Week 23 | The end

My 10 weeks at SYP as a design intern are now over. And yet, I still woke up early this Monday and hopped on the subway, as if I was going to work. I am now sipping on my latte writing this long to-do list and thinking about this summer. It is a total blur. It all happened so fast. It started on a high note and ended on high note. That, I know! I also now that SYP is big school my friends. There was so much to learn as a professional and human being. I will then use this post to be a moment of reflection instead of a highlight about my past week.

Generosity was a key value inside these walls since day 1. The emotional and intellectual intelligence of people I worked with was beyond what I could even start to imagine in a workplace. Everybody thinks about how to best show up and interact with one another and every single person puts their heart in their work. The talent team did such a remarkable job at immersing us in the culture. We had multiple share-outs and thoughtful moments to discover every facet of SYP. I haven’t felt any hierarchy or ego from anyone during these 10 weeks. And I was also particularly surprised with how much teams are in tune with their feelings. For example, work sessions start or end with short open reflections, creating a safe environment to grow right away.

As a structure, SYP provides multiple fridges and shelves with organic food for everyone. I grew up in a house where our fridge was always full and open for anyone who wanted to grab something. This heartwarming detail made me feel home. The space itself is also designed in a way to make you feel home. I will definitely miss the showers that are bigger than my room in NYC and the meditation room!

Additionally, the company encourages people to meet up during 1–1 moments by simply offering a Mastercard to every employee to cover up their expenses. I had 45 1–1 in 10 weeks. I met the most extraordinary and talented people with multiple lives. Meeting them inspired me to organize experimental 1–1 drawing sessions. We would take a moment to breathe, let go of the day-to-day pressure and talk about anything while doodling and connecting in a meaningful way. I made a multilayered and joyful book to celebrate these beautiful moments. It is now in their library forever. Yay! I genuinely hope that someone will continue these drawing sessions as they felt very freeing on both sides. It was a break from the pressure of actively seeking greatness. The greatness was actually in the moment.

About that pressure. Funny how everybody openly thinks that they are constantly at the edge of incompetence. Since SYP works with C-suite and game changing leaders, the day-to-day work is hardcore challenging across all levels. It is rough but the process of growing is put on a fast-forward button. No one knows how we will make anything happen but we all trace the map together to get to our destination. The steps reveal themselves little by little—requiring a lot of trust and patience to embrace ambiguity.

A couple of things changed in me during that process: I used to think I couldn’t design anything if I didn’t create the content for it. Wrong. I used to think I needed a plan on a spreadsheet for everything. Wrong. I used to think I had to do it all myself to ensure the best possible outcome. Wrong. I used to think I needed to be the smart pants in the room to prove my value. Wrong. I used to believe in the big idea. Wrong. All of these elements taught me to not be precious about what I design anymore. How fucking freeing! To be honest, if I had to do anything differently after these 10 weeks, I would have told myself to let go of the pressure of showing my worth and being okay with walking in unwise. I spent too much energy doubting myself and what I had to offer—like everybody does there during their SYP journey. The truth is, getting our foot in the door is already enough. We are the persons we are, not the version 42 of what we design. In other words, we are worth all of our human experience and what makes us who we truly are.

My journey has been a deeply transformative one. 10 weeks is a short time but enough to learn priceless lessons to carry with me in the world and my practice. I am grateful for every moment I had in SYP, grateful for every human I met there and grateful I found a place that allowed me to be me. I feel ready for what is coming next—back to the family I chose, grad school and teaching. NYC, my home and love, just like last summer, this is not an au revoir. It’s a see you later. Let’s end this reflection with a happy picture of all the interns on our last day and the fabulous talent team. Retweet!

△☐○ | Week 22 | About process

For some reason, it is very rare to experience the process of a creative, and yet I find its magic a way bigger than the final form. Let’s talk more about process!

△Three things that stood out to me

Drawing the Curtain: Maurice Sendak’s Designs for Opera and Ballet 
I fell in love with Sendak’s drawing when I discovered Where the Wild Things Are a few year ago. His drawings for the stage have a unique sense of storytelling using fantastical sequences and precision that I found compelling. It gave me a glimpse on his thinking process and reinforced why I want to hug all of his fluffy monsters. Hmf.

Come out!
In the spring of 1970, Peter Hujar took the picture behind the famous poster “come out” aimed at recruiting for the Gay Liberation Front. When I saw his contact sheet, I felt like reducing the project to one poster wasn’t as powerful as the series it could have created. His pictures are so raw, alive and full of energy. What-a-shame. I wonder how many creative projects like these get removed from a chance to shine even brighter.  

Building sand castles 
I forgot how relaxing it was to be 3 years old again, build a castle at the beach after eating too many Doritos and imagining the lives of those who would have lived in that castle. So therapeutic!

☐ 1 thing that made sense to me

We shall never surrender
Ok here is my Churchill moment at TDC: I presented the process of designing my typeface Unreasonable, and as I was ready to put the project in the Not-So-Great-After-All box, the audience’s reaction surprised me. “No, it shouldn’t end in a graveyard. It’s inspiring.” Why should anything end in a graveyard anyway? There is value in pushing the work to reach greatness even at moments when our brain farts in front a particular project. It is actually part of the process. Ha!

○ 1 Question

Hum. What the fuck?
This is an etched and engraved cropped print by William Hogarth representing a satirical urban scene in England during the 18th century—a time of socio-economic disparity. FYI, his prints are full of cruel depictions with open bodies and violence of all kinds. But this (oddly old-looking) baby being thrown away gave me the creeps. I mean, what the fuck Hogarth? I do want to understand his process!

△☐○ | Week 21 | Very much alive

Too fast to not live. Too young to die. That’s how I feel about NY. Alive at all times. Very much alive. So let’s not cut the walla!

△Three things that stood out to me

Punk Graphics
In the early 70s and 80s, punk evolved into new wave, affecting the aesthetics of the genre. Eclectic typography and eccentric alphabets dominated in posters and zines. A lot of hand drawn lettering, found typography ripped from magazines, contrast using scale, uneven baselines, dimensional typography and upside-down experiments. The striking part is that you can’t really tell the difference between professional and amateur work. Being “deskilled” was the vibe. After all, punk was a reaction to an economic malaise, formulaic industry and celebration of stereotypes. The result is vibrant, full of energy, expressive and alive. For someone who grew up listening to punk, switched to new wave and indie rock, and is in love with spirited typography, this exhibit was a blast!

Theater on canvas
Just discovered the stylized social dramas on canvas of James Brown. His visual language is inspired by postwar advertising and film noir. It was refreshing to experience his approach to painting as he is freezing a live art form, theater, on canvas, making it a virtual still life.

Lightness of being
July 27. Around 4 PM. Warm afternoon. 9 months after I broke my ankle. I was dancing in Central Park in the middle of a drum circle. Gertrude Stein said “you look ridiculous if you dance. You look ridiculous if you don’t dance. So you might as well dance.” I only looked happy. The happiest, in fact. Look at that smile! I could sweat and jump like a normal person. I did not care about a single thing in the world at that particular instant. I had let go of all the energy I kept inside me all these months. I was like a glass of water, full but useless. I felt free in every inch of my body. Free me from the pain. Just a pure expression of a particular lightness of being.

☐ 1 thing that made sense to me

Robbing others and yourself
I had a small window to absorb Keith Yamashita’s wisdom. Among many things, he was talking about how we are never complete enough to do the change we want to do—implying that we need each other to constantly give feedback. In fact, not giving feedback is an act of robbing others from growing. It’s so true but I would like to challenge that. I feel like I exist at the edge of incompetence as I put myself outside my comfort zone. I don’t see how I grow otherwise. Without all the thoughtful feedback I am constantly asking for, I wouldn’t have gone anywhere to be honest. At the same time, intuition matters. Some feedback robs us from pushing ourselves in ways we can’t even begin to understand. I am not sure how we can avoid being robbed and robbing others. Probably by setting clear intentions.

○ 1 Question

Can you feel how fun it must have been to design these?


△☐○ | Week 20 | Hot

This is the week of hot temperature, hot art and not-hot questions. 

△Three things that stood out to me

Pierre Cardin’s retrospective
Holy shit! Pierre Cardin reimagined the language of clothing as he incorporated genderless designs (which was radical at his time), produced film costumes for Jean Cocteau and more, democratized fashion, made furniture and vehicles and owned a crazy futuristic house! I loved that he was experimenting with different media and not limiting himself to one box only, making his work and thinking process so rich! Inspiring.

Committed to Becoming
Youdhisthir Maharjan hand cut individual letters and glued them black using their color to create contrast. The incredibly laborious collage refers to the highs and lows of the process of becoming and the continuity of that process. I am still in awe in front of this piece. I mean, seriously, who has that kind of patience and precision in their craft? Just genius. No joke.

Sunday’s sunset
Every sunset is different and magical in some sense. But I have never experienced a sunset with such vivid colors. I found myself Wow-ing out loud like a 5 year-old kid: “Wow! The colors are so saturated! Wow!” and… I was also wondering why I was the only one Wow-ing while everybody else was either chewing gum, scratching someone else’s back or sweating on the grass. I felt so grateful to experience such a wondrous sunset in my favorite place in the entire universe. I also renamed the Domino park, Dina park because you know… it’s my spot. Ha!

☐ 1 thing that made sense to me

Heat wave and empty streets
New Yorkers are so dramatic! A temperature of 97 was enough to empty the streets of NYC. Only few of us were out wandering in the streets like lost wolves. The city was quiet. Unprecedented for me. Especially on Sunday. I missed the quiet. I didn’t have one quiet day since I came here. It was actually a perfect Sunday out, walking aimlessly, taking pictures and enjoying the silence. Here is a wolf on a bike.

○ 1 Question

Where are the female typographers?
TDC’s 65 exhibition was beautiful but incomplete to me. In all categories, only few women won an award or a scholarship. How sad!

△☐○ | Week 19 | Halfway There

Hours, days and weeks go by so fast in NYC. Faster than last summer. Faster than ever. This week marked my mid-residency at SYP. So much has happened and I am looking forward to the next half.

△Three things that stood out to me

Michael Heizer’s negative sculpture
North, East, South, West is a series of four excavated geometric pits: two stacked cubic forms, one larger and one smaller (North), a cone (South), a triangular trough (West), and an inverted truncated cone (East). As I walked by them again, I felt swallowed by the energy of these pits. I also loved experiencing the geometric shapes from different perspectives using my camera. The artist wanted the visitors to feel in awe. In his own words, “awe is a state of mind equivalent to religious experience, I think if people feel commitment they feel something has been transcended.”


Commercial classics, yay but…
I went to a lecture by Paul Barnes followed by a discussion with Tim Ripper & Christian Schwartz on the launch of Commercial Classics. What a great project to revisit a historical type in a contemporary landscape! It is beautifully executed but I wish this project went beyond European typefaces. I understand that their expertise is Eurocentric but it is about time to open up to the rest of the world. They can teach their methodology to designers from the Middle East, Asia, Africa and more to tap in something that has never been done before in typography. To me, these series could be much more powerful if they were pushed outside their comfort zone. Just saying.

Hamilton’s Grange brought up memories
A bit like a madeleine for Proust, the smell, the light, and the design in the grange’s entrance reminded me of three-apples-tall-me standing in front of my grandparents’ door. The funny part is that just like Hamilton’s, no one used the assigned main door, as visitors naturally came in from the back entrance. I guess that door is a form with a symbolical function instead of a functional one.  My grandparents are both dead since 97. Standing in front of that door was a gentle reminder of their beautiful existence.

☐ 1 thing that made sense to me

Bingo!
This weekend, I learned that the arm’s fat is called Bingo in Iceland after all the old people who raise their hands while playing Bingo. I am really fascinated by the stories behind words across the world. It is, in many ways, the poetic expression of human’s intelligence.

○ 1 Question

Can it get better?
My experience in SYP is transforming me in many ways. The emotional intelligence of SYPeas, the commitment of each team member, the level of work that is delivered and the generosity of the agency as a whole constantly impress me. I feel grateful to pass by such a great school!

△☐○ | Week 18 | Four-Day Weekend

 Four-day weekends are like elves to me. They are a myth. But what a great one when it becomes a reality! In this (mythic) weekend, I walked extensively, sweat massively, and was delighted continuously. May my stream of consciousness unfold!

△Three things that stood out to me

It’s showtime!
Beettlejuice, Beetlejuice, Beetlejuice! Based on Tim Burton’s 1988 classic, the dark musical touches on questions of life and death within a family drama thing while being cynical about current politics. From the decor to the performance, the show was incredible. Some scenes stayed faithful to Burton’s movie, some were added. Of course, the Banana Boat song was included. And overall, I was laughing and Wow-ing every 3 seconds. So much fun.

Dürer’s woodcuts
I saw it! Finally! In the Rembrandt to Picasso: Five Centuries of European Works on Paper exhibition, Dürer’s genius was there. They should have named the exhibit Dürer to Picasso. No offense Rembrandt but the precision of Dürer’s epic woodcuts is historically unmatched. I was already fascinated by his work shown on a low res projector during an art history class but I loved the intimacy of experiencing his visions with a magnifying glass to grasp the tiniest details.

Coney Island’s Fourth of July
It is a very hot day. The atmosphere is patriotic, kitsch, extravagant, multicultural and festive. It smells like Nathan’s Hotdog everywhere. People are celebrating a beach day on a Thursday, laughing with their friends, exercising solo, slurping an ice cream, screaming in rides, walking their Americanized dogs proudly on the boardwalk, reading a book under an umbrella, kissing their partners, jumping with their kids in the water… You get the vibe. There is so much going on! And it was a magical day for me to experience the culture while snapping a thousand B&W photographs!


☐ 1 thing that made sense to me

Framing the world
In the poetic exhibit Color at the Brooklyn Museum, Winogrand’s words were striking to me: “when you put four edges around some facts, you change those facts.” He’s talking about the frame of a photograph, but we could think of it in a broader way. Everything we do in this world involves framing a situation to make sense of it. In the process of understanding any situation, the objectivity of the facts certainly remains ambiguous.


○ 1 Question

How to redesign the food market system?
I am fascinated by consumer behavior and the relationship with scarcity. With products like iPhones, people would line up 48 hours for the hope to get one. The out-of-stock becomes a strategy to attract customers. With food, retailers and markets constantly overstock to ensure sales based on the logic that no one wants the last strawberries pack. It’s haunted with invisible mold. Hence, as one may expect, there is a lot of waste. It makes me think that the system is not efficient and needs to be redesigned to satisfy both sides. The big question is the big how.

△☐○ | Week 17 | What a fun one!

I had Friday off, y’all. Of course this week was meant to be fun!

△Three things that stood out to me

Mukherjee’s abstract sculptures
Silence. Dim lights. What is this strange feeling I have? It is almost ineffable. The artist’s woven deities and abstract shapes are diffusing an incredible energy. I could not help but stare at Mukherjee’s sculptures for a long while—hypnotized. She worked intuitively. And her work must have been very physical. Maybe that is why it is so engaging.

Tasteful Camp Exhibit at the Met
OH YES. I love the exuberance and humor of camp. And this exhibition was theatrical! I was delighted with the details of the scenography and the “instructive entertainment”. I was particularly drawn to Susan Sontag’s notes on taste. “To patronize the faculty of taste is to patronize oneself. For taste governs every free—as opposed to rote—human response. Nothing is more decisive. There is a taste in people, visual taste, taste in emotion—and there is taste in acts, taste in morality. Intelligence, as well, is really a kind of taste: taste in ideas. (One of the facts to be reckoned with is that taste tends to develop very unevenly. It’s rare that the same person has good visual taste and good taste in people and good taste in ideas.)” I never thought taste could be linked to anything that is not physical. I really loved that she expanded my definition of it.

Marta Minujin’s playground
“CAUTION: This exhibition includes steep staircases, uneven and soft floor surfaces, small and narrow enclosed spaces, blinking neon lights.” First thing I read. “Well, this is going to be fun for my Frankenstein ankle.” First thing I thought. The immersive mazy installation had different tiny rooms full of surprising, joyful and refreshing experiences facilitated by actors. It reminded me of Le Manoir in Paris—an amazing immersive haunted show with actors. Thrills!

☐ 1 thing that made sense to me

Prototyping kills darlings
This past week was such a growing experience for me. I had to prototype and test an interactive “thing” (ambiguity follows NDAs) so many times until every step of it was convincing. It felt like a sprint, and by the end, I found myself completely detached from the sentimental aspect of design. It did not feel like a darling. I was thinking of function. Pushing the “thing” so much, so fast ended up “deromanticizing” my thoughts, which led the work to expand in substance and in craft. Fun!

○ 1 Question

Why is it so hard to just all love each other?
Not a La La Land question. Seriously. Pride is one of the most joyful days I had the chance to live in NYC. Everybody is cheering, celebrating, laughing, loving and caring. I wish every day was Pride.

△☐○ | Week 16 | 24 hours

This week felt like 24 hours. Maybe less. It is all very blurry in my mind. Day and night are entangled. I am not sure which is which. Maybe you will know.

△Three things that stood out to me

Buddha can give me money
I went to the ABC carpet store for some inspiration. From one corner to another, it felt like I was traveling to different exoticized places in the world. One thing that was truly different from any store I have visited in my life so far is that customers put dollar bills in religious statues. When I asked the employees what it was about, one of them answered that the rich (who have too much money) put it there. “Sometimes it becomes so ridiculous we take the money away.” The store gives the money to charities later—which is pretty cool. Curious as I am, I wanted to understand the kind of customers the store has. According to an employee, on an average weekday 900 people come in. On weekends, this number doubles. And yet, only 30% leave with a purchase. “They come in, especially tourists, look at things, say it’s pretty but can’t afford it. They are here to clean their eyes.” I shared with him that I thought everything was overpriced. He replied: “welcome to the club.” To my surprise, even if the employees get discounts, they still can’t afford anything. It made him feel like he does not belong there. “It’s only for the rich women…. But Buddha can give you money” (laughs).

Noordzij’s object to teach type
I went to a lecture by Erik Van Blokland on Noordzij’s cube at the Cooper Union. It has a grid of 5 by 5 by 5 creating a cube of 125 items even if only 61 are visible. The image appears to be some sort of isometric projection, but has some perspective. When Noordzij made it, his theory was about how a designer could think about shapes then it has evolved into a model of interpolations and variable fonts—all the shapes a font can take. According to Van Blockland, the cube means that good design needs to happen in every space where it stands. Noordzij wanted to create an imaginary formula of good typography and create a diagram to teach it. In this talk, I was mostly fascinated by the human need of rationalizing and standardizing something that can (thankfully) never be fully rationalized and standardized.


Mucha’s Nouvelle Femme
Sunday afternoon. What a sunny afternoon! I went to Poster House, a new poster museum in NYC. I really loved Cyan’s work in the 1990s in Germany, but I decided to focus on Mucha—probably the most famous graphic designer of the Art Nouveau movement. I was in awe in front of his posters with these strong and independent women that he portrayed, replacing the submissive girlish women in the advertising world, and thus offering a new alternative in the discourse of what women could be in the 1890s. Mucha was a feminist.

☐ 1 thing that made sense to me

I am a cyborg  
I spent most of my week working very late at night, starting very early and not getting enough rest. Introducing a metal plate and screws in my leg changed a lot in me. All these late nights really affected me physically (not mentally) up to a point that my left leg went numb for two days, making it really hard for me to walk properly. My leg went back to being my leg two days later. My mind thinks it can handle everything, but my body has the final word… and so does my team. By the end of the day on Friday, they forced me to leave. I use the word forced because I honestly just wanted to keep working and forget about my leg. The lesson here is: I should treat my body with more care because I am a cyborg (yes, that’s right). AND, I am very grateful for my awesome team.

○ 1 Question

How do we get over doubt?
I am constantly doubting myself and questioning everything. Do I work too slow? Am I good enough? Am I pushing the thinking? Am I being useful to the team? Am I contributing positively to the conversation? This week, I had the chance to get breakfast with the CEO of SYP, Susan Schuman. I asked her if she ever felt the same. She answered that the system is built to embed doubt in every woman. Her answer resonated with me but also raised another question: How do we get over doubt? I think Sam and I have the same question #stickynotessecrets.

△☐○ | Week 15 | On beauty

Wait… Who said beauty was in the eye of the beholder? Clearly, that person was blind. But that is not the point of what I am about to write. At least, not entirely. 

Three things that stood out to me

Signage of Brooklyn
I see letterforms everywhere I go and have inner dialogues with myself, but this time Alexander Tochilovsky did the talking as we walked through Fort Greene. From Privilege signs to neon signs and lettering to the 19th century architecture, we were decoding the city as if we were in another time period: the past. The entire experience was amazing, and the cherry on top of the cake was to discover all these buildings named after women. It was funny to imagine who they were. Roberta was probably from Italy. She put lipstick on her cheeks. Every day, she wrote a poem and enjoyed the beautiful sunsets of the Manhattan Skyline. She laughed a lot behind her dark hair. She smoked a lot. She was witty. Roberta. Witty and decadent.

Heji Shin at the Whitney Biennial
Heji Shin’s Baby photographs frankly depict the act of birth, focusing on infants’ heads as they are brought to this world, all purple and wrinkled. These pictures are breathtaking and stunning for their humanity, rawness, truth and relevance.

Baby by Heji Shin

Curiosity Cloud
In the Cooper Hewitt Design Triennial, I fell in love with an installation designed by Katharina Mischer and Thomas Traxler. As I moved through the installation, it activated the fascinating hand-fabricated replica of insects to flutter within their bulbs. This immersive, magical and a bit frenetic dialogue with nature was intensely beautiful.

Curiosity Cloud

1 thing that made sense to me

And the Pursuit of Happiness
As I was learning about American politics illustrated by Maira Kalman, she wrote words that deeply resonated with me: “We hope. We despair. We hope. We despair. This is what governs us.” I had the chance to have a chat with CJ Dunn on the fear of releasing a typeface before it can be flawless. The conclusion of our chat was that we go through this (endless) cycle of hope and despair as we develop this highly detailed and obsessive piece of work but ultimately, we need to remind ourselves of our objective. Does it serve its purpose? If yes, let it be and just do more work. No need to look for secret recipes. Great words. Quite frankly, so fucking hard to apply for creatives. Any secret recipes out there?

Binoculars

○ 1 Question

Can typography be more inclusive?
Early this week, I went to a type lecture titled the Secret Life of Fonts at the Cooper Union. Matthew Rechs was sharing his excitement about 60,000 the iPads that could soon integrate fonts for their users to play with. The conversation was around all the romantic details that only type nerds could grasp, but I wondered if type could be part of a bigger conversation. More inclusive—not just at the service of beauty, but beauty and storytelling. Beauty and civic dialogue. Beauty and… What good does it do if only 2 iPads understand the magic in a pool of 60,000?

Cooper Union

△☐○ | Week 14 | Yes baby, I’m back!

New York City, you have no idea how much I have missed waking up and sleeping with your magic… how much you make me feel alive! This is week 14 of being a designer in the wilderness. I’m in love.

△Three things that stood out to me

An agency with a healthy culture—say what?
This week, I started working for SYPartners. I am in awe. I am surrounded by brilliant, visionary and kind minds. I have learned so much in just a week—from their methodologies to how people interact. I am in love with the space. It is full of life… Like a giant organized moodboard constantly changing and evolving. Guess what’s my favorite room? SYP’s library! Guilty bookworm. Yes. To be honest, I just feel so privileged to work there. I have never worked for an agency where the culture was so healthy and inspiring among the team, nor where food and tampons were available for free. High five SYP.

Brackens’ allegories
In Darling Divined, Diedrick Brackens uses woven textiles to speak about the complexities of black and queer identity in the United States. I thought it was extremely powerful to interlace cotton to refer to the transatlantic slave trade.

Noguchi Museum
As soon as I entered the museum, I felt peaceful. Noguchi’s sculptures are puzzling, abstract, raw, melancholic and poetic. They reminded me of the Japanese concept of Wabi-sabi.  

☐ 1 thing that made sense to me

My heart belongs to the city
I love how these few sentences below, from the book [bai], summarize New York City. They feel true. Everything I experience here is intense. NYC makes me smile and cry with its multiple oxymorons. It unleashed the best parts of me. The parts that don’t belong anywhere else but here. It really feels good to reconnect with them as I am back.

○ 1 Question

Can death be beautiful?
I went to Green-Wood Cemetery, one of the first rural cemeteries in America; also a war historic site. The architecture of the mausoleums, sculptures, monuments and pathways are majestic. Clearly, death is a business. I just don’t know if it is a beautiful one or not.