Living the Dream

Forgive the radio silence!

I’ve titled this post “Living the Dream” because I think it’s important to note that even though I love being a user experience designer, it was never my dream to become one. Not my childhood dream, anyway.

Honestly, I’m not sure any child dreams of becoming a translator, as it were. A professional who facilitates projects via their soft skills and documentation to ensure features within a holistic system benefit and hopefully delight customers.

My childhood dream was to be a writer. I have wanted to write books for as long as I can remember.

  1. Historical fiction books
  2. Picture books
  3. How to books.

I wanted to create content and have people read it, enjoy it, and feel inspired to make something themselves. As of last Friday, I can now say that I am in the process of doing all three: children’s book, historical fiction, and how-to. I am living my dream.

I keep saying it because I want to remind myself. I am living my dream. How many people can say that?

Before I talk about the new project, first let’s get you updated on the project I last blogged about.

The How-To Book

The Sketchnote field guide book is coming along really well! The beta readers are liking the context and structure; they have great feedback and I’m feeling really encouraged about this project. I have to say, without Charlene McBride’s collaboration, this project wouldn’t be nearly as strong as it is. The survey people filled out for me back in August is what brought Charlene to me, and helped us focus the book.

I’m so excited to share it with people! It will definitely be on Lulu (they allow royalty splitting), and maybe on Amazon.com. We still need to figure that out. Keep your eyes peeled, though. We’re hoping to release it in January, just in time for conference season.

The Historical Fiction Book

Under my historical fiction pen name, I started a book four times before I felt like it was something worth writing. This fourth start has around 24k words, which is about 30% of the final word count. I’ve stopped writing because I realized I needed more research… ergo me dragging ten books home from the library about Ohio and the Civil War.

The Storybook

The new project I keep hinting at is a children’s storybook. I’ve loved the process of checking out thirty children’s books at a time, consuming them at a leisurely pace and asking 6yr old Binaebi what she liked about each one. I’ve loved reading the how-to-write for children books, learning the nuances between picture books and storybooks, the intentions of each, the intended age groups, and the parents that buy books for their children.

I’ve loved chatting about the project with my illustrator and collaborator,  who suggested we write about robots (because he loves them). I’ve felt inspired by his supportive enthusiasm when I insisted it be about a girl robot, and that it have something to do with dancing (because we both love dancing). The main character’s name is Beatrice, and that is about all I’m willing to share at this point. Maybe later I’ll leak some the sketches my collaborator has been sending me. They’re so adorable.

Anyway, at the risk of sounding like a broken record (does that idiom even apply anymore?), I just wanted to share that I’m living my dream. Why? I don’t know. I guess in the hopes that you might feel inspired to do something tonight or tomorrow that gets you one step closer to living your dream.

Making a Moment

As I dive deeper into the lindy hop and swing dance community, I can’t help but get a little meta about it, especially after witnessing the after-party from CBUS6 yesterday. You see, up until this past weekend, I’ve been the sort of community who attends the local events only; weekly and monthly dances.

This past weekend was CBUS6, i.e. the sixth lindy exchange based here in Columbus. It was a fantastic event, made awesome because the planning committee worked hard to make sure there was an equal number of followers and leaders. When the last official dance was over, I was invited to join the remaining locals at a committee member’s house to help eat the leftover food and hang out.

There were hardwood floors perfect for dancing in socks, so even though we had danced all weekend, we got to be really silly and dance like 1980s Cosby, do the mashed potato and the twist, and even the Jump On It dance (via The Fresh Prince of Bel Air).

I got to watch people whom I consider expert dancers talk about technique, which was certainly eye-opening because I don’t know the names to any of the moves that I do on the dance floor when I swing and lindy hop. I’m lucky in that I can pick up moves after a couple of trial runs, so I’ve never really had to take official lessons. Which is about the time the user researcher in me blinked and realized what was going on: I’ve been performing ethnographic research on this community since I joined in late August.

The swing dance community in Columbus, OH is amazing, hands down. The people are welcoming, fantastic dancers who don’t care about your skill level as long as you love to dance as much as they do. I knew there was much going on behind the scenes that I hadn’t access to, being a new member, so man, was it awesome to see these guys at work!

By the luck of simply being present, I got to watch as a new competition couple asked the advice of two veterans about their choice of song, and what they could do with it. Which brings me to the title of this post, “Making a Moment.”

As the five of us sat in a parked car on the side of a residential road listening to the chosen song of the new competition couple, one of the veteran dancers said, “This is a great song. You have the opportunity to have a lot of nice moments.”

I was struck by her choice of words. Moments? I had heard that word used before, in a very similar fashion. When I took ceramics, I made a piece called The Frog Prince. A ceramic masters student at the time walked past me while I was building the piece, complimenting me on the “great moments” I had captured.

 

I love this piece because it has humor. The prince puckers his lips, looking confident and hopeful. The girl, with her lip curled in disgust, leans as far back as gravity will allow before actually falling over. She is so desperate to reject his advances that her hair whips with the force of her movement.

I feel as though in the arts and artistic endeavors such as dance, we aim for making “moments.” The thing is, I’m still not entirely sure how to describe a “moment” to someone outside of the community, be it the ceramic, painting, drawing, or dancing community. Is it something perfectly captured in a sliver of time that triggers something in our minds and emotions? Is it something ephemeral, or is it static? I’m not entirely sure. Having heard this word used in two different, yet possibly related fields, it makes me wonder…

Could I make a “moment” in a website or physical design, i.e. something meant to be used, rather than observed? The moments mentioned earlier put the audience in a passive role: you study the ceramic piece; you watch (and cheer) the competing dance couple.

Perhaps making a moment in interaction design is too much like trying to make an experience, which just rubs me the wrong way. I can’t make an experience, because only the person having the experience knows if they are having an experience, or if they are simply experiencing something in a line of all the other somethings in their day. I can provide an environment which has a collection of variables which may very well lead to an intellectual/emotional/physical experience. But I can’t create the experience.

But it seems I can create a moment, at least with clay. So what is it I would have to do in order to capture a moment using technology as my medium?

Think, think, think…

The Art of Non-Conformity

I’ve been guzzling books lately, both fiction and non-fiction. It’s the non-fiction set that surprises me, as I’ve never really had an interest. That’s what Twitter and blogs are for. But The Art of Non-Conformity has been on my Amazon wishlist since the week it came out, and in a rash book-buying-extravaganza a couple of weeks ago, I received a copy. I just finished reading the last page. Here are my thoughts.

First, from a design perspective, the book is gorgeous. It feels good in your hands with its textured matte cover and raised print title. The branding evokes a sense of the 19th Century with its combination of serif and sans-serif, slab and the like. It just whispers, “I’m going to be a charming read. Take a chance. Pick me up.”

Inaction breeds doubt and fear. Action breeds confidence and courage. If you want to conquer fear, do not sit home and think about it. Go out and get busy. – Dale Carnegie

The book is peppered with inspiring quotes such as the one I pulled from page 60 of the paperback book. I’m a quote junkie, so point to Mr Guillebeau again. More importantly, this book highlights how a man who didn’t graduate high school managed to graduate with two bachelors degrees and a masters, travel the world (I believe he’s made it to over 100 countries), and start a revolution of people doing what they love and not allowing the naysayers to win.

I needed this book. I’m working full-time, and that’s great, because one of my goals once I graduated grad school was to build up my savings. I’ve almost reached my goal and I haven’t worked a full year yet. I wanted to replace my lemon of a car, Beeker, and I managed to do so without a car payment. I wanted to publish my historical fiction novel that I had put aside in order to do well in graduate school, and I did.

I needed this book to make it explicit to me that I’m already living a non-conforming life. Guillebeau gives the standard tips of not watching as much television, of not checking into social media as often, of getting out into the world and experiencing life. He emphasizes the importance of determining what it is you want out of life, because that is what will help you determine all the other decisions you have to make.

I still don’t know exactly what it is I want out of life. People tell me I have time to figure that out, but I disagree. The sooner I figure out what I want, the sooner I can start making decisions that will get me there. It’s not an end-all-be-all moment, for sure. And what I want out of life could certainly change. Which seems to be the point.

The subtitle of the book is “Set your own rules, live the life you want, and change the world.” It sounds ridiculously optimistic and naive, yet, Guillebeau’s doing it. And I, being a maker as well as a thinker, want to do the same. So thanks, Mr Guillebeau, for inspiring one more person to continue toward the long-tail goal of living the life she wants, whether it fits the norms of society or not.

Pilot Studies

There are a couple of great things about SteamPunk which I would like to share.

  1. True SteamPunks are all about sharing their knowledge of craft. For instance, I-Wei Huang wrote an article describing how your SteamPunk drawings can be more authentic… which has helped my sketching immensely for ceramics.
  2. People have no idea what it is, and when I describe it, they’re always excited. Or at least intrigued.
  3. If I decide to go SteamPunk for Halloween, I only have to buy goggles and potentially make a bustle because guess what, I already have the rest of the costume in my wardrobe. Sweet.
  4. There is so much information out there about SteamPunk for me to sift through, and most of it is entertaining.
  5. Did I mention there’s a SteamPunk Guide to the Apocalypse? I’m prepared. Are you?

All right, now let’s get a little more serious, here. This past week one of the first years, Robert Begley, engaged my topic. He asked me some great questions that helped crystallize some of my thoughts, and I wanted to document that somewhere, i.e. here at Siriomi Reflects.

Robert’s email:

Okay I have a couple questions 🙂 🙂
First off, are you focusing more on why people (self)customize, DIY, etc vs. buying the actual, branded, product or going to a professional to get something customized? Are you using Steampunk more as a reference in terms of.. well so for example in video games, in the genre, there tends to be customizations of weapons/tools/etc. You mentioned Bioshock for example, have you played it? Have you seen those “customizations”? I want to say Steampunk comes with the idea of the “mad scientist” where there is *only* one person who creates these “technological advances” in a non-technological world – or rather that it is more rare to see tech. So no commercialization obviously etc…
Is customization/DIY/hacking/<add another word here that relations> more of your focus?
I’m just trying to understand more of your focus and where Steampunk fits in ;p

My reply…

Excellent! I’m glad you’re asking these questions.

I’m focusing on why people self-customized through DIY. I’m using Steampunk as an example of the DIY movement, as the people who alter the aesthetics of their technology typically do it themselves… they have the skill set and apply it creatively to something that traditionally is bought and used without any particular customization (keyboards, monitors, iPhones, etc).

I have not played Bioshock, I had only just heard about it before speaking with you.

I see Steampunk almost as a rebellious movement against the homogenized technology that currently rules our world. I’m interested in that. Why are people rebelling against this? Why is it important for people to feel connected to the objects in their lives? Why do they take that extra step to customize/personalize/hack something, when others don’t?

But yes. I am interested in self-personalization, the creative motivations that go into DIY appropriation. Steampunk is merely my example of this, as there are plenty of people to interview, either online or in-person.

Thanks! This helped me clear up a lot of things. Let me know if you have any more questions.

Robert then surprised me by telling me a story about his own DIY dabbling, which is EXCELLENT, and a great pilot study example of DIY and some appropriation. I did a happy dance. I have yet to respond to his email because I’ve been running across state lines this past week, but that’s next on my To Do list. Just wanted to update on my capstone progress.

Come Again…

Well, after meeting with Shaowen it turns out that I don’t know, entirely, how to verbalize what I’m actually interested in. For instance, my previous post talks more about the communication between DIYers (ie Steampunkers as my case study) rather than the actual doing of DIY.

But I like the doing of crafting. The doing and the reflecting. How does this relate to HCI, though? I’m not sure yet. Maybe in terms of the process, and how it is different from the computer science way of producing. Everyone is a designer, right, in one form or another?

Shaowen admonished me to remember that this isn’t just about the doing of crafting, as the reflecting about the doing is as important to DIYers. It’s like how the Greeks saw wisdom as both the mind and the hand, rather than how we see it now, as mind (artist) being separate from hand (craftsman), where only the mind can be wise.

So maybe I’m looking at the tacit plus reflective knowledge, and what it means. How does it affect me as a person, my identity, my sense of creativity? I’m not sure. But class is about to begin and I like taking notes in my sketchbook, so I’ll have to pontificate more later.

Design Rationale behind the “Thought Box”


Jay Steele was interested to know my idea behind the bowls + box. After getting an excellent response from the in-class critique, I figured it was a good idea to post my (very informal) design rationale.

The interesting thing about the in-class critique was how my design sparked an animated conversation. Without knowing details, the class was able to abstract meaning by rearranging the bowls with the box, finding interpretations I hadn’t thought were explicit.

My favorite interpretation was the metaphor that each of the bowls had a spout of sorts, so you could, potentially, pour your thoughts from the bowls into the box. Eventually, the box would leak out the thoughts through that side hole… but never overflow the box.

I love it when someone “gets” the design.

Capture the Remarkable Details

Though I’m a computer engineer studying to be an interaction designer, and should feel more comfortable with technology than anyone else (it seems), I often feel overwhelmed and frustrated. The great thing about technology is that almost any information I could care and/or want to know is at my fingertips. The worst thing about technology is the very same. It can easily turn into noise-information.

How many hours have I wasted on Wikipedia learning information I didn’t actually need to know? How many hours have you wasted?

This noise problem, I feel, has similarities with the act or craft of writing in an explicit manner*. When writing a scene in a chapter, you could, if you wanted to, write every single detail. Your reason for doing this? To immerse the reader: they will have to feel like they are there with the characters if they can sense every detail about the surroundings, clothing, scent, etc. Right? Wrong. If you were to do this, it would be noise. Your readers would skip over that paragraph because it was fluff-laden information. Where is the meaning? As an example, why tell the reader the exact color of the clouds if…

  1. The character isn’t looking at the clouds in the first place,
  2. Even if the character was looking at the clouds, they probably don’t care, and
  3. The reader probably cares even less?

This is my problem with technology. Life as we know it today is riddled with the noise of knowing every detail about everything. We have lost the poetry of life. And maybe I’m a romantic, but I miss that poetry. I want my life to be poetic in the way of meaningful interactions and experiences.

Modern poetry is more often than not the written word at its most succinct, sparkling form. It takes the remarkable details of a moment and arranges them in a way that often conveys more meaning than an entire chapter describing the same thing.

So this is my question: can we do the same thing with technology? Can we create human-computer interactions in a way that emphasize the poetry of life? Can we create technological objects that capture the remarkable details that make something meaningful?

However we do this, I feel it must tie back to creating “an experience,” as described by Dewey, and it’s a challenge I look forward to undertaking.

*I received an undergraduate minor in English, and am taking a creative writing course for graduate credit this semester.

See my sketchnotes from the Discussion Club session that inspired this post.