Pretty Pictures + Pithy Problems

Hi. It me.

I was talking with a friend yesterday about this whole design journey I’ve been on. To wit, we’ve applied internally for a Community Manager role which will hopefully include heavy user research along with signing up for an online class from Matt Smith.

We talked about a lot of things here, but among them came the most holy of topics:

But like, why do you even want to do this?

Over the time I’ve worked at Paradiselandia, I’ve spent that time in multiple roles. I was the second US-based resource they hired and they had a single desk. Since then, I have both literally and figuratively built dozens more and as I look over that time, one thing stands out that informs where I am now: education and emotion.

I went from pre-sales to training to support and in all of those roles the activities for me where similar if not exactly the same:

  • Listen to people speak about a problem
  • Understand their perspective
  • Ask questions along the way for clarification
  • Document responses
  • Iterate through possible solutions
  • Reward myself with a beverage

I’ve also had a fondness – and an eye – for typography, color, and just design in general. Front-end design in particular. The years of working in talking people through solutions and iterating shaped a bit of that natural affinity. I wasn’t just hearing what people wanted, I could see it and more important: I could see why.

Seeing all of those moments where I get the client to the point of, “This works! Sweet. Let’s celebrate” are the moments I came to love. It made the challenges along the way worth it. However, for every yes I got, there were several no’s as well. After asking in so many ways where these no’s were coming from, I started trying to learn about UX myself; that is to say I went from, “I can see this working but I don’t know what that means” to “I could make this if I learned how. I have time. I will learn how.”

So here I am trying to determine whether to go straight into user research or straight into UX. There are so many interrelated disciplines that design requires that it is easy to get lost without a lot of talking. The path to competency in these areas is never linear. I don’t know what success looks like when it is finished or if it ever really is, but what I know is that I am passionate about workflows that make sense and make it easy for admins or users to do something once or several times without feeling tedious.

I want things to be easy for people to understand. Readable errors. Clear indications of what to do or what to do next. I want clients to feel they are being heard and seen when they express a need and to feel like we are partners in solving things. I want translate all of that into tangible things.

More so with every passing day.

The Gone Bar

It was 4PM when I got into the Lyft and greeting my driver. We’ll call him Adam.

After the normal convo about where I was headed, we started to discuss plans for the evening of New Year’s Eve. He mentioned going to the Go Bar. After a bit of conversation, I learned that this bar – which I hadn’t been to – was closing after this New Year’s Celebration. We talked about the varying thoughts on reasons for this; it was a successful bar 20 years running, but there were multiple complaints about noise from people nearby… from a known club… that’s been there for 20 years.

You can only imagine the kind of people who would do this.

This was especially concerning for Adam because that bar was one of very few regular gathering spaces for LGBTQIA+ folks and I felt that pain of a world where you constantly fight to make your own space only to have it evaporate with the morning mist and always being at risk of doing so at any time.

We exchanged some information and later on that night, I went to the bar for the first and last time it would exist. Every person there was talking, dancing (to damn good music, I might add), and generally being enjoyable. There wasn’t a single unpleasant person on the premises. I bought a t-shirt and ran into a few familiar faces and made friends with new ones.

I watched it all like the final fluttering heartbeats before a flatline. Only hours before, a friend who is chronically ill and facing their own mortality told me that a letter I sent them cemented their decision to go out and have fun even as they felt the life seeping from their bones. They went out and had fun not knowing how long they’ll live beyond that night.

My hands should be covered in third-degree burns from all of these dying embers I’ve been carrying.

Happy New Year, Go Bar. Happy New Year and may I find somewhere worthy to put these embers.

Stepping into 2020

If you’ve been a reader here for any amount of time, you’ll know that my years aren’t measured by resolutions, but rather by themes I take it to it. Most of the themes emerge after reflection on the previous year. That has left me feeling very uneasy about what lies ahead.

2020 is going to be wild and uncomfortable.

Over the last year, there has been a lot of growth and change for me professionally that has left me a different person. The more I reflect, the more 2020 means less about doing new things and more about leaving things that haven’t served me well behind. If 2019 was “Chiseling”, then 2020 is going to be “Sanding and Polish”.

Unlike all the prior years where there was more uncertainty about who or what I would be or be doing for the year to come, this one comes with a settled knowing to it. Of what I can keep, what I will rearrange, what I will make room for whether more or less. There’s a part of me that is somewhat saddened by it. The explanation of that feeling will be another entry.

In the meantime, I hope your holiday has been wonderful and that your support systems to get through them or celebrate them have been strong. I’ll see you all in 2020 with what will likely be a multi-part update on where the heck I’ve been.

o/

We Made It! We… made it?

At this point in my career, I’ve seen many things and while I have yet to see everything, I’ve seen enough to know what strengths I have and don’t. I’ve seen the rise of Paradiselandia from the beginning until now and have been every role and then some to get to that point.

Recently, we stepped into that most illustrious of spotlights that every large and growing company tries to break into at some point: public trade. We’ve now entered a rarefied space with an entrance marked in three letters.

I don’t know how to explain how disconnected I was – and still am – from that moment. The things I’m connected to are here on the ground with me. Those things – those people – are stressed because we’re out here doing our best while not having a clue.

This isn’t to say I’m in any way ungrateful for the opportunity or the experience, but I’m one for intrinsic rewards; I do things to the best of my abilities because I care about the people it touches; including the people here working with me.

When kindness and a good culture prospers, that’s where the win lies for me. But standing near a table as we toast, I look at people and think about the individual lives that make all of this work. Their challenges. The things they spend late hours, early hours, and weekends to make happen.

The stress on their faces as they aim for these things. The moments they open up and share things that frustrate them or anger them or sadden them.

Is this what winning looks like? Souls ground into powder and fragmented culture where people start to forget the people we needed to be to get here on an interpersonal level? I don’t mind losing if it does.

When I think about what winning looks like, I think about the way we got there and how connected everyone feels to what we’ve achieved. I hope we haven’t gained the world while losing our soul in the process. Very few companies can or do.

Diversity & Inclusion in the real world

Where I work – Paradiselandia, of course – a survey was sent out asking what parts of a Diversity and Inclusion initiative they would like to be a part of and what issues they would like to solve. For the sake of timeline, that was in July.

We are now approaching the latter part of October.

A few weeks before that, we had a Pride event here and the people of Paradiselandia were out and about there. The next day, I asked one of the HR folks if we have any kind of internal initiative for the people who work here.

HR person: “What do you mean?”

Me: “Well, I’d hate for people to see us at all of these events for pride and such, but not feel safe and seen while working in this office. How are we making that an intentional part of our culture?”

A week later, I would learn that the person who sent the initial survey left the company and no one was assigned as her successor. A different, well-intentioned person, came to the office a week later and I asked them what was happening there.

It turns out that they have no idea how to make this work, but they have tried with an FB workplace group. I asked a bunch of questions about who we are talking to in these communities (PoC, LGBTQ+, etc) about how to scale a community initiative like this and after getting those answers (“We haven’t spoken to anyone and we don’t know where or how to start honestly.”), I made some suggestions for follow-up actions and we went our separate ways.

The follow-up actions involve me.

Because they have to. Yes, I care about these things and I volunteered as such. I live to make communities where people who are usually made to feel unsafe or uncared for can find a bit of relief and I’m happy to be a part of things like that.

…but also? If I didn’t volunteer, this wouldn’t happen because no one knows where to begin when thinking of ways to deal with people like me or the spectrum of marginalized groups that exist. Also? Only two people have been involved until this point in trying to even broach the subject in a formal, company-wide manner. I am the only person who followed-up to find out what happened after the subject was brought up.

I can’t help thinking about how often it is that if you are part of a marginalized group you are constantly having to spend time and energy to teach people how to include you. How to be aware of you. How to treat you properly. Always educating and having to be on hand to educate lest you be rendered invisible or worse.

The truth is that, in the real world, Diversity and Inclusion sounds really cool. Socially conscious. Aware. Who doesn’t want that as part of their brand?

But also? It requires people to actually be those things. That means google. That means reading. That means a lot of hard conversations that expose you to a world beyond your perspective in which you are not ever going to be the center. That means dealing with a lot of pain and anger from people who are asked to draw forth their trauma again and again to explain things people could look up and/or defend their right to be angry in the face of injustice.

That also means being accountable to do better with what you learn.

The lion’s share of making that happen falls on me and people who look like me because we have to know these things in order to function. And isn’t that the funny part? The punchline? That every Diversity and Inclusion initiative in the real world is a seance. A summoning. A thing in which, in spite of all the resources we have available, doesn’t happen unless the marginalized speak up for it again and again and again.