Some Personal News

In August, after nearly ten years of independent work, I joined Bison Trails as Head of Design in NYC.

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Bison Trails is the leading blockchain infrastructure provider: the easiest way to launch secure, highly-available, and geographically distributed node clusters on many participatory blockchain networks. I started contracting with Bison Trails at the beginning of 2019 through Under After, my creative studio.

Looking back on this year, I feel lucky that I was able to spend time impactfully: creating the Bison Trails visual identity, refining the brand strategy, designing sales collateral, the marketing website, swag, and iterations of the customer platform experience. This is my ideal client engagement.

I love enhancing the brand and product design for companies innovating with emerging technologies. I also try to absorb as much insight and perspective as I can during the process. The Bison Trails team is full of knowledgeable and patient teachers who have helped me learn about blockchain technology, front-end methodologies, and communication strategies for a major partner announcement. It honestly feels like I’m still just scratching the surface of “things to learn” at the company.

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So why join a team full-time? Why now? As Under After (2008, 2011–2019) I worked independently with clients to name new products and companies, enhance brand strategies, create visual identities, design and build websites, and improve the ux of digital products. It’s not easy to sustain independent client work for nearly a decade. To say I was committed to being independent would be an understatement.

Yet there were periods of time when incoming work opportunities slowed and I asked myself “why does it feel like I’m on the most difficult and solitary path?” There were also bursts of activity, lucky breaks, unexpected connections, and consistent longer-term contracts. Being independent is a tricky balancing act, but one that can be very rewarding and fulfilling. Overall I feel incredibly lucky and grateful to have connected with so many clients and collaborators I admire, primarily through word-of-mouth referrals, while getting to hone my skills and work on a wide range of interesting projects at Under After.

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As I tried to optimize the creative practice at Under After, it slowly dawned on me: sustaining incoming leads and converting every new opportunity into a paying project just isn’t an effective motivator for me at this point in my life. Running the business of an independent design studio well and doing thoughtful work with people I admire was my general aim from the beginning, but finding the right opportunities at the right time consistently was difficult to orchestrate.

The work I needed to do on the business side to set myself up to succeed creatively requires a lot of time and attention. It’s exhausting to negotiate contracts, test different payment models (value-based, retainer, or hourly), get paid promptly, engage lawyers and accountants, manage cash flow and project timelines, navigate clients’ expectations (and traumas) from past designers, iterate on how I present my work in-person and online, and prove myself with every new client.

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I started to ask myself “How do I sustain a successful independent creative business and keep some sense of balance? How do I keep the stream of new (and interesting) project opportunities flowing?” I thought about what motivates me professionally and started optimizing for projects that enabled me to:

  • Add as much value with my time as possible.
  • Work with great people who are deeply committed to what they do.
  • Help bring innovative ideas to life.
  • Expand and hone my skills to improve my creative practice, particularly soft skills.
  • Work on both brand and product iteratively.
  • Learn new technologies and immerse myself in new industries.

The longer I worked with Bison Trails this year to help refine their strategy and realize their vision, the more invested in their success I became, and the less interested I was in trying to find other projects that met the above criteria.

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Designers are used to identifying and questioning assumptions: it’s baked into the design process, but we’re not always able to apply design thinking to our own blind spots. A true “duh, ah-ha” moment for me this summer: realizing I hadn’t allowed myself to question the value of staying independent. Being open to this possibility, I saw a full-time role with the Bison Trails team as not only a great opportunity, but as a new chapter in my professional life. Most importantly, it’s a way to deepen my engagement with the team and make the work better.

Other factors: I am truly impressed with the way the Bison Trails team engages the larger blockchain protocol community and customers, not to mention how the founders navigated the decision to join the Libra Association and the press following the Libra announcement, while retaining a platform-agnostic position.

In short: I’m excited for what’s to come and there’s a lot to do. If you’re interested in joining the brilliant team at Bison Trails check out the open positions: we’re hiring!

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