— Nina Mehta

  • wide leg trousers
  • high-waisted denim
  • choker necklaces
  • sweatshirts tied around your waist
  • denim overalls
  • berry colored lipstick
  • platform sneakers
  • fanny packs
  • doc martins
  • flannel
  • 1-piece unitard anything
  • bald women
  • bangs
  • septum piercing
  • toe rings
  • half pony tail
  • leather jacket
  • ripped 20-denier tights
  • keith haring
  • wide brim hats
  • side boob muscle tanks
  • torn jeans
  • anklets
  • xxxxxxl  bomber jackets
  • women baseball hats
  • beanies
  • mini backpacks
  • halter crop top
  • using the term “lipstick lesbian”
  • bodycon everything

still waiting on

  • hair crimping
  • scrunchies
  • acid washed jeans
  • clogs
  • cargo pants
  • drawstring maxi skirts (update: found!)
  • babydoll dresses
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This is hard to talk about, but I expected Berlin to be more progressive and less racist.

Before I came here, I was told things have come a long way since World War II. And they probably have, but I expected more. I find daily subtle insensitivity  towards East Berliners, West Berliners, Eastern Europeans, Spanish, Mexicans, Blacks and Chinese** people. This kind of thing is hard to pick up if you’re on a short holiday or mostly interacting with expats.

In discussions with friends, when I hear culturally insensitive language I try to pause the conversation to discuss. In many of these experiences I find people laugh it off or suggest it’s not a serious problem. This is most concerning issue for me. And it’s true that Americans are hyper-sensitive about these (and many) kinds of things, so there’s room to meet in the middle.

We too from the United States too have a dark history of genocide, slavery, and ongoing racism against newcomers. However, as a nation of immigrants we are getting better at accepting different perspectives and sensitivity around language, especially people in cities. The difference is that in North American cities, when someone acknowledges there’s insensitive language in the room the offender usually acknowledges, apologizes and works not to make the mistake again. Whereas here, I find the issue is often ignored, diminished, or dismissed completely.

Ghosting from a party is only hurtful to ghosts

In Berlin it’s fairly rude when I don’t greet and bid farewell to every individual in the group. Apologies for everyone I didn’t greet with a hug upon arrival and for all the times I left without discussion. I’m really working on it, but it takes time to change behavior.

What I’ve learned so far is that around the world, sometimes people leave parties without saying goodbye and it’s understood to be rude. But when you quietly slip away from a party, what is that called?

I’ve had what feels like hundreds of conversations about this topic. Except for ghosting, some person from one group is implying something derogatory and untrue about another group. But nearly every time I suggest this is hurtful language for Irish, Polish, English, Swedish, or Chinese people I usually don’t see the “am I bring racist?” light turn on. This is really difficult for me as a non-white minority in a place with a recent history of genocide against people who are different.

Traveling in Europe

The ghosting story is to only illustrate the subtleties of the greater issue. It’s not true about all people in Germany and not even most of my friends. But it’s true about enough people I’ve talked to that I need to say something. My friends and colleagues still recommend I be careful about which neighborhoods I visit in Berlin and to consider traveling to Eastern Europe with someone white.  I’m sure many of you will tell me I would be fine on my own, and I’m sure I would. But we’re still living in a world where it’s something I have to consider, and thankfully friends here are helping me understand.

I lived this experience for living nearly a decade of my life. I lived thirty minutes Martinsville, Indiana: a major hub for Ku Klux Klan white supremacy terrorist group. You just learn where to stop, when to keep driving, and how to tell if someone is not comfortable with who you are. It’s not ok, but it’s the precautions you take in small-town America.

I didn’t expect to have these kinds of feelings and conversations in a rich, diverse, contemporary, supposedly open-minded city like Berlin. I thought a continent with so many countries, borders, thriving cities, and rich education would help further open my mind,  not the opposite.

I’m disappointed in my Berlin experiences so far. I have a diversity of friends and colleagues with different backgrounds, perspectives, and experiences, so let’s consider this a halfway point, not a synthesis of my understanding. I want to keep this conversation going and hope my opinion about racism in Berlin changes over time.

*I struggle to write the term American Indian as the people living there first were neither American, nor Indian, and I identify with being both. But several source say this is the right term to use. 

** I think Chinese might be a catch all term for anyone from East or South East Asia.

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It’s hard to argue against a day of rest. We need to recharge and slow down.

Stores, business, and shops are closed on Sundays, originally for religious reasons. This has truly been the hardest lifestyle change. I so desperately want to use Saturday sleep in, do yoga, have a long breakfast and meet some friends after working all week. Unless I do my shopping tasks Monday-Friday I’m stuck. In fact, I prefer to do it on Sunday so I can focus on the week ahead. As a result I either eat more takeout than preferred or tax all my energy on Saturdays dealing with crowds also needing to shop.

What’s interesting is I’m sure the Sunday rest day has also fueled the party culture in Berlin. Clubs stay open from Friday until Tuesday and Sunday is the day for locals. I truly believe the strong intent to stop productivity on Sundays in this music city keeps the party going longer than it would otherwise.

I’m surprised how much this one rule has caused me trouble. Less cooking, less manicures, an inconsistent exercise schedule, less friends over for weekend brunches and weeknight meals, and overall higher stress. I love Berlin but the Blue Law is very hard for this American consumerist.

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Living in Berlin reminds me of how much anti-russian brainwashing I watched as a child. I grew up knowing the Russians were the bad guy and always inferior. I’m starting to have relationships where I can understand what life and propaganda was like on the other side. Rewatching old American really makes you question the media’s control on the “free” world.

The Red Slime episode

In the MTV Nickelodeon hit series You Can’t Do that on Television, using the word “Free” was a trigger phrase for red slime after the studio was taken over by Russian Communists in the 1986 episode “Enemies & Paranoia”. Watch from 11:50-13:03 if you don’t believe me! Keep watching for the amazing oreo and slip n slide commercials.


 

Natasha and Boris

In this minisode of Rocky and Bullwinkle, an 80s children’s cartoon, evil spies Boris and Natasha have to swim home after a message control. Natasha suggests buying a a boat ticket and Boris questions her national pride and insists they should steal the boat tickets. How about that for propaganda!

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A design leader lives in two worlds: product design and the business. It’s your job to mediate when the needs of designers and the needs of the business compete.

Designers want to make great products

These people are probably why you became a manager. You love design, you work with great designers, and you want to use your experiences to help grow their skills and careers. Designing great products can turn into more repeat and new customers: a happy business.

Continue reading on Medium: https://medium.com/the-ligature/advocating-to-the-business-for-your-designers-c3f9f2986893#.575ry4xjh

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Designers at Pivotal Labs have two jobs:

  1. design great products
  2. enable clients to design great products

Yes of course a designer’s work includes user goals, business goals, team collaboration etc, but at the core this is how I see it. And if our team ourselves are struggling, burn out, or don’t deepen their craft doing #1,  then #2 can’t happen.

Designing great products (1) and enabling clients to design great products (2) regularly leads to repeat and extended client engagements. Similarly pivot design pairing leads to pivot happiness which improves retention and reduces recruiting, hiring, and HR costs. We need more pivot design pairing.

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Pivot Pairing

Design and programmers work are both generative and exploratory work. To that end, design the work benefits from pairing for the same reasons it benefits pair programmers: diversity of ideas, driver and navigator, collective ownership, increased discipline, fewer interruptions/working in flow etc.

It’s important for these individuals to have contexts to deepen their craft, which often comes with pairing. Senior designers are more likely to get paired with clients or junior designer since they are likely the best mentors from a technical perspective. Learning at work falls by the wayside when their pairs are not practitioners, but someone who got put into a practitioner role and work time is constrained to 40 hours. In short: designers also need to geek out at work.
Client pairing
We get some of these benefits when pairing with a client. But pairing with a client is doing extra mental consulting gymnastics to achieve #2, leaving less energy #1. Programmers often see relief when they rotate pairs the next day. Designers rotate pairs after a few months, and often go onto another client designer.

Having one designer on a project, or one pivot and one client designer requires that Pivot individual to be an off the charts unicorn with remarkable humility. Why? Because we have three streams of work: research, interaction, and visual plus collaboration with development. Two people makes it possible to distribute the mental and sometimes tactical effort.

Enabling clients is hard because we are defending our work, teaching our process, and designing complex systems all at the same time.We have to start our client mentorship from a strong place so we can help our client designers. A lot goes on the shoulders of one person for the intensity of the work we do. Design is a team sport, not facilitating lots of non-designers.

Sales, Scoping, Hiring, and Staffing

Having more designers in an office would likely change the staffing needs all the way from a sales and scoping perspective. When we have too many engineers on the beach we start research and software development at the same time.  Doing this slows the entire success of a project down anyway, ultimately hurting the success of a project whether it’s measured by client enablement or execution of product. Doing this once and a while is understandable but this solution on repeat burns designers out. The team needs time to think about a problem and approach a solution before it can be built.

Schedule and staffing is an art not a science. If only a few Pivots have experience with the design process, the designers ends up leading a hungry-to-learn team will want to be involved with everything. That gets celebrated as “balanced team”. It’s possible the newcomers to design will want to see all the activities, inflating the process and ultimately unbalancing the project and hurting client success, a good name in the community, and future projects. When pivots are paired more often they can be better consultants when they are paired with client designer. Pairing pivot designers invests in project success by investing in individuals first. I’ve seen this approach regularly lead to repeat client engagements or project extensions.

Hire more designers

The hiring, sales, and staffing plans should start from two pivot designers pairing and deviate for individual circumstances. This will increase the quality of products, projects, pivot happiness, client happiness, transformation success, which ultimately benefits the business goals.

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Munich is a lovely place in Bavaria. If you’re looking for pretzels, sausage, mugs of beer and men in lederhosen, it’s all here for you, in full authenticity. A colleague of mine describes it as a Heilewelt: an ideal heavenly world. She says it’s so nice and even a little blind to problems of the real world, but she says that’s exactly what makes it perfect for a short holiday.

Eisbach Wave

You wouldn’t expect to see surfers in a land-locked city, but a small ridge in the Isar River made the perfect spot for these wave runners. The steadiness of the wave gives the offers an especially hypnotic experience that’s hard not to enjoy.

A photo posted by Nina Mehta (@ninamehta) on

Gardens 

Follow the river and you’ll find yourself in the Englischer Garten. It’s as big as Central Park and makes for a wonderful walk on a sunny day. Treat yourself to the beer, sausage, chicken, pretzels, and saurkraut at the Seehaus. You can watch or join people and ducks paddle down the water on a lazy afternoon.  

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If you love swans as much as I do, these ones will rock your world.

A photo posted by Nina Mehta (@ninamehta) on

It might sound dark or creepy to hang out in a cemetery but the Alter Nordfriedhof is a calm, quiet, relaxing place people like to go for runs. If you can find the gravestone with the Pyramids of Egypt, I’ll send you a treat.

A photo posted by Nina Mehta (@ninamehta) on

Cocktails

Now let’s say you’re tired of beer, and you just might be. There are more delicious cocktails bars than you’d expect in Munich. I had some yummy drinks at the Couch Club. I later learned their specialty is Gin so definitely don’t miss their salad in a glass basil gin smash.

Art

There are more art museums in Munich than I’d expect considering the size. There are even a few James Turrell installations which was a high to-do on my list. Sadly the Häusler Contemporary is only open a few days a week and sometimes by appointment only. Someone please go on my behalf!

I was pretty disappointed about the Turrell thing but was equally pleasantly surprised when coming across the backside of the Bayerische Staatsoper opera house. It’s beautiful from all angles and worth strolling through. You won’t regret it.

A photo posted by Nina Mehta (@ninamehta) on

I felt rumblings of an unexpected subculture art scene in Munich. Skateboarders, street artists, and Berlin style underground techno parties.

A photo posted by Nina Mehta (@ninamehta) on

There’s much more to see and do in München than what I listed here. But these are my top pics from my last visit. Enjoy.

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Enjoy a spring holiday in this beautiful Dutch canal city. It’s home to 90 islands and 1,500 bridges. The canals were dug up in 17th century which means the shape of this city is quite designed. But more than most it truly feels like a living organism. Bikers, drivers, trams, and pedestrians gently ebb and flow through streets like boats on the canal.

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Keukenhof Tulip Garden
During my short spring weekend I frolicked through the remarkable Keukenhof tulip gardens. You’ll probably find this remarkable even if you’re not into plants. I never knew there were so many kinds of beautiful tulips (with funny names like Foxy Foxtrot). The gardens are in Lesse, Netherlands. But other people do, so here are the protips to avoid the crowds:

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  • The gardens open at 8am. Arrive as early as possible. It’s annoying by 11am.
  • Reduce your commute time by taking an Uberx to the gardens. You can take a bus to the airport and train from the airport back to Amsterdam. We spent about 50 Euro each way. It’s a bit steep but you may find it worth it if your time is also limited, especially at 7am.
  • The East side of the garden is a little less gimmicky. But the gimmicks are hilarious. Hopefully you’ll enjoy them as much as I did.
  • The closed pavilion looks boring from the outside but houses hundreds of amazing tulip types. Don’t miss this especially if you’re having a heightened experience.

I also got these super comfy plus house clogs from the Miffy bunny store inside the garden. Their hilarious and I recommend you also buy a pair.

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Cocktails

This is a beer city. For a delicious cocktail make a reservation at Door 74. The entrance is non-descript but knock on that door and give your name. It’s unpretentious, very yummy, and has a kind staff who will take care of you.

Though, you can also try without a reservation and go to Blomenbar (flower bar) for a cheap beer while you wait. But make sure you look up and see the hand painted flower crown molding on the ceiling:

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Indonesian Food

Once a colony to The Netherlands, the Indonesian have a vibrant food scene in Amsterdam. The dinner at The Long Pura was knockout and given to me on a recommendation from my favorite foodies Jason and Faye. They claimed it to be one of their best meals on their Europe food tour. Get one of the samplers, it won’t disappoint. If you go a la carte, the clear soup and chicken satay are unbelievable. Skip the lamb. Reservations should be easy to make and are possible online.

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Museums

Most of the museums are near each other, so if possible visit a few in one big circuit. I can’t emphasize enough how important it is to buy tickets online in advance. It’s very easy, even from a mobile device but it will jump nearly every queue for you. Please don’t not do this.

I really enjoyed the prostitutions exhibit at the Van Gogh Museum. The curators were very pro-women and the content and historical education was remarkable. The rest of the museum was pretty crowded so Id really only go here if you’re wild for Van Gogh or the special exhibit is good and a delicious cafe.

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The Stedelijk Museum houses modern and contemporary art pieces. Again I recommend seeing which pieces are on right now. I read somewhere James Turrell had a piece in there but I was mistaken. I did experience this 360 audio/video installation from Cally Spooner that was a little mind melting. If you’re going soon, check this out. And if you’re looking for some great art reads they have an excellent book store. Nearby is the Moca Museum which right now has a Banksy/Warhol exhibit. I skipped it and had a sunny nap in the slanty park.

The Anne Frank House had a queue longer than Berghain on klubnacht. I’m not sure if you can get tickets in advance but if this is something you want to do, plan accordingly.

Bicycles & Canals

I was planning to borrow a bike from a friend and cruise around all Sunday. We didn’t get to coordinate properly so it never happened. But they really have things figured out. Everything is about eye contact, it’s kind of beautiful. Everyone says this is a must do followed by renting a boat and cruising down the canal!

All in all it will be hard to not love Amsterdam. It’s a beautiful, kind, creative, feminine city that will welcome you with open arms. Have fun!

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For a city with a serious dedication to extended youth, the cohabitation with adults and actual children in Berlin is remarkable. My perspective here is often compared to life in the States and citylife in general. Both together are hard places for children to live.

Simple things like sidewalks, restaurant, cafes, and parks play nicely with parents and singles alike. In San Francisco and Chicago there were family places and regular places. The deeper into the city, the more I felt people making a stink eye to someone who brought their youngin along.

During one of my first weekends here I went for a long brunch with some local friends. Their son 9-year old son was climbing on the sofa and playing with the adults in the group. Sometimes wanted attention but never crying, screaming, or yanking on his father’s coat for entertainment.

I don’t see kids demanding for attention in public places or crying in the supermarket. Maybe parents raise their children differently in Berlin. That must make it easier to bring them along to whatever the parents have going on. And the parents I’m meeting somehow seem to have time for themselves. Do Europeans have an extra few hours in the day? Why are Americans always so tight on time?

However last night I saw some kids also around 9 or 10 years old with their parents in a smoke-free Belgian beer bar. I think they drew the doodles on the wall behind the cash register (above). That was surprising and unexpected. Americans are somewhat conservative about alcohol so having kids in the bar was a strange for me. But maybe there’s some other context I don’t have yet. I’m curious about German parenting.

Ok also, kids have these awesome Fred Flinstone bikes to help them learn the hardest part of riding a bike first: balance. It’s not that related to this post but it’s so fantastic and you need to know about it.

 

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A photo posted by Nina Mehta (@ninamehta) on


Bauhaus design school teacher Johannes Itten said:

“The way we breath is the way we think.”

He believed breathing quietly, slowly, and deeply is the foundation of creative energy. In fact in his classroom, courses began with simple breathing and physical exercises to help students find a rhythm, the foundation of their creative energy.

In plain english, designers need to be deeply connected to themselves before they can create anything meaningful for someone else. It makes sense that they started by looking inward.

The early 20th century Bauhaus art school and design movement is so hard to describe because it doesn’t have a specific look or style, but only unified philosophies. And though it was born of the industrial revolution in Germany, Bauhaus designers celebrated designing well made products to last forever. The impact on the future was much more relevant than profit margins. So of course, designers had to be intimately in touch with themselves and nature to create from this perspective.

But nearly 100 years later and slow, deep, quiet, inward looking practice is even more relevant for designers because:

Software products are deeply connected to the consumer’s psychological experience

The creators of technology can have a scary amount of impact on the intimacy of someone’s life. How people eat, sleep, live, date, work, and so on is directly related to technology. Ten years ago laying in bed with a computer would sound wildly robotic. And now many find it harder to quit their cellphones than cigarettes. To deeply connect with the physiological and psychological experience of our customers, we first must be connected to ourselves. We start by looking inward and taking the impact of our work seriously.

Designers have never been asked to or been able to mass produce at such a fast rate

Before software, product designers would sketch and prototype with wood, steel, plastic, fabrics and other physical materials. Eventually their work would be produced in a factory and then ship to stores for display and sales.  This is why we had a waterfall process for so long.The time from ideation to manifestation took months if not years.

Intangible, non-physical, software design made it possible for agile development and lean design processes. We learn as we go and make changes inspired by what we learn. We can move faster than ever before, but that’s getting mistaken for better. When we move too fast, we end up too closely connected to the “scurrying rat-race of everyday life” and further from a deep, quiet, inward looking process.

Slow Lean Design

Many celebrate lean and agile because it’s so much faster than waterfall. But our challenge ahead is a lean and agile process where designers can think deeply about their work without shipping the first idea that’s good enough. In the beginning of a lean process, we want to validate ideas and ship as fast as possible to learn quickly. But product teams need to create time for the right expression of a validated idea. For example: now we’ve validated people want to taxis on demand, let’s make time to create the best way to order a taxi on demand. That second half is the expression of the idea.

Some parts of that expression will come from user research and quantitative data. But there is no objective design. No mater how user centered, the work a designer creates will in some part be an expression of who they are.

Author Jeff Sussna wrote about mindfulness and design. In summary, he challenges designers to think beyond improving a product but to create products or services free of distractions so customers can be completely focused on their task at hand. He has an excellent example about laundry services. e.g. I don’t necessarily need laundry to go away or to be faster. I may need a way to make laundry a preferred activity.

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Slow Berlin 

Let’s bringing this back to my Berlin experience. My work weeks move really fast. Too fast. I used this long weekend to stay in the city and find some stillness. I visited the Bauhaus Archiv and thought a lot about their teaching process. They start from perfecting their craft rather than production. Students in the beginning simply play and explore materials. I thought about this while walking in the rain through Tiergarten and the next day went on an artist date to the Modulor art store. I touched all the felt, plastic, metals, papers and markers. I’d tell you more about it but I need to go play with my new paint brushes and chalk.

Have a deep breath!


 

If you also believe design and software have a relationship to nature, you might like my minimalist technology posters.

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