A Change

For many months now I’ve been thinking about the long-term trajectory of my career, wrestling with some serious questions about what it is I want to do with the few talents I’m lucky enough to have. After a lot of internal debate, I came to the conclusion that the time is right for me to make a change in my job. So about two and a half weeks ago, I formally resigned my position as design director of NYTimes.com. My last day will be this coming Friday, 16 July.

It wasn’t an easy decision. I’ve been at The New York Times for four and a half years now, four and a half years that will doubtless figure prominently in my life for years to come. There were some rough patches, as there are with any job, but on the whole it’s been the best job I’ve ever had. I got to work on some of the most rewarding projects anywhere, alongside a diverse population of some of the smartest people I’ve ever met, and I had the thrilling privilege of playing a bit part in the world’s best journalism.

However, I never set out to work in journalism. I’m a designer at heart, and what I’m compositionally best suited for is the challenge of designing user experiences, hopefully superb user experiences. Of course, at this moment in history when technology is realigning the world in such tumultuous ways, it’s true that there’s a profound overlap between design and the news — it’s true that in many ways the delivery of the news is the same as its user experience. For these past several years, I found that overlap to be a tremendously satisfying arena within which to work, but journalism in and of itself has only been a part of my motivation.



For now I’m going to remain a bit tight-lipped about what exactly I’m going to do next, partly because I’m just not exactly sure yet, and partly because I’m resolving to stay open to new opportunities and new ideas. In the short run, I’ll be doing lots of stuff on a smaller scale: personal projects that I’ve been tinkering with, a few public speaking appearances, a bit of writing (including finishing a book I started earlier this year), some short-term work for companies with whom I’m friendly, and more. What I won’t be doing however is starting another design studio. While I might do some freelance project work here and there, the heavy lifting required to build a practice of continuously running client work is likely to conflict with whatever plans I cook up in the long run.


Looking back on my tenure at NYTimes.com, I wouldn’t even know where to start in recounting the many ups and downs that I think are noteworthy. However, I’ll set aside modesty and cite one important achievement that I’m proudest of above all others: assembling the truly superb team of designers with whom I’ve worked for the past four and a half years.

In-house design groups tend to be poorly regarded, but I’d stake the talents of the team I put together against that of any other design studio, in-house or independent. The group totals about a dozen visual designers, design technologists and information architects, and there’s not one of them that I wouldn’t re-hire today. They’re remarkably dedicated and passionate, and they routinely turn out amazing work that countless people benefit from every day.

Just as importantly, they’re adept at the delicate art of making design happen in a large organization. That requires an underrated but critical skill that’s worth taking a moment to elaborate upon: beyond their substantial talent, these people get along with people, which is a remarkably effective tool that surprisingly few designers possess. Beyond praising their design chops, I think the highest compliment I can offer is that these colleagues of mine are all interesting, trustworthy, and likable. That’s something I really cherished and that I’ll really miss.


Of course, this was all made possible by the Times itself. In spite of all of the travails the news industry has been through, the company is still a beacon of quality, and that’s an enormous help in luring good talent. What’s more, management was unequivocally supportive of my staffing plans from the first, not only by providing me with the open positions and the budget that I needed, but also in allowing me to materially change the environment for how interaction design is practiced at the Times. That makes all the difference.

In fact, I’m indebted to the company in so many more ways than I can fully expound upon here. To put it mildly, their early faith in me changed my career. As I prepare to leave, there are so many opportunities available to me now that would have been impossibilities for me had the Times not hired me almost half a decade ago. I handed in my resignation with considerable regret, I have to say, as I still feel an abiding passion for The New York Times as a force for good in the world. I’m thankful that, in addition to the design staff I leave behind, there’s no shortage of smart, energetic and driven people who remain. I wish them all the luck in the world.

+

117 Comments

  1. Khoi,

    Congratulations brother—I congratulate you because decisions like these, power-moves like this, can be stressful and difficult to commit to. But you have already put your best foot forward. Best to you on your future endeavors. I look forward to reading and hearing about them!

  2. Khoi,

    Congrats on your decision and new upcoming freedom! You’ve set the bar (appropriately) high in an organization and an industry that truly needs it. You will be missed, I’m sure, by not only the Times but by its readers as well.

    Best wishes!

    Irwin

  3. All the best Khoi. You have been an inspiration to many before and during your time at NYT. I feel there’s going to be plenty more great stuff to come and can’t wait to read about it all on Subtraction.com

  4. When I lived in NYC, I treasured time spent reading the Times every day. Now that I don’t live there, and access to the paper is difficult, I do my old daily routine with the Times’ website.

    Your work, and that of everyone else involved in the paper/web efforts, is greatly appreciated and enjoyed. Whenever you do look back at your time spent there, know it was time well spent.

    Best of luck as you move on to new challenges.

  5. Anh Khoi,

    I must admit that I did not expect to read this in my Twitter feed this morning – Congratulations to you for your new endeavors. I am looking forward to seeing the beautiful things you will create in the world of user interaction.

    I also appreciate you taking the time out to do a feature story interview with me for Everyday Voices. I truly learned a lot from our conversation and it has motivated many of our young readers.

    Best wishes and regards,
    XuanThu.

  6. Best of luck on your future endeavors. I talked to you for a bit when you spoke at Philadelphia University a few months ago and it was pleasure to hear your thoughts on design in journalism and now I’m equally excited to see where you are headed and your new projects.

  7. Its tough making the right decision as you approach the crossroads, but I have to say its braver to go left or right rather than the easy road ahead and stay where you are. I’m sure you’ll look back and say its the right and best choice you’ve made. Especially as what awaits ahead is ever changing with which you’ll change along the way.

    Best of luck and look forward to hearing more.

    Rajesh

  8. We met briefly at SxSW09, right after your talk, which I thoroughly enjoyed :)

    I’ve been a long-time admirer of your work, so it was great to meet you in person. Good luck KhoiЁand thanks to you I finally got around to watching Miami Vice on Monday ;)

  9. Congratulations, Khoi, and best of luck! It’s been a real privilege to have followed your work and career since I started reading your site six years ago (OMG six years?!), and I’m excited for what comes next. Excelsior!

  10. A sad day for the NYT. You made nytimes.com the best news website in the world. You’re a true star, I hope you continue to get loads of job satisfaction with all your new projects.

  11. Khoi, the talents of the team you assembled shone through the web work at NYTimes.com. While I worked as part of a similarly talented (but smaller) web team at Vassar College, you all were a constant source of inspiration. Thank you, good luck with your future efforts, and I hope you enjoy this time of planning and openness.

  12. You pulled the New York Times from the old ink and paper world into the land of pixels in the most elegant way possible. It is rare that a media transition makes the leap and holds to the originals integrity.

    Your finger prints on the old gray lady will be sorely missed. Buena seurte.

  13. Khoi, I appreciate your comment regarding getting along with people. Design skill is important, but amicable interpersonal communication between team members is critical to both the growth of the team and its individuals.

    Best wishes to you as you move forward with your career.

  14. Oh, the sweet and sour switch from a demanding, yet rewarding job to new pastures. Good luck with everything.

    The unicorn & rainbow market is really blowing up these days. Any change of getting you on board for cornify.com?

  15. “Men acquire a particular quality by constantly acting in a particular way.” You’re a talented guy of consideration and contribution and class, and I wish you the best as you head toward the next chapter.

    PS: Esme says to say hello to Thuy for her.

  16. Fantastic news for you and what a loss for the NYT. Can’t wait to hear what your next challenge is. You have many fans!

  17. I still remember the blog post where you announced you were going to the Times, and how jealous I was. :)

    Congrats on everything, Khoi. You continue to be one of the most inspirational and influential interactive designers on the planet — not to mention on hellvua great guy. Good luck, my friend.

  18. Khoi, many years ago I decided to move from the head of a new media department to being a designer in that same department. It was the best career decision I’ve ever made, difficult as it was. And I’ve never been happier. Being creative is a passion worth some sacrifice. I hope you can find your sweet spot!

  19. Congratulations. Your work at the New York Times has been incredibly inspiring. Best of luck in your future pursuits. Keep us updated on Twitter.

  20. While I’m sure you’ve left an indelible mark on the Times, this change can mean only good things for the web design community at large. Congrats Khoi and we all look forward to hearing about your new directions.

  21. Best of luck Khoi, I know you’ll do great in whatever capacity you pursue. Decisions like that are tough but so exciting. Take on the world my friend!

  22. I am a little sad though I don’t know you.I have some similar experience like you, I have left my news design position for two years, I am a graduate student in Brandeis. From your blog I can know you have many capabilities that news design this position can’t satisfy you, good luck!

  23. You inspired me to become what I am, and to always thrive to do better. Regardless of which path you choose to follow, I hope you’ll continue to do it with as much passion as you have until now.

    Thank you.

  24. Obviously you could make huge amounts of money running a web design consulting firm. I’d hire you in a NY minute to design my analytics site. Would you prefer to paid in gold bars?

  25. Congratulations Khoi! You are right to be proud of the great work you’ve done at NYTimes.com, and I know there are countless interesting projects ahead of you. I look forward to seeing what you’ll create next.

  26. Best wishes ol’ pal!

    I can hardly believe it’s been so long since we you joined the times and we last worked together. Where did the time go?

    Keep me posted on what’s next. Can’t wait to hear (and see!) more!

  27. I remember when I talked to you over the phone (I am the guy from Kentucky who misunderstood I had to live in NYC for the Style Magazine design job). You were super nice and that you said you liked my work made my week. Stay friendly, focused and fierce and you will always be inspired.

  28. I wish you the best and I sure hope you don’t jump in water, that’s too cold.

    But: I give you this… “in the end, a designer will always be a designer” and you seem to live up to that to the fullest! ;)

  29. Glad to hear you taking new steps towards what you like. i’ve been following your work and blogs since I read something about you in The Smashing Book I won. I myself am an aspiring UX Designer and am always looking to collaborate and work with other UX Designers out there. Please let me know if I can be of any help in any of your ventures!

    Best Luck

  30. Can’t wait to see your next move Khoi, this might not important to you but Vietnamese designers including me are all proud of you.

    Keep moving forward sir. :)

  31. Best of luck in whatever you decide to do next. Not everyone would risk the same uncertainty at this point in time, but if one is confident about ones’ capabilities, the transition to something new/better should not be an issue. I’m looking forward to reading about what your next steps will be.

  32. Congratulations Khoi! I wish you all the best with your future endeavors. It was a pleasure working for you and I thank you for all you have taught me over the years together at NYT.

  33. Cheers, Khoi. Best of luck to you and your family. Can’t wait to follow your next adventures.

  34. Your work at the Times inspires design across the web. Congrats on a great run. I know the pain of leaving a job you love by choice, but know that great things are opening up for you. I can’t wait to see what you tackle next!

  35. First off, fantastic work on nytimes.com —аit’s a beautiful site and you deserve to be proud. I’ve referenced that site many times as an example of great design to my peers and clients.

    I’m in a similar situation as you. Although, I do not work at a place as nearly as prestigious as you do, but I have been at my current job for almost 5 years now. My job has made me who I am today professionally and had not my employer (Creative B’stro) put early faith in me despite my lack of experience I would not be doing what I am today. I’m very grateful for that. Although, I’m not ready to make the big step you are making, but it is exciting for me to see you make it.

    I look forward to hearing about your future adventures.

  36. I remember meeting you a few years ago at the NY Times building, and meeting some of your staff as well. You all struck me as a great group, perhaps the ideal of what an in-house department could be. It’s a testament to your work that I have no doubt about the NYT continuing to have an exceptional web presence.

  37. I’ve always been a huge fan of your work at the Times–the site by which all news sites must be judged IMO! I look forward to reading about your future endeavors on your consistently intelligent and interesting blog. Best of luck.

  38. NYTimes has been on the forefront of not only moving journalistic content to the web effectively, but utilizing tech resources to better show and explain the articles and data. I am certain that you have had a huge impact on this phenomena, and I expect to see great things from you in the time to come. Congratulations on the final day!

  39. Congratulations on your decision, and best of luck with all of your future projects and goals. The NYTimes Web site has been my homepage for years now. Your attention and effort has produced a quality that has rarely been matched.

  40. Khoi, the very best of wishes as you embark the next chapter of your career. It will be very interesting to see what’s next for you. You are, I believe, one of the brightest lights shining in the field of digital design and someone I will alway follow with great interest and admiration. Best to you and your family.

  41. I don’t know you Khoi.
    I just recently stumbled over you and your blog.

    But what I think I do know is that you are generous soul.
    It’s good to see you say thanks and heap praise on the people, team around you who helped you get where you are today.

    I’ll keep an eye out to see what magical things you do next.
    And always: Think dangerously. But act safely.

  42. Best wishes to you for the future, Khoi! I will be forever thankful for the tremendous work you did at the Times and the opportunity you gave me to contribute, in some small way, to the evolution of the Grey Lady.

    If I can ever do anything to return the favor, just let me know.

  43. Well Khoi, I began my employment with you with a comment on this very blog, so it seems fitting to end it here as well. Thanks for looking past my slobbish interview appearance and handing me the best job I’ve yet to hold. Good luck on the next thing! -a

  44. As another who looks to your stellar work, I’m shocked yet somehow not completely surprised. Looking forward to seeing what Khoi unbound will bring.

  45. As a designer who recently was part of a great in-house design team, I thank you much for giving yours kudos like that. It’s very true – getting along with people and balancing a broad range of deadlines and fires to put out.

    I wish you much luck on your next endeavor especially since I am in the same place you are albeit from a lay off rather than choice but I am choosing to make the best of it.

  46. You are a courageous man, really following your own spirit. I look forward to seeing where that spirit takes you next.

  47. wow, khoi! congratulations and best wishes on your future endeavors!! i saw your tweet this morning and it looks like you’re starting the time off right with relaxation and family :) enjoy it!

  48. Khoi.

    I missed this post when it came out but saw your remarks about being unemployed, so I was worried you had lost your job. Reading this now of course makes me feel better. Good luck with your next adventure. You did a great job at nytimes.com, probably one of my favorite sites, and the first aside from Facebook that I visit every day.

    An admirer of your work from Montreal.

  49. Many of us have followed you throughout your tenure at The NYT. As stated by so many, we all wish you well.

  50. Khoi,
    While sorry to see you leave the Times, I’m very excited to see where your talents will take you next.

    Best of luck in your transition,
    Anna

  51. Khoi:

    Congrats on the big decision to leave NYT — On to bigger and better things! And if you’re in the DC area, give me a holler and we’ll do lunch.

    Best of luck!