Growing Pains

Last May, a good friend introduced me to local designers Joyce and Meaghan at a regional design conference. For the next 2 hours we talked about our love of cats, our favorite places to eat in Atlanta, and this little side project they had started together.

What this project ended up being was Spark Corps. Its mission was simple, but lofty: help designers help the world. This little idea that was sparked how many ever years ago is now an exciting and green, little design studio in the heart of Atlanta. Spark Corps isn’t even a year old (and my time there even shorter!) but it is already full of potential. These past few months have been fraught with growing pains, missed steps, and the challenges that come with starting any new venture. But each of these has also been accompanied with little victories and marks of progress.

I think that when I started, I thought I would spend my days developing stunning visuals and falling in love with the design process all over again. Instead, I spend my days cold-calling potential clients, devising project budgets, and providing a space for Spark Corps’ organizational philosophy to grow and flourish. I spend my days as a businesswoman just as much as I do as a designer. The real crazy thing is that I sort of love it.

Ironically, for years I fled from the world of business. I grew up wanting to be an artist, or teacher, or maybe I would just travel the globe leaving all worldly possessions behind. But this desire to flee was forcing me to deny part of who I was. It was forcing me to deny my history and my heritage. My ancestors range from leading architects to pioneering pharmacists, from brew master to politician.

Big or small, my blood pulses an entrepreneurial spirit, and those who had the desire to use their minds and passions to create something. In their own way, they were designers.

So, while deliberating over emails, writing proposals, and pitching new work might not be as sexy as designing beautiful visuals, I feel like I am paying tribute to my own heritage. I’m helping build something.

They don’t look that fierce, but they’re pretty shrewd business leaders!

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The First Year: My First 12 Months as a Designer

When I began writing this, it was 11:15 on a Sunday night. In a little over 12 hours I would begin a new school year. In no time, a new year of sleepless nights, coffee binges, and creative endeavors would begin. Quite honestly, I have no idea if I’m prepared. I think I am, but that’s only speculation at this point.

Just 12 months previously, I was a new and burgeoning designer. I was as green as the Atlanta kudzu, overly ambitious, and feisty as all get out. Well, I’m still overly ambitious and I am still feisty as all get out. This time, however, I have come prepared with a few life lessons a firmer grasp of what it means to be a designer in 2015.

The following is my list of 12 things I’ve learned in my 12 months as a designer.

1. It’s not personal. It’s design: At the end of the day, you are designing for the masses, or whatever your population might be. As tempting as it might be to invest your full self into the work, just remember that you are not designing for you. You are designing for them.

2. If you believe in it, fight for it: You are the one who has put in the blood, sweat and tears into your project. So, you know better than anyone what the direction of that project is. You have a spine. Use it.

3. But know when to listen: One of the amazing tings about design is that you are always learning. As much as you think you know, you don’t know everything. It’s critical to learn when you’ve reached these points and when it’s time to start listening and stop defending.

4. Over communicate: As much as you might think, not everyone around you is a psychic…and that is ok. Know who you are talking to, and how to talk to them. When you’ve mastered this, you will have mastered design.

5. Criticism is not an attack on your idea. It is an attack on the presentation of your idea: This is an important one. Naturally, we become invested in our work, but even the best ideas will be passed on if they are not communicated properly. You can never assume that your audience will “get” your idea. So, don’t take criticism personally. Think of it as a chance to improve the communication of you concept.

6. Know who your “client” is: There have been plenty of times when I thought I knew the problem, only to find that I hadn’t really listened to the needs of the client. Sometimes, we have to put our needs on a shelf and concentrate on the task at hand. This is ok…In fact, this is normal.

7. Know how to sweet-talk the above-mentioned “client.”: Sometimes, the client is wrong. Of course, never tell them this. That being said, however, sometimes you need to think critically about how to get the right idea across while still making the client think it is their idea. This isn’t easy…but you’ll get the hang of it.

8. The pig always looks better with lipstick: Appearance means more than is should. A beautiful idea is beautiful. But even a bad idea still looks good with a little bit of polish.

9. But at the end of the day, a pig is still a pig: In the long run, a good idea will always beat out a “pretty” idea. It just will.

10. Procrastination will never give you what you want: When you have learned how to manage your time, please let me know how you have done this. I am still working on this skill.

11. Get out of the studio! NOW!: There is a whole world outside of the studio. I get it. There are a lot of things you have to do—renderings, portfolios, models, etc…Here is the thing, though, you are designing for people and not other designers. GET OUT OF THE STUDIO and learn about the people you are designing for. If this means avoiding class work for the sake of “research” then so be it. Own it.

12. It’s only design: I love what I do, and so should you. But, at the end of the day, we are designers. We are not solving the Iran nuclear crisis or writing hunger policies in Nairobi. We are designers. Love what you do and make the best of your skill set. If you are passionate and show up, the rest will fall into place.

I hope these have helped! Keep on truckin’, my design warriors. I believe in you.

Arduino, Arduino, I Hate You. You Stink.

…I wish I could flush you down the sink.

I’m going to be honest. Technology scares me. The thought of having to do anything remotely high tech paralyzes me. Even using the laser cutter to cut cardboard took encouragement from my peers. But it’s an inevitable truth of my new profession that I will one day need to admit defeat and learn how to CAD, program and wire.

In an attempts to mitigate this fear, I signed up for a course entitled “Interactive Products.” In this course we would learn about integrating technology, inputs and outputs into designs. The first part of the semester was doable, filled with Little Bits and Lego Mindstorms. I was on a high. I can do this! IMG_20150307_141830_417

But then the day came. This week, we began the Arduino project. Suddenly I was confronted with wires, and sensors, and coding, and programming, and inputs, and outputs, and lions, and tigers, and bears…oh my! In less that a week, I was supposed to design a toy or game that had two inputs (including and RFID) as well as 2 outputs that included an audio/visual output.

I sat in class staring at the bread board for over an hour, my professor and TA preoccupied with other students. It seemed like everyone around me knew exactly what they were doing and that I was being left in the dust. But I remained strong!

On Saturday, I enlisted my roommate who is getting her masters in electrical engineering. There were hickups, and mishaps, buy things were chugging along. We had this in the bag! No sweat! That is…until we got the evil Java error message. Well, over the next 3.5 hours I consulted my roommate, my classmate who is an Arduino god, my TA, and just about every other person I knew who had any knowledge of Arduino. Nothing. I took a break for a few hours, and revisited it later in the evening. Nothing. I even consulted my roommate getting her masters in Aerospace Engineering, as had the Arduino God take control of my computer remotely to figure it out.

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By this point, I was a ball of mush. I was at my wits end. Finally, we figured it out. The problem? Well, it turns out that my brand new fancy pants computer is SO new, th

at it was not compatible with the processing software used with Arduino. So much for a new computer! But, it was OK. I still had my old Mac. I could just download it there.

NOPE!

Turns out my old mac is too old. It was a case of Goldilocks and the 2 Macs. I then proceeded to try and download Windows onto my Mac only to find that I didn’t have a properly sized USB, and that I would need to…oh yeah…buy Windows. So, I guess that’s not an option.

And this brings me to today. With the assignment due Tuesday, and no progress made, I ask you to excuse me while I go turn into a ball of mush in the corner of my apartment while eating a pint of Ben and Jerry’s and watching Notting Hill. Say a prayer for me, good friends, and send me any good Karma you can spare.

Good luck, my brave Arduino warriors.