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Caleb Brown on art and the essential dichotomies in life (#1)

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Our guest today: Caleb Brown

Caleb Brown is a user experience designer, a comic book artist and an incredible human being.  We met at an ad agency in Boston and I had the privilege to work with Caleb on a number of projects. Caleb lights up every room he walks in and inspires everyone around him.

In this in-depth conversation with Caleb, we talked about much beyond user experience, art, comics. Caleb leaned into an authentic exchange on the most essential dichotomy in life, how he integrates his belief in his personal and work life. As a result, his coworkers (such as myself) find it irresistible to rethink and reinvent our own lives for the better.

Caleb speaks about “Our obligation to tap into our world and understand what is going on. We are the only people who can be HERE, right NOW. We have to be self-aware, be present and pay attention. Put the armor away.” Caleb argued, “It doesn’t matter how you perform when you are on top, but how you react and respond when things go sideways.”

We can choose to be present, choose to lean back, choose to step in and be committed in this moment, choose to be here.

“As an artist, I encourage people to draw with me.”  Caleb discusses drawing as a “risky business”. “People are afraid how things are going to come out. Does it start here and end there?” Some of it (drawing) is performance – in a business context – people with the marker has the control of the room. But what’s more compelling to Caleb is when he invites others to join in by asking, often the most silent person in the room, “the stove is now ready for you to cook”. I have never seen anyone refusing to accept the whiteboard marker from Caleb.

Whether or not artist is in your title or belief, I hope you find your way to express yourself and engage others around you.

Do you enjoy this podcast? If so, please leave your comment below and share it with your family and friends. Your support will keep me on track and bring many other unsung heroes to this podcast.

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Selected Links from the Episode:

Show Notes (Times Are Approximate):

Caleb’s response to “the artist you are” 

  • [7:00] Caleb talks about his love for comics and art
  • [12:20] The creation process of tributaries “For David”. How can one respond to the deepest sorrow
  • [14:00] The most essential dichotomy in life & the magical Caleb-effect
  • [20:40] The world of Caleb – solving problems with drawings
  • [26:35] Start Drawing 101 & drawing as a risky business, secret mission to make any meeting FUN
  • [28:50] Efforts over attributes [35:15] What is User Experience (UX)
  • [37:45] How did Caleb initially engaged in UX as a web developer
  • [40:00]What is the point of a thing/system? How to encapsulate and correct as a UX designer?
  • [43:45]Final rapid fire questions


Caleb and I met at an ad agency in Boston. He was a senior user experience designer, and I had the pleasure to work with Caleb on a number of projects. Caleb simply lights up every room he works in and inspire everyone around him. For example, he initiated a weekly meeting called, let’s hashtag walk doc [SP]. Here is what was in the meeting agenda; I need to share with you. Let us not spend the day indoors. Does it sound familiar? Let us form a photopasi [SP], let us be a walk documentation insurgency, let us try not to get a hung up if it’s rainy or if we get too busy. Let us invite others who may also enjoy the experience. Well you get the idea when I got impatient, frustrated and needed a break; people at work will point me to Caleb. In addition to hashtag walk doc, Caleb started another club called Vexillology. Let’s just be honest. I had never heard of that word before. “It’s the study of flags,” Caleb explained. People like Caleb are rear, which makes me even more eager to interview him. I hope you all enjoy this conversation.

Fei: Thank you so much for joining.

Caleb Brown: You’re welcome.

Fei: Thank you Caleb. I feel I don’t have a set format for how I want to do this going forward. I do have a list of people I absolutely admire and so long for everyday, whether they are here present in front of me or have taught me very early under my career. List of people, but you are the first person I decided to interview.

Caleb: I’m completely honored.

Fei: I apologize for moments that we’ll have to like set around some words and I’m not the best I could be just yet.

Caleb: My goodness, I’m not the best I could be just yet either, and isn’t that the point? Like are we going to get better and better and better as time goes on?

Fei: Yeah.

Caleb: So nope, you’re not allowed to apologize. And me neither. No apology.

Fei: No sorry, not sorry.

Caleb: Okay

Fei: That’s like the Pantene campaign that had 36 million views on YouTube. Pantene like: Sorry not sorry for women. That said I would like to have you introduce yourself to our audience about who you are, couple minutes if you want.

Caleb: All right, and you can help shape this. My name is Caleb, and I’m a middle age person, I’m an American male, sometimes I’ve been experimenting with calling myself a middle worth person instead of middle aged person because I identify with that fantasy universe, I’m an artist, I grew up in Boston, and I had a brief sojourn on Rhode Island for school and I’ve studied in Japan for a while, my wife and I lived in California and Montana. I feel like I had some really wonderful substantial experiences out in the natural world, in Montana especially, and I brought those back with me to this area. And my kids, we had twins. We brought those back with us from California. I’ve always made things, made drawings, and I’ve always been busy by myself. I had a childhood that was sometimes great and sometimes really painful.

I remember when I think about my childhood, I think about a lot of times in my room by myself like inventing games or making stuff up or reading, or building things. That continues to be how I engage with the world. Fei, you and I met here at Arnold and I feel like instantly we recognize something in the other person and something we wanted to kind of go deeper with and look into together like: What is this thing? What’s this path that we share? We wanted some walks in the middle of the mall where Arnold used to be and that’s where our friendship started and I remember walking around at the Christian Science firm and just talking about our lives in China and America and Of course you were a childhood member of my Vexillology club. I feel very proud to talk to you today. I guess that’s me. I’m in the middle of a transition from Arnold and I’m interested to see like what’s next and to talk about some things that maybe are going to be consistent for me.

Fei: Fantastic intro. I was going to dive right into your user experience and I think might change that course little bit and talk of art for a moment.

Caleb: Okay.

Fei: You mentioned that you’re an artist. What type of artist? Perhaps we shouldn’t sort of constraint ourselves into a single category. People have such different lenses and look at fine artists, comic artists and all these digital artists. Could you help the audience understand the artist you are?

Caleb: I can try. In answering this question, of course it’s I’m like talking to myself too, because I spend a lot of time thinking about what kind of artist I am anyway? A lot of times if you are a creative person you face those demons inside you, the voices that say that you are not good, or you don’t have anything to say, or you’re not an artist, acknowledging them but ignoring those voices for now. My core is drawing and I have done a lot of printmaking, the kind of printmaking that I’ve done etching and also woodblock printing. The kind of prints I’ve made tend to have a line element and there is other graphic part of those prints too. But mostly I think the line has been there. I’ve always done drawing, like little pieces of paper and pick pieces of paper, on walls and in sand.

I spent a lot of time doing animations. My parents and I went to Europe and North Africa when I was three. I remember a lot of that trip. When we came back, I discovered in some pouch or piece of luggage, their super 8 mm camera that they had taken. I have some movies from 1972 in front of the pyramids, and crate and other places in the Mediterranean. I found that camera they had used and I started making animations with it, start motion animations. With my cars, I’ve always loved matchbox cars. I had cars. So I just started experimenting. Drawing and also just experimenting with different media like making things move, putting things in sequence, trying to create the illusion of motion or narrative. That stated when I was like seven or eight. I continued to do filmmaking and animations through high school.

The last project I did was for a friend of mine that I went to college with, and I made a music video that was drawn. It was like a bunch of drawings. I used keynote, I used presentation program to make the animation happen. I’m not sure if it worked but I wanted something that was like fast and simple I could present things in sequence. Let’s see, I’ve also done a lot of performance art and clowning and joggling when I was younger, I did magic, I did birthday parties and when I was in my early ‘20s, I did science stunts around here and around Boston. Now, I kind of circle back around to drawing and that’s really intrinsic to the user experience work I do and also it’s the core of my cartooning. Now my artwork is mostly about drawing and like publishing; making little books, making stories. I think there is where I am now.

Fei: I’m a huge fan of your work, and knowing you know a lot about my background, my family as well. I grew up in a very artistic family. Really looking back, my father’s side and my mom’s sides of family combined, I think we have half of them musicians, the other half are pretty much fine artists. They are privileged to able to see some of the finest art and produced my parents as well as people they had exposure to. Many of them are no longer living; many of them are where they’re mentors. But still, I was sterned by your comics. Of course I absolutely admire you as a person. You could argue, where there’s personal connection, maybe it isn’t that great. I could just hear part of your questioning that already.

Caleb: Because we’re friends, maybe my comics stink. But we’re friends, and so you’re going to like them.

Fei: I encourage my audience to definitely check it out themselves even in the middle of listening to this podcast and can’t really say that they have a personal connection to you. Correct me if I’m wrong its caleb-brown.com. I realize one of the reasons I like them so much is I’m 31 and there are moments I try to remember about my childhood, and just like yours, there are many moments when I was a child I felt very lost. My parents weren’t around because I lived with my grandparents. They were very strict. Between the age of 6 to 10, that’s a critical age for many of us to be discovering about ourselves and who we are. Somehow by just reading your comics, I noticed some of my childhood behaviors once I thought I was really weird. Things I imagined I had created the world honestly, the world I talked to, my stuffy animals as an only child ,clearly you were to create a world that I didn’t think anybody else outside of the world would understand.

Whether they could even be my age, my friends didn’t get it, and I felt so close to your drawing and in particular, obviously this is a happy podcast but like one of the ones for David I’m not sure if I’m saying the title correctly, is very short. I was very lucky to be able to read the online version and then be able to get the physical version which I think you took some pictures of and how you folded so neatly and now was so magical on so many levels and very, very sad as well. With all that said encourage people to experience themselves. What are some of the moments that you inspire yourself to create such comics, and who do you are sort of your mentors or your inspiration. How does it all come together?

Caleb: Thanks to saying that about the comic and thanks to being open to somebody else’s experience. My experience, just like you, when we make worlds for ourselves, I think we live in our own worlds, but clearly we share a larger love and the challenges to figure out how can my world be penetrated by the outside world? How can things in my world come out and visit your world and vice versa. David was a really important friend of mine in Montana when we were living there. I didn’t know for very long, but it was just like a really great friendship. A lot of it was very like there was anything. It was like special and it’s like unspecialness. It was just like a really nice adult friendship. David committed suicide, and I remember hearing and feeling the loss so keenly.

At the time, I was working in Woburn which is like a western suburb of Boston and I was not feeling really plugged into the work very much. I had this habitual practice of leaving work during lunch and taking a walk. I love to walk and just be outside. I’ve discovered about myself. I don’t like being indoors, I liked to be outside, I like to feel the wind, I like to feel connected to what’s going on. This was the place I was working and there was like really interesting work, and gifted people, lots of first lights and cubicles. It was hard for me. I felt very oppressed. I was outside, I learned about David and I was like Oh my God! I wanted to respond in some way to this event from inside. But how does one respond when a friend dies?

I think like when you’re child, it’s very difficult to make a response. There can be sad things in your life, sorrow happen to everyone. Loss happens to everyone. But I think as you get older, you realize you have to make space as a grown up in your life, an imaginary space for responses to occur in. If you are so tightly bound, if you define yourself so narrowly, if you’re so wound up, and small, then there’s no way to respond. Things will happen to you, people die, people move away, things will end. Eventually everything has to end and it’s very difficult. It’s not something that any of us want to contemplate very much, but that’s one of the essential dichotomies that we deal with as human beings. Things come and they go. Can we change them?

We can’t necessarily change them and it’s very hard to accept that and to not feel like Oh great! We’ll I’ll throw out my hands and what’s the point. We’ll there is a point I think. For me the point is take advantage of that moment and pivoting around it. You know my friend is dead and can I even imagine how he felt? Let me try. What is it like to be on the precipitous of despair like that? I’ve been sad. I think we’ve all been sad we’ve all been depressed maybe. No, actually I think you’ll be unlucky if you’re never sad, because it’s an important part of human experience. For me, I thought to myself and I was happy to be outside. David loved trees, he was a forester, he was an arborist, he knew a lot about the natural world.

I was like I want to make a response to his life. I immediately thought about how I could fold it up. I wanted people to discover just like you were describing my remembrance of David. I can’t put all essence of our friendship into a common but I could distill some of the things that I found when I was with him into this folded piece of paper. That was what I did that you saw on my website. When he died, I made a little painting. I had been taking a walk and doing little paintings, sometimes they were cars, because I go into the parking lot and Ah! There’s cars. This is a fake car, this is a beautiful color for a car, or this is a nice tree. I painted a tree for David on that day, and then I carried with me the seed of an idea that I was going to make a comic at some point. That was the genesis. Yeah, thank you.

Fei: I feel so lucky that now we have the time for you to articulate the birth of an artwork because not to derive the subject, but what to me was really interesting is the creation of a piece of work. I think often times we’re trained to go to the museums, whether the paintings are thousands of years old, two three hundred years old. I often stand in front of the painting and try to imagine the creation of that work, and unfortunately, hundreds of years ago, people didn’t really have the luxury to say “an artist is painting and somebody’s painting the artist painting.” I keep imagining that. I think it’s a beautiful story and it kind of carries on his spirit. I think that isn’t there so true reaction. With that said, I feel like podcast, the reason for me to want to start this is it’s a very personal approach.

People do read, and I read books, and I love reading books. Less on the digital device and I love the feeling flipping over the pages. But to actually hear from you, one of the truth about you which is really magical through your drawing, or if through a sort of personal connection to you, people at work, tell me from every department, every domain, every age, men women. There’s a magical moment that you were able to touch their hearts very easily, naturally, in the most authentic way. I’m trying to articulate this process without sounding completely cheesy but to me that is believable because I actually experienced that first hand as well is why do you think that is? I ask people “why do you think that is?”

I especially speak with one of my personal interest areas that help junior people at an agency of a company to continue to grow. One of the things I ask them to do is, when you’re sitting in the meeting, when you’re acting with people at the company, look out for people at the company who inspire you the most and observe their behavior. One thing you might never become them. You might never be able to kind of master their techniques. Your name has come up over and over again of how you can so easily naturally sort of manage facilitate a workshop. What is so special about you Caleb? Tell us about it.

Caleb: I’m very flattered by your introduction of this question. I don’t know what’s special about me. I think everyone is equally special. This is it. There’s never going to be another Fei, ever. You have an obligation and I do too. All of us have obligations too. This is just me talking. I think we have an obligation to tap into our business as much as we can. Who are we? What is going on? Right now we are the only people who can be here right now. We all come from the same place. And I’ll just briefly like invoke Carl Sagan. For me, when I was a kid, all of these space explorations like the voyage of spacecraft and going to Saturn and seeing Jupiter and Jupiter’s rings and the great red spot for the first time, all of that sudden expansion of what we could discover about our home solar system really blew me away.

Like an adolescent where all of this was happening and the very first space shuttle launch and that really impressed me. I really believe we all come from the same matter, the same molecules, the same elements that were forged in stars. That’s the Carl Sagan part of this. But so I think that given that we’re all made of the universe, how’s the universe supposed to know itself? Parts of the universe that can sense, that’s us and reflect, be self reflective those other parts as far as we know that can’t. We don’t think like meteorite is like self aware, maybe they are. I’m fairly sure that I’m self aware. I feel like it’s our job to be as self aware as we can be in the moment, be present and pay attention. I try really hard in meetings to do those things.

It’s one of those things that is like very simple but very hard. For me it’s very hard. It looks easier, it’s like effortless but it’s not. It takes a lot of effort. I have learned a great deal from people that I’ve watched. That’s excellent advice. But don’t have watch people on a really cursory way. You don’t have to stare either but be completely there and put the armor away. Don’t be afraid to look foolish or comedic or silly. You’re going to be dressed down by life. Life’s going to kick you in the pants. It doesn’t matter how you perform when you’re on top. It matters how you perform when things are going sideways. What you present to the world during those times and what you share of yourself to other people. Other people need us especially when things are going south or when things are chaotic or out of control.

I would argue that there’re very few things we can control anyway. One of the things we’re mostly in charge of is how we present ourselves. We can choose to present like layers of blood or armor, or insulation. We can chose to lean back and step out of the limelight, or we can choose to step in and say I’ve no idea what I’m doing. I don’t know what I’m going to say next, but I’m committed to this moment and being here. As an artist, I don’t have that many tools, but an artist I can draw, and I can encourage people to draw with me. That’s really the starting point.

Fei: If I may interject.

Caleb: Yeah! Please.

Fei: So many ideas formed in my head, and only if I were a professional podcaster, a new podcaster’s born. I must say that, the drawing in itself is magical, but also your interpersonal skills and on top of that is just created the world of Caleb. But now it’s just a world for you to play in. But I feel like you approach people with open arms. That everybody is invited. You create this sort of aura of almost feels like a safety net that it doesn’t matter what is going on and as we all know not just for agencies but any company these days can be quite chaotic for the most part. About drawing really quick for me is that moment really happened not just with my artistic background, but other people in the room who may not have half the family who are artists, is to watch you just draw whether in this case a marker of any color on a white board and I’m there naturally drawn to handsome writing, drawing of anyone, so I was absolutely amazed.

But then the experience took me to a whole new level when you’re trying to explain something to me one on one and you’re starting of draw again. I felt very special that this person isn’t just grabbing a marker and trying to demonstrate to 12 people out of which two are president, SVPs that look, I can do something you can’t. I never felt that way. We had the drawing one on one not only the ideas that were conveyed to me so easily, that you’re helping me solve puzzles and I consider myself a really good puzzle solver as a project manager, and I love problem solving and you’ve sort of vision. I felt so spoiled too.

Somebody is drawing a cartoon like a comic book so naturally, not constrained by frames that I was not able to see through this problem for a different once. On top of that, you’re drawing backwards. You’re facing me like this and you put a piece of paper in front of me. I had always been amazed by people who could write backwards. I think we’ve all seen those people and I’ve never been able to do that. Yet again somebody drawing backward and I’ve never seen that. I don’t think I will be able to see in my career again.

Caleb: Until you start doing it, that’s the thing, let’s break it down. Some things you can do because you practice doing them. You know this because of your martial arts practice. When you started, you couldn’t do anything and now you can do a lot of things and I don’t know how old you were when you started your practice. But when you ask like, 6-year-old Fei, can you imagine that at some point you are going to be doing this amazing like twirl in the air, kicking, and you’ll say like, are you crazy? I can’t do that. I could never do that. Those are damning words. You can twirl around and kick and you can write backwards and draw backwards. That is practice. It’s not easy but it comes in time.

Fei: I feel the responsibility to carry on your spirit which in turn carry on my own spirit and you’d be proud of it at Arnold.

Caleb: Right.

Fei: To be able to draw, to be able to facilitate a meeting and be very present. When you are present, I find it very irresistible to not to be present.

Caleb: And that’s the point. By the way, you then I feel lucky to have seen what you produced, like drawing pictures that you made to describe to other people in our agency like the thoughts you were having about structure. It was all there. The beautiful writing, the different colors, the way the information is organized. You showed me, you reflected back to me the very same constituent parts that you and I had drawn together. It was really nice to see that circle closed. When you draw with people, I don’t know how things will come out. It’s risky for me and I worry all the time like “Oh, is this going to look like what I want it to look like?” Every human being probably worries that what they are going to say, isn’t going to match what they are thinking, or what’s the image in their mind isn’t going to come out of their hand when they do drawing or painting.

At the keyboard, we all fear that it’s not going to come out the way we can see it inside. We should challenge ourselves to get through that and watch it come out wrong, watch it come out wrong, and then sometimes it comes up right. Right of wrong it was worth having it come out, because you invite other people to come be there with you. It’s not everything that I do in a meeting is on purpose. From the way I start to write when other people are talking to show them these are your words and they’re powerful and they’re important. If you’re the boss or if you’re kind of just starting out, it doesn’t matter.

You said these things and I want to honor the fact that you like these ideas out into the space between us in this meeting, or if you are talking about a structural or relationship, if you’re trying to portray parts, talk about holism or talk about process like I want to be able to get that down and show it back to you, and the validate like, “Fei is it something like this” or “is this the right metaphor”, or “would you make this circle be in a different area”, “what is the flow”, does it start here, does it end there.” Certainly you have something to talk about, then you show other people they that they can pick a mark or two. This is an area where I’m still working. Some of it is performance, but there’s a moment where you have to give the marker to another person. In the business context, the person who is standing and the person who is writing is in control of the room. I know that and sometimes I try to establish a vibe, and then I want to relinquish that.

Sometimes the person hasn’t said anything. I want to say like, “The stove is now ready for you to cook something.” And then I very intentionally sit down or go away so that it’s their turn. You show people that they can do it. Some of that is just instinct, but I just practice it every day and sometimes it works and sometimes it doesn’t. It’s not magic, but it is fun and I do the invitation part. I like the invocation part. I like saying, “This is like a secret. You know how people sometimes come into a meeting and they’re like, “Ah! Another meeting. I can’t believe we’re in this meeting again. I hate meetings, like it’s going to stink”. You could try to turn that around. I think to myself like, you know what, my secret mission is to make this really fun. I don’t want to be here either. So, what can we do together that’s going to be fun?

Fei: Yeah, absolutely. You know, I feel like there’re so many names and books and just kind of ringing in my mind of the theme you’re painting. What is really unique is I feel like your voice, your story is going to resonate so well with so many people in the world because I feel like in the day and age is people are looking for certain books, certain figures, certain portraits that kind of say, “Okay, let me follow their footsteps because they made $30 million last year'” or things around a figure sort of self worth confusing self worth with net worth and cannot identify. But I feel like I never quite learn as much from a particular public figure or book compared to what I’ve learned from you in a very short period of time and I’ve only been in Arnold for ten months. I’ve known you for ten months. We don’t work on all the projects together.

What I’ve learned is just now and over the course of course is effort over attributes. I didn’t create that term, Josh Waitzkin who is the genius. I mean I shouldn’t use that word but really the genius chess player who is only in his ‘30s now 36, 37. He was the first American to win the national levels since he was six, seven years old. He’s a public figure. He wrote the book ‘The Art of Learning’, which I talked about very briefly. Even for someone like him, he said, |it’s not about emphasizing. I was born to be a chess player.” He really worked very hard and I’m sure many people look at your drawing, they’re like wow! “That is experience that is talent” of course they are. Does that mean that you can start doing, and this is my first podcast and I’m so motivated to do more and more of these.

I want it to be part II, part III, part one hundred with you. To continue following your journey, your passion, and perhaps when I’m building not just a starting point, but for people to also see the process in your life and I feel like you are timeless. You as a person, as an idea, as an inspiration is timeless and I can imagine myself in my ‘40s, ‘50s, ‘60s and when I have grandkids, I really want to be able to go back to some of these audios and hopefully videos at some point to really kind of re-engage, because we all feel like we know. I talked to my mum she’s like I never read any of these Tony Robbins’ books or like self help and things like that. She’s like, “I know. I already know everything.” And I’m so encouraged to tell my mum that, “No, you don’t.”

“You see how you behave to certain situations this morning, last week; we all need to be reminded.” Thank you for starting answering some of the questions that I was so eager to ask upfront. So the last 10 minutes, I want to focus on the fact UX, user experience are such an interesting domain. There are a lot of preconceptions, misconceptions associated with this domain and perhaps you could give the audience you take on what this field is because your vision is very broad. Instead of this narrow like there is a wire frame that’s it. You go above and beyond.

Caleb: I think it’s great that it took us this long to get here. I’ve never been comfortable with names and titles. I don’t really know what to call myself. Again very broadly, user experience is like connecting the dots, and linking people together and making things accessible to people, making ‘things’, ‘things’. By ‘thing’ I mean, any kind of interface, any time there’s a person and something else – could be another person, physical infrastructure like a building, or a door, stairway, or it could be digital, it could be something kind of amorphous like healthcare, it could be the aging process, it could be a pedagogy, it could be elementary age education in America, it could be a paper plate. There’s multiple interfaces that exist between people and their world.

I think user experience is there and a lot of people do user experience. I don’t think it’s something that a single person is in-charge of or know about so much as it’s a team goal, or cultural goal, it’s kind of like something that’s have an essence like the sparkle. It’s like the combination that makes something more lively or more vibrant, or more enjoyable. I started in the early ‘90s just playing around with HTML. For me the way in was language, like a computer language based on standard generalized markup language. I’ve always been like a wordy person. So, there was a lot to like about writing code. The thing that really intrigued me was the way that you really were in charge of the whole thing. When you’re writing for the web, when you’re writing web pages, when you’re doing that by hand, that’s how I happened to start. I got some books out and I just started filling around.

That’s really how things began. I just started fooling around. I just get in there and I start digging around. I met a lot of bad things, and things that didn’t work and most things that didn’t work or looked to me like bad, unappealing. So, they didn’t function, nut that’s how I learned. That’s how I started with user experience. That term didn’t exist. Into the job title of information architecture, like sort of a mid career person in the early 2000s, I had been like a web designer through to 2000 and then everything kind of fell apart, and it’s like a great moment to re-assemble when things start falling apart. So, I and information technology or the American digital e-commerce scene, we were all figuring out how to fall back together at the same time. I began to think of myself as an information architect at that time, and that’s like probably the industry term that is closest to where I come from.

That is like thinking hard about the design of information spaces that could be like a map, it could be like street science or it could be web site or some sought of digital product. Here in an agency context, that means that sometimes you’re working on ads. “How does this advertisement occurs online or on somebody’s Smartphone? How does it present itself? How does the person who’s looking at it, what do they do next? Who are they?” That’s a big part of what we do. “Who is the person that is looking at this thing?” and what is it that they want? And how are their wants and needs? How is their new condition balance against what a business wants? We were first staunch advocates, but we were sort of Switzerland and that like we neither are biased to our users exclusively nor to our business goals. We try to give everybody what they need and a little bit of what they would like.

We want to make sure that environments are not dangerous. It’s like baby proofing. We want to make sure that this house is not going to hurt someone. What’s that thing that they say about in football like we’re going to protect this house with something like it’s that idea? We’re going to make sure you’re okay. Like, “Are you okay?” What I like to do most is to think with people, and you and I have done a lot of this. What is the point? If you peel away all the layers of what this thing is going to look like or function like, what’s the very central idea? And how would you say it. If you are going to tell somebody, how will you say it in just a few words? This is a tool that people use to compare shoes, or this is a room that doctors and patients meet in to make patients better, or I don’t know I’m making these things up.

This is a machine, I need a machine that people ride that goes from one city to another city and cross like thousands of miles. What does that machine have to have? Is it a rocket, is it an aero plane, is it a balloon? Who’s flying it? Who are the passengers? When is it travelling? How fast does is it have to go? What is it run on? I like all those questions. I don’t have the answers to any of those. We are experts at looking elsewhere for answers, and then being kind of the conduit between people who have the answers and people who need the answers. The result is an interface that other people can use. Often we don’t design for ourselves, we never really design for ourselves and we rarely design for our business partners, mostly we design for the customers of our business partners, and we’re rarely those people. So, we have to find out what their needs are and what are their desires? How do we begin to encapsulate that? How do we demonstrate that quickly and how do we correct?

Fei: It’s absolutely fascinating and I can imagine part two of the podcast and being about. Love the fact that you’ve already provided contacts to user experience as a domain so much in addition to a standard job description Audience who are out of career switch to say I want to consider this or I’m just fresh out of school. I want to know what this is about. So they go to these company websites and be like, Okay, wireframe, OmniGraffle, what is it really like and now I feel like there’s so much context to it and I love to have a follow up session on helping people identify is that the attributes to or they’re ready to commit the right effort into this domain. That will be really interesting, but the same time to kind of part of that is self selection, part of that is will it be after a little while, “I am a UX designer but I’m not sure if this is quite right for me anymore.” How do you really see that as well? That could be very challenging to see maybe, “This isn’t for me,” things along that line and to quickly wrap up this podcast, if I may give you just a couple of rectifier questions?

Caleb: Okay, no more complements though.

Fei: No more complements. This particular section will move along very quickly.

Caleb: I’m ready.

Fei: Any questions that you’re not so sure, we can just skip ahead.

Caleb: Okay.

Fei: Question 1: Imagine you had a Kickstarter project, or you are funded by Mike Arthur project, well what would it be?

Caleb: I’ll want to use comics or the visual dimension of information and somewhere, I’ve want to think like a big project, a big teaching project, teaching people to do something through some sough of like visual instructional but interesting and make it sound terrible, but like teaching a wide audience something really simple. I would want a simple drawn thing that people could learn with.

Fei: Awesome. It reminded me Khan Academy but without too much commentary, what would you say to your 18- or 20-year-old self? Not so much of what you would have done differently.

Caleb: I would just say relax.

Fei: Fantastic.

Caleb: I’m still saying that to my 45-year-old self, and I’m not good at it. That’s really hard for me.

Fei: Interesting. What is your morning routine?

Caleb: I love systems and I love routines. I know it takes me like 45 minutes to get ready. I park lunch in the morning; this is about work, like a work day. I park lunch, I take a shower, sometimes, I get ready to go. I put all my things in my baggage and then commute. But I really like quiet time; I really like to be by myself in the morning. I will like sometimes meditate. I would like to exercise like run. I actually hate running. I hate it but I do. I actually think that you don’t always have to be doing things you love. I don’t think you should punish yourself and I don’t do things that I’ve learned. I would also tell my 18-year6-old self to stop punishing himself. Running is tolerable but I like what happens for me when I move. That is why I run. I like being outside. Those are the two good things about running and I would want to be part of like an idealized morning routine. Coffee…

Fei: Coffee always. One last question

Caleb: Go.

Fei: What is the one thing or gadget, or non gadget that you can’t live without?

Caleb: You know this about me probably. I’m not a very gadget centric fellow but I would say that I’ve loved an iPad. I always carried around like a walkman or tape player and headphones. I really, really enjoy in-your ear headphones. Ear buds that are like in-your-ear. I like those. I like shutting off the world a little bit. Not to cancel the world out. Noise cancelling headphones – fascinating to me. “I am going to cancel… I want to cancel the noise.” I don’t want to cancel the noise but I do like to hear music. For me it’s a lot of Jazz, it’s a lot of planetarium music, almost like hard angular ambient music sometimes. But I like things without words. I love songs with words, but if I’m working, or thinking, or doing artwork, words are really distracting for me.. I’d like to have headphones. I can live without anything but that will be the first thing I want to have a lot of music and I want to have some great headphone to go inside my ear. And don’t cancel things but give me some great sound.

Fei: Very specific. Thank you so much. I have so many more questions but that will have to be in Part II and I look forward to doing this with you again.

Caleb: Thank you Fei.

Fei: So much fun.

Caleb: This is Okay?

Fei: Yes… this is lovely.

Caleb: This is what you wanted?

Fei: This is exactly what I wanted. I had more questions like your creative routine and you cannot get started…

Caleb: Ask those later.

Fei: Yeah, let’s do that later. So, we have even more questions. It will be really interesting a dedicated session to help people get started in the field.

Caleb: Yeah.

Fei: Because there’s always this cloud that people can’t walk there in the moment that they go through it. It’s like, that’s it. It wasn’t that hard.

Caleb: We can almost say like the goal of this podcast is to help you feel like you could do this if you wanted to.

Fei: Yeah, I love it. I feel like it’s the start of my day. My day’s going to be different; my week is going to be different,

Caleb: Me too. It’s been a great conversation. It’s always nice to talk to you. It’s really nice to be like so serious about it. Thank you for doing that. This is serious and is worthy of me doing this podcast project. Let’s get together and talk, and not have just be like a conversation in between place A and place B. Let’s make this real.

Fei: Absolutely. It’s a thing and then you can check out other people I will be interviewing.

Caleb: I want to.

Fei: I think that will be really, really cool.

Caleb: You’re a great person.

Fei: Thank you Caleb. You’re very special and I’m so glad you could move on to also influence other people.

Caleb: I hope so. I hope they get influenced to be more themselves. Do you know there is a website called the-great-discontent? It’s not podcast I don’t think, but it’s like interviews with designers. It’s like Q and A. I wish that I could spend more time reading it but there’s some great interviews and it’s nice. Tell me what you think?

Fei: I will do that right away. I want to give something if you don’t know that already. Songza, S-O-N-G-Z-A. There used to be a pay music service but not anymore, and they capture your mood and literally you go to the website.

Caleb: You choose mood and they give you music?

Fei: Plays the right music.

Caleb: I love that idea.

Fei: And no lyrics.

Caleb: Seriously? Do you do that?

Fei: Of course I use it every day.

Caleb: You do?

Fei: Yeah, like lyrics, no lyrics, hey ‘90s, feel happy, bubbly music or in 2007 and also if it’s a rainy day, it’s like music for rainy day, and if it’s Sunday afternoon, it’s like are you playing in the park? I’m like, “Oh my God, I’m playing in the park.” And then I’m reading. “Are you playing in the park and reading a book?” “Yes, I am.”

Caleb: How does it know that?

Fei: Because some of that is generic, some of that is user experience, like what are the most common themes and activities on a 3 p.m. on a Saturday?

Caleb: I love that.

Fei: Yeah and of course they have iPhone App, Android App and then also the internet browser experience.

Caleb: All right. Well I’m going to download that. You’re really a great person.

Fei: Thank you Caleb, you’re very special.

Caleb: I feel very lucky that we could work together.

Fei: Thank you and welcome to you. Maybe I can help you out with some of the projects you’re thinking about, the part of the way you want some of the things inside of work [SP].

Caleb: I would love that.

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  1. It might have taken me 3 months to listen to this but I have to say, it was so worth the wait! I feel so connected to both you, Fei, and Caleb since I’ve worked with both of you separately. This podcast really inspired me to start thinking about the artist in me and how I can start expressing myself. I’m looking forward to hearing more from both of you soon.

    1. Thank you Jade! This is the best New Year’s gift and message to me! Thank you for believing in my passion ~ yes, we shall continue a conversation on your unique creative contribution to the world. You’ve gone through such an amazing transformation in 2014 while raising two young kids. I have so much respect for that and let’s be part of each other’s journey in 2015!

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