Special Topic – Workplace Diversity

And we’re back!

So this week I’m introducing a different type of post, the Special Topic. Every three or four posts, I’m planning on writing about a different topic other than graphic design to mix things up a bit. It’s more of an essay format, but I can only hope that you guys don’t mind. Otherwise, I hope you find it a good read. It’s about diversity in the workplace, something that I encountered rather recently that inspired me to write this piece.

Imagine an average person working at a big and successful company. One day, everyone in the person’s department is called for an all-hands meeting. At the meeting, upper level management announces a new diversity initiative, promising to increase workplace diversity by 20% or some number. Eventually, the person starts to see changes at the office. Someone from Japan joins the team. A manager is replaced by an African-American employee. A person of Persian descent is brought on as a new hire. Soon, the entire workplace is full of new faces.

Is this workplace diversity? Not quite.

Unfortunately, for many companies attempting to diversify their workforce, this is their only answer to the problem. While it is certainly not wrong to hire people of different backgrounds, it is definitely not the answer to a situation that plagues businesses across the world. Physical diversity alone is not enough.

The world today moves fast and changes constantly. To stay competitive, companies do not just need diversity of background, but diversity of thought. They do not need employees who are of different races but are from the same schools, the same fields of study, and the same socioeconomic class. They need employees who bring a unique blend of cultures, identities, and experiences to the table. These people solve problems differently and have different perspectives that produce different solutions. Not only that, but companies need to realize the potential of these people by employing them to solve real problems rather than just having them punch numbers in a cubicle to fill a physical diversity quota.

Diversity of thought is a powerful tool in the hands of a capable organization. It has the potential to introduce innovation in spaces that have remained unchanged for years. It helps guard against groupthink and overconfidence in problem solving. It can magnify the scale of new insights and solutions for the organization. It allows businesses to adapt quickly to fluctuating circumstances and markets. Organizations that have diversity of thought in the workplace can take advantage of this cloud of ideas to spark new innovation and creativity.

The results of having a diverse workforce are clear. Teams that are more homogenous typically exert greater confidence in their solutions to given tasks. However, teams that are more heterogeneous are often more successful in task completion. Much of this difference is due to the fact that diverse teams process information more carefully; they discuss the problem longer, they think of more alternatives, and they see the problem from multiple perspectives.

A common argument against hiring for diversity is that companies need to select the candidates who are best qualified, which may or may not be as diverse as it should be. But consider this: a study conducted by scientists in the University of Washington tested the crowdsourced knowledge of the university community against a team of industry experts in a competition to design and remodel amino acid loops in a human protein enzyme. The result: the top five designs came from students who didn’t necessarily have a solid background in biology or chemistry but had good collaboration, reasoning skills, and intuition. In the end, diversity of thought allowed them to achieve their goals.

It is time for organizations to step up to the plate of hiring with diversity in mind. Companies can no longer simply rely on the status quo of hiring a “diverse workforce” from the same top universities with the same resumes who give the same answers to new problems. Companies that guarantee their future success are the ones that bring in people who give distinct, contrasting answers to their problems.

These people contribute more than just words. They give perspective.

Thanks for reading, guys. See you all next week!

#3 Projects: Knowing When To Stop

Welcome back to Explore the Canvas!

As I write this, I’m sitting on a bus driving back to Georgia Tech after spending a weekend at a hackathon at Duke University. I’m tired, sleep-deprived, and mentally exhausted from staring at Illustrator for several continuous hours. One thing that I can guarantee: even if you become an expert at Illustrator and you enjoy what you do, you can’t adjust shapes and paint color gradients for 24 hours without feeling like the light from your laptop screen is permanently burned into your face.

At HackDuke, I joined a team with a couple of friends to build a simple game called Dante designed to teach people about social inequality. Two of my friends were in charge of back-end and front-end development, and my other friend and I were in charge of visual design. I had never touched game design before, so everything was new to me. I had a ton of adjustment issues trying to translate my knowledge of designing flyers, logos, and more into game design.

After some hours, I realized that I was approaching it the wrong way. I couldn’t just apply previous tactics to a novel situation. I had to learn a new process and acquire new skills to finish the project. Most people have a great deal of trouble quitting after spending large amounts of effort or time on anything. It’s just hard to give up something after putting in so much work. It is important to be committed to finishing a project once you’ve started. But it is even more important to know when you’re wrong and you need to stop to readjust.

Several months ago, I had a similar project where I was doing something that I had never done before. My friend and I had come up with an idea called Study Buddy, an app that sought to connect students who had classes together to help each other study for tests and exams. We started coming up with logo designs, and I decided that I wanted to handle the bulk of that project.

I didn’t even know where to start. I knew what the app was supposed to do, and I knew that the logo needed to convey its core ideas and functions. I looked up on Google “inspirational logo designs” and I immediately noticed that most of the designs used light bulbs. I liked light bulbs, so that became the basis of the design.

One major problem: I didn’t know how to make a good light bulb. So I also looked up “how to make al ight bulb in Illustrator”, and I immediately got a pretty good tutorial on it. I learned how to use anchor points to bend the screw-shape of the bottom of the light bulb, and I also learned a great deal about gradients, using it to color the metal base. Gradients are very tricky; painting a good gradient in Illustrator actually reminded me of painting a gradient in real life. It’s difficult to get the right mix, as I needed to give the object depth and a realistic look without making it look cheesy and distasteful. I actually looked up pictures of light bulbs on Google and studied the look of a lot of light bulbs until I managed to get the design at a state where I was happy with it. My friend thought that it was cliché, but I ignored him.

Using the knowledge that I had just gained, I cheated a bit and came up with the idea of having two smaller light bulbs within the larger light bulb, using symbolism to try to convey the idea that if you combined the knowledge of two people, you’d get even more knowledge out of it. Then I created the electricity flowing between the metal and I shaped the line into a smile. I loved it. I thought it was the best thing I had ever created. At the time, it probably was.

Study Buddy

There was just a slight problem: no one else liked it.

I didn’t get it. Most of my friends outright laughed at the design, and other people were confused by it. They didn’t really know what the logo was about until I told them about the app. A few of my design friends just kind of looked at me like I was just a little boy playing around in a sandbox trying to build a castle (in fairness, compared to them, that analogy was probably apt). It was a bit disheartening.

But, after a while, I started to see their points. The logo was a little too complex, trying to do too much at the same time. The two light bulb concept was kind of cheesy, and I still hadn’t mastered the art of fine tuning in Illustrator. Most importantly, I realized that the light bulb logo design probably didn’t work for this app. It had been the very basis of my design, and it was wrong.

The problem was that I had grown too close to the idea. I believed in it even when I myself wouldn’t have liked it had I not spent hours trying to develop the design. Instead of recognizing my mistakes, I tried to build on them. But if you build on an unstable foundation, then, in the end, all you get is a pile of rubble.

I recently learned a principle in modern business that relates to the lesson I had learned then: experiment often, and fail fast. The latter is the important bit. If you know something is wrong, then don’t just keep hammering away at it hoping you’ll find a beautiful sculpture within a flawed piece of marble. Stop what you’re doing, and reassess the situation. It’s too often that people get married to a specific idea or project even when it’s doing more harm than good. Keep trying new things until you find something that definitely works.

That’s all I really have to say today, guys. Remember, if you have anything to say, feel free to leave it in the comments. I would really appreciate it.

I’ll see you all next week!

#2 Starting Off Small

Happy late Halloween everyone!

I’ll be the first to admit that I didn’t actually do anything for Halloween. I just did what I normally do on weekends, which consists of doing homework, meeting people, writing, taking photos, and playing video games. Granted, it’s more than what most of my friends get to do, since they’re all busy doing homework. But at least it means that I have time to write stuff for Explore The Canvas!

I almost started off this post talking about one of the first big projects I had, but then I realized that I didn’t start off knowing how to do everything that I did for that project. So now I’ll tell you the story of how I started off the learning process. The first major milestone I had to hit…was to learn Illustrator.

Every good graphic designer knows how to use Illustrator. Or should. It is an industry standard; when you’re filling out what “skills” you have on a form, Illustrator is one of those categories, right up there next to Photoshop. But, even beyond learning how to use Illustrator, I still had another thing I needed to do before I could start.

I needed to actually get Illustrator.

I will be perfectly honest in saying that I did not want to pay for Illustrator. Back when I first got it, I could purchase Illustrator or the rest of the Adobe Collection instead of subscribing to the service like we have to do now. But, since it was at least a couple hundred dollars…buying the software wasn’t at the top of my list.

So I got creative. No, I didn’t just grab a cracked copy off the Internet, though that was definitely on my list of options. For the sake of the other person’s identity, I managed to get the full collection of Adobe software, Illustrator, Photoshop, Premiere, AfterEffects, and all, through an “inside man.” I probably saved a few thousand dollars. For people looking to get Illustrator, it’s actually not all that hard to find a copy of it online, you just need to do a few Google searches until you find the right one.

Now that I was committed, I was determined to learn Illustrator. I think the first ten minutes of Illustrator that I had was spent staring at a blank white canvas. I remember that I tried to use only the pencil tool because I thought that was the only way to use the application, but, as you might guess, that wasn’t the case. Still, even after that realization, I still wasn’t anywhere close to getting started. Illustrator is a professional tool, for use by professionals. Certainly not for someone whose only prior experience in graphic design was Paint. But, after an hour, I managed to at least learn how to use a few of the basic tools (though I’ll also admit that I still don’t know how to use the knife or scissors tool to this day). Now that I had learned how to navigate the interface a bit, it was time to start my first project. Not the big project that I was referring to earlier, but something smaller. Something that I could actually wrap my head around and not run out of wrap.

So my first stop was looking up “beginner projects for Illustrator” on Google.

Immediately, I noticed that most of the stuff was way too advanced for me. Granted, most of them were things like “create this vector polygon background” or “make a power level wheel”, which may sound relatively simple to more experienced players, but I wasn’t even a novice. I was less than that. So I went with quite literally the easiest project I could think of, in terms of effort and workload.

A minimalist background.

Inspirational Wallpaper

I can already hear the clarion call of designers, and honestly regular people, telling me that what I made could quite literally be done in a matter of minutes in almost any piece of software that allows you to type text and change colors. But you know what? I wanted to start off small, so that I could get a better feel of where everything was in Illustrator. Not that I’m trying to make my project any bigger or more complex than it really is; it’s just a black background with some colored lines and text. But it was something.

I played with the tools, messing around with anchor points and different shapes. I also learned a little bit about color theory when I was figuring out what sort of colors to make the lines, things like complementary colors and such. I also tried to learn more about the other tools in Illustrator aside from the obvious toolbar, so I dug through things like opacity, drop shadow, outer and inner glow, and more. The end result of the project wasn’t something that I necessarily proud of in terms of demonstrating my technical prowess, but something that I could be at least internally proud of.

That is, until one of my friends saw my desktop background. I changed the wallpaper after that.

What’s the lesson learned after all of this? First, don’t be afraid to start off small. While I will say that the best way to learn is to throw yourself into whatever it is you’re trying to learn, it’s both ineffective and inefficient to throw yourself into the deep end of the pool before you even learn how to do a doggy paddle. The world of amazing results after only tiny amounts of effort is a fantasy. Good results take time, effort, and patience. Begin with simple tasks, and work your way up in complexity.

That’s all I have for today, everyone. I’ll see you all next week. Remember, if you have a comment or question you want to put forth, feel free to leave that in the comments section. I would really appreciate that.


#1 My Journey Into Graphic Design

Welcome to Explore the Canvas! Hope you like it here.

My name is Indra, and I’m a student studying Business at Georgia Tech. I’ve been learning graphic design and visual design for the last couple of months. I’m not particularly good at it; I actually suck at it compared to some of my friends. But, I experiment with different projects and try out new tools every so often to broaden my knowledge. It’s the best way to learn. It’s also why I’m writing this blog.

Let me tell you guys a story.

A logo I made a while ago for a friend.

A logo I made a while ago for a friend.

It was midterms week. I’m sitting in the library with my friend, who was studying for big test she had the next day. Rather than studying for a midterm I had in two days, I was bored and was just sitting at my desk playing with Illustrator on my laptop. My friend and I were just talking about some random things, really just procrastinating, when she began to talk about a business she was starting. It was called “Simply You”, and, after talking about it for a bit, she wanted my input on a couple of things. Later, around 9PM, she decided to go back to her dorm and I went back to mine as well.

Back at my dorm, I kept thinking about her business, mainly the logo. After looking longer at her old logo (and cringing a little), I thought to myself, “Well, I’m not doing anything at the moment anyways. Might as well help her out here.” So I started working on the logo, completely scrapping the old design and grinding out a new one, playing with cool colors, shapes, and styles. Finally, when I finished my first draft, I sent her the logo to see what she thought. After a couple of minutes, she replied, “Oh my God, that’s awesome!”

And then, “What the heck? Go to bed! It’s 3AM!”

I looked at the clock. Let me tell you guys, I had, in no way, planned on working until 3AM on her logo. But I found that, while I was actually getting a bit tired, I didn’t mind doing all the work that I did. It was honestly fun for me, definitely better than studying for a midterm. But, after that night, there was a thought that kept bugging me, at the back of my head. Why did I spend so much time on that logo design? Especially without even noticing?

Sometimes, I get the question about why I’m even bothering to learn graphic design. It’s one that I get often, from a large number of people. They’ll say, “Why do you want to learn stuff about design? You’re a business major”, or “That’s weird. Is it for like a job or something?”

Most people who try to learn design study visual design in college, are artists, or do something with design for a living. For me, it’s none of the above.

I’ve always been interested in design, for a very long time, but I never really thought about trying to actually learn about it. I thought it was something that I either didn’t have time to learn or something that would never help me in my future career. Then, late during my second semester in college, I decided that if design was something that I was interested in, then I would try to learn. Now I’m having a lot of fun, even if I miss a night or two of sleep here and there.

Over the last couple of months, I’ve learned that I’ll never be completely satisfied with any of my work. After I finish a project, I’ll just look at it and think, “There’s something off about this.” And the truth is that most people are never satisfied with their work, either. If you meet someone who says that their work is great and they can’t think of a way for it to be better, then they have stopped learning. That’s when they become a “wantist” instead of an “artist.”

If you’ve made it this far, then you’re at least sort of interested, which is great! That’s good enough for me. In Explore the Canvas, I’ll talk about the projects that I’ve worked on, my thought process during design sessions, the challenges I’ve faced, the successes that I’ve had, and, every now and then, a couple of out-of-the-box thoughts.

If any of that interests you, whether you’re a budding designer trying to figure your way out in the world or just someone who likes to read stories, then I hope you all join me along for the ride. Journeys are a lot more fun when you have people with you.

Now, onto the more technical bits. I’ll be posting every week, usually on Mondays, and keeping up a consistent schedule for content. For the most part, I’ll be diligent about my schedule, except during random things like holidays, exams, or life issues. Hopefully, it’s the first one.

If you guys ever want to respond to my posts, feel free to do so. I don’t mind it at all, so as long as it’s constructive and not things like “thi iis stoopid” or “check out my mixtape”. Also, if you guys ever want to contact me personally, then let me know in the comments and I can hit you all up.

Well, that’s all I have to say for now. See you guys next time!