Design, Jay-Z, & Life.

“Allow me to reintroduce myself / my name is HOV”. — Jay-Z

Last week I was invited by Sheridan’s Interaction Design Association to give the opening talk for their inaugural end of year social.

And so I wrote the following address to a soundtrack playing on Rdio of Jay-Z’s Black Album from 2003. I hope it’s inspired something meaningful as much as it had inspired me back in 2003, and still does until this day.

Track #1: Interlude

“Take the analogy of a tree that grows in Brooklyn among the steel and the concrete with all its glorious branches and leaves, one day it too will pass on its legacy through the seeds it dropped to the ground and as the wind carries these seeds throughout wherever they might take root, a new life will begin for each one of them as they stand as a monument to the one that came before.” — Jay Z

As we look to our lives, our passions, what we’re studying, what we think is hot to be right now, and the perception that it carries in our amplified social world, please remember that these instances we’re caught up in will shine, have their glory and purpose, and pass, since time and attention is finite.

My first lesson is: let’s shatter the illusions and hype behind our designs, projects, online images and lives, and focus on the lasting impacts that we have on ourselves and the people around us.

Track #2: December 4th

The last line here caught my attention the most:

“This is the life I chose, or rather, the life that chose me”. — Jay Z

There’s a lot that we can control in our life and in our careers, and we can go should own the freedom to choose where we fit ourselves. Ex:

I want to take an internship with ‘X’ company because when I graduate and look for a job. Or: it’ll look great on my LinkedIn profile. Or the work will look amazing in my portfolio. Or: I want to do ‘X’ job because it’ll help me land the next job. Or I want to do ‘X’ job because it’ll help me make enough money to do what I really care about.

Don’t compromise, and don’t settle.

Live life for what you’re doing right now. You’re so young, and you have a world of opportunity ahead of you, and the opportunities that you might be working towards next year, or two years from now, won’t be dream jobs, but they’ll be open doors, givens. And you’ll only have even better things to look forward to, and to hustle towards.

So if you’re stuck always thinking about the next 2 steps, then you’ll always be stuck in a hustle. So don’t compromise, and do what’s important to you right now. Do the work that makes you happy right now.

And take on the projects and opportunities that you’ll love for what they are, not for what they’ll show in 1 or 2 years from now, because your needs and the context of your reality will change by then. Don’t get caught in the hustle, or the hype,

Get caught in loving what you do.

…who you do it with, and the impact it leaves.

This is our guiding principle at Design Cofounders. We choose to work with people in our collective and empower them to create their own roles and realities. And we recognize that they will have just as strong an impact on us across the board, and we will learn just as much as they will in our working together.

And to quote a line from this track:

“If you can’t respect that your whole perspective is wack”.

Track #3: “What more can I say”:

Once you start creating your own reality and doing the things you love, not those being dictated by others, living your self-created opportunities, not those created by others, you’ll find yourself with an amazing story to tell. A true story. Your story.

And so Jay Z uses this song to brag his accomplishments, but what stands out for me is that when you focus on doing you, and work hard to create your story, you can say:

‘What up B / they can’t shut up me / Shut down I? / Not even P.E. I’mma ride’.

So do your thing, and do it well, and that will be a force to be reckoned with as you continue to define your own unique reality with every new milestone in your life.

Track #4: Encore:

I’m going to skip this track, because it’s more or less the same. But I’ll say it’s great production, so check it out:

Track #5: Change Clothes:

This was the ‘commercial’ track with Pharrell.

To me it explores re:defining our reality. After you’ve accomplished all of the above, you don’t have to ask for permission. People say that the new generations coming up in the technology world are privileged, or take things for granted. I’ll say if you can define a strong story of doing what you’ve loved, you’ll have owned that reality and others can’t question it. (Just make sure it’s good).

And at any point, you can just:

Change clothes, and go.

…and redefine a new milestone in your life, and pave your own way, because you’ll be respected for what you’ve done, and have the respect and credibility for what you’ll set out to do.

I’m going to finish the Jay-Z references with the final 5 bars from my favourite track on the album:

Track #10: Public Service Announcement (Interlude):

No matter where you go, you are what you are player
And you can try to change but that’s just the top layer
Man, you was who you was ‘fore you got here
Only God can judge me, so I’m gone
Either love me, or leave me alone.

A really key take-away that I’ve noticed to stick out in my world: No matter where go you, you really are who you are. So you could try to change that, but it’s just the top layer.

Embrace the strengths of you who are, and don’t try to change yourself for others. You won’t make everyone happy, you won’t please everyone, you won’t be accepted by everyone. And that doesn’t matter. They could either love you, or leave you alone. There’s an entire world out there that’s filled with plenty of more people that will embrace the real you.

So much so that your opportunities, if you work hard enough within the spirit of what I’m talking about, could be custom fitted.

“I did not come here to show out, I did not come here to impress you, because to tell you the truth, when I leave here, I’m gone”.
So let happiness be your guide.

Last thoughts:

That’s the end of the inspirational and philosophical / meta conversation that I have for you this evening, so let me quickly run through tonights design thoughts:

Being a UX Designer
Being an Interaction Designer
Being an Information Architect
Being a Graphic Designer
Being a UI Developer…

Being Sr, Jr, Intermediate at any or all of these things…

These domains are all really important. And your depth of skills across any of them will help you make and build amazing things, I hope.

I know for myself, what led me to this career isn’t studying design at school in college or university. I grew up a Visual Artist and studied visual arts in high school. My father taught me a lot, he’s a Master Artist and Graphic Designer. I studied Linguistics, Psychology and Programming. I learned how to *think* and problem solve through Design.

But then I worked in Customer Service, Finance, as an English Tutor, and as a (pretty bad) backend developer, and a good front end developer. I worked as a Project Manager, Product Manager, UX Designer, UI Designer, and now as the founder of our company, Design Cofounders, where I’m doing many of these things at any one point in time.

Going back to what I’d talked about earlier, I didn’t do one job to plan for what my next job was going to be. I was living and learning in the moment, and building strong relationships, and helping those around me succeed.


And these experiences in life, and professionally, formed like Voltron (or Power Rangers, whichever reference works), and helped me with my number one trait, the trait of any great designer:

And that’s being able to connect with others personally on a relationship level, empathize, understand their needs, and help them fulfil their goals through design.

Being able to navigate through this stuff is the trait which makes you a design thinker. That’s why we say something is done ‘by design’, even if it’s not a ‘designer’ that made it.

Let’s be designers in thought. It’s what inspires us at Design Cofounders, and why we call ourselves a collective of makers, rooted in design.

This brings us as designers to design thinking, problem solving, critical thinking, and analysis, and their application to help people innovate, create, and make things happen.

Sheridan IxDA button w/ the tUX button tagging along.

I’m so excited by the Sheridan Interaction Design program here in Toronto (Oakville), that’s aimed to foster a generation of people that can go out there and tackle problems. And I hope you use your powers for good, and to build strong lives for yourselves, for your careers, and for those around you.

I hope this helped, and meant something.


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