Plot 47A

Words on design and life by Cassie McDaniel

holiday illustrations
December 11, 2014

2014 Indy Holiday Gift Guide

Last year I began the tradition of publishing a holiday gift guide for independent artists, designers, publishers and craftspeople from within my network. I got a lot of pleasure knowing those folks got some business through it and that shoppers were putting their money where it could help people pursue what they love. The collection this year is … perhaps a little more motley than last year. But the intention is no different. Every one of these artists or businesses have made something they believe others will love, and I’m sure there is someone out there who is the perfect recipient.

As our holidays become ever more commercialized, I do think this is one of the very little things we can do as individuals that makes a big difference. In that spirit, shop local, shop independent, shop on.

To eat and drink
To wear
To read and look at
To experience
To use

To eat and drink

Cookie sweaters
Sugar & Spice Bakery — from $2.50
Shelby operates Sugar & Spice bakery out of her home just down the road from our new house. She made our daughter’s first birthday cake, and wow-oh-wow what a request that was. She deserves mad props.

Smore to love book
S’more to Love: A S’moregasbord of Mouthwatering ‘Mallow Innovations — $5
Made by my colleague Hannah and some friends. I love finding out people you work with have secret talents, but I also love S’mores — I almost wrote my own S’more book of concoctions last summer!

bitter or bust
Bitter or Bust cocktail bitters — $10 or $18
Honestly didn’t know what bitters were, but now that I know, they sound super fun. Good gift for someone who likes to throw parties. I’d like to try the cardamom, black peppercorns and lemon flavours.

jar of chili okazu
Chili Okazu — $6 – $9
Can we ever have enough chili? For me that answer is yes, but for people who love spicy things, they can never have enough. An excellent gift for people of that ilk.

Sriracha keychain
Sriracha Key Chain — $7 (on backorder ’til Dec 26)
Maybe not Indy but I thought it was clever. Another good gift for spice-heads, for the new year.

To wear

ARCA handmade ties and bowties — $79
One of my oldest friend’s sister-in-law makes these with love. I like the retro underlying fabrics.

hattitude necklace
Hattitude everyday collection of jewellery — $20-$60
One of the craziest things about people in your network making things is that they often have amazing stories of courage and fortitude. This jewelry is made by Hattie Dunstan, a Torontonian who underwent a double lung transplant just a few years ago. She now spends her life making things. Amazing Hattie.

black silver ring
Kovert Cleopatra Ring — £290
This ring eliminates that desire to keep your phone on the table. “Subtle vibrations alert you for predefined text, email, call or whatsapp notifications from certain people or with specific keywords” It’s pricy, but anything to make technology less disruptive to dinner table conversation is a win by me.

leather braided cuff
Fitzy Braided Cuff — $45
Endorsed by my friend Karen King and getting all kinds of press, these simple products are obvious winners. There are several items in the shop at various price points, check it out.

To read and look at

lion and girl screenprint
Lesley Barnes cards & prints — $4-$40
Came across Lesley’s work by searching Etsy for ‘Toronto’. I relate to her sense of color. Many of the illustrations would make especially lovely prints for children’s rooms.

two journeys book
Two Journeys — $18.00
This book was recommended by Alison Livey, who I know through the writing circuit in Toronto. A romantic page-turner written by her mama.

Matt Stevens MAKE print — $15 (on sale)
I saw Matt Stevens speak at Weapons of Mass Creation in Cleveland a couple years ago. Super down-to-earth guy, and I like his sense of meticulous, mechanical illustration.

Commuter Lit
CommuterLit: Arrivals & Departures — $14.45
One of my oldest Toronto friends I met at the High Park Library writer’s group publishes this collection. I have a poem in it called “Since” that I wrote when Amelia was born.

Beto's Burrito picture book
Beto’s Burrito picture book — $10 ($4.99 iBook)
A book project with my dad, who wrote the story. I recently relaunched the website and have a very good idea of the effort it takes for all these makers to sell their stuff online. Happy to inscribe to any special someones! I have a few prints left too, if you are interested in a whole gift package, email me.

To experience

simmons financial planning business card
Financial Planning Session — $50 – $250
Oh how I wish someone would have bought me this when I was younger. Seriously.

Nine lives card game
Nine Lives Card Game — $12.99
I’ve recently come around to games. Maybe it was playing game-after-game-after-game with my four-year-old nephew in Cambridge. This one looks fun, especially for those kidlets like my own who love all the kitties.

pregnant woman
The Calm Birth School home study program — £150
Saw a friend share this on Facebook and thought it would make a nice gift for someone expecting. I practiced a bit of hypnobirthing myself (my mom helped teach me), and I believe it made a world of a difference during the birth.

build it yourself camera
Viddy Build-it-Yourself Pinhole Camera — $64
At university I took a photography class using a pinhole camera. So much fun to distill what appears to be complex technology into something rather simple. Really fun to experiment with, and building your own would be a huge part of that. This store has tons of fun stuff other than this (thanks for the link Maureen!).

To use

holiday reindeer ornaments
Christmas Reindeer Ornaments — $15
So cute, but also, ornaments make great gifts for people in your life who you may not know all that well but want to know better.

tea towels
Veekee Designer Tea Towels — $18-$40
These are lovely and colorful and bright and yes, I’ll have a couple of these please to brighten up my kitchen, thank you.

provence apothecary gift set
Province Apothecary natural beauty products — $25-$70-ish
Recommended by my buddy Cassie Kaiser. I received this set as a gift last year and am still using it! It’s a great set to travel with, or even to use while pregnant, since it’s all natural ingredients.

Toronto pillows
East & West Toronto Pillows — $69
Found these via another Etsy search for ‘Toronto’ and what won me over was the description. Toronto is a city of two sides (truth), and you choose which side of the couch to sit on.

wildcraftcare skincare set
Holiday Gift Packs for skincare — $50.00
As soon as my Apothecary set runs out, I’ll be getting this. Love the photography!

birch tealight holders
Silver birch Tealight Holders — $24.50
Small little gift idea made from reclaimed wood by the son of a woodworker who left banking to follow his maker heart. Lots of larger coffee-table pieces too that look cool.

End table
‘The End’ endtable from Said the King — $375
Holds a bottle of your best & one glass, which you should always have on hand, ready for the end of the world. Made by the lovely Karen King, one of the most conscientious and hard-working makers I know.

That’s it for this year! Big thanks to everyone who submitted an item.

Remember these are just a few selections from my own personal network. There are likely so many other independent makers in your own. Regardless, as you’re doing your shopping this holiday season, remember to look for unique things that are useful, eco-friendly, local and produced with love by hard-working designers, artists and craftspeople. Happy holidays!

It takes time to put this guide together, and time is such a precious commodity. But I love doing this. Please consider making a small donation so I can do it again next year. A couple of bucks would make me so happy. Many thanks!

Mozlandia sketchnotes
December 10, 2014

(or, holy shit, what a year)

Those of you who know me know these things already, but for you new friends, let me tell you.

In the last 14 months I had a baby, emptied all my savings on a house and a car, moved house (to an odd little town), traveled to San Francisco, New York, Michigan, Florida, Chicago, London, Cambridge, Newcastle, Luxembourg and Portland (all but Chicago and Portland with the baby), and most recently I was promoted to Design Director of Webmaker, a position with a job description I’m still writing. I’m still breastfeeding. I’m still not sleeping very much. Having a baby strains all of your relationships. And I’m still very much figuring out what I’m good at, what I suck at, what I want to do with my life and what I can offer to the world. These are all good and lucky things.

I’ve also never been so jazzed about a company’s mission than I am today about Mozilla’s.

But what does that really mean? A global, public resource?

Invariably it will mean different things to different people, but the parts that resonate with me are “global”, “resource” and accessible”. Meaning those that want to use the Internet as a resource should be able to. And that access doesn’t just mean ‘availability’ — also (to steal a few words from Mark Surman, and add one of my own): knowable, imaginable, creative.

Mozilla in PDX

I’ve just returned from #mozlandia in Portland, an all-company, week-long meeting of Mozilla employees from around the world. Darren Herman, Vice President of Content Services at Mozilla, wrote that it has taken him a year to feel like (if not become) a Mozillian. It’s a perfectly honest way to describe a Mozilla induction. This is a world of disorienting contrasts. A big tech company by some standards, a tiny one by others. A global mission, made effective through individuals. A thousand pieces of input, often single decision-makers. An engineering company, hungry for design. A non-profit perceived as a corporation that acts like a start-up. Weirdness abounds.

However, the chaos of the previous year is beginning to make sense. Gaps left in leadership are filling with substance. Opportunities for risk and bravery look promising. I’m proud to be part of this Trojan Horse of the Internet. A browser company with more than browsing in mind. A non-profit that is once again the underdog, eager to change the world.

Big ideas make me consider my own motivations and how I fit: I want to do the best work of my life here. I want to justify the time spent away from my family. I want to have an impact on the cause I signed up for. I want to be a part of the change that sees the Internet as a public resource, as something we have to protect. I don’t ever want it to become the only thing in anyone’s life, and so I want to see it well-designed. Constructed to do the things we need it to do and nothing less. To provide access and connection to experiences, information and people, so that we can use it to live our lives better (not live better lives online).

Sketchnotes from Day 1 of Mozlandia

Sketchnotes from Day 1 of the Mozlandia keynotes

Mozilla: a design company?

Toward the end of my week in Portland with 1200 colleagues I attended a meetup with Mozilla designers. There were about fifty of us in a room, including some of my closest colleagues. Designers of all kinds – UX, UI, researchers, coders, managers. As a company that operates both remotely and lacks a single design department it was strange to see everyone in one room, but even more invigorating.

Throughout the week’s keynotes — messages that traveled from widescreens and loud speakers across audiences of hundreds — to this compact room of fifty designers, it became obvious that the need for design at Mozilla is real. Very real. Needed. And wanted.

Mark Surman spoke about going back to that place where we first discovered the Internet – what inspired us to join this industry?

For me, choosing tech over print or illustration was very much about finding my people. Shared interests, people I could build stuff with, friends with common goals. Working with folks who also wanted to make useful shit, and make shit useful. Being in that room in Portland honestly felt like rediscovering my people. It’s interesting to me that all the tools of the Internet can’t give me that same feeling, and that’s something I’d like to dig into next year.

What do Moz designers need?

For design culture to have a firm foothold in a historically engineering-dominated company, our meeting surfaced a few needs.

  • More sharing and camaraderie amongst designers
  • More sharing and camaraderie amongst not JUST designers (more sharing with everyone)
  • Effective prioritization, to ensure design voices are heard by each other, by engineers, by managers
  • Leadership and champions of design at the top. For instance, where is Mozilla’s Chief Creative Officer?

Design is a rich ecosystem of what appear to be competing principles – visual design vs. ux, design thinking vs. branding. That’s okay. It would not be real without that. We need all of it. They are all layers of an experience, tools to think about how humans traverse different environments.

The other thing that was obvious from this meetup was that no amount of politics or hires can make a company change its ethos. It has to come from within, from people shipping the change they wish to see. That may not be true at every company, but I firmly believe that to be the case within Mozilla.

What’s possible in 2015

I read an essay this morning that mirrors my current frame of mind. Todd Olson argues that it is design thinking that disrupts industries, not technology. He writes:

Apple does not deliver technology to consumers; it designs experiences, then finds the right technologies to deliver those experiences. And sometimes it waits patiently for the necessary technologies and business arrangements to be available to deliver a particular experience. By doing what it does, Apple disrupts. Again, and again, and again.

There is no reason why we cannot accomplish the same disruptive change through design with Webmaker this year and within Mozilla as a whole, starting now. Enough “technologies and business arrangements” have fallen into place that if we wait any longer for design to make a difference it will be because of our own complacence. Not patience.

This is the main message I heard at #Mozlandia: The mission, the drive and the mandate are there, and design has a big role to play in making it possible to succeed.

That means that despite a tough year, despite distributed culture, despite ongoing challenges — we need to work smarter at working together, at bringing others in, and at advocating for good design. These things are possible in 2015, and we can start by ticking off items in that ‘needs’ list.

astronaut forest
December 9, 2014

Re-entering the spectacle

I’m back! And I wanted to write a few words about returning to my blog after a spring/summer/fall of gone emailin’.

Being back here on this blog and writing my thoughts publicly is like randomly running into my brother in a café in Leeds. We shout. We hug. Probably nobody is looking, but we feel like everyone is. We sit down for a full English breakfast and I steal a slice of his toast. It feels so familiar and right, and I’m giddy with recognition of this life and that relationship, how easy our conversation flows, how easy it is to understand his eyebrow shrugs. Yet I’m in this place that feels vaguely foreign and uncomfortable. Like a dream, kind of, because I am pretty sure my brother has never been to Leeds. I can’t help asking myself why I ever thought leaving the public blogosphere would be a good idea?

I believed creating a private space to share my thoughts would make me write more. And that it would make me write more intimately. That it would make my thoughts somehow more valuable, to me and to others. Turns out, removing a pressured social valve just makes my drip less frequent; I have written far fewer words over the last six months than ever before. I’ve also realized there isn’t much personal content I am not willing to put out there — I’ve written about becoming a mom, losing a dad and other family members, and have certainly struggled in public with my values and ambitions. I often find myself wondering: I could write about breastfeeding privately, but why, when writing about it publicly might benefit people more?

For the moment I am opting back in to the public spectacle of blogging, simply because it provides so much value for me. It’ll be clunky, awkward, uncomfortable, but I like the clarity of thought that writing brings me. I like the pressured feeling that I have to write or my blog will get dusty. What a weird anachronism! But it works for me.

That said I’ve enjoyed my exchanges with people by email and I’ll try to keep that going too. So if you would like to find me in your inbox in addition to here, join my list of email buddies.

Now, what’s above isn’t content. It’s the prelude to the content. The content before the content. Or content within content. Content underneath the front porch of real content. Stay tuned for the goods.

April 14, 2014

An Experiment

This spring and summer I am going to try an experiment. Instead of posting writing on my blog, I am going to email it. Instead of blasting it out to noone in particular, I am going to send it to people who have explicitly signed up. Instead of an open letter to the world, I am going to write private letters to a select group of people. I’m curious to see where this leads me.

(Go ahead and subscribe here if you’re interested.)

The first fuzzy strings of this idea have been winding together in my head for awhile now, with inspiration coming from a variety of places – Nick Disabato’s personal newsletter, Frank Chimero’s Borderlands essay, and an idea of intentional community. These influences have led me to the same general place – one where I hope to connect intimately with others and where I hope there is space for others to connect with me.

How online connections could be so so much better

Lately I’ve been feeling dissatisfied with the life I live online. Why? I have a growing awareness that the loved ones I hold near and dear to me feel like outlines of the people I know them to be in real life. Despite feeling like we should be closer because we have more opportunities to connect, I feel that this expectation increases the distance between us.

This feeling is present in new friendships I have made online, too. Who are these people really? So much competes for attention on Facebook, Twitter and blogs that this is difficult to answer. In my online relationships, I miss both giving and receiving the undivided attention two friends demand when they are face-to-face.

I have contemplated blasting away my Twitter and Facebook accounts, but instead of giving into that drama I would like to focus on a medium I do still love: email.

What’s so special about email?

Recently I read the Four Hour Work Week and amongst the extreme advice promising riches and fame was one tip I did like, which was to check email just once a week. I tried this, earnestly, innocently – yet failed spectacularly. After two days, the email siren drew me back in. I hated the reality of unanswered letters sitting in my inbox, but I was also forced to recognize the depth of my email addiction. Why do I refresh my inbox constantly? Why do I break my concentration at work to look at personal letters?

In email I am drawn to the private space between two people. Private space creates an opportunity for a real conversation, a place where you can be free to make mistakes in your lines of reasoning, free to express real emotion and to experience something without distraction or a jittery unease of what other people might think of you.

Sometimes social media is like wandering into a crowded party while looking for a soulmate. Maybe you get lucky and find a quiet corner to sip your lager and chat about mutual interests with a good friend. But more often than not you are drowned out by or swept up in the music, the crowd, the activity. Sometimes that is exactly what you need, but other times it is not at all what you’re looking for.

Maybe you recognize this feeling?

What to expect

In order to make this doable while I work full-time, take care of a baby baby, and devote time to connecting with the rest of my family, I am laying out some constraints for myself and making some commitments to those who subscribe.

  • I’ll keep the meat of the emails 750 words or less.
  • These emails aren’t meant to be pretty. My goal is to clearly express stories and ideas without the use of pictures or design. The content might be about pictures or design, but I don’t want to get swept up in the act of designing here. This experiment is more about thinking, writing, sharing and connecting.
  • I can’t commit to a frequency of letters right now, but I want them to surprise my readers anyway, and I plan to do that partly through timing. Without a doubt I won’t be sending letters more often than once a day, and if I happen to send more than one a week you can be confident the pattern won’t repeat itself. Once a month is the minimum I am aiming for.
  • I’d love for this to be a two-way conversation. I will do my best to respond to everyone, no matter how big or small their letter, unless they’re obviously trolling. Trolls and I are never going to be long-term friends.
  • As with everything I write, I will strive to make my words useful to those reading them, to offer some kind of value. If we find my letters become trite, unrelatable or boring, then I’m not doing something right.
  • I pledge to send my first email out within a week of this posting.

As it stands

Currently I have a list to which 45 people are subscribed (why that is I don’t know because I have never used this list). 14 of you are family, another 14 are new friends or acquaintances, eight of you are irreplaceable old friends. I have no idea who another eight are, and one of you is dead (R.I.P. Daddio).

If you find these letters don’t do anything for you, please feel free to unsubscribe at any time. You may have signed up ages ago, or your interests may have changed, I get it. Life is too short to spend time reading irrelevant emails. You’ll find no judgement from me, and yes, we can still be friends.

What I am after with this experiment is a community of folks who share my interest in forming deeper and longer lasting connections through online mediums. I am after honesty and thoughtfulness. I am after long-lasting friendships that are able to transcend the challenges of asynchronous communication. I am after people who want to join me in this experiment.

I really hope that’s you.

So, are you in? Subscribe here or via the form below.

March 28, 2014

Working at Mozilla

I was re-reading some of my recent posts and came across this thing I wrote a couple months ago about why I love working at Mozilla.

I recognize that a culture that allows so many different perspectives, that is so fiercely dedicated to working in the open, will always have room for me. What a powerful feeling of belonging. Because of this I feel enabled to take risks and I am inspired to work hard. Mozilla is full of people like me.

In light of recent Mozilla news I thought it was worth sharing those thoughts again.

Webmaker on Lifehacker

Webmaker on Lifehacker

There’s also this lovely piece about Webmaker on LifeHacker today. I do love what I do, and the day to day people I do it with. What I know for sure is that there are a ton of good people at Mozilla and we’re going to keep working at making the web open and better for everyone. I’m very grateful to be doing this work.

Oh and–related to that old post–our UI Designer position is still open for the time being. Come work with me and so many other great people.

February 4, 2014

Webmaker Work Week: Web Literacy UX Track

In the spirit of fostering open design, I wanted to share what the User Experience team is working on at the Webmaker work week this week. Dozens of colleagues have flown in from different cities and countries to put our heads together (IRL instead of by Vidyo) and ship some pretty amazing things. Hopefully a better UX for discovering content on is a part of what we deliver.

The track I am wrangling is titled Web Literacy as UX, which proposes to put the Web Literacy Map (or Standard) at the heart of Webmaker’s offering. This is a fuzzy brief, so last week my colleagues Kate Hudson and Matt Thompson helped unpack this, and we realized that what we really wanted was to thread a notion of legitimacy throughout Webmaker, and that contribution would be how we would measure our success.

That insight led to a new focus, which is that every path needs to have an action at the end of it that drives users toward contributing content, teaching kits, events, or design or development to our community.


Today our track was joined by Sabrina Ng and Luke Pacholski from other teams in the Foundation. Kate continued to design jam with me, with helpful insights from Dave Humphrey and Gavin Suntop.

There is a lot to try and get right with this new design, lots of pieces to juggle, but one of the things I have been focused on is really playing to our strengths. Instead of trying to bend Mozilla processes into something it isn’t, how can we emphasize what is great about how fast we ship, how far we reach, and how idealistic we are? How can we bake those qualities into a new design direction? At the same time, how do we use our strengths to differentiate ourselves while not completely losing the straightforward qualities that makes our sister “competitor” sites like, Khan Academy or Code Academy so successful.

While we still have a ways to go for a fully realized prototype this week, we’re off to a running start having explored a few different design directions, including shooting down Luke’s “wheel of fortune” discovery tool (Sorry Luke =) and agreeing to design for change, even if people can’t agree whether or not the Web Literacy Map competencies will in fact change over time. Here are a few of the preliminary directions (do excuse the shoddy image quality – these were taken in a hurry since a squirmy baby was waiting for her dinner).






Lastly, what I did when I got home tonight, was finalize a quick survey of user motivations and their paths through an Explore section. While pretty basic – and while I think we need to start with the emotional side of UX – I am hoping this doc comes in handy throughout the week to serve as gut checks for what we are building.

user paths-01

As ever, feel free to file bugs and feedback! The main bug related to this task is here, bug 965395. You can see the other bugs we’ll be tackling throughout the week on the Mozilla workweek wiki.

February 1, 2014

Webmaker is Hiring

The position I originally wrote about for this post is now closed, but we are hiring again! Check out our posting for this UX/UI designer role and apply. Edited 6/14/2015.

The team I work with at Mozilla is hiring! So I thought I’d share why I like working on the front line of the Webmaker project.

The mission is ambitious

Mozilla is messy. We use a bunch of open source software to collaborate and stay connected (Bugzilla, Etherpad, Vidyo and IRC), all of which has seen better days. There are too many different projects and initiatives to count. And more happens every day – more blog posts, more tweets, more ambitious and creatively executed events are created than I could possibly keep up with, and all of that can get a little overwhelming.

Being a designer amidst this chaos is challenging. It is difficult to organize or control a system that is always changing, but this is what I like about it: it isn’t easy, and that means I am always growing as a designer. I also recognize that a culture that allows so many different perspectives, that is so fiercely dedicated to working in the open, will always have room for me. What a powerful feeling of belonging. Because of this I feel enabled to take risks and I am inspired to work hard.

Mozilla is full of people like me.

The scale is big, and it makes a difference

Webmaker in particular is one facet of Mozilla that is really exciting. A young team that only really started formulating early last year, we are just learning how to walk. As one of the first designers on this team I have an opportunity to make a difference to everything I touch.

Mozilla is able to reach millions of people all around the world and Webmaker is able to capitalize on that reach – which is amazing when you realize how idealistic this project is. We don’t want to reach people to collect their data or to sell them stuff. We are committed to supporting people who want to teach web skills. And often, we will give you Mozilla gear to help get people out to your events, we’ll give you the tools to help you teach, we’ll set you up with equipment if you need it, and we’ll host you in our space – all for free.

At this moment, the Mozilla machine is behind this mission and we are poised to grow. We can change the way the web works. We can change how people experience the web. It’s exciting.

The team is talented

Work for me has always been about the day to day interactions with people I like, and I really enjoy working with this team. My colleagues are smart, dedicated, idealistic (perhaps a little too addicted to animated gifs). I’m confident that what we do changes lives.

In the next little while we are going to hire the best UI designer and the best front end engineer that we can find. I don’t know if we already know these people, but our eyes are open and we are hungry for people who are just the right fit. Maybe that’s you?


Here are some highlights about what we’re looking for (we also like surprises).

UI Designer

  • Strong portfolio of consumer-facing interaction design work; impress us with your depth of thinking, attention to detail and proven record for shipping great products
  • Detail-oriented eye for visual design and typography
  • Collaborate with visual designers and engineers to ensure a seamless user experience from design to implementation

Apply for the UI designer position

Front End Engineer 

  • Apply your design talents at the code level
  • Help make innovative interactions on the Webmaker platform a reality
  • Expert in JavaScript, CSS3 and HTML5
  • Strong desire to learn new technologies and methodologies as they arise and to bring those to the Webmaker platform

Apply for the front end engineer position – This position is now closed.

Have any questions about what it’s like working at Mozilla? Shoot. I know I did when I first began eying my current position and Chris Appleton warmly offered to show me around the offices. Let me return the favor.

January 17, 2014

Designing for Multitudes

Do I contradict myself?
Very well then I contradict myself,
(I am large, I contain multitudes.)
–Walt Whitman, Song of Myself

When a scab comes off but isn’t quite ready, look: there is a fleshy ring of pink healed skin encircling fresh white cells that may not yet be primed for air. It stings. There is a pause before the tiny pinpricks of blood vessels begin to flood the white skin with blood. And soon, there will be another scab, until what is underneath is ready for the air.

Our job as designers is to look, to be ready before everything else. We have to be comfortable describing the uncomfortable in order to get past the barriers blocking us from seeing what is happening underneath. And we must recognize those split moments in our collective conscious when we are able to see something significant and true about ourselves. But we have to have the courage to look. And to keep looking.

There have been some moments lately, sometimes happening right on top of one another, that seem to reveal contradictory human experiences.

tumblr_mwb6l30rM41qzwmsso1_1280On one hand, we have Frank Chimero writing about turning his personal site into “the internet version of a quiet, cluttered cottage in the country.” We can relate. We were raised on charcoal pencils, William Faulkner, hot drinks and loud music. We are overwhelmed by the limitless library that is the Internet today, the ability to learn any discipline to any depth anywhere at any time. It feels good to think about running away to start a one-family vegetable garden with a shaggy dog that accompanies you on long walks away from the Internet.

Maybe we do not run there because nobody knows what this cottage looks like in real life. Does it have a door? Does it have windows? If it is cluttered, will it be organized chaos, where only we are able to find what we are looking for? I close my eyes and have a notion as to what my cottage feels like, what it smells like. My great-grandmother’s afghan quilts are there. The ceiling is wooden so that when it rains you can really hear it. There is paper everywhere, all different shades and textures and ages of paper. But I have no idea what it looks like to other people.

I open my eyes and I ask myself, why have it online if it is private, if it is just for me? If it is just about me?

The Kellers controversy, a husband and wife journalist duo who in separate publications critiqued Lisa Bonchek Adams for live-tweeting her stage IV breast cancer, reveals something different about our online selves: how some people equate privacy with dignity and how others value privacy as an act of generosity, as a gift so that we may connect with others.

Unlike Chimero, or Glaser or Rand or Kalman or Scher or any of these lone designer heroes, there is an equally vibrant opposing desire to have a loud, crowded cottage, a place where everyone comes to see you. A place where your friends are (where your hundreds of friends are, because you don’t have to be limited by the number of people who can sit at your dinner table since they are online, since they are everywhere).

Designing for this type of humanity isn’t easy because these are not two different subsets of people. They are me. They are you. We want our privacy, but we want our ability to connect as well. We do not fit so easily into UX designers’ personas or a defined audience.

My dad used to quote Walt Whitman all the time, probably forgetting he had already quoted him thrice before. His favorite was this: “Do I contradict myself? Very well then I contradict myself, (I am large, I contain multitudes.)”

The entire poem itself is lovely (initially self-published by the way) – observational, introspective, visceral. I believe we want more of these feelings and experiences online, that we want the Internet to behave more like a human – perhaps more like poetry – yet here we are designing for content management systems and fake personas and validated user experiences. If we are spontaneous, it is planned spontaneity. If we are playful, it is constructive play.

I believe what Chimero is getting at, and what the Kellers may not believe is possible online, is that we need to find a way for the Internet to help us understand every facet of ourselves and each other better.

I am not sure exactly how to do that, but I think the web is wide enough – evolving like other disciplines such as art and literature – that there is no final, right answer. The one thing that rings true is that we need a broader range of experiences.

This means going beyond Facebook-style interactions. It means spending more time philosophizing about what our online interactions communicate. It means considering what is right and appropriate for each task we are designing, not just looking at a pattern library or asking a few people if it works – it means really looking at what might be dark and uncomfortable so that we can see and understand ourselves better.

Designing for multitudes is not just today’s task, either. It is every day’s task from here on out. The real challenge for designers will be to stop simplifying the human experience and to embrace it in all its clutter, confusion, contradiction and change.

Maternity Leave infographic by Ivonne Karamoy for Women&&Tech
January 13, 2014

A Mother’s Labour Leave

It is one week before I go back to work, I can hardly believe it. I have taken the full extent of my 15 weeks maternity leave plus two additional weeks from Mozilla, and my husband will take the next three months of parental leave (in Canada, 15 weeks must be taken by the mother and the remaining 35 weeks can be divided between parents any way they’d like).

As I consider the coming weeks and how I will balance work and home life, I know I will be returning to work a different person. A friend told me about a bulldog woman she worked with who came back from maternity leave and was much more likable. While still stubborn, the woman was less flagrantly ambitious, no doubt because her priorities had changed. I have also read that often when women come back to work as mothers they are far less divided than one might think; they are in fact more organized, more efficient and better leaders.

My colleague David Humphrey wrote a really nice note to me before I left about becoming a parent.

“I can say with some experience that it is harder than anything you’ve ever done, and more rewarding, that it will break you, but also remake you into something new and better.”

I wonder, how have I changed? Am I new and better? I have certainly felt broken at times. And also very rewarded.

It is true that I have learned a few new skills I hope will transfer to my work. I have developed greater endurance. I have gotten better at multitasking and working in short, broken amounts of time. I have become more resourceful at learning skills and subject matters that are completely foreign to me. I am more disciplined about bed times. I no longer freak out about poo in the bathtub. My community is wider since I can relate to more people in the “mom and dad club”. I think I might be a better friend, because I am genuinely grateful for all the kindness folks have shown us over the last few months. And my desire to leave the world a better place has really solidified: this is the world my daughter has to live in. Plain and simple. This motivates me like nothing before.

Those are the positives. On the flip side, I worry about Amelia constantly. I am not sure if my brain grew at all to accommodate this extra worry, or if it pushing something else out. I have heard that new mothers lose a few IQ points, which doesn’t surprise me at all.

My cousins came to visit from Georgia and we all went out for Ethiopian food over the holidays. The restaurant was nearly empty, the music was quiet, the food was spectacular, but Amelia did not want to sit down so I stood at the end of our table and jiggled her around, swaying back and forth and sometimes pacing in front of the window as the streetcars passed. Eventually the matron of the restaurant came and simply said, “I’ll hold her for you.” She was warm and motherly and seemed okay so sure, I let her go, but I did not relax or take my eyes off them for a second.

She walked up and down the restaurant, lifted Amelia up in the air, held her close, whispered to her, sang to her, basically all the things my grandma would do but I imagined her running off through the back kitchen and me chasing after her and tackling her to the ground, wrestling my baby back.

So. I need to learn to relax. And to accept help gracefully.

There will be some challenges. Nap time, feeding time, pumping time, meeting time, screaming time, and definitely learning to let go. But I think it’s important I go back now, and here’s why, despite some people’s perception that I may be coming back “early”.

Canada’s policy to grant new parents a year of leave after having a baby, supporting you with 55% of your previous salary, is one of the reasons I have wanted to stay in Canada. This seemed to be one of the progressive differences between Canada and the States, where no maternity leave (paid or unpaid) is mandatory. A full year of leave for a young family to look after a new child and adapt to a new life truly seems to be a blessing. But I am starting to see this a little differently. A year is a really long time for one person to be away.

Unfortunately the burden of expectation is on the mother to take the majority of time off, and I think this is damaging to women. While every family is different, and it is nice to have the choice to come back to work or not and when, perhaps there is more we could do to relieve the pressure on women to stay home and to create a more equal working (and parenting) environment between men and women. Kay Hymowitz wrote an interesting article about this for Time called “Longer Maternity Leave Not So Great for Women After All”. Here’s an insight that resonated with me:

Over the past decades, Norway, Sweden and Iceland have been tinkering with policy formulas to get dads to take longer paternity leave. They’ve found that when, and only when, they introduce “use it or lose it” daddy months — that is, when fathers get several months of leave that cannot be transferred to mothers — men will take substantial time off with the baby. However, any leave time left to a couple to divide is almost always taken by women.

Luckily, I have the best husband in the world who really wants his share of leave with Amelia, and I am proud of and grateful to him for dividing this time with me. I know that going back to work while I am still nursing will be a challenge. But this feels right.

Again, I mean this feels right for us, as every family is different, but I wish more men overall would consider taking longer periods off when they have a baby, especially men in tech because it would make us few women in tech less of a rarity when we must take leave. I wish more employers would consider alternative working arrangements, including remote setups like what I’ll be doing with Mozilla, so that new parents could make this kind of arrangement work.

In the meantime, I feel lucky to have both an awesome husband and an awesome employer and I hope I can serve as a decent example as to what women can achieve when given an equal opportunity.

See you back online next week!

** The header image for this post is derived from a maternity leave infographic by Ivonne Karamoy for Women&&Tech.

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