Interview with we-inspire

Last July I had the pleasure of previewing we-inspire's collaborative ideation technology, which recently launched in the US. The company is originally from Austria, and they have created an amazing system using projection technology and a specially designed stylus by Anoto that can turn paper and walls into tablet interfaces. It's something I've always dreamed of having in the workplace! They did a feature of me on their website. Here's a transcript of the interview.

Be sure to check out the video at the bottom to see me using it!

What is your best advice on how to become a better presenter?

Well, I haven't always been great at presenting, it just takes some practice to get better. As a designer, normally I have many sketches and visuals to show, so that even if I can't find the right words, people will still understand my meaning. Sometimes if the visual presentation is good enough, no words are necessary to drive home your point. Also, everybody's time is precious. Try your best to give your audience something worth their time. Tell a story. Make an emotional connection. Tell people why they should care.

What inspires you?

like a lot of things. Architecture, science fiction, robots, fashion, auto design. Watches, of course are a huge inspiration. Watchmaking is one of the great products of human ingenuity. Not only are we talking about the perfect union of engineering and design and centuries of iteration and refinement... The concept of time itself was created by man. There are very few products in this world where we've taken an essential concept of science and physics, and given it a physical form in such a way. When it comes to product design, I often look to watches as the standard for design, quality, and sophistication.

What is your favorite part of the we-inspire system?

I love the way the we-inspire system has digitized our walls and boards. Traditionally, we industrial designers use these huge boards to pin up sketches, images, post-its, and swatches. It helps the design process to work more spatially, organize all of your random thoughts, and move things around. Since I'm from a younger generation of designers, I do all of my sketching and 3D development on the computer. I use the internet to gather my research. Pinning things up on boards, you are limited by the space on your board, you need to print out all of your sketches and inspiration images, cut them out, and pin them all up one by one. Then, if you run out of board space, you basically need to choose an older board to sacrifice and take down everything on it. This is a nightmare when you're at a company with other teams working on other projects, and are trying to figure out which boards from the other teams to take down. We-inspire is great because you can save all of your boards, bring up images from your hard drive or the web, and you save lots of paper, ink, and time. I can see that this will be the future of design studios and collaborative offices.

You can view the we-inspire website at http://www.we-inspire.com/

The future belongs to those who believe in the beauty of their dreams

This is my favorite quote at the moment, and this was said by Eleanor Roosevelt. She was first lady during the second world war and America's worst depression. She said these words to help inspire a dispirited America, and to free people from feelings of fear and hopelessness.

Dorothea Lange's Migrant Mother, iconic photo portrait from the Great Depression.

Dorothea Lange's Migrant Mother, iconic photo portrait from the Great Depression.

The full quote is as follows: "Believe in yourself. You gain strength, courage, and confidence by every experience in which you stop to look fear in the face... You must do that which you think you cannot do... The future belongs to those who believe in the beauty of their dreams."

We are living in an era of change. Who knows what the next decade will bring?

My generation grew up hearing stories about Bill Gates and Steve Jobs. We saw how their dreams of technology changed the world. Some of us have already been a part of that change as well, maybe in creating a world of social networks, smartphone apps, and wonderful internet content.

Some of us have also been living in a depression. Student debt, housing crash, unemployment. I dropped out of school and began my career during the height of the recession, so I've experienced that world as well. Even in hindsight, people would still sometimes tell me that this was a foolish decision.

I disagree. The more difficult path is not the more foolish path. It takes courage to pursue your dreams. It takes strength to follow your ideals. I have tremendous respect for those who have experienced the worst and then found the strength to battle through it. All of the best designers that I know have been through unimaginable struggles. It was the struggles that made them strong.

At this point in my career, I have luckily gained a bit of recognition and support from all over, and many amazing opportunities have recently come up. But I know I still have so much to learn, so there are a few decisions currently in the works that will again take a great amount of courage to face. I might completely fail and fall on my face. Fear of failure, or fear of hard work, do exist. I am actually a lazy person on the inside. But I don't wish to choose my decisions based on fears.

Choose to work and struggle. Don't follow your fears.

A painting I did for my grandfather of a swallow beginning to flap its wings and taking off for flight. It represents the beginnings of a bright future.

A painting I did for my grandfather of a swallow beginning to flap its wings and taking off for flight. It represents the beginnings of a bright future.

When I was a student, I often looked at people who have achieved great things in the past. Now, I am looking towards the future. This era has created a great deal of struggle for most of us. What kind of strength will this era create? Who will be the next one to change our world? What new skills, techniques, and ways of thinking will be used to design the future?

Getting stronger means working hard. It means struggling. Are your dreams beautiful enough to struggle for?

Faceplate project

I finally got around to uploading new work I recently finished for a client, a Silicon Valley startup company. They've received over $26M in funding from major venture capital investors such as Google. This was a fun project, where I was the sole industrial designer, taking the product from concept to CAD. The great thing about working with startup companies is the freedom to come up with great designs, and to come up with a design language for a new brand.

The product successfully launched a couple months ago, it is a device that protects networks from hackers, and is mainly for large institutions and corporations. Each of these is being sold at something like $100,000 so unfortunately it's not the typical product you would find at a Best Buy.

It's very fulfilling to see this product launch, as most of the time, I can't show my work to the public due to confidentiality, or sometimes I work within a larger team and can't take full credit for the designs.

Please check out the project here, or if you follow me on Behance, go here.

We All Could Use a Mentor

Over the past year, my work has seemed to brought me more attention and recognition. I'm very happy to have received wonderful compliments, and hopefully I can keep it up. I occasionally get emails from people aspiring to become designers, or from fellow designers asking about my creative process. It is great to share experiences and insights with other people, especially when you are able to give guidance that will positively influence a person's career path. I sometimes get quite busy with work, so my responses to these emails may be delayed. But I do try to respond to everyone.

I've been thankful for all the wonderful comments and messages during the past year. Sometimes I don't know how to respond. I'll just try not to let it go to my head!

I've been thankful for all the wonderful comments and messages during the past year. Sometimes I don't know how to respond. I'll just try not to let it go to my head!

Starting my career path was quite difficult, as not many people around me at the time understood the design field or my goals. I often tried to seek out people with a similar background who had accomplished some of my goals, but I had little success. Many times when I hoped for support and guidance, I had none. So I understand the importance of mentorship and having good advice, and I try to help other people as much as I can when they ask me for it.

By my work desk at home, I put up photos reminding me of various mentors. Yagyu Munenori, legendary samurai whose writings taught me how to apply martial arts principles to everything, including design. Master Clayton and Grandmaster Cheung, who taught me fearlessness. Thai Buddhist monk who taught me meditation and believed in me. And that helicopter drawing was done on the whiteboard together by me and Norm Schureman.

By my work desk at home, I put up photos reminding me of various mentors. Yagyu Munenori, legendary samurai whose writings taught me how to apply martial arts principles to everything, including design. Master Clayton and Grandmaster Cheung, who taught me fearlessness. Thai Buddhist monk who taught me meditation and believed in me. And that helicopter drawing was done on the whiteboard together by me and Norm Schureman.

WISEWORDS.CO

Recently I was asked to be an Advisor for a new website called Wisewords. It is an interesting new platform where people can receive one-on-one career advice from professionals in the fields they are interested in. Users can browse Experiences of available Advisors on the site and set up a call to speak directly with that advisor. That way, the users can receive tailored advice and stories of experiences from a person who had already achieved those user's goals.

I thought this was a great idea, so I am now one of several Advisors already available on the Wisewords site. If anybody is interested in having a quick conversation about my experiences or have questions for me, you can register and set up a phone call with me through the site. It's still in beta version, so things like my page link aren't working quite well yet. There are also other Advisors of various levels, specialties, and backgrounds that you can check out as well.

wisewords.co

NORM SCHUREMAN, REST IN PEACE

While I am on the topic of mentorship, I must mention one instructor and dear friend at Art Center who I respected, Norm Schureman. As one of the few instructors who truly believed I would have a successful career, he meant a lot to me personally.

After my 4th term in Art Center, I decided to drop out of school to get an early start in my career. I only told a few people about my decision, as I had already faced some negative feedback from friends and family. I chose not to tell Norm, as he was perhaps the only person who could have swayed my decision to leave. I decided that I would tell him after my first product came out to market, and I would present my first product to him.

Soon after I landed my first freelance job, I heard the sudden news that Norm had been killed. He died protecting a number of people by preventing a hate crime shooting at a neighborhood Persian New Years party 4 years ago. His sudden death marked the harsh beginning of my professional career and had left a huge impression in my mind. I never got a chance to tell him I dropped out of school, but I owe a great deal to him for always believing in me and supporting me.  I learned many of my skills through my own studies, so to me, having someone believe in me was much more valuable than any instructor teaching a skill.

Never forget your mentors, and give back by taking time occasionally to help someone else along their path. It's a tough world out there. And maybe those few words or actions can make all the difference in someone's world.

Empathy is our most important quality - Project Smile

Hi all, hope you had a happy Thanksgiving weekend. Over the past few days, I got to spend quality time with family, reconnect with old friends, and make some great new friends as well. This past year has been a roller coaster of ups and downs, but lately I've felt extremely lucky for all of the good things that have happened recently. 2014 looks like it will be a very interesting year with some amazing opportunities coming up.

In the spirit of abundance and goodwill, I wish to call attention to a little philanthropic project I am participating in called Project Smile. Recently, the founder of this initiative, Marek Wysoczyñski, reached out to me all the way from Poland.  Marek has been collecting thousands "smiles and autographs" for many years to be displayed at children's hospitals all over the world.

WSAlogoENG.jpg

While there are many organizations with the purpose of raising funds for children's hospitals, the goal of this project is simply to make those children smile. Marek believes that this simple act can have a major impact on everyday lives. Countless celebrities including Michael Jackson, Liza Minelli, Diego Maradona, and Jim Carrey, have donated their "smile" autographs to this cause.

What do Liza Minelli and Nelson Wah have in common? Not much, I imagine. Other than the fact that we both care about the kids in children's hospitals.

What do Liza Minelli and Nelson Wah have in common? Not much, I imagine. Other than the fact that we both care about the kids in children's hospitals.

Of course, I am not a celebrity by any measure, so I was quite honored to be asked to join his project.  Marek has asked me to reach out to my friends as well. So, if there are any actors, athletes, or musicians, or just plain old nice guys like me who wish to participate, please contact me.

He has given me no particular deadline, but I'm hoping to get a bunch of "smile" autographs together- as many as I can, and send them all together in one package to Marek before Christmas. Let's think of this as a Christmas gift to the kids in those hospitals.

I believe in the value of this cause. Not from any personal experiences with children's hospitals- I think I've only passed through a children's hospital once, when I was at Johns Hopkins. And anybody who knows me probably knows I am quite awkward around kids. I barely interact with little kids, ever.

I do feel very compelled to do a good job on my "smile," though, and make a really awesome drawing or painting for those kids. Sometimes people say my work is very dark and aggressive, so at least I'll try not to give any kids horrible nightmares.
 

PRACTICING EMPATHY

The reason i care is because of empathy. As designers, we often practice empathy in order to understand the people we are designing for, so that we can create a better products that have real value to the users. Great designers are great at empathy, and often even those who have design skills can only go so far without that deep understanding of empathy.

Empathy is what I feel is possibly humanity's most important trait. The ability to walk in another person's shoes and understand other's feelings is utterly necessary in our world where selfishness and individual differences can lead to war, persecution, economic disparity, and sociopolitical decline. We may often underestimate the importance of empathy and simple gestures of kindness. Yet all of us are the same. We all have our hardships and struggles in life. But, living in this world together, we all also have the ability to spread joy to each other. 

Redkroft, a design agency in Poland, donated beautiful brand identity and logo designs for Project Smile. The "helping hand" smile logo concept as described by Redkroft, "behind a simple muscle contraction lies a deeper meaning, a desire to help one another, a desire to lend a helping hand." "We combined these two ideas into one - a helping hand, carrying and passing the smile on."

Redkroft, a design agency in Poland, donated beautiful brand identity and logo designs for Project Smile. The "helping hand" smile logo concept as described by Redkroft, "behind a simple muscle contraction lies a deeper meaning, a desire to help one another, a desire to lend a helping hand." "We combined these two ideas into one - a helping hand, carrying and passing the smile on."

So, I empathize with the young children in hospitals. To them, the world may easily seem like an unfair, hopeless, depressing place. Even the bravest grown men and women will feel helpless when dealing with sickness. Of course, we do not want those children to feel like the world is against them. We need them to know that the world is on their side. Even though it is a small gesture from a stranger such as myself, I hope that the children will know that people exist in the world who care about them, think about them, and wish them to be happy.

The Archbishop of Solomon Islands gave his smile to this project with the following quote: "Smile and the World smiles with you, Cry and you cry alone."

Let's make the world smile. If you are interested in participating in Project Smile, even if it's with a simple smiley face and a signature, please get in touch with me.

 

To learn more about the initiative, please read the following Interview With Marek Wysoczyñski

Check out some examples of smiles here on the Project Smile Website

There's a catalog by Kiwanis compiling some of the celebrity smiles here: "Project Smile" Catalogue

Also, many thanks to Grzegorz Derlukiewicz at Redkroft, the amazingly talented design agency in Poland that created and donated the beautiful logo and brand identity for this project. You can view the design project on the Redkroft website.

:)

How micro-brands will be the future business model for designers

Last Thursday, Roger Ball came to speak at Art Center on "how to start your own micro-brand." He is currently a professor of industrial design at Hong Kong Polytechnic University School of Design and is also a leader in 3D anthropometric research for "China-fit" products. It was certainly empowering to hear him speak about the opportunities for designers today in creating their own brands.

Big brick-and-mortar retailers like Best Buy have suffered in recent years due to online competition from sites such as Amazon, which have lower overhead and offer broader product choices.

Big brick-and-mortar retailers like Best Buy have suffered in recent years due to online competition from sites such as Amazon, which have lower overhead and offer broader product choices.

THE BRICK-AND-MORTAR BUSINESS MODEL

Entrepreneurship is something that has always been in the back of my mind. For most people like me, the startup capital needed to invest in a new business is the single greatest barrier to entry. Today's business models have largely been driven by the existence of big brick-and-mortar distribution chains like Wal-Mart or Target. In order to get your own product into market, you would usually need enough capital to mass produce your product. Often, you might seek out investors who would effectively own the majority of your company and product. And at this level of investment, the level of risk and cost of failure can be catastrophic. 

What does this mean for us designers? Most of my talented friends working in the product design industry fall into 2 categories: in-house design, or consultancy. Meaning, to get a product idea to market we will usually either be designing from within a corporation, or be in a business that offers design services to multiple corporations. In either case, the final product will be branded with names like Samsung, Nike, or Cobra PUMA Golf. We really have no ownership of the products we create.
 

THE INTERNET DISRUPTING THE SHOPPING PARADIGM

Today the internet continues to evolve the world and create new ways to connect customers with businesses. Citing the success of Amazon, online shopping has already transformed the way people buy and look for products. In the online shopping world, there are no physical space limitations that a brick-and-mortar would have.

More importantly, selling online there is no reason for minimum quantity or mass production. You can literally sell a single quantity item on Etsy. The emergence of crowd-funding sites like Kickstarter has also created new opportunities for entrepreneurs. I'm happy to know several friends and colleagues have already successfully crowd-funded their own products. Even those who weren't funded, I truly admire for trying. 

Taobao.com is the Amazon of China. They were the ones who manufactured the new holiday, Singles Day, when people in China born under the one-child policy (aka everyone) should buy a special gift online for themselves on 11/11.

Taobao.com is the Amazon of China. They were the ones who manufactured the new holiday, Singles Day, when people in China born under the one-child policy (aka everyone) should buy a special gift online for themselves on 11/11.

Roger Ball gave us an interesting fact, that previously the record for online sales was on Cyber Monday with $2B in sales. A couple weeks ago, China's new manufactured holiday, Singles Day, shattered that record with $5B in sales. Undoubtedly, online shopping will continue to grow in the near future. Even without a big online marketplace, blogs and websites these days curate and bring attention to great designs, and connect customers directly with the products that fit their taste.
 

NICHE IS NOT A BAD WORD

Many times, clients I design for try to avoid niche markets. Because they are selling mass-produced products, they try to target what they often call a "mass consumer" for the least risk. In reality, there is no such person, unless you are truly the average of the collective tastes and mindsets of every consumer out there. And at the same time, all of your competitors are thinking the exact same thing. As Roger Ball put it, there are all these flavors of ice cream, but if everybody based their decisions on focus groups, everybody would just make vanilla.

No offense, vanilla. You're actually my favorite flavor. But I also love having lots of choices to pick from depending on my mood.

No offense, vanilla. You're actually my favorite flavor. But I also love having lots of choices to pick from depending on my mood.

Manufacturing and technology for product development have evolved, and today many factories are willing to produce parts at low-volume quantities. This is great news, because the initial cost of manufacture can potentially be low enough that even someone like me might be able to afford a first run production.

Rather than the business model of high-quantity sales on paper-thin margins for the "mass consumer", micro-brands compete for low-quantity sales in niche markets with potentially larger profit margins. Of course the risk of failure still remains, but avoiding mass production the stakes are lowered, and we can at least avoid those catastrophic, life-ruining levels of risk. At the same time, the lower the quantities, the simpler the logistics of running the business as an individual or a tiny company.
 

MICRO-BRANDS AND DESIGNERS

For creative professionals, our ideas are our assets. We can create value from nothing. Product designers are especially well-equipped to start our own businesses. We have the experience and know-how to create a new product, as well as the taste and understanding of consumers to create a brand. The potential to create our own brand is there. Perhaps what we lack is money, with our meager designer salaries, and courage to step forward and invest in our own ideas.

I think about how little time I myself would need to get a product ready for manufacture. I can probably sketch a cool concept in as little as an hour or two, turn it into a 3D model over a weekend, and send it out to a 3D printer to get a prototype made. If I had no budget I could even make my own logo, website, and branding elements for the product with relative ease. More time spent would really be about getting my product up to my own high standards. After hearing Roger Ball talk about his students making their own products and brands for his class, I now feel that I would be lazy and unambitious if I didn't give it a shot. So, perhaps you may see me with my own brand and products to sell online in the near future. If so, please run out and buy it ;)

I encourage any designers and creative professionals to start their own ventures. The more of us who are able to successfully make our own brands and businesses, the better the situation will be for designers in general. I'd especially love to see more product designers who are CEOs of their own brands, because I believe it will be commonplace in the future. As Roger Ball said, micro-brands are just baby brands. Louis Vuitton was once a micro-brand in the 1800s. Just about every designer I know has dreamt of having their own products and brands become the next Apple or Louis Vuitton. Perhaps many of us have the potential, we just need to start it.

You can read more about how to start your own micro-brand in Roger Ball's book, Design Direct.

Taylor Swift, 007, and Aspirational Branding

A while back, I saw Taylor Swift's commercial for Diet Coke. I'm not ashamed to say that I am a fan of her work, so I was very excited for a few different reasons when I saw this commercial. One of the reasons- as a designer, I thought that this was a great example of aspirational branding.

In this video, Taylor is shown throughout her typical day. During her typical day, she is songwriting everywhere. She's writing her song, 22, on the floor in her bedroom. She's writing in the wardrobe room perhaps right before a PR shoot. She's writing at a local cafe. They show clips of regular people humming along to her song throughout their typical days as well. Everybody's doing their typical daily routines. But Taylor's achieved something extraordinary by touching all of those other people with her song. She's sort of this common link between everybody, and she is Diet Coke's aspirational user.

One of these days maybe you'll catch me working on designs on the floor of my bedroom.

One of these days maybe you'll catch me working on designs on the floor of my bedroom.

Taylor's Diet Coke is present throughout her typical day, and it's one of the few constants shown throughout her songwriting process. Of course, we don't really believe that Taylor's secret to her success is her Diet Coke. We like Taylor Swift and her success. If Taylor Swift likes Diet Coke, well, we at least know that Diet Coke won't ruin your life (unless Aspartame really does cause cancer). And say part of me does wish I could write songs for a living. Imagine how it would be, living a day in Taylor's life. All of a sudden, part of me does want to be sitting on my bedroom floor, feeling those creative sparks, and sipping on a Diet Coke. 

Coca Cola is one of the most iconic brands ever. Coca Cola's logo is so recognizable, only a portion of the logo is necessary for customers to recognize the brand.

Coca Cola is one of the most iconic brands ever. Coca Cola's logo is so recognizable, only a portion of the logo is necessary for customers to recognize the brand.

Branding for Coca Cola isn't necessarily a direct promise of fame and success. With aspirational branding, we see the lifestyles of people we admire and aspire to be like. If our taste preferences between Coke and Pepsi don't lean strongly either way, branding can make all the difference. Our consumer choices often defer to the lifestyles we ideally hope to achieve. The details of these lifestyles do matter.

For the record, I used to buy Mexican Coca Cola because they came in those glass bottles. I actually don't really prefer the flavor more than regular Coke, and I don't even drink much soda in general, but I loved the feeling of drinking from cool vintage-style Coke bottles.
 

DESIGNING FOR THE ASPIRATIONAL USER VS. THE REAL USER

There are a million different ways to design a product. One common question we designers often have to ask ourselves while creating a product is, "who is the user?" We often look at the people who will actually be using our product, and then design with them in mind. What are the pain points of their user experience? How can we make that product easier to use? These types of questions are typical for user-centric design.

But maybe there are times we don't want to design for the actual user. Maybe sometimes we are aiming far too modestly.

Take, for example, the Aston Martin DB5. It was featured as the James Bond car in Skyfall. It is one of my dream cars, which I literally fell in love with at first sight, during the scene in Skyfall it was unveiled.

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007 is a fictional character. One who has set the benchmark for class and style for decades. He is what we designers would call an aspirational user. I know that I cannot walk away from an explosion unfettered, or escape a deathtrap set by an evil genius villain. But I do know that I want his car. And his outfit. And his coolheaded demeanor. Normally I wouldn't order myself a cocktail at a bar, but I've actually ordered a martini, just to find out what James Bond's favorite drink tastes like. 

Designing for an aspirational user versus an actual user, is like designing a desirable product versus a practical product. Keep in mind, desirable and practical are not mutually exclusive. Designing for James Bond doesn't translate to all flash and no substance. Aston Martins perform quite well under the hood, otherwise James Bond wouldn't fare too well during a car chase. In terms of functionality, we are often actually aiming for greater performance than is necessary for the actual user.

A classic example of aspirational branding is Nike Air Jordans. They were basketball shoes specifically designed for Michael Jordan, and became extremely popular and iconic among people who weren't Michael Jordan. No, maybe none of us will be doing slam dunks at championship games, but we love to know that our shoes were made for much more.

The concept of aspirational branding is also illustrated in my NASA rebranding study.
 

SURVIVE VS. THRIVE

Designing for actual users, we sometimes begin to limit our own thinking processes. One example I like to think about of is the healthcare industry. The word that comes to mind when I visit a hospital, is "Survive." Doctors and staff are trying to save lives. They can make miracles happen on a daily basis. Even so, hospitals are not pleasant places. Why can't we design these places to feel more like home? Or, to feel like an environment of healing and comfort, like a day spa during your weekend vacation? Would placing some more attention to these elements necessarily take away from our ability to survive? I believe there is potential to design better solutions once we break out of this survival mentality.

Perhaps this is why Kaiser Permanente's latest marketing slogan is "Thrive." Yes, survival is the first primordial priority of living creatures. But as humans, we also have other needs. We need things like interpersonal relationships, self-esteem, and self efficacy. We have aspirations. We don't wish to survive in a cold dark place. We wish to thrive.

As a consumer, I don't necessarily wish for the product tailored to the "me right now" that might perpetuate the same old behaviors and habits I might not necessarily want or like. I might reach for a product a couple sizes bigger- one that I can grow into. People are adaptable, and people likely want to change for the better.

Let's not design products just for how people are. Let's design products for how people hope to be.

Creative Confidence

This past Wednesday I was at Art Center to see David and Tom Kelley of IDEO speak about their new book. It was great getting to see 2 pioneers of the design world tell stories about how a little bit of design thinking led to amazing outcomes in all sorts of industries.

image courtesy of IDEO

image courtesy of IDEO

CREATIVE CONFIDENCE

The title of their book is Creative Confidence. I haven't gotten a chance to read it yet. This book is targeted mainly towards people in non-creative professions to unlock their creativity and utilize design thinking to rethink the way they learn and do things within their industries. For example, they talked about a doctor who one day saw Formula 1 pit crews on the TV. After seeing how beautifully efficient and choreographed their process was compared with the chaos in his ICU he brought in the Ferrari pit crew to his hospital for 3 days. HIs ICU learned a few tips of the F1 trade, which led to a reduction of errors by something like 40%.

An F1 pit crew can change a tire in 8 seconds.

An F1 pit crew can change a tire in 8 seconds.

I like stories like these in particular, coming from Johns Hopkins University and understanding a bit about the doctor's perspective. I spent last weekend at Las Vegas with my good friend from JHU, who was having his bachelor party there. Almost all of the guys there were doctors. I shared my work with a couple of them while we were relaxing by the pool. The general reaction was, "Wow, this is so... creative. There's no creativity in what we do, we do things the way we're trained." It was apparent that our worlds have been quite different since we graduated from JHU.

The thing is, I don't think I was more "artsy" than these guys while we were studying engineering. The difference was more that my buddy who's getting married is probably the most risk-averse guy I know. And he's proud of the fact he doesn't take risks. It's a great trait if you're a doctor. Meanwhile, being a designer takes enormous creative confidence and risk-taking. We must consistently come up with something new and tell the world, "The way you've been doing things has been wrong all along. My way is better."

YOU'RE SKETCHING THE WRONG WAY

Naturally, every step along my creative path I've been looked at like I was crazy and have been told that I was wrong. When I told my professor at JHU I was going to design school, he told me it was a bad idea, I could just hire a designer. I respectfully ignored his advice. When I was at Art Center, I took all kinds of fire from instructors and peers. Art Center is a bit famous for those harsh critiques. The most common critique I received from instructors was that I was sketching the wrong way.

When I first began learning how to sketch I had a teacher who used to make fun of me for sketching so slowly. He used to call me turtle. "Hey turtle. Still sketching?" Annoyed, I told him that one day I'd be faster than him. Of course he scoffed. After all, he could do a marker rendering of a simple speedform in under 7 minutes! Today, it takes me about 10 seconds to doodle a speedform like this in Photoshop.

When I first began learning how to sketch I had a teacher who used to make fun of me for sketching so slowly. He used to call me turtle. "Hey turtle. Still sketching?" Annoyed, I told him that one day I'd be faster than him. Of course he scoffed. After all, he could do a marker rendering of a simple speedform in under 7 minutes! Today, it takes me about 10 seconds to doodle a speedform like this in Photoshop.

Halfway through Art Center, I decided to drop out of school and start looking for work. I didn't tell many people because most people, including my family, would tell me it was the wrong decision. And of course I was aware that it seemed like a crazy decision, with no jobs lined up, no connections, and no experience. I then found my first freelance client, a medical startup. When we kicked off the project, the client, a nanotechnologist, looked at me like I was crazy when I presented him with design strategies. He was furious and told me "That's not how you design." After that encounter, I hid my design process and just showed him the resulting designs, and then he was happy. I've learned that people are very guarded and hold strong opinions when it comes to design methods, clients and designers alike.

And of course, I think most professional designers have faced off against the argument, "We've been doing it this way for the past 10 years. It works fine, you can't change it." Sometimes you see a design is obviously great and clearly an improvement on what's out there, but it gets axed because of this sort of thinking. Yes, even after you've become a creative professional, you are still under all sorts of fire. You will continue to face people who think you're crazy and that you're doing things the wrong way.

YO-YO MA AND THE GOLDEN TICKET OF CREATIVITY

Tom Kelley told another fun anecdote about a music student who hated practice. Maybe he was like the Allen Iverson of music, he didn't want to go to practice. They went to an event where Yo-Yo Ma was performing, and 3 students were given an opportunity to ask him a question. The student used his one question to ask Yo-Yo Ma, "Isn't it great now that you're famous, you don't have to practice anymore?" Yo-Yo Ma told the student that he still practices 6 hours a day. Tom said, "Creativity is not the golden ticket. It's your passion & ability to be in touch with your creativity that changes the world."

Unlike the Kelley brothers I generally do not try to convince people in other professions to be in a creative field unless they already have the passion for it. My doctor friend is perfectly comfortable living in his world. And there is only one Yo-Yo Ma. There is no golden ticket. Those who "make it" in the creative world are those who hold onto their sense of self through all of the years of criticism, sleep-deprived hours of work, cognitive dissonance, and isolation, and still have the confidence, strength, and skills to follow what they believe in.

So, to my fellow creative professionals out there: Always keep practicing, keep learning, and never lose that creative confidence.

I was sick this weekend

So what did I do? Designed my first packaging project ever.  All in 2 days while sneezing and coughing my lungs out. A bath amenities set (shampoo/conditioner/lotion) for the MORETTA Fashion Hotel. Click to view the project.

MY IMPOSSIBLE PROJECT

This project was bringing back the MORETTA fashion hotel project I began about 4 years ago.  MORETTA was my last project when I was a student at Art Center. Knowing that I was soon going to be designing professionally, I knew that failures in the real world were less forgiving. So for my last student project, I set myself up for an impossible undertaking- a design school "suicide run" which would surely result in many failures I could potentially learn from. Throwing myself into an impossible project also taught me to abandon the fear of failure.

4 years ago, I began with research on interior design, and began designing initial hotel concepts with my limited self-taught environment painting techniques. I then conceived a new concept for a hotel which fused fashion with a rental-based shopping ecosystem. The idea was high fashion for everyone.

Moving down the hierarchy from high level concepts and broad gestures of hotel concepts, to individual products, I designed a retail clothing rack for this experience that would embody my concept. It was an abstraction of my hotel's social and visual inspiration, the Carnival of Venice.

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Part of the idea for my "impossible" design-a-hotel project was that it could become an ongoing personal project for myself. I could explore architecture, interior design, fashion design, product design, furniture, graphic design, just about any type of design I want. Any failures made during my attempt, at least I could use that learning experience to help me succeed in my professional work.

OVI ODERIFERI

The Ovi Oderiferi bath amenities set goes even further down this hierarchy of design into the smaller details of graphics, form, and packaging. This project demonstrates how the high-level concept of MORETTA and the Carnival of Venice can provide enough conceptual fuel and inspiration for designing and executing individual products within the overarching concept. Understanding of these hierarchies is essential to creating a cohesive brand that works across product lines, or in this case, an entire hotel ecosystem.

FRACTURE WATCH UPDATE

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Also, please check out my newly updated Fracture Watch concept. I completed the 3D model and renderings earlier last week. It's sort of the reason I got excited and motivated to design more stuff, even when I was sick this weekend.

Every problem has a solution

That was something I said to somebody today. I made a joke, something to do with finding a boyfriend who can cook, and how that would solve all of her problems. And every problem has a solution. Then I thought about it for a minute and decided it was actually some decent wisdom.

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When I was young I took on math problems as challenges which I always knew had some solution. I believed there was no problem I couldn't solve. One day in middle school during homeroom my math teacher gave a problem to the top students of the school, who were a year older than I was. He said that it was a math problem given to him by one of his former students who went on and graduated from Harvard. He wanted to see if they could solve it, since it could be solved with basic geometry. Overhearing this, I decided to give it a shot. All of the older students gave up after trying for several minutes without any luck. I couldn't solve it either. At least not right away. I knew there was a solution, and that I could figure it out. Six months later, I finally solved the problem. Afterwards, word got out among the teachers, and they gave the problem to the high school geometry teacher. He was unable to solve it. A few years later I found out that I was known among the high school faculty as "the kid who solved the problem the teacher couldn't solve." This experience taught me a few things:

1. It's not about IF things will happen. It's about WHEN. 
Problem solving was not a question of whether or not I could do it.  I knew that with time and persistence, I would eventually find the solution. Just because I couldn't solve the problem in the first few minutes, hours, even months, didn't mean I could never solve it. The same type of mindset convinced me that I could become a designer. I did not know how long it would take me to learn how to be a designer, but I knew deep down that I could, given years of training.  Give me 10 years, of course I could probably be decent at anything. Sometimes people set goals and give up when it doesn't come true right away. I always think, it might not happen now, but what if I gave you 10 years? Do you still believe your goal is impossible?

2. After you have set and accomplished your goals, your victories will always be with you.
I've gotten to know that many people crave recognition and need others to view them as smart, or good at something. It's natural to be motivated by recognition. I used to receive a lot of recognition since I was very young. But eventually I realized that it wasn't the recognition, and hearing people tell me that I was smart, that gave me confidence. The confidence came whenever I had personally invested myself into a goal, and accomplishing that goal that made me feel fulfilled. It is those personal victories that give you that spurt of confidence and motivation. This still happens to me now as a designer. When there is a problem in the design that I have to resolve and I finally resolve it, I feel that same sense of accomplishment. Sometimes, others will not recognize or understand how difficult it was to figure out, and you won't get the same enthusiastic reaction you were hoping for, but these personal victories are important to keep feeling fulfilled while being in a stressful environment where you are constantly pushing to learn and improve. In design especially, the best solutions are unnoticed, and seem effortless. A designer often has to do without the recognition, yet still know on the inside that they've come up with a great solution.

3. Every problem has a solution.
In math, yes there are problems with "no solution", but even then, figuring out and proving why there is no solution, is a solution in itself. In design, business, and personal relationships, I believe there's always a solution out there. Sometimes I realize my biggest obstacle is simply laziness or fear of risk and the unknown. When I am stressed out with problems, I tell myself to think about it as a game, and look at situation objectively before making irrational decisions. The outcomes of any decisions you make will often affect many different facets of life. Sometimes if I decide it is important, I might spend a long time to figure out a win-win situation. For example, months before graduation from Johns Hopkins my mother had been in the hospital. I was on the east coast, and I decided I needed to go back to California somehow to be with my family. I also needed to figure out what to do with my career. I did not want to be climbing ladders and being stuck in a job I didn't like for the rest of my life, I wanted to do something creative. I found out that one of the top design schools in the nation was only a couple of miles from the house I grew up in, and after thinking about it for months I formulated a new career plan for myself while giving myself the opportunity to move back home.

I get stressed over money, work, and people just like everyone else. But sometimes the lessons I learned from my experiences growing up help me regain my balance and figure out how to get through those tough situations. Every once in a while I still try to remind myself: be confident, think things through calmly, and things will eventually turn out ok.

 

New website, new blog

I finally have a new website up and one of the reasons I've been wanting to get this up was to start this new blog. As I continue to develop as a designer, this will be a great place to keep track of my discoveries, lessons, and design-related thoughts.

 Last evening I started getting back into Solidworks after about 3 years. In the past few years, I've almost become this specialist in photoshop and 2D sketching. In a way it's been great. I've learned so much about form language and my photoshop technique is better than ever. On the flip side, I don't want to be an incomplete designer. In the end 3D is just another tool to learn. So the next step now is to master 3D modeling and be able to CAD up my own crazy designs. Let's see how long it will take to be fluent.

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There are so many things I want to do, I'm not sure how I can fit it all in. Here's another little side project I've working on lately. These are composition studies for interior designs. I told my good friend in Shanghai that I would collaborate with her on an interior design project, so I want to try experimenting with my digital technique.

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As I don't know much about real interior design and architecture process, I am using some of my knowledge of environment paintings to understand how to design with principles of composition. None of these are not my original designs, they are sketches of existing interiors.