The Sabbatical that Continues to Give

My yellow boots that could.

My yellow boots that could.

I promised a post for what I would be doing when my Sabbatical was over and this is long overdue. For starters, I spent all of January at an artist residency in North Carolina which I will write extensively about later, but I'd like to announce that I am now working full-time for a small start-up in Chicago called DevMynd. Am I happy? Yes. Oh-so-happy. :) I'll write more on that in detail soon.

I haven't written for a while and to be fair, a lot has been going on. I have several posts coming up because I've had time to think, process, and also experience new things that I'd like to share. For those of you who read this, I want to thank you for all of your support and encouragement - and your patience. It really means the world to me that you're interested in the adventure I've been writing for myself, and I hope that I am able to write more about how I'm applying what I've learned during my sabbatical in my non-sabbatical life.

A few of the encouragements that have really floored me throughout this process are the amount of people who have shared with me how they were inspired to make changes in their own lives. To describe a few, a woman I had met in Detroit during my Design Residency told me that she left her job, cleaned out her space like I did, and is redirecting her life with the intention that she wants. Another friend shared that she was inspired to pursue another job where she cared more about the work that she would be doing. Another colleague shared that it inspired her to pursue a job that she had been wanting for quite a while - and that she got it, packed up her things, and left Chicago to follow her dreams.

It's strange for me to share these things with the internet because it feels unreal. Is it true that my actions were inspiring? I am utterly overwhelmed by the kind of responses I've been receiving and all I can say is Shine Theory! I don't shine if you don't shine ;) (If you don't know what that is, you can read about it in this post.)

I was recently asked to give a talk to an undergraduate design class at SAIC regarding my career and recent sabbatical. I gave the talk and reminisced about the past 6 months I had given myself to breathe, recalibrate, and refocus on what I was doing with my life and career. It was during this talk though that the intentions that I felt were manifesting within me really came to light. 

A student asked me, "So what exactly will be different when you go back to work?"

I thought about it and I let myself tap into the unspoken learnings and resolve I had within me. I answered by saying this: I now know that every single day, regardless of what I'm doing, is to be appreciated and met with a larger perspective of where I want to go. Yes - it will get hard at times. Yes - I can't really even predict what will change for me even in the next few months. Yes - I will miss freelance work and complete independence. But, I know how to appreciate work with a greater appreciation than I've ever experienced. I can choose my battles with a greater perspective that involves trust and sincerity. And most importantly, I can stay strong in my beliefs in any given situation - even if that means I need to re-pivot things again in order to stay grounded. I have resolved that these things are of utmost importance to me when it comes to my career and I plan on acting on them wholeheartedly.

I'm writing this with already almost 2 months of working in my new position, and I can safely say that all of the above is being applied in almost a daily basis. A lot of this has to do with the actual company I'm working with and, again, I promise to write more on those details soon. There are a lot of details.

I would like to share something, though, that a dear friend of mine in Detroit pointed out to me during my visit out there, the week before I began this position. I was sharing with him how excited I was to start working with this new team and that I'm happily getting out of bed with the curiosity of what will happen next. He said, 

"That's exactly what you wanted when you started your sabbatical. You wrote that in your first post."
- Adam Selzer

I had completely forgotten about my first post until he reminded me of it - as well as the fact that what I had been wanting to achieve was exactly what had come to fruition by taking this time of rest. Thank you, Adam, for reminding me that this leap of faith has accomplished what I had set out to do.

I'm ready for my next chapter.


Wonderfully Weird

Peter Ostrum with Gene Wilder in 1971 film,  Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory . Photo Credit:

Peter Ostrum with Gene Wilder in 1971 film, Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory. Photo Credit:

I recently read an article written by James Victore about "The Undeniable Benefits of Being Weird," and it made me think about all of the times I felt so weird amongst my peers growing up. Have I suppressed this weirdness as an adult? Many times, yes. Have I released this weirdness without a care in the world throughout moments in my life? When I had the courage, absolutely.

That’s when others are inspired by your cause. That’s when you find those people, that audience, who accept you not because you’re weird or different, but for whom you really are. You create the potential for shared humanity, and allow others to see their struggle reflected in yours. Ultimately you hear that glorious refrain; “Oh, you’re weird? I thought I was the only one!” This is how businesses are formed. This is how relationships are formed. This is how you find your people.
- James Victore

This paragraph is truth. I have a story to prove that it is.

At my previous job, I was required to use the software product, Trello. Ugh... I hated it. I was the only one on my team who hated it. They pointed and giggled at me every time I rolled my eyes while using the product that "we, as a team," decided to use to manage our projects. Just thinking about it makes me twitch. When it came to Trello, I was weird - and I thought I was the only one. 

Until... [Pause Button] I wrote previously about the Service Design Conference I attended a few months ago and I mention this because this is where the Trello hater meet the other Trello hater. [Ok, Play Button]... I met Erik Flowers. This is how the meet cute played out:

Erik: "Service Design [blah, blah, blah]... ugh, I hate Trello."
Me: [gasp]
Erik: [head turns towards me because my gasp was so loud]
Me: "Omg... seriously? I hate Trello! I thought I was the only one who hated Trello!"
Erik: "HA"


Like James Victore stated, I had found another one of 'my people' in this one connection of weirdness. I made a new friend to be weird with and oh man, has it been an adventure. 😱

This is Erik at Blue Bottle Coffee in Palo Alto, CA where we hung out and got to tell each other our stories.

I was in NorCal about a month ago and was able to schedule some time with Erik. He wanted to meet at Blue Bottle Coffee because of a specific waffle that they sell. When he told me this, I thought, "Whoa. That's exactly what I do. Go to destinations with delicious food I've been craving... he is SO cool." It made me wonder if there was anything else we had in common.

It turns out that the list of similarities runs quite long - to the point where both of us were sort of shocked at what we were both pursuing in the near future. We had similar backgrounds of studies, philosophically aligned when it came to topics like "theoretical design," and his humor was on par with the many comedians I appreciate. I couldn't believe it. The universe is so weird.

Erik has since become a good friend of mine and has also encouraged me to make this blog public and available to the internet. (If you're liking this blog, thank Erik! Check out his blog too - great topics executed with pristine writing.) He recently spoke at the Service Design Conference that took place in SF a few weeks ago, launched a website called Practical Service Design with Megan Miller, and is pretty much taking the Service Design world by storm. 

It's important to have a support system around you and to also be a support system towards others - this is survival at its most basic definition. I'm looking forward to seeing more great things from Erik as time goes on. I'm also looking forward to his thoughts on the things I produce in the near future. I wondered today what would've happened if I didn't expose my weirdness about Trello. I deleted that thought and replaced it with a 'thank you' to the awful Trello for bringing Erik into my life.

So, I encourage you to release your weird. You will find your people this way and feel human connections you very well may have missed but oh so deeply need in your life. Who would've thought that being a Trello hating weirdo would serendipitously bring a wonderful friendship into my life? Even that thought is just so wonderfully weird.

(A note about the waffle: Right when we got to the counter, they said they stopped serving food 5 minutes before we got there. Hearts were broken. We will return.)

UX/Service Design Notes: Putting wonderfully weird quirks into your product/service can create extended human connections based on what certain people find enjoyable and memorable. When people get together to share their experiences, products and services are often on the top of the list. If you want to create excitement and have a competitive edge over others, add a little weirdness to the mix - it's like free marketing.


The Notion of Home

Night scene at Malibu Beach.

Night scene at Malibu Beach.

I moved to Chicago 5 years ago to attend graduate school and I haven’t moved back to the place where I was born and raised just yet. Perhaps I never will. Part of me feels that if I move back, my adventure book is over and real life will have to settle in – as if real life hasn’t settled in yet. Ha. I don’t know why I feel this way but I do. In the meantime, I've filled my adventure book with many new experiences, people, discoveries, and memories - all of which I would never take back for anything in this world because it has made me who I am today, but I do ponder its value from time to time.

Needless to say, this word, "Home", has been on my mind.

For the first time in 5 years, I went back to California to just hang out. No graduations to attend, no Christmases to construct, no New Years Eve and Day to coordinate. I just went there to hang out – so I hung out.

Los Angeles Freeway where many spend their time if they are a resident of LA. (Of course, it is THE 10 - not just 10.)

Los Angeles Freeway where many spend their time if they are a resident of LA. (Of course, it is THE 10 - not just 10.)

I drove around my neighborhood, my high school, junior high school, elementary school, my play areas during my teens and early twenties, the very first apartment that housed me when I was birthed at Cedar Sinai, the place where I worked as a barista when the economy crashed, and all around Los Angeles. I still can’t grasp all of the emotions that flooded my time there but I will say this – I was comfortable but so out of place, all at the same time. I sometimes wonder if I will always feel this way about Los Angeles.

I was also able to catch up with friends – all of whom I have kept in touch with over the years but life trajectories have taken us in many different directions. Some expressed their feelings of being left behind and some even shared their feelings of wondering whether our relationship fit within the definition of ‘friend’ or ‘acquaintance'. I had encouragement from some, hurt feelings from others, but most of all, I was able to realize and see the evolvement of relationships which is at the core of what we as humans thrive on. Where I am right now with my relationships is different than what it was before – that means life has happened and there is joy in that fact. Where the relationship will go in the future is undetermined – and I must be ok with that as well. Maybe even excited with that fact.

My siblings and I spending time together in NorCal where my brother resides.

My siblings and I spending time together in NorCal where my brother resides.

I couldn't help but snap a photo of this gorgeous woman with San Francisco gracing her background.

I couldn't help but snap a photo of this gorgeous woman with San Francisco gracing her background.

My siblings and I at Twin Peaks viewing center.

My siblings and I at Twin Peaks viewing center.

Even as a nomad, your relationship with how you travel and experience the world evolves. This is a relationship with nature and environments. Even if you are someone who has never left their environment, your relationship with others as you age and encounter different life stages changes and grows you as a person. This is a relationship with your body and immediate surroundings. At the end of the day, it is always about relationships and how you interact and respond to happenings. We grow as humans as we interact with each other and things, recording new memories and recognizing our own patterns of similarities to draw us closer to others who share the same outlook on life.

This sabbatical has taught me to rediscover my roots and to really consider how I have evolved as a person – what my beliefs have been and are now, who I consider "close" in my life, and how much of my past will affect my future if I allow it to.

Beautiful tiles in Silverlake.

Beautiful tiles in Silverlake.

Bustling Intelligensia on Sunset.

Bustling Intelligensia on Sunset.

Lunch at my favorite place - Forage.

Lunch at my favorite place - Forage.

It’s hard to really understand where you come from, why you are the way you are, and to be self-aware if you don’t want to be – maybe even if you do – but I think it is important, as a human of this world, to know who you are so that you can contribute to the world and interact with others in a manner that is true and sincere.

If you look at the trajectory of people who are pursuing passion projects, quitting their day jobs, and taking that bold step into the abyss of the unknown, the count is high and will only get higher. Why is this? I wondered the same thing myself and after some thought, my conclusion is this. We are sick of it and want more for our lives. It is true that our generation is demanding, pretty egotistical, and generally big headed, but it is also true that our generation is more thoughtful, conscious of our environment, and willing to try because we want purpose and intention with what we do.

I commend people who have discovered and resolved to move forward with certain decisions from an early age. Sometimes you meet people in their twenties and they just have it figured out – or at least they seem like they do. I'm actually quite proud to be born in a generation who is unwilling to take no for an answer and to mine a path for themselves. Passion must prevail. Life must have intention and joy.

There's only one problem - that is of loneliness.

When you're that busy and passionate, you walk a line of hurting others in the process - and when you hurt enough people, you will be left alone - or worse, you run the risk of losing yourself. Consistency is a key ingredient in the formula for a healthy relationship and that can come in any shape or form. It just has to be consistent. Is it the happy face upon meeting every few months? Is it a weekly call just to check-in on how each person is doing? Or is it a daily text, 'Goodnight'? Everybody is busy and it requires discipline to keep relationships just like it requires discipline in mastering a medium. It can't be fun all the time but acknowledging that it's part of the formula is an understanding that I feel has finally made its way into my heart.

What I have discovered is that no matter how much the world can satiate your desire to experience new things and enjoy momentary bliss in a new setting, it is always another human who can actually absorb your energy as another human and connect with you in the context of vulnerability. This is no easy task, especially if you are a creative person who is consistently morphing as the creative spirits beckon you - and you, of course, must answer. Must.

Spending time with my adorable and spunky nieces.

Spending time with my adorable and spunky nieces.

So, the moral of the story is this: It really doesn't matter where you are (location wise). Treasure those who ground you (sounds so cliche but it is, nonetheless, true) and be consistent. Allow yourself to feel the heights of joy when new experiences and new people fall into your path. Select wisely. Change with the people you love and be willing to listen and understand. Discipline yourself to master your craft because it is a precious relationship to nurture, but know that the craft itself is not human.

This entry may seem really sappy and you may be wondering, "How does this relate to HCD?"

Well, I'm here to write that this, all of it - however way you want to see it, is how I am designing my life. For the years to follow, until I am able to take another sabbatical, the things I am learning right now will determine the decisions and behaviors of which I will be responsible for in the years to come. I'm creating rules and restrictions for myself to live within and finding intentional areas in which I can allow excessive freedom and creativity. I am researching my past and current experiences to find those insights I can base my future actions upon. I am writing down design opportunities for my life so that I can experience new things that are connected to everything I have experienced thus far. I am leaving room for the beautiful moments of life to occur because committing to restrictions brings a depth of knowing the mystery cloud that intrigues but is never understood by the ever wanderer.

How this will unfold is undetermined and only time will tell.

How will you design your life?


And Then A Hero Comes Along

Amos Kennedy in his studio reviewing a test print.

I haven't written very much about my letterpress practice but it is a medium that found me a few years ago and I have committed to master everything that it has to offer. It is a very ambitious endeavor but I'm determined to do so. During my graduate studies, I ended my masters with a thesis about Human Centered Design but at the same time, I also produced some prints that have slowly gained some attention. 

The birth of these prints were grounded through research and were also directed by the political climate at the time - I graduated with Occupy Wall Street happening on Michigan Avenue right outside of my school. I'm writing about these prints though because during my research, there was a lot of work within the letterpress world that I came in contact with. One artist who inspired me in terms of the context of what my work would harvest from was work from a man named Amos Kennedy. Needless to say, he is a hero of mine.

You're not going to believe this, but I promise it happened. I have photos to prove it.

During my design residency in Detroit, I also served a letterpress studio by the name of Signal Return. They needed an extra hand for a fundraiser that was coming up, and I had one. On the Thursday before the party, I was in the studio printing - you know, just minding my own business - and then he walked in. 

Now, I'm from Los Angeles and I've grown up seeing celebrities. I don't really get starstruck very often, and I don't mean that statement to be pretentious in any way. I've just learned to understand that even the very famous are very human and would very much like to be treated just like another human. But when I saw Amos, I freaked. The rest of the studio went up to him to talk to him and introduce themselves but I couldn't even leave the Vandercook I was printing on. I just shut down and stared at what I was printing. I'm going to expose myself even more right now and say that there was some hyperventilating involved. OMG. 

After he left, the rest of my new studio mates made so much fun of me. I just couldn't keep my cool! Ugh. The regret I felt over what I had done was over the moon and my heart sank. Why couldn't I just take a breath and muster up the courage to introduce myself? WHY?! Luckily, he was going to be at the fundraiser so I made a promise to myself that I was going to introduce myself and say hello. 

I did it. 

Never have I ever felt jitters like that upon meeting someone who I looked up to so much. Who inspired me to make work that said something - who pushed me to consider the context of my work when it came to society and culture. Who had the same thoughts as I do about race and political structure. 

Amos Kennedy and I. Please excuse me for I am obviously swooning.

Amos Kennedy and I. Please excuse me for I am obviously swooning.

The introduction was a dream. He was kind. He spoke but wanted to listen. I told him about how he inspired me in many ways, that he was a hero of mine, and that I had prints to prove it. He was encouraging and thoughtful. I had to excuse myself early from the conversation (I know... tragic) because I had printing duties, but I told him that I would love a picture with him before he left. He agreed. I wondered if he would remember and hoped that he would - and he did! We took a picture! 

I must sound like a crazy person right now but bear with me - the story gets better. 

The next day, I emailed him just to say 'thank you' for the brief conversation we had and that it was nice to finally meet him. You know - standard jargon that you delete multiple exclamation points from before sending to not look like a wacko - but I snuck in a request to visit his studio if he had time. And he said yes! (As I'm writing this, I'm realizing that it sounds like a proposal. Ha. I don't care. Carpe Diem!) 

My dream came true.

I spent the day in his studio and we talked about many things. Our pasts, views on politics, the condition of the city of Detroit, and so much more. I showed him my prints, read him the book I'm working on, and we talked about life as I tried to absorb all the wisdom he had to offer. He showed me his past prints as well as some that he was currently working on. He also showed me prints from other artists who inspired him.

When I referred to him as an artist, he said this:

"I don't like to be called an artist. It creates a barrier between me and other humans."
- Amos Kennedy

I understand the feeling. It took me quite a while to refer to myself as an artist and it is still something that I am uncomfortable with. What happens when you identity yourself as an artist to the outside world is that you absorb all of those definitions that human nature has created throughout history as well as the current landscape of what that word projects itself to be. There is wisdom in his statement - but there is also no denying that he is, in fact, in my opinion, an artist. 

I ended up printing in his studio because I was working on a print for the startup I was serving at the time. He guided the print and his style became very much part of what was produced. It's interesting how spending time with other makers exchanges energy and pivots production to encompass all parties involved. 

I'll stop gushing now and just tell you that Amos is now a dear friend of mine. He even drove me back to Chicago from Detroit and those hours of conversation are ones that I will treasure for the rest of my life. 

But I will leave you with this. We stopped by a bakery and I bought some scones. When we got in the car, I asked him if he wanted one. You know what he said?

"No. A scone is a waste of a biscuit."

UX Notes: Amos Kennedy used to be a coder before he found letterpress printing. There are a lot of similarities between technology and letterpress printing and I would encourage any UXers to explore what it means to produce language in a tactile manner. You may find yourself discovering a more advanced method of visuals and interaction. Sometimes, simple is greater than complex.

*Extra points for those who know which song the title of this post is derived from.

More Visual TREATS:

Industry Specific

While I was writing my thesis in graduate school, I investigated a school called the Copenhagen Institute of Interaction Design (CIID). I wasn't able to visit during the few days I had in Copenhagen about 3 years ago but I made it a point to visit this time around. 

I had a friendly exchange with Alie Rose who basically runs the joint (Co-Founder and Head of Education) and met her at the CIID building. She was so pleasant to talk to, gave me a tour, and I ended up hanging out with her and her colleagues in their space for a little bit. Simona, the head of the program there, saw that I had a camera and asked if I could take some profile shots of her so I did. One thing led to another and I ended up there for almost 5 hours - would've been longer if I didn't have a dinner to go to. Basically, I fell in love with this place.

I have never been to a building that was so vertically charged with positive energy.

The only way that I can describe this is through food. You know when you have a croissant that has been folded over and over again with butter and dough, and you get the feeling that this little pastry in your hand is just charged with so much goodness? Yeah, that's what CIID feels like. 

Turns out that most of the students who come here are selected to be diverse in nationality. This move is absolutely intentional and really smart when it comes to creating an environment for innovation and collaboration. It is only through cultural differences and bringing brains together that have been wired differently will new ideas form and we will also progress to live more harmoniously in this world. 

One of the things that I love about the HCD industry is that it beckons in differences and not only welcomes them with open arms but is a crucial part of the formula when it comes to designing services, experiences, interactions, etc. Without this kind of dimension, it is quite possible that whatever solution or design is made may not be as encompassing or holistic. 

This is Simona Maschi who is the Co-Founder and CEO of CIID. Pretty much a rockstar but you can already tell by the photo.

This is Chris Downs with whom I had the privilege of spending some time with talking about lots of Interaction Design and notions about Service Design. He invited me to see some of his students pitch their ideas and I gladly accepted. So fun.

Pictured here is Simon Herzog who heads up the Nest component of CIID. Nest incubates new ideas and startups in the European sector and has a bunch of stellar experts and advisors who will help you along the way. 

The top floor of CIID is 'the Nest' and it really feels like a cozy, safe place to share and incubate a delicate idea.

I met great people and have since then met extensions of great people in Chicago who have been educated in this space. Their prototyping playground is imaginative, the architecture is fitting, and the energy is just really present and spot on. They have a great business model that includes education, consulting, and incubation for new ideas and I don't think it can get any better than that.

To read more on this program, go to CIID's site

UX Notes: Creating a physical space that reflects the kind of tone of work your organization provides is crucial to the survival of your employees and work culture. If you're wondering why something is not working in a project, take a look around you to see if there is something you can change. It might an environmental fix that you need.

More visual TREATS: