06-What are you going to do about it?

Part of the quarantine diaries series

Dear friends,

Whether we want to or not, we are slowly being propelled into a different world. We’ve never been more digitally connected than we are now.

I’m personally questioning most of my action in a daily basis because of the way things are moving right now. We are left with absolutely no choice but to adapt, and evolve. In a lot of ways, this is the best possible time to do some mental reset. This article said it best, “Keeping our options open means developing generalist skills like creativity, rather than specializing in one area, like a particular technology. The more diverse the knowledge and skills you can draw on, the better positioned you are to take advantage of new opportunities.”

You can see it from spirit companies making hand sanitizers, the biggest car companies jumping into ventilator production, local restaurants temporarily tackling non-profit work to serve communities, hair salons selling kits to your doorstep (the onboarding for this is great) and these are just some of them. Undeniably, there’s a big shift that’s happening in almost all areas of the world. What this pandemic is doing is merely just accelerating that and it’s doing so in the most unpredictable (and perhaps, cruel) of ways.

This is not the time to take it easy, especially for a lot of us whose livelihood (and futures) heavily depend on our next move. I suspect it’ll change the trajectory of our lives, and we will see those effects long after this pandemic is over. Whatever that move is, it better be as future-proof as possible.

No one can predict what’s going to happen next, but we can design our lives to put us in a better position, with a lot more options than we think is possible. Yes, that would not be easy, no.

Seth Godin is right. “Given that everything is going to be the way it’s going to be, we’re left with an actually useful and productive question instead: “What are you going to do about it?”

Time is personal for all of us. What you choose to do with yours is completely up to you. It’s just for me, every time I find myself wasting it, I am haunted by this Buddhist quote: “The trouble is, you think you have time.”

Trivial things have never been distasteful to me, as they are now. Between figuring out what to do moving forward, and how to waste less time doing so, I definitely have my hands full.

What are you up to? Always happy to know.

Thank you for reading,

Nikki Espartinez

In case you’re curious, where I’m looking for answers:


  1. The Start-up of You: Adapt to the Future, Invest in Yourself, and Transform Your Career by Reid Hoffman and Ben Casnocha — for work/careers

  2. The Shortness of Life by Seneca — for living

  3. An Astronaut’s Guide to Life on Earth by Chris Hadfield — for courage


  1. The Three Phases of a Career by Laura Klein and Kate Rutter

  2. Ryan Holiday— How to Use Stoicism to Choose Alive Time over Dead Time by Tim Ferriss

  3. Josh Wolfe: Inventing the Future by Shane Parrish

I want to know what you’re reflecting on, if you have been doing that. Essays, tweets, photos or maybe just personal notes you’ve been collecting during this strange time. I want you know you’re not alone. I’m happy to read them, if you want. Please feel free to write me back, and/or tweet me.

05-Designers & the new world

Part of the quarantine diaries series

Dear friends,

This little newsletter means a lot to me. Beyond sharing my personal notes, and musings, I created this channel in the hopes of effectively reaching out to people.

There’s a lot of rethinking going on as the whole slowly enters the new normal. For the better or worse, things are going to change. A lot of what I’ve been reflecting about are these questions (with no clear answer to match):

  1. If the world is going to end, am I proud of what I’ve done during the short amount of time I spent on it?

  2. Am I being generous enough?

  3. Have I given enough?

  4. Is this the kind of work I still want to do when this is all over?

  5. Who am I even trying to impress with all this?

  6. Am I loving enough? Especially when it is being asked and given freely?

  7. Is this necessary?

  8. Is ambiguity scaring me now? In ways it didn’t before…

In hopes of finding similar voices, I’ve been searching the internet for accompanying essays from other people. Here are the best ones I’ve found:

  1. How to thrive in an unknowable future by Derek Sivers *easy read*

  2. IT’S TIME TO BUILD by Marc Andreessen *heavy read*

  3. The world’s not falling apart by John Maeda *easy read*

  4. Worthy goals by Alan Cooper *heavy read*

  5. a deck on Creative Collaboration *easy read*

Defaulting to despair and hopelessness is normal. Finding the courage to be look forward to the future is hard, and sometimes, ironically, isolating. I would like to believe we can still have a part in designing it especially given the right mindset, and the willingness to embrace fluidity in all that we do. In this case, fluidity is being multifaceted, multidisciplinary, with skills and thinking that expands beyond your current department/industry.

For designers, it means thinking beyond the pixels. Now more than ever, we are not here to just make things pretty. The best way to fight off irrelevance is by caring, not just the output, but the methods of how things are getting done, why they’re being done and for whom. It means giving support to those who need it the most. It means being one of the strongest voices of reason in a room on a verge of collapse. It also could mean, if we’re not directly helping, we should stay aside and support others who can.

And just be there when it’s our turn to (and we will always have our turn).

Bet on your competence, you’re going to need it.

Have a good work day,

Nikki Espartinez

I want to know what you’re reflecting on, if you have been doing that. Essays, tweets, photos or maybe just personal notes you’ve been collecting during this strange time. I want you know you’re not alone. I’m happy to read them, if you want. Please feel free to write me back, and/or tweet me.

04 -quarantine diaries (march 29, 2020)

A few good reading materials and a word on supporting local businesses

Hello all!

Here’s a quick, digestible pieces of content regarding what I’m currently consuming, and pondering.

What I’m up to

I’ve recently started a new part-time job as a co-instructor at General Assembly-New York campus in the UXD department. I feel like transitioning to a full-remote class structure from an in-person one deserves its own post but needless to say, it’s been challenging. Despite that, however, I’ve never felt more certain about my chosen profession. At least once in my life, during one of the most difficult periods in recent history, I dipped my toes on teaching. This crisis, more than anything, is forcing all of us to be the most innovative, resourceful and truly compassion versions of ourselves for others. For that observation alone, I have not yet lost my faith on humans. I hope I never will and trust me, I’ll do my hardest not to.

What I’m reading

Long form

I’m a little bit behind on my reading (vs last year) but the constant ones on rotation so far, and ones I highly recommend: The Astronaut’s Guide to Life on Earth, Skin in the Game and I have just finished: Creativity, Inc. One of the things I’ve quickly learned about surviving and thriving in the UX field is that your mindset will go a long way if you read more than just design and technology books. Seeing as how a designer’s primary tool is their mind (how they think, how they work around a problem), it pays to keep it well-rounded.

Aside from picking up mental models, expanding your thinking into other subjects helps you empathize more with others and really carve a versatile mind which you can adapt into your workflow. I wrote more about this here as part of the things that are shaping me to become a better designer.

Short form

I’ve been helping out a few fellow designers develop and build a more UI-focused skillset. In case you are curious, here are a few nuggets of content I’ve found around the web that I think are interesting reads on the subject.

For UI thinking

A comprehensive guide to UI Design
Emotional Interfaces
Great use case

Product Strategy

Story First by InVision
Minimum Desirable Product by John Maeda
Two Georges’ Thinking by John Maeda 

What I’m listening to

Being a self-proclaimed loner, introvert and contrarian thinker, I have an appetite for a good conversation that challenges my thinking. It’s not always easy to fulfill that but I found my solace in the most unusual places: Podcasts.

Here are a few that I would highly recommend listening to:

If you want to know more about Covid-19 and: How to support healthcare workers now by Tim Ferriss
If you’re curious about car design and innovation: https://fs.blog/knowledge-project/frank-stephenson/
If you’re pondering about design maturity and a review of the state of design last year: Leah Buley and the New Frontier of Design Maturity

What I’m paying attention to

I have a soft spot for local businesses doing good things and stepping up. You guys are the heart and soul of a neighborhood, and by extension, a city. As much as I can, I do shop local and with everything that’s happening, it breaks my heart to see them in this state. A few standouts: It is why I would like to give a shoutout to what Ani Ramen and co are doing in Jersey city. Please go on their Instagram for updates and how you can help out as well. Word Bookstores (with locations in JC and Greenpoint) are delivering books on your doorstep and is accepting gift cards as well. This amazing Bangladesh restaurant near Journal Square Path is also accepting gift cards and lastly, if you are craving for some authentic Filipino food, Philippine Bread House is currently available for delivery and takeout. Just give them a call (201) 659-1753 and ask about their hours.

These are a few of the things that are keeping me occupied, absorbed and productive during this difficult and crazy time. I hope you all are safe, and well. Now more than ever, we need to protect ourselves and each other, physically and mentally, to survive.

As always, please give me a feedback through my email: nikkiespartinez@gmail.com and on twitter: @nikkiespartinez. I always welcome a good conversation.

03-things to ban

because they're fruitless and they don't lead to a better workflow

I’ve been contemplating a lot lately on what it takes to level up as a designer, and as a team by extension. Just like anything that is worth doing, it’s never easy. Hell, even the first step, which in this case is admitting you have a lot to improve on, is already a milestone for some of us, ego-aside. This goes beyond the topics of UI, and components and the more technical (dislike using this increasingly confusing term) parts of the craft. This is about people, process, communications, zigzagging through org hierarchies, and the many aspects of the job that is not always up to you.

It’s harder to focus on the things we have to do rather than the things we have got to stop doing simply because the former could mean an infinite number of things. For now, I would much rather focus on elimination.

  1. Ban ‘Lorem ipsum’. There is no alternative. Learn to write. Not just for you, but for the people who will work with you (and your Sketch/Figma files).

  2. Ban ‘Making things pretty’ to describe design.

  3. Ban the 9-5 mentality from the bottom-up, and instead introduce learning as part of the job description. Your future colleagues will thank you.

  4. Ban shaming introversion, and instead find ways to foster community with like-minded people who are looking for more productive things to do outside of work other than to get shit-faced drunk and brag about being functioning alcoholics the next day. This is not Mad Men. Anyway, a few suggestions on alt activities: skill-share sessions, intimate dinners, going to meetups together, mentorship work, book clubs et cetera.

  5. Ban lazy ways of thinking. Designers are problem solvers. I am all for avoiding reinventing the wheel sometimes but on a micro-level. At a high level perspective, it’s always encouraged to think deeper, as locally as you can be, and as focused to your users as possible rather than too often being distracted by what your highly successful neighbor is up to. You’ll always be a step behind, if that is the kind of mentality you encourage.

Beyond creating great work, I’ve also taken a proactive step in making sure I live a higher quality of life and mindset. Just like the most innovative and successful startups in the world, everything is internally-driven. Every milestone worth aiming for starts by being honest, and is built by lasting principles that are gonna stick with you longer than your Sketch expertise.

I don’t want to just work, i am in the business of producing work that is worth my time, for the causes and the people I care about the most simply because life is too short to do mediocre work, much more so be surrounded by mediocre people.

I know next to nothing about sports but i’ll end this with a timely quote from Kobe Bryant: ""Life is too short to get bogged down and be discouraged. You have to keep moving. You have to keep going." - Kobe Bryant

and this: “The answer to “Why?” is “because why the fuck else would you even want to be alive but to do things as well as you can?” - Stewart Butterfield, We Don’t Sell Saddles Here

Thank you for reading,

Nikki Espartinez

02-on working with engineers

'what i didn't learn in school' but better

This is an excerpt from a private email sent to a fellow designer who asked me for tips on how to work better with engineers. I’ve had my fair share of successes and failures when it comes to this particular kind of relationship, which I hope to be better at over time. I love working with engineers and I don’t think I’m alone in thinking that sitting next to them could potentially increase the quality of your work as a designer. At least from my experience, the best pieces of software work I’ve designed and shipped were also the best times I’ve collaborated with an engineer or two.

I don’t think that is a coincidence.

except written last: Jan 28, 2020

On working with engineers: 

1. Do your research (on the technology) -- majority of engineers won't expect you to code and in many cases, you shouldn't have to. However when it comes to designing an interactive app or a digital product from scratch, they do assume you would know the foundations of designing for one, or at the very least, you're educating yourself of it. Doing a web application? freshen up your knowledge on web accessibility, UI grids, semantic HTML and anything that is in the realms of responsive web design. Got tasked with an iOS mobile app? Apple's human interface guidelines is your friend (and maybe a few iOS sketch/figma UI kits). Windows desktop app? Fluent design system should be an interesting read, as well as Microsoft Design's blog. I think what I'm trying to say is no-one knows everything, that is not what's being asked of you. It's your ability to learn, re-learn and hack your way into the business of creating great and usable products that makes you a standout collaborator, with engineers and beyond. I hope you're enthusiastic about this because I get excited just by typing this! :) 

2. Find your ally -- This is something no-one taught me but has absolutely been a game changer especially with working with engineers. Use your researcher hat and try your hardest to empathize with the devs you'll work closely with. Figure out what their preferred methods are, their patterns, their collaborating styles (do they work autonomously? are they more open to inter-department design exercises? do they easily get annoyed by random slack messages? do they prefer brainstorming over countless back and forth on emails? if you send them a link to a relevant article, would they read it? how interested are they with UX?). This is the hard part -- if for instance, they don't really care about UX or design but they absolutely have to work with a designer, make sure, no matter how incompatible your work chemistry may seem at first, make sure to really crack the solution to the problem you are trying to solve. In other words, prove to them the value of design.. by producing a core and practical solution that really aligns with engineering. Go beyond the screen. Once you're able to do that, it will be hard to convince a person or two otherwise to do any software work without a designer. You would want to be that designer. Bookmark: Thinking like a front end dev

3. Don't be afraid to ask questions -- InVision wrote about alignment (or lack of) being one of the common problems that designers struggle with when it comes to collaborating with engineers. During the course of the project, or the sprint, it's crucial to keep engineers in loop even when you're quite confident of the design already. More often, they provide valuable feedback when it comes to handoffs all in the name of execution, which skilled engineers are typically obsessed with. Think of it this way: the clearer your communication is, the better the quality of the execution will be simply because there's little to no barriers to the end goal which is anything from a new feature to a design overhaul. One trick I've learned when it comes to dealing with the anxiety of working with new or difficult people: respect their time enough to actually schedule it. Be accessible when it comes to asking for information, avoid slacking things randomly but instead, try and consolidate your questions or messages into a longer-form slack message or even on google docs so that they only have to check it a few times a day rather than every hour, and finally, write it in a way that it is digestible like for example: 

    Subject: designing components


   Hey! a few things regarding this: 

  • On component breakdown --  would you prefer on a written documentation or can I walk you through InVision's Inspect feature? 

  • How would you like the SVGs to be handed off? 

  • Had a different naming system for the typescale --- instead of h1, h2 etc, I've decided to go for this route. Let's discuss. 

Thank you for reading!


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