Content display influences content itself

When I first built my site, I was so eager to start writing. Yet, when it came time to actually publish, doing so felt like an unscalable wall. Why?

One massive, underlying psychological roadblock was visual appearance. I had designed the site with ambitions of showcasing future professional projects, aiming for a look that was clean and professional. In contrast, the writings that sat in my drafts folder were loose and informal — optimized for quantity, not quality. It was hard to reconcile the clean, polished appearance of the site and the casual quality of my writings.

Which left me several options: redesign the site, switch to a separate platform for writing, or remain forever mired in hesitation. Whatever the case, the dilemma forced me to examine my purposes for writing so that I could tailor my sharing platform to align with my intentions. For now I will continue writing on this site, but it is very possible I may migrate my writings.

Victor Papanek makes a similar point in his book, "Design for the Real World": we have preconceptions about familiar shapes, colors, aesthetics. "What shape is most appropriate to the vitamin bottle: a candy jar of the Gay Nineties, a perfume bottle, or a 'Danish modern' style salt shaker?" Replace 'vitamins' with writing posts and 'bottles' with publishing platforms, and his question becomes a fitting analogy for content-presentation incongruence. It'd feel incongruent to discover medical pills in a candy bottle, the same way it'd feel incongruent to read an unedited blog post printed on a refined newspaper.

The visual display of an object or a platform shapes the viewer's expectations. When we create for the public eye, these expectations inevitably press upon our thoughts, influencing our content. How do the platforms we use affect the content we share? This dilemma is reflective of the grand, overarching question of design: how do the artifacts, systems, and environments we build shape us?

Helen Tran writes in-depth about the same issue here.

What platform options do I have?

Twitter (for which I harbor an immense love) My love for Twitter runs deep. I love how it is so easy to discover distant lives, and I love how thoughts can be so immediately visible. Most people associate Twitter with politics and memes, but at its best, I think of Twitter as 10 million public, networked journals.

  • Unlike our facial features and our clothes, our thoughts are hidden unless we give voice to them. Oftentimes, the most thoughtful, meaningful parts of an individual fail to surface in casual, day-to-day conversation. Twitter (and personal websites, and the internet in general) eliminates the initial buffer zone of small-talk that occurs upon first meeting a stranger. (Social media has a confessional quality to it, which enables people to be more vulnerable in ways which they may not be in casual conversation -- I don't think social media interaction is a diminished version of actual interaction, just a different kind.)

  • It is incredibly easy to discover individuals whose work resonates with you. I have been exposed to so many ideas and people that would have never entered my awareness otherwise. (E.g: never would I have known about creative computing community, or the fact that AI ethicist was a job, if not for Twitter)

  • Opportunities arise when you are discoverable!

  • Twitter does a fantastic job at encouraging people to create. We consume, we learn, yet so rarely do we make something out of everything we consume! On Twitter, there is no pressure to publish something great (though of course, any public publishing platform still carries the weight of others' expectations).

Perhaps the best way to describe my current goals for these website notes is to write like I tweet, except longer, and more private.

I also wanted to echo some related links:

Blogger + Wordpress I like being able to customize my layout, which is why I did not consider blogging platforms with templates. However, because Blogger and templates are so familiar, they already carry a reputation of more informal, personal writing, lowering the activation energy to write.

Some Wordpress blogs I enjoy:
Jean Yang
Wesley Chan

My reasons to write

I’m figuring this out as I go. One’s ability to articulate an idea always lags behind the understanding of the idea, and the understanding of an idea often lags behind the embodiment in which it is first given life. It can take a surprising amount of time to come to understand what a prototype is trying to “say”, and longer still to say it oneself. — Bret Victor (Seen on Weiwei Hsu’s Medium)

Articulation takes long stretches of time for me. Part of why I admire Weiwei Hsu's weeknotes and Winnie Lim's public journal are because they often beautifully articulate feelings and thoughts that I feel I intuitively sense, but lack the words to describe. I hope to train my articulation muscles by dedicating time to discovering those words, through writing posts small and often. By doing so, I gain a set of words and metaphors to describe my pre-existing thoughts, and develop meta-skills in putting words to new thoughts as they crop up in the future.

Public writing serves as a lighthouse. You, an otherwise isolated island, become discoverable to the wide array of internet-accessing people on this globe, among whom may lie a friend or a collaborator.

To accomplish these ends, for now my only goal is to write consistently, even if that means writings are a bit loose at times.

Regret is unproductive

For a long time, I questioned whether UCSD the right choice. I had also been accepted to Carnegie Mellon BCSA, UC Berkeley, UCLA DMA, NYU IDM, UMich, UMD, and MICA, but after hours of LinkedIn + Portfolio + Reddit digging, settled upon UCSD after seeing the HCI curriculum, alumni outcomes, and research work at the Design Lab.

However, after talking to alumni, both at UCSD and other schools, I realized there were alternative paths I was unaware of which better suited my interests and professional goals.

Regret consumes immense amounts of energy and time. The only productive thing to do is to reflect and move on. The most glaring lesson I've learnt this time is: TALK to alumni. No amount of internet searching can replace advice tailored to your specific circumstances.

By no means is UCSD a weak school. Opportunities are still ample, and I plan to take full advantage of the design organizations, HCI talks, and access to brilliant HCI faculty while I am here. Plus, I have met some great people thus far. 

I also realize what a luxury it is to worry about choice of college, when many cannot afford to do so. I sit on a fat mountain of luck, and I hope not to take that for granted.

(10/11/2019 Edit: Actually, I have found some of the information alumni provided me to be only one slice of the full story since coming to college. So, alumni stories may not be incredibly reliable either. Either way, regret is unproductive, because we cannot predict the future.)


  • Kindness reveals itself in the accumulation of small details.
    • The chef at my part-time job was especially good at this. When she made a sandwich for the staff (not required of her, already a kindness), she would take the time to toast the bread until it was crispy. If she knew onion was your favorite, she would add a little extra every time. Nothing large, nothing grand, but little acts like this make her receiver feel great warmth.

  • Noticing that standing all day at cashier work reduced my usual afternoon drowsiness, I invested in a standing desk over the summer! It’s great, both for energy purposes and for striking up conversation. Using it at the library, almost every other day a different person would approach me to ask about it. Most of these people were elderly, looking for a solution to ease their back pain.
  • Through those standing desk conversations, I realized word of mouth + public usage is pretty effective advertising for these more obscure, online products. Those I talked to liked that the desk was stable and portable, properties that could be tested through a computer screen. This gave the brand a leg-up against all the other online brands that could not be tested and seen in person.