November 4, 2019No Comments

Perception of Value

If you want to be a successful designer, get ready to demonstrate your value and why you deserve a seat at the table, your entire life.

Over three years ago, I started working with a client that didn't want design. There were many times when I questioned why my job is necessary. Design is the understaffed underdog. While the company quickly staffed up more developers, designers are under the constant shortage of asking for more headcount.

Even though it's clear that designers were in demand, and the client is pleased with the work quality, the business had its reasons not to supply that demand. One of the reasons, I believe, that attributed to that was design did not demonstrate our worth in a way the client understood us. I'd presumed people cared about design, but never set my frame of mind that people may not care enough to understand.

In this product and feature-driven company, designers could be seen as the bottleneck and blocker from releasing. The amount of time designers spend going through all the iterations deserves to be in the final product. At the same time, designers need to know when to get out of the way.

Designers love to claim the idea that they are the most empathetic and understand the users more than anybody. We don't. It's impossible for a single human being to understand every type of user and anticipate their actions. This is why you need groups of people with different backgrounds, so the intersection of differing opinions is how great ideas are created and how things improve. The more you know, the less you know. It's the law of being an idiot.

Don't get me wrong. I love working in a small team of designers, and much prefer it that way. In the past six months, I had succeeded in getting the verbal ok to create a tool that would benefit everyone, but it took so much longer than I'd hope. Even though the wind is knocked out of my sails, I'm glad it's finally started.

I've realized that once you're a designer for life, you have to defend your value for life. It is way too easy to get angry from someone making yet another "stupid" design comment, believe me, I do. At the same time, if designers continue to talk about design in a way no one understands, then they will be in the corner by themselves, wondering why people don't care about what they have to say.

Sometimes, when the design is explained in 3-4 different ways, my patience wears thin when the receiver doesn't pay the same respects. To rebuild the bridge of communication, I've tried to open up to the possibility that I'm entirely wrong, then make the conscious effort to understand.

Design is so squishy and hard to quantify, using numbers could be an excellent approach to prove user behavior, but what if the client does not make decisions based on that? The client can declare, despite the numbers, they want to go against it for X and Y reasons. At the end of the day, the client chooses how they want to spend their money and time.

Numbers are a hard thing to use with a business to talk about design or user behavior because it's easy to get them wrong.

  • Was the test conducted properly?

  • When and how is it measured?

  • How were the results interpreted?

Even if the client is open to conducting studies, these are long-term investments done throughout the year and would require an on-going team.

Business is a cold world, where they want to extract as much value as possible for as little as possible. Some companies try to be design-centered, and then ones who are in it for operational efficiency. In the end, business cares about making revenue.

To understand business is to know what they care for… if it's about making money, what is their cultural approach to technology, and how do they perceive success and satisfaction? If you want the business to understand you, map your design goals to those of the company to explain your perceived value, and what it cost equally on the outside.

Before you can determine what your values are, think about what's your purpose and what motivates you to continue working. To transform the culture and minds of a long-established corporation requires you to bring them into your world, walk to their side, with grounded energy, emotional connection, and active listening.

People are not looking to me to be the genius, but to the ability to quickly understand, validate their dilemma, and conceptualize solutions. Everyone has a framework of what they're listening for, exact keywords that signal the cue of understanding. I am looking for patterns and themes to latching onto and find the solution in the delta of opinions.

Designers have to prove their worth for the rest of their lives. If this is the absolute truth, why not take the approach of being in the front lines of evaluation. Being comfortable in being judged by groups of people is something all designers should get used to and learn to improve continuously.

February 26, 2019No Comments

Reflection on Four

I've reached four years at Martiancraft today, which means it's almost five years as a full-time remote designer.

Thinking back to the times when my hair turned grey, I can't believe I'm still chugging on. I can't forget the moment when I left last last job and stared into the skies at Bryant Park, wondering...what will I do now?

I've made some interesting revelations recently. In the past four years, I've been a turtle. ? I shrunk my head into the shell and focused on design. I breathed, lived, and worked on projects in hopes that will fill me with purpose. I searched to only do what made me happy. I challenged myself to improve every day because it was the only thing that made sense.

Somehow along this journey, I've lost my voice. I'm no longer confident in sharing thoughts because I don't see the value in myself. The more I thought about doing something, the more I realize that I might not be able to do it well. I was never afraid in the past. I am now. What happened to me?

It's possible with age, the fog of ignorance slowly lifted. The more I want to share a bit of writing, the more I thought people will be picking apart the grammar, sentence structure, or the lack of narrative. The more people pay more attention to what I say, the more I felt the burden of making it bulletproof. Every idea that I wasn't a hundred percent certain, I've hidden it away. Pretending to be an expert when I can only call myself a fraud.

I've lost confidence in myself through these years. When adobe first asked me to attend a UX/UI live back in September, all I thought was... Why me? What do I have to offer that people don't know already? No matter what type of great feedback I got, I couldn't accept them in my heart. After being asked back again this past January, something in me changed.

I do have something to offer. I can teach people things that they don't know.

Most of the time, I have reasonings for everything that I do. If I don't, I'm authentic about it. I don't strive for perfection, I don't expect people to think I have a mind-blowing thesis. I make mistakes. Thoughts I have today, maybe they are rebuttaled and it's completely different tomorrow. It's always an open dialog, I'm endlessly searching for viewpoints, stories, and opinions that people have to understand deeper.

I am not sure what's the right approach to share these fleeting and transient thoughts. Haven't we all looked back at the things we've done in the past and go "EWW?" How scary it is to face your own past and see what an idiot you were.

I guess I'm scared of myself and of my own inevitability to be stupid.

I've come to terms that I will hope to revive my long lost confidence by sharing my views in efforts to overcome these self-conscious negativity. I hope I can look back and see this as personal growth as a person for myself. Sometimes, all it takes is only one person to believe in you and one moment to point out the things you missed and how you can be that much better.

Just two days ago, I was looking at my Behance profile at the thumbnail images. For the first time ever, I noticed "they kinda look the same." It was really an ah-ha moment for me, and this is going to sound absurd since I'm the person that made them.

I can't believe that subconsciously when given chances to talk about a subject of my choice, I made the designs high contrast and bold, completely opposite of minimalism. In this moment I smiled to myself, because for the first time in my life, I noticed that my style was clearly defined.

No matter how much I think I've lost my voice in the woods, it's there where I've left it. These styles define me and tell my own story and I'm not sorry for it. Thank you for believing in me.

November 15, 2018No Comments

Wedding Planning

World's Best Bride? or
World's Most Controlling Bride?

Wedding planning is the biggest project I’ve ever tackled. ? Assuming you only get married once, there really isn’t anything you can do to be prepared for this. It’s a rollercoaster of emotions because this event is so personal.

A little background story… getting married was never a priority in my life or something on the top of the list. It’s something that I knew would happen someday and I would figure everything out when it comes. My only experience for weddings are from a designer’s perspective where I helped out with the decorations. I’m pretty much starting from ground zero.

Getting Started

To start, everyone tells you to get ideas from Pinterest. Let me break it to you, Pinterest is the one of the worst places to look because it's basically a catalog of unrealistic expectations. With unlimited selections of styling, one thing more expensive than the other, ideas more over the top than the previous, it spun me into an anxiety tornado of “what should I do?”

? This process was made even more difficult, because I’m a designer. ?

As a designer, when you design something for yourself, it’s a gift and a curse. You have complete control and there’s a lot of pressure of making it great. If things go haywire, there’s no one to blame except you. I was nervous about what people would think about the overall vision, even though I knew I shouldn’t take it to heart.

From figuring out the right budget for food, music, flowers, to the cake. The task lists were daunting to say the least.  I decided if I was going to be both the client and the designer, I should really project manage myself.

Without taking advice from numerous wedding articles stating I should figure the venue before anything else, I put dress shopping first. I figured it was a one woman committee, funded by myself, so I didn’t think it was going to be a big deal. Not like anyone can tell me what to do. ??? Plus I was getting married in Boston, so I had to schedule my weekend travels to check out venues. It wasn’t going to be easy.

The Dress ?

I had no idea what I wanted in a wedding dress, and I am very open-minded to trying anything. My first ever bridal shop visit was a discounted, bargain warehouse ( that allowed you to browse through their immense selections of hundreds of dresses. I was hit by massive choices of texture, style, color, neckline, length, sizes. My head was spinning with the words of “ballgown, A-line, trumpet, off shoulder, cap sleeve, lace, mermaid.”

The sheer massiveness overwhelmed me after trying on a bunch of unflattering dresses. I went alone, and I never felt more alone in this search. I bawled my eyes out. Big hail-sized tears hit the pavement outside the store. I was overwhelmed by the search, and what this whole thing meant.

After that horrible experience and a bad start to wedding planning, I realized I've made a mistake of starting this project without thinking about what the project is about. I shouldn't of showed up to the store without any research. On hindsight, this sounds like total common sense, but I was just passing by this store casually and didn't think I would have this reaction.

This was a point in my life that I’ve realized that I wished I had more women friends in my life that would understand me. My mother isn’t someone I can talk to about this because her opinions typically are opposite of mine, in a non-supportive way. I didn’t know this would inevitably be a theme for the year, where I felt I wanted support from people who would lend an ear. Thinking back, I really didn’t tell anyone I was struggling through this, because I didn’t want to bother people with my problems. In a way, I wanted someone to take an interest without me saying it out loud, but yeah.. it was my fault too.

I’ve decided to go back to square one. Without looking at Pinterest and bridal magazines, I thought to myself what are some of the dresses that really stood out to me? There was this one dress made by Zach Posen for Claire Danes at the Met Gala that I was amazed by. ? It was a collaboration with IBM during their technology theme where threads of LED’s where woven into the dress to make this dress LIT!

? Zach Posen's L.E.D. creation for Claire Danes at Met Gala 2016?

I’ve realized that I just needed help. More like… PROFESSIONAL HELP. I decided to go to the mother of all wedding shops, Kleinfields (From the hit TV Show "Say Yes To the Dress"). The experience was great and the store was beautiful. It really helped me narrow down what I was looking for, and they brought out the Reem Acra, which was my top pick at the time.

The ask was: I wanted a dress that has a classic shape, no lace, that has something special about it that can only be noticed when someone is up close. I want the dress to have a classic silhouette from afar, but have special ‘something’ up close.

Looking back at the dresses that I’ve tried on, unconsciously, I really wanted the Zach Posen dress. I thought I wanted an A-line dress because I didn't want the weight of a ballgown, and the Reem Acra was my top pick.

The problem was that, it was too expensive for what I wanted to pay for in a dress. One day while browsing on Instagram, I saw a dress that was more similar to the Zach Posen, the Lazaro #style3662! I went to the store on a Wednesday alone, did 1 Facetime with a friend to validate my craziness… and my dress shopping came to an abrupt end.

At this point, only three friend's know I’ve purchased this dress, but never seen it in real life. I was pretty terrified of what my parents would say since I made this decision without their opinion. The dress took about 6 months to arrive to the store, before the start of the alterations process. Don’t think anyone’s seen this dress in real life except myself ?

I didn’t want to keep going to stores and trying on new dresses. I wanted to do the 3 strike rule. Make a decision on the 3rd try and end it at that. I didn’t regret my decision, this was what I wanted. From that point on, I realized I should have a plan of attack for the rest of the planning elements.

Things I thought about:

  • How can I make this entire process better? Are there ways I can hack through wedding planning?

  • How do I figure out what I want? What are the criteria of success?

  • How do I manage my own expectations? How to remove the emotional factor of this project?

  • How do I communicate my ideas effectively with vendors?

  • When do I call it "Done" and "Good" for deliverables?

  • How do I decide that I am happy with what I’ve made and let the rest go?

I made a website

After thinking about this all, it made sense to create a style guide for the entire wedding. I would put pieces of every part of the wedding look and feel, and submit this to vendors for a quote. I got a lot of really positive feedback from all my vendors because I’ve essentially did their job! I was a more clear and concise in picking what I wanted and now it just has to do with negotiation of prices and time. Check out the real site:

Living in Google Sheets

I devoted my entire life on Google Spreadsheet. I had a budget tab that housed all of the estimations, costs, deposits, paid , gifts received, guest list + food preference, venue final bill, timeline of events, flowers, papers, photography, songs for the band, lighting…etc. I also put together the timeline and seating charts. Much thanks for Supria and Mai for sending me their versions of excel madness for me to organize everything.

!!! This was intense !!! ?

I was called the best bride of the year by Ritz Carlton. That’s cus I already did their job because I’m craaaaazy. ?

Five months have passed and all of my stress from wedding planning have been forgotten. Looking back, the day went perfectly and I’m grateful for every one that showed up for me and travelled so far. I was a complete zoombie and felt numb the entire day. It wasn’t until it was over for 3 days until all my bottled up emotions exploded and I was filled with happiness for the people that came.

I couldn’t have made it through this process without close friends by my side and on the day. Thank you a million.

I have another write up more focused on the design of my invitations here:

July 1, 2018No Comments

Looking Back at Three

With a blink of an eye, it's been over three years with the people at MartianCraft.

This is by far, the longest I've ever stayed with any group of people.

In my twenties, I was really competitive with myself. All I wanted to do is improve my skills, move up the rank, gain a higher salary, and be in management. I felt like I never found the right place where the company invested in the people's well-being and cared about the happiness of each individual. It was a lot of "what can you do for me today".

All that ended in a big bang when I realized I was doing everything for pride, money, and wanting people's respect. I wasn't sure what made me happy anymore until I can confidently say today, I know the answer.

These three years, I decided to start over. I just wanted to do good work, be more technical, improve my communication, pay more attention, more patience, more empathy, to slow down and listen hard, and to do more things out of the comfort zone. For the first time ever, I didn't have a written goal list, no plans of attack, zero organization.

I simply didn't know what I should do. The first year, I was really quiet. I listened and I took notes furiously. I felt like an imposter, listening in from the outside and only talk when spoken to. Agreeable, complacent, and safe. I felt like I was the dumbest person in the room, and that's exactly where I wanted to be. I wanted to be at a place where the people really challenged me but also respected my opinion.

As time passed, I was cautious, too cautious. I didn't want to make a mistake, so I always asked for validation. I didn't realize the process of over-validating made me look like I wasn't confident in my work. I needed to be stronger in my voice. One day, while talking to a senior advisor, she said to me... "Why are you saying SORRY for that? What did you do wrong there? Nothing! Don't ever be sorry. Don't use the word SORRY because you DID your job correctly. You explored all the options and don't apologize for something that you have given thoughts to. Do you see men apologizing? Why should YOU apologize because you're a girl?"

That struck a huge cord in me,  gave me a lasting impression. I was startled by the cold honest truth in that phrase and all I had to do to fix it, is to put it to use. To think and say, what exactly do I bring to the table that no one else does? I may not be the best technical person in the room, but where do I belong in this? If I don't have a place, how do I carve a place that only I can fulfill and people will feel at a loss if I wasn't there?

This was a really important turning point. Everyone makes mistakes. No one can come up with the best designs in their life, every day, every time. It doesn't matter that the design sucks, it mattered if the design fulfills what the client is asking for. It was never about me, it was about them. I started paying attention to the people that I'm working with and figuring out what this group lacks and then be that person. Become the ever-changing chameleon that wears everyone's hats and shoes. Be the partner, not the designer.

Constructive feedback given through mentorship or peers is the most valuable feedback you can get. People who work with you directly, indirectly.. what do they sense and see about your performance? Why stay at a company that you can't learn a thing or grow with the people there? It takes a lot of skill to deliver the most effective constructive feedback, one that focus more on empowering in a positive way, not fear-based commentary.

Looking back and looking at the present. Without really thinking, three years have passed and I'm still here. Sticking with the people that work towards the same goals with curiosity and enthusiastic aspiration and same values. Without planning, I've found joy and meaning in a place I've least expected. Thank you for helping me grow and be on this journey.

April 13, 2016No Comments

Valuable & Fulfilling Work

Doing good work and everything else will follow.

Doing “valuable, and fulfilling work” is not something many would argue with. The issue isn’t the variety or the amount of work available, it’s the quality of work and the investment you put in towards solving problems with creative solutions.

Many instances, good work requires working with a team of talented people, simply because everyone contributes something special to the project that you may not be an expert in. I’ve always had the problem of wanting to do everything on my own. I want the ownership of the product and call it mine. I’m aware that I can’t possibly be great at everything because that just means I’m really good at nothing…

I want to feel proud of the work that I create, but also be open to constructive criticisms that can propel it to another level. I think we all need that, a level of self-awareness and check-up. I’ve seen portfolios of creative directors that worked at agencies where they had multiple designers of every skill set on the project, yet they seem to take all the credit for the work. I’m really not a fan of that. It’s impossible that every project they work on is a home run, yet they present themselves as an ultimate award-winning beast.

My advice is.. Don’t look at what other people are doing. Focus on yourself. If you keep comparing yourself to someone that’s miles ahead of you, you may be wasting the time that could have been used to improve.

I guess that’s the difficult challenge here. People who are likely to hire someone on a contract basis would be a startup before Series A funding. They need a design assassin to create their mockups to take to market, or even prototypes for investors. Once the company raised enough money, it’s highly likely they’ll need someone dedicated FT. The risk is high because you have a 50/50 chance that idea could just fall flat on it’s face, and your product vision would never come to light.

Picking the right project, and doing good work is a direct result of the people and the projects that you work on. We all have limited time and same amount of time in a day. Make it be from the work you want to be proud of!

April 2, 2016No Comments

Getting Emotional

In a previous article, I talked about ace-ing the process of design with feelings

I described how clients should share their feedback by using feeling instead of dictating the visuals implementation. Being emotional translates to being passionate and confident in the design you put out. It’s natural to feel very attached to your design and quick to jump on the defensive when someone does not see eye-to-eye.

Questions to ask:
  • What about other people’s perspective? (UX research results)

  • What if this was beautifully designed but functionally it just falls flat?

  • What if this performs well with barebones code? Is design needed?

  • What if you feel strong against a certain design element but your client feels the opposite? At what point do we give up our own gut instincts and let the other party have it?

  • How many rules do we work within before we realize that there are too many rules? Is being confined inside challenges always a good thing? Is it great to have as many rules as possible?

Making design be a matter of science and less of a visual opinion.

Some companies have a lot of financial resources to run tests throughout their entire network. They can say that this shade of green outperforms another shade of green. Making design be a matter of science and less of a visual aesthetic. Being extremely data driven in the design process means that even a 0.0001% better means it’s better. As designers, we could be told that only use this shade of green. Or even test circles against squares and if the square wins, that’s the ‘right’ design.

Is this design at all?

While I agree that design should be tested for effectiveness and function, it’s hard to design something when every element is judged by effectiveness by data results. Testing elements can improve current optimizations only in the short term. Not many people are measuring the impact it has on brand affinity and recognition. You can always argue that a young brand doesn’t have brand recognition yet, so during this ‘experimental phase’ we should be able to try as many designs as possible until we “get it right.”

To be the darling of the startup world, the website design must stand out from ther startup’s and show the growth hockey stick. Design risks must be taken to show this has the special sauce. Taking risks in creating new design does not necessarily mean that a shade of green that appeals to most people would guarantee its success.

With every short-term experiment, I am always skeptical of it’s accuracy. Most people test for less than a month and call it a day. Should a test that ran for a week to a small selected group of visitors be an accurate indication of effectiveness?

I’ve worked with a client that ran their “A/B” email test for a week and said that an email with over 8 buttons are more effective because it has a higher click-through rate than one with only three. This email also has 4 banner ads and multi-color call to action buttons which makes it look like an explosion of a mailer catalog. They don’t care too much about their brand affinity and sticking to their selected styling because they care more about conversion.

Creating a properly curated design test requires a longer, more thorough, comprehensive look at how the user behavior has changed over time. This approach goes against the lean startup mentality where the focus is on shipping fast and failing hard. Speed in design iterations is viewed as effective ways to improve UX/UI design and puts branding in the back seat, but never considering any mid to long-term impact.

No design is perfect.

Don’t be too attached, don’t be too emotional about your work. Every design can be improved in the next round. We can only target who we want our users to be, but requires good user research to determine who our real users are and how they behave.

What is the right balance between data-driven design vs. design creativity? I don’t have the right answer to that, as each has its own set of challenges. It’s an important compass for the designer to consider before signing up for any projects or company, to feel out the direction of your client.

March 21, 2016No Comments

A mistake I’ve made in year one

Being too hard on myself.

When I moved to New York City in the winter of 2006, I didn’t have a job lined up. It was the first time that I was responsible for myself, no safety net, and not much savings on hand. My parents told me if I didn’t find a job in three months, I would need to go back home in California.

Fuck No.

I did everything to get a job and started paying for living expenses. I had to weave my own safety net and I was very risk adverse. Before I jumped into any new job opportunity or moved to a new area, I always stayed conservative. Having a steady paycheck and the stability of going to a job every day is something that I valued greatly.

Through years of working in design, I would jump from job to job. I found that I was being more and more risky with my job choices because I wanted to do work that I would be proud of.

As an independent designer and working for yourself, one of the major downsides is the lack of stability in pay. You pay your own health insurance and pay both sides of the taxes (~35–40% tax rate). You have no retirement savings account, no additional benefits, and have to wait 30–45 days on client payments.

This instability stressed me out a lot and I had to make a lot of lifestyle choices. The first six months felt like I was walking in the dark about how much rolling capital I needed to make this work. I held myself accountable for every working hour in the week. I stressed about not meeting my projected billable hours weekly. In the back of my mind, I always felt that I needed a plan B, C, D and E. Always building my mental safety net.

When I had my ducks in a row. I didn’t know how to stop. My thoughts were like a runaway train. When I had enough financial cushion for to be unemployed for a year, I pretended I didn’t. I felt the anxiety to constantly prevent “a rug being pulled from under me.” This kept me up at night, worrying about financial stability and how to make sense of everything.

One day, I looked in the mirror and I saw I had about ten strands of white hairs from my scalp. That’s when I knew I had to stop.

I spent way too much time worrying about impending risks that never really happened. You can say that I played this very safe and I am financially responsible. This time wasted could have been better spent on projects, social support from friends, or furthering a skillset.

I think this experience could not have been any different if I turned back time. It was an invaluable learning experience that allowed me to be braver and more clear headed with my target direction. I realize that being confident in your own skillset plays a great role in being successful.

Don’t waste time dwelling on bulletproof plans that you have in place. Always look back and self-evaluate, but also learn to change directions and move forward in a positive fashion. Spending time worrying about things will not improve any situation, only actionable plans do.

March 14, 2016No Comments

What clients say vs. what they mean

The Mystics

Client: “Make it pop”
AKA: “Something about this page does not feel exciting. How can we make this more dynamic?”
What it means: It’s kinda boring. Are there other graphics we can explore or different design treatments to the typography or layout that can make the page look less contained? What about the colors, are they high contrast or muted?

Client: “Make the logo bigger”
AKA: “Do you think this design allows my customers to see my brand vision?”
What it means: I don’t see my brand vision, typography, color, or elemental hierarchy that puts my product to the forefront. Should my product or service be designed in a more minimal way, so that the elements can be more focused?

Client: “Can you make it look like Facebook and Twitter had a baby and this is what I want the social feed to look like?”
AKA: “I really like the way Facebook and Twitter handles their design for their feed, I’m not sure how I can describe what I am looking for. Can you help”
What it means: The client is crazy. Start asking questions on their internal process of what elements of Facebook or Twitter they are referring to. Is it the idea that there’s a live “stream of activities” that encourages a sense of community? Does this idea make sense?

The best client and designer relationship is when both parties trust each other and understand their roles. Clear communication and education of how each others preferred method of working will guarantee a successful relationship.

March 12, 2016No Comments

Six Tips to Networking

Networking is an essential skill for building great relationships and takes effort and practice.

  1. Go to networking events alone.
    If you go with a friend or someone you know, you will end up talking to your friend the whole time. It’s also harder for people to approach you if you are ‘buddied’ up with other people.

  2. Say your name.
    Don’t be afraid to be ‘rude’ when you break into an existing group. Say your name first, then verbally ask for everyone’s names. When people share their name, repeat it out loud to build a connection with them and helps you solidify it in your memory.

  3. Introduce yourself Differently.
    Think of ways to introduce yourself differently. How would you describe yourself in a short 2 phrases?

  4. Ask open-ended questions.
    Does it allow someone to continue the conversation with a response or continue with the topic?

  5. Learn How to Exit a Convo.
    Find ways to end a bad conversation without making someone feel uncomfortable. ie. “Let me go refill this drink.” or “Let me go check on Jane.”

  6. Follow up with people after the event.
    Never expect anything when you go to networking events, but also make the effort to follow up with people with conversations or add them to your social network.

March 11, 2016No Comments

Cold Emailing

A way to seek advice or a new opportunity is to send out cold emails.

It can lead to unexpected outcomes that you may never expect. These are my experiences with cold emailing.

Cold Emailing Sony
When I first moved to New York City ten years ago, I was attracted to the entertainment industry. I thought it would be so cool to work for a music label that represented artists. I dreamt that I would be able to work on the design direction and artwork for performances and see my designs on the big stage.

One day, I found the contact information of the art director at Sony Music Entertainment and decided to cold email him. I requested him to review my portfolio and to possibly provide some advice. I was a young graduate and never thought he would have the time for me, but he set up a time for us to meet.

We met at the Sony offices and had my review session, and I didn’t ask him for a job even though I wanted one. I didn’t want this meeting to seem desperate, but at the time… I wasn’t really good with my words.

From this one experience, I learned that I could reach anyone. I also learned to “pay it forward“ and always give time to anyone asking my design advice and opinion.

Cold Emailing Hollywood
One of my earliest dreams was to work on designs for a Hollywood studio. Two years ago, I decided to cold email two agencies. I was able to score a conversation with a well-respected digital director at Ignition Creative(They worked on Hunger Games, Kungfu Panda 3, Prometheus.. and many cool movies). When I was close to getting hired there, I decided that moving to LA was the wrong timing. The risk was very high.

Six months later, I had a shot at creating a concept for another movie agency. The movie was WWZ starring Brad Pitt. I wasn’t given any assets and had to create everything from scratch. It pushed me to the tipping point of challenging myself. I loved this work and my heart burst with this opportunity. The release of the movie was delayed at the last minute for six months because the ending of the movie has to be reshot. The site never went live but it was one of the most exciting things I have ever done. Although my mockup did not make the cut, I was grateful for the opportunity. After that experience, I decided to try another cold email.

If you watched the trailer, you would be geotagged as an infected. If it reaches the max cap, a sneak preview of the movie would be released.

Cold Emailing an Expert
I cold emailed an expert (who I believed to be) in the movie-design-advertising field to critique my WWZ design and offer some tips on how I could improve this.

This guy wrote me back a full page rant about how I am trying to steal his business and the industry is “small and everyone knows everyone.” He was threatened, angry, and insecure. I was shocked by his response and accusations of trying to steal his clients. A client can decide who they want to work with and if an agency gives me a shot at work, I’m not stealing your business. I was really disappointed by this response from this high profile professional. I wouldn’t be surprised that the agency asked him to critique my work and he steamrolled it to protect himself.

I remember being shaken up by such a disturbing email. When I look back on this, I laugh really hard.

A newbie like me igniting utter fireball rage from an expert in the industry? I have a lot of power right? I mean, yeah… be crazy afraid of a little competition! This only added fuel to my fire to get even better.

Be warned! No jobs are safe! I’m out to get you! HA HA

By sharing your knowledge on particular subjects does not “give away your secrets” and make you at a loss of competitive edge. No one has the same experience and practice as you. By not sharing your time or knowledge, you can’t be revered as an expert in your field.

By the way, I also cold emailed the author of World War Z. I never heard back but that’s ok.

How do you cold email someone?

  • Stalk their social media. Figure out what they like and where their hobbies lie? Do they have an interesting perspective or feel strongly about a subject?

  • Write an email to them about their interest and make an interesting observation without being controversial.

  • Use some humor in the email. Attach an animated gif from giphy. Do not make bad jokes.

  • Be respectful and do not demand or expect them to help.

  • Be extremely brief and short. Send links for the reader to find out more about you. Do not give them your biography!

Be patient and wait for a response. Sometimes a cold email does not come to fruition until a while later and never have expectations about how the person should respond. I never proclaim to be a great writer or marketing expert, but I am able to get a lot of replies through showing my passion, sincerity and being humble.

Good Luck!