Staying true to tinkering

I know this blog usually goes unread, and I only sometimes update it, especially lately. It's neglected. I feel like I can only post when I have something super interesting or insightful to share. Which...must appear to mean I never in the presence of insightful things or am not insightful myself. Not the case. Moreso that I haven't had ample time to reflect.

Since moving to New York, I've been overwhelmed. Overwhelmed with the busyness and mayhem of the city, of its commuters, of its obligations and responsibilities. I'm overwhelmed by the rodents in my walls scampering up, into, and across the ceiling each night. The gluten free options for lunch. The number of guys in the city. How much everything costs. The number of smells. How loud my neighbors can be. The number of puddles in the streets unrelated to weather conditions.

I'm also overwhelmed (and deeply humbled) by the different skillsets of many of my colleagues at work. The amount of newness in 6 months... new projects, new co-working relationships, new ways of thinking, new ways of approaching problems. My immediate reaction to all of this was to understand as much of it as I could in order to somehow capture and organize all of it. Put it in my pack and whip it out at some future time. There's just too much of all of it to appropriately continue with that means of attempting to understanding so much stimuli.

So, let's go back to the basics. Breathe.

What do I like? 

tinkering. learning. understanding. building. cross-disciplinary collaboration. pushing forward by failing a few times and figuring it out. Lots of questions- "why this? what if this? I don't understand this."

What am I good at?

I've been trained using a methods-based approach to understanding people... Their aspirations and their painpoints... and using that knowledge as power to figure out 20 different ways of solving them and building hacked-together solutions for 10 of them. 

What have I done? 

In school, I used to go out of my way to do stuff that wasn't required. I entered competitions to figure out how to create (and build) stuff to help people save energy. I worked with and coordinated a team to create a new conference model and put it to the test. I went to India and put methods to use in totally different parameters and cultures. I learned how to code and made prototypes more complex than I needed to, just to see if I could do it. I worked part time in various innovation groups, between Booth School of Business innovation teams, briefly with the group from MonekyBars, and for a few months at a startup called Raise. I didn't have to do any of those things, and yet, as exhausting as all of that sounds, it was energizing.

Now I find myself asking, what am I doing now?

It's likely part of the reason I feel a little disoriented... not identifying the things I'm doing now that ground me. But I am doing things. So for a moment, I'll reflect on things I have done since moving to New York that go above and beyond client projects at work.

1. Designing workshops and tools

I worked with a colleague from Moment to design a 2-day workshop during the second year of BarnRaise (so happy to see our conference continue through the dedication of current ID students!!). We worked through the schedule, methods and touch points for the collaboration. 

I still found myself asking- what's the value prop for attendees? Sure, they come to the conference for the experience and the networking. Sure they want to hear from a few keynote speakers. I started to think about the companies that sent these participants, and about our practice at Moment to share highlights about what we learned at conferences with the office when we return. I realized participants might need something to help them explain what they learned to others... something they could refer back to in order to apply the methods we used at the event. 

I decided to make a little methods booklet. In it, I included all of the methods we intended to teach during the workshop, including a description, a template, and a real example. It was a huge success. I had printed extra copies just in case we had extra team members, and though we didnt, all of my copies were gone by day 2, with attendees asking if they could take a second back to their office. I was even later told that one of the faculty members at ID jokingly said something along the lines of "With things like this, you don't even need to come to school!" (I'm honestly not sure if that was meant in a good way or not). It was a labor of love, and I assembled the content, created and photographed the examples, printed and assembled the materials, and even printed little M's on notebooks to accompany the booklets. I owe a big thank you to Arielle Giczkowski for creating the visual system and skinning all of my pages. She's an awesome designer who's better at graphic design than I'll likely ever be (but can still aspire to!!).

 Our Awesome BarnRaise 2015 Team

Our Awesome BarnRaise 2015 Team

2. Learning a (coding) language... and then teaching it

After the holidays, I found myself with extra time at work because my team had finished our current project and I hadn't been assigned to a new one yet. You might joke that it's the "new American dream" to do as little as possible and get paid the maximum amount as possible. Maybe that's true... but I can't do it. I need to be doing something, working towards something, moving forward in some way on something. So... I taught myself how to use a program called Framer. In short, it's a tool that can create more robust and realistic prototypes using CoffeeScript. Coming out of school, I felt comfortable enough making prototypes using CSS and HTML, and then Googling around to find Javascript snippets to throw in as needed to make my thing work "good enough" to be believed. Learning the language of Framer forced me to really get into the weeds with Javascript and really understand what I was coding to the point that I don't even need to reference the language much anymore (well, at least for the basic stuff). I made a couple dinky prototypes to test myself. It was fun. But I felt like something was still missing.

One afternoon, I plopped down in the seat next to the only other guy in the office that knows how to use Framer and asked an incredibly random and ballsy question: What if we tried to teach everyone else in the office how to use this thing in a way that isn't scary? (Keep in mind, there are some people in the office that don't code at all). Framer has a TON of resources to scavenge through to pick your way through the basics, but it's still rocky. Their "learn" section only gives snips of code (when you want more context) and their "docs" section is like jumping off the diving board into what you think is the deep end but turns out to be the entire effing ocean. What I realized is that I really wanted a "dictionary" with the following information for all of the basic elements of the language:

Keep in mind, this is a work in progress, and hasn't been visually designed yet. It's a content dump. I literally just figured out how to export working gifs from indesign into epub documents this afternoon.

  1. The layman's way of explaining a term (example: Interactions, Triggers, Things that start animations!)
  2. What term Framer uses in the code (following the same example: "Events")
  3. What the syntax for this command type
  4. Different (within reason) versions of this that you might need ( layer.on Events.Click vs. layer.on Events.MouseOver)
  5. Full set of simple, actual working code
  6. An idea of what that code looks like in action (gifs, images, whatever to get the point across

... and to think, a couple weeks ago, I had no idea how to use this program. This is what I live for.


3. Reinventing experiences

Once again, beyond the scope of my work at Moment, I find myself excited about the opportunity to get involved with planning and designing something noteworthy in New York. It's still in the works, so in the meantime all I can say is that there's a lot of energy going into the effort, and I'm honored and ecstatic to play a part in its creation. More on that when I can actually say something with more substance. (Could this one be any more cryptic?)

4. Leaving the comfort of familiar walls

I've been attending AIGA and IxDA events in the city for the last couple of months. Albiet, I still would love to go to more events than I go to now, I think it must be an ongoing ramp up to get as involved and active in these New York chapters as I was in Chicago. Even tonight I was at an AIGA event hosted at Parsons to learn more about the elusive and inspiring Google Creative Lab. 

Being an outgoing introvert, schmoozing and talking with important, famous, and meaningful people (or really anyone for a longer-ish period of time) is hard. It's like lifting weights: the first few minutes isn't too bad (you might even find yourself gaining some false confidence), but after a few reps, you start to feel the burn, and if you go too long, your limbs start to feel like jelly. I find myself trying (and only somewhat possibly succeeding) to balance the awkwardness inherent in chatting with strangers and my zeal for nerding out about design and its integration and adoption within other environments, without presenting myself the wrong way... whatever that is.

Still, that uncomfortness is the spice of life or whatever. 

So, what does all of this mean? 

In no certain terms, I have no idea other than I'm slowly starting to find myself after drowning in the overwhelming elements of a new city, new job, new people and massive amounts of everything else in the process. With the Moment office opening in Chicago, one of my coworkers asked me today as we walked to the train if I ever thought of moving back there. I'm stuck between wanting to return back to the comfort of friends and proximity of family (not to mention the cheaper standard of living) ...and the maturing notion that being uncomfortable in this overwhelming city is OK, and might even be a good thing for me in the long run to develop as an individual and experience more things in my life while I'm young and active.

You know what they say, hindsight is 20/20. I'm sure things will work themselves out however they're supposed to.

I will try to update this more frequently with the things I'm getting involved in. I feel like this task will get easier once I'm as settled in New York as I was in Chicago (which will take some time). 

Until next time,