Want to learn master the guitar? Want to record that album? Want to learn Python or Swift? Want to build a business? Want to run faster? Want to finish side projects?

Then do it. Do it when it’s raining. Do it when you’re tired. Do it between social events. Do it before work. Do it before you fall asleep. Do it when you’re bored of it. Do it when you’re feeling under the weather. Do it when other people don’t feel up to do. Do it when you’re unsure. Do it when you don’t want to do it. Do it when you don’t think you can anymore. Do it when you hate it. Just keep doing it. Don’t miss a day. Don’t make excuses. The journey is filled with discomfort. But don’t stop. Do it until you don’t even realize that you’re doing it. 

Then, someone will ask you “how did you do it?”

Just One Stroke

Back in July, I watched as a family walked by a canvas in the local park with the sign “Just one stroke” and stop. They hesitated for a moment and then walked over to the canvas. Everyone made one stroke and then left. It seems really simple – a painting where everyone gets one stroke. But the end result, an accumulation of colorful squiggles, is always a collaborative art event that spawns from curiosity and (sometimes unknown) creativity.

Inspired by the Just One Stroke project started by my friend Rob, I decided to set a canvas up in my office and see what would happen.

There’s always the glance. Oh hey! What’s that? And then the pause. Oh I see. And then the courage to walk up to the canvas. Hm…what stroke should I make? Some people don’t think about it. Others really struggle with the idea of leaving a mark. You only get one. Ok, I’m going to put it there. Next to that guy’s stroke. And then walking back just a little to see where the stroke fit within the whole painting. Cool, back to work.

There were people who completely ignored it, other people who only took to it after a coworker nudged them and some who were incredibly enthusiastic about participating once they realized what it was. The best interaction came from one engineer who told me: “This is cool. I’ve never even mixed paint before. Can you tell me how to much yellow and blue I should use to make green?”

Yep, I can.

Ode to “Old Devices”

“What is that?” The guy next to me on the plane exclaimed, staring at my iPod.

Yes, I still use my iPod classic when traveling, because it carries thousands of songs that I can listen to without having to drain battery or data from the more important devices. It essentially has one function, but it works really, really well. I had to explain all of this to my seat neighbor when he shook his head, vehemently disagreeing with me from the look on his face. The fact that I even carried an older device was clearly a crime to him.

Nevertheless, it occurred to me that I’ve had this reaction before when I see people carrying around flip phones. Don’t you want apps on your phone? At least for Maps or Weather?  The answer I often get it is “I can get around fine without it.”

The truth is, having a phone with limited functionality is still pretty functional. It allows you to constant people without aimlessly distracting you wherever you go. This has been discussed at length in other blogs and online magazines, but it really hit me in the face this past weekend.

I’m currently in Zurich, Switzerland on a business trip. On the way to the hotel, I found myself needing to check the reservation info. 5 minutes later, I was in another app browsing the news. The taxi stopped momentarily at a red stop during the trip, causing me to look up. Outside my window were charming bridges and canals. Pedestrians waited as the tram rolled by. The Swiss flag flew quietly in a number of stores. The city was in front of me.

I’m in Zurich, I thought to myself. Why am I looking at my phone instead of out my window?

Our mobile devices can do a lot for us, and for the most part, they help make information and tools more accessible. But they also cause us to seek out information when we don’t need to. When we have a 200 apps, we tend to spend time looking at the content inside them rather than outside in reality. It’s much too easy to keep scrolling, swiping and tapping.

In an age when we’re constantly connected through the web, having a single-function device sounds …like a relaxing time.

Month One


It was 7:30am. You could see the sun rays beaming through the palm trees and fun-colored lawn chairs. I was early, but there was already a line of about 30 people waiting to go inside Building 46. I walked over and chit chatted with a few of them. Around me were engineers, lawyers, teachers and a recruiter.

“How does a recruiter get hired?” Someone asked me out of earshot. I shrugged.

This was the start to a week-long orientation of a new job that comes with amenities that rival universities’ — a soccer field, tennis courts, free access to certain museums, massages, food all around and, most importantly, incredibly smart people.

My initial thoughts of being on campus were something akin to “This is a utopia. Everyone rides rainbow-colored bikes, there’s infinite free coffee and the weather is perfect every single day. This can’t be real.”

Then, it began — the funneling of information into my brain. Everyone spoke in acronyms and used words I didn’t know. The first two weeks were as much about gauging my whereabouts and expectations for work as they were about expanding my vocabulary. I tried to remember it all — the internal slang, people’s names, the different ongoing projects, the ways to install or receive x, y and z. I felt like I was being hurled through some version of the Large Hadron Collider.

It dawned on me that this experience would never truly end. Every day, there was more to learn and more things that I would be curious about. But it also became more manageable. I began to figure out where I was supposed to go and who I could talk to about various subjects. The panicked feeling of not knowing what was going on around me subsided and has been replaced with a steady hum of tasks and questions.

It’s been over a month now, since I’ve joined Google.

I’m working with a fantastic team of people who are thoughtful, friendly and open. They are also fiercely intelligent and push me to think with more focus about my work.

Unlike the small startups I had been a part of in the past, Google is teeming with people who I’ve never met before and some of whom I will never have the opportunity to meet. But it’s clear that people here want to create impact through their work.

It is ultimately about the work. The amenities are all you hear about when you’re looking in from the outside, but at the end of the day, the actual work I’m doing is most interesting to me. It’s my favorite part of being here and I can’t wait to see where it’ll go.

Simple and Practical Product Designs

As a former student of industrial design, it’s often fun to go back and study how other people are currently designing everyday objects around us to be easier to use. Below are a few good ones that I’ve stumbled upon recently.


The Bare Chair (Leano) by Nik Lorbeg – Design Boom | Ridiculously portable. Easy to make.

leano_portable_chair_2 leano_portable_chair_3 leano_portable_chair_5 leano_portable_chair_1leano_portable_chair_9

The Sticky Feet Flex Mount aka Gekkopod by Gal & Boaz Zucker | Works on any surface.

gekkopod_01 gekkopod_05

The 160 deg. Socket by Zhoucun Yu | Great for large plugs.


Red Line Shortcuts

These maps below are for my fellow Cambridge-Somerville residents who use the Red Line every day to travel south. It tells you exactly which train door to go through in order to reach the exit you’re looking for at your destination.

Please let me know if something isn’t correct. (mchenstudio @ gmail.com) Also feel free to email me if you know which doors to use for destinations outbound or for any stations south of South Station.

If you re-post this, make sure you link back to this page.

How to use the map:

The maps to South Station show the train as it would appear when you’re standing at the inbound platform facing the train. The train is traveling south to the right if you’re at Alewife, Harvard, Central and Kendall, and it’s traveling south to the left if you’re at Davis and Porter.

The stations are in geographical (chronological?) order.

Everything else should be self-explanatory.

Alewife Inbound (hi-res link)


Davis Inbound (hi-res link)


Outbound to Alewife (hi-res link) – not reflective of which side of the station you’re standing on. Left: front of train.


Update 1: The inbound platform at Harvard is to the right of the station. (Thanks mtrem225 on reddit.)

Update 2: The exit off by itself at Park St. is an emergency exit. (Thanks harbinger via email.)

Update 3: The Pearl St. exit at Central and the Main St. exit at Kendall are at the 2nd door of the front car. (Thanks DaWolf85 on reddit.)

Update 4: Thanks to Ross Benson for sending over outbound info.

Tuesday Thoughts about Hardware & Software

Once upon a time, iPhones fit in the palm of our hands. Holding and tapping anywhere was easy. The hardware never impeded you from using the software.

Now phones are mini tablets, but the software has stayed more or less the same. As a product designer who studied ergonomics in school, I occasionally find it strange that the two don’t always evolve together.

It creates some issues when performing certain actions like:

1) Taking a photo. Have you ever tried taking a phone of the sky with one hand? Try it. It’s hard to keep the phone steady while your thumb reaches for the camera button. Whenever this happens, I generally use the volume down button to take the photo instead. It’s because my thumb wants to be near the center of the screen or to the edge of it to keep it stable. It would actually be easier if the “trigger” button were on the top left and top right of the screen for either your left or right thumb.

2) Using Touch ID. Your thumb reaches for the center of the screen more easily than the bottom of the device.

What if the next Touch ID works by touching the screen rather than the home button? It would involve a lot of changes to the hardware, but it kind of makes sense from an ergonomic standpoint.

(I mocked up the last screen)


My thumb has a much easier time with the option on the right.


3) Using navigation bars and menus.

unnamed-1      IMG_0615        IMG_0616

Navigation and main buttons have always been at the top and at the bottom of the screen. It’s generally a good idea since you want content to be in the middle of the screen. But it doesn’t always make sense when you can’t properly reach the extreme corners.

Given that Apple is most likely implementing Force Touch on their next iPhone/iPad, I would want to enable navigation with different types of presses. Next step in navigation will be less about taps and more about gestures. Swipe-to-go-back and horizontal scrolling are already widely used. Let’s keep pushing UI in that direction.

Normal things I didn’t realize you needed two hands to do

…until I got into an accident three weeks ago.


  1. Using zippers
  2. Hand-washing utensils
  3. Tying a ponytail
  4. Cutting fingernails on the healthy hand
  5. Tying shoelaces
  6. Tying trash bags
  7. Signing your signature on curly receipt paper.
  8. Using cling wrap effectively
  9. Rolling up sleeves for the healthy arm
  10. Chopping whole onions

The Solution:

When people leave the hospital with one working hand, they should hand them a weighted clamp in a bag.

Why? Because when you’re one-handed, the thing that really changes is you that no longer create strong opposing forces: you can’t pull or use one hand for the anchor while the other hand does something to an object.

A weighted clamp would allow people to do at least half the things on this list. It could hold a light object still while allowing the other hand to perform an action on that object. Boom.