Three lessons I learnt as a designer from NYC

Photo from New Yorker

I like to believe myself as a cosmopolitan woman but now I feel like I can truly wear my badge proud by saying I have been chewed up and spat out by the big burly city of New York City. If Sex and the City taught me anything it was that living in NYC would prepare you for life… that and gossiping over bottomless brunches are fabulous.

The notion that NYC is a cold and hard city was never something I experienced. Yes, the compact high rise and the homeless man peeing in the subway might put some off but I found it invigorating. It was the first time I felt like such an outsider which I thought might terrify me, but instead gave me the opportunity to view the world from a unique perspective — one where I wasn’t the target audience.

I recently spent some time living in NYC and my main takeaway are as follows:

Feed off the energy of others and give back

NYC is brimming with creative energy. If NYC was a cup of coffee the cup has overflowed and is drowning everyone around it (in a good and bad way). It is easy to get lost in the hustle and bustle of the city but once you find your footing, it really does feel like the land of dreams.

Everyone there is following their dream and because of that, they are warm and encouraging to others. I imagine NYC is an unofficial big brother programme because the generosity and motivation I felt from everyone was overwhelming.

The city taught me to lift others as a climb up the hectic and demanding ladder called life. With the help of those around you, anything is possible.

(NYC apparently also taught me how to write cheesy Hallmark worthy lines)

There is always a way to get your voice heard

If New Yorkers have an opinion, you will know about it. I was privileged enough to be in NYC during the 2016 Presidential Election and did that not disappoint. One silent but far reaching way to get their disapproval of Trump winning the election was to put post its on the wall in one the busiest subway stations. It didn’t cause any angry confrontations. There was no inconvenience to the people walking by. It was just an outlet to let people air their grievances and for others learn about it if they wanted.

Photo from

I thought it was a perfect display of how we can have different opinions in this world and as human beings, we want to be heard but that doesn’t mean we need to smother others with our views.

We might not always agree with the decisions of our colleagues or our bosses but the way to express that doesn’t have to be confrontational. Understanding why they might view things differently and empathising with them could lead to both parties finding a good middle ground or at least coming to an understanding (Obviously this hasn’t happen in the case of the election but the post it act is a place to start)

Don’t take the mundane for granted

Too many times in the creative industry we have been told to “think outside the box”. I feel we (or at least I have) been misguided about what is good design because of that phrase. Good design isn’t one that is provocative, it should make you feel comfortable yet stimulated. The fine line between that and mundane is a fence that all good designers balance on.

NYC offers a multitude of creative ads in their subway trains and stations. People spend a significant time of their day in public transport and most of it is spent day dreaming. This isn’t the first time I have seen subway ads (every city capitalises on public transport ad space) but this is the first time I have seen it done right…multiple times.

From THINX’s bold imagery and simple taglines to Casper’s imaginative and quirky ads, NYC has got it right. Don’t give them too much information but leave them wanting more. A far cry from the subway ads in Singapore which have had paragraphs of information on them at a time.

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They manage to find the balance between comfortable and stimulated by relying heavily on graphics/imagery and minimal text. What both of these ads have in common is they also feel whimsical. It taps into an creative and playful side of the brain that can sometimes feel lost on our journey to work.

Photo from

NYC was a great experience that I wouldn’t trade for anything else. My time there allowed me to grow creatively and has made me excited to design in hopes someone one day might see it and feel inspired as I have.

I hope this doesn’t come off as another “I found myself while living overseas” post because trust me, I’m still looking. Neither was I living in the subway with the mole people (Mole people are real. I just haven’t found the proof yet). I am just a woman trying to figure myself out creatively and confidently. Lets see where this take us…

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