Ximena Vila Ferral is a Mexican-born, Texas-based designer and developer. When not plugged into her full-time gig as a web designer Designer at The University of Texas at San Antonio, she can be found:

  • Aiding professional development for local creatives as President of AIGA San Antonio
  • Organizing for AIGA Unidos, creating spaces for Latinx and Hispanic creatives
  • Consistently writing, designing, and tinkering with code in her downtime

In the first part of this series, we dive deep into Ximena’s multivariate interests, innate curiosity, how to prioritize different projects, and ways to improve async communication flows.

What Are You Polyworking On?

I’ve been a full-time Web Designer at UTSA for the last year.

It’s a brand new position in their marketing department, so there’s a lot going on that needs to be organized. My primary focuses include:

  • Establishing a system and process for design that doesn’t exist yet
  • Updating and tailoring existing sites, pages, etc. on the UTSA domain

Outside of this, I’m the President of the San Antonio chapter of AIGA, or the Professional Association for Design. Events stalled because of COVID-19, but we’re gearing back up.

For instance, with AIGA Unidos, we're hosting new events and bringing back our Hispanic Heritage Month series for Hispanic creatives that we've done for the last two years. Then, on the side, I’m also a designer who dabbles in code.

I’m always learning something.

How Do You Decide Which Projects to Prioritize?

I probably look for a mix of three elements in a project.

1) Building From Scratch

As I try out different forms or projects, some things make me stop and say, "This is awesome. I'm making something happen out of nothing." That’s why design and code speak to me. It’s an amazing process when you think about it:

  • You begin with nothing.
  • You pour work into it.
  • You wind up with something beautiful and functional.

You see something emerge before your eyes. Plus, it’s just a great feeling to know, “Hey, I made something all by myself.”

2) Alignment of Beliefs

When it comes to taking on larger projects, I like to feel aligned with its goals or priorities — like, “Is this something I believe in?”

With AIGA, all of it is volunteer work. We do not get paid for that. We do, however, get paid in this sense of being able to give back and build community.

So volunteering with AIGA and any related work like mentoring — the element of giving back gets me hooked. It’s about redistributing or sharing the knowledge you’ve been able to gain.

I love applying my experiences to help others form meaningful connections within the design community or to help someone in the creation or design process.

3) Local Impact

Even more, I like focusing on organizations and communities close to me in San Antonio because I prefer direct-impact efforts and results.

I enjoy working with and directly impacting individuals close by, as opposed to initiatives that are way larger or company-wide.

How Can Polyworkers Improve Async Communication?

As a polyworker or even in my full-time role alone, I've juggled multiple projects at once, so it becomes difficult to properly communicate across all of them.

I definitely used to default to this mode of — “I’ll talk to you when I’m done; you’ll see this project when it’s done” — as opposed to communicating early on and often. Then I'd disconnect, which is something I'm working on, but that means I'll take a while to respond to things.

The logic is: "When I'm in the mental state to reply properly, I will."

But, unfortunately, time goes by quickly. Then people ask, "What is going on?" So they disconnect in response, or they're just reasonably mad at you.

Now, I try to remember that, in terms of communicating, early, often, and short is better than all at once at the end of a project. I’ve applied this in a few ways so far:

  • Sometimes it’s as simple as texting, “Hey, I’m not done yet.”
  • I’m the only designer in our department, so I tend to silo myself and forget to update people. Now, I say, “Could we chat and look at this project even though it’s not done?”
  • I even tell my coworkers, "If you don't hear from me, please bug me." Sometimes I'll even just go, "I'm not done yet. But here's a link. Feel free to watch me work."

Trying to micro-communicate has definitely worked out better than disconnecting. You can give small updates across a project instead of burdening yourself with — "I need to remember and execute everything alone so I can deliver all at once."

A Win-Win for Workers & Managers

Micro-communicating has also shown itself to calm people down.

There have been occasions when my manager is super anxious about a project: "We need this and we're not going to finish." Then I say, "We definitely have time."

But, of course, I eventually realize he hasn’t seen any progress because I haven’t updated him. So I’ve learned to just say, “Here you go. This is my work in progress. It’s not there yet, but it’s something. I promise I’m getting it done.”

Managers then feel the urge to micromanage less, so you’ve got more creative freedom to execute.

Why Do You Polywork?

When I was young, I loved clicking around on the family computer and playing with other tech-y things. I was always asking, “What does this or that mean?”

Purely by poking around, I’d figure things out, and friends or family would ask, “How did you do that? I didn’t even know that was a thing.”

I still do these things today. Even if I don't get paid for it, I'm clicking around sites to see how they built their pages or taking online courses because I'm curious.

If I’m with my friends, they know when someone asks a question, I’m the one already Googling it to do a deep dive. I’ve always got so many windows and tabs of random research open. As an adult, I graduated with a graphic design degree in 2015 and then naturally segued into web work. At the end of the day, I just love tinkering and finding things out.

There’s always some new technology or tool for me to try, so I’ll dabble and see if I can apply it to my job, freelance projects, or other site projects in my spare time.

I enjoy applying new things and having projects to work on, which often leads to more than I can realistically handle. I used to freelance way more prior to the pandemic.

With so many passion projects that I dove into, I needed to take time for myself. Now, I’m ready to start back up and plan to focus on polywork to find new folks to collaborate and work with.

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