is a blog about design, technology and culture written by Khoi Vinh, and has been more or less continuously published since December 2000 in New York City. Khoi is currently Principal Designer at Adobe, Design Chair at Wildcard and co-founder of Kidpost. Previously, Khoi was co-founder and CEO of Mixel (acquired by Etsy, Inc.), Design Director of The New York Times Online, and co-founder of the design studio Behavior, LLC. He is the author of “Ordering Disorder: Grid Principles for Web Design,” and was named one of Fast Company’s “fifty most influential designers in America.” Khoi lives in Crown Heights, Brooklyn with his wife and three children. Refer to the advertising and sponsorship page for inquiries.+
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.+