In my last post, I resolved to write three times a week. It’s been three months and I haven’t written a single post. It was a noble goal, but I guess I didn’t anticipate how much mental energy working at EveryBlock would be.
The first three months have been really interesting. I feel like I’ve spent relatively little time designing. Mostly, I’ve been learning the code base and doing front end development. Which means lots of bug fixing and IE testing. (And here I thought I was too old for that shit.) I’ve learned a little bit of Django, a little about HTML which I thought I knew very well, and surprisingly, a ton about CSS which I thought I knew like the back of my hand. My boss is so into efficiency in the code editor that I’ve switched from the sleek looking Coda 2 to the power-user focused Sublime Text 2 (which I can’t recommend enough).
I’ve done a little bit of illustration, which has been the most fun type of project so far. I’ve barely scratched the surface in terms of designing for the site. I’m eager to get in there and mess around a little bit. I can’t wait to do something more interesting that 75,000+ users interact with.
Oddly enough, I don’t think I’ve learned much about design; I’ve really been learning about how to communicate better and cut away the bullshit. It’s amazing how direct, forward and intelligent my coworkers are. I often feel like a complete idiot because I don’t think critically enough. The more I think about it, the more I realize I had been conditioned to accept directives I didn’t understand. For years I tried to deliver on cryptic instruction from other people with the expectation that I wouldn’t question those directives. It’s refreshing and immensely challenging to, well, challenge convention and decide what’s best for the users above all else.
My resolution to write more was a good one; I don’t know that I can commit to three posts a week, but being able to confidently and directly explain myself is something that doesn’t come so easy. It’s easy to think you’re good at something when your thoughts don’t leave your head. However, I find that directness and simplicity are incredibly difficult to express to others. Maybe that’s just me.
Do not adjust your mind, there’s a fault in reality.Alan Fletcher
So I have a new plan: to write something on this blog at least three times a week. I’ve read again and again that a better writer makes a better designer.
I would guess most designers end up running into the problem of not being able to adequately articulate their decisions early on in their career. I’m five and a half years into my career and I find myself struggling to explain my decisions to others.
Designers should be able to take and identify relevant feedback rather well. After reading this article by Ryan Singer (of 37 Signals), I’m determined to make myself a better designer by designing in the open. If design is broken down as a series of decisions rather than an arbitrary artistic exercise, then faster, smaller decisions lead to better, bigger ones. At least that’s my theory so far, so now it’s time to test it out.
I spent the bulk of my mental energy on finding a new job from October 2011 until March 2012. I didn’t think it would be so hard at a time when design- and usability-centered startups are sprouting up all the time.
I mostly focused my search on companies in San Francisco. I went out there twice in January 2012. Once I was flown out by a fairly prominent company to interview, and another time to follow up with a bunch of other well known startups. Unfortunately, I didn’t land any of these positions.
I spent my five post-college years focused on lots of things (mostly my band Percolator), but hadn’t spent tons of time focused on my career or design. I spent that time watching my peers slowly rise to successful careers and praise for design, while I toiled away at a job I wasn’t thrilled with. I can remember wanting to be a better designer but not having any idea about how to get better. I didn’t know how to invent my own style or even figure out what I liked about the styles of others.
When it came time to start applying for jobs, I realized that I hadn’t spent enough time focused on my skills as a designer. From there, I realized that I didn’t have much of an internal drive to create design; I thought that maybe I just didn’t like design. When it came time to show my stuff to potential employers, however, I discovered something I had been searching for: my voice. I think when my back was against the wall, I had to summon imagery and ideas to create stuff worth looking at. I built confidence in my skill just by making work for the sake of making it. I never considered myself much of an illustrator, but as it turns out, I enjoy the process of putting pen to paper a whole lot more than I thought I did.
After spending months being discouraged (and pretty despondent), I found a job posting for a UI designer at EveryBlock. After a couple rounds of in-person interviews, they asked to design up a simple content doc as a homework assignment. I used the closest thing to my personal style to create several illustrations. Somehow it worked. I feel like I’ve just scratched the surface of my creative reservoir, but it’s pretty invigorating. I want to soak up as much knowledge as possible and practice as much as I can.
A song from my band’s latest release, The Illegally People EP.