An existential experiment of me as a designer.
These thoughts are mine alone, I do not speak on behalf of any organization.
Me, Freelance frontend developer, family, friends, and mentors
Vision, branding, UX, design, copywriting, QA, and as much development as I could manage
~ 3 weeks and a lifetime of thinking.
Creating dene.land has been…an interesting study of myself and the intense problem-solving exercise of filtering through a whole life, a whole career, and a whole person, to figure out what I should share with you. As my own client, I constantly need to remind myself to anchor in process, and process is what got me through.
I suppose life, itself, is just one problem-solving experience after another as we work to find continuity in the past, present, and future, and that all relationships, all systems, are based on our ability to filter and curate information. We’re all our own life experience designers, each of us facing the barriers of science and human systems alone and together.
Here is the story of the making of V2 of dene.land. I wouldn’t call it a masterpiece or even my greatest work, but I do think it’s an accurate reflection of where I’m at as a technologist and my shift from trying to prove that I’m a UX designer to embracing my own point of view with honesty in its strengths, weaknesses, and biases.
When we think about branding, we think about creating a personality, when we think about UX, we think about creating a relationship. So what happens when one tries to create both…about oneself? Or at least oneself as a designer.
For me, it has been an introspective journey…with all the usual problem-solving crises. Though I can now be thankful for this process, I also can’t help but think how unfair it is that designers must go through this, making a whole website to prove our worth. Perhaps everyone should? Or perhaps it’s all completely unnecessary and we’re just creating barriers of entry into a field that needs…everyone.
What represents me as a designer visually? There’s what I like (I’m a client 😉) and then there’s who I actually am. Sure I like simple beauty with unexpected quirkiness, but though I have a lot to say about visual design, visual design isn’t one of my greatest strengths.
I work best in wireframes and user flows, things that are logical, but don’t have to be pixel perfect. I originally wanted the whole site to feel like a wireframe, but I’m not technically savvy enough to pull that off elegantly, so instead, we see an “ode” to the wireframe. Sprezzatura is the guiding principle.
In wireframe tone, black and white makes sense, but the deeper meaning comes from the gray. Black and white create a framework, but the gray brings in all the rest, the part that is unknown, complex, and often undefined.
Human qualities exist in a lot of ambiguity. In tech, that can often be a challenge to reflect, especially when you’re living in it, and especially when you like to simplify. Gray was chosen as the primary color to represent ambiguity, the living qualities, and to serve as a reminder to continuously seek and more importantly, listen, to perspectives that challenge our own.
The accent color of deep red quite literally seen in the e accent (é) of my name logo has the rather trite origin of being my favorite color, but I’m a designer, I can tell a story about any decision: Red is the color shared by the US and China flags- my motherland and my second motherland. It often signifies warning in Western cultures and luck in Chinese culture. Red is associated with the fire element, which represents life, vitality, and light. Juxtaposed with the black, white, and gray, red creates a subtle, yet intense contrast- it’s both direct and complex.
Relying heavily on the black & white color palette as the foundation, the chosen images represent a mix of lived experience through photography, human-computer interaction through AI assisted design, and an ode to past projects. This blurring of real and artificial represents the “gray” of ambiguity in humans and UX.
You may notice that I went with a rather unexpected choice in a serif font- Didot. When I first made the design system I didn’t have access to a developer and was unable to integrate multiple font families. Coming from the famous French printing and typeface producing family of its namesake, Didot is classified as modern, described as neoclassical, and evocative of the Age of Enlightenment.
I recognize that going with one sans serif probably makes more sense, but I’ve always been fascinated with the societal changes brought on by the printing press and the “democratization of information.” I wanted to capture this shared continuum in time and it was a fun challenge to work with the complexities of the serifs. Plus, like my name, Didot starts with a “D” and it’s the font of my tattoo.
Perhaps the most difficult to define, given its meta nature, I spent a lot of energy refocusing on the audience. I want to provide something accessible for those who are just curious or maybe in a hurry, but I also want to contribute to our profession graciously and with precision.
There are the obvious reasons to create a portfolio- to share my work and at times, get a new job, but I also like to be understood. Having something to share with my friends and family that provides a glimpse into my craft and work is also a motivating factor.
It was not easy to walk the line of highly technical and yet, not deterring. I tried to harness my inner Pixar (known for speaking to both adults and children) and resonate to the broad audience through a shared exploration of complex ideas and the experience of being human.
I often begin with wanting to tell you, the audience, everything. This can result in a lot of “telling” rather than “showing.” For example, I can tell you that I’m a systems thinker, but that leaves it up to your interpretation and mine.
My hypothesis is that meeting the goal to create understanding of where I am in my craft and professional journey:
Afterall, I’m a UX designer, and it’s my job to reduce cognitive load and create an experience for you to naturally and intuitively discover who I am as a designer and what types of problems we might best be suited to solve together.
Nobody should go into an existential thought experiment on their own. I’m very thankful to my peers and mentors as well as the unknown design entities of the Internet that helped shape my IA and case study approach.
To name a few:
Though I love working with engineers, I am not one. The technical aspects also felt rather existential as I attempted to harness every drop of skill that I’d encountered throughout my varied career. I fumbled through it all, from setting up the host environment to customizing a WordPress framework to mobile optimization and getting hacked. Shoutout to Hung Le, a freelance engineer I met during my time working at Flow.asia, for doing everything I couldn’t.
Each iteration required me to return to my audience, goals, and hypotheses. The original site was created in early 2021 and laid the identity foundation. In V1 the case studies went into great detail about each project’s design thinking process and artifacts. That reflected the design maturity I was at- I needed to “prove” I knew how to solve problems and make the things. Part of my goal in the redo of 2023, is not to put the responsibility of interpreting how all this is useful to the user on the user (which isn’t fair to you or me), but to make the story, the human effect, the focal point, and the process and artifacts the building blocks. The rounds of iterations went something like this:
My working content doc is about 60 pages long.
In this round I briefly attempted to make the entire site a meta interaction of the design thinking process, but I quickly realized that was another version of TELLING, with the interpretation still placed on the audience.
I attempted to solve the problem of walking the line between plain language and technical jargon by making both. I briefly thought it would be clever to make a site with multilingual interaction- the ability to choose technical or not. But who really wants to read two sites? Honestly, who really wants to make two sites?
Alright so it is a windy path, and by no means do I think we have “arrived.” But here we are… for now. After all, I too am an iteration.
You tell me.
I would love to hear. [CONTACT ME]
So, here’s to not creating black and white frameworks that limit human variation and here’s to celebrating individual uniqueness so that we can each contribute to the greater whole, simply, by being ourselves.