Shopify's New Design System Puts Language Front & Center

Today Shopify announced Polaris, a new design system, that will help both partners and merchants build apps more quickly and keep consistency across experiences. I was struck by the level of details in both the UI Kit (very well organized sketch file too!) and React components. But Shopify raised the standard on language (voice & tone). If you want to build a consistent experience, you also need to watch language. And yes that involves brushing up on basic grammar 101 (from punctuation to spelling). 

Building a consistent language:

Check out the new guide:

Artist Date #5:Fashion Inside a Museum

Hours before the door opens, there’s already a big crowd lined up. It’s almost like an iPhone release frenzy. Some sit on the floor and eat snacks. Others make another line to take selfies in front of a poster. Though there are several other galleries to marvel at in the museum, the crowd only wants to see this one.

In the last 5 years, I have attended various exhibits celebrating the legendary couture designers from Alexander McQueen, all the way back to Charles James and most recently Oscar de la Renta. Every exhibit displays extravagant gowns worn by icons like Jacqueline Kennedy and Sarah Jessica Parker. But do these fancy pieces of couture really belong in a museum? 

In timing, clothes beat the printing press! They have been around since the Greeks. They also have evolved along with society. Through their patterns and design, they tell stories about identities, races and expectations (The Core from Columbia finally is kicking in!). Quietly they have had a place in museums via sculptures and paintings. But until recently, they received the front row seat via couture exhibits.

Couture is an exclusive club that combines the highest level of artistry with mastery of style. Unless you’re in the A-List circle, the runway or in the business, you will never see one of these gowns in-person or let alone learn about the design process. Initiatives, like the MET’s Costume Institute, break the exclusivity to bring the fairy tale to the masses. Maybe it will inspire students to take seriously their geometry class.

But there is a danger to showcase only couture designers: conformity. The world of fashion encompasses more than glamour. What about the fabric itself? Or the design process? (usually it’s only given a second in the spotlight, except for Charles James). If we want to inspire students to learn about fashion as an art, museums have to take risks in showcasing more than glamour.

At the Oscar de la Renta exhibit, I kept being shuffled by the crowds, who wanted a selfie with almost every gown. Hardly few were actually reading the description plaque. It felt more like a show rather than an exploration. Aren’t museums supposed to educate us after all? The Charles James exhibit on the other hand, combined digital wizardry to deconstruct a dress from patterns to the assembly. This context helped me appreciate what I had in front of my eyes. I was present from beginning to end — I didn’t even take pictures. And more importantly no one was pushing me around.

It’s clear museums have to step up in content and also the delivery to show that fashion is not just about what we wear but also an art that deserves to stay in a museum.

The Adventure of a Lifetime: Inside the Mind

Each day was a battle. The room was filled with a symphony of coughs, sneezing, shuffling and shifting of cushions. Inside my mind, random thoughts roared like a lion for attention. The pain from cramps overpowered my self-determination to sit still cross-legged for one hour. Many emotions danced in and out and forced me to run for the Kleenex box every few minutes. Wait, where’s the nirvana moment my friend experienced in meditation? 

Last year, I saw a friend glowing with calmness and happiness like Yoda. I wondered if he was on a special pill. The source turn out to be very simple. My friend had returned from a Vipassana retreat, where he meditated for 10 hours each day, lived in silence and observed the source where everything starts: the mind. He persuaded me several times to explore this technique to find everlasting happiness and to really understand the root cause of my stress and challenges. I was skeptical. Moreover, I feared disconnecting from the world for 10 days!

Early this year, several events inspired me to sign up for the waiting list and pack up without guarantee of admission until the day of the retreat. Though people refer to this as a "retreat," it was far from relaxing. It was physically challenging and emotionally overwhelming. From early morning we meditated for 10 hours, lived on 2 meals a day (breakfast and lunch) and remained in silence without eye contact. Only a deer received a faint “hello” from me.

The aim was to observe sensations and maintain equanimity. My mind was very agitated thinking about the past and the future not the present. The pain cluttered my focus from the breadth. Many times, I opened my eyes and broke away from stillness seeking relief. In one hour I moved 17 times! It’s incredible how the world has trained us to multi-task that paying attention to the breath feels like climbing to the top of a summit. Add to the mix the temptation to return home.

One evening I decided to come back home but the teacher spoke to the experience that brought me there, “only you can do the work, nobody is going to do the work for you.” For many years, I was dependent on a therapist, antidepressants and many distractions to find happiness. But I took a leap of faith on Vipassana to stand on my own two feet. Instead of leaving, the next day, I showed up at the meditation hall at 4 in the morning despite the heavy rain. By day 8, the shuffling of cushions stopped. All the discomfort did not come from having the right amount of cushions and support—the pain was created by the mind. The trees outside, the broccoli, the rain, even the worms crawling out of the dirt, shined. I embraced the silence and continued to work patiently and quietly through this journey, accepting the world as it is, not as I want it to be.

The retreat is over now, why am I still sitting down each day and night in silence? Wasn’t the retreat more than enough to sharpen the mind for the rest of my life? The retreat taught me the technique—that alone is not enough to keep the mind sharp! Just like a gardener who nurtures his seeds, the mind will only stay sharp if effort and time is given to it. Last summer on a roadtrip, I posted a photo on Instagram and said, “Sitting still is my way of falling in love with the world.” At the time, I traveled to different national parks seeking peace and happiness. Looking back, peace and happiness are not achieved through the external world or given by other people. Today, I say that sitting still anywhere (even my bedroom) in silence is really my way of being at peace with myself and the world.

Artist Date #4: Start with Observation First, Not Wishing for Empathy

Anyone can do design thinking and that’s a double edge sword with blessings and dangers. The technique can help many. And the technique can also be reduced to repetitive white-boarding sessions and post-it notes where we (the creators of the product) spend many hours imaging the user’s mind, needs and wants from our perspective. For many years, I ran and shared design thinking sessions for marketing and product teams. Everything seemed perfect but a conversation with an occupational therapist and a meditation experience changed my view on why we cannot skip the fundamental step: observation.

In design, the word “Empathy” has been overused and misused. In theory, Empathy is like the nirvana of designers that helps them truly understand the user. Wishing for empathy doesn’t create it or even just doing some exercises. I found this the hard way. I even recreated scenarios by acting it up with a few people on the team or outside of the organization—that only took us to the surface ofEmpathy. We were not empathizing, we were imaging things and processes according to our desires, not the user. How do we arrive at Empathy then? Nothing has to be reinvented. It’s simple but it will require a lot of effort. Empathy starts with observation.

The and IDEO encourage people to go out in the field and observe the user in the real environment first before coming back to do brainstorming. I recently learned from an occupational therapist the value of seeing clients who we are designing for in the environment they will use the product or service. The occupational therapist meets her clients in their homes instead of a beautiful air-conditioned office. Though visiting her clients at their homes was heartbreaking and at times scary, it brought a new level of understanding where she was able to feel, touch, smell and even see how people moved around in their own house.

Observation is powerful! At a recent meditation retreat where I meditated for over 100+ and only observed my breathing, I discovered observation doesn’t come easy. We are trained by the world to just do do do, not to pause and observe. That’s why it’s easy to skip observation and jump straight to brainstorming. On top of it, two enemies feed our excuses for skipping this: money and time. If money and time are constraints, then we as designers and creatives are not doing a great job of advocating for it to our stakeholders.

Maybe it’s time that designers and creatives take an oath to live by when they practice just like doctors. Observation would be at the top of the ethical pledges. It’s fundamental, not an option to reach Empathy.

Artist date: Interview with an occupational therapist & Vipassana Meditation (10-day course)

Artist Date #3: Look up, up, up at the SF Botanical Gardens

Look up in the sky! It's a bird. It's a plane. It's a beautiful sky with branches and flowers.

We are here day and night waiting for you. We move along with the wind and the clouds. We long to have some glances from you, even if it's a blurry one. Why are people always looking down or straight ahead? Are we intimidating? Or are we too boring? If you stare for a just a few seconds up, you can start to see the beautiful patterns. They are complex, mixed colors and they are always changing. Please just look up once a day.

For this artist date, I discovered perspective is also up in the sky. It can be a challenge to hold the camera looking up, yet it's worth it for this beautiful discovery and composition!

Artist’s Date #2: What Walt Disney Taught Me About Valuable Training

“The first thing I did when I got a little money to experiment, I put all my artists back in school.”

The skills that made your first success will not get you to the next. Walt Disney lived and breathed this idea and infused this into every one of his employees. Most companies will agree with Walt Disney’s statement above since they pour tons of money into training every year. However, they may be hesitant to take the next step, which is what made Walt Disney an innovator.

“But we were going a little bit beyond what they were getting in art school, where they work with a static figure. Now we were dealing in motion, movement and the flow of movement. Action, reaction, all of that. So we had to set up our own school”

It takes a lot of courage to say that you don’t have all the answers for the challenges right now. But it takes even more courage to say you are willing to learn and push the envelope of the industry. This is radical! It changed my view of valuable training since I managed training of technology products and also live in-training right now for my next marathon.

Often times training is outdated even though the information may be in the greatest and latest powerpoint deck. It is based on assumptions of how the world works today, not how the world can be tomorrow. Walt Disney saw training as experimentation, which most people will think is risky.

“Isn’t training suppose to have the answers to my problem?”

No. But if training is designed with experimentation maybe you’ll find the answer.

Courtesy of the Walt Disney Archives Photo Library

Courtesy of the Walt Disney Archives Photo Library

Walt Disney brought in animals into the studio while artists sat around that horse, elephant or deer so they would be able to capture the animals’ natural appearance and give them personality. If he would have just settled for what art schools were offering at the time, we would not know Bambi today.

“What?!?! Training can be play?”

Absolutely. There is a difference between listening and doing.

Courtesy of the Walt Disney Archives Photo Library

Courtesy of the Walt Disney Archives Photo Library

Walt Disney set up a Character Model Department so artists would keep the animations consistent. These 3-dimensional models could be viewed from any angle. It gave the world the perfect Pinocchio. Pushing the envelope is tough because it requires more doing than listening, otherwise, we’ll never be able to test if the idea works or not. How can we expect to innovate if a bunch of information is being dumped into our heads and we’re not creating? If that’s the case then a Borg drone might as well assimilate you!

The Design of Training

If training is designed as an opportunity to create and dream, people will see the value of training and bring back value to the company. But if training is designed as an exchange of information, people will continue to doze off or check the phone for the next break.

#theartistsway #creativity #design

A Darling Creative Retreat

Imagine scribbling a few thoughts on paper, some characters and a short story. Minutes later a stranger you just met 2 days ago is reading your story aloud to a group including the Editor-in-Chief of Darling magazine. That powerful surrender can only happen when there’s a deep commitment to vulnerability. Like Dorothy from the Wizard of Oz, I stepped into a magical land along with other 11 women at the Darling Creative retreat. Together, we laughed, we cried and we celebrated the beauty of vulnerability from the first dinner when we shared our struggles and dreams to our final collaboration on an abstract painting.

What fueled the space for vulnerability each day? Was it sharing a bedroom with strangers, the floral arrangements throughout the house, the peaceful yet powerful ocean outside the house, the awesome food made with love, the event organizer or the conversations? Yes, but above all, the personal stories of each woman. Their love stories, weird dates, battle with depression and career journeys revealed wisdoms I haven’t come across before. That weekend I saw many paths in life through them, which sparked my curiosity to explore and renewed my gratitude for what I can offer to the world.

I also drew strength from the presence of each woman in this community. At the spa, my eyes were burning when I was sitting down inside the eucalyptus steamed room. We were not allowed to speak to each other there. I turned to the side to see the faint shadows of other women going through the same experience and I found the courage to numb the pain for a few more minutes and to dive into a pool of cold water afterwards.

On the last day, we worked together on a big canvas. We started in one corner, gave each other feedback and rotated to the next space until the entire canvas was completely covered in painting. At first I struggled to work with the chaos, rough textures given to me and to let go of the color teal (they were present in all of my paintings!).

“How can I work with what I have?” I sighed every time I came to a new space on the canvas (sounds familiar).

After a few rotations and encouragement from the instructor to not be afraid to destroy our neighbor’s vision, I embraced the complex space and splashed other colors like a kid to overlay a new vision on top of it. Towards the end, I lost track of time and kept going when everybody had stopped. When it came time to move on to the next space, I happily said goodbye to what I created it, just like I passed down my notebook to a fellow writer.

One evening we huddled around the fireplace and asked the event organizer if this is what she had envision for the retreat. We were all in awed at fate when she said the invitation was sent out to a mailing list of 20,000 people and 200,000 followers on Instagram. I really did go over the rainbow this weekend, on painting too! I came to the Darling Creative retreat seeking to re-inspire my mind as I start a new career. Instead, I gained much more than I expected and more respect for vulnerability.

#Vulnerability #darlingretreat #theartistway

Why Go to a Creative Retreat? Or The Journey to Nourish Wonder

A few months ago, I fell in love with the Instagram account pugsnkisses84, which showcases the adventures of baby Louie and his pugs in Scotland. I’m not having babies or owning a dog yet but there is something magical I find everyday aside from the laughs and giggles. Watching a baby grow up, learn how to crawl, play with baby pugs or try glasses for the first time helped me rediscover wonder. Wonder is the fuel for creativity.

As a creative these past few years, I bumped into many processes, and even created some of them, that I’ve slowly lost wonder — that drive to be curious and not think about fear when I’m in “the mess.” Luckily this is not a lost cause! We are familiar with wonder because we all wondered as children. Also, if we can observe babies like Louie, we can learn how to nourish wonder again. Imagine the amazing things the mind can create — an inspiring story, a new building or maybe a housing solution for SF.

The road to wonder, of course, will not be easy. We have to undo some habits. It may require some experimentation and playing. We can’t do it alone either, we need the help of others to spark the conversations and questions. Maybe we can do it over a quiet evening or a weekend, though there are still interruptions.

At Darling Magazine’s Creative retreat, I want to embrace experimentation with painting(one medium I haven’t revisited since high school) and writing. They appear to be simple but they are challenging especially if you’re trying to channel emotions to connect with people. To live a life of wonder is an adventure that will take time, and above all, patience. I’m honored to lay the foundation with the Darling community this week.

#Wonder #Creativity #DarlingMagazine

3 Surprising Lessons from a Toastmasters Club About Leadership

Toastmasters is where leaders are made. Really? Wait…isn’t Toastmasters a public speaking organization? Let’s find out via a personal reflection.

A leader creates a vision, builds a team and makes the team unbelievable.

Creating a Vision

Member: Why should I follow you, presidential candidate? Why are we doing this?

My first attempt at creating a vision failed! I focused on me, me, me... And I forgot the “visual” of the term’s focus (if you elect me, y’all will get unicorns at every meeting…maybe). People are not inspire by promises. They want to hear what they will gain (Why are you taking me from point A to point B? What does point B look like? Why do I want to go there?). To the left is the first draft of the election speech. My mentor replied:

“Apollo 13: Houston, “I” Have a Problem. Yes, too many I’s and me’s. It’s a good expression of Rocio’s emotions. But…It should be about YOU, the voting members: what’s in for YOU. Can Rocio clearly state 2~3 things YOU will get in the next 6 months?”

To the right is the revised election speech. Was this the perfect election speech that won the hearts and minds of members? Ask the members.

Building The Team

Inner Voice: How do I recruit? There aren’t enough people running for position x, position y, position z. He/She is too busy.

This is perhaps the toughest part and where members helped me understand the potential of people beyond experience and expertise, sometimes the hard way. The Yoda of Toastmasters, Michael Tao, shared with me this simple criteria for identifying candidates:

Learning — Does the person want to learn?

Ambition — Does the person have a goal/dream?

Love — Does the person genuinely care about the well-being of others?

Integrity — Does the person show commitment?

Making Them Great

Robert Joss: Your job is to walk around with a can of water in one hand and a can of fertilizer in the other hand. Think of your team as seeds and try to build a garden. It’s about building these people.

During my first term as president, I approached several situations as “you’re wrong, I’m right” and scared some away in the process until I served as the Club’s secretary. Someone always commented on the Minutes (summary of the meeting) I sent every week. Sometimes it was feedback. Sometimes it was encouragement that motivated me to continue doing this work with more enthusiasm each week (remember in a volunteer organization nobody gets paid to do anything). This experience ingrained in me the importance of recognizing the work of others at all times.

The next term, I let go of control (maybe not 100%). It wasn’t smooth at times but it felt invigorating to give ownership. I followed an Officer’s decreed to dressed up as a Minion for the club. At Officer meetings, others presented the challenges instead of me. I did less talking and more listening — that’s still a work in progress.

Experiences in Toastmasters are worth more than a thousand books. I lived through many by only investing $96/year, instead of 200k (2 years of business school). Each year, I gained new friends from all over the world and explored many places together. These videos do not do justice to our adventures:

2014 Adventure

2015 Adventure part 1

80th Anniversary part 1

80th Anniversary part 2

Thank you Toastmasters. Thank you Lee Emerson Bassett Toastmasters!

#Toastmasters #Leadership #Communication

The Affair

It was love at first sight. From the moment my friend Magda introduced us four years ago, I knew you were THE ONE. You are the first to show me creativity, passion and commitment — what more can a woman ask for!

You inspired me to focus on simplicity.

You excited me to invest on kitchen tools.

You enriched my life with a great selection of books.

You relaxed me with scented candles.

For many years I went on many dates from one department store to the next — no one really understood my style or cared to listen until you came along. They just wanted my credit card.

From the first time I walked through your doors and even today, I always find myself in a magical space. One of your lovers said it best at the checkout line, “I’m so happy here…this just feels like home!”

I’ve been wondering for years what spell you put me (and all those lovers too) under.

A month ago, you finally let me in!

As a Sales Associate in the Palo Alto store, I lived and breathed the values that make you so special, Anthropologie.

Creating an Unparalleled Visual Presentation

My love for you has taken me to different locations from coast to coast. Though each store has a unique architecture, fixtures and setup, the ambiance of discovery is still intact. I never get bore spending time with you. The design transports me to another world where I can touch, play and imagine many possibilities. You don’t show me a rack of tops and dresses. Instead you help me dream how these tops and dresses come to life in an environment from a winter wonderland to an oasis.

When I had the opportunity to learn about what goes into this, I finally understood that details matter a lot. You spent a lot of time curating pieces and moving them around from one place to another (though it drove me nuts when I had to process and find the clothes on the floor! Btw…I proposed to a manager to invest in developing a tracking system for the clothes). You also spent a lot of time lining up each piece so it has the perfect fold, the perfect hanger space and the proper sizing. It sounds insignificant but each detail adds to that whole. No wonder why you’re so perfect!

Developing Relationships Not Transactions

Every interaction I have with you feels effortless. You listen attentively, look at me in the eye and care to every need. It’s never been about what you can get from this relationship. Anytime I’m with you, you always offer genuine help.

Someone asked a Manager, “How come we don’t get commission here?”

The Manager replied, “We are a team, we are all helping the customer.”

Many interactions without any effort are just mindless dates. But many interactions with care (and love) can be the beginning of a beautiful relationship (Btw, we know the customer name at the end because we all communicate via the walkie talkie.)

Though our time living together under the same roof was short, I’m glad I had the opportunity to see the world from your perspective. Let’s continue this love affair even when your fan base explodes to billions.

It was a humbling experience to work in retail this season and to meet wonderful people who mentored me in the Fitting Room, at the Cash Register and even as a Greeter.

Your Reading Adventure is Not on a List

’Tis the season to start making that list for next year: the reading list. Unfortunately sometimes this doesn’t turn out well. After a few weeks early this year, my reading list became daunting and another chore I avoided.

In 2015, I let my experiences, relationships and friendships guide my spontaneous reading adventures. Some book recommendations came from hanging around too many explorers. Health challenges inspired me to finally pick up cooking books. Hooray, I found the joy in reading again! Instead of viewing reading as another resume bragging activity or sticking with a book I didn’t even enjoy, via this alternative I started to appreciate the experience and saved space on the bookshelf for more treasures.

Don’t worry, I’m not going to brag about the list of 100-something books I’ve read this year. Is that even possible? Our experiences and tastes may be different but this is a flavor of what you may discover if you listen closely to your friends/experiences in 2016 instead of just bonding yourself to a list.

Taking Epic Adventures to the Real World

Perhaps the chance of getting stranded on Mars or fighting a dragon on planet Earth is slim for me but immersing in these out-of-this-world adventures through these books inspired me to start exploring places from Delani to the Rocky Mountains.

The Hobbit

The Martian

To the Top of Delani: Climbing Adventures on North America’s Highest Peak

Connecting Body with Choices

Several times this year I was struck with too many sicknesses. I even thought for a moment I’ve been cursed by a witch! I turned to these books to help me figure out how my body works and how to start making choices that make me feel great inside and out. My mom was blown away by my cooking — she lost hope I would ever learn to cook when I was college.

Our Body Book

Forest Feast


Discovering Elegance Within

In the midst of personal struggles, I’ve been questioning my own beauty and strength. To my delight this year, I found support from writers and communities who are discussing what it means to be a woman today beyond just beauty and looks.

Love x Style x Life

How to be Parisian Wherever You Are: Love, Style and Bad Habits

Darling Magazine


If any of these themes resonate then go ahead and knock yourself out with these recommendations but for the rest of the year remember to discover your own. Life is unpredictable so let’s not plan everything.