✈️ Finally Flying & Finding Determination (Developer Turned Designer, vol. 3)

A haphazard photo collage of SEA airport signage, a New York City MetroCard, and a video script


In these unprecedented times… YUCK, I am so sick of that phrase!

Until last month, I had avoided air travel for two years for obvious pandemic reasons. With recent inflated flight prices, it was a great time to cash in on my balance of credit card points. My main motivation for this trip in the first place was to direct a video shoot in the Dallas area. I had been meaning to visit some friends in New York and somehow the flights ended up being cheaper if I stopped in NY for two days before going to Dallas. So I did exactly that, including a redeye flight and plenty of public transportation on both ends. As a bonus, I finally got to see the 2020 SEA rebrand executed by one of my favorite design firms, Turnstyle.

Aside from the people and main project which motivated this trip, the absolute highlight of that week was seeing the Jean-Michel Basquiat: King Pleasure exhibition in New York. RIP to the legendary artist. I highly recommend seeing the show if you get the chance. The recreation of his studio was absolutely breathtaking. This was my second time seeing his work in person since I visited the Broad Museum in Los Angeles in January 2020. Basquiat was a powerful communicator synthesizing every influence from his life into his artwork. For me, he is an inspiration for his obsession with his craft and utter disregard for material possessions—as illustrated by an article from Colin McDowell.

“By wearing expensive suits and painting in them (ruining them in the process), he was acting out yet another of these so-called ‘suggestive dichotomies’.” I found this quote after hearing a story about Jean-Michel wearing a Prada suit to an award show, then immediately returning to his studio to start painting. Without taking a moment to change clothes, he dove right in and literally got messy in the process. THIS is the level of dedication to the craft of design I am after: the act of making is 100 times more important to me than any material gain that may come from it.

A recreation of Basquiat’s studio within the King Pleasure exhibition
A recreation of Basquiat’s studio within the exhibition.

Finding Determination

I recently finished reading Can’t Hurt Me by David Goggins. I will admit this book is not for the faint of heart, and personally I felt it delved too much into the details of his life. BUT, something started rewiring in my brain over the past month while reading David’s story of relentless dedication and turning his life around. It reminded me of my transformation from struggling through high school to turning things around in community college. Fall semester at ArtCenter starts in two months, and I’m about to undergo a similar period of intense dedication.

This time, something feels different. Going into this career transition of design, things look strange on paper. Leaving my job in tech, during a pandemic, and now we’re in a recession? These are external circumstances that I cannot control, and at this point I think it would take an act of God to derail me from my goals.

Lately, anytime I notice doubt arise, a scene from the movie Up in the Air comes to mind. In this scene George Clooney’s character is firing a man named Bob who’s been working in a company his whole career. Understandably, Bob is pissed. Clooney’s character asks him the most profound question possible: “How much did they first pay you to give up on your dream?” Wow. You see, Bob had studied culinary arts in college but lost his passion in order to “pay the bills” as many of us do. In doing so, he hid who he really was. Just a little bit. At this point in his life, he had likely forgotten about many of his early aspirations. There is nothing wrong with changing directions in life, as long as we do so for the right reasons. I acknowledge that a complex aspect to this notion relates to privilege, though I will not touch on that here.

My passion for design was not so clear and profound years ago, but I had a hunch that creativity might work its way into my career at some point. If I ask myself how much money it would take to walk away from a career in design, I might say $10 million. But that number is entirely arbitrary. It’s a big number, just big enough that I can’t understand it and anything beyond $10 million doesn’t make sense to me either. The irony of such a number is that I would want to use that money to fuel my pursuit of a career in design… so in reality there is no amount of money that could make me walk away from this path. Yes there is tremendous risk, uncertainty and a whole hell of a lot of hard work ahead. And that makes it worth pursuing even more.

Be Messy 🤷🏻‍♂️

The precision of my mindset and focus right now is sharper than it ever has been. Even when I was desperate to escape from financial scarcity during my undergraduate studies, I lacked this intense level of purpose in my life. 3 years or 30. It makes no difference to me, because now I am enjoying the process of rewiring my brain for creativity. The good, the bad, and the ugly.

Speaking of ugly, yeah this might be a bit of an ugly newsletter. I haven’t settled into a format that I like so far. Until then, things are going to be a little all over the place. Instead of fighting it, I am allowing the process to go wherever it goes. This month I am several days late in sending it out. At the moment, day to day life is a bit unpredictable until the fall semester begins.

Stay tuned!

I hope to continue sharing updates as I continue this journey through my first year of graduate-level design education. There is some juicy stuff coming soon, I promise. Leave a reply with any thoughts you had after reading this, I would love to hear from you!

If you haven’t already, please subscribe here.

WIth gratitude,

How You Can Help

My independent design business is called ntrsct (in•ter•sect) designs, and I’m always looking to meet potential clients or collaborators.

I help businesses make the right first impression with their customers, by providing brand strategy and logo design services.

If you know any of those types of businesses, please let me know. I would love to meet them! Feel free to forward this email with a note, or share my business website or services deck with them.

Shakeel Mohamed – Developer Turned Designer

Hello, I’m Shakeel! I’m a visual designer from Seattle, specializing in branding and experimental typography. After 10 years of working as a software engineer, I began exploring my creative side. I am an MFA in Graphic Design student at ArtCenter College of Design, with the intent of learning more about typography, branding, and design leadership.

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