How _______ made me a better designer

I was falling behind and didn’t even know it

Sitting in my bedroom as my old classmates moved out to Los Angeles, Boston, and New York was tougher than I thought. I constantly distracted myself by rewatching TV shows and trying to get in a last lunch with friends I wouldn’t see again for a long time. My motivation had disappeared as quick as the boba tea I addictively bought. Usually I’d have something to do, but my to-do lists were empty and I kept opening my laptop to a blank wallpaper.

Senior year of high school had thrown me off quite a bit. I didn’t have time to read as many design articles anymore or dream up side projects. A wave of nostalgia and ferocity hit me when I got bored and began scrolling through my personal website.

It was ugly.

Grids? Nope. Consistent fonts? Forget it. I didn’t even have mockups of my projects, just long articles that droned on about my intentions and feelings without a care for process and research. It was time for a redesign and time to do it well.

GIF courtesy of the NBA

I took my cousin’s advice about studying visual design and began reading about typography. I visited other designers’ portfolios and tried to understand what made a portfolio well-designed. Intention was certainly important, but logic and reasoning behind design decisions was much more vital. Users wanted to see process, not just the result. It wasn’t about making the shot, but getting the perfect form.

I dove back into the world of design. I adapted elements from more experienced designers and attempted to replicate what I believed were the successful features in their implementation. I pushed myself to recognize conventions in design that improved usability and navigation. I also wanted to make the type the consistent across the website, leaving a reader to focus more on the content of the project. I also touched my first line of code in a few months and renewed my annual swear that I’d never do a redesign again.

Sketch mockups created before I began coding.

Redoing my personal portfolio was great. I finished local community college classes each day early enough to head to a coffee shop and work until sunset. Along with the website, I found freelance work to push my visual design skills and create some more interesting pieces to show off. It was exhilarating to have something to do again, especially something with a purpose. I talked to designers, got feedback, and tried to make the best case for myself with the experience I had.

The coffee shop haven

I continued to heading to the coffee shop almost everyday when I realized I had idolized the lifestyle of work. There was an emptiness that wasn’t filled with caramel macchiatos or pixel-perfect screens. I soon realized that the lack of social interaction was hitting me hard. Part of the reason I became a designer was to talk and understand people around me. And as much as I’d like to say that this went away with more work and focus, it didn’t. I decided to spread out my work a little more and make some time to catch up with the people who’d made my life so great thus far. This meant visiting friends who had gone to more local schools and simply taking the time to text people who had been busy beginning a new life elsewhere.

Halfway through October, I had uploaded the website and found myself with nothing to do again. But instead of being stuck this time around, I had something to show for my efforts. I knew design internship applications hadn’t opened yet most companies, so I searched for the places that had. Soon enough, my searches had led me to applying to the IDEO CoLab Makeathon for their Winter 2018 fellowship. A couple weeks later to my surprise, I was accepted and headed out to Cambridge for Halloween weekend!

Software updating my motivation

My team consisted of an occupational therapist , a senior at Columbia, an MA candidate at Emerson, and a freelance engineer who could prototype anything.

Being in Cambridge made me feel like I was in school again and definitely raised my spirits. But more importantly, the IDEO CoLab Makeathon taught me a humbling lesson about my novelty in the field of design. I was just a beginner and had a lot to learn. So, when I came back home to the slap of November’s cold wind, I set a plan to learn as much as I could during the remaining semester.

I began to listen to design podcasts I found interesting, particularly catching up on every episode of Design Details and Students Who Design, learning more about the industry every minute. I listened on the commute to school, on the way to the gym, and even while I fetched some boba tea for the first time since quitting my unhealthy obsession in July. I also began to interview with a few of the companies to which I had originally applied, updating my portfolio to reflect what I had learned in the few months. Creating a portfolio presentation for the first time was tricky and required a lot of rethinking about the decisions I made in the design process, but fortunately, I had a community of designers to help and give feedback.

I became less focused on creating and working and more honed into learning about what makes good design. I finally began feeling like myself again. My mind was in the right place and I didn’t feel so behind anymore.

Categorized as UX

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