Light knifed across the stark grey ceiling. Pain curled in my gut. Sweaty salty upper lip. Knees pulled to my chest. Slitted curtain. Slipping into and out of lucid dreams: Late summer bright suits and sundresses. Grass blades tickling my back. Fighting for a share of blanket on the hilltop. Birds formed a wheel overhead. When I shut my eyes, my body shook itself awake.Read More
Four years ago, I was having a conversation with the head of client services at a large marketing studio, and somehow we ambled onto the topic of Buddhism. I mentioned that I'd been thinking about the similarities between Buddhism and design, and he said: "Well, then clients definitely make us suffer too."
We both chuckled at the joke, but there was a hint of wisdom lurking in the laughter.
We don't need clients to cause us to suffer. We do a fine job of causing suffering in our work without them.Read More
Sitting on the cabin's deck was like having a front-row seat at a dragstrip. The birds would park themselves on the perches of a bird feeder, seesawing back and forth to take little sips of sugar water. Then, with a snap, their bodies would shift from sitting to hovering and zip into the treeline.Read More
The water glass tumbled to the floor and shattered. Glittering fragments, both small and large, covered almost every inch of the bathroom floor.
A minute passed. Still in shock, I surveyed the tiled landscape from my maroon bathmat island.Read More
The rules of the road? There are no rules. Riding in a fast-moving car, the freeway is a fat, pulsing vein, and we are but one blood cell swirling through the body called Dhaka.
Oncoming traffic doesn't matter, since we can swerve into whatever lane is free to get there a few seconds faster. Right of way isn't important, because we cut off everyone else indiscriminately — three lanes of road packed five to six vehicles across at any moment with rickshaws, mopeds, cars, buses, compressed natural gas (CNG) taxis.
The man who was helping me find my way around joked that when traffic lights are green, you slow down. When they're yellow, you start to speed up. When they turn red, you drive as fast as you can.Read More
A thousand books scattered about the apartment, stacked in knee-high piles. All of the bookshelves bare. This housecleaning project was unplanned, but had been on our mind for months—reviewing every single book we'd accumulated over the past 10 years, and deciding which ones we could live without. Deadline: We had to wrap it up before the end of the long weekend. Otherwise, my wife and I couldn't make it out the front door.
Books have always been my worst vice. A lifelong addiction, scented with ink and glue. Being inside a bookstore requires great restraint, as I'd like nothing more than to run off with an endcap of science books, and perhaps swipe a popular novel or two on the way out the door while laughing maniacally.
It wasn't always this way. Through most of high school and college, I was able to get by just with the library. When I was in graduate school, however, I would acquire and read 3 to 4 books a week—for work, for pleasure, for class, for my full-time job as an editor. In the mail, I would receive dozens of review copies a month. The bookshelves grew fuller and fuller, and since many books were referred to in class, I had no excuse to get rid of them. It wasn't until a hurricane blew through town and flooded our townhouse's basement—destroying about a hundred of my books—that I felt heartbroken at having to recycle all those books. Giving away or selling books, even since then, has always been a struggle.
It wasn't until a few years ago that I realized my hoarding tendencies were part of a shenpa.Read More
Something people with creative jobs always struggle with, myself included, is that creativity often likes to take its sweet damned time. We're forced into all sorts of habits and rituals that we feel will help us get to ideas more quickly. Totems of one such ritual sits on my desk: A pile of postcards at least three inches tall, sent from people all over the world. They serve as a reminder that creativity flows from well-considered constraint, married to daily discipline.Read More
Last Saturday, I was talking with Keith, the export representative for a sake brewery in Nagoya. His day-to-day life sounded like a dream job for anyone who enjoys chatting with people and world travel. He's constantly flying from city to city, often internationally through Europe and Canada, presenting and pouring the range of high-end sakes that his brewery crafts every winter.
While he explained the flavor nuances between a junmai sake and a non-junmai sake — where the rice utilized in making the sake had its husk and 50% of its kernel polished off in the pre-fermentation process — I asked him how his job performance is measured. Does he have a sales quota? Or is there some kind of softer metric for his success for his company?Read More
Human ingenuity is only bounded by what we can identify as an opportunity through unmediated experience.Read More
The first time I flew on an airplane was the first time I realized that people die.
We were a third of the way towards a fuzzy destination — it might have been Denver, or Atlanta, or one of those hub cities that you travel through in order to actually reach your final destination. As I sat and ate my apple sauce from the airplane-provided kid's meal, I asked myself with my three-year-old brain, "What would happen if the plane crashed?" Wailing and gnashed teeth ensued from that moment onwards.Read More
Hell is not other people. Hell is being surrounded by free candy. Much as a child is forced to smoke a carton of cigarettes when caught out on the back porch with a Marlboro Light, my avoidance of sweets came about through overkill — that is, working in a candy store.Read More
Much like the First Law of Thermodynamics, which expresses the conservation of energy between various states, my imagined First Law of Design Thermodynamics states: "We are unsolvable problems."
Or, to put it another way: Problems persist, and we are an expression of them.Read More
A pay telephone ringing in the midst of a crowded subway terminal. A woman in hospital scrubs, dark bags under her eyes like smudged blue paint. Young girl looking away from a red plastic BlackBerry into the blur of lights whipping past the window. Smell of nectarines, humid air, irises and gerbera daisies poking from a Trader Joe's paper bag.
This is history, and we are living it in perfume and thoughts of recent wreckage. Arthritic hands fidgeting with a laminated ID attached to a lanyard embossed with the GTE logo. Never-ending scrape and racket of train-track wheels against steel. Recorded red-black ringtone automated to sync with the closing doors. Balled-up newspapers dated Thursday and stuffed into the gaps between mustard-yellow vinyl seats.
Clammy cold handrail. This carpet has been inspected by 30. Baby is crying. Mother is crying too.Read More
I listen to the nest of baby starlings outside my front window. In the midst of their morning song, I have picked out their attempts to recreate the sounds of car alarms, police sirens, foghorns from boats on Lake Union, cars accelerating, the cry of a toddler, doors shutting, and the calls of robins, crows, flickers, and a wide range of other birds that throng the trees and marshes near our home.
The song of the starling seems like a random melange of clicks, whistles, warbles, and otherwise incongruous chatter. But the starling does speak in a pattern—one that is barely perceptible to the human ear, but possible to decode.Read More
I often think about analogues between design research and Buddhism. Not in a practical way—if there is such a thing—but more in a sense of how the process of design attempts to bring a brief moment of permanence to an idea in an ever-fluctuating world. The more meaningful an idea, the more likely it will gain root in the rich soil of our minds.
Ideas are the leavings of an insight—a deeply rooted and observed human truth. Without an insight, good ideas are mere flower petals scattered across the road and apt to float off in a stiff breeze. Beautiful to admire, but no more meaningful than wallpaper.
A strong insight binds together large and small ideas into something palpable, even beautiful—though the latter characteristic isn't required for a designed artifact to function properly. I like to think that great design, from an Eastern perspective, requires the latitude to grow and change good ideas into even greater ideas. The form of thought is never static, except when communicated through story. Design is just one form of conveying story. And stories never end.Read More
"White lies on the brim of the image of life, that is, of information, which has soared up out of great chaos. Chaos is like the world and white is like a map, or a figurative representation. Mapping the world, or generating figurative representations, is graphic design. White is the original form of life. I see the original form of my own work as the imagining of white rising to majestic stature from chaotic gray." —Kenya HaraRead More
The old man crouched on his haunches, lost in thought. As a stream of people flowed past, he reached forward, quietly shifting the placement of varied and sundry antiques on a bright blue blanket: an incense holder, teapots, rice bowls, binoculars, reproductions of classic Zen art on roughly cut wood, books for copying sutras, quartz watches, lacquered boxes, flower vases, and six-inch tall carved figurines meant to represent an African-American blues band.Read More
The painting sits above two bookshelves in our living room, sandwiched between a purple potted orchid named Sven and an old Bell and Howell film projector. Every morning, sitting at the kitchen table, it catches my eye. Four years ago, it arrived in a large unmarked box from my wife's father and stepmother. They volunteer at a thrift shop in Cape Coral, Florida, and often surprise us with antique cameras, clocks, and other bric-a-brac that mesh with our penchant for hand-worn technology. After shoveling through a swath of bubble wrap and styrofoam peanuts, we found a handwritten note regarding the painting: it was titled "The Philosopher's Wife."Read More
I watched the robin hop his way up and down the branches of the tree, efficiently gulping down the berries until he noticed my gaze. In a huff, he flew away.
Mesmerized, I forgot to take a picture of that moment with my smartphone for my Instagram account or Tumblr. Or: I could digest it into a brief tweet so my friends can imagine that moment in time, distract themselves as long as it took me to write the above sentence, and turn back to whatever matters are consuming their attention. Instead of being in the moment, I was in the moment of thinking how I could share the moment. Then, the moment ended. I was left with nothing but these words.Read More
This morning in yoga class, our instructor was focusing on the seventh chakra, the seat of all the other chakras in our body. It's where true consciousness and intuition illuminates the bodymind, like the lumens projected on a television screen.
"It takes 18 minutes of sitting to reach a meditative state," she said at the start of class. As we progressed through a set of asanas, we would pause to sit, breathe, and let that screen of the seventh chakra slowly clarify, pushing space aside to allow us to experience life as it is.Read More