Preface to a New Chapter

In the last few weeks, I've had a lot of free time. I wanted pursue something a little closer to my professional and creative aspirations, so I found a new job (!!!) and left my old one. I took some time off in between.

After I left my old office for the last time, I immediately felt uneasy. Listen - I'm VERY good at doing nothing, if given the chance. But I knew I shouldn't go down that path. As an adult (or, as I've heard from other more adult-y adults), having free time is a rare commodity. Here are the goals I set that day:

1. Start a design-only Instagram account


These were my favorite to make :) 

These were my favorite to make :) 

I've been meaning to split up my personal and design content on Instagram for a while now. What really pushed me to do it was my overarching goal to experiment and practice more. I ended up learning how to animate in After Effects, how to make cool stop-motion clips, and how to work with new media. I'm playing with more colors, too.

Having a separate platform dedicated to this made a big difference. It's kind of liberating!


2. Read


Can you tell which one I got from a secondhand bookstore?

Can you tell which one I got from a secondhand bookstore?

So I actually only finished three books: The Handmaid's Tale (Margaret Atwood), 1984 (George Orwell), and Outliers (Malcolm Gladwell). I'm a big fan of dystopian novels and a little less keen on non-fiction...but Malcolm might be able to convince me otherwise. Now I'm working on The Design of Everyday Things (Don Norman).

If you have any book suggestions, send them my way!


3. Travel



I think I'm falling for the south. I went to Dallas and Knoxville (and Atlanta earlier in the year) - all for separate reasons, but I loved them each so dearly.

We can always benefit from encountering new kinds of people and culture. It's also unique to do so within a country as big as the U.S., especially in our current political climate. Gaining new perspectives is rarely a bad thing and I'm very grateful that I can afford to travel. It's been magical! 

(In Tennessee, I saw the solar eclipse in its path of totality. Totally worth the 8 hour drive.)


4. Watch Game of Thrones from start to finish

Nope. I watched all ten seasons of Friends instead :)


I just wasn't in the mood for GoT.

You can't blame me, I was on a BREAK!


Tomorrow I begin my new job. I'm nervous, but fortunately I'm even more excited. Wish me luck!

Jenny GanComment

This weekend I'll be one of four judges for COLORWAR! This is the design competition portion of UMD's annual hackathon, Bitcamp

Come by on Saturday, April 8th from 4-6pm to watch five amazing designers battle through five knockout rounds of creative thinking. See you there!

Jenny GanComment
Around the Clock: AIGA DC CreateAthon
"think beyond & never sleep" - CreateAthon t-shirt by HZ

"think beyond & never sleep" - CreateAthon t-shirt by HZ


I've had my fair share of over-caffeinated all-nighters, but nothing was quite like AIGA DC's CreateAthon last weekend. The event brought together all sorts of creatives (visual designers, UX designers, developers, copywriters, etc.) to help out a couple of amazing non-profits in the DMV. The catch: all work was to be done in 24 consecutive hours. 

My team was comprised of the lovely Kristen, John, and Jelena. We were tasked to redesign Serve Your City's website. But the project went deeper than just a visual boost - if done correctly, we could really push their three main objectives: getting donations, pulling in volunteers and partners, and spreading word of the programs they provide for D.C. students. 

I went into this endeavor really wanting to learn how to be a better team member. There are many perks of being on a two-person marketing and design team at work, but I miss out on valuable experiences like learning how to interact/compromise/work with a larger group of creatives.

what we made:






We retained their two original colors of navy and beige, but introduced a neon green to emphasize SYC's freshness and energy. We spoke to them after our presentation, and they were totally on board with the revamp.



my reflections:


  • The platform we used. Our client specifically requested Wix, and only one person at a time could edit the site. But it forced us to find other ways to be productive, resulting in additional print materials to go with the new look.

  • Discovering the best way to work together as a team. We were thrust into a group of strangers, and it took a while to nail down responsibilities, brainstorming, and feedback processes.
  • Sleep deprivation. Our sentence-forming skills were questionable by the end of it all.

What I Learned:

  • Don't stray too far from the creative brief. It's easy to get ahead of ourselves and want to do cool things, but we still need to respect the client's existing brand and history.
  • Stepping away from our computers and talking through the project with some sticky notes was immediately productive. 
  • Listen to all ideas with an open mind before considering potential downfalls. You never know what an idea might spark, and you (ahem, I) also don't want to be the jerk that shoots down everyone's ideas.

I want to give a shout-out to Serve Your City for making an effort to be readily available. We were able to reach them throughout the night and day, asking questions and requesting assets like photos. They are absolutely amazing people with such an inspiring, genuine passion for what they do.

I also really, really valued my nice* teammates. In a competitive world, niceness is totally underestimated. Being nice led to more productive discussions, greater exploration of ideas, and overall better bonding as humans.


*Being nice is not to be confused with being overly accommodating, or the inability to be assertive. It means being considerate, thoughtful, and open-minded.

Jenny GanComment
Staying ahead of the curve

I'm trying not to become obsolete, even though my skills might. 

(This post is brought to you by my anxiety after reading one too many AskReddit threads about skills that will no longer be needed in the near future, mostly because of robots.)

The skills I'm referring to are the more traditional forms of design (like print) and the use of older software (like Photoshop versus Sketch). I know they'll be relevant for at least a while longer, but the digitization of ~everything~ is making me a little antsy. So the question becomes: How do I adapt?

A yearnin' for learnin'

I've had a rocky relationship with education. As a kid, I did well in class because I thought it was just what I was supposed to do. At magnet schools, I hated learning because of the competitive environment. Then I entered my angsty late-teens, and I used knowledge to feel like I was smarter and better than others - basically, a means to hide my insecurities. College was an improvement, though peppered with procrastination and all-nighters.

Recently I've been trying to develop a healthier and more practical relationship with learning. The truth is, learning becomes so much more reliant on self-motivation, regardless of whether it is career- or passion-driven (or both).

My Inspiration

In college, a professor showed our class some of her design work. She said she made it all in Quark (cue crickets - none of us had ever touched Quark). She told us that she had studied and used Quark for years, and then suddenly everyone was using Adobe InDesign and Illustrator. The industry shifted and she had no choice but to adapt.

My parents, who both work in IT, also studied on their own to get better at their jobs - my mom used to study for her Oracle certification while I did my homework across the table from her. But they also spend time learning things that they're interested in, irrelevant to their careers. My dad will literally teach himself how to do anything - play musical instruments, code a website, construct a functioning wooden paddleboard, etc. My mom, for some mysterious reason, loves finance, and studies relentlessly in her free time so she can help low-income, immigrant, and senior folks with their taxes every spring. It's given me the impression that knowledge makes you unstoppable; you can learn how to do anything you want. And best of all, it makes you a better and more enriched person.

It's Never Too Late

There are a lot of people I look up to, even design students younger than me. Sometimes I feel like I'm behind the curve. But I've had the recent revelation that I am not at all limited to admiration - I have the ability be just as skilled as these people. I want to be resourceful, I want to be self-reliant, I want to be tech-savvy, I want to make great stuff. And so I will. 

With that in mind, I've been spending some weekday evenings cozying up with Codecademy and trying out Sketch. I made the trek to Arlington for a workshop on Agile/Scrum (organized by AIGA DC, hosted by Deloitte Digital, assembled with Lego bricks). My most recent lettering series, Fear Not, has also taught me a lot

It feels good to learn and it feels even better to enjoy it. 

This blog post isn't meant to be a humblebrag, and I definitely don't want come off as preachy. I truly just don't want to be left in the dust. This is as much motivated by self-interest as it is a reminder to my peers who, like me, feel intimidated by other designers and by the rapid pace at which technology advances. What's the harm in trying new things? Maybe I'll find out I have a knack for coding or something. And even if I don't, at least I'll know that much more about it.


Jenny GanComment

I attended the HIMSS 2017 conference last week in Orlando. It was a real doozy.

HIMSS stands for Health Information and Management Systems Society. I really never expected to work so closely with health IT, but that's life, right? And especially so as an employee of a small company that's flexible enough to serve different industries. While I learned so, so much about competitors in healthcare, interoperability, patient engagement, EMPIs, EHRs, and so on and so forth - what I want to focus on here is booth design.

You Can't Handle the Booth

I was definitely not prepared for the level of creativity that some teams were able to accomplish at a health IT conference. HIMSS17 was my first conference and my naïveté led me to believe I would only see cool flyers and backdrops, and maybe some interesting signage.

For those that may not know (aka me one week ago), companies buy floor space and then they can do almost whatever they want with it. This building was massive - a mile long, high ceilings, and basically a maze beyond the main pathway. Unfortunately, it's pretty expensive to buy space. But that means the big players have really fascinating areas to explore.

The whole thing was surreal. Some booths were insanely intricate, like Salesforce's. They had you completely immersed in their "trailblazer" woodland creature theme, complete with bird noises and mascots. Other booths really tied themselves to a metaphor, like InTouch Health. They argued, "Why spend the time and resources to learn how to do something, when we've already perfected it for you?" (Their booth, designed to look like a bakery, gave out gourmet cupcakes and was decorated with the scattered remnants of a failed baking attempt). Other areas were straight up a Pinterest fantasy, like IBM Watson Health's floating squares of greenery and white furniture. 

Photos by Allie Kibby

Photos by Allie Kibby


Other booths, while more conventionally modern, clean-cut, and tech-centered, were still amazing. They were like little glimpses into the future. Small booths such as ours fought a little harder for attention. But creativity still prevailed - I remember the small group that wore coordinated scrubs, and the other company that made its entire booth area into a space-themed dome. Our booth - 10'x10', the smallest size available - had a bright blue backdrop, and people thought it stood out as a soothing visual break from our content-rich surroundings.

Our booth was still a bit too small to pull off a dome, sadly.

Our booth was still a bit too small to pull off a dome, sadly.


There is SO much that goes into booth design. You have to strategically designate space for demos, meetings, and games or entertainment (if you have it). We spent days just trying to decide on the right chairs to buy. Everything is tied to your brand image and memorability, and it all has to be executed well because your neighbor probably has a better raffle giveaway or flashier TV screens. How do you pull someone in when they quickly glance your way? How do you make it easy for them to understand your product/service? This is the entire design challenge: try to stand out in a crowd of 40,000 people with limited resources.

In Retrospect...

I have to admit that although I loved creating the space for BMore, I never thought I would be able to apply those skills to anything else unless I actually worked for a museum. Little did I know, it would be extremely relevant, even as a designer for a tech company that operates in the healthcare industry.

HIMSS17 was a fantastic experience. It was an event that I didn't know I wanted to attend until I actually did. Seeing other booths has shown me what's possible with some bigger thinking (but also bigger budgets), and has me excited to make more compelling spaces. Here's to attending more conferences!

Jenny GanComment
Fear Not - Reflection

I designed something every day for 15 days. I *had* five design fears, and by forcing myself to embrace them, learned some very important things. 

  1. Bézier curves and manual digitization of pieces is difficult but rewarding. I still have to practice a lot. Also, now I feel extra sleazy when I click "Image Trace."
  2. I really like bright red-orange. This is a big milestone for my monotone/blue-accented self.
  3. Bounce lettering, previously thought to be "basic" and too Pinterest-y, is super fun and I want to fill entire sketchbooks with it (but I need better brush pens).
  4. My 6 year old Wacom Bamboo tablet is sadly inadequate, and I would love to have a better one; but drawing with pen & paper is always good for the soul.
  5. I struggled the most with my fears of imbalance/asymmetry and color - so I'll continue working on it.

During this project, one of my biggest dilemmas was my overarching fear of imperfection. I had a couple of stressful moments, including some late nights fueled by frustration with a design. Sometimes I felt like I wasn't able to combine the right colors, and other times I felt like I was cutting corners by using typefaces and not hand drawn letters. More than once, it felt like my Instagram aesthetic was permanently scarred. But, fortunately, I was able to remind myself that it's all just an experimental project, and not worth losing sleep over. Yes, the designs were very important - but only to me and my growth, not my "image." 

Another major obstacle was my commitment to this daily series while the world around me descended into chaos. As a designer, I feel like I really need to develop a voice, instead of regurgitating cute phrases. Navigating political waters is tricky, but as the series continued, I felt more and more guilty for writing about trivial things like ribbon banners instead of the Women's March or Trump's immigration ban. I don't know how, but I'll try to address more real issues in the future. 

That all being said, you can look at all the pieces here or on my Instagram account.


Jenny GanComment
Fear Not

I've been meaning to address a couple of my design fears and there's no better time than now. For a while, I've had the nagging thought that perhaps my "personal style" wasn't anything more than reluctance to leave my comfort zone. While I certainly love my neutrals and my #0000FF, I also want to grow as a designer and see what else I can create. 

So, I made a list of things I tend to avoid. And along with each one, I've come up with a corresponding design resolution. 


1. Filling up all the space


I fell victim to the minimalist fad. I fell hard. The style isn't necessarily bad overall, but I have gotten extremely, unacceptably comfortable with it. It's an easy formula: a small, clean object (could be a lettering piece, or that really instagrammable cup of coffee) set atop white paper, white bedsheets, white wall, or some other pleasant solid color, et cetera. 

Resolution: embrace the overwhelming sensation of filling a space. Busy patterns, chaotic clutter, more words, more illustrations - why not?



2. Color

Warm colors are sadly neglected :(

Warm colors are sadly neglected :(

It's pretty damn obvious from my Instagram that I gravitate towards neutrals and blues. They're a breeze to work with, and they have personal importance to me. But then I look at my role models and their incredible use of color (looking at you, J. Walsh), and I wonder what I'm missing out on. I don't need to copy other designers, but maybe I should examine their work more closely for inspiration.

Resolution: experiment with all sorts of colors, regardless of how they fit into my "aesthetic." Maybe after some exploration, I can incorporate colors into my existing style for a New and Improved Style. 



3. Imperfect Work


I'm afraid to post sketches. I doodle quite a bit, but I almost never want to share them. If I try a new skill, like calligraphy, I'll practice for a while before showcasing it. In fact, I'll put off an entire series because sometimes the thought of perfecting 5-7 drawings can be too daunting. This is probably a result of societal pressure to portray your ideal self vs. real self - and I admit to curating my social media. But there is a fine line between putting forth a professional personal brand, and just being a fake person. I want to find my balance.

Resolution: share my progress, discoveries, and fun drawings with people. Be more ~real~ and enjoy the design process!



4. Asymmetry or Imbalance

You're not Wes Anderson... stop it.

You're not Wes Anderson... stop it.

Symmetrical compositions come naturally to me. It was taught to me, it was practiced for years, and it is almost always pleasing to the eye. But the best artists achieved their success by breaking the rules. It's silly that I know that, but haven't done anything about it.

Resolution: make something wonky, bulbous, or crooked. Stop center-aligning everything (but also stay far away from flush left Helvetica).




5. Clichés

*Not my best piece for several reasons, but I stand by the phrase.

*Not my best piece for several reasons, but I stand by the phrase.

I have not been able to fully avoid clichés, but I always feel a little tacky when I use a corny saying or write inside ribbon banners. Of course I strive to create unique and innovative designs, but there's no reason to fear the tried and true. Besides, a good designer can take a cliché and transform it into something amazing. No one is expected to produce 100% original content, if there even is such a thing. 

Resolution: when drawing something "clichéd", say to myself: "I love lettering and as long as I love what I do, it doesn't matter if it's been done before." [note: this doesn't mean plagiarizing]




Now, most of these design fears apply to my personal art. I've been forced to overcome some of these fears in my professional work environment - which is good - but I with personal projects I always fall back into old, comfortable habits. My next lettering series (No. 5) begins next week and will address each of these five fears. Keep up with it on my Instagram!

Jenny Gan Comments
I drew this the morning of my first day at work. Summer breaks are officially no longer a part of my life.

I drew this the morning of my first day at work. Summer breaks are officially no longer a part of my life.


My first non-freelance job out of college is with a young tech company. I'm an in-house designer and marketing manager (well, I manage approximately one person). It's been a grand total of two weeks and there is a lot on my plate. 

This metaphorical plate holds a heaping meal of marketing, design, public relations, research, editing, copywriting, managing, vague emails, and unanswered questions. I didn't expect to be served this many things - especially things I've never done before - but it's exciting to be given so much responsibility and freedom. 

I'll be the first to admit that sometimes I get lazy, I procrastinate, and I slack off, especially when I see that there is room to do so. One of the reasons why I chose this job over other opportunities is that I knew I would be thrust into a position where I couldn't cut corners. In fact, I have to take initiative on almost every single thing I do. It's all very new to me but I think I am getting the hang of it. I can already tell that this experience will allow me to flourish into the fearless and capable person I want to be.

And at the end of the day, I'm with friendly people and a Harris Teeter within walking distance. Good enough for me. I'm gonna learn a lot!


Jenny GanComment
Layar Up, It's Chilly in Seattle

Back in March, I spent one heavenly week in Seattle, and I could probably write fifty blog posts about my experiences there. But I'll skip over the food and travel stuff and tell you about one of my favorite visits: the Seattle Art Museum, or SAM, and its Kehinde Wiley exhibit titled A New Republic. Unfortunately, this exhibit ended on May 8th, but perhaps my experience will help you see how wonderful it was.

The content of the exhibit itself was thought-provoking, culturally relevant, and visually stunning. Most importantly, the exhibit provided a platform for a conversation about race, identity, empowerment, and the meaning of portraiture. I enjoyed it immensely and learned so much.

Upon arrival, signs and brochures encourage visitors to download an app called Layar. The app allows users to scan images (in this case, Wiley's paintings) with their phone's camera. After a quick scan, small, blue expand buttons appear on the screen, aligned with specific elements of the painting. These buttons are "sticky" and seem to stay on the painting, even when users move their cameras. Unfortunately, this means that visitors can't put down their phone as they tap on the buttons to explore further into the artwork's meaning. 

I have always been a fan of art museums, but I understand my friends' gripes about not being able to understand the meaning behind each and every painting. This app is able to explain the small details in an accessible way without disturbing the actual artwork or the physical space around it. 

Incorporating phones was also a smart move. Cell phones are on our bodies at all times, and to embrace this fact rather than to reject it makes this exhibit all the stronger. Each visitor also had some level of control with this app. This freedom is rare in a museum, where visitors usually only follow what is programmed or installed.

Lastly, there was a notable amount of person-to-person interaction. Visitors consulted each other to figure out how to use the app, and ended up sharing the experience in some way. 

This app really improved the human experience and the way we absorb information. It made learning a lot more fun, engaging, and memorable. Although it wasn't perfect - not everyone has a smartphone, and it may not have been the most intuitive app - I believe that, in the end, people became more receptive to the artist's messages. 

Jenny GanComment
Fear, Excitement, Dread, and Hope

Every spring, Portfolio Review Day (PRD) is anticipated by design students with fear, excitement, dread, and hope. This event is AIGA UMD's biggest one each year, and it's also my biggest source of pride. 

Design by Cheri Wang

Design by Cheri Wang


With the help of my most magnificent vice president Sarah Palmer and board of officers, we pulled off an amazing event with over 20 designers from Washington, D.C. and nearby areas. First- and second-year design students met for one-on-one sessions with reviewers; portfolios were critiqued, business cards and resumes changed hands, and so much coffee was consumed. 

At UMD's Stamp Student Union; photo by Jenny Gan

At UMD's Stamp Student Union; photo by Jenny Gan


Portfolio Review Day is special to me for many reasons. I participated in PRD 2015 as a nervous wreck of a first-year design student, but what I got out of it was valuable feedback, much needed practice for professionalism, and lasting relationships with designers that I now look up to. I wanted to provide a similar experience to students this year, because there is so much about a design career that can't be taught in a classroom.

For me, planning, executing, and participating in this event was an experience that I will forever value. Also, my portfolio is far from perfect, so I want to thank all the rad designers that took the time to talk with me and help me improve it. 

Jenny GanComment