How I became a T-shaped Designer
I’ve always been the eccentric kid. Most adults thought I was disturbing. While most kids were drawing pictures of cats and dogs I drew a cockroach with really long stilts-like legs. While most children were drawing pictures of mom and dad, I drew the naked women I saw in my parents’ porn and make sure I scribbled in some pubic hair. I liked drawing a lot. I even won a Founder’s Day award in high school for my narcissistic self-portrait sketch. I believe my eccentricity and love for drawing set me up for an unconventional path to designerhood.
At the time when I was supposed to be studying for the O Levels, I was actually more concerned with opening a bicycle shop. Naturally I didn’t do well for most of the pre-O Levels exams and the school decided to kick me out. I then somehow ended up in a technical school and had my first encounter with the computer. I learned HTML and Flash. I was suddenly armed with tools which allowed me to create like never before. I left technical school because it sucked and tried to enroll in a multimedia course. Since I’ve already spent a month learning Flash 5 and HTML, instead of going to school I boldly applied for an internship at a small design studio and began my journey to become a designer. Of course I got kicked out from there too. This time because I wiped the files by accident from one of the company computers.
Since then I have been neck-deep in graphic design. I freelanced on and off, worked for studios, did print and web and relentlessly improved myself with all the free literature I could find. I became good at typography, I knew how offset printers work, I could code in HTML and ActionScript. And then the web standards movement started. By this time I was already proficient in the design vertical. I saw web standards as a nice challenge. At the time you could get a lot of kudos when you could code complex web pages in table-less XHTML. I liked that and so I coded in XHTML Strict and picked up CSS.
Way before Steve Jobs denounced Flash, I made an effort to do more standards-based websites and eventually ditched Flash for good. I became good at it and became a sought-after designer in my local startup community. Working in startups exposed me to rich web applications and web frameworks. I started calling myself a UI Designer and picked up things like information architecture and usability engineering. I poured myself into all the good books on the subjects. I spent as much as $200 a month at Kinokuniya Books. Not satisfied with merely being a follower I started writing a blog on design philosophy.
After working with so many startups it was inevitable I wanted to start one of my own. I had no lack of product ideas. Most of them are crap but last year I had the idea for Likables. It’s a Pinterest-like website but I didn’t know about Pinterest until I launch Likables and someone told me about it. I originally planned to have a developer friend help engineer the back-end in Ruby on Rails while I focused on the front-end. But because she had a full-time job and couldn’t commit as much time as I wanted her to I ended up learning Ruby on Rails and did at least half of the back-end work. I studied Ruby and Rails with as much intensity as I studied design. I bought Ruby books and Rails books. I used Rails for Zombies, Lynda.com and Railscasts. I would take off and try to implement something and course-correct in the middle with new things I learn. I learned to refactor rubbish code. I made sure I understood things deeply like Active Record, migrations and how controllers tied the view and model together so I wasn’t just blindly copying and pasting code. I used StackOverflow like a team of free programmers eager to provide me with the code I needed.
After Likables, I had the idea for Mocku.ps and decided I would build it myself. Now that I have launched the prototype with back-end and front-end code I’d written myself, with an interface and interactions I designed, with a brand icon I illustrated, I think I am finally somewhat a T-shape designer.
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