#15: Knowledge work

Where I'm betting my future on

Dear friends,

I have been pre-occupied with a number of things. Writing, mostly. I write about processes a lot, and frameworks as well as principles. In a lot of ways, it’s a growing interest and I want nothing more than to continuously share what I’m learning.

All great things come from small, incremental efforts that build up compounding interests. Wisdom is a fantastic example of that. Learning something new, going deeper in a specific interest one day at a time is a pretty powerful thing to do. It’s less of a hobby but more of an investment to your future.

After all, what better place to start building your future than with your brain? As cliché as this sounds, it holds the key to your destiny. What you do now and what you choose to do with your time moving forward influences the rest of your life. This is singularly the most thrilling thing I’ve come to realize recently.

I’m putting all my bets on what I’m learning, where I’m putting my time into and what kind of things I’m choosing to absorb. (little to no news, no facebook, no twitter…)

Here are a few things I wrote in the last 2 weeks:

Method to the madness: A case study of my brain

“Product design and UX is a profession that celebrates effective collaboration. What that typically means is that we understand deeply how critical each part of the process is, as well as the product overall. An experience is defined by the sum of its parts. Therefore, thoughtfulness, scalability and maybe even timelessness aren’t just ‘nice-to-haves’. They are a part of the MVP.”

Remote storytelling in UX

“From how you present yourself, your career pivots to your body of work, it matters a lot that you can tell a story. It’s what makes people different. I also think it’s what no one else can take from you.”

Quotes I can’t stop thinking about:

“What has mood to do with it? You fight when the necessity arises—no matter the mood! Mood's a thing for cattle or making love or playing the baliset. It's not for fighting.”
― Frank Herbert, Dune

“I must not fear. Fear is the mind-killer. Fear is the little-death that brings total obliteration. I will face my fear. I will permit it to pass over me and through me. And when it has gone past I will turn the inner eye to see its path. Where the fear has gone there will be nothing. Only I will remain.”
― Frank Herbert, Dune

Podcast episode I would highly recommend:

How to deal with your problem with Stoicism with Ryan Holiday on the James Altucher Show

Private writings on UX:

Would you be interested in reading rough drafts of documentations, writings, essays on the topics of product design, user experience, design and technology? I’d love your feedback. They always make my work better. Email me at: nikkiespartinez@gmail.com

Thank you for reading,

Nikki Espartinez

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#14: Designing a Career in Tech

We should ALL be designers

The truth is…

It’s a lot like investing…. with your brains.

In this case, you start out small in the hopes that it’ll grow exponentially. You risk big when the moment calls for it (you would know it when you see it). Sleepless nights polishing a part of the user interface, endless video interviews with customers, overwhelming sets of data to find answers from… there’s nothing mundane about what we do, why we do it and how. It’s messy, and methodical at the same time. 

Your time is your currency and in UX, the primary expectation is to invest it where it matters the most: Learning.

It’s a lot like studying… forever.

Zeldman is right in this, “In my heart I remain an amateur. The spirit of play is where my gifts lie.” Without play, and experimentation, passion tends to run out. Burnouts happen. We become increasingly jaded. I firmly believe in the theory of 10,000 hours and improving the odds of your success with it.

I also firmly believe it is not sustainable to do so without that spirit of play that is not exclusive to the design industry. While, understandably so, it is true that we are entering the decade of design, developers are also in the midst of a new era of transformation themselves.

‘‘Creative’, as we traditionally know it, is long gone as a trade. It has evolved to something much bigger, and we all know it. A ‘Creative’ in 2020 means: business, critical and design thinking FUELED by innovation. This is the best thing that’s ever happened to it, in my humble opinion.’- I tweeted this on May 22.

The only thing I would add here is Computation.

It’s a lot like fulfilling a calling… over and over again.

Perhaps, one of the best ways to really describe what we do is ‘being deeply immersed with problem solving and collaboration’ that is bigger than ourselves. Every line of code, copy, wireframe, sketch is a step closer towards that solution, ideally. Sometimes, it feels like it is all unparalleled with one another. Sure, we can always redesign a thing, or replicate a process, or refactor a piece of component or two.

But it is never quite the same thing, as a whole. Just as much as the product evolve, so do our user’s life. The goal is to meet them where they are, and make their lives better, in some way shape or form. Without any friction, whatsoever.

We are all products of design, whether we agree to it or not. From the moment we wake up to the time we get to sleep, a small group of people dedicated a lifetime to a multidisciplinary craft to make it all happen. So we can all use an alarm clock effectively, get to work on time, organize our digital calendars, make our days a lot more productive and so on, and so forth.

The world needs designers, and designers need to embrace this calling now more than ever. Don’t ignore problems, or succumb to conformity.

From 7 months ago, on the peak of Covid:

The role of design & the value of it is most evident during the hardest times. From remote communications to teaching and maintaining a some sort of momentum while being one of the core voices of reasons for decisions, these are problems we design for, should design for and ultimately, really embody.

Now is not the time to just “make things pretty”. - Myself, March 2020

Looking forward to designing the new world with you all.

Thank you for reading,

Nikki Espartinez

I welcome any and all feedback for my writing. Would be great to hear from you!

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#13: Crises and Evolutions

The hard stuff

Dear friends,

I know I haven’t been writing in a while. How are you guys? I’ve taken a break from working full-time and instead I jumped back towards my roots, temporarily—Independent work.

Quitting a stable job in the middle of a global pandemic and recession deserves a separate post, for sure. That is not the point of this post though.

Today, I want to talk about the hard stuff.

Even without factoring in the pandemic, it’s already incredibly challenging to live the life you want. There’s a gazillion mental roadblocks on your way. Mine are:

  • How do you build a career in a rapidly automating world?

  • How do you think long-term without losing sight on the present?

  • How do you deal with the Black Swans of your life without dragging yourself to misery with anxiety?

I could go on, and on.

As a designer who creates digital experiences, I think of mental models all the time. This is my core tool. Not Figma, or Sketch, or Adobe XD. Even deeper than that, I also suspect it is the key to the questions from above. When the lockdown started and the world momentarily stopped moving, I knew this was inevitable: Evolve, or get left behind.

Everyday, I keep telling myself this as I go through my daily quarantine routine: Be more proactive with what you want. Force yourself to think long-term. Exhaust all possibilities. Do everything you can to not lose faith. Don’t just write you are a self-starter, self-motivator because it’s what your future employers would want to see, actually LIVE IT. Start small, and make it scrappy. Treat everything as an experiment. Develop your skin in the game.

And, of course, the most timely lesson I’ve been slowly learning: Never take a crisis for granted.

I firmly believe the world is moving forward, even when it, sometimes, doesn’t feel like it. Evolutions don’t happen overnight, and that includes humans. Every day, we are evolving. It’s just terrifying, and sobering at the same time to witness the world do so, during this historic moment in time.

For this month, here are some of the resources I've been reading, devouring to help me think better about the future.


A world without work by Nigel Cameron

Slack CEO, Stewart Butterfield, on the future of work

The Ingredients for Innovation by Farnam Street


Conscious Capitalism: Liberating the Heroic Spirit of Business by John Mackey, Rajendra Sisodia, Bill George

“Be emotionally invested in your work; Define success as equal parts loving work, having a positive impact, and making money; and empathize with people— take time to walk in the shoes of others.”

Zero to One by Peter Thiel and Blake Masters

Every university believes in “excellence,” and hundred-page course catalogs arranged alphabetically according to arbitrary departments of knowledge seem designed to reassure you that “it doesn’t matter what you do, as long as you do it well.” That is completely false. It does matter what you do. You should focus relentlessly on something you’re good at doing, but before that you must think hard about whether it will be valuable in the future.”

- Peter Thiel, Zero to One

Quote I couldn’t get out of my mind

“This is the true joy in life, being used for a purpose recognized by yourself as a mighty one. Being a force of nature instead of a feverish, selfish little clod of ailments and grievances, complaining that the world will not devote itself to making you happy. I am of the opinion that my life belongs to the whole community and as long as I live, it is my privilege to do for it what I can. I want to be thoroughly used up when I die, for the harder I work, the more I live.”

- George Bernard Shaw

I personally found comfort in books (generally business, psychology, memoirs) this entire time in quarantine. I will continue to share some bits and pieces from those that is certainly making an impact to my thinking. Please stay tuned!

Thank you for reading.


I welcome any and all feedback for my writing. Would be great to hear from you!

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#12 Things I'm Avoiding

Unlearning something new everyday

Dear friends,

I thought I’d share this essay I wrote on Medium this morning.

It’s not always easy to think about the things that I want especially when, for the most part, I really feel like I already have most of what I would need in order to be happy. Now, retaining that happiness, and building a life of continuous value and substance in a world that is constantly becoming more and more unpredictable? That is the real challenge for me.

Which is why, in the middle of August, I wrote this first draft of the things I do not want for my future. There’s a lot of things I couldn’t control and I have no plan to. I can, however, keep things out of my life for as long as I can.

They are, as follows:

Stagnancy of Knowledge

In one of Paul Graham’s thought-provoking essays, he wrote: “Worse still, anything you work on changes you. If you work too long on tedious stuff, it will rot your brain. And the best paying jobs are most dangerous, because they require your full attention.”

Every product, every material, every little thing you put out into this world matters, because not only should it, in theory, bring value to the world, it could, potentially, change the course of your life, starting with your brain. There is something to be said about approaching work from the lens of a true artist. Seeing your next work as if it’s going to be the very last thing you’ll produce makes you more protective of its integrity because you signed off on it. It has your signature.

Work on things that will allow you to diversify your skillset and continuously improve your intellect. Read, and learn more about things that captures your curiosity. Assume that you don’t know enough and you’ll always have a hungry mind. Otherwise, things are likely to go stale real fast and with it comes knowledge and wisdom.

Unearned Titles

I actively avoid Dunning Kruger Effect at work (or in life, for the matter) because I know that it will be the end of me. It’s unsatisfying, and foolish. It’s shallow, and constantly reminds me of cheap gameplays. Not to mention, it is all too common in a world that is obsessed with likability, prestige, and popularity. I don’t want to work at an environment that is all smokes and mirrors. If there’s anything that software is teaching us, it’s that you can’t really fake quality. Talking myself into thinking I’m better that I actually am can only take me so far. I think for me, the quality and the innovativeness of the work will always trump titles. It speaks for itself.

Having fun is probably the first, and the most sustainable step to achieving that.

“By using a title without doing the work, you fool yourself into thinking that future success is assured — thinking, “This is who I am!” But that premature sense of satisfaction can keep you from doing the hard work necessary.” — Derek Sivers, Keep Earning Your Title, Or It Expires

Growing Arrogance

Admittedly, I have always lacked the necessary arrogance typical of the industries I find myself in. Precisely why I do think I don’t always make the strongest first impressions, I’m self-aware enough to understand what I am not (and probably never will be). As life improves, and work grows more maturely, I actively practice constraints on the, sometimes inevitable, growing arrogance that comes natural to progress. We take pride in what we do, and that is a great thing to have. While a little bit of pride is essential to success, arrogance isn’t.

My antidote to growing arrogance is always the constant reminder that things won’t always be this good. Everyday is a chance to be better, to slowly make myself more skillful, to accept that fact that mastery comes with a price and that is patience. Therefore, at any given time, there’s a great possibility that I’ll encounter the very thing, the very incident that could end everything. Life, career, work. All I can do, until then, is to prepare and equip myself with the right tools so I can fight everyday.

No amount of arrogance can save me, or anyone, in this case. You know what can? Mindset. It’s your most important asset of all. No-one can take that away from you.

Joyless Pursuits

It’s no secret that on top of everything else, you gotta have fun. You have got to enjoy what you, why do you it and for whom. It is the ultimate secret and a known hack among top performers.

Warren Buffet famously said, “ I get to do what I like to do every single day of the year. I get to do it with people I like, and I don’t have to associate with anybody who causes my stomach to churn.”

The best thing is that you define what is fun, and find ways to provide solutions, create value around those things so that it can ultimately help people. This is, of course, a bigger conversation especially if you would want to get into the details.

Just because it sounds simple doesn’t automatically makes it easy to do. In fact, in case like this, it may be the hardest concept to grasp which is why I will end this by bringing up, once again, Paul Graham’s essay on ‘How To Do What You Love’:

“Whichever route you take, expect a struggle. Finding work you love is very difficult. Most people fail. Even if you succeed, it’s rare to be free to work on what you want till your thirties or forties. But if you have the destination in sight you’ll be more likely to arrive at it. If you know you can love work, you’re in the home stretch, and if you know what work you love, you’re practically there.” — Paul Graham

Design your life, your world starting by sculpting your mind. It’s not enough to just add things in it (learning). You also need to keep things out of it, for as much as you can (unlearning). It’s the perfect balance of both that makes the best version of it, the best version of you, uncorrupted, principled and noteworthy you.

I can’t think of anything more worthy of my time than working for this.

Thank you for reading.

Your friend,

Nikki Espartinez

#11: We owe it to the poets

Living with solitude, among many other necessities

Dear friends,

Today’s newsletter will be a change of pace. I’d like to stir the pot a little bit, and let my thoughts simmer. For just like any slow-cooked meal, my voice usually takes some bit of time to truly come alive. It is one that requires me to embrace all the ugliness, and the mess of my mind, of which I oftentimes have an internal conflict with. Maybe Naval was unto something when he said:

I have all the ingredients necessary to produce something. I have all but a clear head, and that really is my current blocker, presumably.

Meanwhile, in the spirit of finding that clarity, I’ve been slowly embracing solitude as an integral part of my life. Much like anything that is worth doing, breakthroughs happen when you’re alone. It is also conveniently due to the current state of the world. There’s literally no better time to do this than today.

Please join me in reflecting with these poets, writers who can speak about solitude more discerning that I ever can.

On finding love and adventures:

“There is no place more intimate than the spirit alone:
It finds a lovely certainty in the evening and the morning.”
- Canticle 6 by May Sarton, poet (courtesy of BrainPickings by Maria Popova)

On seeking refuge from the busyness of daily life:

“In these lonely, isolated places, we have an opportunity to meet with bits of ourselves, with which the routines of daily life don’t allow us to commune,”  - The Appeal of Lonely Places by Alain De Botton

On living a meaningful life:

“How would you choose to spend your time if you had no social and no professional obligations?” – that’s how you know your true self - Susan Cain on Leading the Quiet Revolution by Susan Cain and The Knowledge Project

Everyday, quarantine-friendly habits that promote solitude:

  • Sit down and read a book everyday. Start with 10 mins. (As of writing, I’ve gone up to 30 min minimum especially if the book is great)

  • Schedule short walks around the block. Leave your phone at home, if you can. Don’t forget your masks.

  • Write a short reflection on the day. Doesn’t have to be anything fancy. I started with ‘What I’ve learned today’ until I have a ton of drafts on my Notes app.

  • Delay answering conversations with the outside world, unless it’s an emergency. Unless your life, livelihood or someone else’s life depends on it, text messages can wait. Start with 5 mins.

  • Pick an ancient philosophy, and gradually study it. You will learn that most of our sufferings now are nothing new. The idea is to apply what our ancestors have taught us so we can endure it, so we can do more than just surviving. We can live. (I picked Stoicism, and I’m on my 2nd year)

  • If reading is not your thing, then maybe consume some podcasts that are good for your soul. Netflix doesn’t always have to be your first choice of entertainment. Podcasts are free on most platforms. I would highly recommend starting with The Knowledge Project.

“However, the two things must be mingled and varied, solitude and joining a crowd: the one will make us long for people and the other for ourselves, and each will be a remedy for the other; solitude will cure our distaste for a crowd, and a crowd will cure our boredom with solitude.” Seneca, On the Shortness of Life

How are you keeping yourself sane amidst all the insanities out there? I’d like to know.

I’m always happy to hear some feedback from these little nuggets of wisdom I send out. If you have some thoughts, opinions on how I can make this a lot better, feel free to get in touch: email, website.

Thank you for reading.

Nikki Espartinez

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