My Artist In Residence Visit by Peter Hong

the journey of UX continues’¦ or momentarily re-thinking child labor laws.

30 minutes ago—whoa

you know, writing this blog post was a lot harder than i thought it would be.

the time with the students and staff at VFS last december, reaffirmed that extraordinary people, ideas and dreams go through that place.

how does one encompass and express all profoundly the good people and experiences that happened during that brief week? or all the events that have happened afterwards?  there are just too many people i want to thank, thoughts and stories that i want to share.

thank you

let’s begin with that:

“thank you.  meeting you, getting to know you—witnessing how you craft utter delight—made me see thing differently, and for the better”

reading the write-ups from the students and staff, our time together bucked conventional expectations—we somehow mutually managed to blow each other away.  i did not bore them with the usual marketing push about how great Google is, or how prestigious my portfolio could be. instead we talked about how to avoid the rat-race of money and position, and focused on how best to strategize their careers by enriching their lives. they presented work beyond their years, with a sensibility, creativity and craft that shook my expectations of student work.

and the questions they asked me at lunch?  wow, talk about making me work for it!

for a week, what was initially supposed to be a few light critique sessions became a marathon and gauntlet of collaboration, discussion and mutual appreciation. full days left me exhausted, but in that way where you’re smiling—that ‘happy-tired’ state of being when you do something worthwhile. it’s the exact same feeling i would get after an exhaustive day of volunteering at—when you know you did something good for yourself by being part of something greater than yourself.

tip: how to replenish one’s energy after such a day in rainy Vancouver? one word: japadog.

P.S. you want me to do what?

already, this artist in residence program was beyond the ordinary, but the strangest request made of me? they wanted me to give my body over to the students in a creative exercise called the exquisite corpse. they ask me to leap, pose, and contort my body so that the students could composite their imagination on top of the the photos. G+ photos was the theme. i’ve never been so camera-shy in so many years. their creativity seemed to bring out a different side to me, entirely’¦ with an aesthetic that reminds me of my favourite french art house movies like “City of Lost Children”. and, as a bonus’¦ it turns out, i also have a possible career in camera sales and shampoo commercials.

 10+ years in the future—talking with a time traveler

the students and i discussed what mattered to them, and i expressed and shared any insights that my career could offer—a chance to fast-forward their lives and ask, “what if’¦”.  the thing that i wanted most, and perhaps many of us do, is the foresight of what would happen if i made this decision, what life/work lessons would i learn. who wouldn’t give up their proverbial right arm for that “if i only knew then what i know now’¦”?

i remembered struggling with those questions when i went through VFS. i hoped that this was something i could give back—a time traveler from their future, whispering’¦ “live a better life. experience it more fully. and oh, yeah’¦ it’s time to switch things up”

recently, i followed my own advice—i too have switched things up, moving beyond Google, founding a new company with a few extraordinary friends. more on that later.

after the student presentations, before it was my turn to speak’¦ i asked the audience to stand up, turn around, wave and give the support staff in the sound booth a round of applause. the message was that we should always remember that it takes team work, to recognize the people that support us, and be mindful that we can do more together.

during the presentation, i tried to share some of the most meaningful insights my career has offered me, by demonstrating, deconstructing and demystifying how things work—how we work.

here’s a small admission of how that works in practice. when i said earlier’¦ that i asked everyone to stand before my presentation, it was about understanding that sitting in a dark room can slow the metabolism and brain down. getting the audience to stand up, change posture, clap’¦ increases the blood flow and oxygen to the brain, re-energizes the body, and resets the mind to receive new ideas. understanding how our bodies and minds work, helps us design a better experience’¦ and how i was going to prevent people from falling asleep during my talk!

we can all learn a little more about this. many have inspired and informed me on this subject—please see some of the references at the end of this blog post.

3 months ago—VFS re-lived

“wow, it sounds to me, that _____________ matters a lot to you—make sure you capture that. remember to tell that story.”
—my common response and guidance, during 1-on-1 project/portfolio critique sessions with the Digital Design students.

in the critique sessions with the students, time and time again, they’d be able to excitedly talk about what they cared about, and quite often, it was just editing and reminding them to include the very points they just said out loud. when we speak openly from the heart, we divulge not only the things that inspire us, but that could allow our audience to better understand and connect to us. letting the students hear their true selves’¦ letting go of the editorial angst’¦ allowed them to fill the gaps in their presentation with a better narrative. a more honest, and guided story that people can relate to.

“live a little, perhaps live a lot—gather real life experiences, because that’s where empathy and insight for UX solutions will come from”
—final thoughts of shared learning and advice, VFS presentation.

3 months ago—the alternate presentation: behind the scenes at G+ photos

“let’s build a new UX paradigm of how photos can be shared socially online—one that celebrates the photo, the story you tell around it and the experience”
—my creative brief to the G+ photos team

this was the G+ photos experience

that i was launching the week i was at VFS, and what i wasn’t allowed to talk about, but really’¦ really wanted to.  my original presentation was about sharing the process we took to get to a more humanistic and sublime photos experience.

my hope for the G+ Photos and UX teams, was to demonstrate how humanistic experiences will be the marker for how we advance UX and evolve the internet. looks like we did:

facebook “borrows” from google+ photos
Facebook’s New Photo Layout Mimics Google+
Facebook Testing Photo Viewers Ripped from Google+
Facebook Just Clones A Google+ Feature And Then Stuck Ads Inside Of It

2 months ago—farewell Google, hello leap of faith

some good people and i are off to build a new kind of venture capital company from the ground up to invest, collaborate and innovate in a different kind of social from G+, one of social good/change—”building ways to improve the world… in areas like local/global health, education and the environment.”
—excerpt from my  farewell letter to Google teams

“any regrets? i wish i was funnier ;)  besides that… none. many of you and this place have helped me grow and become more self-aware, patient and thoughtful. i’m a far better person walking off this campus than i was walking on.”
—another excerpt from my farewell letter to Google teams

“of course i used the good stuff’¦ i really care about you all”
—my revelation to the G+ photos team, who were ravaging the bourbon bread pudding i baked for them—heavily laced with one of my favorite premier bourbons. my parting gift to an amazing team at Google.

1 month ago—how i spend my days

“the technology innovation is almost the easy part—understanding the cultural nuances that can help it get accepted and work, is the hard part
—shared insights and collaborations with over a harvest table lunch, on our hand-crafted work tables

“i found myself asking a question i never thought i’d ask—how do you introduce vocational videos to a mongolian herdsman who’s never seen a video before?”
—confessions over coffee by Teach A’s neil dsouza, just back from deploying wireless education hotspots in the steppes of mongolia

at our new company—hattery—my friends and i are founding a company to invest in the extraordinary. as the creative director for UX innovation’¦ i’ve returned to place where i practice what matters to me, and will grow in ways that matter to me.

2 days ago—innovate a sandwich experience

we have an amazing thoughtful and nurturing chef—aubrey—who embodies a lot of things i believe in. recently, she created her version of a healthier BLT.  instead of carb-laden bread, she created chickpea herbed patty to be used as buns, to hug some avocado, tomato and honey-maple-smoked bacon. our very own slightly-guilty veggie double-down. the taste embodied innovation on every level of the user experience.  i become the student :)

follow our nourishing adventures at @hatterykitchen

parting thoughts

amber had said past artists in residence had a piece of their art that they’d autograph for the graduating class as a memento—we laughed, would i sign a photo of me clicking a mousepad on a laptop?

if there was ever anything in the air that i breathe or something in the water where i live now in california’¦ that helps me do what i do well, i’d bottle it.  so i grabbed 30 medicinal vials, i shoved them down my motorcycle jacket and rode through the black mountains and down HWY1 through eucalyptus groves by the ocean. fast forward to graduation day at VFS, i sat in a cafe across from the Digital Design campus, 30 minutes before the graduation ceremonies, madly tying incredibly small knots in leather cord to turn the vials into pendants.

never mind how controversial my presentation entitled “how not to have sex with geese” sounded, i was bordering on re-evaluating child labor laws to help me get these knots tied in time! but my ethics survived, and the vial pendants were finished.

on the vials, i scrawled: 1+1=3

that ordinary math and expectations need not apply. believe in the extraordinary—it’s within you. and if you don’t believe it yet, un-cork this vial’¦ and maybe something from the ocean will help you get there. the truth is, you can encourage your mind to unlock amazing potential, you just have to let yourself go there—be it through a vial of ocean air, 12 years of UX perspectives, or simply believing in yourself.

go on, get out there. live a little’¦ live a lot.


references from my presentation:


why we buy by paco underhill

design of everyday things by don norman

the brain that changes itself by norman dodge

brain neuroplasticity, and my collaborations with dr. michael merzenich

thinking, fast and slow by daniel kahneman

TED videos

the riddle of experience vs. memory, daniel kanheman

why are we happy?, dan gilbert

3 ways good design makes you happy, don norman

Google, G+ photos

a comparison of visual and textual page previews in judging the helpfulness of web pages
anne aula, rehan m. khan, zhiwei guan, paul fontes, peter jin hong

whoa, Google has designers, jon wiley

Leave Comments