Graphic Novels


One of the best things about being designer, is that everything I see and experience in life can factor into my work. 

Recently, I’ve been getting into graphic novels – especially those by Marjane Satrapi, Guy Delisle, and Jason

As someone with a fine art practice background and interest in non-money making hobbies (such as teaching yoga), I am naturally interested in ways that people cultivate their creative practice while being financially fit. It humbles me to see people with great talent and dedication, stay with the thing they love to do, even if that means trading a bit of financial security. 

I came across a 2-year old post by cartoonist Lars Martinson about How to Self-Publish a Graphic Novel in 8 Hard Steps that gives a glimpse into the practical dedication necessary.


Lots of books out there talk about product development methodologies, but not many come from a designer’s point of view.

Scott Belsky understands the whims and tendencies of designers, and has advice on how to realize ideas.

In order to execute, the founder and CEO of Behance, says, designers must be able to overcome the creative mind’s tendencies to think of random ideas and actions. Although it might feel unintuitive, it’s necessary to stop thinking and just do the work necessary to finish the piece of work.

Belsky is also an advocate of making ideas public. Desginers may fear that the original idea will be diluted when it is shared to many people. But, the cost of variation from own vision is outweighed by benefits of shared ownership and scalability.

Overall, the book is about structuring the work process to let creative ideas materialize and yield results.

Lots of creative projects and people are mentioned as reference. Benjamin Franklin’s daily routine was simple and disciplined. Ji Lee is said to have worked on eight or more projects in parallel, a number that would require excellent project management skills.


I’d like to jot down some things I’ve learned over the course of the year as a work newbie. Here’s #4:

4. Create a backlog for all the things you need to do, then prioritize them

At work, my project ran on an Agile development method called Scrum.

Scrum is a methodology for software development, which helps the team get visible, working results every 2~3 weeks.

This method is great for the prototype-driven attitude, where the product needs to work first, and the rest of the details can be tuned.

This method gets products out to the market fast, and works in the software industry where products can be updated after deployment.

Anyways, Scrum comes with predefined rules, and there are even books written about how to carry out this process.

One of the rules that turns out to be useful in general daily life as well as product development, is the use of the Product Backlog.

A backlog is a list of everything you know you have to do, ordered by priority.

Now, this idea of a prioritized list is useful in life, when you have millions of different things swarming around in your head, but together, they just make noise.

1. Get a text-editor, or Post-Its, and write each of your to-do items down as a brain dump.

2. You should be satisfied to have untangled the various ideas in your head

3. Now, order these individual tasks by most to least important.

4. Focus on your life for the next week or two. How much time will you have available to do things on this list?

5. Estimate how long each of your tasks will take.

6. Commit yourself to the top tasks, and don’t commit to more than you have time for.

7. At first, your estimation of tasks might be a bit off, because there’s always the unexpected, or a seemingly simple task may snowball into something big. As time goes by, you will learn how to “chunk” tasks better, into manageable bits.

If you’re at all like me, with a “divergent” though pattern (likes to spread out ideas and brainstorm, but isn’t really good at choosing just one), then this prioritization method can help a lot.

Do you ever get that tingling feeling of adrenaline rushing through your body, when you realize that you’ve set yourself up to do more than you can possibly do in a given amount of time? Well, using the estimation process, you don’t have to feel rushed or nervous about the amount of time you have. I’ve learned that that tingling feeling, no matter how exciting it can feel at times, isn’t a good thing. It usually turns out to be a sign that you won’t be done on time.

Made by humans


I’d like to jot down some things I’ve learned over the course of the year as a work newbie. Here’s #3:

3. Don’t underestimate the resources it takes to create the most basic product

Based on my decades-old experience as a consumer, objects simply existed out of the blue.

To elaborate, plastic Happy Meal figurines from McDonald’s originated from the paper bag behind the store counter,

meat at the grocery store came from styrofoam dishes wrapped in Saran Wrap, and

Wonder bread came from a white bag printed with colorful balloons.

As for web sites like Google and Yahoo!, the screens simply existed on my monitor.

And these pages were available within milliseconds of a request.

One of the big discoveries that I made at work was that actual human beings made these digital layouts and pages.


Of course, I don’t think I really really believed that these web products existed without human’s creating them.  But, I just wasn’t able to imagine the extent to which each pixel and column width is scrutinized and thought over by people poring over their monitors and printouts.

There must be a physical law that proves that things take a tedious amount of time to prepare, and a miniscule amount to devour or consume. If there isn’t, I think I can create one for the product industry.

A typical day of the illustrator guy in my team includes zooming into a 24X4-pixel icon by 2000% and adjusting the opacity of each 1X1 pixel square.

Once, I had a friend call and ask for 100 icon illustrations within the next two days, or sooner, if possible. What experience teaches, is the ability to determine that this request is insane. Experience also grants the confidence to be able to tell that friend, “no. Let’s look into what you’re really asking for.”  From a binary mindset, to answer the question, “can it be done, or can’t it?” — one would answer “of course it can be done”.  From a design point of view, which requires a qualitative assessment of the work needed, the answer is that “it can’t be done well enough to be worth showing to users. Let’s schedule this properly.”

As part of the design program at Stanford, my class took some contact improv lessons from a dance instructor. He described the body as a filter – the mind runs faster than the body can. And, the limitations of the body filters our thoughts into things that are physically doable.  I think of the role of designers is like the body.  We filter the sprawling ideas of product managers and ourselves, in order to create tangible things.  And while there is a magical part to seeing something materialize, project team members need to be informed that this magic is actually done by humans, and that it takes time.

Useful advice on how to make sense of complex negotiating situations. For people who have no clue how to think of negotiations as “games,” this book provides instructions. For example, the important elements to gain an upper hand on are, TIME, KNOWLEDGE, and POWER. You also need to realize that seemingly Official rules were the results of negotiations at some point in time.  Thus, you can challenge these official rules when doing so is to your advantage.  On the other hand, you can use the power of appearing legit, to your advantage: “See? It’s printed in article 4.3 in this document.” Overall, in general, you need to have an attitude, and believe in your pursuit.

I’d like to jot down some things I’ve learned over the course of the year as a work newbie. Here’s #2:

2. Don’t be afraid of awkward silence, when negotiating schedules

by Leo Reynolds

When my team started on a project, the engineers and project managers didn’t seem to understand that we needed TIME to design page layouts and modules. They were focused on the functionality, and attention to form-making seemed very weak.
Consequently, we were often asked to do the impossible: “Can you come up with a design for this page, and deliver it ASAP? We’re making this request now, but it’s already late. Can you do it ASAP? The engineers are waiting and the front end coders are without work before you give them something to code.”

It was frustrating as user experience designers, to have to argue for the value of our existence and our rights to a proper schedule.

Still, when it came to negotiating deadlines with other functions in our project team, it was very difficult to give into the pressure of time. It was somehow our fault that we needed time to design things. We knew this atmosphere had to be corrected by educating the whole team about the design process. But, to me as a newbie, it was physically difficult to endure the presence of a roomful of people surrounding my little team, or to withstand a long silence of tension over the phone, if we were setting commitments over a conference call. I was constantly feeling apologetic to everybody about having become the burden and the obstacle to a speedy execution.

One of the best things I learned from my boss is how to handle pressure gracefully. She, my boss, is a composed human being. By nature, she is never rushed or moody. It’s a mystery as to how she never seems to get angry or upset. I once did see her get disappointed over an employee, but never have I seen her visibly emotional.

Anyway, when I first joined her team, the long awkward silences that she created in phone conferences would make me antsy and restless in my chair. Our project manager would be on the other line, overseas, and we’d be sitting in our office with the mute button. The project manager would be asking us to deliver some designs at too tight a deadline, and we would try to get more time. The PM would suggest a date, and we’d just wait for minutes, in silence. (or, we’d be discussing amongst ourselves over the muted speakers) This prolonged silence, with tension, was uncomfortable.

by Leo Reynolds

But, by focusing on our needs first and calmly discussing our timeline helped us create the proper designs and deliver results, which everybody was satisfied with at the end. If we had negotiated a schedule that we felt nervous about, then the situation would have only gotten worse.

There are times when I think that user experience design can be better integrated into an agile development process — without us having to be the black swan(or, rather, sheep!) that behaves differently and demands things that the others don’t. But that’s a different story.

According to negotiator Herb Cohen, you should not to be the first to break the awkward silence. The other side will finally have to say something, thus giving you valuable information that may give you an edge in the negotiation. The scheduling part for a project is the stage where you make your bed before lying in it. If it’s not done right, the whole thing can go awry. To do it right, you need to negotiate with your teammates, and sometimes you need to protect your team by not giving into emotional pressures. Enduring long awkward silences in the process, takes courage and self-confidence.

Being jobless straight out of school could make you feel like you're out on the streets wandering in the cold. (photo from flickr user Runs with Scissors)

I’d like to jot down some things I’ve learned over the course of the year as a work newbie. Here’s #1:

1. It’s not just your fault. Getting hired takes luck

Applying to a bunch of jobs to no avail right after college took a hit on my morale and self esteem at first. It was also humbling and made me reassess the value I’d thought I was adding to society.

“Nobody needs me! I can just go to that corner and disappear quietly. Nobody will notice,” said my inner wino.  Smart people told me to think proactively, by coming up with ways to make people realize that they need my services. Then, I could plant the idea in the employers heads, Inception style.  But, I  honestly couldn’t imagine a way. Especially not if I wanted to be enjoying whatever I ended up doing for a living.

I decided, I was to blame for my own unemployment — I hadn’t studied one of the majors known for success in the job world.  Instead, I had chosen the major that is typically known to lead perfectly capable people into starvation– fine art. Consequently, my skills needed tweaking to fit the needs of a company.  I also had been applying to various jobs only half-heartedly. In fact, there wasn’t a job description anywhere that I was thrilled about, and I wasn’t about to mask my skepticism with bursting enthusiasm and passion in an interview.

Fast forward a few years, and what I’ve realized is that the difficulty of finding a full-time job straight out of university wasn’t just my problem. It was so many other people’s problem at the time that it became a national problem. And a problem that the president had to address. And it was called a “high national unemployment rate.” If so many people have the same problem, it’s time to wonder if something external is the cause. In hindsight, I probably deserved just about 70% of the blame for not having been able to find a job (for the reasons mentioned above). Thirty percent of the blame would go to bad timing. When you feel like battering yourself for your own misfortune, listen and see if your country’s economy telling you, “it’s not you, it’s me.” And this is the first reason why getting employed takes good luck.

The new intern in our design team just started work last week. We picked her out from over a hundred applicants. We interviewed five out of the pool. Then, we debated which one of the top two should get the final call. And the selection was made based on lots of small details. Either applicant would have added value to the team, and if our team had had the luxury of supporting two interns, we probably would have.

All five interviewees had impressive portfolios. If our team had relied more on visual rendering skills rather than communication skills and attitude, we might have chosen one of the other applicants. But my team currently focuses a lot more on communication than just visual rendering skills.  The applicants couldn’t have known this in advance, because the official job description isn’t as detailed to that point.  So by these considerations, we selected our current intern.

In selecting an intern, we as the employer had the upper hand.  If, as Herb Cohen outlines in You can negotiate anything, that the three keys to winning a negotiation are TIME, POWER, and INFORMATION, we definitely had the upper hand over applicants in all aspects. We had more information than they, even if they’d researched our company and products. We weren’t limited to certain time pressures, whereas many of the applicants were graduating from school soon and were in a hurry to compete for job openings in a tight market. Finally, we definitely had the power to choose one out of many applicants, whereas, the applicants had their shots more limited.

This typical story of an intern getting picked is a case of good matchmaking, in which both sides met at the right time with matching goals and needs.

Yes, hiring and being hired is more like matchmaking, rather than the job-seeking side trying to satisfy some golden rule in order to be allowed through the royal gates. Some may have known this all along, but the revelation has been fascinating to me. Especially, if you’ve been going to school for long, there may always have been an official goal marker to tell you if you’ve done a good enough job.

But work is different, and it takes some luck to find the right match.