Squiggles Inspired by Rose
Three months ago I quit my job to set my sights on a new career. I felt my momentum slipping away in my previous career and decided it was the right time to refocus my energy. With little information on what UX (user experience) design was, I enrolled in an expensive and intensive bootcamp with the hopes of coming out with a new marketable skill that would land me a fulfilling job. I spent the weeks before starting the bootcamp learning as much as I thought possible about UX. I listened to Don Norman podcasts, played around with Adobe XD, and googled the best UX designers to follow on linkedin and medium.
I went full speed ahead in my bootcamp. I was a student like I had never been before. I texted my boyfriend on the first day telling him I had asked a question in class. I took extensive notes, I engaged with the teachers and tried to encourage other students. I spent endless hours on our class projects, trading off a finished coffee for a hot one, staring at the computer until my head hurt, sifting through notes and iterations, begging family members for user interviews, covering the walls with stickies, and recording myself practicing my presentations and then listening to those recordings while in the shower. The weeks flew by and I was proud of myself, I hung on to my instructors every word practicing the concepts like mantras: “UX everything.” “For whom, to do what, in what context?” “Shine the light on the ugly part.” “How might we…”
With three weeks left in the course we began our final projects “client projects.” I was finally going to get the opportunity alongside my group to put everything I’d spent the last few months learning into practice. We met our clients, we began scheduling our user interviews, we were affinity mapping everything. Then, Sunday night going into our second week of the project I got a phone call that changed everything.
Everything stopped. I threw my phone. I couldn’t breath. I started weeping. I ran into the bathroom and threw up. And then I sat there next to the toilet, stunned. Rose was my cousin, my best friend. We grew up together. We lived in the same building for the last three years. We shared everything, beyond all of our countless hours together, stories about boys, new brands we discovered, oat milk, an amazon account, passwords, house keys, the name “Rose”… I couldn’t begin to understand how Rose couldn’t be here anymore.
I didn’t know what to do with myself. I remembered how I’d never missed a day of school when my dad died 7 years ago during my undergrad so I thought I’d try to do the same thing. The next morning my boyfriend pulled me out of bed and dressed me in sweatpants and a hoodie. He made me coffee and apologized profusely for leaving me as he went to work. I picked up one of my cats and made my way over to my computer and dialed into the zoom meeting for class. The morning ritual began, how we started off every class. Everyday the cohort would take turns sharing a prompt to which we would all respond, the idea to get us all in sync with each other, wake our brains up while we finish up our morning coffee and prepare to dive into the work day. The prompt was about Christmas, something like, “what do you and your family do for Christmas?” I slammed my computer shut. How was I going to type about what my family and I do (or don’t do) for Christmas? Rose was dead. Last year Rose loudly sang a prayer while the rest of us pretended to know the words as we lit the menorah at her parents Hanukkah party. We drank wine and I took photos of her squeezing her parents dogs.
I took the rest of the day off and went to Rose’s parent’s house. I sat with my family members and Rose’s best friends. We walked around Hancock park like I used to do with Rose. We passed by Rose’s favorite body care store on Larchmont. We returned to her parents house. We all sobbed and tried to sit 6 feet apart and not hug. I stared into the fire keeping us warm in Rose’s parents backyard. It was the same fire-pit Rose used to use in our backyard when she would sometimes have small parties. When Rose would introduce me to all of her friends as her “Fabulous Cousin Lenny Bean” and I would try to be as sociable as possible while I glued to the one or two familiar faces there and found my way to the fire-pit which always seemed like a good mask for my social anxiety.
As we all sat around the fire-pit now, we took turns between sobs reciting stories about Rose. Trying to piece together the last few months and how we got to the place we were at today. Someone would share a snippet from something interesting that happened a few years ago or a few weeks ago. Something Rose said or did. The way she acted. If she was sleeping or wasn’t sleeping. What medications she was on. Who she was talking to at what point about what.
I started to see that when someone dies from suicide everyone wants to piece everything together. To make sense out of an otherwise senseless situation. Everyone wants to figure out what they could have done differently. Trying to gauge Rose’s pain points and discern the delta between what we all saw Rose as: this amazing, colorful, full of life human. And what Rose was living with: the dark hidden stones buried beneath the moss, the depressive swing in a bipolar episode. As I looked around the fire pit I could see everyone tortured with despair, guilt and questions. How might we have prevented this from happening?
I’m sure there’s a million hypotheses. If you went around the fire and asked everyone they would probably have a different answer — or 100 different answers. An answer pertaining to their own guilt. To something they could have done differently, replaying the last conversation they had, or their missed opportunity to step in and make everything better. After hours around the fire it was time to leave. I called my mom that night and spoke with her about everything that happened that day. And again, it felt like another round of detective. Going over the details trying to find answers.
I knew I had to be back in class the next day. Again my boyfriend pulled me out of bed, I threw on my hoodie, chugged my coffee, wiped my tears and dialed into zoom. The morning ritual was about time travel. “If you could go backward or forward in time where would you go?” I wanted to answer something along the lines of my hypothesis to how I would save Rose: “I would have gotten around to writing her that letter when she was hospitalized.” “I would have called her that second I saw she got out of the hospital and asked to see her.” “I would have gone back to the last time she came by to pick up a package and give her a hug, made some tea and asked her how she was doing.” Or I would have just gone back to another time with Rose all together: “I would go back to when we were ten and danced to that song from Princess Diaries.” “I would go back to when we were 13 and roommates at CSSSA and gabbed about the boy I kissed that day.” “I would go back to a few months ago when she asked me if I wanted to go to HMart with her and make myself un-busy”… I ended up sharing something about going back to the renaissance and taking baths…
Over the next two weeks I barely slept. I stared at the screen until my brain froze. Every few hours I turned off my camera and sobbed for a few minutes and then went back onto zoom. My boyfriend force fed me soup, and at the end of my 16 hour days he made me apple cider with whiskey. I continued to work with my group. A lot of UX is finding out where the problem lies with the user, and then coming up with a solution to the user’s problem. Our group’s research found a deeper problem than we initially anticipated and we worked towards a solution. We expanded who we wanted to interview, we made complicated blueprints defining where the current gaps were and how we could fill those gaps. We led a design studio, trying out solutions to the problem, knowing that there were various obvious ways that we could attempt to solve the problem, and then asking ourselves, “how else?”
Any free second I had I thought of Rose. I thought of Rose’s parents and brothers and best friends. I thought of all of us close to her. The impact she had made on all of our lives. And the impact she will continue to make on all of our lives. All of the incredible experiences Rose gave to everyone she came in contact with. I wondered if and when we would all stop questioning ourselves. Would we stop analyzing every second with her? Would we stop trying to go back to that moment where we hypothesized maybe we could have stopped this from happening? Even with a deeper understanding of Rose’s illness would we be able to stop shining the light on the ugly parts and focus on the delightful parts? When will we stop trying to see where the problem lies so that we can solve for the solution?
The solution can’t be saving Rose and as time passes my hunch is that we will better understand that. The solution to Rose’s mental illness isn’t to go back in time. An understanding of Rose’s last months, days, and moments may never come and that is something that we will all have to come to terms with in our own ways.
For me, I can’t continue to UX Rose’s life. It’s not fair to her and it’s not fair to me. If the UX is, “For Rose, to live on…in what context?” The answer is abundantly endless. Rose will continue on through everyone that she met. Through the stories she shared with us, the food she made us, the laughter she brought us. Her mannerisms that you see within the people she held close. The roads we walked down with her, hiked with her, drove with her. The books she read, the podcasts she listened to. She left physical objects for us to hold onto. Her beautiful pillows, her ceramics, my wallet, the sweater I’m wearing right now…
We finished our final class project and were stoked with the result. We made a comprehensive presentation and created a thorough prototype. We designed an improved system to help people in need of childcare and people with available spots at their childcare facilities connect. In our final prototype we needed something to bring joy and color to our design. It was a white-lable design so we didn’t have a lot to work with, but the end design needed a little something extra. So I designed squiggles to insert onto all pages when a celebration took place, motivating the user to continue on. Cheerful squiggles on an otherwise simple design. Squiggles inspired by Rose.