I appreciate that Spanish has two explicit forms of the adjective “To be.” Estar is the conditional to be, the “How are you feeling today?” or “Where are you?” to be. Ser is the elemental to be: “What ethnicity are you?” and “What is your career?” I feel like who I am is somewhere in between. My love of acid-washed denim might be fleeting, but my base attributes of empathy and curiosity are perpetual.

I’m an inquisitive millennial with a recognition for logical beauty and the ability to effectively communicate abstract concepts. I like knowledge for the sake of knowledge. I enjoy playing devil’s advocate just to make people think, and I enjoy having my own views challenged in return. I like to share my philosophies and hear others’ ideas about life, love and design.  I am good at seeing things for what they are at their core. I am good at thinking through a situation from multiple angles, seeing multiple possibilities, and gaining as much information on a subject as I can before forming an opinion, or choosing a solution. I believe that most situations in life are in the “grey area,” and it’s not simply finding what works, it’s finding what works best.  

 

Condé Nast rated Philadelphia the second best shopping city in the world in 2015, the year I moved there from North Carolina. I’m not a huge shopper, but the experience of walking through a well developed retail space is undoubtedly a satisfying one. The high-end retail in Center City, unbelievable food scene, and proximity to the largest mall in the United States contributed to the rating. Though living in Philadelphia has shaped me in many ways, I think it has most profoundly impacted my selectiveness when it comes to products and experiences.

I have discovered a trend that I call “the well-curated shop.” These are typically small retailers that have put great thought into the diverse products that fill their shelves (typically housewares and lifestyle items.) It’s a shopping experience that I have only had in large cities, it’s certainly a quality over quantity approach. Going into a shop and finding joy in each item in stock is radically different than walking through a superstore and being overwhelmed by mediocrity. I’ve tried to incorporate this into my design method by continually asking myself “What’s the goal?” and “What’s the shortest path to that goal?”

The food scene in Philly is astonishing. It includes an exceptionally varied yet specific culinary selection, from traditional Polish to regional Italian restaurants. These establishments usually create  a complete experience with both outstanding food, and engrossing, if not authentic, environments. My favorite restaurants have ended up being these specialized eateries; Tinto for Spanish Basque cuisine, Noord for traditional Dutch dishes, and Pizzeria Beddia, a tiny pizza shop that Bon Appetit rated the best pizza in the nation. They only have three types of pizza and only make 40 pizzas a night; as pretentious as that sounds it is hands-down the best pizza I have ever consumed. The take-away: if you are going to do something, do it in the superlative and do it wholeheartedly.

 

I started seeing a P.A. from my doctor’s office, and got in over my head too quickly, starting feeling too strongly. Because it was a new connection I didn’t voice all my feelings, and I thought it would be better to contain my emotion until an “appropriate time,” all the while growing more attached. He started seriously dating someone else and I was hurt more than he realized. He didn’t know that I needed to be let down softly, because he didn’t know that I had been built up so high. I fabricated stories in my head and didn’t let myself tell him how bruised I was. This stewing turned to simmering turned to boiling, and I finally opened the dialogue that had been locked away. I discovered the stories that had caused me so much shame, self-doubt, and pain were false; he cared a great deal about me and had ended the relationship for reasons that were completely rational. I had failed to be honest, and to initiate a conversation that needed to be had. I failed to do the exploration needed to create the true story. Now, in both my love life as well as my design process, I lean into the discomfort and vulnerability of the unknown. 

 

The recent political climate has shown us that the US might be a melting pot, but it is not homogenous, and while some are content staying safely in their sterile and well known bubbles, others look to be part of a global population. There are few life experiences which are shared by every person on the planet, but food is one of them. We can find common ground in a grocery store. Beyond the obvious health implications cultivated by diversity in one’s diet, the expansion of your culinary horizons can serve to make you a stronger world citizen.

Consider this, we live in a time when Nationalist movements are popping up worldwide and though nations acting in their own self-interest is beneficial and necessary, doing so through xenophobic propaganda is dangerous. I have never met a well-cultured person who shares this societal animosity. Personally I have lost many notions of certain cultures through experiencing those cultures. I think people engage in transcultural experiences to feel connected to something bigger, to have an adventure that takes them beyond their comfort zone and to learn more about the larger world we all inhabit.

I know politicizing a grocery store aisle is extreme, but if it can happen to Starbucks cups it can happen to anything. The international aisle is an easy step in the right direction, you don’t have to go to a new place of worship, you don’t have to learn a complicated dance, you don’t have to escape a war torn land, you just have to make tamales for dinner Wednesday night. Whether this little adventure leads to bigger ones, or just makes you a little more comfortable living in a country that is approaching having no racial majority, it’s done something. I think most people want to be the well-rounded citizen, most people want to try new things, most people want to be better; or maybe it’s just that sriracha lives up to the hype.

 

Digital technology has had a profound impact on everything, brand building is no exception. It has made research, development, design, communication, and management radically faster and notably more efficient.  A brand is no longer solely expressed in its products, brick-and-mortar stores and employee culture. Companies now rely on an media presence, web stores, digital marketing, twitter, guerrilla marketing, pop-ups, instagram presence, instafamous endorsements, crowdsourcing, crowdfunding, and so much more to build what customers see in their brand. Brand is now a dynamic, living facet of an organization. Though advancement alway comes with challenges, I believe that digital technology has greatly benefited brand building. One specific advancement made possible by digital tech is real-time marketing.

I am constantly up-to-date… with everything: what my friend had for lunch thirty minutes ago, how my crossfit WOD time compared to my physical fitness nemysis’ in the class after mine, breaking news coming out of the Middle East, what the specials are at Wawa today. In a time when so many things are going viral, companies are leveraging current events to their advantage by turning them into real-time marketing. If they can cleverly catch the wave of something that is already being widely circulated, hopping on a hashtag can be an effective and fairly low-risk strategy. The trick is making sure that the presentation is timely, relevant and resonant – above all, it’s crucial that the content break through the ambient noise, ever present in this digital age.

Below is one of my personal favorites: