Saturday, August 2, 2014

Being a part of Creative Career event at Art Center College of Design

I had fun at Art Center's Creative Career event. Sharing my story as one of their speakers brought a lot of positive side effects to me and my life as a part of Baum-kuchen (even though I was BEYOND nervous speaking).

So here are few highlights why I think everyone should speak and share if there is an opportunity:

1. Working up towards the event, I wrote my speech, put together the slides and practiced for a few days. The speech was all about how I got to where we are at with Baum-kuchen... and how important the journey has been for me. Just being close to the story throughout the month of July gave me so much creative fuel. Even though weeks leading up to the event was hectic and very busy for us, I worked on a lot of projects at Baum-kuchen to make our shipping/fulfillment process better (for us and for our customers). I was definitely pretty high on the creative energy:)

2. On the morning of the event, Satchi asked me if I was scared about speaking and I told her that I was very nervous. Her response? "Don't get scared, Mama. I will be there for you". That sentence... all coming out from herself... made me feel very proud of her. How sweet she was and confident about our bond as a family. Frido sneaked in the auditorium with Satchi and Coco during my speech and Satchi was able to hear the story. Our family was so much a part of the story... and it was so special that we were all there together.

3. Bryce and Demetrius who spoke before and after my presentation were seriously inspiring. I loved hearing their stories and was so happy to be a part of such a great creative community at Art Center.

What is the definition of “Creative Career”.

Creative Career is not about how much money we make, what kind of business card we carry… or even… how much our work evolves around creative tasks. I believe Creative Career is about crafting our life -including our career- to be as fulfilling as possible using our creativity and imagination.

I work as a co-founder of a boutique lifestyle brand Baum-kuchen. As importantly… I am a wife and a mother of two little sunshines.

I started my Art Center education in 2003 after finishing community college and spending a few years at SCI-Arc, an architectural school in downtown LA. The following 4 years at Art Center was my time for a soul search. I spent early part of my education in Transportation Major because I felt that the spatial quality of cars related more to what I studied at SCI-Arc. Eventually I switched to Product Design Major to finish my education. During those four years, I learned to work hard on projects I believed in, translate critiques into a productive feedback, overcome peer competition and learned to trust myself.

I wouldn’t describe those years as easy college days… but those years truly shaped who I have become today. 

When I started Art Center, I did not come in with a great skill of sketching. It wasn’t easy to put my out of perspective car drawings next to my classmates’ beautiful renderings. My Transportation Design teachers would often say, “Your concept is interesting… BUT your drawing really sucks. You really need to work harder.” I knew I had interesting ideas but everyone had difficult time seeing through my drawings. After getting fed up by same feedback, I told myself that I would bury myself in the sketching classes until I get just enough. Enough so that people can actually start talking about my ideas instead of how terrible they looked. The following year was filled with markers, underlines, and tracing papers.

During those nights when I was working on my homework, I would often ask myself… what is my strength? What makes me different from other classmates? It definitely wasn’t sketching.

My strength was having sensitivity to users’ needs and telling a story. So once I got my sketching skill under the belt, I put all my efforts in learning how to dig deeper into research to understand users I was designing for and finding creative ways to communicate so that the stories I told through the project touched people’s hearts. After few semesters, things started to shift during my presentation. I finally started to get constructive feedback on my designs.

That was my turning point.

Eventually my focus on design research became far from what the core offering of Transportation Design was so I requested to switch my major to Product Design. I also didn’t want to wait for perfect projects to fall on my lap to gain design research knowledge I was looking for so I started initiating a series of Independent Study projects during the last year of Art Center. It was definitely a risk not to follow a standard curriculum because it could have meant that I was not able to get a design job after graduation but somehow I knew that I needed to follow my gut and if I became job-less after graduation, at least I knew that I followed my heart…

I am forever thankful for teachers who have mentored me during the time even though I was different. They guided me to find my voice and supported me to get through some of the toughest moments at Art Center. My graduation show looked very different from everyone else’s in Product Design. It was whimsical, story-based and all about thinking process.

I did find a job soon after graduation as a design researcher. The position was followed by a series of freelance projects and other job opportunities.

When I hit my 3rd anniversary of graduation, I was commuting weekly to Seattle to work with Teague, one of the oldest Industrial Design firm in the U.S. I was their trend analyst. I loved working with a team of designers at Teague. They were thoughtful, creative and open minded for insights I hoped to share. We worked on high-end consumer electronics, next generation medical devices… to conceptual airplane interiors. I was also teaching at Art Center focusing on design research. My life was definitely very full. 

Then I found out that we were expecting our first child. I knew I wanted to continue working after having a baby and I wanted to be involved in my kid’s life everyday not before and after my full time work hours… That became a motivation to re-invent myself.

One thing I noticed and was frustrated when I was sharing trend insights to big companies… was that it was really hard for them to bring a true personal touch to what they did. I was na├»ve but I really wanted to make a difference in real people’s lives…

So I opened a shop. I launched my online shop, Baum-kuchen a week before Satchi was born. First few years of Baum-kuchen are bit blurry to me. I continued to consult as a trend researcher… working from home while figuring out how to care for a newborn baby. After Satchi’s bedtime was my chance to pour my heart into Baum-kuchen. I wanted Baum-kuchen to become an online brand that was warm and inspiring unlike Amazon. 

First 3-4 months, I probably sold less than five items. But I kept sharing my inspiration on the blog and continued to expand our product line up… Slowly words got out. Bloggers started talking about Baum-kuchen, customers were sharing their Baum-kuchen experiences on YouTube video, and the items we were carrying got featured on magazines. It was a slow process but we were growing one shipment at a time.

After a year of try and error, I had a burning desire to translate our online world into a physical space. I always dreamt of opening a brick and mortar but I also knew we weren’t quite there yet. But that did not stop me.

I was able to afford booth fee at local markets and create unique pop-up shop. I had no experience putting together a pop-up store but I told myself… it’s just like Art Center projects. Tell stories of the artifacts using props that were easy to transport. I used every pop-up shop opportunity to gain insights about products, display ideas and customers’ hearts. It was “a real project” that pulled all my strength from past experiences. Eventually Baum-kuchen became more than I could tackle during Satchi’s nap time so I decided to leave consulting work as well as my teaching position at Art Center to focus on Baum-kuchen.   

Two years into Baum-kuchen I found out that we were expecting another little one. During my second pregnancy, I pushed Baum-kuchen quite a bit. Maybe it was a part of competitive DNA I got from my Art Center days… but the harder the challenges were, the more I wanted to go after. I didn’t want to slow down just because I was pregnant.

Frido – my partner in crime at home and Baum-kuchen- and I went through an extensive branding exercise to create a new look to Baum-kuchen as well as developed our first few original products to share on our online store.

When Coco was born, I took a month off and closed the shop completely for the first time in 3 years. Closing the shop meant no business but it was important to me that no matter how much I loved Baum-kuchen, family always came first. After the month off, I slowly started working with minimum operational tasks between sleepless nights.

Even though those days were difficult, it gave me a chance to step back from everyday tasks of the shop and dream big… one of which was to open a brick and mortar store. So I started looking around for the commercial space to rent… telling myself that I would be smart by having a head start on the research.

Dreaming… maybe we could rent a space when Coco turns one. 

Of course… life doesn’t work the way we plan. I came across a rental space on Craiglist that spoke to my heart. It was not realistic to open a storefront when Coco was only two months old… but I went to see the space in person “just in case”… and the moment I saw it, I knew that we were meant to be there.

Today Baum-kuchen is an online brand with a brick and mortar space. We make and curate artifacts that are functional as well as beautiful… and most importantly artifacts that can withstand the time and usage. I work 4 days/week in the studio. Everyday I use my design skills I learned from Art Center to make Baum-kuchen a better place. I work really hard on those days at the studio but I keep the other time with my girls special because my family is truly a source of inspiration.

I recently received an email from our customer saying how much she enjoys taking a part of Baum-kuchen adventure through reading our blogs and receiving items from us. I started Baum-kuchen four years ago with a hope of bringing something special to people’s lives and I am very thankful for our Baum-kuchen community including our customers and our creative partners to make the dream come true.

So whether you decide to attend Art Center for your design career… or chose another path to move forward in life… I believe that a creative life and career is really up for you to grab. Don’t let the society or circumstances tell you what you can or can not do… but instead… go after your dream one step at a time and MOST IMPORTANTLY... bring smiles to you and to the people around you along the way


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