It’s one thing to seek diverse talent to add to your team, another to retain the people you’ve hired. Why do so many folks we bring in to add depth and breadth of experience to our design and business decision-making process end up leaving?
Hear thoughtful, useful answers to this question and other mysteries of UX design and tech recruitment in this Live User Defenders podcast video recorded at An Event Apart Denver. Featuring Mina Markham, Farai Madzima, and Derek Featherstone. Discussion led by Jason Ogle. Thanks to Todd Libby for the 4K recording.
The last An Event Apart conference of 2019 begins next week in San Francisco.
Yesterday was the nth annual Blue Beanie Day. (I’ve lost track of what year the standardista holiday started.) I was awake at 1:00 AM on Friday night/Saturday morning, so I tweeted “Happy #BlueBeanieDay,” then slept. No blog post, no prelude—just a past-midnight tweet, over and out.
Saturday, once or twice, I checked Twitter and retweeted most of the Blue Beanie Day tweets I found.
Most, because I omitted a soft-porn one that seemed to be capitalizing on the hashtag to advertise its Instagram feed (which, to judge by the tweet, consists of reposts of old Suicide Girls pictorials). So maybe the hashtag trended briefly for that person. One measure of social media success on Twitter is when someone who doesn’t understand or care about your hashtag uses it to draw attention to a tweet that has nothing to do with your cause—which tells you a lot about Twitter, and social media, and where we are as a culture. But I digress.
That shrinking feeling
Generally, each year, Blue Beanie Day gets smaller, possibly in part because I’m too busy to promote it beforehand (or during, or after). And because it immediately follows U.S. Thanksgiving, so gets broadcast when many U.S. web folks are offline and in food comas.
Blue Beanie Day also gets smaller each year because web design as a practice and as a discipline keeps shrinking … even though frontend UX, or whatever we’re calling it this week, clearly continues to grow.
Mainly, though, Blue Beanie Day is receding from view because our industry as a whole thinks less and less about accessibility (not that we ever had an A game on the subject), and talks less and less about progressive enhancement, preferring to chase the ephemeral goal posts of over-engineered solutions to non-problems.
If web design were automotive design, we’d be past the invention of mass production and on to designing self-obsoleting tail fins. But I digress, and I regret the negative spin this mini-memoir is taking.
Because, really, I’m happy and grateful.
Blue Beanie Day matters
In spite of our industry’s (I hope temporary) focus on complexity for its own sake, there are still a lot of you who do this work in the service of people we used to call “end-users,” and who will care about web standards and inclusive, accessible design for as long as you’re here to practice it.
To you, the true believers, whether you knew about/celebrated Blue Beanie Day or not, I give thanks.
Thanks for showing up every day to try to make the web a little better. Thanks for your optimism, especially when it gets harder to stay positive. You make an inclusive web possible.
Thanks for keeping Blue Beanie Day alive, not just on your head, but in your heart.
Yesenia Perez-Cruz started her career as a designer at Happy Cog Philadelphia. From the first day, her design gifts were unmistakable. As her career progressed, she moved from one challenging role to another. At companies like Vox Media and Shopify, and at conferences around the world, she has been a design team leader, a popular speaker, an advocate for design systems, and a voice of our industry. Today that voice took book form.
Today my daughter Ava and I had brunch with my old friend Jen Robbins at P.S. Kitchen, a vegan restaurant in the Theater District/Hell’s Kitchen. Jen was present for, and actively participated in, the very beginnings of the creative and blogging web, and her famous book, now in its umpteenth edition, is still the best introduction to web design I know—probably the best that will ever be written.
One of Jen’s early sites, “Cooking With Rock Stars,” consisted of short video interviews she made with the likes of Jack Black, Rufus Wainwright, and others. Her show predated YouTube by five to ten years and podcasts by fifteen. It was way ahead of its time while also being a great reminder of what the web, in its infancy, was like. The rock star interviews are also fun and fascinating and deserve to be seen again.
By arrangement with the director, we show our audience Gary Hustwit’s “Rams”—a documentary about product design icon Dieter Rams—during the extended lunch hour on Day II of our three-day UX & front-end conference event. I just finished watching it for the fifth time.
We’ve shown Gary’s film in every city of our tour this year, and each time I’ve watched it with our attendees, I’ve seen new things in the film, and been ever more deeply moved by it.
Rams’s work, and his message to designers seems more important now than ever before. Not only should every designer see this film; I wish every human being would see it.
Brian Eno’s ambient minimalist score feels like an audio correlative to Rams’s design principles. Although it’s used sparingly, every sound counts.
The film’s final shot, where Dieter walks off into the woods, always makes me tear up.
Yes! We make wonderful WordPress websites for interesting, deserving people and organizations, and *this* is my Crash Course in Judaism. Enjoy.
My mother and father are ethnically Jewish, my father was an atheist, and my mother was Canadian, so we celebrated Christmas.
We celebrated Christmas ’til I was six, and right before my sixth Christmas, my Nana came to visit. And she looked at the tree, and she looked at all the stuff, and she said, “These boys won’t know they’re Jewish.” So my parents were shamed and changed to Hanukah.
Now, Hanukah’s cool. Christmas is cool. We won’t get into saying which one’s cooler. We know.
But either one’s fine for a kid if you just keep going with it. Dropping Christmas at age six, I think that was the start of my Goth years, right there.
I felt so disappointed, so alienated. And, you know, before I turned six, like, I would go into Kindergarten and my friend would say, “Santa Claus brought me a rocket launcher and a grenade launcher and a Tommy gun and a machine gun and a Japanese Prisoner-of-War camp, what did Santa bring you?”
And I would say “Santa Claus brought me socks and a book.”
Because we weren’t materialists.
And then after age six, they would say, “Santa brought me a neutron bomb and an atomic bomb, and the Great Garloo, a monster that you can control by remote control, and a flame-shooting monster and a set of daggers, what did Santa bring you?”
And I would say, “We’re Jewish.”
The “fuck you” was implied.
And so … I didn’t get beat up as a Jew until I moved to Pittsburgh, but that was later, and I’m not going to get to that part of the story. But when I was living in New York areas and Connecticut, there were enough Jews that people were sort of laid-back about their hatred of Jews, and they would just be okay with it. They would even be okay with my saying “We’re Jewish,” and there was no retribution from that.
Anyway, I asked my Dad, “What’s God?” and he said:
“Okay, so before science, people thought there were a lot of gods, because they needed a supernatural explanation for everything.
“So if there was a fire, the fire god was angry.
“And if there was a flood, the water god was angry.
“If there was a snowstorm, the snow god was angry.
“And the Jews improved that by saying there’s only ONE God, and he’s *VERY* angry
“But there isn’t one.”
And then I said, “If there’s no God and we don’t go to Temple, why are we Jews?”
And my Dad said, “Hitler would’ve killed us.”
And that was my satisfaction with that.
Anyway, when I was twelve-and-a-half, my parents came to me, after no Jewish stuff for a long time, and they said, “Jeffrey, would you like to be Bar Mitzvahed?”
And I said, “What’s that?”
And they said, “You make a speech and then you get money.”
So I said “yes,” and, really, I’ve been doing it ever since. Thank you, Judaism!
DESIGN WAS so much easier before I had clients. I assigned myself projects with no requirements, no schedule, no budget, no constraints. By most definitions, what I did wasn’t even design—except that it ended up creating new things, some of which still exist on the web. Soon I had requirements, schedules, and constraints, but most of those were self-imposed: for instance, I designed the first A List Apart, published a fresh issue every week, and created title illustrations for every article. This was design, but self-directed. I found it easy and natural and it never felt like work at all.
But then a curious thing happened: I began to get clients. And the more clients I got, and the more complex and sophisticated the projects became, the harder design became for me. I wish I could say I approach design with fearless joy, but the truth is, the longer I do it, the harder and more unnatural it becomes. Starting new projects is easy when you have almost no clue what you’re doing—as easy as playing is for a child. With experience comes knowledge of all the depth and skill you lack. You know how great some design can sometimes be, and how unlikely you are to attain anything resembling greatness on any given project. The very idea of beginning terrifies you.
You work past that, because you’re a professional, but the ease is gone. Maybe it’s just me.
And it isn’t just design. Writing comes naturally to me when I’m expressing myself on my own site, with no outside assignment and no deadline except my own sense of urgency about an idea. It’s easy when I’m crafting a brief text message or tweet. Or a letter to a friend.
But give me a writing assignment and a deadline, and I’m stuck. Paralysis, avoidance, a dissatisfaction with myself and the assignment—all the usual hobgoblins spring immediately to life. I fulfill my assignments, because I’m a professional. Sometimes, once I’m far enough past the initial internal pleading, denial, and bargaining, and have put in the first dull miserable hours of setting one word in front of another like a soldier on a long march through waist-high, rain-drenched mud—sometimes at that dreary midpoint, everything unblocks, and I feel pleasure and clarity as flow returns. That’s what writers on assignment fight for—to reach clarity and naturalness after slogging through the hateful murk.
I also play music, and I’m good at it as long as I’m sitting in a corner at an instrument or console, making stuff up for my own pleasure. But create a commercial music product? Not so much. I once had a small recording studio. I got rid of it. Too much pressure.
You get it.
In my heart I remain an amateur. The spirit of play is where my gifts lie. After 30 years in business I can do the other thing—I can fight through the loneliness to make good product on demand. That is, after all, how I feed my family, and there are many far worse ways to earn a dollar. But it’s never easy. It’s never The Joy.