June 2, 2022No Comments

Sharing valuable design and career tips from the last 15 years

Written by Nguyen Le

As I sat down at my desk today pondering what to write. I came to the realisation that hey I’ve been doing this for a while. 15 years of my professional design career has kind of flown by. They say time flies when you’re having fun, which has been true, but even so my career has had its share of ups and downs. Fortunately more ups than downs.

I started my career at the beginning of 2007. From what started as a hobby in my high school years turned into a professional career. And through that I think I’ve had a pretty interesting career so far and have learnt a thing or two.

Today I’d like to share with you, some of my key tips and insights as to what I’ve learnt over the last 15 years.

These are some of my personal lessons that I hope to pass on to you. Consider these bite sized tips and lessons of wisdom that can hopefully help you on your own journey. You don’t have to agree with everything but for my own career I’ve found them to be useful and most of all to be true. Hopefully you get a ton of value out of these bite sized lessons. There’s quite a few so feel free to bookmark this and refer to them at different points in your career.

35 Tips and Reflections from my Career

  1. When you are working on a project. Consider the business and user objectives. Good design is the execution of form and function that delivers on these 2 objectives. If you can do that you will be a valuable designer. If you can cultivate and lead a team to amplify this you will be an extremely valuable designer.
  2. Have self awareness. As you move up the ranks as a designer you will inherently become a director or a business owner. This will mean managing people, more client meetings, winning proposals etc. Think is this what I want? There’s nothing wrong with being a craftsman or a business person or both. But think and contemplate deeply about what gives meaning to the work that you do. And ultimately what makes you happiest. You can always turn down that management position. There are always options.
  3. If you want to be successful - you have to work hard. It’s that simple. There’s no way around it. You can condense the timeframe for sure. But to think you can skip the hard work is a lie. Hard work is always needed. Even when you work smart.
  4. Throughout your career and life. There will always be problems. Problems are a natural part of life. Learn to deal with problems.


    Marcus Aurelius book Meditations is one I read often
  5. Surround yourself with good work, and good people. Naturally your bar for excellence and what you can accomplish will increase. Put in the work and you’ll bridge the gap in pay, work quality and wealth to those around you. If you surround yourself with multi-millionaires you will think like a multi-millionaire. If you surround yourself with good designers - you will become a good designer. If you put in the work. You are the average of the 5 people closest to you. But also who you pay attention to the most. Follow the works of great philosophers, designers and people you admire. In books and videos. Your attention shows your priorities.
  6. If possible try to create more than you consume. Making is more fun that consuming in the long run.
  7. Using a grid in your work makes vertical and horizontal spacing easier and more consistent. Have the discipline to use a grid!
  8. All work is a grind. There is no end game. Or utopian land where everything is gravy. The journey is the destination. When the grind becomes fun. Work is no longer work. But merely a process and play.
  9. Tough moments in your career, are incredible lessons. You learn more in failures than you do in success. This has turned out to be true. Whilst it severely sucks in the moment. It tests your perseverance and capacity to deal with problems. Looking back it’s these moments that make you grateful for the journey you’ve been on. Embrace the tough moments. Your character will improve as you go through them.
  10. Learn how to use type. It’s one of the best skills you can have as a designer. Get my type playbook for free if you want a beginner resource.
  11. If a picture is worth 1000 words. A prototype is worth much more. You gotta know how to prototype.
  12. Learn about marketing and business. Early on in my career I didn’t give 2 shits about business objectives. Make cool things was the mantra. But if you want to make an impact with the work that you do. Learning marketing and business acumen is one of the best things you can do. Businesses make an impact. Design lead businesses can make an even bigger one.
  13. Freelancing is awesome. But after 5 years. It’s definitely not for everyone. It can be tough at times. Trying to run an indie business - is like jumping out of a plane while trying to build your parachute mid air. Your goal is to build the parachute before you hit the ground and die. But the rewards far exceed the risk for some.
  14. Save good work somewhere. And READ.
  15. As a good leader, lead by being an example.
  16. You have to keep learning and improving your capabilities and skillset. This industry waits for no one.


    I use mymind to gather inspiration and bits and bobs
  17. Explore and gather inspiration from different mediums not just the medium you are working in. If you are doing digital design, look to film, architecture, photography, print, graphic design, people, etc. to gather inspiration. It will give another dimension to your work.
  18. Company culture is super important. When you work with other passionate people - your work mates become your second family.
  19. Work life balance can work for most. But I believe work life integration fits best. Granted work is play.
  20. Save and invest your money. Should you ever choose to go in a different direction. It’s always sound to have some f*ck you money.
  21. Grow your network. Reach out to as many people you respect and admire as possible. Join the conversation. Our industry while large - at its core it’s really all about relationships and people. It is quite small in that regard.
  22. We are really privileged to be designers and creators. Don’t take it for granted.
  23. Invest in yourself throughout your career. What you learn compounds and pays massive dividends down the track.
  24. Learn to communicate your ideas with developers, project managers, clients, other designers. Your ability to SELL and present your work is nearly as valuable as creating good work.
  25. When setting up a folio - showcase the kind of work that you want to do moving forward. Think about what your value proposition is to prospective employers and clients. Tell a story.
  26. When designing try to think in terms of what the user wants to achieve. And how it ties overall into the experience of the product, website, app, or interface.
  27. Learn to interview and talk to users and gain insights from people. Synthesizing disparate bits of information and rationalising and being able to join the dots is what makes you a designer. Learn to synthesize and join the dots into sound solutions.
  28. Take one small step at a time. I know you want to do all sorts of things. But it’s every small step that you take that turns into a massive journey that’s your career. You’ll look back and realised you’ve generated millions of dollars, reached millions of people, worked for some dream brands, created positive change for many
  29. You're probably not getting paid as much as you could be. Research and find constructive and friendly ways to negotiate higher pay. Both as an employee or freelancer. It costs more money to replace you than to give you a pay rise.
  30. Be an independent thinker. Carve out time to build self awareness. What values do you have? What is important to you? What kind of work is with while? What kind of company is worth keeping?
  31. Start building an email list, and a social presence. Share what you know with others and share your work.
  32. Take the criticism. If you stand for something. People will love you or hate you. It’s ok. Stick to your values and you’ll be golden.
  33. Take the criticism #2. It’s ok if people don’t like your work. It’s not a criticism of you just your work. Go back to the drawing board and try to improve it.
  34. Your work is just one tree in the forest that is life. Don't forget to look around and admire the view.
  35. Have fun along the way

And that’s some of my takeaways, I’m sure there are a bunch more that I’ve missed, but I hope these reflections serve you well.

June 1, 2022No Comments

How I almost quit

Written by Nguyen Le

15 years ago I was sitting on a tram on my way to work and contemplated whether I was good enough to be a designer. Bright eyed but a complete rookie and unfamiliar with the demands of a studio working environment. The stress was too much, the obstacles too high, I wasn’t doing well on the job and I really struggled to find my footing. If only I was good enough I thought to myself, if only things were easier and I could just go on autopilot. How much better would that be if that was the case? I really felt I wasn’t good enough and that maybe I should quit and not step foot off that tram. It seemed to be the easier route. 

The Challenge

The people at the studio were great but I was not used to such tight project deadlines and the internal pressure mounted. In the end I persevered and looking back had I’d quit right then and there, I would’ve missed out on forging one of the greatest joys of my life. My career and work. 

At that point in my life I was young and didn’t have the foresight to look into the future. And to appreciate that the obstacles I was facing was in fact a turning point for incredible things that were about to come. That these difficulties are actually life's opportunities for you to grow as a person, and for you to build tools to cultivate your own happiness. 

And this theme has presented itself throughout my career and life. We all think it gets easier if only we could do ‘[insert dream activity here]’ or had ‘[insert dream object here]’. 

Maybe it’s millions of dollars in the bank. 

Or clients that love our work all the time. 

Or if only we had more followers oh how much easier it would be. 

Or as simple as not having to worry about paying our bills on time. 

Well the newsflash is life’s always going to throw some obstacles your way. Chaos is a natural occurrence of life. No one has it ‘easy’. I love my life and feel very grateful. But the joy I have derived from it is not because it has been easy. Actually a lot of times it has been quite the opposite. 

The best moments in our lives are not the passive, receptive, relaxing times… The best moments usually occur if a person’s body or mind is stretched to its limits in a voluntary effort to accomplish something difficult and worthwhile

MIHALY CSIKZENTMIHALYI

It’s that fight and effort that makes whatever’s on the other side to derive its meaning and value. The journey is what grants us perspective. You will be grateful for what you have earnt, and will be less likely to take what you have for granted. The gift is not in just the result but what we learn on our journey. 

I know what it’s like to worry about my job. I know what it’s like to break an arm. To go into painful rehab. What it’s like to keep running even though your brain and lungs are telling you to stop. I know what it’s like to be in debt, because of the choices your parents made. I know what it’s like to feel immense pressure.

Rising above the obstacle

But in the end you overcome these obstacles. And learning to overcome and deal with problems helps us become stronger mentally and physically. By building mental fortitude to solve problems we build a set of skills that we can use for life. And upon that process we are blessed with the insight for extreme gratitude. How thankful we are for what we do have. The sun being out. The health that we have. The great friends that we’ve forged. Our family. Our work. The community that we build. These are made a lot clearer from the obstacles that we are faced with in our lives. 

It was awful tasting medicine, but I guess
the patient needed it

STEVE JOBS

Sometimes what we need in life is not the easy way, what we need to reach our potential, is to be challenged. What we need is something for us to overcome and to dig deep, and to look at our resolve in the face and say that maybe....just maybe we can do it. We need to slowly and steadily build a set of tools to deal with challenges. Something that is extremely valuable both as a designer and also as a person. 

Embrace the obstacles that come your way and see them as opportunities not roadblocks. 

A state of flow and happiness

I’ve been reading a book called Flow by Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi about happiness and optimal performance. There’s a great diagram that illustrates the concept. There are 2 axises. On the ‘Y’ side are the difficulty of the challenges that we face, and on the ‘X’ side are our abilities. Both from low to high. 

how-to-be-happy-6-find-flow.jpg

The best moments are when we are faced with challenges that are both high in difficulty and push the upper echelon of our abilities as well.  And it is when these 2 are in alignment where we can reach a state of flow. And as a byproduct of that process we will grow our skills and thinking.

The joy is intrinsic. We are not doing things for any particularly gain but am deeply focused on the task in front of us. The ‘satisfaction’  is derived from the task itself and not what the task brings.  

When I was on that tram I was in the Anxiety quadrant. The challenge was too high and my ability was too low. For some this can be a breaking point, and if you’ve tried and don’t have the resolve to move forward, speak to someone. Your friends, family members and even a professional. Speaking out is a good thing, and if it’s a mental health issue it is a fantastic idea to seek guidance. 

Luckily I built the skills across that time. I doubled down and tested my own resolve and passion. And along the way something funny happened. My abilities increased and in the end it was in sync with the challenges I was facing. And it lead to flow – I was in the zone and extremely happy. I stepped up to the plate and it is something I am extremely proud of. Looking back it was such a small thing (even though it felt like a big deal at the time), but it was a catalyst for so much of the great things that occurred later on. In hindsight it was a pivotal moment for me.

I notice this in a lot of areas in my life. Like when I go for a run, when I would focus on tennis, when I wonder if I’m going to design something great and I’m challenged immensely. The task itself becomes intrinsically important. And I really get in the zone and enjoy the process. I challenge you to do more of the things that put you in a state of flow. 

You’ll know because:

Time goes by quickly. 

The world melts away. 

You take no notice of whatever is around and am completed absorbed in what you are doing. 

You are not passive or relaxing but you are challenged and focused. 

Doing things that required you to push your comfort zone and abilities that are in perfect balance. Where you have to improve and keep growing. 

That zen like state and satisfaction you get. It’s fulfilling and satisfying.  

It’s important not to sleepwalk through life. 

We will be challenged and chaos will be thrown at us, it is up to us to eventually find our own order in this chaos. 

We cannot direct the wind, but we can adjust the sails.

Adversity builds resolve and growth

Do things that challenge you constantly, and push your resolve. This entropy builds resilience over time. There are great challenges that I am yet to face – the death of a loved one and eventually my own mortality. It will be orders of magnitude greater than anything I’ve dealt with.

But through adversity there can also be joy found within ourselves. People like The Dalai Lama, Nelson Mandela, Helen Keller, David Goggins – show us that regardless of the external circumstances with the right resolve and tools we can find happiness in the face of obstacles. 

So try to do more things that promote flow in your life. Take a look at that diagram and see what various tasks in your life will be mapped on. 

In the end I got off that tram and I didn’t quit and working in this profession has one of the greatest joys of my life. I can honestly say that I truly love what I do. I don’t love every moment and that’s ok, but if I had to average it all out it’s been an incredible run. And if I had a choice to do anything else with my life I’d pick the same thing. 

So if you are facing obstacles see them as an opportunity for growth. The greater the challenge the greater the victory. It is through repetition and building that mental muscle of resilience that we can overcome these challenges and to thrive in situations where others may find difficulty. Keep going I’m cheering you on. 

May 26, 2022No Comments

What makes you happy? Codifying happiness

Written by Nguyen Le

This post is a personal one, I like to mix it up everyone once in awhile and step away from design, our careers and entrepreneurship.  If you are here mainly for design stuff feel free to skip this one 🙂  One peculiar thing I like to keep note of often is my happiness levels. Seems like a weird thing to measure and quantify but when I’m in a introspective mood it’s something that I think about often. It’s usually every few months that I pause and do a bit of self reflection. Sometimes it’s when I’m driving, in the shower, or super early in the morning. And it always happens when I am alone, when there is some form of stillness and I can really listen to my thoughts and reflect. Like a natural clock the thought will appear by serendipity. How happy are you today I’d think to myself, what’s going right, what’s going wrong and then to how lucky I am to be alive. 

Whilst I’m a positive person, I’d hate to come across as delusionally happy or that the world is all fine and dandy, and that it’s a perfect place, I’m well aware it’s fucking not. I’m a realest.  Not the faux instagram “I’m so happy”, positive vibes, motivational quotes only type person. I’ve had dark times and times of immense stress and self doubt just like everyone else. Times of frustration or anger. That the weight of the world was on my shoulders. But if I had to average it all out I’ve been very happy throughout it all. If I were to die today, I’ve lived a good life. Seems like a morbid thing to say, but to me it’s a positive, it means I’ve prioritised and designed my life in a way that has focuses on the right things in my short 30 years of existence. Moving with the ebbs and flows of life, whilst putting in a conscious effort towards steering it into the direction that I want, and finding joy in the everyday. 

Most of all I’m aware that I lucked out by having my brain wired like this. One thump to the head and it can all change. A slight chemical imbalance and see you later good vibes. So I always like to codify why I think the way that I do. To look objectively and see what’s working and see if I can clearly write down what I’ve learnt works for me and what I value.

And hopefully it may just work for another person out there. As a matter of fact these habits were something I really only noticed until recently. And it’s one of the few times where I have an outlet to share it with others. Apart from my wife I’ve never brought up this topic with anyone else.  So it means a lot to be able to share it with you. 

It’s been said that nearly as much as half of our happiness levels are from our genetics. Researchers at the University of Minnesota did a study where they “tracked identical twins who were separated as infants and raised by separate families. As genetic carbon copies brought up in different environments, these twins are a social scientist’s dream, helping us disentangle nature from nurture. These researchers found that we inherit a surprising proportion of our happiness at any given moment — around 48 percent.” Quoted from NYTimes article A formula for happiness.

The rest is our circumstances and a good portion of the remaining percentage is within our control. In the way we think and the way we see the world. This is something that you can actively practice as a muscle. To put things into perspective and to see the positive in things. Or to see it is a test of will, a hurdle for you to overcome to become a better person. 

Life doesn't happen to you, it happens for you

JIM CAREY

Of course this is an easy catch phrase, and like so many motivational posters and freaking instagram type posts, it has no true meaning until you live it, resonate with it and actualise it. 

So here is method that  I use: 

I start thinking about how happy am I today vs. yesterday? I put it on a scale of 1-10. Is today a 9? A 6? Or a 8?  Then I try to think back to a few years ago and compare the difference. Sometimes my immediate circumstances may seem better to other people looking in. You might have more money, more success, nicer things, but none of that truly matters, that’s the external stuff.

The way you think, how you see the world and your happiness is what counts. Once you quantify the number keep track of it overtime. What did you do today? What parts of it were awesome, what parts of it sucked, what parts are you grateful for?

Overtime you want to do more of the things that you enjoy, (play tennis, design, build businesses, help other people) and less of the things that suck (meetings for the sake of meetings, being frustrated, feeling unhealthy) Actively try to find the joy and beauty in the everyday, because it’s easy to miss it in our hurried and ‘busy’ lives. And then keep reassessing every once in awhile. Check in with yourself, and then write down a list of things that hold true to you.

Think about your life up until this very point, what over the course of your life has brought you joy? If you had to make a list and quantify a set of principles or things that you realise make you happy what would it be. What have you found to be true?  Over time these are the things I’ve found personally true to me, perhaps they can resonate with you too and strike a chord with what you value. This is how I’ve codified happiness to me

  • Happiness is in your ability to handle suffering
  • Happiness is in gratitude - have perspective
  • Happiness is in learning
  • Happiness is in bringing joy to others
  • Happiness is in purpose
  • Happiness is in gradual improvement (exercise, building and learning)
  • Happiness is in how truly you can express yourself everyday(learn to know yourself first)
  • Happiness occurs when you are in a state of flow – the world fades away and there is only one task in front of you, time is no longer a variable.  Mihaly Csikszentmihalyii – flow
  • Happiness is in human connection
  • Happiness is in savouring the moment – music, food, sights, feelings
  • Happiness is not about always having things going right – whether or not you are always smiling, but the embracing of all emotions and events that come your way
  • Happiness is in being healthy
  • Happiness lies in finding your own path
  • Happiness is in finding inner peace in the everyday

I’ve had a couple of articles, books and videos that have had a positive effect on my life. At one point or another these little things helped me see the world with the lens that I see with today.  


Leo Babauta – Zen habits 

The whole catalog of Leo’s writing is great. But this piece really made an impact on me 15 years ago. https://zenhabits.net/perfect/


Some books that made an impact

From stoic philosophy, to kindness and compassion to meditation.

The Art of Happiness - Dalai Lama
Meditations - Marcus Aurelius
The Joy of Living – Yongey Mingyur Rinpoche


Life is easy

In the affluent western world that many of us live in. Many times we create unnecessary burdens and complexities in our lives. I love this talk by Jon Jandai.


Work as play

Love Alan Watts, and this video is one I've watched throughout my career.


Jiro dreams of sushi

This is a weird one, but the idea of a pursuing a craft and a life’s work seemed very profound to me. 

Closing Thoughts

Happiness is already there, all you need to do is codify to yourself so you have the tools to unearth it daily. Finally I wish you every bit of happiness.


I’d like to put a disclosure here: I’m not a guru, far from it. I’m just some guy on the internet. I like to share stories, my experiences and some of the things that has worked for me as a person. This may not relate to you, but over years it has been the people who have generously shared their stories and knowledge that has had a wonderful effect on the way I see the world. And so I’d like to pay that forward. I’d hate to be the fucking self help guy, these are merely my thoughts and maybe just maybe it might strike a chord with you. 

With COVID-19, the pandemic and lockdowns happening. If you are feeling overwhelmed, or unusually down, please seek professional help. It can make a world of difference speaking to a professional.

https://www.lifeline.org.au/

I'm just some guy on the internet - but just know that someone is looking out for you and wishing you well.

May 2, 2022No Comments

31 lessons learnt along the way for a happy and purposeful life

Written by Nguyen Le

Despite all the obstacles I've had in my life - the death of loved ones, crushing family debt, work stress, I've lived through my 20's with much joy and happiness. And now I'm living out my 30's. I still have so much more to learn, experience, see, do, give, feel and accomplish. Thought I'd take a moment to reflect and share some thoughts in this post. A retrospect on some of the lessons I've learnt from my time on this giant spinning rock. I hope you enjoy and can derive some meaning from some of these lessons 🙂

1. Happiness, Freedom and Contribution.

That’s the 3 pillars that I predicate all my actions on. Does this make me happy? Does this bring joy and happiness to others? Does this buy freedom and time? How light and free is life? What am I contributing to the world? What causes can I help and contribute to? How can I empower and share happiness, freedom and a sense of contribution to my family, friends and the people I influence?

Having a set of principles is important. That way you can navigate a very purposeful life that is a truer expression of who you are and who you strive to be. Pause and listen to yourself. Don’t get caught in being busy, when you should be still. Blindly following peoples pipe dreams is a road to disatisfaction. These 3 things keep me in check and bring clarity in times of uncertainty.

2. Gratitude leads to happiness

Always strive to be better. Kaizen is important. But also be appreciative of where you are. How far you’ve come. That you are *alive*. That the everyday things that you take for granted are pure miracles in an of themselves. Take a moment to appreciate those things you’ll be happier for it.

Which leads back to those core values.

3. Don’t worry about what other people think

Navigate life on your terms. Listen and absorb what people have to offer you. But don’t do things to impress other people, for status or to boost your ego. Those are fleeting things. Also don’t fit into a mold for society's expectations just because you feel you have to. “Lions don’t lose sleep over the opinion of sheep.”

4. Don’t try to be impressive to other people, by your wealth, what house you live in or what car you drive. But by being compassionate and lighting up someone else’s life.

“I've learned that people will forget what you said, people will forget what you did, but people will never forget how you made them feel.” Maya Angelou

I’m not a hippie, but the older I get the more this becomes important. There’s so much toxicity in the world, be that small change that makes other people feel important. Don’t force your happiness or values on to others. But listen and help.

5. It’s ok to go against popular opinion and doing what everyone is doing.

Play and live life to the beat of your own drum. You’re a designer, design the life you want. You’ve had the privilege and opportunities to do just that so don’t waste it. Just because everyone is doing it doesn’t mean you should conform.

6. When you think you’ve got life figured out, just know that it’s what works for you only in this very moment. You don’t really have it figured out because life will always throw unexpected things your way both good and bad. Be ok with that.

7. Learn, Learn, Learn. 

Why 3 times? Because you have to learn on top of what you think you've already learned and learn on top of that 😉 You have to keep learning. It doesn’t stop after school.The world is full of wonderful lessons on whatever topic you can dream of. Keep learning and apply what you learn. If done right your life will drastically improve in so many different areas. The seeds of knowledge that you plant today harvest into wonderful fruits and outcomes in to the future.

8. Listen to music, watch good movies, read a great book appreciate good design and the arts.

There’s something about human connection and true expression that just really captures the heart. Can’t explain it, but there’s good vibes when other people's art and storytelling touch your very core.

9. Everything is a game 

I like designing and doing good work. So I too treat it like a game. I’m serious about my work but I am not serious about myself. Everything is play. I like making money it’s a fun game. I like the highs and the lows. So I treat it like a game that you learn about. Running a business, starting something stupid. Life and Work as play.

10. You’re going to be wrong a lot, make a lot of mistakes. Learn from them, they are some of life's greatest lessons.

11. You don’t have to be perfect

You’re different and that’s ok. There is no perfect. Everyone is just trying to do their best.

12. Find passion in what you do

12. Find passion in what you do

Never had any idea what I was going to do with my life. Serendipity lead me to design, something I’ve always had an interest in but was it a possible career? Having fallen into this industry, it’s hard to call this passion work sometimes. And that is a wonderful blessing. Work your ass off and find an angle where market value intersects with your passion and you’ll be golden.

13. Travel and see the world

The world is a wonderful kaleidoscope of different cultures, sites, and cuisines. I never dreamed in my childhood that I’d have the opportunity one day to visit the places I’d seen in books or saw on TV. The world was so big then. I was an immigrant kid from suburbia.

Got on the plane for the first time in my life in 2008 with my then girlfriend/now wife. And then we began to travel and experience different countries bit by bit. These experiences and memories are something that go beyond a dollar value and we will cherish them for the rest of our lives.

14. You’re going to be wrong a lot

15. Do your best to be a good husband, father, son, brother, friend, person

Be good to the people around you. Those closest to you and those furthest from you. Some days you will fail but do your best everyday. Relationships are what matter in life.

16. Money is important up to a certain level, after that it’s about buying freedom and allowing you to do and create the things you want to do. Don’t buy into the materialistic ego trap.

17. Anything hard is worth doing.

So many times I’ve had turning points in my life that felt so hard. Almost insurmountable.But when looking back they were some of the best things that could’ve happened to me. Because they built so much of my character. Sometimes things suck or are difficult, but out the other end where that tunnel of light is, it makes the victory so much sweeter. Learn to appreciate the hurdles that you face they are blessings in disguise.

Things can become extremely hard at any given moment. Be prepared for it.

18. Make sure that if you were to die today you’d look back with a life well lived without too many regrets

I definitely don’t want to die, but if it were to happen today. Looking back I’ve done more than I’ve ever hoped to and experienced so much. Start doing the things that are important to you, so that when you look back you don’t regret not taking chances and doing the things that brought you joy.

19. You’ll underestimate what you can do in 10 years and overestimate what you can do in 1 year. Anything is possible if you find the right mentors, have the right framework, keep learning and execute as you go.

20. Exercise and move around, there’s a zen in sports and movement

21. Don’t be so serious

I was probably more serious when I was in high school than I am today. Being an adult doesn’t mean you have to act a particular way. Lighten up a little. Laugh a little or a lot 🙂

22. Doing your best work is extremely satisfying

Do your best is so cliche. But when working, when designing, when you truly put in your best effort and put everything into it. It’s the truest form of expression you can give and in that process you find flow.

23. Be a creator

Make things. The world is waiting for you.

24. Being a parent is the worst and the best thing to ever happen to you.

It’s a lot like life with ups and downs. But in those pockets of clarity there is something transcendent and almost spiritual. That you and your partner bought these wonderful humans into the world, as they look and smile at you with all their innocence wonder and hope. And it's indescribable.

25. Be kind to people. Provide value to the world and other people.

Not always easy, particularly when people screw you over. But it’s in those moments that your character should be tested. Stand for what you believe in, but be kind to people.

26. Sometimes when you are young, things feel insurmountable or so difficult, but looking back it wasn’t that big of a deal. And if it was a big deal it was actually a blessing in disguise as it helped you build character and conviction

27. Everything is a work in progress keep moving forward

Nothing stays still or the same. I was a different person 10 years ago, 10 years before that my values and views weren’t even formed yet. You will constantly evolve. Don’t be so fixed in your ways.

28. Love

Love your wife, love your children, love your family, your father, your mother, your brothers, your in laws, your friends, strangers, the world. And learn to love yourself. Because when you do that you will have more to give.

At times I am still very guarded but I am learning to open up my heart.

29. Design and being creative is something I hope to practice and do for the rest of my life – who knows if this conviction will change I’m only 11 years in.

30. Give and you shall receive

Learn to be a giver. Give without expecting anything in return. When you touch enough lives and provide people with enough value, something magical happens.

31. You are constantly learning. You have it all figured out. You have nothing figured out. “The more you know, the more you realise how much you don’t know”.

But that’s the entire point, the journey IS the ‘THING’. Everything can change in a moment, you will die. Someone you love will die. Life's going to throw more insurmountable hurdles your way, but it will also reward you with the greatest joys when you learn to open your eyes and heart to find them. 

Is this a complete list? Probably not. But does it matter? Not really. Those are my 31 lessons. And why 31? I wrote these 31 lessons when I turned 31 years old. I'm 35 now and the lessons still hold true. I hope you find something interesting in there. Feel free to agree or disagree 🙂

July 24, 20211 Comment

Design, Zen & Happiness

Written by Nguyen Le

Sometimes I think about how lucky I am to have fallen into design. To have carved out a great living doing something that I really enjoy. To be able exercise my creativity, create things and to solve interesting problems on a daily basis. It is pretty fucking dope and surreal when I think about it and I try not to forget that. Despite what I write on this blog I don‘t take myself too seriously. Shits just fun and games and I just try to enjoy the ride, learn new things and make the most of everything.

Make no mistake things do go haywire sometimes, but they are never as bad as they seem. Most of the time no one is going to die if something goes wrong, digital design is very forgiving as we can just patch things up, fix and iterate things. It might be a shitstorm for a while but it will pass. The same can not be said for the medical profession where mistakes can cost someones life and it is highly stressful. Or in corporate jobs where things can become so monotonous and disengaging that it feels like ground hog day. A few of my friends work in corporate environments and I can assure you it’s balls.  

So if you’re a designer just remember how lucky you are to be able to do what you do. You get to create things, put it out into the world and get paid doing it. There’s a lot of heavier shit and real issues happening all around you and you get this privilege to do this for a living. Real talk: My dad came to Australia on a boat after the effects of the Vietnam war. He worked his ass off doing labour intensive jobs for years to give my brothers and I a better life. I will never forget this and I am grateful for everything he’s done and worked for. So I don’t waste this opportunity and make the most of it.

What is a better life? More money? More fame? More opportunity? Perhaps. But I find most of those things to be more of a social trap, with society dangling this carrot in front of you. I think having the freedom to choose how you live your life and what you want to do is that better life. I don’t have to worry about food, shelter or the basic necessities anymore. Nor do I have to worry about my family or I getting shot or killed on the streets. So if I have the courage I can design my day to how I want and what I get up to. Focus on prioritising things that mean a lot to me and what I love doing and work around that. I define success through happiness. It is a key metric I use to measure success. And I’m happy when I’m designing and working on interesting projects. I really subscribe to the idea of flow. 

The best moments in our lives are not the passive, receptive, relaxing times… The best moments usually occur if a person’s body or mind is stretched to its limits in a voluntary effort to accomplish something difficult and worthwhile.

MIHALY CSIKSZENTMIHALYI

He discovered that people find genuine satisfaction during a state of consciousness called Flow. In this state they are completely absorbed in an activity, especially an activity which involves their creative abilities. During this “optimal experience” they feel “strong, alert, in effortless control, unselfconscious, and at the peak of their abilities.” In the footsteps of Maslow, Csikszentmihalyi insists that happiness does not simply happen. It must be prepared for and cultivated by each person, by setting challenges that are neither too demanding nor too simple for ones abilities.”

This is the exact feeling I get when I look at a blank canvas when I start a project. I look at all the research I’ve done, and think about the massive hurdle in front of me. I always wonder whether or not I’m going to deliver something great. I find that joy occurs when you have a connection to the work, that you really believe in it. Then I put on the headphones and turn it up to 11. Looking at this canvas and the design riddle that I am trying to solve, I slowly piece together the parts. Translating my thoughts onto paper and pixels.  The best moments are when I become so focused that nothing else around me matters, I get in “in the zone” and in this zen state of flow. I look at the clock and next thing I know 4 hours have gone by. I look at this canvas and theres something there. I gave life to something that didn’t exist before. It’s too much fun and I don’t want to stop, I want to ride this momentum of flow/inspiration whatever you want to call it. 

And then I keep at it for a few days and the happiest is when three things happen. I hit this point where I think this it! This is what I’ve been searching for all this time, this is the solution that I’ve been trying to meld and peel away. Iteration after iteration. I become so fucking satisfied. Another peak is when the client loves it and stands behind the work. It feels like we’re a team and we created something great together. That I haven’t let their trust and investment in me down, that I delivered on my promise. Thirdly is seeing the work out there, seeing it connect with people, help people and resonate with people. Our job is fucking awesome, have fun and grab it by the horns and make the most of it. Because most people aren’t as lucky as we are. So find your happiness and do your best work!

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