Interview with Sharlene King, Product Designer at Morningstar Inc.

Cats, design humor, baby animals, giving a shit about what’s happening in the world, reppin’ the in-house life. Designer Sharlene King’s tweets (@typodactyl) are an accurate representation of IRL Sharlene, who I was amped to finally meet last month at Weapons of Mass Creation. Sharlene is a product designer at Morningstar Inc.—an independent financial research firm, not a purveyor of patties.

Sharlene’s spirited personality is infectious. She brings hilarity and insight to our industry’s most self-important Design Questions, making this interview a real treat.

Photo by Jason Schwartz of Bright Bright Great

Photo by Jason Schwartz of Bright Bright Great

First things first: the backstory

I heard about this a little bit before on the panel, but what’s your career-life story? How did you get from “hmm maybe I should be a designer” to working at Morningstar?

Actually, when I was a kid, I hated art. I thought it was bullshit, I didn’t like that there were no objective conclusions, like it’s a subjective discipline. I had wanted to pursue a career in genetic epidemiology. I went to a science high school, and you might have heard that part at the conference [Weapons of Mass Creation Fest]…and when I was 16 my family life went to hell because I was gay and my parents were—well at least my mom was very conservative and religious, and I ended up just leaving home. And it became impossible to stay in school, and the science path is really competitive. I just dropped out of high school and ended up working a lot of jobs you can get without a degree at age 16. They were all terrible. I ended up getting my GED after working as a guard at P.S. 1, and my mentor there, Bill Beirne—he was the Director of Education—really pushed me to get a GED and think about college. And he started pushing me towards even taking their free drawing program, and I applied to the Cooper Union outreach program. From there I got into art school, actually, on a scholarship for sculpture. Some really wacky stuff I did…I did welding and found garbage and making these just massive sculptures, so that was kinda fun. But it didn’t seem practical so I ended up taking a lot of classes in printmaking and vis comm. So I can still operate a Chieftan Heidelburg print press!

After college, what was your path like between there and now?

It’s kind of interesting, after college I started working at T.26, the type foundry. I wasn’t paid very well, I didn’t get along with the owners, I don’t think they’d even admit that I used to work there. But from there I started freelancing a lot. I freelanced for about five or six years. I had gone into that job thinking it would be great: it was a family owned business, working on a lot of thoughtful design. There was a lot of talent that had come out of there, a lot of strong work. And then it was really disillusioning that it didn’t meet my expectations. So for the next five, six years, I mostly tested the waters. I freelanced at almost every major agency in Chicago. I’ve worked for a variety of clients, some of them were really big, some of them were really small, and it was just a good way to see what fit. A couple years ago I was laid off from Acquity Group, and I had just reached my breaking point. I didn’t want to work for agencies anymore, it just didn’t seem like what I wanted to do, so I looked elsewhere. There was a company called SteelSeries, they do gaming geer for like World of Warcraft…there was a company called Centro, they do software for people who are media buyers.

The sounds like a fake thing, like an Office Space thing—“Centro”.

Yea, they’re actually pretty cool. I ended up going with Morningstar because it just seemed like a good segway from going from agency life to in-house or product design. They assigned me to redesigning their corporate website, which is something I did a lot of as an agency designer.

How did you stumble upon that job? Did you hear about it through the grapevine or were you specifically looking for jobs online somewhere?

So I was laid off, and I kind of announced it on Twitter and Facebook and some other places, and after a few hours I had a ton of emails from people who were like, “oh you should work here!”

If you’re dialed into the design community, no one wants to see you fail.

Oh, that’s so awesome!

Seriously, never underestimate the power of community. If you’re dialed into the design community, no one wants to see you fail. You can be a pretty big fuckup actually and people still want you to be okay.

People look out for each other. I feel like I get this question a lot from kids from UF [University of Florida] who are like, ‘should I join Twitter or Instagram or whatever’ and I say, join something and make it count, but specifically on Twitter, I see job postings all the same. Particularly around March this year, there was just stuff everywhere, gosh, hella jobs.

There’s actually an interesting job shortage right now. The jobs that we have plenty of are the jobs where we don’t have lots of potential employees. Like people graduating from school, they want to become logo designers, brand designers, they want to do big-name ads. That’s not what’s really available. What’s really available is software product, in-house design jobs. Those aren’t bad, but you need to be trained for them still. It’s kind of a bad disconnect. It’s really sad when I’m interviewing kids from the school I went to, and they’re like, ‘oh we didn’t learn about the internet’. And it’s like, I went to school ten years BEFORE you, and I still managed to learn about ‘the internet’, quote unquote. [Sharlene makes quote fingers]

Yea, I feel like that’s not an excuse, ‘we weren’t taught it’.

I’m not saying that the schools aren’t culpable for it, they need to be held responsible and incorporate more tech into their education programs, but you can’t also say I went through four years of really expensive schooling and say I never saw a need for digital.

That’s the friction, if you’re paying that much money you expect to actually get a strong career out of it, to be taught everything that you need to be taught, or at least covering the bases there…so it’s really frustrating to think that you have to teach yourself something. But I think that you’re always going to have to teach yourself something.

You know, it’s a hefty price tag. It’s something that demands a lot of reform, but at the end of the day, there are no promises. One of the reasons why I chose the Art Institute of Chicago is that it’s a pass/fail system, there’s no grading system. That leaves a lot of room to disagree with your teachers and not pay a price for it.

It’s tragic that so many of us go through life waiting for that congratulations, that affirmation, cause it’s never gonna happen.

That’s awesome. That makes real artists, right?

Right, and one of the things to think about is do you really go through life getting graded—you don’t. We’re in this mindset, after going through twelve, thirteen years of schooling, and you’re expected to perform certain tasks to get approval, and that’s just not how life works. It’s tragic that so many of us go through life waiting for that congratulations, that affirmation, cause it’s never gonna happen. With a pass/fail system, the only person who can say you’re not working hard enough is yourself…so we didn’t really have tech classes, but for me, I loved working in tech. I loved the idea of being able to have a website up and running in a day. Even back then there was Angelfire, Geocities, and the host I used has actually been with me since I was 16. So even before I had income, when I was dirt poor, it was only $3.95 a month to host a website, and that’s huge! You don’t need a $100 portfolio case, you just need a good website.

I find that so interesting that you were working on websites while you were working on those jobs that maybe weren’t what you wanted to do, because that’s one of those running in the background hobbies that I had too as a child. Like oh, you’re just making websites and doodling around the internet and your mom is yelling at you to get off the computer, and you have no idea that’s the thing you’re going to do.

Yea, I think a lot of people put too much stock into the whole “it’s a calling, it’s your life dream because it brings you a lot of joy’. Something that’s a small part of your life can evolve into something that eats up a huge part of your life. How I got started, really, into design is because I loved punk rock. I was also a really angry teen…and when someone like Amadou Diallo gets shot 41 times by cops, and when you want to make sure the right information gets in front of people, it’s much easier to throw up a website than try to get a newspaper to pay attention to your one voice.

And that’s something you did?

Yea, and Angelfire, because it’s free, it’s like…your band needs to get information out about when they’re playing their shows, done. It’s not even like a half hour of work, it’s out there.

In a marquee, probably.

Right, with animated GIFs and tiled backgrounds. But you know, it’s so empowering to be able to do that. A few years ago when the Chicago teachers went on strike, it took me about only eight hours but I put together a website,, and it was a collection of all these articles I used to form my opinion. I tend to collect as many viewpoints as I can about a subject, and it sounds so simple but a lot of people really don’t do that.

It’s hard work, you know?

Right, and that’s why I like putting these sites together. Because I feel like when someone has put together the research for them, people are much more willing to read the material.

Yea, because you don’t have enough time to ingest all the things you would like to—or the emotional energy. Sometimes people get so overwhelmed by all the terrible things that they just shut down.

It’s hard to sift through stuff. There’s actually a really interesting quote…Edgar Allen Poe used to be totally against the printing press, he was against mass printing of books because he thought the average person would have to sift through too much garbage to find good literature.

“The enormous multiplication of books in every branch of knowledge is one of the greatest evils of this age; since it presents one of the most serious obstacles to the acquisition of correct information by throwing in the reader’s way piles of lumber in which he must painfully grope for the scraps of useful lumber.”

—Edgar Alle Poe, Marginalia, 1840-1849, as quoted in Gorton Carruth and Eugene Ehrlich, The Harper Book of American Quotations, Harper & Row, 1988 p. 35

Hahaha, the Internet!

It’s like centuries old. People used to say that TV was much worse than books, you should read. And back then, Edgar Allen Poe’s like, “no, you shouldn’t read because you’ll find your mind with garbage!”

Fill it with my garbage!

Right, it’s a funny circle, you know? But was funny because The Tribune these days has a lot of criticism for the Chicago Teachers Union. Back then, all these articles that I’d been reading up until the strike, they were always FOR the teachers, because the politicians are screwing up the education system so bad. I don’t know what flipped the switch for them, but it was fun to put together all these quotes from The Tribune contradicting what they were saying at that time.

That’s really fun. So the jobs that you held when you left home as a teenager, do you think that experience has any particular impact on your role as a designer or your outlook on what you do?

Oh totally. I think it’s actually a little unexpected but I think it’s made me a much more sympathetic designer. I think about 10 years ago when you were designing a website and you’re like, I want it to be a smaller website so people on a slower connection can see it, people would often say things like “we don’t want those kinds of people, they’re not going to buy our stuff” implying basically poor website users weren’t really valuable. Nowadays it’s easy to be like “oh I guess you don’t want that person on an iPhone in an airport?” Rich people have slow connections too but at this point do you really want to turn away money out of snobbery?

The thing about the iPhone is that some families, all they have is cellphones, because they just didn’t have the funds to get a computer, Internet set up at home. But they need a way to communicate with each other, and the phones are just simpler. I knew someone who taught in a rural school in South Carolina, and he was like, yea, everyone that I teach, they’re all below the poverty line, but they all have cellphones.

It’s a new phenomenon.

It’s very interesting to see. It’s like green energy in developing countries. They’re able to implement that way better than us because they’re leapfrogging, they don’t have to fight against a grid.

Sharlene at Morningstar, Inc.

So you’re currently working on the redesign of the Morningstar website. That’s what they hired you on to do, or that’s one task?

Yea, that’s what they hired me on to do. That’s the team I’m on. I don’t know if when we complete it I’ll be moving to a different team or if I’ll stay with this team. Right now, because it’s such a long-term process, that’s my main focus.

I imagine it’s pretty challenging because you have all these different sorts of data on there that need to be presented to clearly. Can you speak to any challenges that you’ve had to work through?

The biggest challenge is…our proprietary product is research. Our unique algorithms, our unique data models. That sort of thing gets applied across different vehicles. Stocks versus bonds, versus funds, versus closed-end funds, versus exchange-traded funds…there’s all sorts of investment options. That doesn’t even include retirement plans, college savings plans. Those specific bodies of research are produced by different departments within Morningstar. So we have to work with all those different teams and make sure they’re getting their product put up as best as possible. On top of that, we also have to work with our marketing and advertising departments to make sure they’re getting their needs met, too. Even though we’re doing our work as one company, it’s like we have ten, twelve different clients.

That’s funny because people are sometimes like, oh, I want to shift away from client work, I want to maybe do a tech startup, and it’s like, we still have clients. We just call them different things, we call them “department heads”.

In the startups’ case, they’re customers. You got hundreds and hundreds of people complaining about you instead.

Yea, and leaving you one-star ratings on your app like, “this crashed a million times!” Everyone likes to believe that their number one client is the end user, but it’s so easy to lose sight of that. You’re trying to please yourself, your client, your internal team, and you’re stillll trying to reach that person [the end-user] but it’s clogged, you know?

…when you buy a quarter-inch drill bit, you’re not buying a quarter-inch drill bit, you’re buying a quarter-inch hole. That’s the end result you really want.

…so I was wondering if you could generally speak to the process you guys are using to design the website?

We’ve started with the jobs-to-be-done methodology, it’s a really cool way of researching how users are trying to solve for their specific problems. The big phrase that gets thrown around a lot is when you buy a quarter-inch drill bit, you’re not buying a quarter-inch drill bit, you’re buying a quarter-inch hole. That’s the end result you really want. That’s something that get translated into other things. If you buy a third-inch drill bit and you wanted that quarter-inch hole, do you blame yourself? If it’s mislabeled, what happens? Computers are a huge one. Buying a computer is a huge choice. People first worry about the brand, then they worry about the power, and how much memory it might have, how much storage capacity it has. They’re made up of many, many different parts from many different brands. When you look at the specs at a Best Buy, you may not get the complete picture unless you put computers together yourself. That’s not why you buy a computer, you buy a computer because your current one is really slow and you want to watch Netflix better. Or now that your kid’s in college they need to do all this research and carry their laptop with them to classes. You’re not buying performance, you’re buying for the task.

So our first year was researching how users want to use a financial research website. We used the jobs-to-be-done methodology to get down to what we think will make things easier for them and downright delightful. There’s something really deeply satisfying over having control over your financial future.

Well that’s really interesting, the timeline aspect, because I didn’t know that you guys were working that far in the future where what you’re doing for a year is researching. How long do you think the process will take from start to finish, first research to that tweet where you guys are like, “hey! We have a new website!”

That’s the thing, because it’s an enterprise website, we want to shy away from this lightswitch approach. Users tend to respond badly to sudden changes. Anyone who uses Facebook can say every time there’s a change, my followers seem to be pretty mad about it. Even if you think it’s a great change, most people have to go through a learning curve. In our case, we’re really rolling out a lot of staggered changes. I would say it would be about five years before our website is completely new. In the meantime, we have changes that are rolling out between one year, two years, three years, four years, to keep it manageable, and also because we’re transitioning from one platform to a new platform.

Oh, that’s interesting too. And just trying to figure out how the content team plugs things into certain holes and how that gets out into the aesthetic part of the website is always challenging.

So you have this jobs-to-be-done method, but how do you decide on a granular level what to work on or how to manage your time? You are Sharlene, on a Monday, who decides what you’re doing that week?

I kind of decide. We have a pretty horizontal structure on our team. Right now we have three designers and we’re working on different parts of it. Because I’m the visual designer that’s been on the team longest, I’m rolling out the changes that are refactoring of the current site, because I have a stronger understanding of the current site. Other people are working on future states. We’re all working together, we have regular check-ins with each other to see how things are going. I usually tend to decide my tasks based on how the development team is chugging along. I want to be about one or two sprints ahead of them, so they’re not waiting for me to finish a design that they can develop. We use an agile style of work.

How many developers are there?

I want to say about 20. There’s a good amount because a big part is transition from the old platform to the new platform, so we also have on-site vendors who are helping us out.

So that’s like 6 people per designer. My next question is who are you working with on a daily basis? You’ve kind of answered that, you’re working with developers, other designers…

Business analysts, project managers, and my supervisor.

Yea, that’s the other side I was interested in, people who are working on content.

Oh yea, we’re also working with content editors. I’m also working closely with the editorial team. Really, in the end, they’re the ones who are going to have to use the CMS portion of it. We want it to make sense to them. Also, they have the clearest idea of what content will mean to the end user.

You’ve been an outspoken proponent for designing in-house. What are the benefits of joining an in-house team?

The thing I love most is I know who I’m working for. In the agency life, you’re not quite sure who the client will be or which project manager you’ll work for. At the end of the day, you’re just shooting out work. You don’t have the time to get invested in the client. Maybe at a branding agency where you have a longer relationship with the client.

At Morningstar, I know who I’m working for all the time. There’s a loyalty that’s there that’s different in an agency setting.

And you could get stuck on a huge account that you “hate”.

Right, and it’s hard to have that kind of control. At Morningstar, I know who I’m working for all the time. There’s a loyalty that’s there that’s different in an agency setting. We have our own problems, but it’s a different set of problems, and problems I’d rather have than my previous professional life.

How important do you think it is to be jazzed about what the company does, for someone who chooses to work in house?

I don’t think you have to be jazzed, to be honest. I think it depends on your threshold. For me, I really want to feel connected with the product. I want to see myself using the product. I want to see the product helping people I know. Otherwise it’s very difficult for me to be passionate about the work. That said, there was a lot of work that I did in the agency world that I was neither passionate about nor products I would ever use, nor support. That doesn’t mean my work was bad, it just means I was emotionally distant from the work. I still produced good work, and some of my best work, actually. It’s different, though, to feel connected to your work.

Were you interested in finances at all before joining Morningstar, or are you more into the helping-people aspect?

To be honest, I just didn’t know a lot about finances before Morningstar. And it suddenly made sense to me. When I was a freelancer I did annual reports. As a designer you don’t really think about it but if you stare at an an annual report long enough, you really learn a lot about a company. And that’s the basic information you can use to make good investing decisions. A lot of times, good investments are based on the valuation of a company, the history of a company. Something like Twitter: some people may think Twitter is a good investment, but Twitter is not making much money right now. They’re not making that money but their stock is actually really overvalued. There’s something called price over earnings. And their projected price over earnings is really bad, it’s really high. It means you might only earn $1 for every $371 you invest. That’s terrible when you can just go with a company like Apple, where it’s something like $1 for $16.

Or something completely unsexy, like rubber bands. I don’t know, something boring and really stable.

Facebook is actually really stable. That’s because they have a solid network, and they have a solid method of making money, which is their ad platform. It’s kind of funny, I don’t think a lot of user realize this, that they’re the product. Advertisers are buying them. It’s just like television or radio.

It gets so absurd sometimes, I see t-shirts for “I’m just a South Carolina girl living in a Seattle world” and I’m like really?! It just measures where have you lived, okay, serve this specific t-shirt ad. Like “Pennsylvania Gator girl”. Oh, I guess that’s all my life history there. But it’s really creepy. Never order a Jimmy John’s sandwich because you’ll hear about it for the rest of your life.

So what excites you, generally?

Oh, like everything really. I think I’m one of the most excitable people in the world. I get the giggle over dancing dogs, I love cats if you didn’t know that, food—I love eating any kind of food, whether it’s White Castle or super fancy three-Michelin Star restaurants. Food is one of the easiest way to share stories with people. You can bond with total strangers over the love of food. That gets me really jazzed. Also just sharing connections with people. Everything can be really interesting if you think about it, something as mundane as…

Saltine crackers?

We can pick something even more mundane, like…matchbooks! No one uses matchbooks anymore. But there’s this whole cult group of people who collect matchbooks. Phillumenists. People just collect these matchbooks, and I collect them too, as a result. You end up meeting really weird people on eBay, you end up collecting all these great examples of old typography. And it’s a culture that doesn’t exist anymore because people don’t use matchbooks. They don’t smoke in bars or restaurants like they used to.

Repping the Chicago design scene

Outside of work, you’re the Programming Director for AIGA Chicago. How’d you get involved with the AIGA?

I was volunteering for their mentorship program as a group leader for a few years. I really liked it because it was free for people to join and you didn’t have to be a member. I thought that was really cool because for a long time I thought of the AIGA as a pretty exclusionary professional group, and they’ve made a lot of headway into try to be accessible to people. Right now, you only need to spend $50 a year to be a member. It used to be $3- or $400 a year, I think. It was only until a month before that I was asked to join that I became a member. That’s how I got involved. I really love the Chicago AIGA community, and I think AIGA needs some help in reorganizing how they handle programming. Ultimately that will benefit the Chicago design community. There are a lot of people who want to see certain things get off the ground, like certain events, certain programs, and I just want to make sure AIGA with their resources is there to help them. Usually all someone needs is figuring out where a venue is, and some basic logistics, and we’ve got that covered. More and more, people today are coming together to solve problems on their own, they’re not waiting for an organization to do it for them.

There are a lot of people who want to see certain things get off the ground, like certain events, certain programs, and I just want to make sure AIGA with their resources is there to help them.

What do you do, exactly, as Programming Director?

Right now, I mostly try to provide support who people who are Event Chairs or Programming Chairs, and make sure their events are going off without a hitch. Right now I’m trying to develop a training program so volunteers aren’t perpetually volunteering to check people in at the door. They’re actually able to learn different skills and get involved in a way that contributes to their careers. If someone is a junior designer at an in-house firm, they may not be learning how to manage a team of people quite at the same pace as someone who’s at an agency. Or someone who’s at an agency may have too much on their plate before they can learn how to do something more casual, where they can just get to know other designers. Or freelancers are working by themselves and want to meet other designers. I’m trying to make sure they’re all able to do that.

That’s awesome, trying to use people’s skills in a way that benefits the organization the most but also engage them in the way that benefits them the most. And that’s the point of the AIGA in the first place.

Right, and they’re volunteers, we’re not paying them money. So we want to give them something that normally they’d have to pay someone else to give them.

Do you have any exciting events on the horizon?

Oh yea. We’ve got a panel coming up, and I’ve got a really good set of speakers ready to go. And I’m working to get the tech DJ from WBEZ Chicago to be the moderator, and I think it’ll be really fantastic. We’re also working on right now getting a few really awesome designers to do some events for us in the spring, like Friends of Type. We’ll see how that goes. Alan Pieders, you know. I don’t know why everyone stacks events in the fall, everyone’s freaking busy, so I was thinking we could do some in the springtime, when everyone has free time?

Hey! Imagine that!

Novel idea!

And that’s a good idea, too, for people who are about to graduate. They can kinda get a head start in getting involved in the community.

Of Tumblr blogs and the meaning of life

You maintain a few different Tumblrs, which one has been most enjoyable?

Probably Cuddle. That’s the one that’s just pictures of random animals cuddling each other in some capacity. I will, on my stressed-out days, look at all the old entries because it makes me feel better. And that one has 4k followers, I’m not sure, it’s a lot.

So we should have a kitten index for you, however many kittens show up in your Twitter feed, that’s how stressed you are?


That one’s really fun. Design Conference is kind of snarky but it’s not actually the most enjoyable, it’s just kind of saddening.

Design Conference, an exploration in snark

Design Conference, an exploration in sarcasm

Snark hurts everyone. Do you have any new Tumblr ideas floating around/usernames you’re squatting on? Or do you make a Tumblr blog as soon as you think of it?

As soon as I think of it. There’s one I’ve been slowly posting to, it’s every logo as a circle, just Helvetica Bold, all caps, and the brand colors, and a circle. I just take really common design trends I see and I make them into Tumblrs. And I make them into Tumblrs, like, what if every logo looked like this trend? We fall into this trap as designers where we fall into a trend, and we go with it, and we critique other designs against that trend, which is really silly. Those trends are really temporary. People really like sloppy hand lettering right now. I don’t know what the longevity of that is, but if every logo looked like that, it would get really boring. It would no longer fit individual clients.

Someone was talking about earlier how we are interested in the 90s and putting a spin on that. I think it was Cranbrook Academy that was doing the whole blehhh messy, ungridded design aesthetic. Now I see a lot of website like that, they’re minimally styled but they don’t have much of structure, it’s just photos layered in seemingly random layouts, and it’s like how much thought has been put into that? It doesn’t seem very considered. I think that’s going to feel dated, much like that messy 90s style.

To be honest, I think there’s room for it. The stuff legends are made out of—Vignelli, Paul Rand—they’re not designing stuff that gets dated. You can make good money crafting the same stuff over and over again. You’re not designing if you’re just repeating the same task over and over again. There’s money and if you love what you’re doing, more power to you.

I feel like that’s one of the dangers, actually, of the really fast pace of client-based work, that you fall back on your bag of tricks because you don’t have the time to reinvent with every project. I guess that’s where personal projects come in, bang out your frustrations there.

One of your Tumblr blogs pokes fun at trite design conference messaging. Is there an addage that you find particularly obnoxious or possibly harmful?

I don’t think that any of them are particular bad. What I don’t like is that they’re often given by people who aren’t following that advice themselves. Or they’re in a position where they’re giving the advice recklessly. Like someone who is like, “you can always move back in with your parents” and they happen to be from a nice neighborhood in Connecticut. That sounds all well and good, but for most people, that’s not really good. People drop a lot of details in those design conference talks. They talk about quit your job if you hate it, but they don’t talk about what you should prepare for. They don’t talk about what your backup plans should be, or how to save up to that point where that’s feasible. Or if you aren’t prepared at all, what’s going to happen. And that’s just reckless.

And that’s where much of the richness from design conferences comes in. Not listening to the person who’s on stage, although that’s very fulfilling and interesting, a lot of times it’s the conversation we have gathered around tables chatting with your friends. That’s the sort of stuff that actually comes up: “yea, I went freelancing a little while ago and it was tough…”. That’s where you learn a lot from each other.

This weekend I thought the best talks were Martine Syms and Veronica Corzo-Duchardt, because they talked about process. When you read an interview with a musician, do you care about motivation, or do you want life advice from them? Or do you care about their process? Because you things take away from them, and there’s a transparency to it, you can take what fits your life and improve yourself based on that. That’s a lot more useful than someone who’s giving a lot of platitudes that are so generalized that they don’t actually fit with anyone.

It’s that balance where you have to bring in life experiences and talk through those, but you don’t want to get so granular where you’re just showing slides of your work. That’s why Martine’s talk was so interesting, all the different ways she gets her ideas into the world.

But she was talking about how she has a list of works about how she wants to feel, and if she doesn’t feel that way she has to reroute. One of the most surprising things about that were the words she chose, “luxurious” and “empowered”, those are surprising to me.

I think she thinks about those a lot differently than most of us, though.

If you’re not taking care of yourself, if you’re not fulfilled and secure and practicing self-care, how can you possibly help someone else?

I don’t think “luxurious” is usually used in a noble way, but when she was saying it, I was thinking that is kind of noble, self-love. That’s really hard for a lot of people, and really worth doing because you can be a more productive member of society.

It’s kind of like on the airplane when they give instructions on how to put an air mask over your face, and to do it before you put it over the child’s face. If you’re not taking care of yourself, if you’re not fulfilled and secure and practicing self-care, how can you possibly help someone else? It’s often ignored, people make themselves into martyrs, thinking they’re helping the world, but it’s like, you’re not really. Just because you’re really upset about things and stressed out doesn’t mean you’re helping more than anyone else, it just means you’re suffering.

No amount of caring points can change something.

There are a lot of giving people who sacrifice a lot but they’re happy doing that. That’s very different from someone who’s unhappy and they’re using that as a crutch to say the world needs me. The world doesn’t really need anyone. I’d hate to say it but if I died right now, the world would move along just fine without me.

And I’d have a really awkward time for the next day or so.

Probably! But I think I am contributing to the world, but I also don’t think my death would result in the collapse of the world. Or of anyone in my life. It might be sad.

Yea, it’s interesting, people talk about finding something meaningful to do, but I don’t think we all have to do something “meaningful”.

Well it’s personal, do you need to do something that’s embedded in history, your name forever on the tip of everyone’s tongue? Is that what meaningful mean to you? Or does it mean, “I’m improving everyone’s lives in a small amount”? Is it I’ve improved the lives of a handful of people or I’ve saved a couple of lives? I think there’s some occupations where it’s much more direct. An oncologist, for example, probably has a much more deep impact on the people who come into their lives. As a designer, I couldn’t compare myself to somewhat like that. But I do think my work has impacted some people. Maybe it’s a small amount, but I feel like that has made my life meaningful.

There’s so much bad stuff happening all the time that the small gestures of genuine and sincere goodness are not only readily received but they’re bear-hugged.

[Really long, protracted story about Lady Gaga and her music and persona as a safe haven for struggling teens]

When people do things that are meaningful to them, or things they love, they will be surprised at how little it takes to impact others. It really doesn’t take much. People are waiting for positive things to happen in the world with open arms, because it’s a shitstorm out there. There’s so much bad stuff happening all the time that the small gestures of genuine and sincere goodness are not only readily received but they’re bear-hugged. We can’t wait for good things to happen.

All the fun things

Well, how about you? Do you have any close held beliefs about design or what you do for a living?

I think about that a lot. I haven’t found a good answer yet…I really do enjoy my life right now. I don’t think I’ve been happier. I love where I work, I have a pretty cool girlfriend, I get to go to the beach and hang out with other people’s dogs, ‘cause I’m allergic to dogs. That was a bummertown to learn. But I think that only made me like dogs more.

I can’t haaaave you!

SNUGGLE! But yea, there’s a lot of good stuff going on. There’s a lot of bad stuff, but it’s nice that it doesn’t take much to change it. This stuff that’s happening in Ferguson, Missouri, right now is really heartwrenching. For so many reasons. And a simple gesture like posting the governor’s phone numbers to Twitter, I got something like 300 retweets off that. When I first called the governor, no one picked up at his office and—oh sorry, at his mansion, and I got his voicemail at his office. And by around midnight, all of the sudden there were people at both numbers picking up.

Which means, other people were calling!

Yea! And we have people faxing, because their fax numbers were posted and there’s so many free fax services on the internet.

That’s really fun. I really like that idea, of them having a pile of paper like dddjjjjt djjjjjjt.

Yea it’s a really fun idea, because it’s so analog. We’re really mad!! But it’s really that there’s so much satisfaction and impact so quickly.

*stage whisper* The future is now! Okay, so who took those awesome cat profile photos of you?

Jason Schwartz at Bright Bright Great. He did it for a poster he was putting together for the AIGA Centennial show.

And those have been met with an overwhelming positive responsive.

Yeah, people have been really jazzed about them.

I saw those and thought, those are my favorite thing ever.

They’re my favorite thing ever, too.

You’ll be fifty and still using them.

Or I’ll just have him reshoot them.

Oh, that would be so cool. There’s this guy that does Christmas cards with his cat every year with a different theme. That could be youuuu!

Do you have any goals for the future or things you want to try that you haven’t gotten your hands on yet? Or more things you want to keep doing?

Oh, I actually have so many projects lined up. I’m trying to learn how to do node.js, it’s a backend version of Javascript, because I have all these app ideas I want to launch myself. That’s the next big one.

That’s awesome to learn JS instead of Ruby on Rails, because I don’t think you need any crazy hosting, like Heroku or trying to set it up on your own server and killing the whole thing.

Nope. Nope. NOPE.

Are there any badass ladies inspiring you lately?

Uhh all my friends, I guess.

Oh, cool answer!

Jana Kinsman's Bike-a-Bee

Jana Kinsman’s Bike-a-Bee

Jana Kinsman is always a great inspiration, she’s a BEEKEEPER who uses a BIKE and goes around Chicago. Ahh, it’s just awesome. Honey’s great. And it’s such a great benefit to the urban environment. Bees are kinda dying off. She also does this thing where she goes and saves butterfly chrysalises. Because a lot of places mow milkweed before these Monarch butterflies can hatch. This is awesome! This is so rad!

There’s also my friend Victoria Pater, she’s such an awesome designer. She always so positive! She’s so different from me so I feel like when I’m around her, I approach her for advice on stuff and I’m going to get a solid, honest answer. It may not be what I had originally thought of at all.


Many thanks to Sharlene King for good conversation! Check out Sharlene’s site for a master list of Tumblrs and ways to get in touch.