July 12, 2023
Design Industry, More Industry Than Ever
Or why we tech elders feel a bit nostalgic
A recruiter recently asked me how much experience I have designing for mobile devices. I tried not to sound too pretentious, but I told him I watched Steve Jobs presenting the first iPhone and have worked for mobile screens usability since.
15 years ago, the design industry was wearing diapers. Human Computer Interaction (now UX) wasn’t yet considered a common profession. There wasn’t any school or master degree in digital product design. Online courses or tutorials weren’t a thing yet. YouTube was only starting and was mostly cats and funny compilations. The only way to learn this profession was to read books and share your thoughts with people reading those books.
The only way to learn this profession was to read books and share your thoughts with people reading those books
It took a huge effort to start working on something that wasn’t yet established. I’m not sure if I call ourselves brave or careless. The thing is, only those who reaaaally liked UX became digital product designers. Only people hungry to learn and share new knowledge became designers.
It was a pretty nice and collaborative niche. Imagine a field full of hungry brains with very different backgrounds, from IT to Journalism, trying to create new processes and define each part of usability adapted to digital interactions.
Watching the speakers at Cultured Meat Symposium I realized I’m missing that mental model diversity. Creating meat in a laboratory is a newborn field. It’s so recent, there’s no specialized degree yet. So only people who’re really interested in it, each from a different background–from genetic scientists to climate crisis analysts –, attended. It was eye-opening. In spite of the obvious differences, it was like a window to the past. A new profession, a bunch of people eager to share and collaborate. There was no rivalry.
And then there’s the design industry present being, more than ever, an industry.
After years of having to sell the value of design to them, every big corporation now has in-house design teams. This need started fast, when every single service, product, and process became digital. The demand was so high they started inventing perks to get to hire the best on the field.
Word spread about this need for designers and engineers, and courses, bootcamps, and master’s degrees appeared like mushrooms. Some were better than others, but equally short (months) and many addressed to people changing careers from those getting less demand, like graphic designers, or journalists. New designers were mass-produced.
New designers were mass-produced.
It was the startup-blooming era. Investors were (are) demanding an insane amount of growth. And startups, trying to get this growth made huge plans that required hiring many people. This cycle was meant to be profitable only if the company was sold. Having your company sold was a combination of many things, but usually contacts, money, and luck did the trick. Most didn’t make it.
2020 was the peak of this scenario, with big companies hiring tech workers at the same rate as everyone else.
2022 came with a recession on the horizon. Everyone panicked and some took the opportunity to excuse layoffs and change their roadmaps.
How about new designers?
By this point, design education has been standardized. New designer roles are pretty specialized. And, I feel like sometimes they have been promised the moon, maybe based on their teacher’s or managers’ past experience, not only bootcamp marketing strategies.
Companies used to hire designers based on their experience and potential, which was very different between two people, and you could hire really complementary profiles.
I’ve never felt like I was special for being a designer, just lucky. Lucky because I got to be part of those inspiring first moments of many new technologies that helped our processes. Lucky because I was always surrounded by people who really enjoyed learning, especially about the field. But I’ve always been one gear of a bigger machinery, a happy gear.
Designers are like any other labor force
We designers are like any other labor force, and the industry isn’t hiding it behind a pingpong table or big promises anymore. The field is like every other one. And that’s ok. That’s how professions grow and become established industries.
Being like any other industry, with a standardized production line, means we become interchangeable gears, resources.
“This field has worshiped at the altar of the technical for the better part of 60 years at the expense of understanding the social unethical. And we have seen the fruits of that prioritization”
Meredith Whittaker, Director of the Signal Foundation
Even if it’s not so obvious anymore, there’s still a lot to explore, to specialize in as a designer. E.g. working on the ethical implications of the products we launch.
In summary, if you have been working in this industry for a long time and you are feeling a bit nostalgic, you are not alone.
May 26, 2023
Antiperks in tech job offers
Company cuture bugs sold as features
After three years full of adventures, I parted ways with Sketch. Thanks to my savings, I could take a break and–as a wise friend of mine said–think of my career as a marathon, not a sprint.
My recent experience as a Product Manager has made me realize how much I enjoy organizing chaos and seeing every part of the digital production process as a huge intertwined machinery. So, mixing that up with my design knowledge, I’m now actively looking for a Design Ops position or similar role. While on it, I’m finding company job descriptions to be full of sugar-coated weird or straight up bad characteristics as benefits. Let’s call them antiperks.
Antiperks are bugs sold as features 🐞
Most times antiperks try to hide a bad or terrible team culture. These bugs sold as features come up so often I’ve written a list of them.
Maybe I’m procrastinating because looking for a job 24/7 makes you go nuts, and I can’t avoid looking for patterns? Maaaybe.
When writing down perks, imagine a terrible manager handling them
Silicon Valley journalist Kara Swisher always says when thinking of a digital product, imagine how it could be featured in an episode of Black Mirror. Translating that into company benefits, I’d say: When writing down perks, imagine a terrible manager handling them.
- A flexible schedule? you’ll be expected to answer your colleague right away, who’s working during the weekend.
- Async communication badly managed? You go away from your keyboard to have lunch and someone else makes a decision for you without your input.
- You’ll wear many hats? You’ll be expected to do a thousand things that aren’t normally part of that job. A ‘you do it once, it’s now your responsibility’ kind of culture.
🚩 Hypergrowth environment
Hypergrowth can be ok, not good or bad per se, but it’s normally listed under perks. It’s really interesting finding there’s a hundred ways of saying ‘the team is growing fast’ in a positive way. I’m not even mad, I’m impressed.
Even though we’ve grown a lot, we still work as a startup in many ways
👉 Translation: We don’t have processes in place because we are overwhelmed by the number of new people and we may change things when talented people start leaving.
We work on dynamic and fast-paced projects
👉 We make decisions on the go and don’t have a long-term plan, we expect you to work long (unpaid) hours.
Join us, we are on a quest to double the team in the next six months
👉 Be patient, we are not where we want to be and there may be curves ahead.
A fast-growing company normally has a fragile company culture if it’s not nurtured well enough because of the huge amount of new people.
It’s useful to know if the candidate has a similar experience. I get where this is coming from, but why sell it as a 100% positive trade?
For the management layer, a fast growing team means you’ll have impossible hiring goals on top of everything else. It’s normal to mention it as a way to warn people of what’s coming.
For the individual contributor, this means they need to meet and maybe mentor new people on top of their everyday work.
✏️ My suggestion: Think about the tone. Growing fast could be done well enough not to be a pain, but it’s additional work for everyone, not really a perk.
🚩 The sugar trap
Sometimes offers mention characteristics denoting they spend more energy trying to keep you at the office (virtual or physical) than allowing you to enjoy your own time on your terms.
It can be a ping pong table, a karaoke machine, a gym, sugary snacks, after-hours social calls, or “mandatory fun activities” after work.
Companies in Silicon Valley–Facebook–used to name their offices ‘Campus’ and build services for their employers, like gyms, restaurant-like cafeterias, and recreational areas, so people arriving from universities/colleges identified their office life with their previous student life. The idea was to push people into recreating their student habits of making personal connections on campus, and staying at work as much as possible.
I’ve heard an ex-Meta employee saying if you didn’t participate in company-based activities, and look for your own life outside of work, you weren’t seen as a ‘team player’.
At least saying ‘we are a family’ has grown out of fashion.
✏️ My suggestion: Good perks think of the person beyond being a worker. They allow you to have a good personal and work time balance.
🚩 Unlimited days off
Unlimited days off is not a bad thing per se. They have been recently popularized, but how this policy is applied and accepted depends 100% on company culture.
A few years ago a Spanish company’s HR department had to ask employees to take days off in December because most of them had asked for less than two weeks off that year. In Spain, you are entitled to a minimum of 22 paid days off per year by law.
Yesterday I found this example
I used to think infinite days off was a good sign. In real life, tech companies often have a workaholic-means-good culture. Why are we talking about workations instead of encouraging people to go away and fully unplug?
What used to be a well-thought perk has become a trap in itself if unsupervised. Like many other aspects of working remotely, this puts the responsibility on the individual, and that’s the most anti-perk part, especially in multi-cultural teams.
I had a colleague–and good friend–working from Mexico, where you only get days off after a year of working with no days off.
I currently live in Spain. It’s virtually impossible that we understand this ‘unlimited days off’ policy the same way. For me, the infinite part meant ‘more than 22’. For him, it was ‘More than 10 days from year 2’
Unlimited days off for a Spaniard means ‘More than 22’, for my Mexican friend, it’s ‘More than 10 days off from year 2’
Some companies have unlimited days off while encouraging a productivity-driven culture. Taking multiple days off at those companies is seen as selfish or lazy. In others, the amount of work prevents you from taking days off because getting three days off will translate into doubling your output for three days when you are back.
In any of the two examples above, a day off doesn’t mean resting in peace, and it’s seen as not worth it, even though it sounds great on paper.
✏️ My suggestion: Set a minimum mandatory number of days off per year when you offer infinite days off as a perk. It sets intentionality and will level up the bar for diverse teams and people prone to ask for less than a healthy amount of holidays a year.
🚩 Flexible schedule
A flexible schedule is a double-edged sword. A flexible schedule shouldn’t mean an elastic schedule.
A flexible schedule shouldn’t been understood as an elastic schedule.
The two worst examples I have on this are:
- A recruiter talking about flexible hours: ‘You may have to work for a whole Saturday when your manager asks you to but then you could take a random Wednesday’.
Who is this flexible for?
- A company I worked for was convinced flexible hours while working remotely meant you were available 24/7. ‘You can get a call at 9 PM one day to have a Zoom with your colleagues by 10 PM’.
✏️ My suggestion: Job offers could explain what they mean by flexible. ‘You can adapt your working hours as you please as long as you communicate it in advance’. Or ‘Make your schedule as long as it overlaps at least 3 hours with the rest of the team’.
🚩 You’ll work with a group of young and driven professionals
Sometimes this means the people on the team have more drive than long-term plans. The desirable scenario would be to have a good balance of background and age diversity.
Years ago, after a long conversation where it was clear I was a good fit, an interviewer asked me my age. My face must have shown my surprise because he tried to comfort me ‘Ehhm. You don’t need to answer if you don’t want to. I’m just asking to see if we are on the same level. I’m 33’. It was his first-time role as a manager, and he wanted everyone on his team to be younger than him. He didn’t call me back. I was one year older than him. I got the impression that he was looking for a fan base, not a team.
✏️ My suggestion: If the team is young, you can explain it making sure everyone can feel welcomed. Something like ‘We are young but looking for all kinds of candidates because we appreciate when our experiences complement each other’.
🚩 Looking for a rockstar
Rockstars, highly experienced, excellent at, superb, outstanding, unicorn, …
Thankfully, this kind of language isn’t used as much anymore. These words tend to attract entitled lone wolves, highly competitive profiles, vain people, and mostly men.
It’s proven women usually down-sell ourselves, and tend to apply for jobs they when we meet 100% qualifications. Descriptions about excellence filter out a lot of good candidates.
A broader description of skills will increase your candidate pool and make it more diverse
✏️ My suggestion: You can be as specific as you want about what the role will entail. But please try to tone down specificity and excellence when describing the candidate’s characteristics.
Instead of ‘Perfect English speaker’, you can say ‘Working English proficiency’. This subtle difference won’t filter out non-native English speakers. Accents aren’t a sign of ignorance. That person with an accent is adapting to you and talking to you in your language.
A broader description of skills will increase your candidate pool and make it more diverse.
🚩 Remote position in this particular city
I avoided this kind of position even before remote work was as widespread as it is right now.
I understand some companies aren’t able to hire people in other countries. But if the remote-ness is linked to a small area I don’t think it’s really going to be a fully remote role.
Based on my experience, it sounds like remote practices aren’t that well embedded in the culture yet. It may mean some team members are extending their 2020 lockdown working-from-home experience, and they are slowly opening up that possibility. Setting a particular city usually means employees are asked to be present to some extent you’ll most likely be required to attend in person to meetings, events, etc.
✏️ My suggestion: Be open and a position as hybrid, or open to working from home when is restricted to a small area. It’s a better description and will save you a many candidates time.
🚩 European time zone
This is a short one. You are missing a whole continent in the exact same time zones as European countries and it’s making you look pretty bad and narrow-minded.
✏️ My suggestion: Add Africa when talking about +2 -2 GMT time zones. Or use EMEA–Europe, the Middle East and Africa–when it fits.
🚩 Mental health provided
Some companies provide mental health options for their workers as an inside department. It’s a good trend by itself but it has some flaws.
Some of these mental health companies don’t have personal plans, only professional ones. This means you’ll lose your therapist when you quit or get fired.
You’ll lose your therapist when you quit or get fired.
In some cultures sharing the fact that you have a therapist is kind of taboo, so this benefit won’t be used by them.
In others, like mine, it’s so weird and kind of violates my privacy that my employer knows if and when I’m having therapy. So I wouldn’t accept it either if I can afford to pay for it.
I guess this comes from USA-based role descriptions, where your healthcare is linked to your job.
From an inclusivity perspective, this service is usually provided only in English because it’s the language spoken at the company. But, you know, having a meeting about a digital product is not the same as talking about my deepest fears or worries. I would rather talk to a therapist in my native language. Distributed companies working with people around the world, providing English-only therapy show very little accommodation for non-native English speakers.
An alternative could be psychologist cost coverage but is a tricky solution, at least for me. On one hand, it sounds encouraging, on the other you are still required to tell your company about such a private matter.
✏️ My suggestion: Offer enough time and money to let people choose to go to therapy if they need to and make sure it’s something normalized and not stigmatized or made fun of in internal communication.
🚩 DNA testing
For your wellbeing with gym membership, gadget, […] travel and cyber insurance, DNA testing, dental insurance, and more.
[Scratching vinyl sound] Wait, what? DNA testing as a perk?
I swear I’m not making this up. All examples in this article are real quotes and experiences. I don’t even know where to start with this DNA nonesense. It is beyond orwellian.
✏️ My suggestion: Please, don’t.
✏️ Summary to write better perks
- Hypergrowth is good to mention, avoid listing it as a perk.
- Schedule social activities during working hours. Respecting your worker’s personal time is the benefit.
- Add a minimum number of paid days off to infinite holidays.
- Clear the air about what does flexible schedule means in practice.
- Make sure everyone feels welcome when describing the current team.
- Be specific about the role, and broad about the candidate.
- ‘Work from home allowed’ is a better description than ‘Remote but only in this particular place’.
- Use EMEA instead of Europe-centric language to describe time zones.
- Offer enough money and time for people to choose to go to therapy without being involved.
- I still can’t believe a company would offer DNA tests as a perk.
June 28, 2020
Working remotely during a global pandemic
A pandemic isn’t only about the virus
I have been working remotely for more than ten years, and this wasn’t it. For example, even though I have been thinking about writing for three months, I couldn’t write a single word until today. Because working from home during a global pandemic isn’t the same as working remotely.
Working from home during a global pandemic isn’t the same as working remotely
During the last few months I feel the world, at an accelerating and sometimes forced pace, busted the myth of ‘people who work remotely are less productive’. I’m glad to see working remotely is no longer an edge case because I’m sure regulations for better remote working conditions will follow.
We need to make clear one thing: This situation we have lived isn’t working remotely. People had been sent home to work during a pandemic, without time to prepare for it at an individual level nor a broader one, with every worry about health and unemployment of their relatives and peers, without a plan for translating their everyday job into a remote environment. And even with a situation that bad, people made it work.
A friend’s boss was totally against working from home because ‘We can’t technically do it, we would have to dedicate too many resources for that to happen’; he changed his slant into ‘We have prepared a VPN in an afternoon so you all can access our database and work as usual while being locked down at home’. Proving once again that lack of trust is what shapes a manager’s opinion against working remotely.
This is a rough list of things that are different when properly working remotely:
- Before going full remote, the company takes time to change some part of the processes and adapt them to a remote environment.
- You can prepare a place at home or elsewhere reserved just for work.
- You choose that place because it’s silent enough to concentrate.
- Your children are at school while you work.
- If you live with a remote worker, they also have their own space for it.
- You have a set of clothes comfortable enough to work from home that are not your pajamas.
- You have your own routine chosen through trial and error. Working remotely is usually attached to other flexibility treats, like choosing your own schedule.
- You have lunch at restaurants from time to time, instead of having to cook all your meals.
- On your free time, you can practice hobbies outside or sports that help clear your head from your job and other worries
- You can have lunch with friends in the middle of the week.
- You celebrate birthdays and other events in person, helping you feel the passage of time.
- You sleep the extra time you used to spend in your commute, because you aren’t worried about family and friends well being.
- You can ignore the news for a couple of weeks to clear your mind, instead of continually reading every update to get to know the new rules to go outside and interact with one another.
- You walk outside without fearing to bring back a virus with you.
- You don’t bleach your groceries when you come back home from the supermarket.
- You don’t care about touching your face while being outside.
- You aren’t worried about the pandemic affecting the vulnerable people around you.
- You can rest during weekends: singing at concerts, walking in the park, hugging your friends, making a picnic, ..
- You have the freedom to choose where to work or party.
- You can move to a new home.
- I would have hugged my mom tightly when my grandma passed away from covid, instead of grieving in isolation.
The pandemic has created new stressful situations that didn’t happen before. Apart from the most obvious–people with health issues that covid affect to–there were people with mental health issues shut at home, people living with their abusive partners, young queer people living with intolerant families, …
If working from home during a pandemic has kind of worked for you and your office, imagine how well will it work with freedom of movement and a well-rested headspace.
If working from home during a pandemic has kind of worked for you and your office, imagine how well will it work with freedom of movement and a well-rested headspace.
I’m aware I’m talking here about the lucky people who could work from home during the lockdown, but wanted to mention that the most vulnerable people didn’t have that chance. The possibility of finding a job for a few hours or days depends a lot on their mobility.
December 26, 2019
Tailoring our future
How did we get here and sustainable alternatives to fast fashion
Cinemagraph by kpoldnk
Disclaimer: The goal of this article is not another guilt trip about how you live your life, and how much water you need to drink. My intention is to create awareness about this situation in a society that normalises consumerism. I also offer alternatives on an individual level
If the price of two products is similar, aren’t you more prone to consume things that have a smaller carbon footprint, less wasteful production process, better worker conditions, or made of a durable material? Of course! No one wants to impact the world negatively because of a pair of trousers. The thing is: we don’t usually have that information on hand, but we can use the internet to look for it. Thanks to a better informed society, people’s sustainability expectations on products is growing by the day.
Some fashion industry giants have lately been so wasteful, polluting, and worsening their worker’s conditions, that they now have their own definition: Fast Fashion.
Brands like Zara or H&M are following an unsustainable operational model. The current speed of retailers to move their collections from runways to stores, and their accelerated manufacturing production process creating a collection every two weeks have lead to brands using fashion FOMO-Fear Of Missing Out-as a business model. Of course, in most cases without hiring more people or paying them any better. Fast fashion is contributing to the global climate crisis with its waste while profiting from vulnerable places.
This wasn’t the future capitalism had planned
Born in the UK in the XVIII century, capitalism was based on a super elitist idea of the world, were men (only men, and only white) basic desires were pushing the economy to a balanced status. According to consumerist John Maynard Keynes, one day we will all be rich, we won’t need to work so much, we will consume less; and all we’ll do is to watch our flowers grow. Keynes idea was that greed was good, and consumerism was the better rational and temporal option for achieving that human “limited” greed. Unfortunately, he didn’t take into consideration hundreds of years of accelerated consumerism couldn’t all end in one day–or one decade–. Plus the naïveté prospect of everyone –even taking his definition of everyone as white rich men–or anyone saying “Ok, I have enough, I’ll now watch my flowers grow”.
Right now, for instance, too many sectors would crush if we stop all the consumerism machinery at once.
How did we get here, then
In the XVIII century, women were expected to fit their garments as the yearly trend dictated. Wealthy women had their dresses created ad hoc for every trend. Less wealthy women adapted their clothes, shortening theirs skirts or adding a different neck to their old clothes.
The textile industry was leading the Industrial Revolution, which main changes were the use of machines as a manufacturing production process replacing manual labor, and dividing such work into little steps within assembly lines.
Average income and population began to exhibit unprecedented sustained growth. […]GDP per capita was broadly stable before […], and the Industrial Revolution began an era of per-capita economic growth in capitalist economies.
Lucas, Robert E., Jr. (2002). Lectures on Economic Growth.
With factory workers and military personnel as their main target, men clothes were the first to have homogenised sizes and tailoring cuts. During the next century, offering high-end garments made by a tailor was a differentiation value for wealthy people, and fashion houses were born.
The XX century started with well-off women dressed extravagantly corseted to display economic wealth. As their lifestyle became a bit more independent they started demanding more practical clothes, like garments that could be put on without a maid’s help. On the less-wealthy side, women had entered the factories workforce massively during wars, so they were not only starting to have some kind of economic independence, they also needed outfits with better mobility.
Fashion houses added a pret-a-porter line–literally ready-to-wear– to their half-year collections during the 50s. Pret-a-porter fashion was more affordable for the public, and more profitable for brands, and soon haute couture was replaced by it.
Fast forward a few years and we have globalised fashion producers and trendsetters thanks to magazines, movies, … And in the 70s Zara appeared on the scene. A tiny fashion store on the Northwest of Spain that copied and simplified those pret-a-porter pieces they saw on the runways and remade them with affordable garments.
Zara changed small stores fashion expectations and the way fashion was designed, manufactured and distributed. Its owner called it “instant fashion”. They could produce trendy clothes faster than ever before. Zara then went from being the tail of the lion, to be the head of the mouse, to create a completely new animal. They became so popular they started creating their own collections–mixed with the runway copies–. And soon enough they were the ones getting copied by new brands. Gossip apart, the fashion industry, sorry, the high fashion industry, wasn’t happy about being copied or losing customers because of this.
Zara just started the trend
Globalisation, lower shipping costs and quality, and internet stores have amplified and speeded up this copying cycle. Brands and fashion houses, trying to be unique, used this new more affordable way to exploit the whole supply chain. They wanted to ‘wow’ people more and more often, so they created middle-season collections, and then half-middle-season ones. And a set of sales right in between. So much so, there are stores right now with a section that’s always on sale.
The impact was similar to computerisation on the workplace. As Javi Loureiro once pointed out: when computers were able to calculate x2 faster, people expected to work half of the time; instead, companies asked to double the amount of work done.
Middle-season collections fall into this category. Almost no one on the chain was paid more, teams weren’t growing, they were asked to double their work. These triggered a discomfort and lack of value inside fashion brands. They, for example, started copying illustrations they found on the Internet, provoking a lot of public brand shaming and litigations.
Once upon a time, buying clothes was limited to a particular time of the year, like children’s clothes at the beginning of the school year. During the 90s, shopping was made popular as a form of entertainment. This was shown in a lot of movies and tv shows.
Fast fashion dark patterns
In 1993, Lefties was created, a store where Zara’s defective clothes were sold for very low prices. They used the mindset of cheaper products are held to lower standards and, soon, Lefties evolved into a full low-cost clothing store. The business model wasn’t about Zara’s residuary anymore, they were creating lower quality clothes at lower prices and standards. It was so profitable they extended this model onto the main brand.
In 2013 job conditions deteriorated even faster than before. The Subprime mortgage crisis rose unemployment rates, and companies were making mass early retirements and firing waves. Low-cost brands where growing and, in this scarcity of jobs, they hired people for lower salaries and more precarious conditions along the whole production chain.
At the same time, social media platforms exploited the exposure of people with good personal branding, called them influencers, and paid them to promote their products. Having followers brought status, status brought money from brands which lead to more followers. Influencers and their clothes were an aspirational persona, and we started talking about ‘personal branding’ even for regular people. We could all be influencers in our own circles, getting likes for social status. There was a social pressure to fit in, and to look as trendy as often as this or that influencer.
A lot of fast fashion brands monetise this in a well-thought evil way. Brands release collections every two weeks now (Dec-2019). They use specific patterns, colors, and shapes for every collection. I’ve lived in a very crowded place with a lot of fast fashion stores nearby and after a while, with my crazy-for-patterns brain, I could spot if someone was wearing a shirt from three or six weeks ago. Clothes get old fashioned pretty fast right now.
In every new collection, new items are created that match the colors of the last collection but with a twist. This twist is what makes it recognizable as a brand new item that week. But three collections from today, your garment won’t match the colors or style of the new one. So the consumer is pressured to throw away or hide their clothes from six weeks ago.
This consumerism epidemic led the fashion industry to become synonymous with disposable fashion and textile waste.
Due to poor quality and manufacturing, the benchmark for fast fashion companies is expected to last 10 washes until an item no longer holds its original quality and subsequently falls apart. Approximately 500 million pounds of textile waste exist in Canadian landfills.
The last straw
From the producers perspective, the story is much worse. I remember the Rana Plaza building collapse in 2013. An eight-story commercial building with around 5,000 people working on foreign retail brands collapsed. The worst part is that workers, mostly women and some as young as twelve years old, had seen cracks growing on the walls but were threatened to be fired if they refused to enter the building.
It was a turning point on fast fashion acceptance because a lot of international brands were involved: Walmart, Primark, Carrefour, Benetton, Mango, Children’s Place, … The Accord on Factory and Building Safety in Bangladesh was created after the tragedy to protect workers conditions with safety training, factory inspections, etc.
Please don’t let the next social and economic change wait until the collapse of a building with 5,000 people in it.
Alternatives to fast fashion
I’ve been thinking and writing notes for this article for a while now. And the main proposal I got is:
On top of consuming less items, let’s consume better ones–if you can, quality isn’t always affordable–; and be aware of and reject the feeling of needing to own everything you like.
💊 Capsule wardrobe, a design system for your wardrobe
This is my favourite one because it fits my minimalist mindset and because it’s flexible enough to be trendy if you care about fashion trends.
A capsule wardrobe is the conscious choice of owning 20-25 pieces for every season, excluding underwear. The idea is to have a minimum amount of clothes, all easily paired with each other. It’s like a design system inside your wardrobe. The choosing process include having all pieces fitting you perfectly, so you love every piece you own, making it more probable that you’ll be wearing them. It’s less about quantity and more about quality.
One thing that has helped me maintain the number of items I own is to go shopping only when I need a specific piece; and to take the old garment out of the wardrobe every time I add a new one.
I’ve kind of had a capsule wardrobe before I knew its name because I don’t like to spend time shopping. Whenever I’m about to buy an item I ask myself:
- does it fit my body the way I like?
- does it fit with my kind of life? (all night gowns are automatically eliminated, as much as I like to think I’d look sickening on a red carpet)
- do I really need it, or do I have a similar piece?
- do the colors or shapes combine with my current pieces? Or in order to wear it I have the obligation to buy another item?
- did I come to this store needing this?
- would I still love it in six months?
- do I really want it?
This final question reminds me of Marie Kondo’s: “Ask yourself if it sparks joy”.
I normally choose plain neutral colors: black, white and grey, for the pieces I wear more than once, like sweaters, jackets, shoes, trousers and skirts. It is easier to combine them with new pieces that way. I like to play with the texture, the shape, the overall style, and the structure of those neutral-colored clothes.
For example, I own a very basic black skirt that’s transparent to the eye, nothing super special. But if you look closer it has a Japanese martial arts vibe that makes it [chef kiss].
I choose more colorful or special pieces for things I change the most, like shirts and t-shirts.
If you want to be trendy with the least amount of garments, you can be extra with your shirts, or play with accessories. A simple black dress, for example, can be worn with white converse shoes and no accessories to have a coffee with friends. The same black dress, combined with elegant shoes, an updo, and long earrings and boom!, you are ready for an elegant night event.
I like how capsule wardrobe guidelines are flexible enough to fit most people, and you can still be trendy if you want.
🍍 Piñatex: a sustainable business model
Piñatex is a vegetable leather and its story is one of my favourites about thinking twice and acting once.
Dr Carmen Hijosa, Piñatex founder, was a leather exporting expert in a UK firm for a long time. She knew the industry well enough but wanted to improve the leather extraction process. She started by travelling to the countries of origin, following each and every step of the leather production chain to see if anything could be better and/or more profitable. She found out the deplorable worker conditions, like people being regularly surrounded by dead animal parts. She returned to the UK with a broken heart and a new goal.
To improve the process, it needed to change completely. She saw that if a plant-based fabric was made, with no animals involved in hot and humid areas, the starting point would hopefully have a less toxic environment.
She hired a team to research what kind of plant based fiber could be used to get a leather-like texture. Being an experienced leather trader, her standards were pretty high and specific: durability, flexibility, appealing, easiness to work with, …
After a while, they discovered a way to transform plant-based fibers into a leathery texture. It wasn’t entirely ready but it was good enough to start looking for the best fiber to use. They had multiple plants in mind that could work, but buying or even cultivating them was too expensive. One of the things she wanted was to pay workers better, so lowering costs needed to happen on the raw materials.
They started looking for a cheap vegetable fiber in the countries they had shipping connections with, and they discovered pineapples were the second most cultivated fruit in the world. No only that, they also found out pineapple leaves weren’t used at all and were thrown away! They sure found the cheapest most spreaded vegetable fiber.
Pineapple was it, then. They had this plant fiber leftovers to experiment with, and the rest is history. Dr Hijosa had enough knowledge about how and where to ship this pineapple based fabric. She also knew the market was starting to open to sustainable options, so the timing was also spot on. In my opinion, it was smart not to try and design clothes themselves, but to sell the material to others. I’ve seen too many startups collapse because of a blurry and boundless scope. They initially launched the fabric in three colors: white, black, and gold. Brands like Hugo Boss or Nae shoes trusted this new vegan leather called Piñatex.
One of the solutions to fast fashion is to make sustainability trendy. We, as individuals, don’t have enough power to change the entire system, but our purchases (dollar votes) and public concerns are now too loud to ignore.
♻️ What’s coming
Circular economy is now the main approach behind any sustainable product. Its goal is to waste less, or having no waste at all, in any manufacturing production process. You can know more about it from the leading organisation at the moment: Ellen MacArthur Foundation.
Other models include recycling clothes, using fabric off-cuts for new pieces like this zero waste clothes by Kye Shimizu, or renting fancy garments for special occasions so we only have the essentials on our shelves.
The room for improvement in the ethics department of the fashion industry is still too big, and it’s not only about the manufacturing process. During the research part of writing this article, I found so many things that aren’t quite right. For example, brands showcase non-binary models while forcing their online users to filter between ‘women clothes’ and ‘men clothes’. I’ve also stumbled upon offensive terms like ‘age appropriate’ too many times. Clothes are a form of expression and you should have the freedom to choose your own adventure. You decide what sparks joy for you, what’s a good fit and what’s your style today.
Although it may look like buying clothes that aren’t part of the fast fashion industry is difficult and too expensive, remember slow fashion takes clothes durability into consideration. You’ll be needing less clothes, less frequently.
As Greta Thunberg said “as individuals, our most powerful tool is to inform ourselves, and use that to pressure our governments into making the necessary changes”.
August 1, 2019
The Peephole Distress Theory
Yet another research has shown the connection between time using mobile apps and depression. Our instinct saw it comming, as you can’t visit Instagram from your desk during the summer without assuming you are the only one not on the beach.
I see friends on holidays trying to do activities away from screens, or trying to fight the attention span issues that leave them unable to read anything longer than a headline.
Maybe because of my degree in Communication Science, maybe because I’ve helped build digital products for over a decade, I like to see myself as an observer of these kind of behaviors. This time, I want to share with you the observations I’ve made on myself and my surroundings.
The Peephole Distress Theory
When I use social media I get a mix of happiness for other people’s achievements, entertainment, food for thought and a pinch of imposter syndrome. I attribute the last part to what I’ve called the Peephole distress.
Imagine you live in a crowded building and you look through your apartment door peephole during the day. You’ll get to see a lot of your neighbours going in and out. Maybe some of them go in and out multiple times. If you think about it you know you are not seeing everyone that lives in the building, you are only seeing the ones outside their houses. But your brain gets a conglomerate of all of the people out there and produce a message like: “People are coming in and out all the time and I’m not”.
When reading tweets I regularly get peehole distress with people’s accomplishments. I know I’m only seeing a percentage of people telling about their successes. I consciously bring myself to think about this distorted reality feeling being not real, but there are times when my brain still produces a statement: “Everyone is achieving things while I don’t”.
My inner saboteur surely doesn’t help
It’s not exactly an imposter syndrome, it’s something else, and it’s amplified on social media.
For example, if I follow 100 people and each one of them publishes a highlight on a different day, at the end of 100 days I’d have seen 100 highlights. That highlight could be one work achievement, or a personal success story. My brain would translate that into “Everyone is achieving something everyday”, with the additional “you need to stop being so lazy” on bad days. Even though each one of them has had only one highlight during the last three months.
What about the silent ones
After considering the Peehole Distress Theory I couldn’t stop thinking about the silent ones. What if I could visualize all the people in the building, the ones that are going out, AND the ones that are staying at home like me? Wouldn’t I have a more realistic view of what people is actually doing? Wouldn’t I see a more realistic Twitter feed if I displayed the published and the unpublished tweets?
What if I could see how many people on my Twitter feed are silent? I’ve made the numbers.
I’ve looked for information about tweeting patterns of 100 people I follow. I’ve discarded bots, organizations, and looked for the number of tweets that aren’t retweets or replies, so I could get the real average number of tweets per day with original content. The formula is:
tTpd:Total number of Tweets per day
tTpd - (tTpd x (RT percentage / 100)) - (tTpd x (Replies percentage / 100)) = Real tweets per day
My numbers are these:
These are the aggregated numbers from the 100 people analyzed:
I’ve analyzed users I follow that were active during last year. 62.5% of them tweet less than once a day. This is the image of all the people talking (blue) and the ones that are silent (white) during one day:
Most users don’t participate. It’s the 90-9-1 rule, 90% users of a community are lurkers, 9% are intermittent contributors, and 1% of them are heavy contributors. Reddit CEO said recently in an interview that “A small percentage of our users are very loud”. That is true for almost all communities online.
We already knew it. Most people are silent and just a few make a lot of noise. But we still get the feeling that everybody is doing something all the time and the only silent ones are us.
In a way, it can feel like everyone has always wins to share and we are the only ones trying to hide our failures.
A little trick
If you work remotely, this effect affects regular communications too. When everything is alright you don’t get a long message full of explanations on why is it alright. When there’s a problem, you do. It’s part of life but we better be aware of it.
One of the things I do to counteract it is document those wins one after the other on a text file. So, when things aren’t going well or I doubt myself, I read my own wins, written by me, and the excitement is contagious. On the same note, I recently went to a friend’s talk that was reaaaaally good. She was nervous about it at first but she crushed it. I recorded her stress-free wide smile at the end and a bit of the loud applause she got, so she has it on hand any time she needs a reminder of how awesome she is.
June 5, 2019
Pajamas are for pros
Personal tips for remote workers
👉 You just got a new job — congrats!— and you can choose when and where to work at least two days a week.
👉 You are the new manager of a remote team. You had done this job before but only in person.
👉 You are freelancing, the next project is for a company in your city and they are open to have meetings using a video calls.
👉 You are now in a different time zone than your coworkers. You are used to talk with a lot of people daily.
There are a thousand configurations of remote jobs, mostly because we are creating them on the fly. Our needs are changing and Internet is helping us being creative with our schedules. How can you avoid becoming a serial procrastinator?
Routine is a remoter’s best friend
Think of yourself as Pavlov’s dog, and train your brain to follow some simple routines. Creating new habits or modifying old ones isn’t easy. Try to include new routines little by little to not overwhelm yourself. It takes time to readjust but it can be done.
Being a scientific-method-holic, I tried different routines to measure my productivity as a remote worker.
These are my routines, why I follow them, and how details have impacted my productivity and personal-professional balance.
Pajamas are for pros 👖
When you wake up, make sure you’ve really woken up.
I know working in your pajamas is tempting, but you risk accumulating a list of lazy new habits, which can be counterproductive for your daily work and your personal life. Find your own waking up routine. From my experience, a shower and a change of clothes set your brain in motion for the day.
It also comes in handy to be prepared for a video call.
If it’s your first time working from home, try following your commuter routine except for the commuting part. You’ll have the cozy feeling you don’t need to waste time on the road anymore.
Stopping to work is harder than getting started ⏰
This is a special call for those who live alone and don’t have a real world schedule reference, or those who had easily fallen in the when-did-it-get-so-dark-in-the-room wormhole.
When you work from home you can be working for hours. When your only distractions are your own, you get focused and you can forget everything else. Some of my friends get so focused they skip meals.
It’s OK to work overtime once in a while before a deadline. Add a little real life event here and there so you don’t forget about it. A good habit is setting a schedule — and an alarm, if you need it — and following it, which also helps your remote reliability.
Don’t forget to rest 💤
When you work from home you get tired differently than when you work in an office. You lose your energy slower and you can change your resting habits, even not getting enough holidays.
Your usual red alerts are different now. For example, if you see yourself being lazier than usual you can change your schedule to start an hour later and solve that for a while.
I’ve been in this situation and realized it when I was already burnt out. As a freelance if I say not now to a project I risk losing it. So at some point I chained project after project for two years and a half with no more than a couple of long weekends off.
Different locations for different activities 🍜
Establish a different location for work and for everything else. Physically separate your work space.
The ideal scenario is to have a room just for work, where you are only during work hours. But space constraints can make your home office a table and a chair, or just a chair.
No matter where I am, at home, a hotel, a friend’s house, an office, I never eat in the same space I work. Having lunch is my resting time, everyone needs a break, it’s better to make it a habit. Even changing the chair arrangement — literally having a new perspective— helps your brain rest for a while. Taking physical distance while having lunch helps you focus on your job after lunch. It’s a win-win situation.
Find personal music-mindset patterns 🎶
You can trigger a certain mindset with sound. Remember Pavlov’s dog and apply it to music. These are my focusing levels:
- Everyday tasks = Random music I listen to music while working. With everyday tasks I don’t need to listen to anything in particular. By trial and error, this is where I discover good focusing music for the other focusing levels.
- Kind of difficult task = One playlist I tend to listen to one album in loop. For six months it has been Solange’s, and now I’m in a Janelle Monáe phase. I discovered both while listening to random music, and they have helped me feel in a mental comfort zone to relax when solving difficult tasks. This is the equivalent of having a soup when you feel a little under the weather.
- Deadline is yesterday = One song or silence I have a playlist with a single song to play in loop. Yes, it’s crazy but it works for me. I’ve been listening to that song in loop to focus since I heard it in a Fringe episode. I also use silence as a concentration tool, but I need to be using my headphones to isolate myself.
The lamp trick 💡
A while ago I had a tiny apartment in the middle of a big city. It was less bright than I would have liked, but it was the first time I lived alone and I loved it. I worked at the tiniest table with a 50s lamp on it. The table was in the shadows and I used the lamp to see further than my screen reflection. Every time I seated to work I turned on the light. After a while, I had sleeping problems and turning on the light kept me focus during work hours. Unknowingly, I had conditioned myself to a new stimulus.
I rarely use this trick anymore because I live in a brighter house now. I still have the lamp though.
Meet with people 👯
If you think you need to meet people once a week, do it twice a week. I always add an extra social event to my weekly plans.
When you work in an office, you are surrounded by coworkers. You get to see people on your way there and your way back. That’s one of the reasons it is a good idea to work in a co-working space a couple of months a year, because we learn habits the same way we lose them.
We tend to think basic skills are there forever. Think about a language you learnt a while ago, or a middle school subject you were good at. If you don’t practice it your brain uses that space for something else. Don’t underestimate your ability to losing basic skills such as socializing.
Maybe you aren’t in your country or your friends are busy. Try a social hobby like practicing a sport or learning a new language. Events related to your discipline is also a good idea because you get to know your peers.
Look out of the window 🖼
When everything you watch, listen, read, write, and everyone you talk to are in one screen, this screen is your new comfort zone. You’ll have breakfast in front of it, and you’ll forget the outside world is comfortable too.
Breathe in and look out the window during breaks. You‘ll remain grounded.
👖 + ⏰ + 💤 + 🍜 + 🎶 + 💡 + 👯 + 🖼 = 💻 🔝