I still can’t believe I’m writing this, but here goes: In just a couple weeks I’ll be joining Amazon’s design team.
Amazon. There’s no getting around it, Amazon’s huge. They have about 30 buildings in Seattle alone. My most recent company, Tagboard, had about 30 people. Amazon is a company where it’s completely impossible to ever know all of your coworkers. In my professional career I have worked at several kinds of companies: non-profit, freelance, small agency, and startup; but I’ve never worked at a company like this.
As I considered possibly working at Amazon, I had lots of questions: How on earth do they maintain a culture they’re proud of? How does design fit in? What’s it really like there?
I asked around. I learned that this massive company is made of many tiny groups, all working on lots of interesting problems. It’s very easy to get an idea, and build a mini-team to test it out. Amazon embraces invention and all the failure that comes along with it. From Amazon CEO, Jeff Bezos’s most recent shareholder letter:
I believe we are the best place in the world to fail (we have plenty of practice!), and failure and invention are inseparable twins. To invent you have to experiment, and if you know in advance that it’s going to work, it’s not an experiment. Most large organizations embrace the idea of invention, but are not willing to suffer the string of failed experiments necessary to get there.
He also writes about company culture in the same letter:
You can write down your corporate culture, but when you do so, you’re discovering it, uncovering it – not creating it. It is created slowly over time by the people and by events – by the stories of past success and failure that become a deep part of the company lore.
They did write down their culture. Amazon has these Leadership Principles they published. They use them in everything from developing product ideas, hiring new employees, and measuring progress. It’s not just some silly fodder for inspirational posters. There’s some good stuff there, like “Customer Obsession”, “Invent and Simplify”, and “Learn and Be Curious”.
The culture of leadership, ownership, and intentionality that I see clicks with me and it’s very refreshing. That said, I know this is just the beginning of a journey. Day 1 is just a point on a map, and I’m excited to get moving.
In my adult life, I’ve never been very athletic, and as I’ve gotten older that’s taken its toll on me. All that changed about two years ago, when I moved to Seattle and started going to a local CrossFit gym. This was a perk of my new job, and I’m thankful for that, because I’m almost positive I wouldn’t have started going otherwise.
It was extremely hard at first. I remember a few days in that first month when I just dreaded going. I was sloppy, uncoordinated, and quite sore by the end of the day. Ask my wife, she can attest to my hobbling around our house like the old guy in *Up*.
Despite the dread, I actually started to have fun. I found a few things I was good at, and I found lots of things that I needed to work on. One nice surprise was that because I was starting at a near-zero level of fitness, it didn’t take long to see some noticeable change. Very quickly, I was able to lift more, go faster, and do better than I had when I began.
Now it’s been two years, and I’ve lost about twenty pounds. Twenty pounds in two years? Yep. Nothing to sneeze at, but it doesn’t sound like a lot of progress.
I was a little discouraged with the lack of weight loss at first, but I realized my weight was relocating to more useful areas. Fat around my waist is now muscle in my shoulders. My old clothes don’t fit and I had to drill several new holes in my belt (I eventually bought a new one). People make comments about how I’ve changed, and I’ll admit that feels good!
Also, I’m much stronger. In the past two years, I’ve slowly started to do more and more things that I used to think were impossible. For instance, I went from barely being able to do a single pull-up to doing thirty without stopping.
That’s a fun statistic, but the big realization for me is that with this new strength, I’ve seen a bigger change. Earlier I mentioned that it’s easy to see gains when you start at zero. And that’s the fantastic thing about doing something like this. It’s actually pretty easy to get better at something as long as you apply pressure in the right areas. For example, if you can’t string ten pushups together, try doing pushups a few times a week. You will be doing a couple dozen in no time.
The change I’ve seen in myself has given me confidence and inspiration that if I want to get better at something, if I see a change that’s needed, or if there’s a bit of my future I want to take a hold of, I can do it. I just need to find the time to get better, add that bit of pressure in the right area, and make it happen.
This isn’t over. I still have plenty of weaknesses to whittle away and I have more goals in mind. While it’s important to focus on those, I sure am enjoying the process of getting better.
(P.S. Huge thanks to Dan Lao, my coach at Acuo CrossFit, for shooting these photos.)
If you really get into the technical details of your craft, nerding out about the how and why of what you do, then you’re in good company. I adore this kind of devotion to detail. But, as much as we workers of the web love to get fussy about the details, trust me when I say that type designers put us all to shame. These incredible women and men make us seem like boring pragmatists.
That’s one of many reasons I love going to TypeCon. And it’s why I’m so honored to get to speak there this year. TypeCon is the premier conference for type designers and aficionados. Every year, TypeCon travels to a different city. Last year it was practically in my back yard, just a short train ride to Portland. This year, TypeCon is in Washington DC, July 30th–August 3rd, 2014, with Tobias Frere-Jones giving the keynote. Check out the full program to see the incredible lineup.
I’m so thankful for this opportunity. If you have the chance to hit Typecon this year, I hope to see you there. In the meantime, pardon me while I go find a paper bag to breathe into.
I’m super-excited to be speaking next month at Web Type West in Vancouver. Web Type West is put on by the admirable and energetic folks at Type Camp. These incredible folks put on type-related conferences and seminars all across the world, including India, Ireland, and Japan.
For this conference I’ll be speaking about, you guessed it, typography as it relates to the design & development process. I’m so honored to get to present in Vancouver this year alongside some really great folks, including my Butter Label cohorts, Luke Dorny & Grant Hutchinson.
Type Camp is February 1, 2014, in Vancouver, BC. The price is a bargain, especially if you’re a student, so register now. If I see you there, then you can ask me about that time I was robbed eleven years ago in Vancouver by a meth head who took my laptop and passport.
Tomorrow is my last day at Onehub, and next week I’ll start my new role as Creative Director at Tagboard. Whew. I cannot believe I just wrote that.
I’ve had a marvelous time at Onehub, and I’ve learned a ton working with some of the smartest people on the internet here. In addition to the creative work, Onehub’s penchant for health & fitness by sending the entire team to Crossfit 3+ times a week has been nothing short of life-changing for me.
I’m tremendously excited about this new position. The feelings of anticipation, excitement, and, yes, I’ll admit it, a bit of nervousness, are all palpable. The folks at Tagboard are doing awesome work, and I can’t wait to be a part of it.
It’s uncanny how important personal relationships are in the work we do. The better part of a decade ago, I bought Sean Sperte a cup of coffee at SXSW; and we’ve been friends ever since. It wasn’t until this fall at XOXO that I again bought him some coffee and he brought up Tagboard.
I also happened to meet some of my Happy Cog and Onehub friends at conferences, and those friendships happened long before we ever talked about working together.
This is one thing that both inspires and energizes me about the work we do. The people behind the pixels, the relationships we build, the coffee we drink… It all makes this work feel more permanent and meaningful.
2014 is going to be one exciting year, I can’t wait to see what it brings.
I’m back from Web Design Day 2013, and starting to slow down and unwind. It was a quick trip, but I still found some time to relax in Pittsburgh and catch up with old friends. My talk, Thinking Typographically, went very well. I’ve never had this kind of experience, where so many people came up to me throughout the rest of the day to chat about my presentation. If you were one of those people, then from the bottom of my heart, thank you!
I have a few more people to thank, so bear with me.
Val and Jason put on a heck of a conference. They managed every last detail while being effortlessly charming. Huge thanks to them. Brad Frost braved some gnarly Pittsburgh traffic to give me a ride from the airport, so a big thanks to him too.
It’s exceedingly hard to imagine that it’s already September. August flew by in a blink. Now that we’re here, I’m reminded that next month I’m speaking at Web Design Day, in Pittsburgh. Holy smokes, this is shaping up to be a really fantastic conference. Just check out this list of speakers:
I’m not exaggerating when I say that seeing this list instills a mild panic throughout my bones, knowing I’ll be speaking and sharing a stage with such upstanding folks. Nonetheless, I’m excited to be coming to Web Design Day. I’m also eager to see Pittsburgh. Despite living in Pennsylvania for three years, It took me moving across the country to make time for a visit.
I’m told there are just a few tickets left to Web Design Day, so if you’re even remotely close to Pittsburgh at the end of October and like making things for the web, then pick up a ticket and let’s hang out next month.
I couldn’t be more honored to have Typekit feature my site in their “Sites We Like” series. I’ve seen a couple Happy Cog projects that I worked on show up in “Sites We Like”, but never my personal site; so it’s extra-special to have Be Good Not Bad on there.