Camille Blogs a Bit

Writing about design, technology, maybe philosophy, and daily living (in Singapore)

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Category: Introspection (page 2 of 3)

Value of My Work and My Value as a Human Person

I’ve shifted through different jobs in the past few years. Even so, it has never been a breeze to price my work and my hours. I have done freelance work in the past, but I was never a hundred percent confident that I wasn’t undervaluing my work or that I wasn’t over estimating the work involved that I’d charge a client too much. It’s even harder, I think, when you grow up in a country where hourly pricing is not the norm and a starting designer would be surrounded by ‘clients’ trying to get his/her to work pro bono, if not totally free so he/she can put something in his/her folio.

Luckily, I met a designer back home who actively shared about his own experiences and principles when it comes to putting value on creative work (although at this point in time, both of us have started working outside the Philippines). There are a lot of articles nowadays by other designers themselves to never work for free, or how your free design will end up in the trash. Or books about how design is a business and a job. I’ve made a lot of mistakes along the way, and in the end I learned how to value the work that I do. In finding a fair price for myself and my client, I also felt like I had value as a person. My role as a designer feels important, and it makes me feel like my client (or employer) cares enough that I can pay for my bills and feed myself to achieve self-actualization (or maybe they don’t, but it feels good that they care to be fair).

This change in perspective made me very critical of how salaries are typically made and done in the Philippines. My limited experience involved a lot of local companies that pay quite low for people in creative fields. It was only with foreigner-owned companies (or start-ups) or foreign clients that I felt that my value as a designer was recognized and appreciated. (Although this also wasn’t always the case. There have been foreign clients or companies and start ups who look to pay very low in the Philippines because they think we are a pot of cheap labor.)

I also became critical of how my boyfriend earns doing video production and editing work. I have been part of and have been an observer of production shoots. It’s very, very exhausting work. Knowing the overtime work and physical exhaustion and everything else involved, comparing it with my own work and salary at times, made me hope with every fiber of my being that he would find properly compensated production and film work abroad. In a third world country, creative work simply isn’t normally financially rewarding. And most common, still, is that good design is often a “plus” with products, not necessarily a must. One of my regrets have been leaving a company who actually valued me a bit too early, only because it always seems greener on the other side. But that’s another story.

It’s not about doing as much work as I’ve been paid, but rather, doing a lot of hard work (be it because of love, passion, responsibility, diligence, for whatever reason anyone has for doing well in a job) and having enough to recharge, eat good food, and be Human. The plus side: I can avoid financial worries in order to focus on improving skills and knowledge, leading to performing better with the team. Having associated the value of my work to my value as a person, it is much harder to be content with being underpaid.

It’s all part of the Circle of Appreciation

As a kid, I learned how to use Photoshop because of pirated software. I didn’t have purchasing power as a kid, but I really wanted to do design and there were very few options over a decade ago. As a working adult with disposable income, I now make it a point to purchase products I enjoy using. By buying stuff, I can support artists, makers, inventors, designers, developers, creatives. Because I want other people to put value in my work as a designer, I think it is only right that I support other people’s work as well. If I want to be paid fairly for work that I’ve done, so should other people reap the fruits of their labor. Because I now have control over how I spend my money, I buy games and apps from their respective stores. I buy design software I use to generate income. I’m an avid supporter of all of Iron Hide GamesKingdom Rush that I purchase them as soon as a new game is out. I don’t mind having paid for Paper even if all the add-ons are free now. From time to time, I buy tickets to the cinema to watch movies that actors, directors, crew members and filming/editing teams worked hard on. I buy e-books and other published media where I learn things from.

I feel that by giving back to the community, I am able to enjoy more things that they provide. We all feel valued, we all contribute to this tiny wheel of self-worth. I’m not saying that you should base your self-worth wholly on how people value what you do, but it helps contribute to the love of self. Especially when most of our time we actually spend with our job, you might be like me who wants to find meaning in what I do. Never underestimate the feeling of being appreciated by others.

Jack of all trades

By the time I graduated 3 years ago, I’ve already had an idea of what I wanted to be: a designer who could build stuff. This was my main motivation in learning how to design and code (not only javascript, but also to be able to build stuff from ground up, like Rails, so I could make prototypes and test my ideas).

Three years later, some of that have changed. I still wanted to build stuff and I’m still designing and coding, but I’ve valued teamwork a lot more than I did before. I haven’t yet built a product by myself, but I’ve worked on a couple with talented developers and it was a lot, lot of fun and usually a great learning experience. A lot of times though it feels like I’m a “jack of all trades, master of none”. I always read about mastering one thing, or developing strengths, and that trying to develop weaknesses is a waste of time. As someone who’s primarily a designer, I would view “coding” as a weakness, though I’m not so confident that I’m that great with visual design either. This leaves me feeling that I’m actually good at nothing, making me feel much more discouraged than when I just started to think about what the hell I’ve been doing.

This always made me question if I’m wasting too much time learning skills that I’ll never be good at anyway (I learned some Cordova in my last part-time job; we didn’t even finish that project so I only learned how to compile and use SQLite but that’s it. I’m actually not sure when I’d ever use that knowledge again). To quell this cognitive dissonance, I just tell myself that learning new things, no matter what they are, is good. I’ve attended JSConf Asia and felt inspired (to make stuff). I’ve attended UXHK and felt inspired (to spread good design thinking). But they haven’t really done much to convince me that I’m doing the right thing in building my career. I feel like I’m floating in between design, front-end, javascript, UI, UX, whathaveyou.

Recently though, a new job and a new project with a missing Product Manager, I’ve been forced to think about this new product we’re doing a LOT. In the beginning, it was just hard to design for something that I hadn’t yet fully understood: I didn’t know what the product’s goals were, what exactly we wanted to achieve after the MVP has been released. And even when the basic functionalities for this MVP has been laid out, I kept on thinking and thinking about our roadblocks and how we might overcome it. I’m supposed to be thinking about wireframes and flows and even branding, but I couldn’t help but brainstorm on what our new product needs so that it could work. The books I’ve been reading are related to design — but much less with just the visual design of things (i.e. UI), but more so on psychology and product development.

This made me go back to David Cole’s article on the web: Applied Discovery: Presentation Build from 2013. He’s a designer I admire a lot mainly because he seems to be the type of designer I want to be (a designer who codes). When I first read that article, I shared it everywhere. I shared it a lot. I just felt like it spoke to me on so many levels and made me feel like I still knew what I was doing. That hey, all the time I’ve spent trying to learn code instead of practicing more visual design wasn’t all for naught. And that all the roles I’ve taken on, and all that I’ve learned from past projects is movement towards the goal that I had from three years ago: to build stuff.

There’s a temptation, when your only domain is the interface, to look there to innovate…

This narrow view also threatens the ability to do our best work. Far too often, a designer is charged with designing a product that will never make sense when expressed in UI, and the feedback loops rarely move backwards to force the product to change in response to the interface. By owning both halves, each process can move in appropriate response to the other, ensuring harmony. This is also why I believe designers should code, but again, that’s another subject for another talk.

Here’s a question to ask yourself: if the project you were working on failed — it hit the market and nobody wanted it, nobody used it — would you blame yourself? If the answer is no, then I think you don’t have enough authority. If you’re blaming others for the outcomes in your work, it’s time to demand more.

Maybe it’s no longer enough for me to just be thinking in wireframes or design or front-end. Maybe it’s time to get dirty with designing what a product will be and even have more responsibilities tied to its success and failure. Maybe I have big ideas to contribute to product development or design, in conceptualization and implementation.

There have been some projects where my ideas were “advice” — not enough authority to push through with the released product because again, my role was mainly just on the UI and front-end side of things. Perhaps now is a good time to start doing more, as product design is just another part of what I need to build stuff. I just hadn’t really thought that hey, maybe this is also a path that I could take.

We’ll see.

 

“Wake up every day like you mean it, sacrifice inconvenience for kindness; surround yourself with good people. Cry when you must, look for inspiration where you must. Never fall into any extreme; be truthful, be loyal, be a person of class no matter your status. Love more than you think is possible; forgive always. Be willing to sacrifice for what is good. And when you are tired, rest.”

There’s More to Life than Happiness, by Kovie Biakolo

It’s never too early to have resolutions.

 

the long road

I’ve been looking for job options since I’ve left my full-time job at Save22, and I’ve met up with someone who offered me a job when I was a fresh graduate. We caught up with each other and what’s happened in the last 2 years.

One thing’s consistent: I want to work on design and front-end (maybe learn more Javascript skills), and pursue learning more back-end/development work — enough for me to build my own things in the future. I want to work in an environment where I could collaborate with a designer and developer/s at the same time.

I have to remind myself of this goal since there are so many options around me. I could pursue anything, but I shouldn’t lose sight of this long-term goal.

I feel like I want to work with them because they offer me this. But I’m also apprehensive when it comes to certain people, due to some things that happened a few months ago. No, I’m not comfortable with seeing any blockmate, I think. I fear them, I doubt them, and it’s really not cool.

Sigh, but then again, that’s a bridge I only have to cross when I get there.

In which they said I had to rate myself

I have a friend who, when applying for a job with foreign employers (Singaporean, actually), was asked to rate her skills from 1-5. She didn’t want to say 5 — it seemed too high as if saying you have no other room for learning because you’re reached maximum best already. She settled for a 3, I think (if my memory is right), and the woman seemed to have been disappointed at this answer and gave her a task to prove her skills instead. She’s already proven it and is swamped with more work right now, but the point of the short story was: how would you know how to rate yourself in numbers? Read more

The pressure of global competition

I have recently read the article “We the restless” by Fatima Avila and it speaks very closely of how I feel: Restless. I wish to tread a path similar to Fatima: have 2 years of work experience in my country, take graduate studies abroad while traveling a lot and then eventually work with an international and multi-cultural group of people. Right now I’m just soaking up all kinds of opportunities to build a resume of experience but I always have that general kick of wanderlust. I want to travel. I want to meet strangers. I want to discover all the new things. All these things come with the pressure to be among the best in the field I want to specialize in because merely “graduating” is no longer the key to my dream career. My undergraduate degree is a starting point but there’s so much more I need to achieve before I get there.

“The youth of today knows the world’s current expectations and we find ourselves packing in more and more activities into our profile. We do studying, part-time jobs, voluntary roles, sports, society membership and travel simultaneously. After all, so much is expected of us so soon and we give our best to comply. And sometimes, even if you fulfill all that, you still might not get the job if you do not have the right passport.”

We the restless, Fatima Avila

I feel restless because in a way the world is also ruthless: the career path I’ve chosen caters to an audience wider than the local scene thus the competition is greater. It’s a global competition out there and there’s no room for mediocrity. I need a global perspective. But for that I need to be well-traveled and have a lot, lot of experience. Oftentimes education or exposure abroad is a requirement. It’s the world setting our standards now: Facebook, Mozilla Firefox, Google, Apple — these are only some of the many companies that started out small but by young people who were either still in college or who have just graduated that it feels like I should have had achieved something great by the time I’m 20. But I’m 22 already with no awards to boast of and oftentimes I just feel like I’m not good enough; that I have to reach a certain level fast.

I know I’m from a generation that is used to instant gratification but when it comes to building my career, I know it takes time. I’m currently working on the usual two-year experience requirement for most graduate schools but some days time feels a little slow. I guess I’m just excited to get there. There’s so much to do though and much more to learn.

The projects at my 8-5pm job are no longer enough as work experience. Trying to get involved with local groups and meeting up with new people, partnering with them and helping out towards a common cause is only one of the ways in which I can constantly learn about other disciples of design and even other industries related to it. I go home and then continue interacting with other people online through twitter, discussions, Facebook groups, meet-ups and all these things. It’s a digital world and everything is so fast-paced that I need to keep up with a myriad of topics, news, and my friends’ personal lives. Connecting with people from different countries has become so important that keeping to my office desk and to my city seems to be limiting myself. Networking (and a public display of skills) can really bring you to places and as exciting as the possibilities are, the path to my “dream career” is tougher. Ruthless, yes, but exciting. “Be more and do more” might sound cliche, but it is the kind of expectation that hangs over our generation.

Despite the pressure though, I think what I should focus on is to simply exceed myself. Not anyone else. I don’t have to feel so down when I think about what others have achieved at my age. After all, we all work on a different pace and “being great” might not be happening to me now, but it doesn’t mean it won’t happen to me in the future. The year is still young. It’s only February and there are much more things waiting to happen. The global pressure is an effective driving force for me to do my best. Guess what, world? Challenge accepted!