My family used to joke about making a course for Silicon Valley kids to practice doing laundry and interacting with babies. I live in a strange bubble that designs infrastructure for much of our modern world. It can be a powerful magnifying glass on global issues.
People today are sad. I see it around me and we know it to be statistically and clinically true. Ads, Likes, and Facebook posts like this one, drain our serotonin (the chemical in our brain that makes us happy). I believe Marie Kondo sold over 8 million books because she is an astute business person and has great timing. She offers some relief to a world becoming disconnected and depressed.
At first her method might sound preposterous. Go through your home, category-by-category, holding each item in your hand asking if it sparks joy. Really? I rolled my eyes a bit at first. Anyone who has completed each step knows it is physically and emotionally challenging. But, she says if follow her process just once, you’ll never rebound again. Her book teaches you how to develop intuition-based decision making, a dying art in our robotic world.
I went to a Konmari Consultant training last weekend. Kazuma Yamauchi, Cofounder of Konmari Media, Inc. reminded us how structured and systematic our world has become. The more technology we use, the more we develop or logical and rational minds. Unless we practice our sensitivity skills, we risk losing the intimate relationship with ourselves. As a person who spends most of their day in an office behind a machine, powering more machines, I could relate.
He said that’s why Konmari starts somewhere as personal as our bedroom, instead of the garage or basement. When else do we get to fully dedicate decision making based purely on our own happiness? Not that often really. Among all the new noise pollution out there, some of us need a little practice having quiet conversations with ourselves. One fold at a time.
Because if you can’t enjoy yourself, how can you enjoy anything else?
Input any clients you have worked with, including those you did not charge. It helps to have a full tracking of how many hours you have worked.
Track your expenses thoroughly and accurately. Record any expenses made for your clients, marketing, and self care. Use minus sign for expenses, leave it neutral for profits. Your total earnings, hours spent, and average rate will total in the last row.
If you are pursuing your Konmari™ Consulting journey as a serious part or full time business, consider creating an LLC (for those in the U.S.), separate bank account, and more formal bookkeeping strategy using Quickbooks or ANDCO. By the way, ANDCO handle contracts, invoicing, and payments beautifully. I hope this sparks joy for you!
What do you want to do in 5 years? What about 15 years? This question is hard because technology, industries, and what’s possible changes so fast. As a thought exercise, I tracked the career history of ten designers who inspire me in 2015 to help me make my own plan. I figured out it was time to rejoin a product company, continue writing, and most importantly not to worry. Because this activity was so valuable for me, I made a spreadsheet template for you!
Replace the “Your Name” placeholder in the document title (at the top) and spreadsheet tab (at the bottom) with your name.
Track your personal career history. (Row 2)
List the ten designers who inspire you. (Column A)
Focus on Inspiring Designer #1. How are you connected to this designer? Is mentorship in the realm of possibility? (Row 3, column B)
Why is Inspiring Designer #1 interesting to you? Not to twitter. Not to bloggers. Not to investors. To you! (Row 3, column C)
Look up Inspiring Designer #1 on Linkedin. Track their career history in 5 year blocks. If they’re not on Linkedin, do some googling to find a resume, bio, or something close enough. The further back in history you go, the fuzzier the records will get. (Row 3, Columns D-H)
Highlight the jobs Inspiring Designer #1 held that are interesting to you in bold.
Repeat. (Row 3 – 12)
What do all the designers you look up to have in common? Did they take any common themes or career paths? Are they on a similar or wildly different trajectory than you? (Row 16, column B)
What insights can you make from these themes? Do their career paths interest you? Do you want to do something similar? What were these designers doing when you were in high school? Are you on track, behind, ahead, doing something totally different? Do you need to change direction? (Row 17, column B)
That’s it! I hope this helps you look at your own career from a new light. And a big thanks to Ofri Afek, my design manager in 2015 at Pivotal Labs. She initially suggested I make a list of ten designers I look up to. During this activity, we often talked about how careers are so much more than status updates on Linkedin. But having a view of the past can be meaningful for insights about the future. If you want to learn more about other designers and their backgrounds, check out How They Got There by Khoi Vinh.
Here’s what happened:
(2015) I discovered I look up to designers who
identify as writers or are connected to journalism
were head of a design or product team
spent at least 4-years at a single product company growing their career
were working as professional designers when I was in high school
(2015) If I want to be like these designers I
am on track and possibly ahead of the curve
should continue writing for fun
should consider quitting my consulting job to join a product company
don’t know that many female design leaders
need a mentor!
(2017) As a result, I
quit my consulting job
got a job at a product company with great design leaders
Our world today is designed to be instant, connected, and fast.
Us software people say the apps we make help people do more, in less time. We are more productive than ever. We live, make, and work in a world where more is supposed to be better — but at a cost.
Some of the original makers at Facebook and Google now say “our minds are being hijacked.” The price to live in a beautifully connected world is putting up with the frenetic 24-hour news cycle, empty swipes for dates, and endless little red badges on our phones like stubborn pimples that won’t pop.
Our state of mind is visualized in the products we create. How can a designer in a mental state of chaos create something calming and joyful to use? It’s hard to conceive. Even worse, that chaotic software then goes out into the world perpetuating an already distracted society.
Less but better
I believe technology can be calming and joyful to use. It should improve the quality of our lives, including our mental state. But that must start from us, the makers of technology ourselves.
The faster my life moves, the less I get done. I make mistakes, forget important details, and take longer to generate good ideas. It is our responsibility as makers of tools and services to take care of our own minds and bodies to make thoughtful decisions about our products for our users.
Even in the Bauhaus School, Professor Johannes Itten dedicated the entire first year to teaching students to build an intimate familiarity with their own body, mind, and materials. He believed it was required for creative success. The Bauhaus movement went on to directly influence designers like Steve Jobs and Dieter Rams
“My first morning periods in class began with relaxation, breathing, and concentration exercises to establish the intellectual and physical readiness which make intensive work possible. The training of the body as an instrument of the mind is of great importance to a creative person.
How can a hand express a characteristic feeling in a line when the hand and arm are cramped? As we breathe, so we think and conduct the rhythm of our daily routine. People who have achieved great success in their lives always breathe quietly, slowly, and deeply. Those who are short of breath are hasty and greedy in their thoughts and actions.” —Design & Form: The Basic Course at the Bauhaus by Johannes Itten
Every weekend, I do a hard reset. I take my mind and turn it off, then turn it on again. It files away the week behind and prepares me for the week ahead. It’s my happy hour.
Nina’s Happy Hour
Saturday mornings are a special time in San Francisco. The city rests under a quiet blanket of fog for a short relief from calendar invites, side projects, and last minute bookings to wherever.
All I see from bed is a soft infinite white sky thinly veiled behind my grey linen curtains. The cool wet air diffuses the colors in the what-would-be-sunrise. It mutes the morning tweets and jangling dog collars that are out walking my neighbors.
I look at my phone when I wake up. I would love to be someone who doesn’t.
Usually I have about an hour in bed to slowly read nice emails I snoozed until Saturday at 8:00 am. These are wandering reads without any focus on replying or achieving inbox zero. It is a distinctly different read than on a given Tuesday.
My Saturday mornings hinge around a 9am yoga class in the Castro with someone who started teaching before most startup founders were born. She knows me there. They know me there. We see each other and smile and never have to talk.
I roll out my matt on the hardwood floor. Everyone is on airplane mode.
Sometimes in downward dog, I wonder if this is why people go to church on Sundays. Not so much for actual scriptures or path to god. But for a reliable and predictable time to do not much more than doing nothing at all.
Sometimes while laying in corpse pose at the end of class, I fall asleep for what feels like an hour. I roll up my mat and sling it over my shoulder and bet myself how long I can go without checking my phone.
When I re-emerge on Castro street, the Muni bus screeches by and the sun has burned through the fog. I see waiters pouring boozy mimosas at Harvey Milk’s diner around the corner from the row of kinky sex shops.
But I never miss the stroll across the rainbow sidewalk to see my guys at the florist. At this point they know me too and know my routine. The air is cool and sweet in their small rainforest of fresh cut flowers.
I pick a $5 bouquet from the black painters bucket on the floor in the back corner. I buy one every Saturday. Sometimes tulips, sometimes lilies, and sometimes lavender spiky stems I’ve never seen before. They wilt away with the week because, hey, they’re from the $5 bin.
Nina’s Happy Hour goes all morning. After a shower, I give my space a quick tidy. I toss away last weeks flowers, clean the vase, refill the water, and start again fresh. Marie Kondo says a cluttered home is cluttered mind. I feel relief when my laundry is neatly put away.
It’s barely noon and I can still make it for brunch. I could have slept in. It’s easier to sleep in. But I get more out of my week by doing less on the weekend. Rhythm is essential for a city without seasons.
The weekend is my time to daydream, take care of my home, and check in with my neighborhood. It’s a time to strengthen my body and soften my mind so I can bring intellectual and physical readiness to intense and productive work. After all, how we live is how we make.
Konmari™ believes her method helps people create the they want instead of the lives they happen to have. She says to visualize their life and design their home to fit that future.
Designer and teams who start with a clear vision of what they value and where they want to take the product move happier and faster. Design and prioritization decisions are much easier because everyone is working towards the same goal.
Keep only what matters
Nostalgia in business is not your friend. We are tempted by our emotions to keep clothes and things that once, but no longer, had deep value or purpose in our lives. We are tempted to keep items that were gifts and pants from decades ago that might fit again someday. Holding onto these things weigh us down at home and at work.
Old code and ux patterns often live on longer than should. It’s natural for us to get attached to features that cost a lot of money to develop or that took great efforts to ship, even if they no longer serve the business or users.
Sometimes we keep old features around because we are afraid to let them go. They are familiar, predictable, and help us feel safe. Holding onto software for nostalgia alone slows down teams and costs money and cognitive load to maintain. It also weighs us down.
Make content accessible
Konmari™ recommends folding all items in drawers so they can be laid out side-by-side like a filing cabinet, rather than stacked like pancakes. This lets you see every item in your drawer at once and helps you pick out the item you want rather than whatever is on top.
Product designers should do everything they can to avoid hiding important content and UI from users, even when it’s easy. Instead of hiding choices behind dropdowns, menus behind hamburgers, and content behind tabs, I look for ways to make my most content and UI elements in my visible without being overwhelming. When designing, I like to ask myself, “if I can hide this behind a click or hover, does it need to exist at all?”
Design by category, not location
Often in our homes and UI, items of similar categories are stored all over the home or product. I have seen many people store some jackets by the front door, some in the coat closet, and also in the bedroom closet. This means, when we are looking for our coat we have to think about three different locations each time.
You can think of your like a house and each section (tab, menu item etc) is like a room in the house. It’s tempting to only work on one section at a time, but your home and product need to work as a wholistic system if you want to realize your goals.
If the part of the product you’re working on needs a new form field pattern, do a short inventory to see if this problem exists elsewhere in the product. Take the opportunity to propose a redesign of the component that improves the overall quality, flow, and system of the entire product.
Applying the Konmari™ method has helped me take a focused and thoughtful approach to the system and product design in my work.
Anticipating response from an employer you desire is hard. Every day feels like a year. In the age of Likes and Retweets, we’ve become conditioned to expect instant gratification and feedback.
Almost all design jobs will ask for a portfolio and many require a design project. Seize this opportunity to not only show your design style, but also how to present information, how you write, how you research, your design style and your coding abilities if possible.
Now, take it a step further. Want to stand out from a sea of resumes? Build a 1-page site that speaks directly to the company you’re courting. Show the team you love, that you understand their vision, their values, their voice. Show them you care about those things too. Explain why you’re a good fit. Use it as an opportunity to show things that don’t fit in your portfolio or resume.
I included photos of books I was reading and linked to relevant blog posts I had written that would speak to them. I did this for at least 10 companies while searching for jobs and internships over the last few years. From here I would link directly to the most relevant projects I had worked on so they wouldn’t even have to leave the page and visit my portfolio.
When you apply create a unique URL. I would store all my pages in a directory called /loves/. So site for Twilio would be at http://ninamehta.com/loves/twilio. From there I can see how many people saw my work, how long they spent on the page and how many people visited the page.
If you’re so lucky to be invited to come in for an interview, you can also see if anyone from the team looks at your work again before you come in and afterwards. This is also a secret clue to knowing how familiar they might be with who you are or what you’ve worked on.
If your link got zero hits, it’s something you can be mindful of when walking the interviewer through your portfolio. If you know they traversed every crevice of your site, that’s also good knowledge to have in your back pocket.
The goals remain the same. The application is to earn an interview. The interview is to goal a second interview. The second or third interview is to earn a job offer. All-the-while be sure you are interviewing the company yourself and determining if it’s a good place for you to learn and grown.
Save time, make a template. Most employers probably won’t know you are doing this for other companies. Well unless you tell them. Or you blog about it 🙂 I did once tell a team I made sites like theirs for a few companies. When I hopped onto my analytics dashboard, I could see other company URLs they tried. Tricky!
I did not make a custom site when I interviewed with Twilio. So this process doesn’t necessarily work for every company or every team. But sometimes it does work and it did lead me to offers otherwise.
Ditch your laundry list of topics you want to write about. Ignore all the outlines you started months, nay, years ago. They’ll be useful later. Maybe.
My biggest writing secret is getting down what I have on my mind the moment the idea strikes. Usually it’s in the morning when the internet is quiet and my mind has time to wander in the shower. Don’t worry about an introduction, conclusion, the flow, grammar, any of it yet. Just get your raw message down. Edit later.
Sometimes I feel too busy to read too distracted to finish. That’s why I love work book clubs! They help me stay motivated, show me new perspectives, and create a shared point of view to reference in my working relationships.
Losing a loved one is painful and personal. Figuring out how to grieve at work or support a colleague can be confusing. For me the heavy feelings come in waves, sometimes slow, heavy, and droning. Sometimes bright and sharp like a tiger in the face. It can change from minute-to-minute, hour-by-hour, and phase-by-phase. This makes it hard to know what kind of support to ask for, what to take, and how to describe my experience.
I’m reading Sheryl Sandburg’s book Option B: Facing Adversity, Building Resilience, and Finding Joy about how she moved through the sudden death of her husband Dave. She’s right that “how are you” feels like a ridiculous, unanswerable question. But “how are you today?” or “how are you feeling right now?” is a much easier question to answer.
I lost several close friends in the last few years. That’s not supposed to happen this young. Going to work is so hard. In one case I was a manager spinning many plates and in the second at a new job still getting my footing. On top of the complexities of dealing with the actual grief, my internal dialogue in the office was louder than ever. I wondered:
Am I acting weird? Can people tell something happened to me? Should I try to act normal? Will it be awkward if I bring it up? How many details are TMI? How much time off is too much? Should I feel guilty for trying to do daily normal things? If look happy at work, will people know I’m still in pain? Do they need to know? Is it ok to feel depressed at work? Do I have to explain my feelings to colleagues?
When will it get easier?
At my last job, I didn’t tell anyone what happened until I snapped at someone in a meeting. It was pretty harsh and abnormal behavior for me. My manager was out of town but thankfully a mentor figure was in that meeting. She approached my outburst with compassion instead of blame. Once she learned I was grieving, I was immediately sent home with the pre-approved time off to get to rural Indiana for my friend’s funeral.
That grieving process was easier. If there can even be an easier. There was a distinct period when I was off the clock. All my time and energy for the next week was focused on getting to my lost friend’s hometown and being with her people. After her funeral, I returned back to my daily life routine. The feelings of loss still showed up in unexpected waves but the world of her people lived in my phone, not in my daily experiences.
More recently, while several weeks into a new job, I lost a long friend I recently rekindled with. We had a lot of history and future of friendship planned for each other. I messaged my manager over the weekend and attempted to come to work. Thankfully he and his manager insisted I go home and take care of myself. My main function otherwise was a warm body in a meeting. The regular reminders from several people that it was ok to take time I need was really helpful, especially in a new environment.
Letting my manager handle communicating to the right teammates what happened was huge. It’s just a hard thing to talk about to people you just met, especially when the information is new. Talking about it makes it real. The personal outreaches were nice. It made me feel seen and felt and cared for. In this case, the friend I lost was part of the city’s fabric. People in unexpected corners of my network knew her and felt her passing. That made it very hard to move on.
Confronting our mortality
The nature of death itself requires us to face our own aliveness. Our own fragility as a simple human being becomes real. Sheryl asks us to think of how the situation could have been worse. I think her sentiment is to help you be grateful for what you have. She talks about the relief she felt, and I agree, when other people acknowledged her pain and shared their own experiences with loss.
Both friends I suddenly lost were artists. They were deeply connected to themselves but also relied on their art forms as a channel for their voice and personal challenges. The last memorial I went to had a guided meditation. He asked us to keep our eyes open, in a soft gaze. We made eye contact with others in the room and spent time seeing each other. During a time of grief, so much talking happens. Asking for support. Giving support. Recounting memories.
In this meditation, we all practiced being together, seeing each other, connecting with our pain, and also accepting something hard and unchangeable. She was a photographer. She said she wanted to make love visible, to help people see themselves as beautiful as she saw them, just the way they were.
Some meditation practices say we cannot create (or destroy) space. But we can invite it and welcome it, which at least makes it possible to feel whatever the feeling is.
Only in Berlin could you find so many shirts, shoes, trousers, and black hats. Alles schwarz. The first time my wardrobe went all black was ten years ago when I lived in London. The second time was during my projection art days in San Francisco. And from there it stuck until I moved to Berlin where each article has one specific cut, zipper, or pocket that gives it a special personality.
Have a careful look in the photo above. There are only a handful of people in this massive crowd wearing color. And this is the case when you look around on the streets. I guess the look is inspired by the industrial nature, the creative community, or the simplicity of a casual but effortless chic expression.
So I started playing a game with visitors to Berlin called: find someone wearing a color. If it was a drinking game, we would be sober.