October 16, 2014

Selflessness in Design

I put a lot of myself into my work. When I start a project, I usually make a mood board of things that excite me. After that, I put together a pitch, posing a solution to the problem I was hired to solve.

If my pitch gets shot down or my work gets killed, I have a tendency of retreating back to my desk and hanging my head in shame. My initial reaction is that my work isn’t good enough, but then I realize, conveniently, that I’m terribly wrong. Of course my work was good enough. The problem couldn’t be me, it has to be the client. I know what’s best for the client and, truthfully, the client doesn’t even know enough about design to make these types of decisions. Right? Wrong…sort of.

Granted, it is fair to assume that my client is not as educated or experience in design as I; after all, if the client knew enough about design she wouldn’t have hired me as her designer. However, I must also acknowledge that the client possesses a unique knowledge, one which goes beyond the designer’s skill-set. And this knowledge is particularly crucial to the project. The client knows the problem.

The hard part about coming up with a great solution is that it can often be for the wrong problem. For me, the problem I tend to solve is my own problem.

I spent a lot of time fresh out of college chasing Twitter fame, Dribbble likes, and the promise of becoming an award-winning designer. This meant a lot of my work was geared toward an audience that validated that kind of thinking. That selfishness caused my needs to become my top priority and, in a lot of ways, hindered my growth as a designer. Every project I worked on had two goals: showcase what I like to make and showcase how good I am at making it.

This year I have tried to put a lot of that thinking behind me. In response, I have become a better team member, a more open designer, and an overall happier person. I no longer have those moments when I’m angry at my employer for not presenting me with engaging opportunities, and I have since recognized my place as an in-house designer. Sure, frustrating things still come up every now and then, but today I have the perspective to deal with these situations and, most importantly, I know what I should really be fighting for.

Notes:

  • I am not a selfless person, but I sure as heck would love to be.
  • Being a selfless designer doesn’t mean being a style-less designer. I really believe that there are always opportunities to showcase your personal style, even as an in-house designer.
August 15, 2014

Thoughts on Suicide

suicide

I lost my mother to suicide in January of this year. When you grow up with a parent who is severely depressed, the fear of their impending suicide is always alive in you; it’s always a possibility; it’s the elephant in the room. When I learned of my mother’s death, I felt a lot of different things. I was sad. I was confused. I was numb. I felt all of the things we tend to feel when grieving the death of someone we’ve lost. Through all of that though, blaming my mom for her death was something I never did and anger at her for her selfishness was something I never felt. My mother loved me more than I could express in writing. She was a good mom and she was also very sick, her depression causing a lot of pain for both of us over the years.

When you’re a child, it’s hard to come to understand the reality of your parent being depressed. I didn’t understand what it meant and I often felt like it was my job to make my mom happy. I lived with her illness every day. Her burden was my burden and when she passed away, a part of me strangely understood the reasoning behind her choice.

I recently read a blog post that has been circulating social media about Robin Williams and the choice he made to end his life. The article by Matt Walsh, who in my opinion is not helping people but instead using Robin Williams’s death as a way to drive traffic to his website, is full of statements that show the lack of education surrounding mental illness, statements that place blame on the person who committed suicide for leaving behind his family, statements that, in my experience, are false.

Articles like the one written by Matt Walsh are the reason discussions about suicide are swept under the rug or avoided entirely. These ideas make people with mental illness feel weak, they portray the act of suicide as something that can be overcome by logic, and they make those in need of mental help afraid to admit how they are truly feeling.

What people like Matt Walsh fail to understand is that suicide isn’t a problem that can be overcome by logically deciding to be happier”. It’s a choice that most of us will never face. Those who do face the choice will be at a point in their lives that the majority of humanity will never understand. They will be at a point of extreme desperation, sadness and fear, the combination of which tends to throw logic out the window.

This quote by David Foster Wallace puts it well:

The so-called psychotically depressed’ person who tries to kill herself doesn’t do so out of quote hopelessness’ or any abstract conviction that life’s assets and debits do not square. And surely not because death seems suddenly appealing. The person in whom Its invisible agony reaches a certain unendurable level will kill herself the same way a trapped person will eventually jump from the window of a burning high-rise. Make no mistake about people who leap from burning windows. Their terror of falling from a great height is still just as great as it would be for you or me standing speculatively at the same window just checking out the view; i.e. the fear of falling remains a constant. The variable here is the other terror, the fire’s flames: when the flames get close enough, falling to death becomes the slightly less terrible of two terrors. It’s not desiring the fall; it’s terror of the flames. And yet nobody down on the sidewalk, looking up and yelling Don’t!’ and Hang on!’, can understand the jump. Not really. You’d have to have personally been trapped and felt flames to really understand a terror way beyond falling.”

The best way I could understand what my mom was going through was to admit that I had no idea how she felt. If you know someone with depression, please listen to what they have to say. Treat them with the love and respect they deserve, and encourage them to find professional help. You are their voice of reason and you have the power to change and potentially save a life.

Unfortunately, my mother lost her battle, but I don’t consider myself unsuccessful in helping her. It’s more complicated than that and, while not everyone can understand, it is the truth I’ve come to know.

Given what I’ve learned, I will never stop encouraging people to reach out to those in need. There’s always hope.

June 13, 2014

My Problem with Fitness Tech

fuelband

My experience with both fitness and wearable tech has been bittersweet. After reading about Nike’s plans to ditch the FuelBand I started to think about my own experience. I started getting into recreational fitness in 2007. I had never had a gym membership, and I definitely never exercised by my own free will. I bought books, worked out with people more experienced than myself, and used the internet as a resource to find out what I needed to be doing in the gym to make progress.

Fast forward to two years ago when Nike released the FuelBand. I immediately took the opportunity to give Nike more of my money in exchange for a product that would do two things:

  • Help me be more active.
  • Show people that I use a FuelBand. (Isn’t that why we buy most things?)

I began using the FuelBand and counting my fuel” religiously. A couple of my friends were in on the experience too and there was no way I was going to be at the bottom of the leaderboard. However, my new quest for being the dominant athlete hadn’t really changed my regimen. There was no direct correlation between my fuel and my fitness, and there was definitely no book, experienced trainer, or online resource to help me utilize the technology. Instead, there was a goal that I was setting for myself.

The problem with setting your own goals is that you have control of them. This is why most of us don’t succeed when we say we are going to eat healthy food. It’s also why most of us fail when we decide at 8pm after stuffing our faces that we will start running and lose 20 pounds. A lot of us don’t have the experience or the knowledge to plan our own fitness. We need guidance.

Ultimately, my goal became arbitrary. I would try to set a goal higher than my usual daily limit and and the end of the day I would lower it, deciding that it was unrealistic unless I wanted to add in an extra trip to the gym every day. The FuelBand was just another thing I had to do everyday. Another thing I had to sync. Another app I had to keep on my home screen. It wasn’t adding value to my fitness, but at least people knew that I used it.

Skip ahead four months. I found myself in the Nike Store returning a piece of technology that was discolored from sweat and no longer working. They gave me a new one immediately and I walked out of the store, syncing my brand new band to my phone before I got to the car.

Four months later I was receiving my second replacement band in the mail. This time it didn’t include the nifty little stand for my desk.

A couple of months after that I was on the phone with Nike telling them this timeline of events. Again, my FuelBand was broken. They gave me a full refund and I put the money into an Up by Jawbone.

My experience with the Jawbone was much quicker. Before the week was over I wasn’t checking the app daily. I was assuming that I hit my goal because I run every day. Isn’t that enough to be healthy? I think so? The Up app wasn’t telling me any different so I must have been right.

Two years, three FuelBands, and three Up bands later I have given up on wearable fitness technology. Again, I am a recreational athlete. Maybe people with the proper knowledge and experience can utilize this technology to the fullest, but I don’t think that’s the majority of us. Data doesn’t mean much when you don’t understand what to do with it, and while accountability is great I suggest a personal trainer or gym buddy over yourself.

June 13, 2014

Do You Even Design, Bro?

bro

There are a lot of designers out there, some of whom are good and some of whom are not. In many cases, determining which is which is a matter of opinion, while other times it’s purely objective. There is one constant factor though: good designers are good for one reason, and that is that they are good at designing things.

Though it may come to a surprise to some, there are many things that don’t qualify someone as a good designer. These things include a curated Tumblr, your follower count on Dribbble, the engagement” on your Instagram account, the number of times you mention badge hunting on Twitter, the number of conferences where you have spoken, or the number of pins that come up when you search your own name on Pinterest.

Sure, good designers may have those things, too, but, they are qualified to call themselves good designers’ because they are good at designing things.

We are at a weird place in the design community right now where some people are thought of as great designers because of indicators that have absolutely nothing to do with design. It gives young designers the idea that they need to be spending more time updating their Instagram accounts with #FOUNDTYPE than actually learning how to be better at designing. Playing the part of a good designer has become more alluring than actually being one.

The quest for popularity has shifted our gaze away from what matters. Maybe it’s time to shift the focus back onto design.