Meg Lewis is a human female posing as a designer. She is the founder of Ghostly Ferns, a freelancing family located in Brooklyn, NY and the co-founder of Scouted, a place to discover and save recommendations from your coolest internet friends. When Meg isn't designing web things and logos n' such you can find her teaching interaction at Parsons, The New School for Design.
When I first started designing in 2009, I began as a specialist. I was told by instructors and professionals that it’s helpful to pick one thing and get really good at it. After dabbling with various design skills in school, I decided to specialize in e-commerce design for small businesses. I worked as a freelance designer for a few years and quickly became an expert on designing online shops and Shopify websites for companies who had outgrown Etsy. I eventually moved to New York where I got hired more and more to design marketing websites and UI for startups. If you know anything about designing UI for startups, you inadvertently become skilled in UX design as well. So, I naturally became a specialist in UI & UX design. Fast forward to December 2014 when I had an epiphany. I had been hired that year to do more branding than anything else! What the hell, when did I become a brand designer? In hindsight, it started after I designed a brand identity for one of my UI clients. Then, through word of mouth, I got hired to design more and more brands. And look at that, without realizing, I had become (dun dun dun) a #generalist.
I grew to love being a generalist because it meant no project was ever alike. Some days I’d be branding, other days would be UX, sometimes I would find myself doing interior design or even designing products. But, shoot fire, I still wasn’t 100% satisfied with my client work. I found myself spending half my time working for companies that had values I believed in, the other half was spent designing for corporations, or “The Man” if you will, for the big bucks. Half of my days were spent feeling crappy about the communication and relationship I was having with clients. Many of the clients I was receiving didn’t seek me out because I was the only designer for them. Rather, they were contacting a crap ton of designers and picking the cheapest one. The fact that they didn’t necessarily know who I was or have a genuinely good reason for hiring me meant they didn’t respect me and didn’t trust my design decisions. The entire process of working for these clients was gruesome. The lack of trust was ruining my spirit and in return had a huge effect the quality of my work. Now, pan to my amazing half of clients who loved me, loved my work and they genuinely trusted my judgment. They were excited to work with me, which made me want to impress them all the more. With those clients, my work was slammin’ and everyone was happy.
I had to step back and think how I could reframe my approach to client work to only attract the amazing companies I loved to work for. Maybe I was being too much of a generalist by working with any company. Even though I loved being a generalist in skill, could I be a specialist in values? The short answer is yes. I just needed to attract the kinds of companies I loved working for by saying, “I only work for these kinds of companies!” on my website and social media. The hard part was defining what those companies were. That’s when I made up a new term and started calling them “Happy Companies”. To me, a happy company is any business that is working toward making the world a healthier, happier place. That can either be through their product itself, through their company culture, or ideally both. Honing in and specializing in design for a specific type of company would allow me to practice any design skill I wanted. I found a way to be a generalist and a specialist all at once! Cool.
It’s been a whole year exclusively working for happy companies and it has completely changed my life for the better. Here are some ways it works for me, I think they can be applied to your own ideal type of company.
- When a happy company hears about my values and my mission, they know I’m the only designer for them. When they see my work and my website they think, “This Meg person is speaking to my company! She’s the only designer I could possibly hire! She’s obviously an expert in designing for my type of company! I trust her! Everything is amazing!”
- Blatantly saying, “I only work for these kinds of companies” turns off anyone who doesn’t fall in line with those values. This means companies who are sucky, bummed out lame-o’s aren’t going to contact me. Everyone wins!
- When I pitch myself and my mission to companies, It’s important that I tell them it’s okay if I’m not the designer for them. Rather, I offer to help them partner with a different designer who might fall in line with their values. This works because:
- I stay in the good graces of companies that don’t align with my values. It’s always find it important to stay on the good side of all humans, because I never know what good could come out of it down the line.
- It makes the perfect happy companies respect me even more. Knowing that I’m willing to sacrifice myself to provide them with the best possible design is impressive to them. :shoulder_brush:
It can be really freaking scary shutting the door to a great majority of companies and prospective clients. I get it. But once I did, it actually opened the door to a larger total number of companies. Being specialized in values has made me the #1 person for these companies to hire!
12 Reasons Why I'm Leaving NYC
- Cocktail bars and speakeasies are too popular in NYC, I find the dim lighting and romantic atmosphere tiring for my fluorescent-trained eyes.
- Due to a thriving startup culture and overall urge for companies to have smart design, designers are in high demand. We are making more money today than ever before. My whole life I assumed I would become a struggling designer and entrepreneur. New York is making it difficult for me to struggle and I’m actually becoming successful. Gross.
- It takes me 1hr 10min to commute to the nearest Hot Topic store.
- Friends and family won’t stop visiting me, forcing me to show them around the coolest spots in NYC. I’m tired of sharing my favorite places with the people I love.
- It’s difficult and expensive to keep a car in NYC, forcing me to walk everywhere. I don’t like getting a healthy dose of exercise daily.
- With over 35,000 restaurants and 2,600 bars. I’m tired of having so many choices.
- The creative community in New York is too generous, kind, and loving. They keep sharing their clients with me, giving me compliments and hugging me. I need to be in an environment where people are selfish and don’t touch me as often.
- There are over 8 million completely unique individuals here. The average person farts 14 times p/day. That makes 112,000,000 farts in NYC daily.
- There are too many day trips, weekend trips and getaways “conveniently” located near NYC. I need to live in a city where it’s physically, and mentally, harder to leave.
- My neighborhood in Brooklyn has too much “community” with its summer block parties, farmer’s markets and community gardens. My neighbors keep calling me by name. I’d prefer to be somewhere with 0 human interaction, perhaps a feral cat colony.
- The subways are too crowded. They’re full of people who voluntarily choose a more environmentally conscious way to travel and sometimes I have to touch those people in a crowded car.
- A regular iced coffee down the street is $4.25.
New York, I love you. I’m not leaving you.
An Open Letter to the Internet and All the Friends I've Made
Throughout my life, I’ve dealt with the same amount of insecurities as the next person. As a little girl, I wanted nothing more than to be a little boy. When I finally started shopping in the boy’s section and cut my hair in the third grade, I wasn’t prepared for the attention. As a 9-year-old who didn’t want to be the center of attention, it wasn’t easy to be made fun, teased, or screamed at and pushed out of the girl’s bathroom. I very quickly went back to being a girl.
I was never uncomfortable with my body or the way that I looked. I just knew that I wasn’t capable of being any girl that I had seen before. On TV, I saw badass boys living a life of curiosity and adventure while the girls wore cute sunflower bucket hats and shopped at the mall (this was the 90s). Why couldn’t I have a badass life of curiosity and adventure?
Years passed, and I learned to become the version of myself who got the least amount of attention. I shopped at the same stores with the popular girls and followed along to whatever my pushy friends wanted me to do. When I was 13, I decided to tell my good friend that I wasn't completely myself with her. I remember it so vividly, we were sitting in her bedroom, and I said “I think I want to be different from everyone else. I want to start dressing differently and look differently. I’m tired of being the same as everyone else.” I remember the look of confusion on her face as she asked, “Why would you want to do that?”. She stopped talking to me a week or so later when I started making a change.
Who am I? Has been a confusing question for me since that day in 2001 when I decided to be “different”. When I started trying to figure out who I was, I began searching for the other people who were different. And, just like that (queue Jesus rays): the internet. The internet had all kinds of people. People who were just as confused as I was and others who were like no one I had seen before. My world began to open as I gained access to my first-ever real friends: my internet friends.
These internet friends helped me to choose which college I attended. They were there when I had a question about units of measurement. When it came time to choose a career and begin a life as a freelancer, they got me my first gigs. They provided endless tips, facts, and areas of guidance when I didn’t know where else to turn. Throughout all of my side projects, many failed blogs, and small victories, they have (virtually) stood by my side. Most importantly, they provided a place for me to live a life of curiosity and adventure, just as I've always wanted.
It was my internet friends who helped shape the mold of what being a woman means today. Through projects such as Badass Lady Creatives, Got A Girl Crush and eventually huge media outlets like Broadly, I finally feel as though I’m amongst a world of fellow women who refuse to fit a mold. Let’s not forget all of the incredible men on the other side who have supported me through every step of the way. Gender isn’t black or white. There have been so many influential men in my life who have allowed me to feel valid, extraordinary and understand the importance of being a woman.
I’ve come to realize that we can’t compare ourselves to anyone else. We are all very different from everyone, and that’s what makes us unique. We can use this as an ability to help shape the public opinion of women, men, and every area in between. Being born a girl isn’t the curse that I once thought it was, and I can’t thank my internet friends enough for making me see that. I owe you everything and hope I can return the favor.
I'm Not a Robot! I'm a Human Female Who Loves To Dance.
Throughout my adult life I’ve always been extremely self aware, the personality trait that (to me) makes a person great. With being self aware comes the horrible side effect of being in constant fear of judgment. I am so self aware that I will think before I say or do anything as to not annoy or bother anyone. I have perfectly tailored myself to be the optimal human being. I make sure to listen 60% and talk the remaining 40% of the time. I frequently compliment people and mirror their personalities. I am just the right amount of funny mixed with loving compassion. My personality is a huge robotic calculation and it’s gotten out of control.
A few months back I decided to ditch the calculation and find out who I actually am. What is my real personality? Am I actually a horribly annoying person or am I a robot after all? The first step was to try something that I had always been afraid to do: dance. Dancing is the thing that has always made me feel most exposed and open to judgment. Why not start dancing and find out a) if I can actually dance b) if people actually judge me c) what it feels like to be exposed.
So I started dancing. First at parties with friends who already like me, then at clubs with friends and strangers. I decided it was extremely important that I let go 100% and see what happens. So I did, and something amazing happened. People judged me hard. I could see them staring at me and had to push through the judgment and continue to completely let go. After a few songs, I was in a groove and I could tell that everyone else was loosening up around me. A few people joined me at my level and we danced for a while. After my first night of dancing I started to receive comments. Mostly bewilderment that I was capable of moving my body in such a way, but also encouragement from people who admired my ability to not care what others thought. A few friends even told me that I’ve inspired them to also start dancing and letting go themselves. Score!
I’ve been dancing, a lot, for a few months now and it’s completely changed everything. Through the process of being completely open to judgment (and not caring!) it’s allowed me to open myself up to judgment in all areas of my life. It’s helped me to realize something exceptional about myself and my personality. I’ve come to the conclusion that as long as I’m a nice, caring person who isn’t causing anyone mental or physical harm, I can and should do whatever I want. I actually am funny and compassionate. I love listening most of the time and feel open to talking sometimes. I’m not a robot. I’m a weird human female who loves to dance and no longer cares when people judge me. Because I rule! I encourage you all to do the same. Your ability to loosen up and let go will do wonders for your self confidence and will inspire others around you to be themselves. Everyone wins!
The last step of my dancing experiment is to allow a group of internet strangers to see me dance with no one else at my side. The ultimate test of judgment. Without further adieu, enjoy this video of ol’ Meg dancing to Yacht’s Waste of Time and having a ridiculously good time.
My Non-Award-Winning Design Process
The recent incredible Draplin logo design process video from Lynda.com really got me thinking about sharing my design process (or lack thereof) with y’all. I think it’s really important that other designers share their processes as we all have different styles. Some may resonate with others. Aaron’s process was exceptionally inspiring and completely different from mine. so, here goes.
Design things in the order in which you are motivated.
Starting the design process can be incredibly intimidating. A lot of people struggle to know how to start a design. You hear from a lot of people who are sticklers about beginning the process with sketching, wireframing, conducting user interviews, looking at inspiration, going out in nature, joining a cult, and so on. I’ve simply had a hard time saying that one, and only one, method is where I start my process. It works best for me to wait patiently for a surge of motivation to come about a particular piece of the design process. I might be out drinking at 12am when I get a random surge of color inspiration. I’ll gasp and run over to my computer to quickly put together color palettes for a project that I haven’t yet started. Hours later, the sun comes up and I’ve finished an initial concept that I love. The key: motivation. I was so excited that I spent hours, which felt like minutes, working on the design.
If I find myself working on a design that I’m feeling bummed about. I’ll stop, do something else, and wait patiently for the motivation and excitement to come back. It always does, just not at the most opportune times. However, the final product is always worth it.
Oftentimes this means you’ll have to design out of the standard “by-the-book” order. Whatever, man! If you’re excited about designing a Twitter avatar before you’ve even started on the logo. Do it! Maybe this is where the mobile first technique came from. A guy who got excited about designing for mobile while taking a shower. “But I haven’t started on the desktop site yet!” he exclaims while lathering. “Screw it! I’m designing mobile first.”
I’m just saying, don’t worry about a concrete process. Let the motivation and excitement of inspiration guide you through the design work. Or don’t. It’s up to you.