To Be or Not to Be: The Job Question

by Eric Tsai

Hey everyone, I added some photos to my ongoing public exhibition: Brands, Spaces,  Interactions – my investigation using iphone and social network tools.

While I was away in the past few days, I received an email that I found appealing. It was from a reader asking for advice and he sounded confused.  I can relate to the concerns and the emotions from this person so I am going to discuss it.

Here it is:

Hello Eric

I was following twitter stumbling to your blog. I’m deeply intrigued with the posts of who, what, when to sell the stuff. I understand you’re in multi-disciplinary fields. I’m not sure if architecture is one.

I myself am into fields of architecture. The prime question is it worth going into. The job doesn’t offer much money. I’m looking into a field that is related to architecture with a more promising paycheck and job security.

I’m just wondering in your knowledge if architecture is a job to enjoy with all nighters and high competition


My first thought: to sell what stuff?  Why be so concerned about money?

The Way Fear Works


The question outlined in Quincy’s email is defined by fear.  According to fear, you must not take high risks and play your cards save.  I’m concerned about a stable source of income.  If I get a job, I get security.  If not, either I’m not good enough or it’s too competitive.

Well — I hope nobody thinks that way especially in the creative fields.

As Quincy raises the question at the end, I know architecture is a job with all nighters and high competition.  I know the job doesn’t offer much money; I know how a promising paycheck can ease fear of job security.

See, I prefer to be working for something that I believe in, I want to make an impact everyday.  Unless your passion is making money, do you know your passion?  Getting an education is one way to find out about yourself, but the reality is you won’t know until you test out the water.  Fear can be good if you learn to overcome it and use it as an inspiration.  When successful people get together, they either like to talk about their passion or their mistakes.

Logic And Emotion

The biggest challenge everyone faces today is balancing logic with emotion.  It’s hard to believe, but you’re the one creating the fear by believing it. What bothered me was that Quincy seems to be a creative person and his fear is dictating his logic.  He’s in the field of architecture, he should know if he enjoys the all-nighters and the competition there.

Ironically, I had similar situation from my younger brother who is a landscape architect.  He was laid off last year, frustrated, and depressed.  In fact, many times he thought about changing career by going into real estate or become a Wall Street trader.  I encouraged him to look inside his heart and search for his passion.  He started freelancing and has since picked up some clients now.

Let me be clear – income is important. But try using your logic and do something each and everyday to get closer to your passion.

I am not a C-level executive, and I realize that I didn’t enjoy being one.  I’ll write more about this later, but on my cards it usually prints creative or marketing director instead of CEO.  When someone asked me, “What do you do?” I simply say I do design and marketing – two things I really enjoy working on. If your life (including career) is driven by fear, I think you will have a high probability of a mid-life crisis down the road.  That’s when you realized you don’t like what you do or who you married then you buy a Porsche and dress like you’re in your 20s again.  Instead of trying to conform to your fears, spend your time conquering them will benefit you in making logical decisions.

Focus On Your Passion Will Go A Long Way

When I first started doing web design in 2000, there were very few tools and freebies like what’s available today.  Everything has to be hand coded with some knowledge of HTML, image editing, and web servers.  Now majority of the web publishing are done by none technical people – fast and easy.

Does that mean there is no job for web designers anymore?  No, it simply means only the strong survived.  And those that endured the commoditization storm are required to do more while getting paid less.  One thing is certain, web designers are more incline to stay competitive when they’re fond of doing it.

The key take away is this:  most jobs will become scarce.  I call this the evolution of commoditization. It means a job will loose its value over time with the availability of knowledge and technology.  When knowledge becomes ubiquitous, it’s easier to obtain and retain for people, creating excessive supply of qualified candidates.

hypecycleIn business, commoditization arises from business process automation in an effort to reduce the steps required to do the same tasks.  Less steps means less labor, less labor means less resources or people to do the same job. Technology accelerates this theory as described in “Why Business Models Evolve and How to Stay On Top.

When a new niche or industry is created, the people that benefit the most will be the early adopters.  Still, they have to keep up with the rate of change in order to stay relevant. If you don’t like what you do or lack passion you will most likely treat your job as “just a job.” It’s why sometimes older, more senior level employees are replaced by younger, more passionate ones.

How a paycheck comes is up to how much you are willing to put in.  Perception is reality we all must overcome our fears to stay on top of our game.

When one door shuts, another opens.

Roadmap for the Remaining 2009

by Eric Tsai

twitter01I started using Twitter about 2 weeks ago after relaunching in the blog format.  To my surprise, I received some great feedbacks and questions on my Twitter content.

I got on twitter mainly to use it as my own repository for links I enjoy reading and sharing.  The content I tend to focus on are design, marketing, branding, technology, business and entrepreneurship.  Those were the evolution of my career and after been through them I wanted to use designdamage as the platform to share my knowledge and experiences.

With that said, here are the topics I intend to cover for the remaining of the year:



– design principals: information architect, usabilities, ux, ix
– types of design: product, solution, service, web, etc
– design resources
– art and design


– brand development
– messaging and positioning
– marketing tools: seo, social marketing, channel marketing
– b2c vs b2b


– startups and entrepreneurship
– management, execution, strategies
– business development, partnerships
– sales and marketing

The idea of the roadmap is to provide a path to the areas of my expertise.  I will be sharing via my experiences and provide resources for those interested in learning more. I encourage you to subscribe to my blog or Twitt follow me on Twitter thanks!

Design Strategies: Beyond Aesthetics and Function

by Eric Tsai

I read a lot of business related blogs and one of my favor blog is Guy Kawasaki’s How to Change the World. Typically he blogs about business, startups, entrepreneurship, etc however; last week he had an interview with Hartmut Esslinger, the founder of frog design, a design firm I highly respect and keep my tabs on.

I couldn’t agree more with what Hartmut’s view on design:

Design” isn’t a clear-cut talent profession, but one of coordination and catalyst between human needs, science and technology, business and economy, as well as sociology and ecology. The artistic talent required is more of an enabler at the end of rational and emotional analysis as well as strategic conceptualization. Therefore, it is vital to learn and study as much as possible especially about business, technology and human nature. In the end, there are flavors in design which are more aesthetic—see New York Times “Style Magazine”—but design is only relevant when it improves human lives by appealing both to the mind and the heart.


Context of Design

The important aspect of design isn’t really about the visual enablement, but the the context of the experience, strategies and economy of scale.  I started out my career as a designer and as I progress into different management positions, I’ve come to realize the importance of knowledge, data, business and technology.

Designer chases after the end result, the goal to satisfy as much requirements as possible.  My art professor in college once told me that “art is different, it kind of just sits there on the wall and does nothing. but design must do something even though both are up to the interpreters.”

I was producing conceptual art and I couldn’t care if people understood the meaning of my art, instead I focus on my emotions.

When I started designing, I quickly realized that design has  boundaries but no rules.  There are set requirements but ultimately you could do whatever you want.  The catch is that innovation will come at a price that you are willing to pay: your design may not sell, could have major flaws over time, or get you fired from you job.  Whatever those reasons may be, they become fear.  And fear is what kills creativity, it’s the unspoken corporate rule that slowly deteriorates innovation.

Design is beyond just form and function, it’s solving and improving within a set discipline.  Design is essential from architecture, clothing, automobile, highways, food, technology, right down to your body.  By you working out you’re trying to shape your body, creating a form that you want to match your goal – to be fit or to look a certain way.  Before you start working out you must research and learn about your body and the exercise you’re going to need to achieve your goal.  Then you execute and overtime learn the optimal training routines to reach the condition you targeted.

Moving forward design will become more important as the convergence of technology continues to transform the way we live.  With every new scientific discovery design will be one of the key success drivers for businesses to innovate and rethink our next decision.  Through iterations, design will improve over time adpating to the humanistic and cultural element of our society.

Good Design: Part 2 – The User Experience

by Eric Tsai

Now let’s move into the second important element of good design: The User Experience (UX).

After the framework is laid out, the next step is to orchestrate a path to the user experience. Design variables and objectives can be predefined in many ways, but fundamentally it must connect with the user to form the optimal experience. It’s what makes you say words like, amazing, slick, beautiful, scary, sexy, fun, annoy, loud, obnoxious, or cheap. Words that attempts to describe the experience and just like a picture it’ll never be the exact description.

In order to deliver the best user experience, everything goes back to the framework of knowing who you’re targeting and if you know your market.  Obviously people have different views and opinions, which is why design can be very subjective from one person’s view to another.

For example, (continuing my car theme) someone that likes sports cars may or may not care about the 0-60 mph acceleration speed, he or she may simply enjoy the exterior look and interior design.  On the other end, that same person may have a big family and will need another car that addresses the need of transporting a big family from soccer games to grandma’s house.

So if a automobile manufacturer is to develop a new “affordable” sport car that looks nice but is mediocre in acceleration they are in effect targeting the people that cares more about the look and would preferred to allow that experience to dictate their buying decision.  This car may look fast and sporty but it may not have the most comfortable ride or enough space for utility.  This is why it’s important to now only know your customers, but also know how to market and cater to their personality. Checkout the chart below you will find that Toyota has covered three demographics with three brands to maximize their market share


So how is that related to user experience?  Well, if you know who you’re aiming for you can then focus on those specific areas to engage the interaction to impact the user perceptions resulting in a desirable outcome.  Depending on the purpose of the product, in my example I used cars but if it was clothing, it’s style as well as gender, location, ethnics, age, income brackets, and so on.  It’s always a good to start with analytical data then develop the target groups for each design.

If you know who you’re selling the idea (design) to, it simply comes down to the creation of the information architecture by utilizing as much data as possible to address and integrate all user-facing aspects of the experience from visual to emotion that are needed to connect the user to the design.

It should be noted that no design is timelessly perfect, it can be the best solution for a specific period of time then turns into a classic, or it could just be a short term trend.  The idea is that with every revision, the next generation  should improve the overall usability and experience from the last. Thus the reason why the latest car model will usually retain the good elements of the previous generation completely or attempt to improve upon its success. It is a continueous living proecess that designers embrace as a challenge to come up with better designs again and again.

Good Design: Part 1 – The Framework

by Eric Tsai

A designer is a problem solving artist, creative inventor, functional planner, and a forward thinking strategist. Look around you and you will find that every piece of your surrounding are the designed with a purpose, just different in economy of scale, usability and creativity.

What constitute good design? What are the elements of good design? I can go on and on with a long list of elements but in my opinion the short answer should be that good design creates positive synergy, serves its purpose and improves the overall experience. It has to communicate the intend, deliver with style, and it has to work!

From clothing to electronics, from cars to computers, design has a purpose and it’s not about redefining or innovation but to provide solutions. Design solutions can be anything such as a product, or a marketing message, a piece of music, a meal, or a building – they must bring together key objectives and deliver the end result to achieve the stated goal(s).  The challenging aspect of coming up with the solution is the framework that defines the project.

The demanding part of the job is to solve as many obstacles within the provided framework and still be as creative and expressive. For example, to address the need of an affordable automobile there is now a $2,000 Tata Nano and I can guess on the top of the design priorities list for the car are probably cost, safety, fuel economy, and so on while at the bottom of the list are performance, space, and aesthetics.

On the opposite spectrum checkout the $100,00 Fisker Karma S, a plug-in hybrid luxury sports sedan that exhibits style and luxury linked with the hot new word “hybrid.” Different objectives to address different taste.


You really can not say one design is ‘better’ than the other simply because they serve two entirely different markets, concepts, budget and approach. It’s like comparing apples to oranges, they are not priced the same in the market and to that end, cost(budget) plays an important role in how “innovation” come in play from within a predefined creative parameter.

It’s almost more impressive to actually be able to purchase a brand new vehicle for $2,000 than dropping $100,000 on a luxury hybrid because the bottom line is you can buy a lot of Tata Nanos with that amount of money – try 50 Tata Nanos.

The New Design Focus – Eco Spirit

by Eric Tsai

I remember when I was a kid my family used to recycle bottles and cans all the time and my mom would take us to the local grocery store monthly to the ‘recycle machine’ for some pocket change.  Back then I always felt that money was the incentive that drove people to recycle even though it’s not going to make anyone rich doing it.  It just seems like the right thing to do especially in the early 90s but it was not yet a way of life, it was just recycle.

After Al Gore’s Inconvenient Truth and President Obama’s focus on alternative energy and sustainability, there has been a steady increase in both awareness and momentum in the environmental friendly design category.   Having done product design previously I’ve came across some real creative concepts being developed in the area of sustainability and eco friendly space.

c77dd_logoOne of my favorite weekly newsletter/ blog, DesignDirectory has some real cool designs and innovative concepts.   Since last year I’ve started thinking about creating more ‘green’ designs and it can be as clever as the  biodegradable bag – 60 Bags or as fascinating as the PeePoo Bag:  a plastic bag-cum-toilet for the developing world.  What’s up with all the bag?

While eco green is the ‘hot’ new thing now, it still carries the same design principals as with all successful design solutions – connecting users to products and aesthetic is just one intrigue part of the overall objective. Good design speaks modern languages, communicates solutions, and addresses problems.

I am excited about the opportunities to contribute in solving a world problem, in many ways eco designers will require to be more embedded in the business strategies to drive success for this market. This will involve collaboration, new working methods, knowledge transfer and a new attitude to design research.

Building Brand Trust with Design

by Eric Tsai

Today I came across John Gerzema‘s article on The Trust Virus outlining the correlation between trust and brands. It mentioned the current fear and uncertainty in this recession is due to the lack of trust, thus our current economic meltdown was accelerated by the distrust in the failed banks, unregulated financial system, Bernie Madoff, and unproductive automakers.

I believe emotion trumps logic and trust is comfort (an emotion) but needs facts to support that logic. This is why design always has a function, a goal, a need to earn that trust.

iPod ShuffleThe perfect example would be Apple, which ironically released its latest iPod shuffle today with half the size of the last generation but with twice the capacity.  You can always expect something new and uniquely different,  Steve Jobs never fails to fuel the brand with brand awareness, effective marketing and yes, trust – trust that Apple will deliver a sexy product with style and functionality.

Apple focuses on the ultimate user experience to build their brand equity by creating products that their customers don’t even know they need, that’s trust.  Trust that Apple will give you an exciting show, the unique style you want, the engaging experience you deserve, all for a price tag to set them (and you) apart from the rest.  Even if the product falls short in some ways, the faith in its brand is enough to overcome the logic.

Form and function are no doubt the fundamentals of design, but marketing and branding are the next barrier to compete for consumer trust.  Design is conceptualizing the idea then deliver the user experience to earn trust for the desirable outcome – selling the idea while creating awareness.  At the end you are the best sales person for a brand, wouldn’t you recommend ‘your trusted brands’ to your family and friends?