Personal

Going across the pond twice for conferences

I'm going to be heading across the pond twice in the next few weeks for two conferences I'm really excited about. Next week, I'm thrilled to be back at UX Cambridge for the third year and will be doing a workshop on an introduction to design leadership. This is similar to the one I did in UX Scotland and targeting towards new managers or people considering design leadership.

In October I'll be at UXDX in Dublin and speaking on prototyping towards the product vision and how Integrated UX can help you get there.

Hope to see some of you there!


The vastness of curiosity

I have been thinking deeply about this quote from the author of one of my favorite books, The Little Prince.

"If you want to build a ship, don’t drum up people to collect wood and don’t assign them tasks and work, but rather teach them to long for the endless immensity of the sea."

— Antoine de Saint Exupéry

Though this also applies to my personal life, I often reflect on this in the work setting and with design teams. This quote always finds me looking back at Kimber Lockhart's post about fostering a sense of purpose. Everyone has a different drive and motivation, and when you can find people who are purpose-driven, there is an infinite amount of energy because it is their human need to explore and be curious.

If you can find people who are in love with the process and are curious, they will lead you all over the ends of the earth.

 


OK to disconnect: The death of my iPod classic after 14 years

It was Saturday night and I was at my San Francisco apartment listening to BT's new album "_" on my iPod classic. I was trying to get the mood right to explore some prototypes I have been wanting to finish up. Suddenly I heard the sound all-too-familiar with other devices. The hard drive was trying to spin up…quickly, and then fading away.

I knew what it this meant but was in denial. Suddenly, it locked up. I frantically plugged my iPod into the nearly-obselete 32-pin adapter and into my iMac. I tried restoring. iTunes couldn’t read it. I checked disk utility to give it another try…even tried to format it. Didn’t work. My iPod gave it’s last spin attempt…and failed.

I was devastated. It felt crazy to feel so hurt by the loss of an inanimate object. However, it hit me. My iPod represented more than what it physically was, but more than 14 years of my life. To put it in a bit of perspective, my iPod is the same age as my cat Wilson, both I received while in college.

I still had my papers and art projects from college on the hard drive. These iPods were ones that you could use as an external drive as well. So many memories of art history papers about Caravaggio sketches of explorations.

And of course, there was the music and podcasts. All the playlist I had on it was curated carefully by me. Looking at the playlists, I can remember the reason it was created, whether it was in honor of the death of a friend, parties, or especially created for

In an age of streaming, shuffle, remixing, reboots, adapters, and annual upgrades, the iPod classic represented intention, focus, and longetivy. It was just your hand on the wheel, turning, and exploring.

Now that they are discontinued, I'm not sure if I ever will own an iPod classic again, but I am so thankful for more than a decade of experience with something that was quite literally the soundtrack to my life.


The best team white elephant party ever

As I was organizing my Vimeo page I stumbled upon this gem...our White Elephant Christmas party from 7 years ago when I worked at ExactTarget. It's amazing that these group of people have grown up to now have their own families, elevate in their career to be directors and beyond.


Tending your ideas is an obligation

I currently feel sad, hurt, and disappointed. It has nothing to do with anything at work. Something felt off.

I did what I usually do to figure out problems. I went for a walk, found a nice place to sit, and began writing, sketching, and reflecting to figure out where the source of this feeling is. After going through more than a dozen dotted grid Leuchtturm notebooks, the source of the feeling became abundantly clear. Upon each page turn, it became more challenging. My notebooks became a graveyard for ideas. Each drawing or note invoked a memory of the moment when that idea was generated. The ideas vary, from product ideas that might bring joy to people in a time of despair for the world, artwork, and design tools that could really infuse the process to build quicker.

In contrast that bad ideas should be jettisoned, when a good idea dies, it really hurts. These feelings reminded me of a moment in Bret Victor’s talk, “Inventing on Principle”:

“Ideas are very precious to me, and when I see ideas dying, it hurts. I see a tragedy. To me it feels like a moral wrong. It feels like a moral injustice, and if i think there is anything I can do about it, I feel it’s my responsibility to do so. Not opportunity, but responsibility.”

Victor follows up mentioning that the words “moral wrong” and “injustice” are not ones you often hear in tech. However, it is pretty powerful when you look at being a someone who works in tech having an obligation and responsibility. I resonate strongly with these remarks and don’t expect people to agree and believe this perspective.

When I see an idea dying, it hurts me so much emotionally. What travesties could we have prevented by seeing an idea all the way through? How many people did not experience something you didn’t make become a reality? What could I have doe to not let this injustice happen?

Like a garden, ideas need room and time to grow. They also need to be nurtured and maintained. Ideas also have a life expectancy and need to be cared for and nurtured. If they are neglected or not attended to, they fade from existence.

  • Revisit ideas daily. Gardens need to be watered, and so do your ideas
  • Ideas are stronger tethered with other ones. This is why I like to mind map and think about lateral thinking

I formulated my own list of things I can do to commit to tending to ideas:

  • Be able to build the real thing. Design prototypes can only take you so far. Learn the entire product process and be able to ship without being dependent on anyone
  • Make time in the mornings to review notebooks or wherever ideas reside and do something to push it to become real

Generate ideas, share them, and be held accountable to make sure the good ones become something real instead of a concept.

Tangibility is the oxygen for ideas. Keep ideas alive. It is your responsibility.


It's Never Too Late

“Yeah, I'm losing my edge. I'm losing my edge. The kids are coming up from behind. I'm losing my edge.”

—“Losing My Edge” by LCD Soundsystem

In the closing talk of Webstock this year, Natasha Lampard, creator of this glorious experience, told a story about Paolo Nespoli, an Italian astronaut from Milan. As a child, Paolo dreamed of being an astronaut. Those dreams were put to rest when he joined the military. It wasn't until 1987 that he left the military and pursued his dreams of becoming an astronaut. Decades later, Paolo became an astronaut and finally went to space at the ripe young age of 50.

paolo

Dreams never die, but they often are buried—waiting for us to find them again, if ever. As we grow in our life they often get put under layers of obligation, new important things vying for our attention, and yes, sometimes toxic excuses as nails in the coffin of dreams. It’s never too late to start those dreams you had, learn something new, or changing your career.

“I’m too old", "I'm too busy", or "It's too late to get started." These words are echoed around us...sometimes by us.

Age is simply a number—a ring around the tree stump, telling how many times the earth has revolved around the sun in the duration of your existence.

Yet, it is often the comparative measuring stick comparison we use with ourselves in relation to those around us. As humans, we can’t help but think about age. It’s the stick in the ground that shows us how many years we have lived, and having us speculate how many we have left.

Not only is it intimidating enough to feel like we can't start something new because we are aging, but the next generation of young and talented humans apply even more pressure. I started at a young age in both my college education and design career. Then something happened. Suddenly, I was no longer the youngest. Now, I find myself introducing myself to designers and artists younger than me, with fresh experience.

“But I'm losing my edge to better-looking people with better ideas and more talent. And they're actually really, really nice.”

It’s overwhelming and intimidating to see people younger than you achieve success in what you want at such a fast pace. It makes us scared of starting, because we feel younger people have so much time ahead of us.

The 30 under 30. 20 Under 20. Hey, the 10 Under 10? These people should be celebrated and commemorated, but often reading about early success discourages those who are feeling like they are losing their edge. Let us also remember to recognize those who spent their later years learning or starting something new.

In my 20s I had goals and aspirations to be 30 under 30, but it’s too late (and it is okay). The older I get, the more I seek longevity as a form of inspiration instead of early success.

Here are some examples of notable people who ended up finding success later on. (Note: if you are older than this, don't take it the wrong way. There are a few examples I was able to extract)

  • Amy Poehler didn’t start on SNL until she was 31
  • Vera Wang was a figure skater and fashion editor before becoming a designer at the age of 40
  • Harland (Colonel) Sanders founded Kentucky Fried Chicken at age 65
  • Paul Cezanne did not discover his painting style until he was 56 years old.
  • Stan Lee created The Fantastic Four at the age of 39
  • Henry Ford was 45 when he created the revolutionary Model T car.

I believe these people simply found success not because of when they started, but how: through focus, passion, discipline and the dedication to try to make it happen. As my boss says, don't create a sense of urgency but foster a sense of purpose, as she articulated so well in her post.

And for me, you may ask? What am I going to learn or start?

  1. I am going to learn how to make music on my computer
  2. I am going to learn how to prototype in Swift
  3. This year I started a new project called The Rock Tumbler Collective
  4. Going to spend more time photographing again

How about yourself? What are some things you've been wanting to do and start but have felt discouraged?

It's never too late.

--

Notes:

  • A big thank you to Michael Lopp for encouraging us to write in his talk "Fear is a Liar". I used the pen he gave me to write this post on the flight back from New Zealand.
  • Late Bloomers - Later in Life Success
  • Thank you, Natasha Lampard for another inspirational closing talk. I tell people that your talk alone is worth going to Webstock.

Treat Life Like a Video Game

I recently had a conversation with my friend Leslie about a professional decision that had to be made. One thing in question was that I would have to live in two cities. Leslie is a talented art director from Toronto, and she also lives in New York City part time. I asked her to share her experiences. She said she loves it because there is "always has a deadline", whether it is personal or professional. She constantly has a friend to see, a project to finish, or a plane to catch. It is exhilarating to her to always have something to accomplish like this. She then gave me some wonderful advice:

"Treat life like a video game."

I initially was a bit confused about what she meant, but after pondering about it more, that saying made total sense. In a book or movie (I like books and movies, so this isn't to bring them down), you are being told the narrative in a very linear fashion and the result is already determined for you. You are consuming vs. interacting. In a video game, you have to make decisions and figure out ways to achieve your goals in the game.

As an avid video game player, I understood it. Surely Leslie didn't mean treat life like Call of Duty or a third person shooter, but any game with an open world environment.

Definition of an open world game on Wikipedia:

"An open world is a type of video game level design where a player can roam freely through a virtual world and is given considerable freedom in choosing how or when to approach objectives. The term "free roam" is also used, as is "sandbox" and "free-roaming".

Some of my favorite open world games: Far Cry, Fallout 3, Saints Row, Grand Theft Auto, Wing Commander: Privateer, and Borderlands. Note that Skyrim isn't on there because I have not played it yet. (I know, I know)

Here are some aspects of video games (particularly open world games) that translate well into life:

Persistent Effort After Failure

I don't think there is anything I fail more constantly in and continue to try to achieve a goal than in a video game. If you play games, you have been through that part of the game where you are stuck and fail 100 times. Yet, for some reason, you keep trying, even sometimes almost peeing your pants because you won't go run to the bathroom until you beat this part.

(Number of times I've actually peed my pants while playing video games: zero)

Why is this? It is because a challenge has been set and it is something you have to do in order to beat the game. In contrast, people often seem to give up on dating or looking for a new job after a few failures, or sometimes, one. Why don't we put that same effort in life that we do in video games? We should.

The way we learn how to beat that aspect of the game is to remember what we did before that did not work and adjust accordingly. That, or we just use sheer will to overcome it.

Level Up

In a lot of open world games, your character (which you often customize) starts with a limited skill set. After achieving a set amount of goals and gaining experience points (XP), a player will be able to level up their character, usually with improvements on certain skills, unlocking new skills, or the ability to access more areas on the map.

This is life. You don't start playing Diablo and go straight to the boss when you're a Level 1 Warrior. You have to gain the skills and prove your ability to accomplish such a thing before. Take this to the workplace. You're a junior designer and have the goal of being a creative director someday. What you have to do is figure out what skills you'll need to level up in and how to go about getting those experience points.

Let me take a moment to remember how traumatized I was from that Speeder Bike level from Battle Toads.

Interact And Get Invested With Characters

I often feel I am more invested in video game characters than in a movie. For me, it's the direct experience the character (you) and others around him or her. I can't tell you how many times it has made me truly sad when a character dies in a game. Hopefully without giving anything away, Metal Gear Solid is a prime example of that.

In a lot of open world video games, there are characters that you interact with that help you or stop you from beating the game. You quickly find out who is a positive experience for you and negative experience for you.

Yet, in real life, we often hear people complain about having toxic people in their life. In a video game, these people would appear as a red dot on the map and you are told to avoid them.

Explore The Open World

When I moved to New York City two years ago, I did not know the area at all. However, I actually recalled certain general areas because of playing Grand Theft Auto, which takes place in the fictional version of New York—Liberty City.

Remember that exploring can lead to achievement points or new characters in the game.

In fact, that is how I met Leslie. She was visiting a friend at the co-working space I was at and we started talking and exchanged contact information. We have kept in touch since. I would never have guessed she would inspire me to make a significant decision in my life a year later upon meeting. I walked up to her and pushed the X button to interact.

Conclusion

The key to life is participation. You can engage and interact with it as much or as little as you want. Treat life like a video game. You can either treat it like a movie where someone is telling the story for you or you can grab that controller that's called Life and start playing! Remember, there is no reset button though so live life like it is Nightmare Mode on Diablo.

P.S. Don't cheat.
P.P.S. I wish money worked the same way in video games as it did in real life.


Show me your Bests

This week my friends launched Bests: Share the movies, tv shows, bands, songs, books, and foods you think are the best!

Here are some reasons why I love Bests.

It's Dead Simple

Who doesn't love lists? It's very fun and an easy way to share your favorite things with friends.

You Get to Know People

It has been so fun to see my friends' Bests to find out what we have in common, or even what we don't have in common. Like Sheree says:

 

Know Where You Stand

I was surprised how difficult it was to come up with my lists. There were films I thought that were in my Top 10 and clearly are nowhere close. For me, it was a great (but fun) exercise to see where things were prioritized.

See my Bests here. I'd love to see yours when you create one. Please send me the links in your comments so I can check them out!