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March 20, 2012 / Kuan

Planting Potential in Pixels

The cherry trees around the block are blooming, spring is all-of-a-sudden, here. The very last time I sat down and concentrated on writing, I saw the Brooklyn Bridge in the dusking sky. A lot have happened since then — I moved to DC for a position at The Washington Post, bought bedroom furniture for the first time in my life, hung framed posters on my wall and even painted one wall chalkboard. Three months have gone by, as the fragrance in the air reminded me, I hadn’t got the mindset to write. I also deleted the phrase “I don’t have time…” from my vocabulary and replaced it with “I don’t have the mindset to…” as I think time isn’t the issue when it comes to almost everything including writing, but the mind is.


A few weeks ago, I was contacted by my former professor at The Writing Program at SU to write a short update about my job change and how, if possible, writing has to do with my new job. The short update turned into a long reflection on the relationship between design and writing, and the following is an excerpt from my reply:


The consciousness of the use of language and the strong capability to clearly communicate ideas are qualities good designers and writers share. If one’s writing is carefully crafted, one’s design is more likely to be so as well. Especially with UI/UX design that is to interact with others, every detail is to make their experience pleasant and smooth. The ideal outcome is almost like reading a good essay, which engages us so much and creates an experience that we forget that we’re decoding words — a rather mechanical process. I think the phrase can go the other way as well, that a good designer has to be a good writer because the ability to communicate using visual tools is transferable to verbal communications.


When I studied Writing at Rhetoric at SU, I was fascinated by the discoveries of author’s intent, uncovered by closely reading the text. Word choices, sentence breaks, usages of pronouns and many other details, usually left unnoticed until I started analyzing the texts, became crucial evidences of the arguments — the building bricks of certain grand promises. I learned at the WP the skill to flag those cues, and now I am planting those potentials in pixels. The design choices I make hopefully will become unnoticed when users interact with the product, and yet they’re the reasons why their experience is unique and memorable.


As I spend more time on mobile every day, whether it’s texting, tweeting or googling, I realize how our quality of life could improve if certain mobile experience can be more carefully thought out and executed. There’s no doubt that our society is digitizing, and the at the moment of change, mobile experience needs to lead the way to show that we’re moving forward — things can be better. That’s what fascinates and challenges me about my work at The Washington Post. In the end, I design for humans, and that’s the most compelling aspect of design, in my opinion.


The “update” turned into a profile, which you can read here. I have to mentioned that I’m very proud of the self-portrait — the assignment was “to be creative with it.”


A few good posts on the same subject:
1. Day 84 on Kern and Burn: an interview with designer, writer, thinker Duane King

2. Getting Real: The book by 37 Signals: The creator of several successful web apps, such as Basecamp, published this awesome book on how to make kickass web apps. The book is a must-read, and is free for reading online.



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