Hired by Amazon, Moving to Seattle, Learning Ruby/Rails, And Other Good Things

It’s been a long while since I’ve updated here!

As you may have noticed, my running is a bit off. Well, it’s like, super off. It’s so off that I’m sleeping with my running gear on so that when I get up tomorrow morning it’s the first thing I do! I’ve only logged 5 runs and 2 bike rides this month…eek. I guess with races off my plate, along with my heightened stress level, it’s taken a forever-backburner.

Despite the lack of training and increase in working, there’s been a number of great things that have been happening in my life — which all have admittedly sidelined me from my usual strict training regimen.

  1. Awhile back I was accepted to Bloc, an 8-week Ruby on Rails intensive. For those of you who are not in the tech world, it’s a web development course. I’m in week three (??) and so far it’s kicking my butt, in a good way of course. I’m so used to things in technology coming easy to me. This feels foreign, strange, weird, and difficult…all of the things that make a great journey (and a hard time)! If you want to read about my day-to-day experiences at Bloc, go for it.
  2. I’ve been picking up a lot of steam with my freelance clients. Had a lot of interesting projects that were interested in my work…some I took on, a lot I had to turn away just based on my unavailability.
  3. My boyfriend finally met my parents!
  4. One of my BFFs graduated nursing school.
  5. My boyfriend’s startup raised their second round of funding! (Hip hip hooray!)
  6. And last, but not least…I got a job offer. I got a job offer when I wasn’t even looking for a job.  It makes me feel like I might actually be doing something right. More on that below!

The gig requires a move to Seattle…a city I’ve visited once (now twice, since I had to fly up for my interview). It’s with Amazon and I get to do what I already do — application UX/UI. The last year or so has been both difficult and amazing at the same time — I’ve never hit so many plateaus and peaks in succession as I did in the last 12 months. (I went from having my own business to working full-time to getting laid off to going to massage therapy school to having only $100 to my name to closing more freelance clients than I could handle to getting offered a full-time job.) I think this relocation will be great to help re-energize me in general. It’ll keep me plugged in to a major powerhouse — a Web 1.0 property! — while challenging me immensely. (That’s an understatement.) I look forward to the adventure and all of the trials and tribulations I will face in a new, strange city.

I am so excited that I’ve already mapped out what I hope my new life will look like:

  • I’ll get back into training regularly. I’ll be moving to Seattle in the summer, which will lend itself nicely to outdoor training. However, come fall, winter, and spring, the rain will rain and won’t stop. I’m hoping to get an apartment in a complex with a fitness center OR to get a great 1 bedroom and buy a bike trainer…and figure out a way to get my running in. I’m looking for apartments within walking distance from work, but also big enough that when I have visitors that I’ll have a private room to myself.
  • I’d like to try some other things outside of event training to stay in shape…maybe a dance class, or crossfit. Something without an event payoff. I’m not sure if I’ll stay motivated but it might be nice to just try it for a month and see how I like it.
  • There’s a women’s Ruby meetup group that I’d like to join…they help women of all levels learn OOP, Ruby, and Rails. I think I could benefit from the female camaraderie. Tech is so heavily influenced by males. Really, I spend most of my time with guys. That’s fine and all, but sometimes the intentions are not as innocent as I’m led to believe…I’d like to steer clear of that as much as possible in this new city.

So far, that’s it. I’m trying not to plan too much. I want my life to be so loosely planned that anything else that ends up happening is just gravy. Work out. Go to work. Code like crazy during my free time. Repeat. My boyfriend’s schedule is loosening up a bit so he may be spending some time in Seattle (fingers crossed!) and shuttling up and down the coast. Since the weather is so crappy I won’t want to be hanging around anywhere anyways. Conditions are perfect for learning and introversion! I mean, if I’m not doing something that scares me, I’m not doing this right….right?


A Few Observations From Today


On my run:

  • I ran the Miles for Melanoma 5K this morning in Fullerton. Along the run route they had volunteers hold signs of people whom have passed from cancer. It was also very nice to see families and teams working together to fundraise for a cause that was so close to them.
  • The run route was pretty — a short trail to a small fishing lake. It looped around and on the run back I felt like I was going to either trip and fall over rocks or walkers. Both would have been equally painful in my opinion.

Regarding my timing:

  • I really do need to leave a bit earlier. I have a tendency to drill everything down until the last minute. I had the map to the race venue months in advance and still didn’t bother routing my drive there since I knew where the city was. I arrived with just enough time to check-in late and head to the start line!
  • In regards to actual timing of my run, I did pretty well compared to my last 5K. I ran a 9:23 mile compared to my 10:20 mile at the LA Big5K at the end of March.

On my bike ride:

  • It is easier to maintain momentum than it is to fight inertia. (I think that applies to a lot of areas of life.)
  • I’m having a difficult time turning and braking…pretty much anything that deviates from riding in a straight line. And even that I don’t do very well yet.
  • I get skittish with people around. I get especially nervous when there are cars around.
  • Nonetheless I’ve somewhat mastered staying on for continuous blocks and dips in the road.

In my personal relationships:

  • It’s easier to just speak your mind than it is to wallow in doubt.
  • Time spent with friends is time well spent.

In my work:

  • Spent the better part of the afternoon working on a visual overhaul for a friend’s website. It’s always difficult removing myself from the equation and making sure I design for someone else’s preference and their audience than for my own taste. I think that’s a challenge all designers face whether or not they choose to own up to that responsibility.
  • When working on weekends it is best to apply the law of diminishing marginal returns.

The Quickest Brand Identity Project I've Ever Completed

I designed the logo, website, and a social media theme TODAY in 8 hours. Now, I usually can’t pull these types of miracles for my clients, so don’t expect it! Also, fast doesn’t always mean good, so be weary if someone will actually rush through such an important process. I had a lot of time to marinate what this design would look like before I ever put mouse to pixel.

I was able to complete everything so quickly because:

  • My committee was really easy to please
  • Everyone’s information was easily accessible
  • I had free reign on all creative work
  • I was able to work uninterrupted
  • I had control over what type of technology to use for each of the mediums
  • There was a nanosecond approval process
  • The team made decisions quickly and were flexible

So, the next time you wonder why your designer or webmaster is taking forever and a day on your project, consider the above points and see where you can trim the fat. The more you allow your hired hands to do the job for you without being micromanaged, the better the output and the higher the morale!

The Best Way To Motivate Every Creative

I love what I do. I love it, I love it, I love it. It is days like today that I thank the starry sky above that I’ve been blessed with the brains, determination, and opportunity to pursue my passions fearlessly.

Dress For Success - Hollywood Taft Building

Last night I slept when I wanted to. This morning, I woke up when I felt like it. Today, I drove through Los Angeles, with the windows down and the sun shining bright above me, to meet with a client. I sat down to a casual meeting over coffee to help a client with her newly launched website and to chat about her concerns and other projects. Afterwards I drove south on the 101 and into Hollywood…the day was so clear that I could see the blue skies behind the downtown LA skyline. I parked, grabbed some lunch, and headed up to chat with Dress for Success Worldwide West about what we could do to improve their website and social media marketing efforts.

Dress For Success Worldwide West Twitter

I spend so much of my time behind a computer, clicking away on my keys, sending tweets and writing blogs (for myself and others). I go through designs like I do laundry. I mentor and I critique and I troubleshoot and every once in awhile I get to peek my head out from the madness to sit across from a client, face to face, and actually TALK. What’s great is that the universe has thrown some pretty amazing people in my path. I admire every single client I bring on — for their determination, their drive, and investing in something that will help make the world a better place in their own special way.

On a day like today I am happy that I chose to follow the path of greatest resistance, that I chose to ignore the naysayers, and to chase my dreams. To be a creative is to be a very special person. So, my dear clients, when you wonder what it takes for a creative to do their very best work for YOUR project, keep some of these points in mind:

  • Give them the freedom to be creative. That is why you hired them, after all. (Check their portfolio beforehand to make sure they work in the style you are looking for.)
  • Realize that you’ve hired them for their professional opinion. They won’t always be identical to yours. If you’ve been stuck with a yes-man I would start looking elsewhere because it’s obvious that they’re not thinking…they’re just doing.
  • Give them space to create. It’s very hard for people to be creative on demand. Maybe if you stopped calling so often or sending a deluge of emails they might have the time to sit down and do the work without constant interruption.
  • Remember that creatives do their best work when they’re inspired. If they’re not answering your calls or emails right away, it might be because they are doing research or contemplating how to approach your project.
  • Give them definitive deadlines and instructions. If you absolutely need things a certain way, let them know up front. Otherwise, don’t get upset if they can’t read your mind.
  • Challenge them. If you think the work they’ve produced is mediocre, say so…but give constructive reasons as to why, so that they may improve and create their work in your image.
  • Be thankful. Just as much as you screened them and (hopefully) wrote them a check, they are doing you a favor too. They are sharing their gift with you so that you can, in turn, share it with the world. Don’t ever forget that they’ve chosen you, just as much as you’ve chosen them.

Are you a creative with something to say? What suggestions would you give?

Feeling Rather Tiny Today

I woke up from one of my infamous 10-minute-dream-flash naps and per my usual routine I scrolled through my timeline to find a (somewhat) ironically poetic mini-meme started my one of my favorite music artists, @ladysov.

From the way I’ve been feeling as of late, it seemed eerily appropriate. I was once that young girl that felt so tiny and miniscule that I too befriended a pixel. Fast forward thirteen years later and that’s how I make my living. Go figure. Anyways, it resonated with me so much that I decided to comp up a small poster that completely embodied the way I felt after reading the tweet. ENJOY.

She Was So Tiny She Befriended A Pixel

View the original tweet.

Unleashing The Humble Artist Inside

Butterfly Hair
By Anahata Katkin

For the most part I don’t really consider myself an artist. I think it’s because I’m jealous that real artists have talent. (Designers have talent too, I suppose. Just a different type of talent, a combinative talent of sorts.)

Which then begs the question, what is the difference between art and design? I’ve entertained this conversation with a few close friends, all of them being artists…none of them designers.

For me, here are three key differentiating factors:

  1. An artist’s work is created for themselves. They consider the audience but their pieces are mainly a form of expression with no real objective of audience resonation. They do what they want. A designer’s work is created for an audience and generally has to be accepted to be seen as successful.
  2. Artists use their hands, and there’s often physical labor involved with creating their art. Most of the designer’s work is cognitive and two-dimensional. Unless they take part in the production process the physical labor of bringing their work to life is generally outsourced.
  3. Artists are more involved in the message. Designers are more involved the form and function in communicating a message.

I personally consider design to be 50% art and 50% science. There is an art to visualization and arrangement, and there is a science to branding, messaging, and client management.

When designers get caught up in the 50% science, it’s important to take a step back to recognize that the other half of what we do is artistic. Unleashing the humble artist inside is difficult and can take months or years of prying and prodding. Some people are uncomfortable with critiques or showing their work to the world.

What I’ve found to be successful at reigniting the artistic spark inside of me is to go find people who are better then me — people I look up to, people whose success I envy, people who ooze creativity in every aspect of their lives. Perhaps it’s the lifetime of responding to negative reinforcement, but for me it works. I create my best work when I am stressed, depressed, and otherwise pressed for time. I think on my feet. My heart bleeds. I cry. It’s amazing.

For example, let’s take Jhonen Vasquez, the creator of Invader Zim.

Jhonen Vasquez
Photo Credit - http://biorequiem.com

I’m obsessed with the TV series and watch it religiously on-demand via Netflix. It’s an insanely smart and clever series. I don’t even want to really explain it here because I would do his work injustice, so do yourself a favor and go watch “The Revenge of the Zit Boy” and have a blast. I follow him on Twitter and his ramblings are fascinating…as the ramblings of a true artist usually are. I go to his blog and his extended ramblings all make sense. I can see the artist in the work. What a privilege to have this type of technology available to us today to peek into the minds of true artists. (Could you imagine what Da Vinci’s timeline on Twitter would have looked like? Or what Salvador Dali’s blog would’ve contained?) I read his blogs and peruse his sketches with admiration and slight envy. I wish I could be as bold…but I suppose I’m the only one holding myself back.

The Creative Process for Creatives Can Get Pretty Creative

Whoever says being creative is a natural process is pretty much lying. Creativity takes lots of energy, guts, emotions, and work.

I’m one of the lucky few. I’m paid to be creative. When that happens and I don’t feel like I’m being creative enough, pandemonium ensues. (It’s all inside of my head at least. See “guilt” post for reference.)

Creativity Is The Opposite Of Routine

The paychecks, although whole-heartedly welcome, doesn’t necessarily validate the creative inside of me. I see it as more of a challenge.

The more projects I book, the more I see them as hurdles I must overcome for my clients. Some questions that race through my mind are:

  • What can I bring to the table that hasn’t been thought of before?
  • How can I message this campaign better so that it reaches their target psychographic?
  • How will I be able to package the visuals so that their constituents can relate?

Sometimes I end up going dark, a.k.a. out of reach, for my clients because I am in the creative zone. That’s more often than not. It sounds cliché but in order for me to get creative I have to feel a spark. I have to find my inspiration and that takes a little bit of effort. Sometimes I have to change my environment; sometimes I have to listen to new music; sometimes I have to do something absolutely unrelated. (I think if I were a little more upfront about this painful point in my process, my clients would be happier, so I will put that one on my to-do list for future projects.) Routine is absolutely essential for some aspects of my work, but if I let my day be run by the clock, I run myself into the ground. It’s a pretty simple equation.

For me, the creative process is never routine. Being creative is being okay with flux and constant change, waning motivation and strokes of genius. Creativity takes place between my ears before it takes place on my sketchpad and lastly on my screen. It should for you too.

Here are some crazy things I’ve done to spark creativity:

  • Drank in strange, new bars with my sketchbook
  • Hopped on a Greyhound to travel to another city
  • Rode on the train with no intention of going anywhere
  • Blogged
  • Drove to the beach at 2am
  • Sketched in an video game arcade
  • Sat down at a 24-hr coffee shop and perused books
  • Sunbathed on the beach
  • Went to an event that I didn’t want to attend
  • Called a friend to ask them for advice
  • Tried a new coffee shop
  • Drove to a beach a few hours away to sit at the lifeguard station during sunset
  • Peruse other designers’ blogs
  • Sink my teeth into another project
  • Clean. Oh my have I cleaned…
  • Worked in another medium (photo and illustration)

What’s your creative process like?

Empty Pursuits of Happiness?

A mutual friend, with whom I went to design school with, posted a great article on the endeavor to reconnect with his creativity by way of strategic unplugging.

The thing about design is that the pursuit of a career in such a florid profession requires a LOT of passion. You have to love what you do, every minute that you’re doing it. You have to find the silver lining in every client complaint, every technical wrench that gets thrown in your way, and the upside to every irate vendor you work with.

I certainly believe that creativity is what sets the human race apart from other forms of life here on Earth. Our ability to adapt our physical environment to better serve our inner sanctum is fascinating. We’ve built cities, buildings, natural habitats, space stations, and our homes on ideas. To be human is to bring  ideas to fruition.

Tweet Sample @joelbeukelman

Life is pretty short. Do what makes you happy. When you find that you are sacrificing a much larger chunk of yourself than you’d like, it might be time to slow down or move on.

A Design & Marketing Manifesto: Integrity in Practice

Design and marketing are very powerful at influencing public opinion and consumption patterns. When combined, they are a force to be reckoned with.

To much of my chagrin, the world runs on emotion and money. Unfortunately there are people who are puppeteering the show, pulling at the purse strings of an ignorant public that unknowingly buys into the continuous, flighting, and pulsing messages found in the multitude of media channels available to them. Whether its radio, television, film, web, print, poster, interactive, mobile, or press, our global community is being gorged with misinformation overload.

The Truth by Ozlem Durmus (Turkey)

As such, it is an enormous responsibility to have the power and privilege to craft private messages for public consumption. Whether it’s print design, web development, digital media design, marketing, advertising, branding or communications, the power of communications should never be used to further evil.

Here are my guiding principles:

I will only contribute my talents to inform the public of a product/service that can truly help them live a better life.

I will put forth my best effort to consider new projects and messages from the most objective perspective possible.

I will carefully consider the ramifications of each marketing message I create on someone else’s behalf.

I will give back to my community in both service and resources without desire for recognition.

I will connect people who can form symbiotic relationships and work together to positive ends.

I will explain my reasoning and process as necessary to achieve active transparency in the creative process.

I will manifest my destiny through diligence, hard work, and seizing opportunities.

I will refuse a project when it does not align with my guiding principles.

I will always choose honesty over the path of least resistance.

What design/marketing credos do you work by?

Do You Really Need a Degree To Succeed in Graphic Design?

In short…kind of.

Bauhaus Poster

For people who are unfamiliar with the technology and processes of design — from the artistic form to the technical know-how necessary to execute ideas — going to school is one of THE best ways to learn. You have to choose your school carefully though. If you don’t, you run the risk of getting caught up in a program that doesn’t necessarily fit your goals or approaches.

I was lucky to go to a private art school for one (very short) semester. In that space of time I learned a lot about the art behind it. I spent almost ten years learning the science of it beforehand, and imitating what I saw in magazines and books. In that short period of time I was thrown in to the more artistic, ethereal challenges behind my projects. When I left that private art school and transferred in to a local state university, I was flabbergasted. Students were still learning to kern. They still tried to run RGB layouts through our four-color printer. They were designing booklets in Photoshop. They hadn’t the slightest cue about binding technologies, HTML, print production, etc…all things that I had essentially grown up with.

The traditional design school experience was very tough for me. I breezed through the coursework but quickly approached my two design professors and asked that they challenge me as hard as they could. (That they did…one drove me to tears!) In my experience it wasn’t the actual course work itself that taught me a lot, but instead my interaction with my professors and the internships with which they connected me. It was also in my dealings with my classmates, by being patient and helping them grow as designers through fair and honest feedback and critiques. It was in helping them understand that design was simply not just a pretty picture but a piece of visual communication that was to eventually be consumed by millions of people…and that it needed to be taken seriously.

What I also never expected was to deal with politics. Different professors had different teaching styles and their own philosophies about how to run their classes. When it came time to seek funding for an international project, I had to deal with the politics between departments, and getting recommendations. Some of the hardest lessons I learned in design school was knowing when to drop a design argument when it became apparent that it came down to taste; understanding that honey attracts more flies than vinegar; and that sometimes it didn’t really matter what other people thought — that if you could unequivocally defend your design, you were designing from an informed point of view. It was also really difficult for me to deal with rejection: I had applied to create my own masters degree program but was rejected on the grounds that my GPA was not high enough. (All credited to the hop-skipping of majors I did prior to switching in to design.) In retrospect that was a blessing in disguise: I would have missed out on the opportunity to work for a boutique ad agency and learn the reins of running a business from the inside out. I would have missed out on working with The Rainmaker Network. I would have missed out on starting my own company. I would have also missed out on enrolling in the degree program at Golden Gate, which has served me so well thus far.

No, it wasn’t the brand identity assignments or the poster designs or even the portfolio class that taught me a lot about the design process. It was the people. It was the patience that was required of me to finish the classes. It was learning how to follow protocol, even if I didn’t want to. It was learning that forms of expression require a process, and that there were no shortcut to success. Design school taught me that I would have to work hard, commit to goals, and set to achieving them if I were ever able to make something of myself.

Amara Poolswasdi Working
A quick snapshot of my working process while I was in Thailand. Note the Advil and sketches EVERYWHERE

So, although you don’t really need the degree itself, I believe that it will help you build the patience and understanding necessary to succeed.

(crossposted to unicornpress.net/blog)