When I signed up for the course, Basic Skills in Constructive Communication, I have to admit that I was initially judgmental about what I thought the quality of the course would be. A few things I noticed about this course made it seem different from the many courses I’ve taken online.
It was from a university I had never heard of and didn’t know the reputation. Also the instructor had a strong accent and sometimes chose strange words to convey his points. I questioned whether this class would provide high-quality information.
Despite my initial impressions, I eventually did come to appreciate the lessons as having high-value when it comes to improving my ability to verbally communicate.
#1 Communication Advice: Ask Clarifying Questions
To distill this course down to a single lesson, it would be this: ask clarifying questions. You will not get better advice when it comes to verbal communication.
The reason why this is such good advice is because we have a tendency to misunderstand and miscommunicate. There can be a substantial gap in understanding between what we think we’ve heard another person say and what they actually meant for us to understand.
Sources of Misunderstanding
Here are four reasons why we might misunderstand:
Assuming we know what someone else means to say before they’ve finished their message. This may result in interrupting or trying to finish their sentence, because we think we know what they’re going to say. Not only could our assumptions be wrong, but the other person doesn’t get to finish their statement.
2. Move Too Quickly to Judgment
Making a judgement on someone’s statement before we’ve fully understood what they mean. We don’t like what they’re saying and want to argue against it. Instead of listening to the meaning of their message, we start thinking about how we’re going to respond.
3. Rejection Based on Communication Style
We discount a person’s opinion because they’re expressing their opinion in a style that we wouldn’t choose for ourselves. Maybe they have an accent(!?), or they chose words we would not have selected.
4. Ego Stops Us from Listening
We simply believe our opinion is more important than theirs. We don’t listen because we think we don’t need to listen. Our opinion is already right, so what’s the point. A decision will be made, without even letting another person speak.
The Damage of Presumption, Judgment, Style, and Ego
There can be a few problems when we don’t listen or take the time to clear up potential misunderstandings. Imagine how a decision maker could miss out on potential opportunities or make poor decisions in the following scenarios:
Cutting someone off before they’re done speaking, because we assume we know what another person means.
Discounting a good idea because didn’t like how someone said it.
Making decisions without gathering enough information, because we haven’t given others an opportunity to speak.
For example, I initially judged the course based on style. If I had let my judgement prevail, I would’ve missed out on very good information.
In addition, miscommunication can be seen as rude and lead to interpersonal conflict. A conversation can easily become derailed, as the communicator responds to the response, rather than the substance of the conversation.
Asking Clarifying Questions is a Sign of Emotional and Social Intelligence
When we ask clarifying questions, we get away from our assumptions and our ego. We listen to what another person has to say. We take their message for what it is and we try to understand. Only after we’ve fully understood, do we decide how we want to respond based on our own values and judgements.
You may think that asking someone to explain themselves could be seen as annoying. However, making an effort to show that you’re interested in understanding another person’s point of view, whether you agree with it or not, can deepen relationships and is a sign of emotional and social intelligence.
Types of Clarifying Questions
It just requires a little imagination to come up with clarifying questions. These are a few questions I’ve found useful:
I’m not sure I fully understand what you mean by ____. Can you explain a little more?
I’m not sure I fully understand what you mean by ____. Could you describe an example of what you mean?
Thank you for sharing that feedback. I want to fully understand you, but I’m not exactly sure I do. Can you elaborate a little bit?
Thanks for that question. Just so I’m clear, when you said ____, did you mean ABC or XYZ?
This is not a comprehensive list, just some examples. As you can see, I try to emphasize that my intention in asking the question is to understand their meaning further. This generally leads to a very positive response.
In a conversation, it’s easy to misunderstand another person’s message.
If there’s any doubt in the meaning of another person’s message, ask a clarifying question.
Presumption, premature judgement, style, and ego are four reasons why we might miscommunicate, intentionally or not.
Clarifying questions will not only help to clear up any misunderstandings, but the effort alone can help deepen relationship. It is also a sign of emotional and social intelligence.
In my experience, asking questions that emphasize your intent to understand are the best framework to use.
You have probably heard about “Financial Planning”, but do you know exactly what is involved in the process? Learn how the financial planning process can be used to quantify your resources and how you can then best use those resources to reach your financial goals.If you have been curious about what, exactly, a financial plan is and how it can be used to navigate turbulent markets, then, this is a webinar you will not want to miss.
Charles Failla, CFP®
Chuck understands the importance of working as a Fiduciary and uses those standards to oversee the financial planning and investment management work done at Sovereign Financial. As a Board Certified Financial Planning™ practitioner, Chuck understands that shepherding a client’s financial and retirement plan requires more than simply “picking investments”. In addition to working with clients, Chuck is a regular speaker and commentator on financial topics and has been featured in Forbes, The New York Daily News, Reuters, CBS Market Watch and numerous other media outlets. Chuck is also committed to the financial planning community and advancing the cause of financial literacy. To that end, he currently serves on the Board of Directors for the Financial Planning Association of Connecticut as the Chairperson of their Pro Bono / Public Outreach Committee.
II. Q & A Notes
What is financial planning?
Determining how much money is needed, and when it is needed.
Why do financial planning?
Avoid Sequence of Return risk
Helps you optimize investments conservatively vs aggressively
What is Sequence of Return?
This impacts people in retirement, but not people while they’re saving in retirement.
Sequence risk is the danger that the timing of withdrawals from a retirement account will have a negative impact on the overall rate of return available to the investor. This can have a significant impact on a retiree who depends on the income from a lifetime of investing and is no longer contributing new capital that could offset losses. Sequence risk is also called sequence-of-returns risk.
The short answer is running out of money in retirement. Apparently, a lot of people have never heard of this before. (I understood the concept, but this was my first time hearing this term and the first time it had been demonstrated so clearly.)
What is Long-Term Care Insurance?
A long-term care insurance policy helps cover the costs of that care when you have a chronic medical condition, a disability or a disorder such as Alzheimer’s disease.
Doesn’t recommend for someone who is: a.) Very wealthy or b.) Already pretty sick.
How do I optimize my investments?
Split money into buckets, based on when you need it. For instance, think of how much money will you need in:
This gives more control and helps protect money from risk.
When should you rebalance a portfolio?
It could be on a regular schedule: quarterly, annually, etc.
Setting and forgetting is a mistake!
How do you use buckets to protect your portfolio from sequence risk?
You want money you will need in 1-5 years to be the most secure. Money that’s needed 10+ can be treated more aggressively. Aggressive portfolios will always provide the most returns, but they also have the greatest risk.
Here’s a breakdown of how to think about the buckets in relation to portfolio types, based on when you need the money:
Conservative portfolio: 1-5 years
Moderate portfolio: 5-10 years
Aggressive portfolio: 10+ years
Ex: Money that’s needed in 1-5 years would be in the conservative portfolio. It won’t grow as much, but it won’t lose as much. Money that’s not needed until 10 years from now can be put in the aggressive portfolio.
What’s a good site to find a planner?
If I’m looking for a financial planner, what should I look for?
Talk to 2-3 advisors
Get to know their fees
Know their bias
Bias: A good planner will sign a fiduciary agreement, meaning they are required to treat your money as their own. If you work with a bank, which tries to sign you up with one of their products, they might have bias and not be willing to sign this agreement.
What does “cash” mean on a portfolio statement?
Generally cash is saved/safe. It’s in that conservative bucket. Rate of return is lower. Could be in a CD, a structured CD, money market, etc.
Is there a difference between money management and financial planning? Could the same person do both?
The answer to both is Yes! A financial planner helps create the structure. A money manager directs the money, helps select the products, etc.
It’s possible to find someone who’s able to do both, which could be cheaper than getting 2 people. Often it’s the money manager who does not do financial planning, vs the other way around.
III. Final Takeaways
Small Tweaks → Big Changes
Small tweaks to your plans could lead to big changes. These changes could be, for instance:
Choosing to retire later: Instead of 60, retire at 64
Downsizing: Selling a large house for something smaller can lead to more money available to reinvest
Living on less money: Reducing the amount of money you expect to need per year; instead of $130,000, go to $100,000
Other Planning Tips
Selecting a Planner: You don’t need to know everything before choosing a financial planner. But, when they’re explaining things, you should feel comfortable that you know everything. Know enough, to know what to ask.
Bias: Make sure you find a CFP who will sign a fiduciary agreement. The worst stories come from people whose planner had bias.
Buckets: Use the buckets to protect money in the future. People who start off with the exact same amount of money in retirement can run it down too soon, if their money isn’t protect from unexpected losses.
Rebalancing: Setting and forgetting your portfolio is a mistake because markets change. If you don’t adjust, or rebalance, your portfolio from time to time, changes in the market could mean not protecting your investments or missing opportunities to get good stocks at low prices.
So, those are all of the notes I had to share! Hope they were helpful.
To recap: I shared an event overview, my Q&A notes of the presentation, and the speaker’s final wrap-up comments.
My thoughts: As I mentioned at the beginning, I thought it was a very informative webinar. For instance, I hadn’t heard of long-term care insurance, so that was good to know.
Additional events: There are more webinars related to money management and finance on the NYPL website. You can also subscribe to their email list, and they’ll send announcements of upcoming webinars or other resources.
Three time management and productivity tips anyone can use to account for time, plan ahead, and prioritize tasks.
I recently learned some productivity and time management tips and tricks, after attending an online seminar from the New York Public Library and a course on Coursera. I decided to make a blog post after several weeks of using some of the concepts and tools.
In this post, I will share 3 tips I learned on how to:
Better account for time on task
Schedule long-term and complex tasks
Prioritize difficult tasks with a change in mindset
I also have some research on the importance of timing.
Time Tracking: Accounting for Time
One of the tips I learned on time management was on the importance of getting an accurate recording of how you spend your time. There were a few suggestions around this:
Create a calendar with 30 min slots of time and then write down what you did
Create a task list for the day, and prioritize what needs to get done vs what can be postponed
Generally schedule time for the inevitable distraction
I haven’t yet tried the 30 min calendar, but I have been planning for being distracted. Or to put it a better way, I’ve been using a digital countdown timer to account for how much time I spend on tasks.
The product I’m using is Smart Countdown Timer, which is available for Mac and PC. It has two benefits so far:
Stay focused on a task
Time-block different activities, both scheduled and unscheduled
For scheduled tasks, if I have my list of tasks to complete, I can set the time for how long I want to work; (ex: 30 min, 20 min, etc). I know that I will have worked for at least that period of time. And when that time is over, I can reset the clock again, or move on to another task. It’s also great to keep track of how much time I’ve been sitting in one place!
For unscheduled tasks, like if I get a text, or I just have that feeling to check social media or email, it helps me in 2 ways:
First, I can look at how much time is left to finish my scheduled work. Then I can decide whether it makes sense to put off my distraction or just go do it. For instance, if I see there’s only 5 minutes left for my task, I’ll just finish my work and then go check my email. If it’s longer, that’s a different decision but you get the idea.
The other thing it helps me do is put a time limit on how much time to allow myself for a distraction. For instance, after I finish my work and want to reward myself with a little distraction, I can give myself 12 min, or whatever, to make tea, check email, etc. This way, I still get my distractions, but I don’t get carried away with the time.
For both of these scenarios, when I need more time, I can just add it. But the main point is to stay on task and hold my time to account.
Task Management: Keeping a 30-60-90 Calendar
Another tip I learned was to create a special type of calendar to keep track of longer term goals and tasks. It’s called a 30-60-90 calendar, which stands for 30 days, 60 days, and 90 days. The idea is that it can be hard to take action on 1-year plans or 5-year plans…if you can even plan that far ahead! But 30 days out is a little bit more manageable, as well as 60 days or 90 days. So this calendar is a method to help get some of those longer term goals started and accomplished.
Using Google Sheets
For my calendar, I use Google Sheets, with different sections for the chunks of time. I use formulas for the dates, so they’re always accurate relative to the current date. My columns are:
Activity – The task to be accomplished
Date Assigned – The date I added the task to the calendar
Deadline – Either a hard deadline, like taxes, or n+30, n+60, etc.
Est Time – How much time I think it will take, though I don’t always enter this information
Priority – I don’t always include this and instead rely on order
Progress – See below.
In the progress column, I write down activities on what I’ve done to complete a task or notes related to that task. Related notes might be phone numbers, addresses, etc. For instance, I had a task to ‘Get dental X-rays’. The progress column kept track of my activity in locating a dentist, getting a quote, and finally putting in an address, phone number, and date after making an appointment.
Bonus Tip: Break apart big tasks into smaller pieces
And just to make another point on tracking progress, which maybe goes without saying: it can be helpful to break apart big tasks into smaller pieces and tackle each one at a time. For instance, getting dental X-rays could involve getting a quote. Getting a quote could involve calling multiple offices, and so on. So this task could be broken up in a few different ways.
In my experience, it feels nice to accomplish tasks and make progress, even if those tasks are small.
Creating Artificial Deadlines
This type of calendar can be used to create an artificial deadline on long-term tasks that don’t have one already. For my X-ray example, for instance, there was no real deadline for that. But I created one with this calendar by giving it a date 30 or 60 days in the future.
I’ve also found that this calendar is also helpful for scheduling calls with friends and keeping up with people, generally speaking. Rather than say, Hey, let’s talk later and then kind of forgetting about it, now I can actually put down that phone call for 60 days out. It’s like a CRM for friends!
Working Through Tasks
As I work through the list, I move tasks from bottom to top. When they’re completed, I cross them off and move them to another tab. I had a task, Publish a blog post on productivity resources, which I put on the list 60 days ago. Little by little, I added more and more detail, moving it through the lists. Here I am now, accomplishing that goal.
Calendar Modifications: 10 days, 20 days
One way I’ve augmented this calendar is to add more sections for immediate tasks. I found that the 30-day slot was too broad to help me prioritize things that need to get done in the next 1-2 weeks. So I created new sections for 10 days and 20 days, respectively. As I move tasks up the list, the new sections help me keep track of things that need to get done right away.
While this calendar is helpful for future and complex tasks, I find that this list is not great for daily or routine events. Something like going for a daily 30-minute walk will never leave the list, because it occurs every day. If a task never gets finished, it can feel discouraging because it seems like there’s never any progress being made. So I recommend not using it for that.
Prioritizing Tasks: Eating Your Daily Frog
The final concept came from the productivity seminar. It’s focused on ranking your daily task list, from most dreaded to most favored, and tackling the worst of the worst first. It requires changing your mindset towards how you look at your tasks.
Putting It Off
In the past, when I had a list of activities to get through, there would often be one that I really did not want to do. I would put it off! My mindset was something like this: “I’ll postpone it until I’m able to work myself into finally getting it done”. Whether it was a difficult phone call, or just a tedious task, I would put it off by doing all the fun stuff first.
Challenging That Mindset
The concept here challenges that mindset by reversing that order. It says: Take that worst thing and get it done first. The concept supposedly comes from a Mark Twain quote about “eating your daily frog”. It goes something like this:
“If you eat a frog first thing in the morning, this will probably be the worse thing you do all day.”
Mark Twain (maybe)
Eating your frogs means that by prioritizing your worst tasks first, you’ll be able to get them out of the way and work on tasks you enjoy more and more. It will be a relief that the most difficult task you needed to do is already done.
Putting It Into Practice
I’ve been putting this into practice and it has been pretty helpful. But some days I think, “Wow, I really have a lot of frogs today!” But actually, there’s another Mark Twain quote that goes something like this: If you have two frogs, start with the biggest one. 🐸
It can be a little difficult when unscheduled “frogs” show up. I don’t really have a solution for that, other than using the timer to account for my time. But for those that are on the list, it’s a helpful motivator.
The importance of timing
Unrelated to my course or the productivity seminar, I watched a talk from the Royal Society for Arts, Manufactures and Commerce (RSA) YouTube channel. The talk, The Secret of Perfect Timing, was given by Dan H. Pink, who is the author of When: The Scientific Secrets of Perfect Timing.
The talk is about his research on the importance of time or timing. He argues that being mindful of when tasks take place can make a difference in their outcome. For some people, it can also be useful to help prioritize when tasks take place based on when their mind is most efficient.
I also like that this research supports the idea of taking care of your most challenging or difficult tasks early, though even Dan Pink says that’s not universally the case.
In this post, I reviewed three tips on time management and productivity:
Time Tracking: Accounting for Time
Tip: Use a digital timer to account for elapsed time.
A timer can help keep track of how long you’ve been working on a task, or even how long you’ve been sitting.
It can also help structure time, by tracking how much time is being allotted to scheduled and unscheduled tasks.
Task Management: Keeping a 30-60-90 Calendar
Tip: Plan ahead by managing tasks with a calendar focused 30, 60, and 90 day intervals.
This works best for long-term and complex tasks with clear ends, such as filing taxes.
It’s not great for recurring tasks, like taking a daily walk.
Prioritizing Tasks: Eating Your Daily Frog
Tip: Take care of your most difficult task first, rather than putting it off.
Change your mindset: Once your most difficult task is accomplished, everything else that day will be easier in comparison.
Video: Dan Pink, When
Overview: When a task is accomplished can make a difference, sometimes a big difference, in the outcome.
The video from Dan Pink’s talk, The Secret of Perfect Timing, goes into detail on how the timing of certain tasks can affect the outcome — e.g, when a decision is made, when a procedure is scheduled, etc.
Some people are more efficient at different times of the day, due to how their brain works.
That’s it! I hope these tips are as useful for you as they have been for me!
An overview of portfolio updates, from March 2021.
This post is a follow-up on recent changes to my UX portfolio. The changes are detailed below, but here is a quick outline:
Language and tone
About and Colophon pages
Before I get to these changes, here is a quick update from my last post.
Quick Follow-Up: About and Colophon
As my last post described, my UX Portfolio previously looked like this:
On the About and Colophon pages, on the far right, the arrows show a change from using a thin/fine font weight for the titles to using a heavier font weight. I had also changed the whole page to have much wider margins.
Notice also that, like the About and Colophon pages, some projects do not have images.
Version 4.2, March 2021 — Major changes
With these March 2021 changes, I’ve massively updated the website. As I did with my last major update, I wrote a little note to myself to document the changes. That note…I wrote right in my Sketch file! Below is an edited copy of what I wrote to myself.
Overview & Goal
The goal of these changes was to build on the theme of unification, which I started in the February update. The changes include the following:
Inclusion of a main images for projects
Removing and rearranging projects
Include principles of personal branding
Selecting image ratios for project galleries
Updating the color palette
Updating the language and tone
Inclusion of mobile enhancements
Updates to the About and Colophon pages
1. Make sure all projects have a main image.
No More “Swiss Image“
I decided on a new look for headlines on project pages. In my previous update, I’d changed the headlines so that the projects would have a unified look, regardless of whether or not they had an image. However, after more consideration, I felt that the lack of an image for projects was a weakness.
I was sad to move away from the “Swiss poster” -style headline. I originally selected this style due to its asymmetrical appearance and unusual look. I felt this would help my portfolio seem more memorable. Here is a before and after:
2. Removed Adorama project as a page.
My intention for this project was to provide a logical overview of my research activities and thought process. However, due to previous iterations of my portfolio, the presentation of this project was much different from the others:
The portfolio page was somewhat short
A comprehensive explanation was available, but required linking to a blog post
While the blog post was comprehensive, I felt the project summary on the site wasn’t very strong. In reconsidering my strategy for the experience of this page, I decided that forcing people to click through to a blog post seemed too much. So, I removed the page.
I felt a sense of nostalgia for this page because this project helped kick off the first changes on this website, from Bootstrap to Tachyons.
But there’s an update: Actually, I put this project back! However, I did eliminate the link to the blog post. Instead, I updated the page itself to include more detail. I put this off for a while because I had assumed that this would be more work than the gain I’d get from it. But the effort wasn’t as bad as I thought. So of course there will be another portfolio update!
3. Scrapped a 7th Project
I had plans to include a 7th project page, which would be just user journeys and maps; sort of stand-alone examples. Ultimately, I decided against it:
I wasn’t sure it was a strong enough page
The page was too different compared to the others
Trade-off between showing more work vs showing too much was imbalanced
It’s possible I may reconsider including this page at a later time, if another project gets eliminated.
“Catalog” SVG Images
In addition to removing the project page, I also ended up removing some of the SVG images at the bottom of the page. These images would have been available as example projects/links.
I ended up adding two new SVGs. Although, I may need to revisit this and look at which SVGs I want to include.
4. Applying Sales Copy and Personal Branding: Index Page, Testimonials
After attending some webinars on personal branding, self-promotion, and writing sales copy (for personal branding), I realized how powerful testimonials can be on a website.
The good news is that I was already including testimonials. The bad news is that they were a little difficult to find. You had to click on each project to find them, which meant some of them might go unnoticed. They were also were long and wordy.
The change I made was to highlight two quotes on the homepage, and then include a link to a Testimonials section on the About page. Rather than include the full testimonial, I included just a sentence or so. Readers can visit LinkedIn to view the full quotes.
I also changed the home page to reflect more of what I learned during the webinars. For instance, the title is meant to appeal to hiring managers without being too explicit.
The testimonials also provide a sales purpose: as a webinar leader said, testimonials are a way to “borrow” authenticity.
5. Language and Tone
I made a few changes to language and tone with the following activities:
Editing corrections by reading out loud
Using an active voice
Updating project descriptions
Using original descriptions in project titles and subtitles
Updating descriptions on the homepage
Read each project out loud
Tying into point #4, I went through every project and read it out loud. This helped me find typos, and make sure each page flowed well. I didn’t find too many typos, but I often repeated myself from section to section. Reading out loud helped me find and fix those issues.
Use an Active Voice
I also took the advice of a personal branding expert to use an active voice, especially when describing myself. Here is an example of a change:
Old version: I’m the kind of person who can get into the weeds and takes on challenges
New version: I am comfortable getting into the weeds and taking on challenges.
Maybe this could be better, but overall it’s an improvement.
Updated Project Background/Overview
Under each project image is a little background information about my role, the company, the client, etc. I felt this section was too tall and drew too much attention.
I added a title for the Background section and cut down on the client/company overview for each project by creating a 3-column group of text.
Update Projects with Original Descriptions
I decided maybe I was creating more work for myself by trying to come up with my own interpretation of what a project was about.
My solution was to search through my inbox, and find the specific descriptions used in project or company descriptions, as they were pitched to me. If I couldn’t find an email, I sometimes searched online — sometimes taking descriptions from Wikipedia — for company descriptions. Here’s an example:
Home Page Project Descriptions
I also considered how I described each project on the home page. It turns out I was describing projects in 2 different ways. For instance:
By project activity: “Redesign for…”
By project outcome: “Design Tools…”
I decided to update the descriptions. Now the titles describe the project outcome and the description explains the activity/detail.
For another layer of home page detail, I also included the name of the company. I felt I had more space, since I was removing other projects.
6. Color Changes
As I was revisiting some of my research on portfolio websites, and looking for ideas, I came across www.vitsoe.com. This appears to be the website for the company run by the German designer, Dieter Rams.
The website is quite organized. It follows a very clear 3-column layout. And it only has 4 colors: Black, White, Grey, Blue.
I liked the blue color, which they use for links. After trying it out a bit, I decided to use it for my website — also for links.
After that, I decided to do a lo of color exploration, to make sure all my colors coordinated. This eventually led to an entirely new palette. It was all based on this one color!
Historic Color Reference
I went back to my 2017 website to find good ideas, since it was a good enough portfolio to get me a 6-month gig. Turns out I used a white background that wasn’t pure white. It was actually an extremely light version of the dark navy blue color I had been using for the footer and the page titles. I took that hue and created a few shades to use as background colors.
After generating so many colors, I decided to try out some of the new dark shades to see if maybe I should make some other changes.
The previous primary font color was 220 HSL, which is that very dark navy. The new color is 280 HSL, which is a very dark purple. I think the new color is a little warmer, and lighter shades look kind of lilac.
I updated all of the project images with hues from the new color palette. The new colors are kind of pastel and muted, including greens, purples, and off-whites.
7. Image Ratios
As I mentioned, I had a goal to create more of a unified look across project pages. I knew that one way to do that would be to make sure all the images were the same size or aspect ratio.
This was something I had been thinking about for a while, but I hadn’t quite gotten around to it yet. The Vitsoe.com website, for example, uses 2 sizes: 1×1 and 16×9.
Aspect ratios are built into the CSS framework I’m using. I just needed to apply the styles after making a decision. To decide, I created image masks and tried out a few options. I selected 8×5 for project images and 16×9 for project covers.
8. Mobile only enhancement on project galleries.
I was concerned that mobile users might not know to click on the image to see a larger version or to see more images. I added a message to click the image to view the gallery. The message only appears when the browser is resized to a mobile view.
9. About and Colophon
My research on portfolio websites show that About pages are so varied. As a result, I go back and forth on what this page should look like. I honestly really don’t know what people want to see on About pages!
Ironically, it was after I began looking for a dentist that gave me my inspiration. I saw how some of the dentists described themselves, and I thought it was a good approach.
Here’s how the About page is outlined:
Return to Full-Page Width
For both the Colophon and About, I returned to a full-page width. I think it looks so much better.
Quite a lot of changes! All focusing on creating a unified look, changing language, and updating colors and aspect ratios. To recap the changes:
Main Image: Revised the header for each project by making sure each page has a main image (except About and Colophon)
Updated Projects: Removed Adorama project and updated SVGs, though I later changed my mind on the project
Personal Branding and Testimonials: Added concepts of personal branding and modified the testimonials used on the site
Language and Tone: Focused on language and tone to revised the wording on the home page, project descriptions, descriptions of myself
Colors: Updated the color palette to muted colors, after testing a blue I found on vitsoe.com
Aspect Ratios: Created a more unified look by selecting image ratios in 8×5 and 16×9
Mobile Enhancements: Added mobile enhancements for project images, with instructions to click to view
About/Colophon Updates: Updated the bio on the About page and changed page width on the Colophon
And yet the portfolio has changed again! I’m glad I included on the Colophon that the website is always under construction, because that is so true!
Some of those changes have already been explained, but the rest it will be in another update.
Updates to my UX portfolio site, what I call “Version 4”.
Home page with 4 stacked rows of projects, then a grouping of companies and brands at the bottom.
Each project had a large image and a “Swiss” style for the title.
Three projects at the bottom linked to other projects, but not all of them had images.
I included testimonials from LinkedIn, which are the tan blocks of text.
And, as always, I was not sure what to do with the About page….
Feedback Generates Ideas…
I can’t remember who reached out to whom, but a friend and I had a video chat about her desire to revise her website. During the chat, I gave her a little walkthrough of what I did to update my own website, including the 2019 Portfolio Analysis and the research I conducted to complete it. She also gave me some feedback as she clicked through my site. So, I knew I would make some changes, but I also got a few new ideas.
Not only did I make updates to my website, she also gave me a suggestion to create a complementary Google Slides presentation. I’ve definitely started that, but of course I got side-tracked into website updates!
Major Changes for 2021
One change I was aiming for was to create a more unified look across all project pages, regardless of whether they had an image or not. For this, I used the same headline style, with a heavy top border above the title. With or without a main image, the headline looks the same.
I also made an update to the main index page, which is all the way on the left in the pale green color.
There were actually so many changes, I wrote a little note to myself in my own Sketch file! So here is what I wrote to myself:
Version 4, Feb 2021 — Major changes
The goal of these changes was to unify the look of all projects, even those without an image. And to include projects that were on the website in 2019, to provide more balance and make sure the projects are not too research heavy.
Changes layout of index page to 2 rows of 3 project + 4 projects. It is a big departure!
Removes the “swiss poster” look of project pages. All pages now have a top border, heading, sub heading — including About and Colophon.
Addition of Next project section at bottom of every project page, with list of next 4 projects including project and description. Single link to next project is gone.
About and Colophon are using an elegant thin weight for titles; it does not read well for longer titles
Other Important Changes
Moves Heineken project out of project list
Moves Adorama to 2nd tier project (no 7)
Changes “Small Bites” to “Catalog”
Removes all [project] links to blog, except for Adorama Deep Dive
Removing Top “hat” icon from bottom pages, and replacing with character entity arrow to reduce server calls. Only Adorama project calls the Emoji CSS.
Removed unused color variables from CSS file, and not really use most of the ‘small-bites’ class
Punched up the contrast by using dark-gray font on all pages, except for subheadlines, “eyebrow” text (mostly all caps/ tracked) using gray
Changed the display of company/client profile and role, below header
Increased font size of most text on mobile, esp header sizes
Sadly, my updates meant abandoning my beloved Swiss style (which is a template within the CSS framework). But instead, I was able to sort of borrow from other inspirational images.
Maybe some of these changes don’t seem like much but it was a drastically different site with very different projects.
But it didn’t end there! The next post will have the changes I made in March 2021, for even bigger changes.
For the fourth time, I attended the annual animation event at the French Institute-Alliance Français, FIAF. As I mentioned in my last two posts, it was totally digital and I watched at home instead of attending in person.
In my last two posts, I shared the feature length and short films that I watched. In this post, I’m focusing in on my two favorite films, one short and one feature length. My two favorites were the full-length feature, Josep, and the short film, Homeless Home.
Wes Anderson’s film Isle of Dogs was really good. I might have picked it, except that it was a surprise addition and I’m choosing from the original line-up.
Favorite Feature: Josep
Dir. Aurel (Aurélien Froment)
In French, Spanish, Catalan, and English with English subtitles
A dying gendarme [armed policeman] remembers his encounter with Catalan artist Josep Bartolí in a French concentration camp after the Spanish Civil War.
My favorite feature length film was Josep, a tribute, from one artist to another. The subject was the artist Josep Bartoli, an illustrator. It mainly focused on the period of his life in France, as a refugee from the Spanish Civil War.
I didn’t know much about the subject, so after the film I did some research. After years of fighting, in February 1939, the Nationalists under Franco were recognized by France and other countries. Basically, they had won the Spanish civil war. Those who had been Republicans (or I suppose just didn’t support Franco) fled the country within only a few days. About 500,000 Spanish citizens left Spain for France in what’s called “La Retirada” or the retreat. When they arrived in France, the French authorities were unprepared and overwhelmed, and many of the refugees were sent to hastily built internment camps.
A few months before in France, precisely on November the 12th 1938, the government of Édouard Daladier approved a Decree-Law allowing the internment of “undesirable foreigners” under permanent surveillance. This law became the legal framework in which the French government later on imprisoned some 350,000 exiled Spanish Republicans….
So, I guess some people left in late 1938, but the resources I found described a massive migration in February 1939. Argelès-sur-Mer, is a region in the Southeast of France, just north of the Spanish border, and the location for one of the camps.
The concentration camps were known to be extremely poor and unhygienic; like intolerably unfit, with no access to clean water, poor sanitation, lack of food, and were built so poorly they barely did anything to protect the people from the winter weather. Of course, disease was rampant.
In the movie, there’s a scene where Josep actually sleeps in a hole in ground, covered by a blanket, until eventually he is apparently moved to an actual building with walls and a roof. Unfortunately, this really happened. Some of the interned people did sleep on the ground, and if they died, by exposure or by the mistreatment/torture from the guards, that’s where they were buried.
Of course, we know that 1939 was a pivotal year around the world. Those camps eventually became concentration camps for people running away from the Nazi regime, and conditions did not improve to say the least. Sadly, some of the people were sent back.
Here are some photos from Argelès-sur-Mer:
More information on the Argeles-sur-Mer camp can be found at: https://europeanmemories.net/memorial-heritage/argeles-sur-mer/
During the movie, Josep searches for his fiancee, but he has no luck. At one point, has a vision or dream sequence about Frida Kahlo. Coincidentally, I later learned, they were only born 3 years apart.
The narrator, then a young man (a gendarme or armed guard) working in the camps, provides Josep with drawing materials and they become what friends they can become under the circumstances. Eventually Josep escapes and he makes his way to Mexico, where he becomes one of Frida Kahlo’s lovers while she was married to Diego Riviera. At some point in his life, he leaves Mexico and ends up in New York.
In real life, both Bartoli and Kahlo seem to have had a strong influence on each other, including becoming romantically connected. But the majority of the movie is about his life and experiences in the concentration camps. Here’s an interesting video I found that’s not quite the finished film. More of an animation of the storyboard (in French).
It was difficult to find examples of his artwork, but here’s an interview with his nephew with a few images.
The interview reveals a bit more about how Frida Kahlo influenced him, in his life and art:
Q: Once in New York, did he get involved with the Spanish exile community?
A: Not really. Although he always knew he was linked to the history of the war, at a certain point—thanks in large part to Frida Kahlo—he decided to switch from black-and-white to color. In both art and life. Frida told him: “You’ll never win the civil war. Memory is one thing and life is another. You must accept the memory, but you can’t let it consume your life. You’ve got to move on to something else.” And that’s what he did. Although he never lost sight of who he was and where he came from.
As for the director, who is himself an illustrator, obviously the movie itself is an example of his work. I found some information about his background:
Aurélien Froment’s practice involves the use and making of films, exhibitions and books through a diverse array of collaborations with artists, institutions, friends and numerous image manipulators. https://imma.ie/artists/aurelien-froment/
More information about the Spanish Civil War and memorial websites for La Retirada and the camps are below:
“My Bartoli…I don’t know how to write love letters. But I wanted to tell you that my whole being opened for you. Since I fell in love with you everything is transformed and is full of beauty…. love is like an aroma, like a current, like rain. You know, my sky, you rain on me and I, like the earth, receive you. Mara” — Frida Kahlo, October 1946
And just before writing this, I learned that Josep won the 2021 César Award for Best Animated Film.
Favorite Short Film: Homeless Home
Dir. Alberto Vázquez
In Spanish, with English subtitles
I absolutely loved this film. I probably watched it at least 6-7 times while I had access to it.
As the director states in the interview below, it takes place in a medieval fantasy land, and features a love triangle between a witch, an ogre, and an orc. However, most of the story features themes and questions that are very modern and human:
Is home always the place where you grew up, or is it a new place?
What if your home has no opportunities or future — should you feel obligated to stay?
What happens for people as they grow old, who will take care of them if everyone is gone?
Is it even possible to leave; who will buy a house if everyone is migrating away?
And what about the relationships we have with other people?
Are these the relationships we have because they’re good for us, or because they’re comfortable?
What will we put up with because we’re lonely?
The film opens with a short speech by the Necromancer, some type of lord/master character, at the top of a castle. He gives a universal speech about how he accomplished everything in his life based on his own hard work, probably too much work. The myth of self-sufficiency.
And he gestures to point out the lands of what used to be the home of his vast army. Now, he says, the young people are all drunks and drug addicts as the scene changes to show a beach, with many young people falling over, clearly intoxicated. Millennials have ruined everything!
He’s later described derisively by one of the other characters, the Ogre, — who is, depicted as lazy, without goals, and who drinks too much — as a selfish and frail old man.
The soundtrack featured a single cello and had a melancholy quality. I find cello can be played at a higher pitch, but generally sounds best at lower registers, which is how it was played. It was the perfect choice. There was also chanting/singing chorus, featuring women’s voices. It sounded kind of Celtic, or I suppose exotic, and meant to evoke a conjuring; a supernaturalness. It was effective where it was used.
The entire movie was in black and white, with some grey, and splashes of red depicting blood.
In one scene, the simple colors and the soundtrack came together so well. The Orc character reminisces about his army exploits to his Witch friend (girlfriend?), about his life of conquering and the appeal of leaving his small town. In a flashback, he beheads a soldier on a giant pile of bodies, then he literally baths in a river of blood as the female chanting grows in crescendo. The flashback ends and the scene returns to the quiet of the forest, as he sits next to the Witch. Neither of them seem particularly excited by the possibilities remaining in their hometown.
In the early part of the film, there are short interviews from other characters, including the Ogre who plays a bigger role later. He talks about the importance of hobbies, “to help have an inner life”, as he later falls back against his house drinking. The Ogre is very ogre-like: blunt, brutish, not too smart. He doesn’t offer much emotional support for his Witch girlfriend, who is caring for her aging mother, and treats her like his own object, not recognizing her own agency.
In other scenes, I loved the subtle references to everyday activities, but with a morbid twist. For instance, the witch suggests she and the ogre visit “Oblivion Falls” where the waters make you forget who you are. And at a beach cookout, the Orc is one offered one of two choices from the grill: pork or carne de humano.
Some of the scenes that stuck out for me involved a fat beast, an animal with a sort of elephant-like body but a human face. He spits when he talks, which the other characters rightly find disgusting. He has a master, who rides him and whips him, and many of the other characters call him a “dumb animal” and treat him cruelly. He internalizes their claims that as a dumb animal, he has no feelings and doesn’t know what he’s talking about.
Yet, towards the end of the film, he clearly does as he remarks on his complex inner thoughts. He says “Master, I don’t know if you can understand me, but sometimes I feel apathetic, empty like I’m a little dead.” His master responds, “Ah yes. That’s because here in this place, we’re all dead.”
Of course, all the dialog is in (European) Spanish. As an English speaker, that somehow adds to the other worldliness for me.
Although this film was only 15 minutes, I found the themes really resonant. As a short film, it cut away all the extraneous character development and plot to cut to the core themes the film makers wanted to convey. For example, the generational divides, the limited opportunities in small towns, etc.
I think many people who move away from home to bigger cities or seek opportunity away from old friends and family, face these questions and mixed feelings of nostalgia and regret, even if they don’t recognize their emotions for what they are.
There are some, like the Ogre, who end up jealous, bitter, and angry. Others, like the Orc, try to reconnect with old friends and family but fail because they’ve ultimately moved on and can’t readjust to their old life. There are those like the Witch who want a better life, but their obligations to their home are too strong and they can’t bring themselves to leave. And there are the friends who seem to admit that there aren’t many benefits to staying, yet continue celebrating the basic comforts of their lives despite the obvious mediocrity.
Even living in a big city now, I sometimes feel like the Witch, the Ogre, and the Orc at times. Jealous, bitter, disconnected, and yet obligated. Maybe we all feel like this sometimes, regardless of our home. Or maybe I feel like this because I’ve moved so much.