Product Designer at Facebook
What can I say about Joanna? Well first she is a Product Designer at Facebook and she recently joined the Events Team.
I remember the first time I met her, she was so curious about life, people... everything. She's inspiring because she is so talented, interesting and authentic but yet she does not even notice because she's SO humble.
She likes to define herself as a "Chronic sleep talker" and we share the love for sweets and board games. What a girl!
Can you describe your path to become a designer
I remember I drew this poster in 3rd grade for our holiday party that year. I spent HOURS on this thing, lovingly drawing and decorating every single puffy letter. When I arrived to school I proudly presented it to my teacher, who then pointed out I had drawn
“M E R R Y C H R I S M A S”
She suggested that I squeeze the missing “T” in, and for the next week I nearly had a mental breakdown every time I looked at the poster knowing that it looked off balance. I had all this internal 3rd-grader angst knowing things weren’t pixel perfect. So, I think I was a budding designer even then.
Even so, I was never particularly encouraged to pursue it. I ended up studying Psychology at school. On the side, I started doing these horrifically bad personal websites (that I naturally thought were awesome at the time) with a pirated copy of Photoshop. I had a few key people encourage me to pursue design as a side job at school, but even after a few years of that I still didn’t think I would ever become a designer after I graduated.
Eventually I had that moment of reality that a lot of liberal arts majors have, that I had done a degree that could lead me nowhere but more academia. In a panic, I decided to go traveling for a few years and spent quite a bit of time waffling over what I was going to do when I got home. I even spent six months working towards becoming a tax preparer (the duration of which my soul pretty much keeled over and died) before I finally gave myself permission to pursue design.
I gave myself four months to get a job in design, otherwise I was going to go back to school. Luckily somebody took a chance on me.
"Design scratches a few main areas I’m interested in: problem solving, beautiful things, and in a way, how people work."
You’re currently a product designer at Facebook. Would you say that designing is your dream job?
I don’t know why this is such a hard question to answer. I’d say in a lot of ways yes, and in other ways no. Design scratches a few main areas I’m interested in: problem solving, beautiful things, and in a way, how people work. I think if I didn’t have that in my job I would probably have quit a long time ago.
That being said, there are so many interesting things in the world that I’m curious about, I’d feel silly saying anything was my “dream job”. I would do a million other things if I simply had more time to pursue them.
How/when did you realize that designing was part of your destiny?
I don’t think there was any particular inflection point or moment of realization. It was a long and slow evolution, filled with many years of, admittedly, feeling lost. But I did notice that throughout my life the things that I loved doing and talking about were always connected by the same theme of trying to understand myself, especially in relation to other people.
I started out like a lot of other people, as a graphic designer doing brand and print work, but I was always so fundamentally unhappy. Some of it was because I was working for terrible companies with terrible managers, but in retrospect it was also probably because I was missing the human element of product design. When I shifted to product design all my work became infinitely more interesting.
Do you have another super secret passion?
Can I say sleeping? Does that sound absolutely horrible? It does, doesn’t it. I feel like I’m supposed to be hip enough to have some other obscure but completely fascinating life outside of my job (beekeeping! triathlete! aspiring magician!), but I’m lame and uninteresting, so sleeping is probably my #1 hobby. That makes me sound horribly lazy, but I just think almost all problems are more manageable with a glass of water and a good nap. Proper hydration and being well-rested goes a long way.
Who was your favorite superhero/villain growing up? Why?
Rogue from X-Men. She was uber strong, she could fly, and she had a boyfriend she couldn’t touch, the suspense of which utterly captivated me as a child. Go figure.
I actually never really analyzed why she was my favorite, but looking back now I’m sure it resonated with me that she was one of the stronger, more effective characters on the show. I hated that characters like Jubilee were useless and constantly had to be saved by the other characters. Like, you have goddamn fireworks coming out of your hands, JUST DO SOMETHING ALREADY! DO ANYTHING FOR CHRISSAKES!
You know that Batman has his Batcave and Superman his Fortress of Solitude. What's your favorite place/environment to do what you love?
I LOVE working from home. So much so that it’s practically unhealthy.
Let’s just say becoming a hermit is not out of the realm of possibilities if Facebook didn’t require us to be in office. It helps that my apartment has lots of windows and a lot of bright natural light, but I just get so much done without anybody else around to distract me. Some people work better and pull energy from having their team around them, but I work super efficiently when given chunks of time in isolation. I also love that I can wear pajamas and an ugly sweater all day and have nobody judge me. If only I could transport Facebook’s microkitchen to my house, then my Joannacave would be complete!
Do you have a favorite object, like a lucky charm or something that really matters to you?
I used to say to myself “If my house was on fire and I could only grab one thing, I would grab my passport and run out”. After college I took almost two years off, and then another year off a few years later to travel all over the world. I’ve never done anything as life and perspective changing as those two long term trips. Perhaps it was because I travelled during some of the more formative years of my life that those experiences still have a persistently strong impression on me, but for a long time my passport was THE MOST valuable piece of property I had. I look at it now from time to time and it serves as my totem to remind me of being humble, living simply, and to try my best to have perspective that the little things really don’t matter.
Admittedly, the one time I thought I was actually in a fire, I grabbed my glasses and ran outside in my pajamas and totally forgot the passport in my drawer. *facepalm*
What superpower do you wish you had and why?
I wish I could slow down or stretch time. Time is truly the only currency that I wish I had more of and that you can’t earn more of. Like I said earlier, there are so many things I would do if I simply had more time.
A close second would be teleportation, just because I could travel endlessly and see more countries much more efficiently. I wouldn’t even have to pack a bag (no more of those goddamned travel-sized toiletries!), and whenever I got tired I could just go home and sleep in my own bed.
What is your personal Kryptonite?
Sweets. Chocolate. Cheesecake. All of the above (except bread pudding).
Oh, and the organic Barbara’s Cheese Puffs at work. They are basically the hippie equivalent of Cheetos, so you can almost pretend that they are okay for you, but in reality you're still eating junk.
"It’s hard being genuinely yourself, and only a few brave people successfully do it, no matter the consequences."
Who would you choose as a sidekick to fulfill your passion for design in the real life. Why?
This is cheating a little bit, but I pretty much need a person that is the exact complement to myself. The designers I most often look up to are the ones that are really good at something that I feel I’m weak at. Sometimes it’s just that they are better at expressing their ideas in a meeting or they are better at working with engineers. Whatever it is, if I had that person to be strong in the areas that I was weak in, we’d be unstoppable.
What is your definition of a modern hero?
I think in an increasingly digitally curated world, a modern hero to me is somebody who is really willing to be openly authentic. I appreciate a person who is willing to share their vulnerabilities, to really show that they are human and make mistakes and are unsure of themselves just like anybody else. It’s hard being genuinely yourself, and only a few brave people successfully do it, no matter the consequences. Show me that you struggled with something, that you grew in some way, that maybe you were humbled, and I’m much more willing to relate to and respect you.
I’m so tired of the excessive hero worship of designers that don’t seem do anything other than promote themselves and talk big. I know way too many mediocre designers that are praised simply because they are the loudest or most controversial, and too many great designers that nobody has ever heard of because they’re likely too busy doing good work
Can you name 3 persons who inspires you everyday? Your very own heroes.
1. My dad - His knowledge of the world is so broad and deep and he is still the person I go to when I have questions about "grown up life things". My curiosity, my love of travel, and my appreciation of art and a well-told story—they all come from him.
2. My mom - So funny, so resourceful, and so creative. My mom would always come up with creative solutions to the endless problems we had as children and really taught me to see problems from a different angle. I have so much respect for her coming over as a first generation immigrant and truly trying her best to give us as “American” of a childhood as she could. It was a thankless job, and I see so much of her in my success today.
3. I feel cheesy saying this, but Brandon, my soon to be husband. He embodies so much of what I wish I had in myself— he is perpetually positive, gives no fucks, and whenever I tell myself I can’t do something, is the person that always insists I can. I wouldn’t be where I am today professionally without him kicking me in the ass.
One more thing…Mask or Cape?
Cape. I get cold very easily.