Jeff Zych

Kind Eye

“I look with a kind eye at people.”

This line from tennis coach Patrick Mouratoglou (Serena Williams’ former coach) in Nick Kyrgios’ “Good Trouble” YouTube series struck a chord with me.

Patrick said he always looks for the positives in players. Commentators and the peanut gallery is quick to judge and point out flaws and what they need to improve, rather than looking for the positives.

It made me realize I’ve always been someone who looks at people with a kind eye as well. Friends, family, coworkers, everyone.

But it also made me realize that as a manager, the clashes I had with leadership and a company’s culture stemmed from it being a place where they don’t have a kind eye. They take a critical eye to everything and everyone.

This was in especially sharp relief when doing performance reviews for my team. I would always bring their strengths to the conversation, while my peers and leadership would only see weaknesses.

These interactions made me doubt myself. “Am I not looking with a critical enough eye at my team? Am I deluding myself about this person’s abilities?”

But watching this interview made me realize not having a “kind eye” isn’t a liability; it’s a strength. If it worked for Serena’s coach to lift her to 23 grand slams, then it can work for me.

Don’t let a linear design process snuff out your sparks of inspiration

Earlier in my career, I would follow the double diamond design process as a series of linear steps: define the problem, explore solutions, test & iterate, then build and ship.

If I had an insight that started with the solution, for example, I would go back to the beginning before following that spark of inspiration.

But the more times I’ve gone through this cycle, the more I’ve realized that this is a recipe for snuffing out good ideas. The creative process isn’t linear. Ideas can be sparked from anywhere. Any point in the double diamond is a valid onramp to a great idea.

The key is to make sure you check all the boxes: does it solve a real problem? Is it valuable? Is it usable? Is it technically feasible? Is it desirable?

You don’t need to check these boxes in any prescribed order (which is how I previously approached projects). They just need to be checked.

I’m know I’ve squandered a lot of good ideas as a result of getting a flash of inspiration, but then stopping myself from following that thread to go back to the beginning and try to define the problem, goals, constraints, and so on. This just stifles creativity.

Now I try to follow those sparks whenever they pop up, and loop back to other parts of the process when they’re relevant.

These ideas don’t always pay off. But that doesn’t matter. Sometimes they inform other projects. Sometimes they dissipate into the ether. At a minimum I will have had fun pursuing an idea I’m excited about and grown in some small way as a result.

Joel Califa wrote about this awhile back in his blog post, Your Work is Starstuff.

Ryan Singer also wrote about a similar idea in his post, Small Tools for Shaping. He has various tools to help him shape ideas, and he picks the best one for the job rather than following any prescribed, linear process.

So that’s my mantra of the moment: grab the sparks of inspiration when they strike. Don’t let a linear process stifle your creativity.

2023 Reading List

I read 30 books in 2023, which is actually 5 more than 2022 and 6 more than 2021. Like the preceding years, this year felt lower than the previous years but was actually higher (very much buoyed by visual books like Practical UI and Arcade Game Typography).

I only read 6 fiction books this year, which I thought was surprisingly low until I checked last year and it was 3 times higher, hah. My most-read category is art/design/creativity (11), which is both because I find those most interesting and gobble them up, and also because many of them are visual and low in words. I did better this year at reading books by women (8 — same as last year) and people of color (8).


  • Tomorrow, and Tomorrow, and Tomorrow by Gabrielle Zevin: This book was written about a lot in last year’s reading lists, but I didn’t get to it until 2023 and it did not disappoint. It’s the story of a creative partnership and friendship and how that changes and evolves over decades. And it’s all centered around video games (especially 80s and 90s “retro” games), which hits the nostalgia factor hard for me.
  • Practical UI by Adham Dannaway: A great book of practical UI tips and tricks to up your UI and visual design game. Instant recommend for anyone getting started in UI design, or for design veterans who are looking for more tricks to add to their toolbelt (alongside Refactoring UI by Adam Wathan and Steve Schoger).
  • The Creative Act: A Way of Being by Rick Rubin: By far the best book on creativity I’ve read in a long time. Probably ever. Every chapter and paragraph and line and word felt meaningful and like I was only understanding a fraction of the deeper meaning. Rick writes about creativity in a philosophical, mystical way that’s applicable to any creative endeavor, not just music (I saw it described as being written in the style of the Tao Te Ching, which I haven’t read but seems apt). I found it so inspiring that I keep a copy on my desk and flip to random pages sometimes to give me guidance. I keep a couple of post-its on my monitor of quotes from the book (a sample: “If you begin with a question and use it to guide an adventure of discovery, that’s the work of the artist.”).
  • White Teeth by Zadie Smith: This was a recommendation from a friend and it did not disappoint. The writing is sharp and witty, the characters have depth, and it felt like a movie playing in my head while I read it.
  • Arcade Game Typography: The art of pixel type by Toshi Omagari: This was a really cool book documenting and classifying 8x8 pixel type that was used in early video games. I was impressed by the amount of variety that people came up with in such a small grid! It’s a largely visual book, and anyone who played early video games would enjoy flipping through it.
  • Jungalow: Decorate Wild by Justina Blakeney: I believe this is the first interior decorating book I’ve read, and I found it very inspiring. Justina has an eclectic and unique style that I enjoy, but more importantly she encourages exploration and trying things out and finding what you like over following “rules” set by others. I’ve noticed this as a meta-trend with myself: I’m drawn to creatives who have unique and expressive styles and advocate finding what works for you rather than what other people say is “right” or “wrong” (such as the chefs Molly Baez and Samin Nosrat).
  • Booze and Vinyl by Andre and Tenaya Darlington: This was a Christmas present from last year that pairs a classic vinyl record with 2 cocktails (one for each side). The intentionality of putting on a record and making a pair of cocktails to sip on while listening really resonated with me. The authors throw parties like this which I’ve been holding in the back of my head to do some day. It inspired me to purchase some vinyl and make a some new cocktails!

Lastly, I read a couple of classics this year: The Catcher in the Rye by J. D. Salinger, and The Bell Jar by Sylvia Plath. Both classics for a reason, although neither “wow!”-ed me or changed my life. I had read Catcher in high school, and it’s so much easier to see how full of shit Holden is as an adult. I had never read The Bell Jar before, and I can see how it could be really meaningful for folks in high school and college.


As always, you can view the full list and follow along with my current list in Notion.

  • Tomorrow, and Tomorrow, and Tomorrow by Gabrielle Zevin 👍
  • Practical UI by Adham Dannaway 👍
  • Salt: A World History by Mark Kurkansky
  • A Primer for Forgetting: Getting Past the Past by Lewis Hyde
  • Please Report Your Bug Here by Josh Riedel
  • Novelist as a Vocation by Haruki Murakami
  • Flawless Typography Checklist by Jeremiah Shoaf 👍
  • Feeding Littles and Beyond: 100 baby-led-weaning-friendly recipes the whole family will love by Ali Maffucci, Megan McNamee, and Judy Delaware
  • Dopeworld by Niko Vorobyov
  • Brave Companions by David McCullough
  • How to Write One Song by Jeff Tweedy 🎸
  • Vacationland by John Hodgman
  • A Dictionary of Color Combinations vol. 2 by Sanzo Wada
  • Company of One by Paul Jarvis 👍
  • The Creative Act: A Way of Being by Rick Rubin 💯
  • The Catcher in the Rye by J. D. Salinger
  • Arcade Game Typography: The art of pixel type by Toshi Omagari 👾
  • The Cooking Gene by Michael W. Twitty
  • Articulating Design Decisions by Tom Greever
  • White Teeth by Zadie Smith 👍
  • Jungalow: Decorate Wild by Justina Blakeney 👩🏼‍🎨
  • Design by Definition by Elizabeth McGuane
  • User Friendly: How the hidden rules of design are changing the way we live, work, and play by Cliff Kuang with Robert Fabricant
  • First Designer In: From just hired to minimum viable design team in five weeks by Tara L. Kelly 👍
  • Daddy Diaries by Andy Cohen
  • Booze and Vinyl by Andre Darlington and Tenaya Darlington🍻
  • The Bell Jar by Sylvia Plath
  • A Maze of Death by Philip K. Dick
  • The Anthropocene Reviewed by John Green
  • A Brief History of Lager: 500 Years of the Worlds Favorite Beer by Mark Dredge 🍻

I found this antique pitcher

The antique pitcher I found

I found this antique pitcher outside an apartment building today. It was amongst some discarded books and knick-knacks, most of which was junk, but then there was this pitcher. I normally would have just left it, but this pitcher held my attention.

I felt myself coming up with all the reasons I should just leave it: “I don’t need it.” “It’s old.” “It’s discarded junk.” But then I stopped myself and decided to take it home.

Why did I do this? Two threads came together to inspire me: the first was Justina Blakeney’s book, Jungalow. In this interior design book, she talks about finding old stuff at markets, swamp meets, antique fairs, etc., and giving them new life. Re-using them, remixing them, incorporating them into home decor, and so on.

The second was a note I keep on my desk, which I saw in The Creative Act by Rick Rubin (the best book Ive read on creativity in a long time): “Base decisions on the internal feeling of being moved. Notice what holds your interest.”

This pitcher was holding my interest! I didn’t really know why, but that’s not the point. The point is I should base decisions off of this feeling, without the need to rationalize it. I both noticed this was holding my interest, and also noticed that my old thought patterns were telling me all the reasons to discard that thought. So I did the opposite and followed what held my interest.

These two threads came together to change change my behavior. The pitcher is now more than a pitcher – it’s a symbol of my ongoing journey to reach my creative potential.

Taking the next step in my career: building a company of one

I recently decided to leave LaunchDarkly and take the next step in my career: starting a company of one. I’m going to be a freelance product designer, focusing on design of technical and developer tools. This is a niche that requires specific skills and experience, both of which I have: I have a CS degree, was formerly an engineer, a generalist product design background, and I’ve worked on technical tools for over 10 years now. And there are a lot of developer tools out there with terrible UX, and founders who value good design, so I want to work with those people.

In addition to that, I’m also doing fractional design leadership as well. This could take the form of creating the hiring process for product designers (especially technical product designers, like myself and the ones I hired at LaunchDarkly). It could mean helping companies adopt a user-centered design process. It could also start as IC work, and I transition into helping my clients hire a designer and onboard them and hand off my work to them and integrate them into the company’s product development process.

I’m also very passionate about designing interfaces that have a unique personality and stand out from the crowd. I take a lot of inspiration from branding projects, which have really interesting visual assets and evoke emotional responses in people. I’d like to find projects where I can bring a branding perspective to product design by defining a unique visual language, tone of voice, and core components and patterns (like a design system, but more strategic).

I also have some interest in doing actual branding. More specifically, logos for technical products. I’ve done logo design for friends and side projects a few times and find it really fun. Doing logo design for developer and technical tools would be really rewarding. And because I have a CS degree and a product background, I could bring that unique advantage over general brand designers to this market.

Why a company of one?

So why a company of one? Why not just a freelancer or contractor or something? Freelancing is the starting point, but I want to build up multiple revenue streams and sell more than just my time, like courses or design resources or something. I’m not sure what that is just yet, but I will be paying attention to the work I’m doing as a freelancer to see what could be spun out as a sellable resource.

I also want to approach this venture as a business that I put intention and effort behind finding consistent revenue streams, rather than looking at freelancing as a holdover until the next thing (such as going back in-house or something).

Additionally, the biggest motivating factors is to mold my career around my life, rather than the other way around. As Paul Jarvis says in Company of One:

“If you’re a company of one, your mind-set is to build your business around your life, not the other way around.” (p. 9)

I want my life to be my first priority, and to be in control of how I use my time, rather than feeling like the company I work for has first dibs on my time.

Jarvis also says, “A company of one is simply a business that questions growth.” (p. 6) After working at startups my whole career, where growth is the goal and anything that doesn’t scale is seen as not worth doing, I want to be out of that environment. I want to focus on quality and building relationships over growth and scaling and profit. I don’t want to compromise my values or do things that feel unnatural that you’re required to do when employed by someone else.

Could this expand into some sort of studio or agency in the future where I do take on a few employees, or have partners I work with? I wouldn’t rule it out. But I’d only do that if I feel like I’ve really nailed the services I’m offering, and the market I’m serving, and expanding would help me deliver better services to my clients. But for now I need to focus on making this successful for just me.

If you want to read more about companies of one, then I highly recommend the book I quoted above, Company of One by Paul Jarvis. Another great resource is the Zebra’s Unite Coop, which bills itself as “A founder-led, cooperatively owned movement creating the culture, capital & community for the next economy.” They fund companies that value quality and service over growth and profit.

So that’s where I’m at. I’m very excited about how this will evolve, and already have some clients in the mix. And if you know of any technical tools that need design help, then HMU