Humans through Satellite Imagery

Google Earth’s satellite imagery has recently gotten a lot better. As you get a more complete view of the world, you can start to uncover the world in new ways. I found myself deeply immersed in it one day – first by zooming to Cairo, then to Dubai, then to the rest of the world, gravitating towards geometric shapes that we’ve built and repeated, among the rectangular tiles of green and yellow that we’ve designed through agriculture. Humans are crazy. We’ve changed our world in a massive way  – we’ve changed its mountains, forests, grasslands and even rivers. Below is a sample of what I’ve found.

Man-made circles

More strange things

 

Words you can read from space (anyone here good at reading Chinese?)

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Repeating grids

Shapes in agriculture

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Musings of a millenial techie in China

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Last week, I went back to China for the first time in 8 years. 

What I realized when I got there is that all Google products including Gmail and Google Maps, Facebook products including Instagram and Messenger, Twitter products, Tumblr, Flickr, Medium, Reddit, SoundCloud and more don’t load in China. You need a VPN to access these sites, which I didn’t use on this trip. 

I connected physically and digitally through WeChat with my Chinese family, but I simultaneously disconnected with my Western friends. 

I lost access to alternative perspectives. I wanted to get updates from friends who have family in France and Turkey, which have been in the news this week, but I couldn’t get that info passively. 

I lost the ability to use local apps for search (Baidu), directions (Baidu Maps) and ride-sharing (Didi Kuaidi). I could make calls on the the Nexus 5X with a local sim card, but I couldn’t install new apps because Google’s play store won’t ever load. (It’s not an AOSP device.)

I lost access to lots of apps that are integrated with Google products. My cousin tried to play Pokemon Go (the latest craze), but it doesn’t work in China because it uses Google Maps. 

More importantly, I lost the ability to communicate with a few core email and messaging apps. (Though I did use WhatsApp and WeChat for calls.)

If your whole life exists in China, then you don’t feel it. You have domestic services that fulfill all the things that those companies do with added censorship. But if you can see clearly from both inside and outside the firewall, you can’t ignore its effects. 

What UX designers do

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I’ve been asked what a UX designer does for the past 4 years, so I decided to list out the answer to “but what does that mean?”

  • we work with project managers, researchers and engineers to figure out what users need and why
  • we figure out what how and where users can access what they need by sketching, wireframing, listening
  • we drink a lot of coffee
  • we design interaction patterns that work with the target platform, product, branding, etc
  • we prototype these patterns and test them for usability issues
  • we iterate and fix problems
  • we drink some tea
  • we work with engineers to implement designs through assets, style guides
  • if we work at a large org, we work with lawyers, writers, visual designers, directors, designers on other teams, ux engineers, production designers, translators, accessibility-experts and program managers to make sure our work is aligned with everything else
  • if we work at a startup, (mostly likely) we are the researcher, the designer, the prototyper, the project manager and, occasionally, even the engineer
  • we look at everything for inspiration – design blogs, architecture, mechanical objects, fashion, app stores and bookmark what we find in our brains or in a folder somewhere
  • we occasionally can’t think of good blog post topics and end up blogging about this

 

Month One

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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.