My design journey and your new beginning

There are many things that I look back on throughout my journey to design. I don’t have any regrets on the path I’ve chosen, but I realize that with a little more guidance things may have been a little different. This post will consist of my influences and creativity that lead to design. As well as my failures and learnings for designers who are either looking for their first gig or transitioning into their next one.

Creativity in my childhood

Growing up I was always fascinated with creating things. In my younger years I was deeply rooted in hands on activities like creating epic stories with articulated wrestling toys, building minimal structures with that massive box of multi-colored legos and who can forget about Play-Doh (the smells man, the smells!).

As I grew fonder of my existence and the world that was expanding around me, I had my first encounter with an action packed animated show featuring awesome storylines and an interesting line of characters. I had discovered Dragon Ball Z *throws confetti* which lead to Dragon Ball Z GT and back to Dragon Ball and multiple movies.

Wondering how these awesome animated series and movies were made ignited my passion for drawing. I tried my hand at sketching but was terrible at it, so the next best thing was tracing and coloring. Over that time period of my Dragon Ball Z kick, I became extremely obsessed with colors. Every time my parents went to Home Depot I would hoard all of my favorite paint cards and take them home with me to add to my collection.

Post childhood creativity

Literature

Fast forward and I’m now in my teens, I’ve taken a strong liking to the Harry Potter saga and stay locked in my room sprawled out on my bed immersed in a world J.K. Rowling designed. I would spend time reading the HP books and then writing my own short story spin offs with my favorite Pilot G-2 gel pen and my Mead Five Star notebook. A few of my other favorite books were “The Outsiders”, anything written by Edgar Allen Poe and the thoroughly enjoyable “Odyssey”.

Writing

I spent a lot of time reading literature and poetry in High School. I was fascinated by how timeless, eloquent and captivating the poets’ works were.

Being so moved by their work I decided to give writing poetry a shot. I was so determined to make other people feel the way the poets made me feel. My first attempts were Haikus before later deciding to go for an open format with free writing and loose structure.

After my first handful of poems I became frustrated with my minimal vocabulary. The next logical step was to pick up the dictionary. Everyday I would memorize sets of worthy words and study them before moving on to the next page. After a while of learning new words I began to build a diverse vocabulary, in turn I became more confident in sharing my work.

Music

Along with my newfound interest in literature and writing, I grew curiosity in how songs were constructed. Growing up I appreciated a wide range of artists including: Lupe Fiasco, Big L, Asking Alexandria, System of a Down, Lincoln Park, Daughtry and Nickelback (Yeah I said that, Nickelback!).

Music was something deeply rooted in my family, my dad had managed many artists in his younger years and was involved in more recent endeavors. He had a Michael Jackson vinyl displayed above the fridge and I considered his Moon Walk to be pretty magical. Growing up my dad had two younger brothers who were also into music. They performed, wrote and recorded music to cassette tapes.

After my on going experiments with poetry I decided to give writing music a try. I started out reciting and emulating songs from Lupe Fiasco and Big L, shortly after that I graduated to writing remixes to famous artist’s instrumentals. The first song I ever wrote and recorded in a professional studio was a remix of Lupe Fiasco’s song “I Gotcha” titled “Introduction to the World” (unashamed It’s still on iTunes for $0.99).

I went on to record 100s of songs, released 8 mixtapes, performed at my high schools talent show and multiple venues. My curiosity in writing and recording music and naturally progressed into scoring and producing music in multiple genres.

The internet taught me

My first taste of the internet was my Freshman year in High School. I was enrolled in an Introduction to Computers class where I learned about HTML, flew through vigorous typing tests and played games like Bubble Trouble when the teacher wasn’t looking.

The first social networks I ever became heavily invested in were Myspace and Tumblr. The interesting thing about these networks was how customizable they were. You could choose pre-made themes or even get your hands dirty building your own. I would customize my pages and blogs by modifying HTML code and building layouts in css while editing my profile photos using Adobe Photoshop.

Around the same time that I became involved in music I also experimented with graphic design. I got tired of dishing out money every time I wanted business cards or a simple cover made. I remember my childhood friend giving me a copy of Adobe Photoshop CS2 and I went home to learn it so I could create my own album covers and design collateral to brand me and my friends as musicians.

My first gig

The debut of my design career was working for a small company who sold diabetic supplies, insurance and funded giveaways. I had prior experience working on branding and designing websites but had never done it professionally with a team or a purpose. There’s a different dynamic that is introduced when you start involving real people who make key decisions and real people who use the products you release into the wild.

The core things I took away from my first job were:
1. Don’t just do, listen and ask questions after you’ve listened intently
2. Business will always be a priority even if you can’t sell your design
3. Visually pleasing designs aren’t always effective
4. Alignment tools are your friend
5. Sweat the details

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Learn by doing

I never really chose a style for learning but I’ve always been good at it. From writing short stories, poetry and creating music I always learned best by doing. Reading about things only ever took me so far without building muscle memory by repetitively carrying out a task.

One of my favorite quotes is “It is only by going through a volume of work that you will close that gap, and your work will be as good as your ambitions.” – Ira Glass. I have a terabyte hard drive full of folders with songs and design work I’m super ashamed of. It’s hard (really hard) to stay motivated when you’re in the trenches trying to learn new things but the biggest enemy of progress for me was overthinking. Stop holding off on that side project and don’t be afraid to screw things up, dig in!

Impact or growth

Planning has to be my least favorite thing above anything else I do, but I do wish I would’ve planned more earlier on in my career. Sara (Miso), a good friend of mine asked me a question recently that totally stumped me. “Are you looking for impact or growth?”. We came to the conclusion that both being present in our lives would be amazing. At a certain point in your career growth is so crucial to your future in and outside of this industry.

From my personal experience growth should be a priority earlier in your career, but can also be a great focus at any skill level. “Surround yourself by people way more talented than you are and learn as much as you can”.

Know your worth

What I struggled with the majority of my career was not only acknowledging my worth but also communicating that to employers and teams. What I’ve learned overtime is that the teams and companies I want to work with Hire People, Not Skills. Skills can be taught but you can’t (and shouldn’t want to) change a person, they have to be willing to change on their own.

One of the main things I have done to build self awareness was writing a simple list of strengths, weaknesses, things I accept for what they are and areas that I want to grow in. Another step I took with this process is breaking these areas down into categories.

Other ways I have benchmarked my skill level is by looking at job descriptions for companies I’m genuinely interested in working with as well as interviewing. Even if I didn’t get the position I would learn A TON about myself through these processes and lay the floor plans for improving my skill set in the future.

Mentors are friggin’ awesome!

I’ve identified a huge chunk of my rapid growth in my professional and personal life are due to open collaboration and having a solid mentor to lean on. With that being said my time at GoSection8 was life changing. I shared a plethora of first challenges, failures and wins with my buddy and mentor Chris. I joined the team at Go8 as a junior designer with a sense of good design, an open mind and a background in Front-End development. Overtime a lot of the questions I had were answered through direct conversations, questions and observing how Chris approached problems, communicated and tackled challenges. I’m not afraid to say the majority of the knowledge and experience I obtained throughout my life was a byproduct of emulation and remixing until I developed my own style.

Conclusion

When it comes down to it everyone has their own journey they are embarking on. A self tailored way they perceive navigating through this journey and so many routes to take to accomplish personal goals.

I hope this blog post finds you earlier on in your career. To recap on the key points I’ve discussed: learn by getting your hands dirty, identify and leverage your strengths and weaknesses, find the awesome companies you want to work for, grow your skills and sell yourself to them, find a mentor ASAP, observe and learn as much as you can from the people you surround yourself by.

I built empathy through my fear of death

The Chase

I’ve spent the majority of my life trying to be the best at anything that has ever come across my path and could be mastered. I’ve played sports, tried to be a professional gamer, thrashed in the streets of Boca Raton, FL with a Birdhouse deck in an attempt to go pro (shouts to all the Tony Hawk’s Pro Skater Games). I made it as far as 180’ing on a BMX bike and totaled my beautiful Free Agent racing bike (modified for street) in the result of a head-on collision with on coming traffic. I’ve tried to start multiple t-shirt brands and built a strong interest in fashion design over the years. Writing has always piqued my interest the most. From writing music and poetry the majority of my life, having performed and recorded in studios and paying dues studying over 5 genres to create them later.

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My deepest darkest fear

After living almost a Quarter of my life and being involved in “The Chase”, I’ve come to the conclusion that my never-ending passion and hunger that has driven me to work (when I’m not sleeping or eating) was the fear of dying. When I look back in times of self reflection I ask myself “What are you chasing and why are you chasing it”. This question is hard to ask and answer because of the harsh reality that sometimes we don’t know why we do what we do. The real answer isn’t the obvious answer It’s the one one tied deeply to our emotions and our soul. Sometimes the answer is the next “high” and we all know that the next pay raise, new gadget or quick fix is only going to last as long as the previous “high” we experienced.

Newfound Empathy

The most beneficial thing my deepest fear taught me was true empathy. It’s very likely that I can claim I’m emphatic publicly to be accepted in the system I’m embedded into, but things start to change when you keep it real. The transition of my thought process from “I need to accomplish all of these goals before I die” to “How many people can I help gain more time to do the things they love efficiently” has solidified In the hopes of using everything I’ve learned in my lifetime to truly help people. Designing for your parents who are not tech-savvy becomes reality when you realize that life on Earth isn’t forever. If I can make things easier for them in the long run I’ll have more time to spend with them in the future.

Time and It’s value

A quick Google search defined time as “the indefinite continued progress of existence and events in the past, present, and future regarded as a whole”. My internal definition of time was tied directly to my fear of dying without having something to “show for”. How people choose what they spend their time on may be tied directly to what they care about, that focus can fluctuate anywhere between seconds, minutes or years. If items that depreciate in value over time drive what we care about is that a wise investment of our time? The brutal reality is that not everyone lives to be 100 years old. Lets start spending more time tackling problems progressively and at least laying the bricks and investing in things that can help people when we aren’t contributing to this ecosystem any longer.

Keeping it real

While we are being honest, keeping it real yields long term results sometimes without quick short term gains (depending on what your definition of gains are). Sometimes doing the right thing isn’t fun and is definitely a sacrifice in many forms. I’ve vowed that until the end of time (If within my power) I want to use my talents to build things that serve a true value past filling a void. There’s already enough time spent crafting that next big novelty item amongst the piles of crap we already invest precious seconds into. I would be a total hypocrite If I spent my time building things that didn’t make people a better version of themselves. I would be exposing people to my deepest darkest fear, my fear of death.

What It Means To Be A Designer Pt.2

As I continue down my path as a designer I fail, benchmark, grow, try new things and continue to push my internal envelope. As my track record, capabilities and thought process mature I love to share my experiences and findings no matter how obvious or elementary they are they can help someone.

Curiosity

Curiosity is one of the core reasons I’ve had the opportunity to participate and give back to many causes. I was always curious about how things functioned from musical pieces to BMX bike tricks, people, the environment economics, video games and my current passion for design. When It comes to design no one is going to deliberately give you answers. Your curiosity should drive you to ask questions and a portion of our job can be made easier when we ask the right questions.

Asking Questions (The Right Ones)

There have been multiple times in my design career where I was left frustrated because I wasn’t getting the right answers. The root of the problem was asking the right questions. Don’t ask “what do you think?”, ask if this solution accurately solves the problem. Not only does it solve the problem, but is it the best solution after we’ve exhausted all of our options. When the dust settles will it do as little disruption as possible to the good that was there previously.

Action

In my continuous journey of becoming the designer I aspire to be I realize that the same energy you always leave inspired with should be put into action. What good is learning and digesting great things in the world if you don’t do something to give back to the cause. The problem I ran into earlier in my career was the paralysis of making sure a situation is perfect before making a move. One step forward definitely holds more progressive weight than no steps anywhere. This year has been an interesting journey in terms of thought process and growth. Not only am I focusing on the right things but It’s also time to act upon my thoughts and learnings. That one thing that wasn’t said in the last meeting because of inaction could’ve changed things. Whether the change yielded positive or negative results we will never know.

Responsibility

As a designer I have a huge responsibility for what I release into the wild. One of my favorite talks aligning with my previous statement is Mike Monteiro’s “How Designers Destroyed the World”. Not only am I an advocate for my companies user base but I’m also responsible for what I let through the gates into the universe whether they are bad or good. The decisions I make can unknowingly touch millions of people directly or via domino effect.

Growth

Growth is addicting and lack of is discouraging. Ever half-year I do a progress check to make sure I’m on the right path and that I have my compass turned in the right direction. There’s nothing worse than internal complacency that directly affects external perception and efforts. As I continue to grow I hope that I can remember to share my knowledge to the amazing people after me just as those before me did.

What It Means To Be A Designer

The feeling when you’re finally falling into place (and still wondering whether this moment of clarity was truly aided by Han Zimmer’s Inception Soundtrack).

I have been designing experiences and crafting front-ends for exactly 2 years now (I only know this because It says so on my LinkedIn profile). Now before I get into the big why factors lets journey back to when I first got drafted into Dribbble.

I started out in the wild posting pre invite shots which were all typical redesigned interfaces. Weathers apps, social media web apps, widgets, and you guessed it..more apps apps (Which were misaligned, impractical, and totally not usable). After a few months of floating around the community I started getting some recognition for putting out “quality work”, which was flat, pixel perfect, and ultra extra expresso shot 5000 trendy but still had no means of ever being used by real people.

The first moments of clarity hit me when I was speaking to a fellow designer about Dribbble and how the volume of shots I was posting per month were decreasing faster than the stocks in Waterloo. I was starting to focus more on small details, the experience, and overall problem solving. I began looking at popular shots and aggressively questioning them and even looking back at some of my recent “work” and questioning myself. After that realization I stopped posting to Dribbble and got serious about my career.

To me being a designer is a HUGE responsibility. We are responsible for processing information, discovering pain points, coming up with multiple solutions, creating or modifying the experiences, quickly iterating and overall solving the problems of the users. I had to learn that’s It’s not about being trendy or doing what I think is right. If you aren’t making an impact on people’s lives then what are you doing with yours?