What led you into design?
I remember when my mom landed a full-time job teaching art at a middle school in Queens. She had degrees from Cooper Union and RISD. This was her second full-time job working in the arts.
We didn't have a lot but my sister and I were raised on pay-what-you-wish-trips to the MET and minced pork over rice. our mom taught us about The Hudson River School painters, and exposed us to concepts and abstractions that blew our little kid minds. Most importantly, she embued a sense of connection, and belonging to the arts. I am eternally grateful for these things.
As we got older we began to feel some of the financial anxiety she had been careful to hide from us. That time we lived in a motel was less exciting once I realized we'd been skirting homelessness and it wasn't some fun excursion. I remember when we all moved in with Mama (what we call our grandmother). She had a big garden, a '97 Honda Accord, and CABLE TV!
I spent most of my college years floating in and out of school, waiting tables, taking some photography classes for fun. I wouldn't even humor a career in the arts. It didn't register. Senior year I landed a temp job at a recruiting startup and when I graduated they offered me a fulltime job. I thought to myself I must have made some good choices along the way.
I remember the day I got fired. I was walking around in the rain in Chelsea drinking beer out of a coffee cup, snot and tears running down my face. I was a mess. I was scared and dissapointed. I remember asking myself this one stupid question over and over again:
How the hell am I going to find another job in recruiting?
Well, it took a few days but eventually I found my answer. I was not going to find another job in recruiting. I was a pretty bad recruiter and as it turned out I didn't enjoy it very much. I just liked talking to folks on the phone.
The question changed. Why have I been pursuing something with such incredible effort, little interest, and to no real end, and why wouldn't I do the same for something I cared about?
The first lesson I leaned in my career is that betting on yourself is a risk worth taking. Ultimately this is what led me to design.
What does a typical day look like?
My canned answer is 'there's no such thing as a typical day in design. Being adaptable is key.' That's still true, but this last year has really changed the way I approach work. I love what I do and that's made it too easy for me to let work become my everything.
The way work and my personal life have become entertwined encouraged me to find opportunities to draw hard lines between the two. When I get up in the morning I don't turn the computer on and start checking Slack. I want to but I don't.
My first ritual of the day is coffee and news. Two of my favorite addictions. For the record the photo below is absolutely staged. I'm usually falling asleep on the couch with the coffee cup in one hand and the Kindle in the other as a cat tries to crawl onto my face.
After that it's off to Zoomland for standup. I meet with the rest of the team leads and then kick off whatever the day's/week's/month's big task is.
No two days are alike and this week has been really research heavy. Right now I'm working on two studies. The first being a generative study to develop one of our personas doing moderated users interviews with User Zoom. The second is a UX Evaluation of a new feature we're introducing, pictured below.
My midday ritual starts with my computer turning off. Hour long lunches are not always possible but I try to spend at least 30 minutes hanging out with my partner if she's free, or our two tabbys, pictured below on their fabulous new couch.
I call my next ritual The Changing of the Guards. It's when I switch from coffee to green tea. I've been obsessed with these Ito En teas lately. I buy them by the case.
I try not to work too many late nights these days. It's too easy for me to do so by early evening I'm wrapping up work and putting together my list for the next day. This is my last ritual. I take a moment to look at what I have accomplished and acknowledge that I've made progress.
When the occasional late night work session roles around I try not to fight it. I grab a glass of wine or maybe a mild edible if I have one. I check to see if there's a snack in the kitchen and then ease back into my desk chair, and lean in for the remaining work ahead.
What's your workstation setup?
I just moved so most of the apartment is in boxes hidden out of frame. I contemplated whether I should stage these pictures for A E S T H E T I C S but It's been such a busy month I didn't have the time or energy. Admittedly, the photo below is somewhat staged.
I started using an external mic and camera a few months ago. Some of my colleagues have done the same. Sometimes it makes a big difference being able to hear and see your remote coworkers in a higher fidelity. Conversations feel more interpersonal.
This is what my desk looks like at the end of the week in all of its non-staged glory (save for the shoutout to zombo.com, the website where you can do anything and the only limit is yourself).
Piles of sketches and notebooks, keyboards and mice abound. There are usually a few cups of water and coffee littered about, so I'd say this was probably a slower week.
Things can get a little crazy so sometimes I'll ditch the desk. Since moving into this new apartment I've enjoyed sitting by our front window. There's a french pastry shop downstairs and it's nice to listen to people chatting outside.
Where do you go to get inspired?
Sometimes it's been in natural spaces. I went hiking in Patagonia and on one particular hike around Cerro Catedral I felt really inspired by the spire like rock formations surrounding me.
It just made me feel really small and not in control. I think back on that feeling and it has served as a salient reminder that some things are bigger than me. Sometimes you have to relinquish control and see where that takes you.
Sometimes it's in man-made spaces. When I stepped into Basílica de la Sagrada Família for the first time I could not believe what I was seeing.
At the time couldn't articulate what I was feeling. Here it is in cocktail form:
The Envious Designer
- 1 part awe-struck
- 2 parts 'oh my god, I wasted so much of my twenties'
Shake fervently and poor into tall glass over ice. Do NOT salt the rim. You're already being pretty salty.
Gaudi's reimagining of one of the oldest seemingly untouchable design conventions is truly a thing of wonder. The display of talent and his ability to manifest so many bizarre and lovely ideas into reality fills me with a lot of hope.
What product have you recently seen that made you think this is great design?
I'm a big fan of the work that Notion is doing. I think they've created a really elegant tool for file/data organization that is flexible enough to solve for very simple problems to those that are more complex and require more tooling. I was introduced to the product quite recently and it has quickly become the primary tool I use to govern Research Operations at Rhino.
What pieces of work are you most proud of?
I'm proud of a lot of my work, but lately I've been really excited about shooting film. I worked in photography for a brief period after college. It's a bit of a story but I got conned into shooting b-roll at Fashion Week at the Lincoln and it spiraled into a short lived event photography role. The photos were glamorous. The job, no so much.
I've been shooting on this beat up rangedfinder the last few years. It's been a real joy.
The Electro35 by Yashica is not a particularly fancy camera. It has beautiful glass and takes great photos and since they were mass produced through the 50-60's you can find one in decent condition for under $100 bucks on ebay. My old beater has a big dent in the lens. Still workin.
I shoot most of my photos from the hip using zone-focusing. I'm all about "f/8 and be there". Not everything comes back crisp or perfectly exposed. I'm okay with that.
I send in a few rolls of film to Luster up in the West Village. They're a great shop. Highly recommend. I have a film scanner so once the negatives come back I pick out the shots I like and scan them.
This shot below is probably my favorite.
I don't do any post-processing for now. I feel like that might take some of the fun out of it.
What design challenges do you face at your company?
At Rhino, we offer a product that serves as a more accessible alternative to traditional security deposits. To that end, renters who use our product are putting a lot of trust in us. Being able to see the effect design has at scale has served as an important reminder — to be a product designer is to be in a position of privilege. Acknowledging that is a challenge, but it’s one I gladly take on.
What music do you listen to whilst designing?
Any advice for ambitious designers?
- Be curious about what your underlying motivation is. Check in to see if what you're doing aligns with that.
- Be comfortable betting on yourself. It's a great confidence builder.
- Be kind to yourself - Nobody else has to.
Anything you want to promote or plug?
I have some upcoming speaking events I'll be sharing soon.
Hit me up on the gram, check out my website, or connect with me on Linkedin to learn more or just say hi. I'm planning on using my twitter but currently it's just RT's of AOC and me not understanding Korean memes.