As a native of Silicon Valley, I’ve always been surrounded by high tech. I used to be an Art Director for Apple and Principal Designer for Yahoo. And before me, my father was a software engineer for over 35 years here. He was the first one to encourage me to become a designer.
I went to UC Berkeley for undergrad, where I found my passion for user experience design (UX design) while taking a computer science course in freshman year in 2001. However, UC Berkeley doesn’t offer a design major, and I instead studied business, economics, and industrial engineering and operations research.
But I never lost sight of my interest in design, so I spent many late nights and weekends teaching myself web and mobile design while balancing an 80 hour per week job in tech. I spent every free moment I had learning and practicing design.
As I got deeper into my own career in UX design, I was responsible for designing software that was seen and experienced by over 1 billion people around the world. I received awards and recognition for my design work, becoming known for my focus on Emotional Design . I also started Designers Guild , a family of communities that comprises over 15,000 professional designers and design students.
What could be better?
The more I got into UX design, the more I had the feeling that something was missing. I was 30 years old, and felt like I hadn’t really figured out what I was supposed to do in life.
First, I tried doing what was most natural to me: designing and developing an app. Over the course of a week, I created a live events recommendation app with a friend. It was an extension of Ness Computing , where we worked together, and which was acquired by OpenTable.
Maybe we could bank a cool million from it, we thought.
But I knew my heart wasn’t in it. I started to realize that any websites and apps I could design just wouldn’t have the degree of emotional impact that I wanted to unleash.
What could I design that had a higher emotional impact than apps and websites? This problem bothered me for weeks.
I was 30 and decided that I had to start another company, before my life responsibilities increased and before my personal risk tolerance decreased.
Then, one day, I woke up while clutching my teddy bear Wuggie. I’ve had her since I was born, and she’s been by my side ever since. I looked deep into her eyes, scratched from her decades of being loved, and she communicated to me, “The answer is me. Make stuffed animals better than me.”
I was taken aback. Could it be? I remembered my childhood dream of selling stuffed animals.
I wiped a tear off of my face. I knew she was right.
Before I knew about technology, my first love was stuffed animals. I had hundreds of them, in all shapes and sizes. In 1st grade, I gave a speech to my class: “The 100 Characteristics to Look for in the Perfect Teddy Bear.” My ability to distinguish and appreciate the tiniest of features on stuffed animals helped hone my attention to detail and seeded my sensibilities as a designer.
When I was in elementary school, my dream was to sell stuffed animals that kids actually want. I saw too many of my classmates outgrow their stuffed animals. This perceived loss of innocence made me deeply sad. I believed in the bottom of my heart that, if stuffed animals played a more active role in people’s lives, the world would be a more peaceful place.
But stuffed animals in their current form weren’t enough for most kids — even if they had batteries, screens, or glow in the dark fur. I wanted all kids to have the special bond that I had with my stuffed animals. This made me wonder: How could I get more people to love stuffed animals like I loved them? What could I possibly do to make stuffed animals engage children more?
Since I had worked as a professional designer at places like Apple and Yahoo, I felt that my seasoned way of looking at the world through a design lens was ready to be utilized in a new way: re-inventing my favorite invention of all time, the stuffed animal.
Surely I could try to solve this problem. I could apply the principles I learned from designing web and mobile apps to designing stuffed animals.
I had never created stuffed animals before the age of 30, but I knew how to sew since I was in 2nd grade. Just like I taught myself UX design, I started reading books and following tutorials. I gave myself increasingly difficult design challenges: first, I used a premade template, then I struck out on my own by making my own patterns.
Instead of using pixels to create designs, I could use stitches .
Instead of using HTML color codes , I could use fabrics in premade colors and textures .
Instead of creating color palettes optimized for web , I could create color palettes that made sense for stuffed animals that belong in a collection, inspired by fashion collections and magazine editorials .
Instead of making buttons, icons, and gradients , I could create a new and unique art style .
Instead of making grids , I could make patterns and pattern languages .
Instead of making beautiful interfaces , I could create characters with personalities .
Instead of making emotional design for web and mobile, I could create a new way to render realistic eyes that makes stuffed animals seem more alive.
Instead of making memorable experiences , I could create a memory of touch by using the softest fur possible so that kids would want to hug our stuffed animals to sleep.
Instead of creating a design language , I could create a modular system of stuffed animal parts . I created a shape language that helps people identify each stuffed animal part as belonging to our product line.
Instead of creating a user profile , I could design packaging and character cards .
Instead of user growth , I would execute on sales and community building .
Instead of being a product manager , I would manage art, design, story, marketing, finance, and manufacturing.
As a result of quitting something I liked , I got to pursue what I loved . Working at tech companies is surely worthy and can change the world. But stuffed animals are so true to me that they are my personal identity .
I now work on something that makes me truly happy, and excited to wake up in the morning. I absolutely would love to work on this for the rest of my life.
It’s odd that it took me 30 years to open my eyes and see that I should work on what I‘ve always loved the most. Is there something that you have always loved, but have been afraid to pursue? You may like your current job, but is there something else you love more?
Animoodles is the result of my intense 2 year study of how to reinvent stuffed animals. I truly hope these soft, cuddly, buildable friends are the answer to kids outgrowing stuffed animals too soon.
We just launched on Kickstarter , and this is just the beginning.
After I decided to quit UX Design, how and why did I invent Animoodles? Find out as I show you all the details in my next post.
With all my love,
Marissa Louie, Co-Creator & Chief Designer of Animoodles