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.

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You Know You’re a Designer When…

As my first academic year comes to a close, I am beginning to feel more and more like a legitimate designer. I’ve survived sleepless nights in the studio, competing deadlines, painful critiques, and I’ve gone through more Sharpies in nine months than I thought was humanly possible. During these nine months, I’ve also compiled a list of characteristics unique to industrial designers, and designers in general. So, without further adieu, I give you “You know your a designer when…”

You know you’re a designer when:

1. You can justify the purchase of a $110.90 hand blown coffee filter from Chemex. I mean, seriously. Its beautiful, functional, highly crafted, historical, and perfectly filters 13 cups of delicious coffee. You don’t even know.

2. Having an in depth conversation on the complexities of coffee on a regular basis is not abnormal. Coffee, right!? I don’t even know how much coffee comes up in my daily life. Just this morning, I had a 15 minute conversation about superior forms of coffee presses. This is serious stuff, wo(man).

3. You have an unhealthy obsession with certain hex numbers. Who ever knew that you could be so insanely attracted to a color. Don’t worry. I won’t judge you if you’ve ever fantasized about marrying #2f3440. When paired with #ea6045? I can’t even! Be still, my beating heart.

4. You will never be able to look at anything, ever, without critiquing it. It’s the designer’s curse. Everything from a pint glass, to a web app will be scrutinized. Even if you absolutely love it, you will find something to improve upon it. The new iPhone, yeah, its beautiful, but its not perfect. And that’s ok.

5. No pen is ever good enough. The other day, I sat down to do some sketches. 15 minutes of searching and 10 pens later I finally found one I was somewhat satisfied with. My non-designer roommate stared at me in amazement, boggled by the rigor to which my pens were critiqued.

6. You can describe the ideation phase as a dog, and its tail as prototyping. If you didn’t understand that, you are obviously not a designer.

7. “I don’t want to do this anymore” is said in regards to what you love on a daily basis. Possible iterations include “I don’t even know what I’m doing!” “Why am I even here!” “I have so much work to do,” and “This doesn’t even make any sense.” But at the end of the day, you have made something beautiful and inspiring. And if its not, well, you’ll just pretend it is.

8. Making something “portfolio worthy” is the bane of your existence. Today, a professor told me I could make my project into a portfolio piece. I almost cried.

9. You choose a 24 pack of Prismacolor markers over groceries for a week. Change the brand to Copic, and that’s at least 2 weeks. Supplies over food. The struggle. It’s real.

10. The first time you sat in an Eames lounge chair brought you close to Nirvana. I’m not going to sugar coat this. It’s fantastic…and the moment that you put you’re feet one the ottoman…well, you’ve been warned.

If you have some more, I’d love to hear them! Comment below!

I’m Sorry, Arduino, For the Things I Said to You While I Was Angry and Under-Caffeinated

The other week, I said some mean things to Arduino. Now, please know that this wasn’t out of my dislike for you, or even my dis-love. It wasn’t you. It was me. So, with this blog post, I will try to make right the things I made wrong, and formally apologize for lashing out at you. After all, you are an inanimate object. I mean, it really wasn’t your fault.

For those who need a recap, my last blog post was ended with an emotionally distraught grad student (me) and an Arduino board content in its ivory tower and with a complete disregard for us mere mortals. The next day, I met my lab partner to go over our project only to find that she also had the newest Apple OS and was unable to run processing as well. BUT, she also had the ability to run Windows on her system. All was right in the world…at least for the time being.

But with two days left until our quiz, and 4 days left until the functional prototype, moral was still low. On Monday night, I sat with my coffee, bread board and wires trying code after code. I was reading Arduino forums, and had even started my own forum thread.

Suddenly, things started to change. I checked my email to find my previous blog post had solicited emails from several SparkFun associates. And after only mere hours of starting my thread, I had people responding. Complete strangers were taking their time to help ME with MY project! WOAH!

I had hope. So, I kept tinkering and downloading, and then it happened. I pressed a button, and my servo motor turned. I pressed it again, and it turned another time, and another time, and another. AND, when I pressed a different button, a light went off!! There was still a long way to go, and I honestly had no idea if any of the code was correct or just functioning because of dumb luck, but it was something.

giphy-1How I Acted on the Outside

giphyHow I Felt on the Inside

After a brief nap, I went to class and handed off my project to my partner. Related side note, I had received a ticket to see President Obama speak, and wasn’t going to let a quiz get in the way. Luckily, the professor was excusing any student seeing the president speak and told us to return to class as soon as it was finished.

After a rousing debate on education policy (lean about the Student Aid Bill of Rights here), I skipped back to class only to find that the quiz had been canceled! It turns out I was not the only student who saw the president and, because of this, the professor couldn’t make the quota for the quiz. To make things better, my partner had been one of the only people in class which meant her and the professor spent almost the whole time fixing all of our issue! PRAISE JESUS AND OBAMA, HALLELUJAH!

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To wrap things up, this gave us the next 2 days to really hone in our design and fix any last minute coding issues. When Thursday finally arrived, we had a great functioning prototype and were pretty darn proud of it. The function was quite simple. Pressing a button turned a servo motor into 1 of 5 positions. As it turned, 1 of 5 RFID tags were read by a reader. When the reader read the tag, and image an song played on a screen. In addition, pressing a button also activated a light that went off when the button was done being pressed.

…ok, maybe that’s not simple. Frankly, I don’t know. But regardless, we were happy. We called it The Lilly Box, and let the wires and components of the circuitry act as a feature.

With that, thank you, maker community. You are all awesome. Now all I have to do is get through our final project on wearable, and maybe I can pass as moderately competent in Arduino.

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