More thoughts by Naz Hamid
Lynn Hill is a legendary female rock climber. In the 1980s she helped define sport climbing in the United States, most notably by being the first person to make a free ascent up the Nose Route on El Capitan in Yosemite. Like any experienced, well-seasoned person whose passion speaks all the words they need not say, Hill’s climbing is fluid, graceful and timeless.
See Hill in action here:
As a cyclist, a skateboarder and, in recent years, a boulderer, I always seek out finesse over tactlessness, fluidity over rigidness and a strong line over a technical zigzag. In cycling, it’s called souplesse — the rhythm of one’s legs and spin. In skateboarding, it’s the smoothness of a line of tricks and how you piece them together to be cohesive and explosive, like a song that builds to a climax.
There’s a parallel in my mind between these aspects of the physical things I like to do and the craft that I spend doing on a screen. The similarity is narrative. Telling a story in your output. In that video, Lynn Hill spins together a solid structure of a story that shows you her journey — you can actually see her thinking, figuring it out in her mind as she goes along the route. In bouldering, routes are called problems. And the act of topping out (reaching the summit) is called solving a problem.
Sounds like design or development, right?
The work we do — identities, websites, applications and bridging the gap from desktop to web to mobile — is a story we need to tell cohesively and with the utmost consideration.
It shouldn’t be janky. It shouldn’t be abrupt. It shouldn’t be awkward. It shouldn’t be over the top. It shouldn’t be x for x’s sake.
It should be measured. It should be cognizant. It should be aware. It should be respectful. It should be everything that needs to be there and nothing more.
Restraint is more impactful than showing power.
The tendency in our industry is to flex muscle from the outset when truly we should adopt a quiet, internal strength that simmers and stews, building momentum over the course of a narrative.
Be smooth, be strong, be quiet.
I have a rule about watching live music, particularly seeing specific artists more than once: I don’t.
I developed this policy about five years ago after seeing a band I’d seen previously and realized that it just wasn’t the same anymore. Maybe they had a bad night, or maybe they weren’t as vital to me as they were before, but it was possible — very possible — that, more importantly, I had changed. I had lost a connection with the artist. I had moved forward somehow.
This is similar to a philosophy taken from the culinary world and even from my own cooking. In his book The French Laundry, celebrated chef Thomas Keller explains it as the “law of diminishing returns” — that after the first bite and beyond the second, the taste is known, less surprising and less amazing. Keller goes on to say: “What I want is that initial shock, that jolt, that surprise to be the only thing you experience. So I serve five to ten small courses, each meant to satisfy your appetite and pique your curiosity. I want you to say ‘God, I wish I had just one more bite of that.’” This is why tasting menus have become quite popular and why small plates that are shared (originating from the Spanish tapas style of eating) are an increasingly common way of eating Stateside.
Comparatively, this is my new attitude toward conferences: If I’ve been before, I’m less enthused by subsequent appearances. Meaning, I no longer feel compelled to attend again.
Let me explain: I feel as though the conference circuit is getting a bit stale. There are those conferences that have been around for a long, long time. And then there are those pop-up–style events that materialize, slay it and finally disappear into the night, to be remembered fondly, fully impacting all its attendees. Both types of engagement can be the stuff of legend.
My recommendation? Think twice before registering for an event you’ve already attended, and perhaps stretch your legs and thinking by exploring something new, small and unproven. Find symposiums that bring a more varied range of speakers — both experienced and new, a good mix of gender and, because I have a slant toward it, a racially diverse one too.
It’s like that band you saw for the first time or that initial bite of a new dish: stunning, impeccable and memorable.
It’s March and this is the month I turn a year older. This year I turn thirty-five. With that, comes a certain perspective—a softening of opinion and a clarity of thought.
I went bouldering over the weekend with Josh Brewer and a mutual friend, Ian Kesterson. We were at a public preview for a new bouldering gym opening up here in San Francisco. We were early, but as more and more people piled in as the hour went on, there was a trend of sorts happening.
Josh said it perfectly to Ian, “I think we’re five tattoos short to fit in here.”
It made me laugh. Here I was, bare-chested, with a full tattooed sleeve on my arm, with a haircut that could decidedly be described as manly-heritage-50s-hipster and I realized that despite our age bracket’s crotchety ramblings about all those hipsters on our lawns, we were them. Or at least, I had a similarity to everyone else in the room. And despite our own internal individualities, it dawned on me that for a change, I did belong. These—everyone—were my people.
Later in the week I was at SightGlass Coffee here in San Francisco. It’s a veritable mecca of coffee, in a clean, warm interior with lots of steel, reclaimed and exposed wood and concrete with lots of natural light. Everyone in the room, especially the men, had uniforms on.
I don’t mean that they had some special SightGlass uniform, but that all the men, including myself had some familiar variant of dark denim and a plaid or chambray shirt on. It is our generation’s daily uniform. In the past, there were suits and ties and tucked-in formalities and politeness. Today, our suit is more colourful and comfortable. We can be who we are.
Sometimes that means we’re more alike than we think or know.
But perhaps it just means that the barriers are down, that we’re seeking a family or a tribe. That we are becoming one and the same, barriers and cultures blending healthily.
It means that we can belong.
Ever since smartphones have become the new normal, it’s a common sight to see people engrossed in them. You know the stance: head down, eyes mesmerized by a four-inch screen of a world that exists intangibly. It is a world that connects the threads of our lives while it simultaneously disregards the immediate environment and context.
Paying attention — I mean, really paying attention — requires more meticulous effort than it used to. Because now, our superficial interest is diverted to distractions that we want to direct it to, rather than allowing simple happenstance to dictate where our true attention should go.
A few losses come to mind as a result. There are likely more, but these three are at the forefront of my mind.
- Serendipity and chance
- Serendipity and chance
Before we had smartphones to sneak away into, people were present in their environments. Sure, we’ve been immersed in various portable music players and books for a while now, but smartphones are multifaceted attention hogs.
Allowing yourself to be open gifts small, quiet moments that may brighten your day. There is a tangible feeling when you’re involved in your community, at the local level. You could very well meet your next partner in crime. You may engage spontaneously in conversation during a flight with your seat neighbor. Or, what often happens with me and my wife, we find money on the street. True story.
I don’t mind seeing your smartphone or device sitting on a table — I don’t like the bulkiness in my pocket either. However, I do mind if it is face up and silly notifications are turned on. That feature was disabled the first day I purchased my smartphone, and I question why people need it. Is the fear of missing out such a compelling reason to not give thoughtful consideration to the wonderful person in front of you?
I see your eyes, they’re glancing at that screen.
Notifications should be nonintrusive and passive rather than the other name we give them: alerts. Your friend posting a photo of their coffee or updating their existential state of being is, nine times out of ten, not earth-shattering news.
This is a practical and an important point. Smartphones are expensive. Smartphones are easy targets for thieves. I’ve seen phones snatched from submerged owners or even casual tourists walking around the city looking at Google Maps. It’s a shame that we live in a time when private property isn’t respected and that thievery exists, but it does. Don’t be the person who’s shouting, “Hey! That’s my phone!” while chasing someone rapidly through the streets of the city.
Or that person with their head down and BAM! Hello, tree/light pole/other pedestrian.
Then there’s the ridiculous looking-at-your-phone-while-crossing-the-street individuals. Fancy being hit by a car? I certainly don’t. As my dad is fond of saying when people seem reckless with their lives, “So fatalistic!”
When I was a teenager and then in my early 20s, the only way to get in touch with someone was by picking up a phone and purposely calling them. It made the connection deeper in comparison — hearing the quality of their voice and tone. And before three-way calling or call waiting, you were locking the phone down for just one person at a time. I recall scrambling for coins or phone cards to call friends at pay phones when I wanted to hear their voice or bug them or just catch up.
Absence makes the heart grow fonder. Fondness is all I seek.
I’m not advocating to go back to those times, believe me. I am advocating for basic norms of respect for the people around you.
Let’s respect each other, engage and be in the moment. Let us enjoy the presence of each other’s company and use the absence of technology to get into a conversation. Practice your speaking skills. Enjoy the moment — your moments. The quiet, the people watching, taking in your surroundings and letting things happen to you rather than turning your brain to the ON position all the time. OFF isn’t an idle matter — it’s a state of being.
The people you spend time with, in any capacity, will shape and define who you are. Choose wisely.
Weightshift recently completed a new website for a great client. We started the project with a brief and scope, which we discussed at length before we delved into the design. All normal protocol for our process.
In the initial presentation, we revealed our concepts. Internally, we found our interpretation to be different and perhaps uncharacteristic of our style. It felt bold and a little daring. At least, that’s what we thought.
Let me back up a little. Some years ago, I considered myself an adaptable designer. A person who designs chameleon-like, acclimating to whatever values the client represented. Which, to a degree, is true.
After the first iteration of this recent project, we received very productive and detailed feedback. Essentially, though, it wasn’t positive. We had failed here. We love feedback, though, and we never, ever, ever take it personally. Such assessments should be taken into thoughtful consideration so as to make the thing you’re making better.
After talking through and thinking further about it, it dawned on me: Yes, I do have a style, and therefore, the studio has a style. And that is why clients come to us.
I began on the second round and embraced my natural tendencies: I approached the site in the way I would innately create it. To forget stepping into someone else’s shoes and to do the job we were hired for and the client was attracted to. To apply the kind of details and touches we’ve assembled on past assignments. To let 15 years of honing design craft into a project that we wanted to make great.
This version was the winner.
We do stellar work for our clients, which is exactly the kind of results they expect. That’s why they hire us. We do our job by taking their brand, product or idea and running it through our lens of design and development. I had forgotten, in a momentary lapse, to be so different. I had forgotten that we have instincts and skills that others see from the outside.
As designers, the magnifying lens is none more prevalent than the one we cast on ourselves. We can be our own worst critic.
Trust yourself to do good work. Trust yourself to do great work.
On a morning bike ride, I noticed Spreckels Lake in Golden Gate Park was completely drained. It’s not a very deep lake, probably just a couple of feet, but it’s not something you’d wade into. Mostly, people launch model boats there and watch the ducks float by. It’s serene and a popular spot to unwind.
In its current waterless state, a friend on the ride noted its ugly appearance. Laid bare was the scum, algae and rocks, making up the foundation and guts of the vessel. Exposed, for all to see.
Similarly, this is how I feel about who we are and what we do and this world we live in. On the surface, we can look fantastic — smooth, calm and at our best. But at our essence is a complex ecosystem and environment that let us present the version of us, our work or our lives, that we want everyone else to experience.
Inner beauty. That’s what the lake has now. It’s been stripped down to its core. It is judged superficially without its aesthetic veneer. Inside, an intricate system of things we can’t or won’t comprehend. We may understand water, but we don’t understand the soil, the rocks, the algae, the microbial things that make up the rest of the whole.
Without the substructure, the insides, as messy as they may seem, we can’t have the outside: our skin, our features, our interactions, our water.
I look at the lake, and I think of the parallels — I’ve cited the real example, the analogy to our own bodies and being, but it’s certainly something that makes me consider the work we do. It can be disheveled but is continually improving and iterating, allowing us to present the best possible face to those who use it.
Here’s an observation:
We’ve been creating content with more opinion and less fact.
Gone are the days when newspapers were wholly factual and unbiased. The news now has partiality; it has some inherent angle.
Much of the content we seem to read and consume today is opinion. Yet, it’s positioned from a self-help style, this-is-how-you-should-do-it stance. One that’s a little dangerous.
We’re getting a little too comfortable with letting other people do the work for us. Instead of doing the hard research ourselves by trudging through waves of information and making a reasoned decision as to what is right for oneself, we are apt to ape and mimic.
What works for someone, lo and behold, may not work for you.
The good-ish side? We’re discussing these articles and sentiments. We disagree or agree online, in forums, on Twitter, in comments, in notes and via email. We get inspired, passionate, angry, upset and back again.
And this is perhaps the saving grace of publishing today, that these are ideas open for discussion.
But that’s just, like, my opinion, man.
I tweeted earlier this month:
Frustrated by my limits all-round: cycling, bouldering, design/dev. Trying to break through to the other side. This is progress, growth.
As with anything I love doing, I struggle with plateaus. When you reach that point, it can be frustrating, hard and demoralizing to not see forward movement — the progress that demarcates “leveling up.”
For me, it’s a combination of discipline, practice and a stubborn commitment to forge ahead when these bottlenecks happen. Just by trying, trying again or by coming back to the problem over and over, can I finally push on through.
It’s first-time-you-ask-a-girl-out awkward or first-time-you-ride-a-bike clumsy, but I soldier on anyway and get a result. It may not be the cleanest line I take, but I get there in the end. Now I know how I can do it better the next time, breaking that block.
When a plateau rears its ugly head, ultimately I know I can chop it right off.
Note: Like this article. I wrote this five different ways, with varying iterations. At times, I considered scrapping and abandoning this article, but in the spirit of its content, I pushed through and ate my own dog food. I’m not sure I have the outcome I want, or if it’s even good, but this is the best version that resulted. Next time, then.
We often talk about the idea of unicorn designers or developers — something I laugh at a little bit because much of our industry is comprised of people who do a lot more than just their speciality or field.
The tech/app/internet field is rife with not just designers, developers or business people, but a group that understands, stretches out and perhaps overreaches (in the best way) into fields they don’t fully understand. We are a curious lot, a pioneering bunch, and we like to tinker. We are thirsty for knowledge, always seeking out that which furthers our own ambition.
Unfortunately, we like to dissect, categorize, label and put our people into boxes. If I were to explain to someone what I did, the CliffsNotes version essentially would be an interaction or web designer (and even that feels inapt). But if I were given room to expound, I would explain that I own and operate a small design studio — of which comes the job of being a business person, a founder, a principal, administrator, project manager, human resources allocator and, oh yeah, I like to code too. Fortunately, I get to dabble in all of it as well as share these duties with two other people in our little group, without whom Weightshift would not be where it is today.
What the cross-pollination of services and interests does is create empathy, understanding and broader strokes to paint with — knowing what the other hand is doing. In our compartmentalized, specialist designations, we are encumbered with responsibilities that seem one-dimensional, whereas our industry is far from that. It is a space of various dimensions and is ever-expanding as we blur the lines between software, hardware and emotion — a magical combination occupying not just the mind, but the heart.
Groups, organizations and companies need to embrace this vast breadth of knowledge that we’re striving to achieve because just being a designer, a developer, a project manager, a biz-dev person, a community manager or whatever-amazing-job-only-our-industry-could-have-created is reducing us to the plainest versions of ourselves.
We are the sum of our parts. Our pieces make up our whole. It’s the parts, the pieces — the people — that elevate your band of the-smartest-people-in-the-room to great heights and beyond.
There’s a saying: “Sharing is caring.” The spirit of that phrase has always meant to me that you would share something — food, a drink, a seat, advice — that would allow you to commune with your fellow person. That your generosity would be a way to show kindness, that you gave a damn.
Today, our usage of sharing has become bastardized, co-opted by technology and commercialized to mean something else entirely — a way to send things viral, spread and distribute in a play to get eyeballs on this thing. Unbeknownst to us, or by a willful ignorance, we’re sharing more than ever, crowdsourcing advertising and marketing for behemoth companies, businesses and people. Somehow, it comes back down to advertising. The dollars are still there in a never-ending cycle of look at this, you should buy it that is trying to fill some increasing void in our lives for satiation, a delicate balance between want and need, if at all.
Oversharing is not caring.
We can share so easily, so blatantly, without care nor consequence — and we flaunt a lack of respect, time or consideration for the people who have found whatever it is we’re saying or doing worthwhile.
There’s some crazy need we have to let the world know exactly what we’re doing, all the time. Why is that? Why do we have this desire to have more?
It’s an evil cycle — as we’ve become more data-driven, we’ve given up intuition or what feels right, to do the thing that makes us most uncomfortable, or we’re at odds with who we are and what we stand for. It can make us seem, well, a little douche-y. A little braggadocio, a sprinkle of holier-than-thou, a dash of non-humility, some clear boastfulness and aww-shucks-my-life-is-better-than-yours.
It can make people feel like shit.
Any good writer is worth their weight in editing. Whether they do it themselves or have someone else edit for them, the editor’s job is to balance out all the inconsistencies, the highs, the lows and bring everything to a smooth flow. Right now, we don’t have good editors. We don’t have good editorial tools. We have brute-force data-based semantics reduced to the lowest common denominator. One tool for every single job, for every single person. We look at people as numbers, not individual faces. We are not curating our sharing for those that deemed us worthy of their attention.
Being judicious with your time — and, more importantly, their time — is caring. Let’s share things that make our lives better, that enrich them, that make others aware, educate and shape us into a better version of the world.
I don’t need to know about your gym visit, your haircut, your lunch, your coffee. Fuck all that.
Show me you care.
One more thought by Naz Hamid will be published
- Sunday, 22 December