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.

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 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!

March 4, 2016No Comments

Staying Childish

Saying ‘yes’ to side projects.

The expansive imagination and curiosities of a child hold no limitations or boundaries. Adults typically take the time to consider all available details and are prone to analyzing and questioning, which results in something that’s even more complicated than it’s intention. What if you allowed yourself to play and find the humor? Let’s all regain a level of limitless curiosity and thirst for the unknown.

As an adult — time, money, recognition are some of the things that motivate us to work. Sometimes these motivators prohibit us from growing because we’re not willing to sacrifice a lot to what seems like gaining very little. We want instant gratification and guaranteed returns.

I don’t want to sacrifice my free time because I rather enjoy my night than learning a new software language.

I don’t want to do this for free because I am highly valuable and I’m worth a lot. I also don’t want to survive on Ramen noodles.

I don’t want to do this project because it’s not going to be featured or be seen by my peers.

I want to set an example that design work is not free, so I will not do anything for free.

I don’t want to work on this project because I know nothing about it, or I don’t think I can do a good job.

(︶︹︺)
These are all examples of how to become stagnant in personal growth because you don’t want to make any changes. Investing in yourself takes hard work, time, and dedication.

Working on a personal project alone is very hard. You have no peers to bounce ideas and review your progress. It’s hard to hold yourself accountable for a project that has no deadline. It’s also difficult to find a good mentor that will look over your work and give you their opinion, because after all — time is money.

Would you pay an expert to review your work? Would you spend the time to write a case study on your projects? Will you give yourself a 360 review from the eyes of a boss and a coworker so that you can be more self-aware?

Why not accept a new project that you know nothing about and use the project as a form of learning? Work on some low paying or pro-bono projects because working with someone teaches you how to work with different types of personalities and their needs? Starting small and build into a significant body of work.

In fact, I just learned how to say, “No” in the last two years, because I said yes too much. You may not agree with this approach to learning, and you can even say “What a sucker! What a total wasting of time!” I can tell you that everything I am today, I learned by saying yes.

Club Flyers

Freshman year of college, I designed flyers for free. One day, I picked up a flyer from the ground, and I thought to myself, “damn, this is ugly.” I wrote to an email on the flyer and offered my services, and who doesn’t want free design work?

I made flyers for free at first, and then I charged only $20 to create a flyer. It would take me an Avg of 15 hours to create a double sided 4x6 flyer, so my hourly wage was $1.33. I have made hundreds of flyers in a span of four years. I was like the lemonade tycoon of flyers. I designed for student groups, frats & sororities, and university services. I landed a part-time job as the senior designer for Dept. of Transportation Services. I illustrated the bus routes for every bus that serviced the University of Maryland and made an 80-page handbook. My design was seen by more than 2.6 million riders a year. \(T∇T)/

Outside the school capacity, the $1.33 Flyercoon “business” got so big, I made flyers for club promoters in DC. I was also able to create websites and design work for actors promoting their movies. In New York, I made look-books for modeling agencies in New York, and flyers for clubs and lounges.

Jewish Textbooks

One of my professors in college once asked the class if anyone had any experience with designing book covers. At the time, I never made a book cover in my life, but the thought was enticing. I got paid a flat fee of $400 to design the cover and formatting of the inner pages. Each of these textbooks cost on an Avg $80–$120. I receive no royalties for per book sold to students all over the world. I never increased my rates, every year I still make 2–3 textbooks published by different authors. I have probably made close to 45 books. There’s one thing in common in all these textbooks; they’re all Jewish History and Literature. I should be an expert on this subject by now.

After the professor was happy with my work, he asked if I knew how to build an e-commerce site so that he can sell them. He is pretty much inexperienced with technology, and he relied solely on me to make it happen. I had no idea how to work with PHP and databases. I taught myself OsCommerce and write PHP with the help of a friend over two months and got the site running with all his product in place. To this day, I still maintain the website once or twice a year. (/^▽^)/

Advertising Banner Ads

Remember those flash ads? How about CSS coded ads? Well, I can say I’m an expert in them. (LAUGHS) A lot of clients request banner ads for advertising because that was the “right way to do online marketing” back in 2009. I joined a company that their whole business is making these small graphics. I’ve made a set of banner ads for every campaign that the agency had, and I probably made over 200 banners in that year. The most famous banner I made to date was a Kim Kardashian banner that was placed on PerezHilton that had an Avg of 220 million impressions, and click-through rate was close to .4% (realistic ad clicks are .24%) which equals out to something like 880,000 clicks. (ノ´ヮ´)ノ*:・゚✧

Doing projects that seem tiny at first may yield unexpected results. This theory has been proven over and over again. Similarly, doing projects that don’t seem to have significant financial payoffs, could someday translate to a great experience or connection. Every act is another penny in your piggy bank of value. Allow yourself to play, laugh, and start saying YES.

June 11, 2015No Comments

Retaining Motivation

How do you have so much self-drive and motivation?

— people would ask me

Understanding motivation can help you become a better manager, be in a better company, and be successful with your personal pitches. When you are trying to convince someone to work for you or acquire a new client for your business, it’s tactful to understand where the motivating factors lie.

There are two types of motivation, extrinsic and intrinsic. Extrinsic motivators are traditional rewards such as money, perks, salary. Intrinsic motivators are often things that most companies misunderstand, which is the idea of wanting to do good work and put out a good product.

It’s a softer motivator that not every person possesses. It’s wrong to think that financial compensation is a sufficient way to engage top talents. A person can never have enough money. Once they achieve their personal financial bar, they will only want more. By creating your pitch based on monetary values, can only result in a rapid decline in your job satisfaction. Personally, I’ve been pretty driven by the correlation between the salary and the responsibilities that I would have to perform.

Why do top talents leave a company? For the lack of vision, lack of culture, no empathy in the workplace, lack of career advancement, not fun, no rewards, bad managers, and overworking people.

For someone that values the intrinsic motivation, there are a couple category breakdown for what this means.

  1. Skill variety. Would I be able to work on a variety of work and expand my design skills? I value this the highest, mainly because I consider myself a skilled generalist and someone with design ADD. Will I be the smartest and best designer in the group? I hope that will not be the case. Will the management hire top designers in the team, so I can learn from them?

  2. Task Identity. Understanding my role and how it affects the business and see the grand vision of how the design would improve the product. Having great project managers and coworkers that value design. Not allowing the design to be the backburner of the project or just the top layer fluff in the product.

  3. Significance & Value. Will my work be seen by a lot of people? What is the impact of these works on people’s lives? Will it improve it or will it not? Will I be able to have a significant impact on the success of this project?

  4. Autonomy. The idea that you have control and independence and the trust of your peers to carry out this project to the best of your ability and not have to micromanage and direct every decision. Not to be afraid to solicit harsh feedback if something is not working.

  5. Feedback. The degree that the employee receives clear, detailed, and actionable information about this person’s effectiveness and job performance. By increasing an employee’s participation and allowing them to have the control to improve their own weaknesses, gives a person drive and vision.

  6. Quality of Work-Life-Balance Factors. Is the company maintaining and coming up with ways to promote employee wellness? How flexible is this workplace to work remotely and flexible hours?

 

THE HIERARCHY OF NEED

Starting with the basic need of food, living, and job security to the feeling of working with great people. There is an inherent need to be social, to have friends in the workplace and an idea of belonging. By creating social bar outings does not necessarily increase the sense of camaraderie but could promote good chemistry. In order to create an environment that an employee would cherish is not an easy feat. In order to achieve that, the managers should be aware and empathetic to see the potential of a driven, self-motivated employee. Not everyone would enjoy a bar outing, and similarly, not everyone would be able to attend events outside of work.

ie. I worked at a company where they have provided every intrinsic motivator there is. I had the autonomy, vision, quality of work-life balance, and took care of my extrinsic needs of providing a huge amount of perks. The one thing that was really lacking was the feeling of belonging and camaraderie. The people in our current team and other teams are inexperienced managers that do not have the empathic, detail oriented understanding to team building. Despite that I’ve voiced this concern, it was met with laughter and insincerity at the importance of “forcing a chemistry within the group that could not exist.” It was not an environment that I feel that could last, but no job is perfect.

 

MOTIVATORS

Motivators could also come in a form of being satisfied with the ownership you hold to your project, advancement opportunity, and recognition. This is a delicate balance when you add extrinsic motivators such as salary, peers, and workplace. Establish paths for people and have clear motivators to perform, would be a better way to keep people happy.

From an employee’s point of view, these are definitely some of the questions I’d ask. Many times, employers try to reel people in by telling them that it’s a “casual office environment where people can wear jeans” as a perk, or “we have free soda.” These motivators are insufficient to capture attention, at least mine. This is also something that you can observe when you walk into their office environment. Are there good chemistry amongst the people? Do they look happy and satisfied?

If you are a company who is trying to attract a designer or a startup who is trying to get someone to work with you. I suggest figuring out what their motivators are, what you can do and provide for them, instead of listing out reasons why they should work for you.

So now the question is, what motivates you? Which aspect are you willing to sacrifice for the sake of another? Doing free design work might give you more return on future projects, and it might not. You also don’t want to be cheated out of getting paid for doing work that an agency is charging their clients' thousands of dollars for. You may also work on projects that pay really well, but because you only do it for the money it becomes a creative killer and you generate sub-par designs. At what point do you accept projects that you love and get the compensation you deserve? I’ve also seen people work together for a big name client, but each person in the team presents the work as their own and take credits they don’t deserve.

Finding motivation in a project, and in life are one of the greatest mysteries. What drives you to complete a project or take on a new client, takes understanding of people’s psyche. It’s not easy to balance between clients with different personalities and work styles, but as long as you have a good set of personal motivating guidelines, you’ll be successful in retaining your motivation.