Letter from the Editor: Six Degrees of Separation

I started my university career, I’m sure like most, very lost. I wasn’t lost because I didn’t know what I wanted to do or study. I was lost because I wanted to do everything. The idea of limiting myself to becoming well-versed in one subject, pointed in one direction, left much to be desired and I found it wholly unacceptable.

I was lost because I wanted to do everything.

After no less than five changes to my undergraduate degree program and three universities, I landed on International Studies with an emphasis on business. I will admit that initially it was kind of by default. I looked at what I had the most credits in and which degree program I could still achieve in my allotted four years. I did not want to be a ‘super senior’ – one who takes more than four years to graduate in the average US university system. Plus, I had to study abroad; it was a mandatory part of the program. I saw that as a definite bonus that tipped the scale on my indecisiveness.

A semester in Costa Rica where the food is delicious; the people are awesomely friendly; and the beaches are white, sandy and warm? Sign me up.

That semester changed my life.

What I saw and experienced made me want to change the world one person, one community, one village at a time.

I’d like to say that it was all sunshine and smiles and surfing, but it was exhausting – emotionally, mentally, and spiritually; it was thought provoking, heartbreaking, and definitely eye opening. We were not coddled; we did not experience the eco-tourism and the 5-star hotels. We were placed in homes with local families where hot water, the internet and sometimes even the electricity were hit and miss. Meals were simple and largely unvaried, consisting of rice and beans, and if you were lucky, a protein of some sort. When we traveled into the countryside or neighboring countries, depending on the community we were placed in, the water was undrinkable, bathing happened in a dirty river, and there was no such thing as toilet paper.

What I saw and experienced made me want to change the world one person, one community, one village at a time. I wanted to take on corruption, start clean water projects, vaccinate children, advocate for education, and teach women how to run their own small businesses.

Naive? Perhaps. Idealistic? Most definitely. But so began my journey seeking quality of life, not just for myself, but for anyone whose life I could touch.

Six years later, after just finishing up a post graduate degree in economic development I accidentally found myself in the world of design. I loved the thought of saving lives and making a difference in the world, but I’ll never forget the magnetic pull of a room full of iMacs, each loaded with Photoshop, Illustrator, and yes, Dreamweaver. My abrupt change in career focus was like a seismic shift, and I worried that my life wouldn’t be meaningful anymore; that I’d no longer being doing something “important,” but that’s because back in 2007, I didn’t understand what I’ve recently come to realize: we are all inextricably connected.

If I think about it on a surface level, of course we are all connected—family, friends, coworkers, the barista who makes your coffee, the person you see every morning on your train commute. Yes, we interact with people on a daily basis, but those interactions, whether they’re small and fleeting, in-depth and intense, or strictly online perhaps through something we’ve built or created, can and do ripple out and affect people we may never meet. These interactions affect quality of life.

Probably like a lot of you, quality of life to me is feeling secure in my finances, working at a job I enjoy and doing well at it, having adequate time for my family and friends, being able to escape and have "me" time when I need it, owning a home, having the freedom to pursue various hobbies and leisure activities, and making a difference in the world.

When I first made the jump to the design world, I worried about that last one - that I would not be making a powerful impact in the world, as a lot of what I do is tied to advertising and promotes consumerism - something which I more or less have a love / hate relationship with. But as I’ve grown in my career, it’s become more about what I can do to make my clients’ and their users’ lives easier - not just giving them something flashy or trendy, but truly solving problems for them, because if I can ease one aspect of their lives, I’m still idealistic enough to believe they’ll pay it forward and continue the cycle. If I go the extra mile to overhaul and streamline a user workflow by devising a city / state / country lookup via postal code that saves the user 12 seconds in filling out the address field on a form on their tablet, which cuts down on abandoned forms, thereby eliminating customer service calls by 20%, my client or their user might have more time in their day to start a company sponsored education endeavor in a third world country. One day, a child who may not otherwise received schooling becomes a doctor and travels to villages vaccinating against measles saving thousands of lives. Who knows what those children may do someday.

I’m still idealistic enough to believe they’ll pay it forward and continue the cycle.

Idealistic? Maybe. Impactful? Yes. In a world where we help each other pursue quality of life, it's doable as we are all intricately connected.

About the Author

Fellow Skrift co-founder and creative director, Erica Quessenberry travels as much as she can, so you'll probably run into her sooner or later. She's obsessed with improving the lives of others, mixology, and making things from scratch. Because she hates having spare time, she also fired up her own company, Studio RedDesigns where her UX / UI skills and other awesomeness are for hire, and was one of the main forces behind uWestFest: the annual North American Umbraco Festival, and is still a huge advocate.

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