Preparing for 2016 with Apps (and Naps)

I can comfortably admit that when it comes to my life, I'm a mid-level mess. I have that stereotypical right-brained (creative) disorganization that is enough to overwhelm me, but luckily not enough to ruin me. I know that I'd be a bajillion times more productive if I could finally just get my shit together. My husband often mumbles about me needing a life coach as he navigates my many piles. So I made it my mission in this final week of the year, as I sat at home soaking up a few staycation days, to prepare my life, primarily my digital life, for 2016. Well, I squeezed that in between some very important business (read: naps with my dog).

Because new goals always seem more fun when they're accompanied by new apps to play with, I added a few new ones to my repository so that if/when I fail, I can blame a faceless piece of technology and feel less guilty about my lack of commitment. 

Goal 1: Emptiness

I love stuff. Not just tangible stuff, although I really love that too, but even things like Kindle books, digital magazines, apps, Chrome extensions, etc. And occasionally I'll go through a little purge, but that really just takes me down from an obscene amount of stuff to a ton of stuff. A few months ago I decided to "konmari" my closet and drawers. Nine giant shopping bags of stuff to Goodwill later and I might be about half way done. It's a start. 

This week I decided it was time that my laptop got konmari'd too. I'm the type of person that has about 47% of my desktop covered by icons and an inbox hovering between 1873 and 2683. I've seen worse, for sure, but I knew it was an unnecessary cause of stress. So using Daisydisk for my files and Mailstrom for my inbox, I did a nice big purging. I even rewarded myself with a beautiful new desktop wallpaper

For me, purging is the easy part. I don't find myself awkwardly attached to the screenshots or weird gifs taking up space on my desktop. I'm a procrastinator. That means when an email pops into my inbox, it's in my nature to read it, ignore it, and forget it exists until it has thousands of little brothers and sisters keeping it company. 

I've always defaulted to Mac Mail on my desktop, despite trying Mailbox, Postbox, Airmail, Unibox, Nylas N1, and numerous other clients. But on my iPhone, I've been having some luck with Boxer. I'm forcing myself to attend to everything immediately, which, to be honest, is just a better practice as far as being a considerate colleague goes. 

Goal 2: Peace

When I lie down to go to sleep at night, it feels like there are 827 tabs of my brain open. I'm constantly thinking about the next things I have to do and the things that I forgot to do. I think part of the reason I love taking naps is because it finally gives me some quiet in my head. Of course, I'm not conscious to enjoy it. 

I've read so much about the benefits of meditation, but the idea of sitting for even 10 minutes in silence, with a clear mind, sounds nearly impossible. I had tried it a few times but eventually opted for those 10 extra minutes of sleep instead of taking care of my mental health. 

Well, I'm going to give it another shot. I downloaded Stop, Breathe & Think, and despite their lack of Oxford comma use, I'm willing to try it out. It's cute and quirky and has a bunch of guided meditations, ranging from 3 minutes to 20. If I can't commit to 3 minutes, then I have a problem an app will never be able to solve.

Goal 3: Clarity

I have tried every possible GTD method and app in existence. From going old school with a pen and a notebook to pomodoro timers to expensive project management systems, none of them have stuck. So what makes me think it'll be any different this time around? Nothing at all. My expectations are low. But I'm prioritizing simplicity in order to achieve some clarity. 

I’ve definitely missed events because I forgot to look at my calendar like a doofus, so I need to make it a habit to check it more regularly. I found this beautiful calendar app by Moleskine, Timepage. I like that it’s a long scrollable list so I can see all of my upcoming meetings and events in one swipe. It irks me when calendars are set up to display a traditional week at a time because that makes it pretty useless toward the end of the week. Timepage is intuitive and simple and nice to look at.

Typically, my tasks are strewn about in notes apps, previously used to-do list apps, Chrome extensions, and emails. For me, so many GTD apps are overly complicated. I refuse to use anything that emphasizes a due date because in my experience, self-imposed due dates are a curse, much like labeling a file name with the word "FINAL." I don't want to collaborate, I just want to make a bunch of lists of the things I have to do. So I'm giving the AnyDo Mac app a try. I love that it lets me plan immediately (today & tomorrow) and a non-committal timeframe in the future (upcoming & someday), satisfying both slightly crazy sides of my personality.

I find that I'm much better prepared when I take a lot of notes. Go figure, right? I've gone through phases with note-taking apps, mainly just using the Mac Notes app. But I'm a sucker for a great design. When Evernote (which I had used previously) came out with their updated web client, it was just what I wanted. Simple, clean, no distractions. Just a blank page for writing. But I wanted one less tab on my browser. I like having a separate app. Then I found Alternote. It's an alternative Evernote client, very similar to the Mac Notes app, but with all of the benefits of Evernote. I've been using this one for a few weeks now and I really enjoy it so far.

Goal 4: Reflection

The last item I want to focus on in 2016 is constant reflection. Am I doing the most I can to be happy? Am I living in a way that makes me proud? Am I managing my stress successfully? By constantly checking in with myself, I'll know when I need to make tweaks and adjustments to my life. 

One area I need to drastically improve is my spending. Remember how I mentioned my love of stuff earlier? Well it's evident to my coworkers who see the numerous packages delivered to our office. Look, I'm self-aware. I know that I shop to take my mind off of stress, or because I'm traumatized by my styleless and fashion-free childhood, or because getting a "present" in the mail gives this drug-free lady a semi-exhilarating high. No matter, I need to be more mindful of my spending. So I'm going to start making myself log my indulgent purchases in Expense. Not everything, just the really unnecessary ones. And maybe it'll be a good wake up call.

Something else I want to revive for myself is journaling. I used to blog a lot. I used to journal. Now I feel like my life moments are documented by the latte photos I Instagram and the cat videos I share on Facebook. But I'd like to do more than that. Not too much more because if it resembles a chore, I'll never stick with it. That's where Grid Diary comes in. I was able to set up a template of questions for myself to answer each day. I can answer one or all of them. There's a library of pre-baked questions but you can also write whatever suits you. So I picked a few questions that I feel will help me understand my day. What was good? What was tough? What did I accomplish? And any time I want, I can go back and read through my notes. It's actually pretty fun and I don't feel the pressure to be witty or creative because the prompts are so straightforward. 

So, that's my 2016 plan. I'm optimistic and motivated to be the best me I've ever been! 

What's Next: Creating My Own Role

Working at a rapidly growing startup has gotten me used to an ever-evolving design role. From creating a new product to helping develop a marketing presence to building and managing a team, I’ve had varying responsibilities over the last four years. However, a few months ago, I started thinking, “What’s next?” 

These thoughts didn’t arrive because I was dissatisfied. It was more about feeling unsuccessful. As the company grew, I was trying to maintain a bit of control over both the product and the marketing side. I enjoyed doing both. I didn’t want to give up one for the other. And as I hired designers to work on each, I wanted to be able to provide the best insight and support to them. I thought that’s what I was supposed to do in the next step of my career trajectory. But what really happened is that I felt overwhelmed and out of the loop. Trying to oversee both arms of design meant that I wasn’t giving my full attention to either, which resulted in me feeling like an overall failure. 

I was in a meeting with a coworker one day, and I explained my anxiety about the situation. He asked, “If you could create your own position here, what would you be doing?” It was something I hadn’t thought about before. I mean, that’s not how jobs work. But regardless, I started seriously thinking about the question. 

I began by asking myself three things: What do I like doing? What am I good at? What will benefit the company? 

I love product design, but admittedly, it’s not a strength of mine at this point. I have the most experience with marketing design, but honestly, it’s not my favorite thing to work on. And as far as managing a team goes, I can’t say I’m that good NOR do I enjoy it very much. So as these thoughts floated around in my brain, I came to the realization that I hadn’t been providing the company much value in those roles. 

But where did my value lie? 

When I reflected on the projects I had worked on that I considered to be a success, they were a bit unconventional. The office lounge that resembles an outdoor park, the activity where random team members get coffee together, the year-end video that highlighted our special moments and included client well wishes, the trivia night with company-related questions, a quirky infographic about presidential Pinterest habits, and more of the ilk. 

The common theme? These projects made people happy. They made people smile and laugh and feel things. It’s what I like doing. It’s what I’m good at. And I believe it can provide exceptional value to the company. 

People (clients, team members, etc.) will experience our company in numerous ways, even if we do nothing about it. So why not craft that experience to be a wonderful and memorable one? Why not brand it, so it’s so very quintessenially us? Why not make sure that in every interaction, whether it’s in our office, through our product, at an event, or by means of our team, our brand’s awesome personality shines through consistently? 

I wrote up a proposal for this new role, Director of Experience, along with a list of initiatives that I would want to tackle. And as more proof that I love where I work, I was immediately supported and encouraged in this undertaking. When the rest of the team was informed about my transition, I heard from multiple people about how this new position is so right for me, which was really gratifying because I knew that my last one wasn’t. 

I had the tiniest ounce of concern about this professional change. Although I was onto my “next,” what would be my “next next?” Would a role like this be relevant somewhere else? Would I one day have to go back to a traditional design job, and if so, would I be rusty from taking a break? What do I even call myself? I was at an event last weekend where I had to give a brief interview, and when the question, “What do you do?” came up, I didn’t know how to respond. During my dramatic pause, the people nearby began watching, curious as to why I couldn’t answer such a simple question. “I manage the experience of my company’s brand” doesn’t go over as easily as “doctor,” or “teacher,” or even “designer.” 

In the end, I decided that none of that mattered much to me. Maybe I’ll keep telling people I’m a designer. And maybe my “next next” will be something completely off the wall and unrelated. But for now, I just want to do work that I’m excited about, and I’m incredibly fortunate to have that opportunity. 


Currently reading:

The Best Place to Work: The Art and Science of Creating an Extraordinary Workplace

X: The Experience When Business Meets Design

Experience Design: A Framework for Integrating Brand, Experience, and Value

The Culture Engine: A Framework for Driving Results, Inspiring Your Employees, and Transforming Your Workplace

Tour de Lead Graffiti

The evening of June 5th, Rob and I were strolling around First Friday in Philadelphia, popping in and out of galleries, when something caught Rob’s eye. An avid cyclist, Rob has become increasingly obsessed with the Tour de France over the last few years. So when we wandered into the AIGA gallery to a room filled with Tour de France prints, he was in heaven. 

We circled the gallery numerous times as he explained to me the details in some of the prints while also searching for prints of days that stood out to him as memorable Tour moments. Looking for more information about what we were seeing, we ended up talking with Ray Nichols, the mastermind behind the project, Tour de Lead Graffiti. This is where we learned about how the project, which involves creating a letterpress printed poster for each of the 23 days of the Tour, was soon to embark on its fifth year, as the 2015 Tour de France was scheduled to begin on July 4. When Rob mentioned to Ray that I was a graphic designer, Ray graciously invited us to join as collaborators for one of the printings. 

Within 10 minutes of leaving the gallery, Rob and I talked about it and were fully on board to participate, reserving Stage 7, Livarot > Fougères, as our big day.

Although sports are not exactly on my list of likes and my experience with watching the Tour is limited to when Rob points out crashes, close finishes, or spectators dressed in ridiculous costumes, letterpress printing is something I have wanted to learn more about. I’ve always loved creating with my hands, whether paper crafting, sewing, bookbinding, etc. but having a job in tech, it’s not something I’ve been able to make time for in a few years. 

The morning of Stage 7, Rob and I drove down to Ray and Jill’s home in Delaware to watch the live coverage together. I can tell that Rob enjoyed having someone to discuss Tour-related topics with, instead of being met with my blank stares. The actual race was fairly uneventful, compared to previous days which were full of horrendous crashes and dreadful weather. Aside from a few cows wearing Tour colors, the most notable moment occurred when Cavendish was interviewed after his 26th stage win, first this Tour, and released a lengthy exhale of relief which the announcer dubbed, “the sigh heard ‘round the world.” 

At lunch, we discussed the significant points from the race, as well as more about ourselves, our goals of traveling, where we were threatened to have our home burned down if we don’t visit the Borghese Gallery in Italy, and we ate delicious desserts to store up power for a long day of printing. Well, not Rob. He’s watching his sugar and carb intake. 

Then it was off to the studio, which felt like a museum filled with beautiful, old, printing equipment. Ray, still very much a teacher at heart, explained all of the machinery to us as we took photos like tourists. Working as a designer in an age where everything is done on a computer, I was blown away to see the history of my field, and also grateful that I don’t need muscles to operate the equipment of my day job.

We worked together to plan the layout of the poster and learned the lingo of the trade, from quoins to lockups. When it was time to run that first test sheet through the press to print the blue circular quote, I was in the driver’s seat, feeding the paper through. I grabbed the printed sheet and was awestruck. Those delicate, softly debossed, blue Garamond letters were on that paper because of us. Because we worked in concert to select type, place it, lock it in place, spread ink, and run the machine. It was beautiful. 

The rest of the day was much like that. Each new part of the poster that was added to the paper felt like the fulfilling moment of snapping in a puzzle piece. And at the end of the day, we had a stack of completed posters which tell the story of a specific stage of the 2015 Tour de France. But more valuable to us than the posters we left with, was the experience of spending the day with Ray, Jill, and their son Tray, learning a centuries-old technique, and combining Rob’s love of cycling with my love of design into one special day.  It is something we’ll carry with us forever, and we’re grateful that they graciously shared their project with us. 

My Favorite Moments of the 99U Conference

I was lucky enough to attend the 99U Conference last week in NYC where they gathered "some of the world's most productive creative visionaries & leading researchers to share pragmatic insights on how ideas are brought to life." Even better, I was attending as an Ambassador, which means I'll be bringing a 99U Local event to Philadelphia this September. 

Conferences tend to bring out the awkward introvert in me, and the idea of days of networking makes me cringe with anxiety, but I knew that it would be important for me to connect with as many brilliant people as I could while I had them within my reach. Thankfully, the other 27 Ambassadors were easy to spot with their eye-catching white lanyards, so I made it a point to seek them out. 

After meeting a good number of them, I began to feel incredibly grateful to be included in such a wonderful group of driven, successful, warm, and remarkable people. In a mere two and a half days, I know that I've made long-term friends from across the globe. Whether it was dancing together during Questlove's DJ set, or sharing desserts at the Russian Tea Room while brainstorming ridiculous startup ideas, or splitting a cab at the end of the latest night out I've had in years, I felt surrounded by my people

A few of the 99U Ambassadors with Behance creator, Scott Belsky.

A few of the 99U Ambassadors with Behance creator, Scott Belsky.

In addition to meeting some phenomenal humans, the content of the conference was valuable, applicable, and not to mention entertaining. Here are some of my favorite tidbits from the conference sessions.

Assumptions are hypotheses in disguise.
— Getting Started with User Research (on a Budget), Spotify
Getting things done means giving things up.
— Wil Reynolds, Seer Interactive
You don’t have to agree with a stereotype to be affected by it.
— Heidi Grant Halvorson
A meaningful life is also a stressful life.
— Kelly McGonigal
Genius has less to do with the size of your mind than how open it is.
— Shane Snow, Contently
Kimberly Bryant, Black Girls Code

Kimberly Bryant, Black Girls Code

Before you engage in conflict or a difficult conversation, you want know what it is you are fighting for.
— Rochelle King, Spotify
Design is identifying restraints and applying them in the right order.
— Stewart Butterfield, Slack
We’re living in an era where regular people can do extraordinary things.
— Chris Anderson, 3D Robotics
If I had to take myself from 10 years ago on in a creative battle, I would kick my ass.
— Christoph Niemann
Don’t try to take on the world. Try to change the way a few people see the world.
— Franklin Leonard, Black List
Don’t limit yourself to fights you know you can win.
— Kelly Sue DeConnick

As soon as the conference ended, I began looking forward to next year. But in the meantime, I'll be doing my best to make 99U proud of the Local event that I put on in September. 

Why I Bought an Apple Watch

“What does it do?” That’s the most common question I’m asked when people notice the new gadget adorning my wrist. And after three days of use, I’m relieved to say, “not much.” 

I’ll be the first to admit that ever since the day I bought my first iPhone (nerd alert: July 3, 2007), I’ve been one of those annoying people who is overly attached to her smart devices. I’m an early adopter, a gadget pre-orderer, a food instagrammer, a live tweeter. And I keep my phone in view at all times, whether it’s on my desk, on the passenger seat of my car, or yes, even on the restaurant table at dinner. And although I’ve argued the case for technology bringing people together, I could stand to detach a bit.

So why would I connect myself to another device? Well actually, it’s to allow myself to disconnect from the rest.

When I leave my house, I’m carrying a bag. On work days it’s a backpack or large shoulder bag. On weekends it’s a smaller cross body purse. All are significantly large enough for a slender iPhone 6. In fact, most of them even have an inside pocket made specifically for a mobile device. And yet where is my phone the majority of the time? In my hand. Because what good are the features of your phone if it’s hidden away in the deep abyss of a purse that masks all sounds and vibration patterns? 

But really, 95% of the time the phone is in my hand or next to me, it’s extraneous. No texts from friends. No calls from my husband. No directions to the nearest coffee shop. But what do I do? I fill up that 95% with social media and email and games and news and weather, etc. because hey, it’s right there in my hand. As amazing as it is to have all of the knowledge in the world right at my fingertips, I’m tired of the barrage of distractions. I’m tired of my lack of self-control and my obsession over the digital world.

My reason for buying an Apple Watch was the hope that it would let me detach from the unimportant stuff (95%) while still staying connected to the important stuff (5%). 

And so far so good.

I left my phone at my desk while I attended a few meetings and was still able to send my husband a quick “In a meeting, I’ll call you later,” reply. I went out to a restaurant and kept my phone in my purse the entire time. I went to Target and had my shopping list accessible and my hands free. For the first time in what feels like forever, I walked around my house without my phone in my pocket and I was still able to control my music and take a quick phone call when I needed to. And because the apps on the Apple Watch are so simplified, there really is NO WAY to spend more than a few seconds with my attention on my own wrist. 

Today, I sat on my patio and drank a cup of coffee, appreciating the beautiful weather and the quiet moment. It felt great. And that's why I bought an Apple Watch.

Letting my freak flag fly

“I couldn’t pull it off.” 

It’s a phrase I hear often. I’m not sure if there’s a “and neither can you,” that passive aggressively gets muttered under their breath afterwards. But I’d like to think, perhaps naively, that there’s a part of them that’s a bit envious of the color explosion I call a hairdo. 

In “Life During Wartime,” David Byrne sings, “Changed my hairstyle so many times now, I don’t know what I look like.” This would be my yearbook quote if I were 17 again. But 17-year-old Mel wasn’t bold enough to try a cornflower blue dye job. Twice as old, and giving half as many fucks (maybe fewer), I haven’t sported a hair color that could pass as natural in years. 

Any why would I? Countless people color their hair a shade different than the one they were born with. Why limit oneself to varying shades of browns and blondes in an attempt to dupe society into believing that the carpet matches the drapes, when there are an estimated 10 million colors that the human eye can see? I’d much rather work my way through the spectrum. 

When I sit in that salon chair every few months, I never consider whether or not I can “pull it off.” No one on this earth has genetics that result in a brown>blue>green ombre, so no matter what, it’s going to look a bit…odd. I’ve learned that you just have to own it. 

Now, there’s a big difference between “I couldn’t pull it off” and “I don’t want to pull it off.”

My mother, who is naturally blessed with the shiniest, thickest, stick-straight black hair not seen since Cher in the 60’s, shakes her luxuriously-locked head at me. She thinks I’m killing my hair. “Hair is already dead, ma,” I respond. She has said I look like a clown. She has said I’m too old. She has said that she hates it. And I know that my dear, sweet, hyper-critical mother is not the only person with such opinions. 

But you know what? I don’t do it for them. I don’t do it for the guy at the coffee shop who thinks I look “cool.” Or for the people who stop me in the street to tell me they love it. Or for the lady at Panera who was giving me the side eye the entire time I was enjoying my everything bagel and chocolate chip Muffie last Saturday (yes, I saw you). 

I do it because when I look in the mirror and see those pink, or purple, or blue locks reflected back, I smile. And as a 34-year-old woman who, like most women, spent the majority of her life feeling utterly self-conscious about one thing or another, I’d say that’s a major win.

Searching for a Way of Life

A few years ago, I attended a design presentation given by my friend, Von Glitschka. In it, he used a metaphor of matchsticks. He said that everywhere you go, every experience you have, you’re picking up matchsticks along the way, carefully placing them in your proverbial pocket. And one day, one of those matchsticks you’ve collected might light the fire of an amazing idea. 

At the time, I really took this lesson to heart and began seeking out new matchsticks anywhere I could. If I had the choice between sitting at home and binge-watching My Secret Neurosis Makeover Challenge, Alabama Edition on Netflix or going out and experiencing something, I’d put on my shoes and head out the door. 

And for me, it really worked. Not only did I gather future idea sparks, I gathered what ended up being some amazing opportunities. I attribute my current job (which I love) to a matchstick. I met some incredible people because of it. For years it was a way of life, where I had limited FOMO because I wasn’t ‘MO’ on anything. Speak on a panel? Sure! New exhibit coming to the museum? Let’s go! Plan a ridiculously stressful, logistically-nightmarish, weekend-long event…numerous times? Sign me up! Even activities that sounded less than appealing made it to my date book, and while I might have whined like a four-year-old when I had to put real-lady pants on instead of sweats, I can’t recall a single time I regretted it.

But now, in my quest for peace and with the hope of becoming a low-to-moderately-anxious human-being again, I’ve been reading about another way of life. An opposing way of life. Essentialism. The idea behind it is to “quiet the noise,” say “no” more often, unless, in your heart, it’s an overwhelming “yes,” and emphasize quality over quantity. Part of me thinks this makes sense. I shouldn’t allow others to dictate my agenda. I should live the life that I consciously choose to live, not what the requests in my inbox dictate. But another part of me thinks about all of those great matchsticks I wouldn’t have collected had I been self-serving instead. 

A pocket full of matchsticks could burn me right out but passing them up completely could leave me cold. Maybe the real lesson I’m learning is that there isn’t one premier philosophy for everyone, and as I evolve (cough cough, get older), I just need to keep reevaluating what works best for me.

Goodbye 2014

As everyone looks back fondly on a year that has come to a close, I have to conclude that my 2014 was...alright. There were plenty of my wonderful moments documented heavily across all forms of social media. What I didn't document, however, were the bouts of stress, feeling overwhelmed, the pressure I put on myself. Although there were no negative life changes, I spent some time feeling drained by the shifts in my career, worrying whether or not I was good enough, and fearing that I'm not prepared for my own future. 

I'm going to make sure my 2015 is different. 

It feels cliché to make changes in one's life because of a date on the calendar, but I suppose any reason to improve oneself is a good one. If last year was my year of worry, I want to make this year my year of peace. Maybe I'll find peace through meditation. Maybe I'll find it through essentialism. Maybe I'll find it through self-reflection. Maybe I won't find it at all, but I figure it's worth a shot. 

And in the meantime, I'll continue enjoying (and sharing) those inevitable wonderful moments.


I love clothes. It might sound superficial, but I do. I love buying clothes and wearing clothes. I love mixing and matching clothes into outfits that express the mood that I'm in or the person I want to portray. 

Working at a startup, it's easy to fall into a "jeans and t-shirt" routine. So in an attempt to be more mindful of my style and to explore the depths of my closet, I thought it'd be fun to photograph my daily outfits. I did this a while ago. And although it was fun, I didn't want to take a #selfie every day. This series is much easier. 

Keeping it fresh is going to be tough. I definitely get into the habit of wearing the same boots for a month straight. I'm going to try not to do that. If you want to follow my #ootd exploration, follow me on Instagram

Fake it till I make it...then what?

My offer letter said "web designer." At the time, two and a half years ago, I protested. "I'm not a web designer. Just 'designer' is fine." Here I was, brought into a fledgling startup as the fourth employee, tasked with designing a product with zero product design experience. Designing and building websites by utilizing a lot of trial and error. Making user experience decisions based on my gut. And so far, hey, it's worked out.

So now that I've designed a platform that's used (and loved) by over 400 brands, would I call myself a product designer or interactive designer? No. It still feels weird to me. And that's's my secret...I've been faking it the entire time. 

But when does faking something turn into actually doing something? 

I read this great article yesterday about how creative people feel "impostor syndrome," and it resonated with me. I've been waiting this entire time for someone to call me out. "You're not a REAL designer! You're just pretending! Boooo! BOOOOOOO!" And then tomatoes get thrown at my face.

How many years do I have to be doing this before I can confidently label myself? What books or articles can I read? What classes can I take? When will I finally feel like I've reached the "make it" part? Judging by the self-esteem issues I've endured my entire life, I can comfortably say, "never."

As I prepare to attend a conference tomorrow attended by some of the best, most talented product designers, whom I admire greatly, I feel the nerves churning in my tummy, awaiting that first tomato. 

My only comfort comes in the fact that maybe, just maybe, everyone else is a phony too.