The best profession

Since my Quora “answer” has been wildly popular (more than 19,000 views), I am sharing it below, including the question ad verbetim.

Q: What is the best profession in the world?

Please remember to mention actual jobs or professions, and answers such as Best mother, Best friend, or any further description (like do whatever you love) are not acceptable because these answers aren’t really answering.


Three (related) answers.

I. Designer

When starting out, as designer you learn about these things (and many more not listed) in no particular order:

1. science, technology, engineering and mathematics  (STEM)
2. fine arts (techniques)
3. art and world history
4. design disciplines (there are numerous)
5. creative disciplines
6. psychology 
7. business
8. typography 
9. Etc. you see, the list is long…

I mostly chose design for two reasons: the ability to learn indefinitely and my preference for honest and profound beauty (aesthetics). I chose studying design at artcenter.edu because I got a scholarship when in Europe after I read about Art Center College of Design in a magazine (the article happened to be well-written and the catalog I received from admissions was so well designed that I instantaneously decided to become a designer). Before, I never could quite make up my mind what I wanted to become when a child (I loved to draw and paint, act and sing,  play music, be a writer, and science), design was the answer.

Craig Ellwood’s hillside Art Center College of Design campus in Pasadena, California

Craig Ellwood’s hillside Art Center College of Design campus in Pasadena, California

Initially I wanted to go to the academy of fine arts, however, a professor advised me to apply for a scholarship, indicating that as designer I’d learn the same techniques as an artist but “I’d never be hungry”. That convinced me.

To make a long story short, being a designer in this day and age is more relevant than ever. It served me well: I became Creative Director at Apple in 2001 where I worked in the app division in a symbiotic relationship with engineering and the exec team for 10 years, then I was a VP at eBay and now I am working with start-ups and am also creating my own business to bring design closer to everyone, anywhere and anytime.

Good luck finding what you love, which brings me to the second answer:

II. The best job (for you) is what you love.

III. Being a Linchpin
Unless compensation isn’t of concern, you want to have a job that you get paid for regardless of how automated the future world is going to be: being a designer is like being a linchpin: you are in a way indispensable; there are skills and benefits from being a designer, that will make you always a desirable candidate, granted that you shine in your field and that you can compare your design-sense to the “perfect pitch” in music: how to become indispensable, is a mix of the following: 

critical design thinking, deep knowledge of design, design history, design principles and practices: you need to also know a lot about design, not only knowing where to look and what to ask for when solving a design problem, taste (it matters a lot, especially if your design work involves any form of stylistic expression (aka look and feel), trained eye, albeit this truly means “brain”, because design involves other sensual experiences, including touch, smell, sound, etc., and track-record: here it matters less how many years to have spent in the field, however, with whom you have been working with, and the quality of your contribution.

How to be great*

*This title is not mine. It came from a source that inspired this post.

My older daughter just graduated from elementary school last week, my younger one will graduate from Pre-K to Kindergarten readiness this week. I am graduating, too. After a hiatus from work, I feel almost as if I returned from hibernation into a new, vibrant life, where anything is possible. Time to write down the big and small lessons of this wonderful journey called life. I am ready to write letters to my younger, former self. 

When I stumbled across this post in Quora this morning, I felt compelled to comment; the comment, in modified form, below, planted the seed for my upcoming series of musings about life. 

The article stated in order to be great you had to be ruthless among other qualities.

I disagree, you don’t have to be “ruthless” in order to be great. Being ruthless is having no compassion or pity for anything. After having encountered amazing people like the Dalai Lama, Steve Jobs and many people of the Apple “core”, the “PayPal Mafia”, and other high-achieving individuals, you can be a Renaissance person and multi-dimensional; you don’t have to be a selfish, ruthless person. 

On the contrary, the higher your value system is, the better. I would rephrase the word ruthless into: don’t compromise and understand how to break down complex things that are complicated and cumbersome, into comprehensible, “simple” steps; also: do sweat the small stuff when it comes to the nuts and bolts, especially of a design: while the sum is larger than its parts, you need to know (as a creating, leading and driving force) how to break down from the macro into the micro cosm of virtually anything. 

The fact that Steve Jobs got upset (and threw tantrums) at bad designs is, that he suffered physically when encountering it; I feel the same way, albeit I don’t throw tantrums at work; a poor typographic treatment causes a very painful reaction, which is not unlike perceiving noise or a cacophony where people play out of tune. Only very few people can “listen” to things visual.

here are the qualities that will help you to accomplish greatness in life.

Work on being good at:

  1. Design – Moving beyond function to engage the senses
  2. Story – Narrative added to products and services - not just argument. Best of the six senses.
  3. Symphony – Adding invention and big picture thinking (and detail focus).
  4. Empathy – Going beyond logic and engaging emotion and intuition.
  5. Play – Bringing humor and light-heartedness to business and products.
  6. Meaning – the purpose is the journey, give meaning to life from inside yourself.


Learn to fail. No one gets it right the first time: look what happened to Steve Jobs (the whole getting fired from his own company thing, and then starting Pixar). If you can’t cope with stress and setbacks, if you can’t handle failure, you may as well settle into your comfortable 9-to-5 now. 

Work on your confidence — which (related to learning to fail) sometimes means having a short memory. Learn from your mistakes, but don't focus or ruminate on them. When you mess up, rejoice! 

Learn how to say no. The more successful you get, the more people will ask of you. You can’t make every donation and attend every event and do every favor. You should do what you need to do and what you want to do. 

On a related note, spend smart. Don’t be wasteful. Both your time and money, and most importantly, Earth resources, even if you have the money. 

And develop your charisma. More on that another time.


How to design your life

How to design your life

My graduation from Art Center College of Design in 1996 lies back almost two decades, however, I am still exploring “what I am going to be when I’ll grow up.” Finding one’s passion in life is an essential and an ambigeous task . This Stanford Class helps students to apply the right techniques to live the (professional) lives they want and add meaning to them.