I've had glasses since I was 4 years old. And not just any glasses. Thick lenses due to astigmatism and a patch on my left (better) eye for years to help strengthen my lazy right eye. Not only was it traumatic to face the teasing by my classmates, but because we had no money growing up I also faced the stress of breaking or losing my one pair of glasses. They were always the most expensive thing I owned (until I got a Mac in university :), and I've always had a love/hate relationship with them.
Fast-forward 30 years and I'm working at Microsoft in Beijing, China. During my exploration of the city I stumbled on an "eyeglass mall" that was several floors of just glasses shops. The prices were unbelievably low, and I had recently started getting headaches from my one pair of glasses digging into my temples, so I ended up getting 5 pairs of glasses - all prescription - for about $150! I had a deep emotional release of all that childhood stress and fear surrounding glasses, and in the process chose a pair of simple white frames that I might never wear, but I thought were cool.
And then something interesting happened. Weeks later I decided to wear the white frames. People made comments like, "Great glasses!" or "Nice style!". It was strange actually, when I really thought about it. Those frames were completely traditional in shape. And white is not a particularly bold color choice on it's own. It's just a bit unusual to see reading glasses in white. To me, this became a symbol of three things that are important to me:
1). The importance of small design decisions that can have a big effect.
2). The power of surprise.
3). The importance of embracing the unusual parts of me as a designer (intuition, creativity, empathy and ingenuity) that are desperately needed in the world of business.
I've worn those white glasses ever since, and have faced lots of comments on executive floors and board meetings. "I see you brought your glasses with you." was a comment I got when starting a new job, or "What's with the white glasses?" was asked of me during an executive interview. I've faced all of these comments with grace, as they are a reminder of me to be myself, and that I am so much more than an unusually simple fashion choice.
So this week when I launch my book this week at a private party at IDEO London with 50 of my closest friends and colleagues, I decided to design a gift for everyone: a black v-neck t-shirt that looks like white glasses are hung in the middle. This is a symbol of sharing lessons and learnings close to my heart through Uplifting Design, and the idea that these perspectives can be used or set aside by the reader when they see fit as they navigate their own path toward elevating their practice of design.