I thought I’d let me know: Snippets of life as a designer

Leaving a job

I left a job last Friday. I had planned to spend the first hour of each day in my last week packing.

I’m not a tidy desk kind of person, and as a result of an office move earlier this year, I also had an additional locker full of stuff to clear out. It became clear on Wednesday that the packing required more time than I had set aside. The pile of yet-to-be-sorted-and-disposed had indeed diminished in size, but I had gathered qualitative feedback — concerned questions about if I had packed, and then the less subtle hints that I should — that the difference was likely to be imperceptible.

Even as I was spending less and less time at my desk, it was where I started and ended my days. I enjoyed returning to it at the end of a long day. I wireframed here. I wrote proposals and reports here. I moved ideas closer to realisation here. It held my organised mess of reminders, ideas, sketches, and notes. It was an asylum for toys (bought*, adopted, gifted) that had somehow found their place on my desk. An altar for ghosts of projects past. A sanctuary where if I looked up, I could find friendly faces and participate in conversations about everything and anything.

What do you choose to keep? I can pack a table, I can shred documents (which I did), and I can toss away overdue reminders. But even the easy stuff got a little harder as the week went on — look at this, remember this project? Omg, remember the scolding we got? This site that launched? That strange meeting? That perplexing hairstyle (oh yes…)?

I think memories eventually settle in tangible objects (go ahead, set off the hoarder alert). And so I want a memory launcher. I want to be able to sight a mug that used to sit on my desk or flip through old notebooks and be reminded of things that happened in that time period between March 2016 and December 2018.

So I brought back three bags worth of expired notes and random trinkets. Don’t be so hard on me.

*I had the plush dog from the This Is Fine meme, which I sometimes used it as a litmus test for general coolness.

On making marks

I remember a conversation with my then-boss from when I was barely a year into working as a designer (2006?). He asked if I sketched before starting on a design. My answer then was no, I simply started putting marks on a canvas in Photoshop and I would see where those led me.

I probably wanted to sound cool, but the answer was also likely (it’s been a while) 90% true. I took two modules in studio art practice at university, and the only thing I could remember about it was to “start by making marks”. And it stuck with me when I started work. As a junior designer, panic was a close friend and time an unforgiving one, so upon receiving a brief, I would go straight into Photoshop and start designing. I believed that I was working under the impression that the straight-to-Photoshop would save me some digitalisation time, and that filters and layer duplication yielded more productivity than pen and paper. Experimentation still happened, but with the safety blanket of Ctrl-Zs.

I don’t remember the specifics of my boss’ advice, but I was gently asked to try a little sketching next time.

Things I‘m good at

(Not an exhaustive list, obviously)

Synthesising. I see patterns and make connections.

I see possibilities. Way too many, sometimes.

I’m great at understanding systems. This, admittedly, poses certain challenges when it comes to blue-sky thinking. But I like thinking around system limitations.

Being able to see things from other perspectives. This mostly means that I can listen to the same feedback/argument/comment being made for the nth time, and being able to respond in a non-pissed off way.

I get things done.

Powerpoint presentations.

I make people feel heard.

I write good emails. Sometimes they are also entertaining.

I can defuse a tense or awkward situation. It takes a joke, an unexpected but obvious observation, or simply, an honest answer.

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