HCD

The Sabbatical that Continues to Give

  My yellow boots that could.

My yellow boots that could.

I promised a post for what I would be doing when my Sabbatical was over and this is long overdue. For starters, I spent all of January at an artist residency in North Carolina which I will write extensively about later, but I'd like to announce that I am now working full-time for a small start-up in Chicago called DevMynd. Am I happy? Yes. Oh-so-happy. :) I'll write more on that in detail soon.

I haven't written for a while and to be fair, a lot has been going on. I have several posts coming up because I've had time to think, process, and also experience new things that I'd like to share. For those of you who read this, I want to thank you for all of your support and encouragement - and your patience. It really means the world to me that you're interested in the adventure I've been writing for myself, and I hope that I am able to write more about how I'm applying what I've learned during my sabbatical in my non-sabbatical life.

A few of the encouragements that have really floored me throughout this process are the amount of people who have shared with me how they were inspired to make changes in their own lives. To describe a few, a woman I had met in Detroit during my Design Residency told me that she left her job, cleaned out her space like I did, and is redirecting her life with the intention that she wants. Another friend shared that she was inspired to pursue another job where she cared more about the work that she would be doing. Another colleague shared that it inspired her to pursue a job that she had been wanting for quite a while - and that she got it, packed up her things, and left Chicago to follow her dreams.

It's strange for me to share these things with the internet because it feels unreal. Is it true that my actions were inspiring? I am utterly overwhelmed by the kind of responses I've been receiving and all I can say is Shine Theory! I don't shine if you don't shine ;) (If you don't know what that is, you can read about it in this post.)

I was recently asked to give a talk to an undergraduate design class at SAIC regarding my career and recent sabbatical. I gave the talk and reminisced about the past 6 months I had given myself to breathe, recalibrate, and refocus on what I was doing with my life and career. It was during this talk though that the intentions that I felt were manifesting within me really came to light. 

A student asked me, "So what exactly will be different when you go back to work?"

I thought about it and I let myself tap into the unspoken learnings and resolve I had within me. I answered by saying this: I now know that every single day, regardless of what I'm doing, is to be appreciated and met with a larger perspective of where I want to go. Yes - it will get hard at times. Yes - I can't really even predict what will change for me even in the next few months. Yes - I will miss freelance work and complete independence. But, I know how to appreciate work with a greater appreciation than I've ever experienced. I can choose my battles with a greater perspective that involves trust and sincerity. And most importantly, I can stay strong in my beliefs in any given situation - even if that means I need to re-pivot things again in order to stay grounded. I have resolved that these things are of utmost importance to me when it comes to my career and I plan on acting on them wholeheartedly.

I'm writing this with already almost 2 months of working in my new position, and I can safely say that all of the above is being applied in almost a daily basis. A lot of this has to do with the actual company I'm working with and, again, I promise to write more on those details soon. There are a lot of details.

I would like to share something, though, that a dear friend of mine in Detroit pointed out to me during my visit out there, the week before I began this position. I was sharing with him how excited I was to start working with this new team and that I'm happily getting out of bed with the curiosity of what will happen next. He said, 
 

"That's exactly what you wanted when you started your sabbatical. You wrote that in your first post."
- Adam Selzer


I had completely forgotten about my first post until he reminded me of it - as well as the fact that what I had been wanting to achieve was exactly what had come to fruition by taking this time of rest. Thank you, Adam, for reminding me that this leap of faith has accomplished what I had set out to do.

I'm ready for my next chapter.

 

A New Year = Clear Your Cache

Our traditional New Year's Day meal. (Photo courtesy of my sister, Ashley Cho)

It begins. A new year. A new outlook. A new life... blah blah blah. It went from a Thursday to a Friday - but somehow, the last digit of the year changed, which will inevitably beckon weeks of crossing out 5's to replace with 6's. Ok, World. Let's do this.

Although I was born and raised in California, I have participated heavily, and sometimes not so heavily, in Korean traditions. In Los Angeles, you will be able to find a huge Korean population. My family, along with others around us, became pretty Americanized early on and therefore began to pick and choose from both cultures what we wanted to participate in. The one tradition that was never on the table for discussion was New Years Day. 

This tradition occurs on the first day of the year (Captain Obvious...) and it consists of traditional bowing rituals to elders who then beckon/proclaim the things that I, as a younger individual, should focus on for this upcoming year. The main phrase said repeatedly throughout the day sounds like this, "Sae Hae Bhok Man Hee Badh Uh Sae Yo." It means, "Many blessings for you this upcoming year!"

So, this is what happens.

You wake up, get dressed, and depending on your family, you either begin the day with the ritual or you can wait until the evening. Extended families are encouraged to get together to participate as one unit and the cycle begins. For my family, there are a handful of relatives who live in Los Angeles with us and the rest are in Korea - for this, you send digital blessings (such that of my adorable nephew in the video below). Kakao is the application of choice for this type of communication. I kid you not, the entire Korean population in this universe runs on this app. 

The eldest is the first to receive the ritual bows, starting from the second oldest down to the youngest, and then the second oldest is next to receive bows from those who are younger than her/him. If you're married, you receive them together as one unit. If you're around the same age, you bow towards each other at the same time to show respect and there is usually no exchange of wisdom and wishes for the upcoming year. However, there is a cut off point - even if there are little kids flooding the room, you can't just receive these bows until you're either married or at an age (generally around 35-40) where you would have some wisdom to impart. Those are the rules. They have never changed. 

My adorable niece who is second to last when it comes to order of birth.

My nephew sending digital, adorable blessings. 

Technical things you should know:

1) Females and Males have different bowing positions, and the performance of these bows are carefully watched throughout the experience. You can either bow really gracefully or clunk-ily. Elders never hold back on how one has performed and even note your progress based on years past. You must perform well - while everyone in the room is watching and ever so silent. 

2) After your bow, there is a position you must take in front of the elder(s) you are showing respect to. It is basically a kneel with your calves and feet tucked in to show humility. You must sit in this position until the elders are finished speaking to you. This is where they evaluate the life you led this past year, and then proceed to give you their blessings and hope for the upcoming year.

3) Once they are finished, they give you money. Yup - that's right. They give you cash which is rationed out based on your age. The older you are, the more money you get. This fact is partly why children look forward to this day because you start out the year with the prospect of what you could do with that cash. More often than not, it is used for candy. (Sometimes, cash is replaced with a gift designed specifically for the recipient.)

4) After everyone has cycled through, you eat Dduk gook (rice cake soup) that seals the deal. One of my favorite meals. Ever.

After all of this, I began to wonder...

... who the heck thought of this system? How is it that everyone knows and understands the rules even without ever explicitly writing them down? What would happen if we introduced another bowing schematic to throw the entire thing off? Will this last past my lifetime and beyond?

I guess time will tell whether or not this ritual lasts but I'm pretty sure it will. There is so much deep rooted history in the Korean part of my culture that I can't deny its existence nor can I reduce my level of participation even if I wanted to. It actually makes me happy that I'm part of a tradition that I can partake it year after year - that's what makes us human. This is what gives us culture. It also gives us something to do, right? 

This is all to say, "Sae Hae Bhok Man Hee Badh Uh Sae Yo!" (Many blessings for you this upcoming year!)

Happy New Year, everyone. There will be no digital bowing rituals between you and I but my wisdom to impart to you would be to clear your cache. You'll thank me later.


Service Design Notes: When designing services, benchmarking off of traditional rituals may be a great idea for innovative services. There are so many rituals out there that have vast ecosystems supporting its existence. Perhaps we should educate those interested in Service Design by teaching the theory and practice of traditional rituals. Immersive education is, in my opinion, the best way to teach anything. Think about it.

Wonderfully Weird

  Peter Ostrum with Gene Wilder in 1971 film,  Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory . Photo Credit:  Mirror.co.uk

Peter Ostrum with Gene Wilder in 1971 film, Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory. Photo Credit: Mirror.co.uk

I recently read an article written by James Victore about "The Undeniable Benefits of Being Weird," and it made me think about all of the times I felt so weird amongst my peers growing up. Have I suppressed this weirdness as an adult? Many times, yes. Have I released this weirdness without a care in the world throughout moments in my life? When I had the courage, absolutely.
 

That’s when others are inspired by your cause. That’s when you find those people, that audience, who accept you not because you’re weird or different, but for whom you really are. You create the potential for shared humanity, and allow others to see their struggle reflected in yours. Ultimately you hear that glorious refrain; “Oh, you’re weird? I thought I was the only one!” This is how businesses are formed. This is how relationships are formed. This is how you find your people.
- James Victore


This paragraph is truth. I have a story to prove that it is.

At my previous job, I was required to use the software product, Trello. Ugh... I hated it. I was the only one on my team who hated it. They pointed and giggled at me every time I rolled my eyes while using the product that "we, as a team," decided to use to manage our projects. Just thinking about it makes me twitch. When it came to Trello, I was weird - and I thought I was the only one. 

Until... [Pause Button] I wrote previously about the Service Design Conference I attended a few months ago and I mention this because this is where the Trello hater meet the other Trello hater. [Ok, Play Button]... I met Erik Flowers. This is how the meet cute played out:
 

Erik: "Service Design [blah, blah, blah]... ugh, I hate Trello."
Me: [gasp]
Erik: [head turns towards me because my gasp was so loud]
Me: "Omg... seriously? I hate Trello! I thought I was the only one who hated Trello!"
Erik: "HA"

 

Like James Victore stated, I had found another one of 'my people' in this one connection of weirdness. I made a new friend to be weird with and oh man, has it been an adventure. 😱

This is Erik at Blue Bottle Coffee in Palo Alto, CA where we hung out and got to tell each other our stories.

I was in NorCal about a month ago and was able to schedule some time with Erik. He wanted to meet at Blue Bottle Coffee because of a specific waffle that they sell. When he told me this, I thought, "Whoa. That's exactly what I do. Go to destinations with delicious food I've been craving... he is SO cool." It made me wonder if there was anything else we had in common.

It turns out that the list of similarities runs quite long - to the point where both of us were sort of shocked at what we were both pursuing in the near future. We had similar backgrounds of studies, philosophically aligned when it came to topics like "theoretical design," and his humor was on par with the many comedians I appreciate. I couldn't believe it. The universe is so weird.

Erik has since become a good friend of mine and has also encouraged me to make this blog public and available to the internet. (If you're liking this blog, thank Erik! Check out his blog too - great topics executed with pristine writing.) He recently spoke at the Service Design Conference that took place in SF a few weeks ago, launched a website called Practical Service Design with Megan Miller, and is pretty much taking the Service Design world by storm. 

It's important to have a support system around you and to also be a support system towards others - this is survival at its most basic definition. I'm looking forward to seeing more great things from Erik as time goes on. I'm also looking forward to his thoughts on the things I produce in the near future. I wondered today what would've happened if I didn't expose my weirdness about Trello. I deleted that thought and replaced it with a 'thank you' to the awful Trello for bringing Erik into my life.

So, I encourage you to release your weird. You will find your people this way and feel human connections you very well may have missed but oh so deeply need in your life. Who would've thought that being a Trello hating weirdo would serendipitously bring a wonderful friendship into my life? Even that thought is just so wonderfully weird.


(A note about the waffle: Right when we got to the counter, they said they stopped serving food 5 minutes before we got there. Hearts were broken. We will return.)

UX/Service Design Notes: Putting wonderfully weird quirks into your product/service can create extended human connections based on what certain people find enjoyable and memorable. When people get together to share their experiences, products and services are often on the top of the list. If you want to create excitement and have a competitive edge over others, add a little weirdness to the mix - it's like free marketing.

 

Dunne + Raby

  Photo from  Dunne & Raby's   Technological Dreams Series: No. 1, Robots, 2007

Photo from Dunne & Raby's Technological Dreams Series: No. 1, Robots, 2007

The pathway to becoming a UX designer and/or Service Designer is always a fascinating story. If you take the time to ask fellow professionals in the field of how they came to be, I guarantee that it will be time well spent. The beauty of this industry is the fact that people have diverse backgrounds from probably every field you can imagine. This is why I love the HCD world.

Another reason why I love the HCD world is because if you look for it, you can pretty much find it in any field that exists. And when you do, the people you meet have no idea that they are actually participating in a HCD-like manner. 

One of the places that I found Human Centered Design is in the conceptual design world. Take for instance the subject of 'Critical Design'.

Critical Design uses critical theory to approach designed objects in order to challenge designers and audiences to think differently and critically about objects, their everyday use, and the environments that surround them. Many design professors teach this way of thinking with their design students who are producing highly conceptual artwork within the design realm. Are you still interested? I'll keep going.

I'd like to introduce you to a duo who teach as design professors in London and Vienna and make projects stemmed from Critical Design. Their names are Anthony Dunne and Fiona Raby.

  Another photo from the same series.

Another photo from the same series.

'Their work has been exhibited at MoMA, NYC, the Pompidou Centre, Paris, and the Design Museum in London, and is in the permanent collections of MoMA, the Victoria and Albert Museum, Frac Ile-de-France, Fnac and the MAK as well as several private collections. [...] In 2015, Dunne & Raby received the first MIT Media Lab Award.' I don't think that I have to justify their impact within the design world - they are well respected and consistently referred to when new work is presented to the world.

Techies - listen up.

Although the list of work they have produced is quite long, I'd like to bring attention to one of their projects called, "Technological Dreams Series: No. 1, Robots," created in 2007, which is a great example of Critical Design. It provokes the idea that ‘one day, in the future, robots will do everything for us’ and the question of how we will interact with them comes to the surface. In this project, designed robots are shown to project the ‘new interdependencies and relationships [that] might emerge in relation to different levels of robot intelligence and capability.’ (Dunne & Raby, Project Info)

I am a firm believer that it is though works like Technological Dream Series: No. 1, Critical Design ultimately takes on the role of questioning ‘the limited range of emotional and psychological experiences offered through [existing] designed products.’ (Dunne & Raby, Project Info) It emphasizes the condition of today's design culture as it ‘limits and prevents [designers] from fully engaging with and designing for the complexities of human nature.’ Although this can be seen as a negative way to view designed objects, Critical Design ‘is more about the positive use of negativity’ as it confronts designers to think critically about people they are designing for. This theory supports HCD through this confrontation and many designers have, since then, turned to HCD for guidance.

How wonderful, right? And very appropriate for our HCD/UX/Service Design field.

If you have time, watch and read about the robots. Think about what a world would be like in the future if robots and technology actually behaved in this way. I challenge you to consider why we are in partaking in this industry and to think about what ways you can use this fictional narrative to make what you are currently making more human and healthy for today's world while keeping the future in mind. If we don't start now, we could very well be living in a world where technology dictates our behaviors and way of life rather than allowing our human culture to grow organically while technology serves and evolves with us.

The Notion of Home

  Night scene at Malibu Beach.

Night scene at Malibu Beach.

I moved to Chicago 5 years ago to attend graduate school and I haven’t moved back to the place where I was born and raised just yet. Perhaps I never will. Part of me feels that if I move back, my adventure book is over and real life will have to settle in – as if real life hasn’t settled in yet. Ha. I don’t know why I feel this way but I do. In the meantime, I've filled my adventure book with many new experiences, people, discoveries, and memories - all of which I would never take back for anything in this world because it has made me who I am today, but I do ponder its value from time to time.

Needless to say, this word, "Home", has been on my mind.

For the first time in 5 years, I went back to California to just hang out. No graduations to attend, no Christmases to construct, no New Years Eve and Day to coordinate. I just went there to hang out – so I hung out.

  Los Angeles Freeway where many spend their time if they are a resident of LA. (Of course, it is THE 10 - not just 10.)

Los Angeles Freeway where many spend their time if they are a resident of LA. (Of course, it is THE 10 - not just 10.)

I drove around my neighborhood, my high school, junior high school, elementary school, my play areas during my teens and early twenties, the very first apartment that housed me when I was birthed at Cedar Sinai, the place where I worked as a barista when the economy crashed, and all around Los Angeles. I still can’t grasp all of the emotions that flooded my time there but I will say this – I was comfortable but so out of place, all at the same time. I sometimes wonder if I will always feel this way about Los Angeles.

I was also able to catch up with friends – all of whom I have kept in touch with over the years but life trajectories have taken us in many different directions. Some expressed their feelings of being left behind and some even shared their feelings of wondering whether our relationship fit within the definition of ‘friend’ or ‘acquaintance'. I had encouragement from some, hurt feelings from others, but most of all, I was able to realize and see the evolvement of relationships which is at the core of what we as humans thrive on. Where I am right now with my relationships is different than what it was before – that means life has happened and there is joy in that fact. Where the relationship will go in the future is undetermined – and I must be ok with that as well. Maybe even excited with that fact.

  My siblings and I spending time together in NorCal where my brother resides.

My siblings and I spending time together in NorCal where my brother resides.

  I couldn't help but snap a photo of this gorgeous woman with San Francisco gracing her background.

I couldn't help but snap a photo of this gorgeous woman with San Francisco gracing her background.

  My siblings and I at Twin Peaks viewing center.

My siblings and I at Twin Peaks viewing center.

Even as a nomad, your relationship with how you travel and experience the world evolves. This is a relationship with nature and environments. Even if you are someone who has never left their environment, your relationship with others as you age and encounter different life stages changes and grows you as a person. This is a relationship with your body and immediate surroundings. At the end of the day, it is always about relationships and how you interact and respond to happenings. We grow as humans as we interact with each other and things, recording new memories and recognizing our own patterns of similarities to draw us closer to others who share the same outlook on life.

This sabbatical has taught me to rediscover my roots and to really consider how I have evolved as a person – what my beliefs have been and are now, who I consider "close" in my life, and how much of my past will affect my future if I allow it to.

  Beautiful tiles in Silverlake.

Beautiful tiles in Silverlake.

  Bustling Intelligensia on Sunset.

Bustling Intelligensia on Sunset.

  Lunch at my favorite place - Forage.

Lunch at my favorite place - Forage.

It’s hard to really understand where you come from, why you are the way you are, and to be self-aware if you don’t want to be – maybe even if you do – but I think it is important, as a human of this world, to know who you are so that you can contribute to the world and interact with others in a manner that is true and sincere.

If you look at the trajectory of people who are pursuing passion projects, quitting their day jobs, and taking that bold step into the abyss of the unknown, the count is high and will only get higher. Why is this? I wondered the same thing myself and after some thought, my conclusion is this. We are sick of it and want more for our lives. It is true that our generation is demanding, pretty egotistical, and generally big headed, but it is also true that our generation is more thoughtful, conscious of our environment, and willing to try because we want purpose and intention with what we do.

I commend people who have discovered and resolved to move forward with certain decisions from an early age. Sometimes you meet people in their twenties and they just have it figured out – or at least they seem like they do. I'm actually quite proud to be born in a generation who is unwilling to take no for an answer and to mine a path for themselves. Passion must prevail. Life must have intention and joy.

There's only one problem - that is of loneliness.

When you're that busy and passionate, you walk a line of hurting others in the process - and when you hurt enough people, you will be left alone - or worse, you run the risk of losing yourself. Consistency is a key ingredient in the formula for a healthy relationship and that can come in any shape or form. It just has to be consistent. Is it the happy face upon meeting every few months? Is it a weekly call just to check-in on how each person is doing? Or is it a daily text, 'Goodnight'? Everybody is busy and it requires discipline to keep relationships just like it requires discipline in mastering a medium. It can't be fun all the time but acknowledging that it's part of the formula is an understanding that I feel has finally made its way into my heart.

What I have discovered is that no matter how much the world can satiate your desire to experience new things and enjoy momentary bliss in a new setting, it is always another human who can actually absorb your energy as another human and connect with you in the context of vulnerability. This is no easy task, especially if you are a creative person who is consistently morphing as the creative spirits beckon you - and you, of course, must answer. Must.

  Spending time with my adorable and spunky nieces.

Spending time with my adorable and spunky nieces.

So, the moral of the story is this: It really doesn't matter where you are (location wise). Treasure those who ground you (sounds so cliche but it is, nonetheless, true) and be consistent. Allow yourself to feel the heights of joy when new experiences and new people fall into your path. Select wisely. Change with the people you love and be willing to listen and understand. Discipline yourself to master your craft because it is a precious relationship to nurture, but know that the craft itself is not human.

This entry may seem really sappy and you may be wondering, "How does this relate to HCD?"

Well, I'm here to write that this, all of it - however way you want to see it, is how I am designing my life. For the years to follow, until I am able to take another sabbatical, the things I am learning right now will determine the decisions and behaviors of which I will be responsible for in the years to come. I'm creating rules and restrictions for myself to live within and finding intentional areas in which I can allow excessive freedom and creativity. I am researching my past and current experiences to find those insights I can base my future actions upon. I am writing down design opportunities for my life so that I can experience new things that are connected to everything I have experienced thus far. I am leaving room for the beautiful moments of life to occur because committing to restrictions brings a depth of knowing the mystery cloud that intrigues but is never understood by the ever wanderer.

How this will unfold is undetermined and only time will tell.

How will you design your life?