Unexpected Kindness + Opportunities

Update: I have not yet gone back to a full-time job. I decided that 2 full months was not enough time for my mini-sabbatical and that I needed a bit more time. I have chosen to design my life in this way right now and we shall see what comes from it. I will write a full post when I take my next steps.

Pictured here are Jen and Jo from  Starshaped Press . Two people who are very near and dear to me and who have been incredible encouragers and friends.

Pictured here are Jen and Jo from Starshaped Press. Two people who are very near and dear to me and who have been incredible encouragers and friends.

This decision, magically, has done wonders for me so far and I have met, been introduced to, and created many new personal and professional relationships that I probably would not have encountered had I taken on full-time work instead. 

What I have realized through the meeting of these new folks, especially those in my field, is that I am beginning to see glimmers of hope in the context of possibilities again. I have to confess that in the past few years, I was a bit nervous and unsure about where our industry was headed. My thoughts included:

"Where is this going? Is it working? How can we make this better? Will this even make a difference? Why do certain groups just not care? Do I still care?"  

What I failed to realize is that I didn't have a strong network of supporters/encouragers in my field, outside of first degree work connections, that I could lean on when times were tough. I can absolutely say that building this for myself right now is a lesson learned and what I hope is not regrettably too late. 

I have met a lot of people even in these past few weeks and something that I have thoroughly enjoyed experiencing and deeply appreciate from the bottom of my heart is just genuine kindness and encouragement. I know that not all folks are like this but when you do get to encounter these moments, your faith in the world sort of restores itself bit by bit and it gives you enough oxygen to keep trying. I really do believe that the universe has its own way of supporting you when you least expect it and what I love about it is that you never know what shape or form it will arrive in.

This is all to say that these relationships have led me to an unexpected opportunity that is really exciting. I'm really hoping the stars align on this one. 

I have to write this: There is something about this opportunity that feels different. I can't quite put my finger on it but it feels sort of like real magic. Stay tuned.

Anyway, I am thankful for my community and it spurs me to offer encouragement towards others who may need it more than me. Feeling down on UX? Hang out with your UX community and I guarantee you will feel better.

A Lesson in Baby Carrots

Baby Carrots are not actually babies in their Carrot families. They are adults that didn't make the 'good looking club' only to be cut down and shaved into something that doesn't even exist naturally IRL. 

I discovered this fact a few years ago and I think about it from time to time. When I pass by a bag of 'baby carrots,' my heart sinks and I spend about 7 seconds thinking about what their true expressions of form would've been before being tossed into the 'not good enough' corner and then forced to take the same shape as the rest of their fellow rebels. I still always buy a bag to snack on later. Nom nom.

I've been cooking a lot more lately and have actually had to purchase real, adult carrots for recipes. When I meet them in their stacks at the market, they seem so boring. They're all straight, tall, some are chunkier than others, but there's no variety to what I'm looking at and on top of all this, they're dirty and need to be peeled. Ain't nobody got time for that. What's so special about these ones anyway?

Every now and then I'll meet one with a little flair of character that has snuck into a pile on display for the world to see. I tell it, "Show'em who's boss you badass carrot." When I go to the farmer's market, I see the ones who had so much fun in the soil that it's a miracle the gardeners even knew to categorize them as carrots. (Apparently, carrots can throw raging parties where they wrap around each other and end up looking like corkscrews. Party animals.)

Google search of 'carrots twisted.'

Google search of 'carrots twisted.'

However, when I started to use carrots in my cooking, I as a user of carrots began to appreciate the reliability of the straight and uptight, boring carrots. They were easy to peel and chop, tasted richer in flavor, and according to The Carrot Museum, they are richer in nutrients when they mature the way they are supposed to mature. 

What I'd like to point out here is not that there is a Carrot Museum in this world (what?!), but that as designers in the UX world, sometimes it is best to leave certain components alone. If they are reliable, simple, and satisfying, focus on another aspect that actually needs some change and help. Use your reliable, simple, and satisfying feature to gain trust from your user and anchor your extended experimentations on the foundations of what works and what will, more likely than not, always work. Use it as the stable ingredient in your larger recipe for service delivery and/or digital feature.

As an artist and designer, I like to change things up. A new way of doing things brings fresh perspectives and intentional awareness is heightened when engaging in a novel interaction. You can spice things up every now and then just to keep the user engaged but remember that your experience, as fancy as it can be, will always be an ingredient to a human's larger soup of encounters s/he experiences every day. 

It's hard not to make your UX/Service design shine brightly to stand out from the crowd but I think there is something to be said about being the same, boring yet reliable service available for people. No nonsense. Just a basic and nutritious ingredient to a user's journey throughout his/her day.

Steadiness is a virtue. Perhaps 'baby carrots' would agree.

Shine Theory

While I was tidying up my place for a week using the KonMari Method (you can read about it in this blog post), I harnessed my boredom moments by listening intently to podcasts throughout my activities. I had a lot to catch up on since I was so busy the first half of this year so I had plenty on my queue. 

I finished all of it. 27 Radio Lab episodes, 13 This American Life sessions, and 11 Stuff You Should Know blurbs. IKR? Counting all of that makes me feel like I overdosed in one way or another but it feels good to be 'caught up' on the stations I subscribe to. I was now up to date.

But then the terror swept in. I wasn't done tidying and needed another podcast to listen to. Marie Kondo, the author of the book I was using to tidy my apartment, forbid me from watching TV episodes throughout the process so I was panicking even more. I googled, sampled, and even tried out some of Apple's podcast Top Charts list as well as their Featured list. My heart was into nothing. I took a pause from tidying and even went for a walk while testing out some more podcasts. 

And then I took a chance on CYR: Call Your Girlfriend. Two long distance besties who met in Washington, D.C., live in different cities, and take time to talk to each other once a week on all things politics, Beyonce, feminism, current events, technology, and so much more. After listening to their pilot episode, their voices and reasoning over debatable opinions became addictive and oh so refreshing. If you have not yet listened to this podcast, especially if you are a lady, I guarantee you will love it. Well, I suppose it depends on where you fall on a spectrum of topics, but if you have any respect for women in our generation and workplace, you will gladly find yourself saying, "This is true. I agree." or "Wow. I never thought about it like that." throughout the episodes.

These girls have it. I don't even know exactly what it is but I feel as though that they understand what it means to talk about topics that are ever evolving - especially the hard ones that deal with feminism and every perception that exists when the delivery of a political message/opinion is unsuccessful or successful. They're funny, smart, and incredibly sharp as they articulate their thoughts throughout each episode. Their agendas are also sprinkled with lots of pop culture which keeps things interesting and entertaining. Any podcast that can talk about Ruth Bader Ginsburg (a.k.a. the Notorious RBG) and then riff on Kanye and his artistic troubles will always have my ear. 

The greatest reason why this podcast should go down in the history books is because they have introduced Shine Theory to the world.

So, what is it? It's this simple.

"I don't shine if you don't shine."

Although this applies to a lot of situations, genders, and identities, this theory is spoken directly to women in the workplace. I will be the first to say that we have desperately needed it.

Personally, this has opened my eyes and committed my heart to pursue remembering and acting on this theory throughout everything I do, but I am so glad that it is aimed at the context of us ladies while we work. I have seen countless amount of times where women have done the opposite - almost as if they were saying, "If I don't get it, then you can't either. Over my dead body." I have worked with and known women who think this way and it is exhausting. It's also really easy to absorb this misery and become the perpetrator of the same kind of actions - misery loves company and revenge is sweet for a reason.

But even if it were somehow possible to objectively evaluate all of our female peers against ourselves, it’s worth asking why we’re spending all this time creating a ranking system in our minds. When we hate on women who we perceive to be more “together” than we are, we’re really just expressing the negative feelings we have about our own careers, or bodies, or relationships.
Here’s my solution: When you meet a woman who is intimidatingly witty, stylish, beautiful, and professionally accomplished, befriend her. Surrounding yourself with the best people doesn’t make you look worse by comparison. It makes you better.
- Ann Friedman, Call Your Girlfriend: Thesis

What I love about this theory is the fact that not only is it absolutely true (proof is in the plethora of other theories that are along the same lines but aimed at different contexts), it's the first time that there is actually a thoughtful theory by and for women to help other women direct their behavior in a positive way. When something is theorized and solidified as an actual thing to philosophically take into consideration, it pulses in its radar and beeps until it is acknowledged and either agreed to or rejected. It also helps that Taylor Swift's squad goals are heavily marketing this theory IRL. 

because true confidence is infectious
because powerful women make the greatest friends
because people know you by the company you keep
because we want the strongest, happiest, smartest women in our corner

- Call Your Girlfriend: Why

I guess all I can say is THANK YOU Ann Friedman and Aminatou Sow. You have both created a platform for ladies to choose to be a part of and identify with which is more than comforting. 

UX Notes: Although Shine Theory is used mainly for women in the workplace, the reason why it exists at all is primarily because women in the workplace are a minority population that is struggling to find a voice and seeking to appropriately navigate its growth for years to come. The UX discipline is new and also a minority population in a lot of contexts - especially in large corporations and places where the word 'design' is still cringe worthy. As much as we want our UX discipline to solidify itself, have a backbone, and be the answer to the very many problems that exist out there (because it is that great!), let's partner with those who think of us as rivals and use Shine Theory towards them. More likely than not, they are probably Outsider UX folks and you may find that you have more in common than you think.

Service Design Conference // Chicago 2015

The topic of service design has come up the past couple of years and I find it fascinating how quickly these two words are gaining popularity and acceptance in even the largest of institutions. UX was, and still is, not as generously accepted when introduced and I have a theory about why this may be the case.

My theory is that because the word, 'Service,' has humble connotations and is cognitively associated with actions related to hospitality, food industry, and depending on what kind of service you've ever received, it is generally accompanied with kindness and a smile. This word is also viscerally more accepted as something to consider and be curious enough to look into when mentioned. It is non-threatening in its introduction across many contexts and specifically in political contexts, it can also be quite powerful as it subtly comments on working class labor and ethics. It kind of just slides right into our vocabulary and this ability is not to be taken lightly.

Service Design Panel discussion at the end of day 1.

Service Design Panel discussion at the end of day 1.

Let's take a step back and compare 'User Experience' and 'Service Design.'

Some argue that they are different, some say that they are from the same family, and some just don't even know what to do about either of them. This is partly due to our industry's lack of firm definitions at times which allows it to be more inclusive to newcomers and gives room for more creative ideas but this is also destructive in our current business landscape because we don't look put together and decided.

From a larger HCD perspective, the principles and philosophy behind who you are designing for is one and the same. Both are pursuing the goal for a better user/customer/human experience. However, the beauty and revelation of this split that will inevitably grow and be more definite in the future is that it streamlines and organizes new design ideas and improves production flow to look more holistically at the human rather than quick fix moments. Not to say that this isn't being done in several UX circles right now, but I guarantee those UX circles can be draining at times while tethering between different hats that are undefined and nebulous.

The best way that I can explain this is through something I learned in my college anthropology studies. In anthropology, there is a separation/distinction between a person's status and the roles they take on within that status. People can have different statuses throughout the day but each has a set of roles that the human knows to act upon while assuming that particular status. This is why elevators are interesting because there is no set status or role - awwwwkkkkwaaarrrddd. 

When I get into my car, I have the status as a driver. As a driver on this particular day, I must pay attention to the road and push the gas + brake pedals while obeying traffic rules until I get to my destination. Those are my roles while I take on this status. 

When I get into my partner's car, I take on the statuses as the navigator and passenger seat companion. As the navigator, my role is to look on my phone and use my vocal chords in an audible fashion to tell my partner what turns s/he needs to make to get to our destination. As a passenger seat companion, my role is to also play music that is appealing to both my partner and me. 

So, why do I bring this up? Statuses and roles are innately how humans move about their lives - both physically and emotionally. We need this distinction and acknowledgement in order to better our industries and tribes. I believe that to some degree, 'Service Design' comments and works to juggle the different statuses humans take on while 'User Experience' comments and deciphers how to make tasks demanded by roles to be more efficient, pleasant, and useful.

You can't separate these two industries just like you can't separate a status and its role but acknowledging its separation and interdependence not only gives a nod to the anthropology community but also encourages and makes clear how to produce and operate these carefully designed moments - both internally and externally.

Anyway, the Service Design Conference in Chicago was fantastic. Here are 3 reasons why.

Erik Flowers walking us through a stellar workshop.

Erik Flowers walking us through a stellar workshop.

1) The speakers actually cared and spoke from the heart.

I don't know how else to expand on this but that every single speaker genuinely came to talk about what they had been experimenting with, what their struggles were, and how they were proceeding to do more service design work. Erik Flowers from Intuit and John Tuck from TrunkClub were some of the hilarious ones who you couldn't help but befriend, and Dianna Miller from Syracuse University anchored the hearts of every single audience member as she gave courage to designers in the room to share and extend their experiences. 

2) Attendees bonded over the challenges they faced and offered little case studies of their own to help others. 

You could almost feel the love and depth of care that lived in these stories while people began to share what they were going through in their organization. It was sort of therapeutic in a way and it even encouraged me to share the struggles of implementing design in a large corporation that, like many, just thought it was all about making it pretty. This was a safe place to share your struggles and also to proclaim what works. One of the biggest realizations for me was how necessary it was to come together and share these experiences - it brings back perspective and endurance to achieve the design goals I think every HCD designer cares about.

3) It was just large enough, the venue was enabling, and it was branded to be an experience that held together on its own. 

Sometimes I think the best service designers can be found in event planning industries. It is not an accident when they design seating a certain way, choose the kind of snacks people can select from, and how loud microphones are tuned to be. Putting on an event is no easy task and these guys nailed it. Everything was really seamless but simple. No super fancy things but just enough to make little moments feel special - like when they gave you your lanyard with a color coded dot on the workshop you selected. The amount of people there were just enough to make it diverse but not feel too overwhelming. To cap an audience count is design decision as well - but I'm sure you already knew that. :)

George Aye presenting the Chicago Public School Cafeteria project that I along with a group of designers helped design.

Service Design artifact from our workshop with M. Felix.

Service Design artifact from our workshop with M. Felix.

John Tuck from TrunkClub

Michael Felix leading us through a hypnotic workshop that was filled with meditation.

I really do feel as though I made some great relationships at this conference. I even reconnected with a professor of mine with whom I served on a project. It's strange how the world churns design circles and I'm really glad I made it out.


On the flight from Copenhagen to Chicago, I read Marie Kondo's book, The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up: The Japanese Art of Decluttering and Organizing. I couldn't sleep at all during the flight so I plowed through the entire thing - and I'm so glad I did. 

I started my sabbatical by cleaning out my apartment but after reading this book, it seems as though I had only just dusted my shelves. Lady Marie is hilarious in the way she goes about talking about one's home and belongings, so for the pure joy of reading someone else's thoughts about belongings, this book is a must read.

"But when she pulled open her sock drawer, I could not suppress a gasp. It was full of potato-like lumps that rolled about. She had folded back the tops to form balls and tied her stockings tightly in the middle.[...] I pointed to the balled-up socks. 'Look at them carefully. This should be a time for them to rest. Do you really think they can get any rest like that?'"
Excerpt From: Marie Kondo. “The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up.”

Beyond the great representation of your belongings having a life of their own, Kondo does a great job of allowing you to follow through with her advice and thought process by encouraging you to ask yourself, "Does this bring me joy?" 

I documented some of my process but the biggest eye-opener for me was the realization of the sheer amount of things I possess in my little apartment.

All of the books I own in my apartment were laid out on my dining table. I love books with all my heart and this was the category that was the hardest for me. (Do you see my dining table bending a little? Ha.)

There were joyful + painful moments as well as lots of memories flooding through my thoughts while completing the process of tidying my apartment but after I completed it, I felt new, refreshed, and cleansed.

Total bags tossed into the trash? 15. I know. I couldn't believe it either.

One of the things that Lady Marie advises to do is to "[visualize] the ideal lifestyle you dream of." The one thing I had always wanted to do was to reorganize my bookshelf as a color gradient - because, why not?! Being a visual person, sometimes I won't remember the name of a book that I'm thinking of but I know the color and can see the cover in my mind. So, naturally, this way of organizing my books makes sense for me.

This process of tidying was probably one of the best experiences I've ever had. Kondo states in her book that it would also teach you to edit out other things in your life and I think that this is a true statement. 

As a UX designer, it already gives me a new perspective when it comes to choosing hierarchy of information, process flow, and editing material out. If you're in the industry, ask yourself, "Will it bring my user joy?"

UX Notes: Designing experiences should be done with the user in mind but what happens when you have multiple kinds of brain processes accessing the same material? Filters can be a point of contention with content managers and designers but having visual filters may be a feature that many have not yet experimented with but could provide another way for others to naturally find what they need. Hey Amazon - what if you had book cover color filters in your search process? I'll bet that your sales would go up (even if it's a little margin) and that you would have die hard, loyal fans.