Pigs ~Circa 1985-88
My initial attraction to the disciplines of design started when I began sketching at around 4-5yrs old with the encouragement of my Mother who was (and still is) a professional calligraphist. She was very intentional about raising me in a creative environment that was highly conducive to self driven learning and a love for typography, the benefits of which I still enjoy today. It's also interesting to note that my Father was a professor of church history and spent a lot of his time researching in libraries and monastaries around the world. I didn't know it then but their influence would give me a marked advantage in my career as a UX designer.
As I went through the standard early-20s-struggle-to-find-my-identity bit, I repeatedly found myself taking on endeavors that I was destined to fail at. Looking back now I realize that trying to follow the path that society deemed acceptable for me was my undoing every time. After dropping out of college for the third time to work more hours, I fell into a cycle of getting a job, hating it and either getting fired or moving on to another company for more money. After moving to Silicon Valley and getting laid off from yet another dead end job, I finally had enough. I saw the startup scene starting to pick itself back up post dot com bust and was intrigued. I took a severance package from corporate america and started to do some research... How might I start my own company?
I knew I didn't do well in a formal educational environment but I did know that I could teach myself just about anything. So at that point I decided to look into the startup scene to see if anything clicked.
During this season of learning I ended up meeting some people along the way that gave me key advice and direction for my career. These were my biggest takeaways from them:
Not long after moving to Silicon Valley I got the opportunity to hang out with Phillip Rosedale, founder of Second life, at his co-working space in San Francisco. After patiently listening to me pitch him on some startup ideas I had, he gave me this advice:
You have no skills that are relevant in a startup. A startup founder must have either engineering, design, or at the least, business skills and ideally will have experience with more than one of these in their background. If you want to build a startup I suggest you go work at one for awhile, get some relevant skills, see if you like the startup lifestyle and then start your own business.
This was pretty tough for a freshly self minted entreprenuer to hear but eventually I took it to heart and was incredibly thankful for Phillip's advice.
Daniel and Kevin were the first people in the tech industry to give me the big break that I had been praying for. They hired me as Moonblink's creative marketing director without any previous experience or formal training and for this I will forever be greatful. While re-branding the company and launching a fully responsive website for them, I discovered the transformative experience of flow! I now had a project on my portfolio, had picked up some skills as Phillip had recommended and knew where I wanted to invest my time and energy.. in design! A few years after leaving Moonblink, I ended up doing some consultation for Kevin and he had this to say about working with me:
I've worked with Lance while he was a Creative Marketing Director at Moonblink, and several times as a consultant for other projects. His skills at bringing together a complex project on time are impeccable. He is quick and eager to learn the intricacies of a business so he can understand the aspects of what will fit from a design perspective. He has a great entrepreneurial spirit, and will happily lead brainstorming sessions to push a project forward. He's your man for any graphical design work.
While working at a sustainable energy startup in Sunnyvale I got the opportunity to be mentored by Carsten Schwesig, a UX designer who had just been working with Disney and Playstation to whip their UX teams into shape. I remember showing him a mockup I had spent a whole day working on and he said:
I will not even look at this again until you've aligned everything.
Just thinking about how I felt hearing that remark reminds me of how close I was to admitting defeat and returning to corporate America. But I had not come this far to turn back now.
Upon leaving that startup, I picked up a contract job with The Innovators DNA designing an internal innovation portal for Cisco. Upon seeing one of the initial design drafts, Tom Lamberty, a manager of team intelligence at Cisco gave me this great feedback:
Great work Lance! This stuff is light years beyond what we have deployed anywhere else in the company!
After the project was finished, Curtis Lefrandt, CEO of IDNA, gave me this wonderful recommendation:
Lance is a great designer to work with. He came up with a host of fresh design ideas right off the bat that really improved our product's UX/UI. In addition to the creative insights he brought, he executed perfectly--getting us the work we needed on time and in careful detail. It was a pleasure working with him! - Curtis Lefrandt CEO @ Innovator's DNA
I can't overstate how big of a boost this was for my confidence and how well it validated the freelance design path I found myself on.
Two years and about 30 projects later, I got the opportunity to work at Pivotal Labs in San Francisco on a 3 month contract designing an app for a large HR software company. Here I had the chance to work on a post-agile product cycle with an agressive deadline in an environment like few others. Pair programming, using Pivotal Tracker and Pivotal's unique approach to getting work done was an experience that challenged all of my previously held assumptions about product development. In a fortuitous turn of events, I got to learn about Pivotal's processes and methods by working directly with Wiley Kestner, one of the most respected Sr. developers at the SF Labs. It was an intense experience working with him and the Pivotal team and I repeatedly tapped the limits of my abilities to keep up. In spite of my inner struggles I was pleased to find out that Wiley enjoyed working with me as much as I enjoyed working with him. He was gracious enough to write me this great recommendation:
Lance was more than just a 'designer' on the iPhone app we worked on together. He showed deep empathy for the user and for his teammates. Lance proactively looked for ways to help the users of our app solve their problems and worked hard to ensure that the software developers on our team always had both the context and the design assets we needed to deliver our product in rapid iterations. He even took time to sit next to developers while they worked to observe and learn. I would highly recommend Lance to any product team and would welcome the opportunity to work with him again. - Wiley Kestner Sr Developer @ Pivotal Labs SF
Today, while in the process of updating my portfolio, I feel like this recommendation has brought everything full circle. Coming out of so much time spent in failure and insecurity to the place of confidence and success I'm in now, I can look back and see how long and winding the road was. But in spite of the struggles I can honestly say that If I could go back and do it all over, I wouldn't change a thing.
1. I discovered that I loved designing.
To better understand what this looks and feels like, read
Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi's book: Flow.
The way I found this joy was when I stopped trying to follow a socially acceptable trajectory and created my own path by trying a lot of different things in a relatively short amount of time.
2. I connected with people who were where I wanted to be
In order to connect with those people, I focused on being friendly, curious and informed enough to ask the right questions. I went to meetups and conferences on subjects I was interested in. And most importantly: I made myself vulnerable by asking for help.
3. I never stopped learning
So that brings us to the present day. I got tired of the Silicon Valley hustle about a year ago and moved to Thailand where I took a sabbatical, met the love of my life and got married!
The biggest lessons I learned on my journey were; find out what gets you into flow, connect with people who will help you level up, never stop learning and take time to rest along the way. God bless.