Portfolios, decluttering, and Marie Kondo

Getting rid of old design work seemed a bridge too far; now I understand why.

A white wall with an outline of a picture frame, with a nail above it.
A white wall with an outline of a picture frame, with a nail above it.
Photo by Enrico Mantegazza on Unsplash

Over the past year, I’ve been decluttering, preparing for a move to launch the final phase of life. In my bullet journal, one such task has been carried over month after month, its unfinished status feeling more and more oppressive: culling 20+ years of design samples. Could I KonMari-Method them? Should I? And so I began. Here is my story.


…and stopped looking at pretty pictures.

For those of us privileged enough, like me, to have been able to work from home in 2020, the year felt like one very very long month of March. Am I right?

If you’re reading this, you’ve made it to 2021, no small feat!

Here are five observations of my professional life as a UX designer that I found worth noting.

It’s more than possible to acquire new technical skills even late in your career.

After initial resistance due to five years of hard-won experience using Sketch, I learned how to use Figma, including its spiffed up auto layouts feature. …


Late middle age is when you've lived enough to have gained some wisdom, and wise enough to realize most young people don't want to hear it yet.


Image of surgical masks, Mika Baumeister.

I dream, I am a semiotician*

How times have changed.

In the early weeks of the pandemic in the U.S., my local jurisdiction outside Washington, D.C. instituted a shutdown. Grocery chains created seniors shopping times, at the butt-crack of dawn. (This was at a time when fomite transmission was still considered a significant risk, so letting seniors shop before the store opened for everyone made sense.)

Between being barely awake, my glasses fogging up on the walk to the store, and the extra 30 minutes tacked on at home to wipe everything down, grocery shopping became onerous, and a bit scary.

After a month of this…


What my younger self would have liked to have known

A photomontage of a jumble of metal type fading into a sketchbook page showing user screen flows.
A photomontage of a jumble of metal type fading into a sketchbook page showing user screen flows.
The journey from print to UX design was a long and winding one. Images: Amador Loureiro (metal type) and Kelly Sikkema (UX sketch), via Unsplash.

I’m mostly happy with my job as a UX designer. I think that I make a difference within the teams I’m part of, and that I’m helping further my organization’s mission, which played a large role in accepting the job.

But recently I had a small epiphany: A coworker was designing 404 pages with cool images and funny copy, while I was building a spreadsheet totaling up and categorizing hundreds of responses to a user survey. …


Our court fell silent in March. Photo by Chandra Abhishek via Unsplash.

Even at my age, it hurts.

43-year-old star Vince Carter, remembers making the last shot of his covid19-shortened basketball career — a three-pointer from one of the greatest dunk artists — right before the NBA shut down in March.

Every athlete, whether a multimillionaire superstar or a weekend warrior (or mid-week warrior in my case), wants to go out on her own terms. I’m no different.

I don’t remember anything specific about my last game except that we — responsible middle-aged women including an ESL teacher and a pathologist — washed our hands with soap in the girl’s bathroom at the end of the game, at…


I know what it means not to be able to say goodbye.

My father designed the motif for the bench. He cut roses for her all summer long.

Twenty-six years after my sister’s sudden, untimely death, I still don’t know where her ashes are. As with both my parents, I had no chance to say goodbye before she passed.

Each of us during this pandemic goes through what Dan Sheehan called “hell zones.” Mine have to do with being reminded of the “lack of closure” that comes with a loved one dying in an ICU they can’t visit, a funeral they can’t have, a shiva they can’t sit.

A few years after my Mother passed away (thankfully, as she wanted, in her sleep), my Dad and I had…


THE DESIGN LIFE

Have your skills become second nature? You‘ve arrived.

A number of years ago, I attended a talk by Petrula Vrontikis* where she described the four stages of competence: first is the period when you are unconsciously incompetent (you don’t know what you don’t know). Then comes a phase when you are consciously incompetent — which should spark you to hone your craft and aim for conscious competence! Finally, after struggle and learning from mistakes, you should arrive at unconscious competence, at least in some areas of your field, where the practice of your skills becomes second nature. This past year, I think I’ve arrived. Here’s how I know.


A graphic representing some common visual elements of bullet journals: habit tracker, tasks, and goals.
A graphic representing some common visual elements of bullet journals: habit tracker, tasks, and goals.

THE CULT OF PRODUCTIVITY

It reflected it — in illuminating ways

Search on the term “bullet journal changed my life” and you will get more than 13 million results. This article won’t be one of them.

My age may make me immune for life-changing-ness, though I will confess that I can recall a very few such events earlier in my life: going to an art colony at age 30, which started me on a lifelong creative journey; overcoming a personal crisis after blithely imagining that selling a condo, quitting a job, and moving to a city where I knew no one would be a piece of cake at midlife. (Spoiler: it…


UX

A woman casts a shadow on tarmac, with the words So M!sundaztood in the foreground.
A woman casts a shadow on tarmac, with the words So M!sundaztood in the foreground.
It’s not that complicated, I’m just misunderstood: Lyric from P!nk’s breakout record, M!ssundaztood

When I started writing this piece, I thought I’d declare the death of the user story. Instead, in a nod to P!nk, one of my favorite songwriters ever, let’s just declare it misunderstood.

Some “user stories” seen in the wild:

As a stakeholder, I want the website to use bright colors and a nice font.
As a parent, I want a large hero image.
As a user, I want to see cards on the left rail.
As a user, I can see the most recent N articles.

What’s wrong with these user stories? They aren’t user stories. They’re tasks or…

Chris A Raymond

Designer. Craft artist. Point guard (ret). Collector of windup toys & push puppets. PhD, sociology. chrisaraymond.net | chrisaraymond.dunked.com

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