San Francisco, California

Dora

This is just the sort of thing she would hate.

Sentimentality, high fives and any sort of public boasting is simply not her style and after finding out that I wrote something as nostalgic and emotional like this about her then she’s very likely to send me a blunt reply along the lines of ಠ_ಠ. But looking back over my career I can’t think of many people besides Dora Chan who have had such an impact on how I think, how I work and ultimately how I tend to my life.

Over the past year at Gusto Dora has been my reluctant mentor on the payroll team, teaching me about product design, web development, and the tax system here. But for just a moment, if you’d let me, I’d like to describe why Dora has been such a great influence on my work.

First: she’s the best designer I’ve ever met. Careful, deliberate and brutally honest to such an extent that you quickly realize that there’s this powerful mind at work, always moving, always crunching and grinding on a problem, with every focused second deconstructing, challenging, synthesizing what you’re both talking about; every conversation with Dora leaves you with the feeling that you’ve become a fraction of a percent smarter just by being in her presence.

Second: she’s taught me patience and how to investigate a problem before jumping to conclusions. I’ve watched that process as I’ve sat next to her and like a small child watching an adult they admire I’ve tried to mimic the way that she can context-switch so effortlessly between programming, visual and UX design. I’ve watched her ask questions during the design process and work like a detective trying to solve a crime. I’ve watched her take great care over the smallest of details, the sorts of things that don’t make much of a difference at the time, but over the course of a year, over the course of a life, they all add up.

This is most likely the hardest lesson for a designer to learn and, although I’m not quite there yet, I feel like I’ve made significant improvements thanks to her patience and her many, many ಠ_ಠs; Dora has taught me how to critique a design and how to shelve my ego whilst deconstructing something that I’ve worked on.

Most important of all though I’ve noticed the way that Dora talks to people. She tends to ask them a torrent of questions before getting started on the work and I soon discovered that’s because the first step of any project is finding all the ways that we miscommunicate with one another by accident. It could be the scope of the project. It could be the approach itself. Or it could be whether there’s a larger and more complex problem at work.

As she moves on from Gusto I’ll be sure to miss Dora dearly but if she has a motto that I can take to heart and apply to my work without her then it ought to be this: Care for, and question, everything.