It has been little more than a year that packed my belongings and landed in sleepy Umeå. It’ll be only for a couple of months, I said. What have I got to lose, I said. And now – after a series of fortunate coincidences and, admittedly, also a lot of hard work – I find myself in sunny San Francisco at one of the world’s most in-demand design consultancies in the world.
It’s surreal to walk past the brick-and-mortar offices of tech companies I only knew from their websites. It’s only now that I realise that I thought of Twitter, Firefox and their ilk as mysterious disembodied places in the cloud somewhere. And judging by the brightly coloured, bubbly-typeset t-shirts filling the Embarcadero each morning there seems to be new ones every couple of weeks. Need your laundry done? Someone will stop by and pick it up. Want those cashmere sweaters from that online store delivered to your door in an hour? There’s a courier for that. Need somebody to stand in line for you at the Apple store? All you need is a couple of taps on your smart glass. This after all is, for a lack of a better description, the city of services. Everything that isn’t a service yet will be a service soon.
Then there’s the other side of the coin. The people sleeping beneath the PayPal posters proclaiming how easy it is to pay for anything and everything. In my quest to find affordable housing I spent my first few days wondering from shady neighbourhood to shady neighbourhood. And even now after a couple of wrong turns in unfamiliar places I find myself clutching tighter to my backpack. On my very first bus trip I had a clearly deranged woman scream at me. It still happens. As disheartening it is to witness the inequality, the poverty, the illness in such plain sight, I find myself having resorted to the norm: looking away, shuffling by faster, pretending to be in a place they’re not and fortunate to have a place to go.
That place is, of course, IDEO. Located on a pier underneath the Bay Bridge it is the most amazing office space I’ve ever visited. You may have heard some of the stories about their quirky, fun and ultimately stimulating creative culture. It truly is unlike anything I have experienced before. Even after nearly two months there I am still amazed at how forthcoming and friendly everybody is and how much they invite and celebrate curiosity. Already I’ve been on multiple projects that have not only made an impact on my skills - but also caused me to re-evaluate my parts of my life in general. All this also comes at a price. I have made a commitment to be discreet about projects that are not yet public, so please bear with me when I won’t spill the beans.