Thursday, January 24, 2013

My Design Height Chart

My parents never measured my height growing up. Always a kid who looked forward to milestones, I had a sneaky growth chart of my own in my bedroom closet. I'm sure the lines I sloppily attempted to draw in pencil using the top of my head as a guide were completely inaccurate, but for me, I could see the progression of my growth.

In my career, I don't need a collection of wobbly lines hidden in a dark closet to witness the tremendous amount of growth I've experienced throughout the last year. I feel as if, in comparison to where I was, I'm now a giant.

Two weekends ago I was in Louisiana. First Baton Rouge to give a talk which went, I believe, stupendously. And then onto New Orleans for a weekend away with my thoughts. Turns out my thoughts were pushed aside for a quick website redesign that needed to be completed for work. I was a bit anxious (okay, hella anxious) about the entire thing because in addition to designing the updates, I actually had to build them myself. In New Orleans. On a weekend. With no developers by my physical side. And there were JavaScript sliders involved. JavaScript, my nemesis.

To make a long story short, I did it. There were a few moments where I thought I'd have to be rescued by a big, strong, developer-hero. But my tenacious attitude paid off. I wanted to do it on my own, and I did. And it worked. Even those damn sliders.

Yesterday, as I was designing and building a simple one page website for a conference that we're holding, I was thinking about one-year-ago-Mel and how she would have gone about this. Hoo boy, it would have been a nightmare. First, she would have used Dreamweaver (in design view, no less) instead of Coda. Also, she would have had a lot of unnecessary images for silly things like borders. She most likely would have used nested tables galore. I shudder just thinking about it.

I still shy away from referring to myself as a web designer. I'm learning. I'm improving. Those wobbly pencil marks are climbing the wall. I don't know if I'll ever feel as if I've earned that title, but when I started working here in March, my role was to design in Illustrator and Photoshop and have someone else "slice and dice" my work. And now, being comfortable enough to "slice and dice" my own work, well, it makes me pretty proud of how much I've grown.

Sunday, January 6, 2013

Anti-corporate Mel

You tell your amazing stylist that she has free reign over your hair and you get a brown/blue/green ombré dip dye.

When I got in the car, my husband looked at me and said, "Woah. You couldn't have done this last year." So true. It's really fun being able to embrace my ridiculous side fully. No restrictions. No limitations. Crazy awesome hair.

Sunday, December 30, 2012

Mel in print

Let me just say, I was not the first choice for this Philly Mag article, but I definitely didn't complain when the honor was passed along to me. I agonized picking my favorite items because I didn't want to seem like such a designer-cliché (which I TOTALLY am, by the way). And I also wanted to give props to some of my favorite Philly businesses.

I really do love this piece. I feel like it's an accurate representation of who I am through eight of my items. And I keep reading that line over and over again: "The designer behind Philly's hottest tech start-up…" Holy shit, that's me. When did that happen? HOW did that happen? If someone would have told me a year ago that I'd have a page in Philly Mag because of my job, I would have slapped them silly. Now, after the year I've had, nothing surprises me.

Wednesday, December 26, 2012

What a Difference a Year Makes

A year ago I gave myself the challenge of journaling for 30 days straight. I had completely forgotten about this until today when I peeked at my old entries to see what I was up to. Here were some notable moments:

January 3: I seriously CAN'T WAIT until the day I can quit my shitastic job and focus on work that I love to do.
January 4: I miserably sat through the rest of the meeting. Hating my life. Wanting to quit worse than ever. Fantasizing about sweeping everything off the table and walking out.
January 5: I realized that 99% of the work I do is in Microsoft products. I don't design anymore. I shift margins in Word outlines.

Granted, this was a particularly bad week for me at work. One which resulted in my eventual epic snot-filled, mascara-running, wheezing meltdown in my office. But still. Reading these pathetic, whiny words and comparing it to where I am in my career now, it just makes me laugh.

Ten months into my new job and I love it more and more each day. I'm proud of the work I'm creating (for the first time ever). I'm thrilled with what the company is doing. I have the greatest team a designer could ask for. I'm growing and developing my skills. When I started this job, I was excited to be creating fun work for a brand new startup, but I had no idea that months later I would be developing an infographic with Ogilvy (see snippet below) or helping The GRAMMYs design a contest. Sometimes I really can't believe my life.

In addition to that, I'm getting flown to cities to speak about my experiences. I'm helping to organize a pretty bad ass biannual event in Philly. I'm learning to design a mobile app which will take over the world (in the nicest way possible, of course). I don't even feel like the same Mel who was writing those journal entries a year ago. Or maybe I'm just the New and Improved™ version.

On January 4th, after the horrendous meeting I mentioned in the quote above, I vented to a friend who responded with, “Aww Mel, I promise you, with every fiber, we will get ourselves out of this situation, you will emerge from this and land on your feet doing amazing work.” At the time I was skeptical, but I am so grateful that all of that misery is finally behind me.

See full infographic here

Sunday, November 25, 2012

Learning to Solve Puzzles

Like many people my age, I spent much of the early 90's sprawled out on the floor in front of the television, thanks to the joy that was my Nintendo Entertainment System. And while I easily got sucked into the world of Mario, nothing captivated me like Tetris did. When I was able to pry the controller out of my mother's hands, ("Just one more game, Melis!"), it became my mission to play with ridiculous accuracy and speed. And I was good.

Growing up, I was always a fan of puzzles and figuring things out. I had a set of tangrams, and it wasn't good enough to solve them, I had to time myself. My favorite computer game was The Incredible Machine. I could occupy myself for hours with a pile of Legos. Had this been around in the 80's, you can bet it would have been under my Christmas tree.

Even now, in my 30's, not much has changed. Sure, Zelda is a great time-passer, but physics-based puzzle game, World of Goo, immediately won my heart. There's just something about that moment when you solve a puzzle. You feel joy and pride and relief, all at once.

And this is exactly how I feel about learning front-end development. Over the last few months, I've really been able to get my hands dirty with some HTML and CSS in a way that I never had before. And it's starting to click. I banned myself from using Dreamweaver. I rarely have to google CSS properties anymore. I feel as if I'm playing Tetris, selecting the perfect placement for the falling pieces. And the more I do it, the more I love it.

I've always enjoyed design, but not like this. I never had those epiphany moments. You know, the moments where you throw your arms up in the air and shout, "I am the smartest person in the world!" (Yes, I do that.) For me, it feels nice to make something look good, but it's incredibly fulfilling to make something work right. (Maybe it's because those moments are usually preceded by frustration.)

I'm still relatively new to this. I have loads to learn. (Like JavaScript. Shudder.) Luckily, I'm surrounded by brilliant people who generously want to help me improve. And, like in Tetris, I think I have the potential to be good. But in the meantime, if hours of work feel like hours of play, I must be going in the right direction.

Saturday, November 17, 2012

My "Short-lived" Speaking Career

After presenting at the HOW Design Conference in June, I realized that, despite the preceding weeks of nausea, I actually really loved being in front of an audience. I loved sharing the story of how my career had progressed over the last decade. I loved cracking stupid jokes and hearing the resulting laughter. And I loved (more than anything) having people approach me afterward to say how they were inspired by my words.

In October, I had the opportunity to speak again, twice in fact. Once in Philly, as part of the DesignPhiladelphia festival. Myself and four other designers/illustrators gave mini-lectures about self-generated projects. And the following week, I gave my "How to Survive Your Soul Crushing Day Job" talk at the South Dakota Advertising Federation in Sioux Falls. Both were wonderful experiences that required me to purchase new "speaking" outfits.

But it seems as if my aspirations of becoming the next Tony Robbins are no more. Much to my dismay, SXSW did not accept my proposal for the 2013 conference. Fine, I understand. Tough competition. That would have been freaking bad ass though.

But even more heart-breaking, HOW did not accept my proposal for their 2013 conference in San Francisco.

Admittedly, this was a shock. Not to sound arrogant, but I legitimately killed it at my session. Even if my topic wasn't ideal, I had assumed they would have given me another shot, solely based on the reception I received this year. I should not have made such an assumption.

I think the worst part is that I didn't even receive a "We're sorry to inform you…" email. I just never heard back. Even my "Hey guys, just curious what's up…" email went unanswered. After participating in seven HOW Design Conferences over the years, I would have expected a bit more courtesy.

As of now, however, it's not completely over. I'm giving my talk again in January at the Ad Fed in Baton Rouge, so I have that to look forward to. And who knows, the opportunity may present itself again in the future, and if it does, I'll gladly accept the impending nausea.

Sunday, July 15, 2012

Back to the Drawing Board

Sometimes I feel as if I'm starting my career over from scratch. The transition from print to web, while exciting, has definitely been an adjustment. Since I have no formal training designing user interfaces, I'm attempting to figure it all out on the fly. This is not typically the way I'd like to approach developing new skillz.

In my entire 10 years as a print designer, I rarely pulled out a pencil and sketchbook for brainstorming. I know, I'm a disgrace. I'd do what every designer claims is the absolute worst thing to do (on par with using Comic Sans not ironically)…I'd start designing right on the computer. It was a bad habit that I never broke.

So now that it's almost like I'm getting a fresh start with a brand new career, it's time to start doing things right, even if I don't totally know what right means yet.

It's time for me to pick up a pencil, some markers, and sheets of paper and learn how to wireframe like a boss.

I started this week. And I can already see the benefit of starting out on paper. It helped me be more mindful of what I was creating, paying attention to proportions and dimensions and all that other stuff I'd take for granted by plugging away in Illustrator and Photoshop. (Wait, grids matter? Whoopsie!)

I want to be good at this. At my last job, I didn't really care because I didn't enjoy the work that I was doing. But now? I care. I care a lot. And I want to make work that I'm proud of and that my team is proud of. I want to improve. I want to be deadly. And I realize that it's going to take a lot of effort to get to that point. But I'm willing to do that.