to watch Olympic history being made, but I was also impressed with the level of detail with which the Beijing team executed the events and their appearance in the world.

The opening and closing ceremonies were the best ever in my opinion, but not only that, it makes me want to take part in performances like those for a living, mainly in the planning and conceptual stage. This goes beyond “graphic design,” but I never said I am interested in graphic design alone. It’s times like this that lift my spirits and believe the best of days is always ahead of us.

Beta Portfolio

I’ve been working on the portfolio section for the past few weeks, and now I’m working on the coding before I pump out the images and make the link available, although you can still access it by manually entering the URI based on the site’s navigation. Constructive feedback is always appreciated.


With a four-month timeframe in place, I now have a sense of what I’m doing in the near future. After that though, I don’t know. I’ve been revisiting the idea of a road trip a lot, and it seems like there’s no better time than the present (or asap, e.g. four months from now). I would have some money saved up, and either get on a train or drive myself across the country, maybe with a friend or two.

I might have a revelation in the four-month period and know for sure which path I want to go on after Peet’s. It might not be far from what I had been planning all along; it could be a regular graphic design job right here in the Bay Area, or it might be somewhere in the East Coast. Or, I could be in Asia, or Africa, or Europe, following some hint of an opportunity that is remotely related to design and more related to the environment or humanitarian work.


What Am I Doing? (Aug 2008)

I had been away from work for 44 hours since the evening of 8/8/08. Of all those 44 hours (except for when I was sleeping), there was not one where I didn’t think about the Olympics: trying to find amazing images of the already amazing opening ceremony, checking the TV schedule for the next exciting sports event, channel-hopping among sister networks, and looking up Olympic facts of past and future (and present) Games.

But when I came into work yesterday, it was as if I had stepped into a different world. Most people would probably call it the normal world, or the real world. Other than the newspaper front page photo of the relatively less inspiring Olympic Cauldron (compared to the ceremony performances), there was no mention of the Olympics in the store whatsoever.

I was surprised for a moment. I was reminded that the world doesn’t revolve around an event that features the best of the world. Random stabbings still occur; political conflicts are still initiated; extramarital affairs are still exposed; and entertainers still pass away. Those credit card and home improvement store commercials about the country’s best athletes being ordinary people, or ordinary people being the country’s best athletes painted a rosy and emotional picture for me not about what life could be, but what life actually is, except that it’s not entirely true. Silly me for being fooled and tear-jerked by marketing and advertisers.

Watching the Games on TV, commentators tell brief stories about some of the athletes, about how they were not completely ready in their previous Olympic performances four years ago when they were just mid-teens, and then about how they would be too old four years from now when they are in their mid-twenties.

That got me thinking about my accomplishments in life and in the world so far. Since I had recently spent a birthday in my “early” twenties, I feel like I haven’t done much compared to those athletes. But it’s not like I haven’t done anything for my life and my future. In the past few months, I’ve tried to be more productive while holding a non-design job. I also had a chance to figure out what I really enjoy in design and in life.

In the past few days, for example, I was able to reaffirm that, for whatever reason, I am very passionate about the Olympics. For me as a designer, it goes beyond the logo design and the branding strategies. It’s not about medal count, and it’s not really about which country is hosting it. It’s about the simple ideals of siblinghood and global unity, of striving for the best of and improving ourselves, and of spreading humanity, love, peace, fairness, and hard work, etc. to as many people and minds in the world as possible.

These are some things that motivate and inspire me to do better and work harder in life. They keep my hopes up and make me believe that everything will be just fine in the end. This month, I am moving forward and writing my own dramatic profile story.


What Am I Doing? (Jul 2008)

Little Freelance Gig

For the past month, I’ve been helping my aunt with a light box menu redesign for her Mediterranean fast food shop at the Great Mall food court down in Milpitas. She needed new photos of the dishes and a more attractive design to improve her business. I’m supposedly done with all the designing, and now it’s out of my hands and off to wherever she sends them to have the designs specially printed. When it’s all done, I will post an entry about the entire process.

There have been many challenges with this little freelance gig. I’m not gonna elaborate on the details, nor will I reveal the numerous updates on my private Twitter page, but I’ve learned plenty about being a freelancer as well as a graphic designer in general. There were technical lessons like setting up my first makeshift photo studio at the back of the store (with my trusty light tent!), and then there were client-designer relationship lessons, including overcoming a slight language barrier, understanding a difference in communication medium preference (phone vs. email), and enduring a hearty dose of scope creep.

I guess I will elaborate more in the official post, but two important things I learned from this job: 1) don’t promise you can do things faster than you can actually do them, and 2) get a contract before starting any work, even if it’s a job with your family or friends.

New Printer

Another thing that happened recently is that I finally received my new printer. It’s an Epson Photo R1900. It prints up to 13” in width and 44” in length, has individual color cartridges, and prints on CD/DVD’s! Those were the three main selling points for me. I’d been wanting to get a nice printer to print my portfolio pieces since the beginning of this year. I took about half a month to research decent wide-format individual-cartridge inkjet printers, including the price, reviews, ink costs, functions, etc., and then I hesitated a whole month before finally deciding that it would be a worthwhile investment in my still budding career.

My next purchases now will include backup ink cartridges and Epson photo paper.

The Beta Site

I have not given up on the beta site. I’ve just been busy with everything else. I realize that my last update was April/May, but the site will be built.

In the mean time, take some time off your work and find a way to watch season 1 of Mad Men on AMC. It’s about the advertising agency culture of the 1960s in New York. Lots of cultural references, lots of smoking everywhere, lots of drinking, lots of political incorrectness (compared to now), and lots of good writing. Check out the show’s site and watch the first episode.


What Am I Doing? (Jun 2008)

You realize time really flies when you see the weather gets nicer by the day and you start writing “6”’s in dates.

This past month, I’ve moved forward with my career planning by continuing my ambitiously comprehensive website, mainly in the type experiments section. I’ve also started looking into getting a wide-format, individual inkjet cartridge printer so I can have large and nice prints for my print portfolio.

Finally, I have a tiny photo shoot gig for my aunt’s business. If all goes well, I will post the completed pieces.

Even as the country continues to go downhill economically, there is still that ray of hope in my personal life emerging in the past few weeks, believing that things will get better; I just need to be patient, continue to work hard, and persevere.


What Am I Doing? (Apr 2008)


A month flies by so fast sometimes, especially when you’re working almost every day. Working at Peet’s has been “learningful.” Not only did I learn about coffee and tea in general, I also experienced firsthand the corporate branding trickling all the way down to the sales floor, both in visual design and business management.

Other than the freelance route, I believe that organizational hierarchy and communication are essential to success and growth in any job out there. I am fortunate to work with a group of knowledgeable and experienced people who aren’t afraid to teach others and newbies like me their tricks and provide really useful advice. It’s not as if they were competitive and afraid that I would take their jobs somehow, especially when almost all of us have the same positions. And as “upper management” has shown us, my coworkers and I are a team; we all work together, and we are only as strong as our weakest link and all that good stuff.

I don’t think I’m revealing any company insider secrets here, but I really like the fact that Peet’s places great emphasis on two main things: quality service and quality products. Customers and fresh coffee pretty much sit next to each other at the top of Peet’s list of importance, as they should be. While it’s not possible to guarantee 100% quality on everything all the time, I still do my best everyday to make sure those two goals are achieved, and I feel proud to associate myself with an organization whose ideals are such.

Peet’s and Design Business

That sense of pride is partly due to my background in design (I say “background” like I’ve had decades of experience, haha). The way I see it, from the perspective of a baby designer with little or no “professional” design business experience, the design business is about the client and what you produce for that client. Design is about listening to what the audience and client want, but at the same time, it’s also about what you make to meet their needs and wants.

In the month that I’ve been at Peet’s, I’ve begun to develop relationships with the regulars. Every regular has his/her own unique personality and quirks, and I had to readjust to address each of them differently. Some are real cool, and some are… not so much. I feel that (and I know that) I’m going to encounter clients like that when I do design full-time. Some clients are gonna micromanage, just like some of the Peet’s customers who watch everything you do in preparing their coffee. And some are more carefree and trust you and your knowledge about coffee/design so that they get the best darn product that your skills could produce for them.


Since my last monthly update, I had worked on my home page some more, continuing with the transparency concept. I know that in a real project, I really shouldn’t work on the home page until the end (nor should I take this long to build a web site). But I feel that since this is a beta site, it’s the most seen page, so the design should reflect my concept for the site so that new visitors can immediately get a sense of what’s happening and will come back if they like what they see.

So in short, I’m not going to do much else until this home page is done, as much as it pains me to not have enough time to do anything else in the mean time. But the good news is that I think I’m almost done with the design. The remaining issues are 1) how to place the slideshow “screen” on a faux-transparency while sticking to that grid I had, and 2) a more interesting background, possibly changing based on the time of day.

I believe I will resolve these in the new few weeks, and hopefully, it’ll be sooner than later.

Design Opportunities

Two weeks ago, I saw on HOW’s design blog a fellowship opportunity at Chronicle Books. It seems like a really cool gig and I really want to do this, but seeing how the deadline is at the end of this month, I don’t think I have the time to put together a solid portfolio and application. It’s a six-month fellowship from July to December, and it pays $15,000 total, which converts to a $30,000/yr salary, which is not too bad. Unlike that teamwork mentality that I was talking about earlier, I was being a little competitive here by withholding informing people about this, especially to my graduating design friends who may be interested in this. But seeing how I probably won’t apply, I figure I should share the wealth and hopefully a Davis graduates gets in.

A few days ago, a good good design friend forwarded me about an immediate job opening within her company, and other than the 2–3 years professional experience and QuarkXPress requirement, my commitment at Peet’s is preventing me from doing anything else any time soon. And that made me think about what I will be doing in the next few months.


What Am I Doing? (Mar 08)

A slight, temporary change of direction this past month. I had been working on my web site still, though at a slower rate than before. I took on a small, short freelance project recoding a website that is easier to manage and a lot more standards-compliant. But mainly, my time has been split into two parts: one for my website, and one for a part-time job.

Long story short, and in a way that I’ve been describing to my friends and such, I am now working part-time at Peet’s Coffee and Tea as a barista while I’m finishing my portfolio and web site.

I’m still training at Peet’s, so I don’t really considered myself a barista, yet. Nonetheless, this move was a result of a readjustment of priorities, the most urgent of which is financially based.

The Strategy

But I didn’t take this job just because it’s available. I’ve thought about this for a long time and have developed a flexible strategy that will work to my advantage in my career as a designer. By working here, I will be able to, first and foremost, have a front-row look at a retail environment and corporate branding strategies, which will give me some background in retail customer experience.

I’m sure a lot of established designers today had part-time retail jobs in high school and college or in the early years of their career, and that experience most likely gave them a slight edge at understanding how it all works.

Because sometimes, I feel that a lot of designers produce things based on what they think looks cool and lack sufficient research in what the client and customers need and want, or that they receive the research from the marketing department and base their designs on words on paper and not direct, personal experience.

For example, I had only worked at Peet’s for a couple shifts, but I’ve already noticed the amount of branding that the company implements onto the sales floor, ranging from the packaging to the interior design to the employee dress code. The company also has a few service-based qualities that are consistently reasserted, especially in the training material.

Room for Improvement

At the same time, I constantly think about the certain methods and ways of saying something that can be improved to increase productivity as well as customer satisfaction and enthusiasm. Occasionally, I tried to picture how and why Peet’s design team chooses a particular approach in their branding and promotion strategies and thought about little things from a retail employee point of view that they could change or add to make both the employees and customers happier.

There are also other reasons for working at Peet’s that will help me in my career in design, but I won’t list them here. But all in all, I am enjoying the experience and will take as many lessons as I could from this and apply them to my future design jobs.

Sayings of the Moment

  • “Just do it.” (no affiliation with any athletic company)
  • “You fail if you don’t try.” –“Get Up,” Superch!ck (from my high school days)
  • “Having guts always works out for me.” –Stefan Sagmeister


What Am I Doing? (Feb 2008)

The Sims 2 obsession has faded (fortunately), and the words “portfolio,” “site,” and “job” have become the three most used terms in my daily mental query.

Live Site

The most significant thing that I’ve worked on this past month, I believe, was my site. On January 28 or 29, I suddenly had the motivation to start my web site with a “just do it” attitude, constructing it in public and requesting feedback. This process is moving along, and I’m glad I got started, not only because I’ve moved onto the next step, but also because it makes me realize how much work (and time) I need to put in to have a fully functional, content-rich, informative web site about me and my work. Therefore, I’ve decided to not wait anymore for this site to complete and move ahead to search for a side job.

Job and Sagmeister

Yesterday, I ordered a ticket to attend a now soldout lecture featuring Stefan Sagmeister in San Francisco on March 6. For those who don’t know (although I might have mentioned it here on Flush), Sagmeister has sort of been my hero ever since I’ve heard of him last year, when I was researching for my “Why Don’t We Care?” project. In any case, I made my first not-directly-related-to-portfolio,-site,-or-job purchase in a long time, under the condition that I get a job/side job before I go to the lecture. We’ll see how that will turn out.

Portfolio Review and Helvetica

Last Friday, a couple of my design friends and I met up to present and review our portfolios (By the way, Y.I. and T.P., the address to my main site has always been in the About sidebar). It was a very helpful experience for all of us, and I’m glad we did it. Somewhat sticking to the promise to myself, I unwrapped and watched Helvetica with my friends. Maybe it was the mentally highered expectation, but 1) I thought it was supposed to be longer, and 2) it was a different experience watching it with friends. I think caring about what others think of the film (which none of them had seen) distracted me from paying attention to the film. I shall watch it by myself next time, including the bonus material and take names and ideas for future reference.

Words Pondered

Here are a few things that I’ve been thinking about in the past month:

  • “Safe is Risky.” —Seth Godin
  • “Trying to look good limits my life.”—Stefan Sagmeister, from his Things I Have Learned in My Life So Far Series
  • “Love all, trust a few, do wrong to none.” —William Shakespeare, from the wrapper of some chocolates my cousin-friend gave me for Christmas.
  • “Hope”
  • “Change”
  • “Honesty”
  • “Dreams”


What Am I Doing? (Jan 2008)

Taking a step back, I noticed that I made a lot of progress in the past month, relatively speaking. Not having school anymore freed up my time to work on my portfolio. Since I last posted a progress update, I have completed the “redos” that I wanted for my portfolio and I am now in the process of branching my attention to put together a “general interview” portfolio, a leave-behind, a portfolio site, a PDF version (for those who ask for it), a CD/DVD version (just in case), and a general portal-like website, which will connect my portfolio, this blog, and another section that I really want to have on my site.

As always, I have a lot of ideas and very little time to execute them well. And time is definitely becoming a larger factor as my dependencies on others for survival have begun to tire me out. So the focus of my life right now can pretty much be summarized into one phrase: job searching.

A Note on the Redo

During the past month, I spent most of my time working on project redos. I was surprised as to how long each project took. I had to find the files, figure out what to fix, work on the changes, prep the files for portfolio and for general purposes, and then package and archive the entire project so I don’t have a harder time finding it the next time. Even the smaller projects that were only one page (flyers, posters, etc.) took at least a day each.

I think what happened was I had to organized I lot of my old files that were just in their own little organization system. I basically took the time to rearrange everything into a more standardized organization system, which has been working pretty well for almost a year now. So from now on, I can work more on the design and less on the organizing.

Holiday Season

With December being the heart of the Holiday Season, I encountered a conflict between having to work on my portfolio as much as and as timely as I could against celebrating the season by not wanting to work at all. Debates went on daily in my head, trying to find a good reason to let me off the hook for the day by promising myself to do more work the next day. It was a lose-lose situation, especially when a rediscovery of an old hobby emerged.

Sim City 3000/Sims 2—A Little Sidetrack (Skip to the next heading if you wish)

At a family gathering for the holidays this winter, I noticed that my cousins brought their laptop to play games and kill time. Usually they play role-playing games and go around shooting things. This time they brought The Sims, and I found myself unable to resist watching them play. They offered to let me play, and I, being the kind of person I am, took a hour or so creating two new people and building a house before actually playing the game.

That got me going. I spent the ride home that night thinking about playing the Sim City 3000 that I got in high school: “And now with a faster computer and larger screen, it’s going to be so much better!” I thought. So I started playing it at home, but the problem was that this is not the type of game where there are stop points. It’s like a casino, where there are no windows to tell you what time it is; you just keep going.

I knew I had to control myself, but my mind couldn’t stop zoning land and expanding city limits. So for the whole week or two, I periodically thought about special building strategies, and even dreamed in squares.

At another family gathering, my cousins brought Sims 2. I was even more drawn to it than Sims 1 because of the graphics, the functions, and the new playing experience. Again, I spent an hour or two creating people and building a house. I think I enjoy that a lot more than actually playing the game; something about making things.

When I got home, I knew I had to ask my sister for her copy of Sims 2. But this time, I had more self-discipline (at least in the beginning). I had one short session of just checking out the neighborhoods and the interface, and another one creating the people, and then one more to build a super fancy house just for fun. Last night was when I started playing, but that’s not enough.

Long story short (too late), I need a vacation.

“But Ivan,” you may ask, “you don’t have a job. Aren’t you on vacation?”

“Well, you,” I respond, “have you ever heard of the saying, ‘Finding a job is a full-time job’?”

“No, I haven’t, Ivan,” you replied, “why don’t you extrapol…

Well, it is. I’m sure a lot of people work wish they weren’t working. But for those who aren’t working, like me, getting a job is almost all they think about.

I’ve been so into this project called Get-My-Portfolio-Ready-So-I-Can-Find-A-Good-Job that I think I’ve put in more than forty hours a week, since I “work” on the weekends, too.

But according to Neil Fiore in The Now Habit: A Strategic Program for Overcoming Procrastination and Enjoying Guilt-Free Play (which I read this past month for somewhat obvious reasons), I should allow myself time to play so I can be more productive in my work.

And I realized this as I was playing Sims 1 on my cousins’ laptop. My “Bachelor,” who was living alone, was basically working, eating, cleaning, sleeping, every day. Eventually, he started crying because his “Social” and “Fun” levels had gone red.

Funnily in a not funny way, I played Bachelor like I would with my life, always chasing that extra dollar and not thinking that social interactions matter that much. In the game, they tell you so and you suffer the consequences. In real life, it’s less black and white, and you don’t know it until your leprechaun friend tells you.

So, I want a vacation, but I still feel guilty for playing before finishing my portfolio. And I know that once I get a job, I’ll be head-on into my work, although I love working anyway. Still, it might be years before I get a decent vacation. Maybe I will make a more appropriate use of my weekends then.


This past week, I was contacted by a recruiter, who heard about me from one of my friends to whom I mentioned more than a month ago that I was looking for a job.

It was a very surprising email, and I really freaked out, because I wasn’t done with my portfolio and all that stuff. Nonetheless, I contacted the recruiter, and it turned out that the job opening was for someone with a lot more experience. Still, she let me send her a résumé to keep on file in case something else comes up.

Our discussion of the job opening and its responsibilities actually made me realize what kind of job I wanted, and where I stand in the field: gumshoe bottom. I actually don’t mind that, as long as I don’t stay there my whole life. I know where I stand, and I am ready to move on up.

Also, this surprise recruiter episode allowed me to see what I’ve done so far with my portfolio and how much more I have left to do. I’m excited that slowly but surely, I am getting there.

I’m going to end this apparently monthly post with lyrics to a song to stick in your head. I heard my favorite radio morning show mentioning and singing this song this morning as they said that Obama’s using this song for his campaign. I had to look it up on YouTube for the song and the classic TV show that went with it.

Well, we’re movin’ on up, (movin’ on up)
To the East Side, (movin’ on up)
To a deluxe apartment in the sky.
Movin’ on up, (movin’ on up)
To the East Side, (movin’ on up)
We finally got a piece of the pie!

Fish don’t fry in the kitchen;
Beans don’t burn on the grill.
Take a whole lotta tryin’,
Just to get up that hill.
Now we’re up in the big leagues,
Getting’ our turn at bat.
As long as we live, it’s you and me baby,
There ain’t nothin’ wrong with that.

Well, we’re movin’ on up, (movin’ on up)
To the East Side, (movin’ on up)
To a deluxe apartment in the sky.
Movin’ on up, (movin’ on up)
To the East Side, (movin’ on up)
We finally got a piece of the pie!

—“Movin’ on Up,” Ja’net DuBois


What Am I Doing? (Dec 2007)

Last night was officially the last exam of my undergraduate days. And no, it doesn’t feel good to say it the second time. Either way, I have no real, long-term commitments scheduled, which means that I don’t have any reason for not looking for a job.

It wasn’t like I haven’t done anything to prepare for my job search, though. I have been looking at listings and taking notes about the whole application and interview process. I’ve done a lot of that soul searching stuff and figuring out what I really want to do right now and in the future.

Here’s a summary list of what I’ve done for my career and my life: I took on the GTD method to begin to organize my life, read a lot of design blogs daily to keep myself updated on what’s out there today and what design is like as a career, read/reread a few books on design, started this blog and worked on my entire web site, and listened to and watched a lot of design podcasts, some related to technical skills (Adobe Creative Suite Video Podcast, Photoshop Killer Tips, and PixelPerfect with Bert Monroy), and others related to design in “real life” (Be A Design Cast and Design Matters with Debbie Millman).

The Attitude on Blogs and Podcasts

I don’t know what the professional attitude among employers and business people out there is on blogs and podcasts, but 1) this is the current trend in our culture so businesses should pay attention to it, and 2) I definitely learned a lot from reading these blogs and listening and watching these podcasts about how to and how not to be a designer in the business world.

The Lesson

One thing I heard repeatedly is to not act like you know everything, because you don’t. That’s great because I don’t know everything, and I admit it! I know that there is a lot of stuff that I need to learn that I didn’t get to in school, and I am ready to learn. Just give it to me, baby. I want to be a sponge and absorb as much knowledge as I can.

So hopefully, potential employers won’t scoff at me when I say that I like to listen to podcasts and read blogs, because while I understand that it sounds so teenage and unprofessional, you learn a lot more than you would think.

Task One

But back to what I’m doing now. Since I’m done with that class with no more studying to get in my way, I am currently putting my portfolio and my web site together. I’m going to rework some of my pieces, and then I’m considering making different versions of the portfolio (not just one print and one web) that suit different needs and different situations. That is my number one task to do.

That leads to my number one-point-five task to do, which is my web site. I’m tired of constantly changing the entire site just because I’m past that style or that layout. I want to create a more permanent but flexible site that is accessible and user-friendly using what I know now, which is simply XHTML, CSS, and a little of JavaScript (and, when appropriate, a little Flash/ActionScript).

I plan on developing a structure where I would keep around for a much longer time than any of the personal sites I’ve done in the past, while still allow it to change as I please and as I know more about different web development languages. CSS is going to be my love-hate friend.

I think that once I’ve gotten my portfolio system and web site under control, I will be ready to just design and experiment and grow and learn.


P.S. I don’t know if I should make this a monthly or a bimonthly update. We’ll see.