Discover more from Stone Mind by Juan J. Ramirez
Finding your Sailboat
A reflection on my journey to becoming a designer.
I have spent many years exploring art, writing ideas, designing software, and building products for my employers and myself. There hasn't been a single year in my last 20 years in which I didn't try to create something or express myself creatively. Yet I only recently realized that I have been creative throughout my life.
Weirdly enough, becoming a designer wasn't something I planned, nor was it a professional or personal objective of mine. In hindsight, none of my creative urges were clear enough signals to decide what to study or do with my life.
When I was in my teen years, I experimented with many creative outlets. When I was 15, a friend got me into grafitti art. For some unknown reason, he was well-connected with the local grafitti scene, and he got us some private lessons from one of the leading graffiti artists in the city at that time.
Looking back, that was a life-defining moment for me. I remember that as part of his lessons, he gave us a Spanish translation of a book called "Subway Art," which I would later learn is considered by many as a seminal book on grafitti and one of the essential literature pieces about grafitti's history.
I remember I read that entire book in just a single day. I was fascinated by the culture behind grafitti and the seemingly inexplicable complexities and rules of the underground grafitti culture. I can confidently say that I learned most of what I know about typography and color from drawing hundreds of pieces in my graffiti black books.
But grafitti practiced on paper isn't the same as grafitti practiced on an actual wall. Doing actual grafitti art on walls was more challenging and nerve-wracking. Many underage grafitti writers I knew had some tacit approval from their parents when it came to doing graffiti. When I reflect on this, I can only think there was some negligence or perhaps some absent parenting because I can't imagine any reasonable parent letting their kids vandalize the walls of a somewhat dangerous city.
And while my parents were always fair and sweet, they also were strict and demanding. So, of course, I kept my grafitti passion hidden and concealed it as a new random interest in "drawing."
During those years, I got exposed to an entirely new world of people that for no practical reason, would spend all their money in paint cans to express ideas and claim their reputation as remarkable grafitti artists. But being in that world also put me at risk many times, and I can recall perfectly every moment when I had to run not to get caught or worse.
At a certain point, I decided there wasn't a point in channeling my creative energy into graffiti anymore. It was a mix of fear of getting caught and frustration for not making enough progress due to the secrecy of what I was doing. So one day, I just decided to stop, and I continued my life looking for that elusive creative outlet that would give purpose to my life.
I remember those times fondly because they taught me many practical lessons about design, art, and creativity. But more importantly, they were when I realized that radical, innovative creations are only so when they can overcome the impracticalities of idealistic iconoclasm.
So with time, I turned my creative expression towards a more ordinary but reasonable approach to understanding the world and expressing myself. I studied Business in my undergrad because I read a handful of books on economy, leadership, and marketing before picking on a college career. I thought that would give me a practical runway to get closer to the essence of what I wanted.
Studying Business was a good decision because it showed me the economic machine that powers the world and enables society to move cohesively towards a goal. Suddenly, the idea of creating businesses felt like a coherent way to express one's creativity and aligned with the established incentives of productivity and financial progress.
So I poured my heart into that and quickly found that the technology industry was an excellent place for intellectually driven people with lofty ideas but practical minds.
I'll save you the details of how exactly I became a tech designer after that for another entry. Those details mattered little in the big picture. What has helped me to be a successful designer in this industry has nothing to do with my aspirations of being a designer because I had none.
Instead, I devoted myself to understanding how the world innovates, how people bring those innovations to others, and how exactly I could be a part of that.
At the heart of this, there has always been a fundamental calling to create and express myself. But creative self-expression is a complicated calling that often seems to be at odds with what the world needs or deems acceptable.
That's why I have always considered my design career a practical choice. The world needs designers, and in particular, it needs designers who are good thinkers. In design, I found an opportunity to express myself, think creatively, and develop my intellect. But for all that I know, I became a designer almost by chance.
What I know is that even if circumstances had been different, my goal was always to find a way to be creative and channel that energy in the most effective and impactful way possible.
Everything I did until I became a designer felt like I was navigating life with a rowboat. Finding design was like finding a sailboat I had been unknowingly building to take me on this mysterious journey of life.
Navigating these waters is still rough, and the journey remains mysterious, but I feel that far on that horizon, there's another sailboat with a bigger sail waiting for me. I navigate patiently, waiting to find it and hopeful to embark on the journey it will take me on.
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