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. …

Photo by Priscilla Du Preez on Unsplash

I like many HGTV show hosts: Mina and Karen of Good Bones; Erin and Ben of Home Town; Jon and Mary of the new Two Steps Home. I enjoy seeing their interactions as they renovate homes. What I don’t like — actually, I despise — is the TMI home life scenes. No, I don’t think seeing your toddler crack an egg is cute. And I for sure don’t want to go behind the scenes of your IVF cycles. If I want drama I’ll watch daytime soaps.

Who cares where twice-divorced Christina Haack (an appropriate last name, TBH) went to college…

Upper management at my employer is taking the same stance: 3 days a week, same policy as before (though not publicized), so our "faces" can be seen live once a month for bagel Friday. However, the execs work in their own private offices, on a floor separate from me. Meanwhile, we work in cubicles with noisy and sometimes smelly distractions.

This in spite of hearing for the past year that we all have been extremely productive working from home.

The idea that "collaboration" only occurs around the mythical water cooler is, to be polite, old school thinking. Studies have documented…

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…


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.

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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