Throat-Clearing + Happy New Year

December 30, 2008 § Leave a comment

Some thoughts as we round up 2008:

• As some may have noticed, I have taken down nearly all my posts having to do with politics. While I greatly enjoyed writing about the election, in my current unemployed state, it seemed a tad reckless because, frankly, politics and work just don’t mix.

That said, I never really felt like I was “political”, per se, and yet, I’m still surprised at the reaction I got from some people. While I did have a candidate I personally supported more than the other, with my background in trial/courtroom communication and argumentation, my only real agenda was analyzing each candidates’ strategy and how it persuaded or affected the so-called moderate voter. Some of the reaction I got from people was pretty interesting, though. When I wrote something that I thought actually showed more support for one candidate, I got comments that suggested I was supporting the other. And vice versa.

I quickly realized that there’s no controlling how people will interpret your words, no matter how carefully you craft them, no matter how much you focus on the process of getting elected and ignore a hoped-for election outcome. Politics is just too hot-button of an issue. So, I took all those posts down except for one, because that post was about a personal experience regarding bigotry, hypocrisy, how we seek out those who agree with us and the collective need to challenge ourselves to be better. And if someone doesn’t want to hire me because of that post, then so be it.

•  In general, blogging has been tougher to keep up on than I thought it would be. I thought that, in my current state of unemployment, blogging would be fairly easy. But I’ve realized that you have to have experiences and conversations that make you want to blog about something on your mind. In this, my unemployed (read: broke) state, I don’t have a whole lot to write about. Most of my days involve either going to the public library to get out of the house, finding a corner of the house to get some privacy, or going for a run. My nights tend to be made up of going to the corner watering hole to play a few rounds of Golden Tee Golf. (The interaction design in that game is stupendous, by the way.)

In other words, I’m not visiting the richest of environments for new thoughts and experiences regarding designerly things. Quite the opposite of Carnegie Mellon, to be sure. For the most part, this is fine: It’s been healthy to not obsess too much over design, but it also means there’s not a whole to say, but when there is…

•  My posts tend to take longer to write than I mean for them to. I’m pretty obsessive about my thoughts and insights and writing and clarity. Basically, I don’t want to sound like a total schmuck and I’d rather be thorough and thoughtful than quick and controversial. For example, my Abilify post took a solid 14 hours of research and writing. (Yeah, I know, I need a job.) Why so long? I knew basically nothing about drug names, always had a curiousity about them, and had to get all my facts in line before spouting off about it (and I certainly had never thought about drug names as an ethos-pathos-logos thing. All that was made up on the fly, then hammered out, drawing on design school stuff that I never thought to apply in such a way.)

So, yes, this is why there are not as many posts as I’d like there to be. But hopefully, they have some quality to them, even if they sometimes verge on pedantry.

• I’m pleasantly surprised that I get any traffic at all and find myself intensely flattered when I get occasional unforeseen boosts in traffic. It’s like I’ve won an Emmy every time anyone reads a post. Thank you all for reading!

• If anyone knows of any design jobs you think I’d be good for, please let me know. The poor economy has made the job hunt much worse than it was, even as recently as early November.

Happy Holidays and Have A Wonderful 2009!

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The Dreaded Conversation about Politics

November 2, 2008 § 2 Comments

As we’re closing down (thankfully) on the election season, I’ve been somewhat encouraged, but mostly saddened at how incapable so many of us are to openly discussing politics. This is just a rough thought for now, but I think one of the reasons we have a hard time is because we talk about policies that we’ll never agree on or key on reductionist arguments about which candidate is a bigger hypocrite or slimebag. We then tell ourselves whatever we want to tell ourselves about which one is worse. And then we dig in for trench warfare.

Frankly, this sucks.

Instead, I prefer to think that all candidates will always appear hypocritical or slimy when put under the unblinking public eye. Because of that, we should just assume that all politicians are hypocritical slimebags so that we can move on to real conversation. (Yes, background information on candidates is important, but I think constantly breaking candidates down actually serves to destroy voters’ ability to have meaningful, non-combative discussions about a candidate.)

So, I began thinking about what qualities good political conversations tend to have. And I think that most quality political conversations aren’t a debate about policies or character, they’re actually conversations where we think together about the underpinnings of politics, not debate policy. Policy debate too quickly devolves into unalterable, unbending personal beliefs, like abortion or gun control. That won’t go anywhere.

While this is merely the roughest draft of an idea, I’ve quickly jotted down what I like to think about when I think about politics with someone:

• How is society at-large reacting to a candidate? Why? Can it be overcome? How?
• What is a campaign’s message and strategy?
• Why is the campaign espousing that message? Who are they targeting? Me? You? Who?
• Who might the campaign be alienating through their message and strategy? Will it matter?
• How is one candidate trying to “frame” the other? Why? How does this affect you?

I think that by looking at a campaign and candidate through these questions gives context to a candidate’s statements, arguments, and message. By seeing the context, you see how a candidate is poking at your pressure points to get a reaction (i.e. vote) out of you. But I also think that by two or more people thinking together about the context of a message and strategy, it can allow for more fruitful, less hostile discussions between potential voters.

I don’t think this list is exhaustive by any means, and I don’t know if it will help anyone at all, but these are the things I think about when I think about what I like to think about regarding politics. Or, in the parlance of our times, I focus on the game, not the players.

Tees and Double-Yous

September 19, 2008 § 1 Comment

As I’ve mentioned in a prior post, I’ve been looking for work since graduating with a Masters Degree in Design. For the first, oh, 2 months, this was a lot of fun. But two days ago, I passed the 4 month mark.

Yeah. 4 months.

Before any of you go, “Just get a job, dude”—I wish it was that easy. But, it’s not. This is what I’ve learned:

I’m Mr. First Date. A great leadoff hitter, but terrible in the clean-up spot. A wonderful flirt, but a terrible lover. I’m quick, but not fast. I’m a friend… with no benefits. And it’s maddening as hell.

For potential employers, I assume my resume makes me intriguing: Carnegie Mellon grad degree, 3.5 years in strategy+consulting, some time in marketing, and a decent enough portfolio. So, people love to talk to me. I’ve had a lot of interviews. But that’s where it stops. Their interest is generally lost about 15 minutes in to the conversation when it becomes clear to them that I am not much of a “T-shaped” person, which is what design firms are looking for these days.

Basically, a T-shaped person has one pronounced, deep skill-set, but is well-rounded enough to interact with people from different disciplines. This arrangement seems to have the benefit that T-shaped people will always have one defined skill to lean on and allows the firm to keep job titles and functions nice and clean.

My problem is—is that I’m more of a lowercase w.

The w-shaped person has a variety of sorta deep skillsets, but not one outstanding trait. Or rather, the outstanding trait, as it were, is that I am a w.

“Surely not,” You say. “Reconsider your position, old chap, for you must just be being hard on yourself. Chip chip!”

“Au contraire,” I reply in another language. I have an undergrad degree in General Studies and have had more jobs in more industries than many will have in their entire lives, very few of which point me in any distinct direction outside of, “He’s certainly got the well-rounded part down…”

(Put it this way: I can make and deliver a pizza for you in 30 minutes or less, check out a movie for you while bussing your dinner plates, make your yard look like a baseball diamond while fixing your sink and building you a bookcase (from real wood!), caddy for you during your corporate tournament, organize your filing cabinet, cut extra sets of house keys, grade your daughter’s standardized tests, sell you a killer set of knives, help you strategize your latest multi-million dollar lawsuit against your neighbor who hoodwinked you into buying that “beachfront property” in Malaysia, all the while I help design your niece’s latest school presentation rife with information graphics before finishing up by drawing diagrams for Billy’s basketball game against Big State University. And would you like that in paper or plastic?)

So the things I’m good at (writing, strategy, storytelling), it seems every designer thinks they’re good at them. Or maybe it’s just that the strategizing and storytelling is the part of the job that every designer likes the most so they don’t want to give it up or hire you based just on that—whether or not they’re actually any good at them—while the rest of my portfolio, well, it doesn’t really speak to the latest, greatest, biggest, and most active current market for designers: Anything having to do with the web or electronic gadgets and gizmos.

Further frustrating this whole job search is that yesterday I was told by an industry “insider” that my portfolio was thin and that I needed to spend the next 3-4 months doing some pro bono work to beef it up, re-state certain parts of the portfolio, and create a few different resumes, among other suggestions. All of this for an entry level position making less money than when I went into grad school. Something’s not right here. It’s time to refocus. Or rather, focus.

If I’m not a T, then I’ll make good use of being a lowercase w, on my own if need be. Because it seems like I’m not looking in the right place for the skills I have.

It’s like that old story about the guy who loses his keys in front of his house. When he and his wife look around for his keys, he goes and searches under the street light, 25 feet away. She says to him, “Why are you searching over there?”

“Well,” he says. “There’s light over here.”

That’s me. I gotta quit doing that.

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