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?


New Thoughts on Marie Kondo's Tidying Regime

Ladies and Gentlemen, Marie Kondo has ruined my life.

Ok - that's a little dramatic, but remember this post when I cleared out my apartment using Marie Kondo’s method?

I’m here to tell you that, yes, my place stays tidied and things are, generally, always in their home... but there have been several moments where I have looked for something and then realized that  - oh yeah, it didn't bring me joy in the week I was clearing out my space, but it looks like I'm going to have to spend money to buy it again because I actually need it. OMG. Kill me now.

Although the KonMarie method has brought order to my environment, it has also bestowed upon me the unwanted gift of neurotic behavior as I now constantly worry about whether my things are in their appropriate homes. Do I really need to be thinking about this when I want to be writing and making things? No. But then on the other hand, when I'm writing and making things, would I be bothered if my environment was a mess? Yes. 

So, the struggle continues. I write this to warn those who may be at the brink of embarking on the KonMarie way of life. Just be careful with how you intake her information and how much of it you commit to. I drank the Kool-Aid because I was more than just thirsty to know how one keeps and maintains tidiness, and now I am trying to balance myself so that this method of living does not run my life. 

You have been warned.

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:

Amtrak Customer Service = Hugs

Remember that magical conversation I referred to in my last post? Well, turns out that stars have aligned and something in the universe has been preparing me to go to Detroit. 

Am I excited? I'm trying to keep my cool... but I think it's going to be pretty rad. !!

The thing about this is that I don't know what to expect... but I do know this - I believe in my heart that the people there are great and that we believe in the power of Human Centered Design. So, let's do this. 

However, sometimes when the universe aligns perfectly for someone else, things are breaking apart for others. It's strange how life works like that but this has happened to me before. Actually, when I know things are about to be great and everything just seems to be going right for me, there's a part of me that begins to reserve space in my heart and mind for sadness. It's almost like metaphysics. You can't control it.

This time around, a really good friend of mine was the one to break some awful news to me about something in her life. I get so upset when bad things happen to good people. I just... I just can't. 

Amtrak's 1971 logo.

Amtrak's 1971 logo.

This is all to say that because of recent events such as those mentioned above, I found myself having to purchase an Amtrak ticket for my trip to Detroit. The website was confusing (UX Alert!) and their guest reward thing is separate?? Actually, it was so bad that I decided to call. Yes. I opted for calling someone on the phone to talk to a human. I didn't see any 'chat now' buttons and my password wasn't being sent to me after I reset it so I figured I had to. 

I had the best customer service that I have received over the phone in probably my entire life.

Even better than Chase Sapphire Preferred Card. 

She was kind, efficient, offered to do things for me when she didn't have to, and even asked about things I hadn't thought of regarding my trip. She also knew the order in which my mind was processing all of this information and it seemed like she had it down to a science. It was great UX. 

I think old systems like train/railroads have a great customer service embedded into their phone culture because that was the UX of their time. The hottest new thing was the telephone and businesses competed with each other by trying to offer the best services via operator. It's fascinating how often history repeats itself in different ways. The answers to things are usually already there - you just have to readjust the solution and reapply it to the context at hand in a mindful manner.

What I loved about the entire experience though was how much she made me feel at ease with the confusion of what I was seeing on screen. She explained why changes weren't showing up and assured me that my information was being updated as she typed. The secret to her miracle UX work was being able to mix both phone services and web delivery all at the same time - she made a believer out of me. 

So, I guess the phone isn't dead. I'll definitely remember this experience and take a chance on calling if everything else fails. I won't start to expect great phone service though - I think companies still need to desperately straighten that out. 

If there are any UXers who would like to tackle the Amtrak system - it would be a good idea to hang out with these phone service operators. They just might be able to write the whole architecture out for you.  

UX Notes: When Macy's made the decision to have their operators help direct customers to other stores to find what they needed, this was a UX decision that worked in their favor. They did this all by phone. What if our department store online checkouts also searched and crawled other stores' websites and directed their customers with a link to purchase their goods there if they were in the same situation? I guarantee loyalty.

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.