Basic Human Dignity


Sam Altman

Re: Basic Income Researcher

Dear Mr. Altman:

Thank you for considering me for the position of Basic Income Researcher, pushed into my TL by Tom Preston-Werner.

I am here to reassure you that money offers no substitute for the pursuit of happiness. As you can see, while earning next to nil income, the last decade for me has nevertheless been the some of the most productive, challenging, and rewarding years of my career.

A destitute, middle-aged, multiracial woman who began writing code in the late ‘nineties, I can help the Bay Area with its age problem and its gender problem. You can help me get caught up with the changes occurring in tech while I have been working on brute survival and writing my analysis of the problems in one state’s failed mental juridical health system. Together, we can work on finding solutions for the nation’s problem of narcissistic aggression:

Looking forward,

Jana Brubaker

Following find my responses to the questionnaire included within your job application form fields:

Tell us about the work you’ve done that you’re most proud of. Please explain what you did and why it mattered.

What research experience do you have that would prepare you for a project like this?

As you may see from my cv, blog writings, portfolio, and multimedia portfolio, my research experience spans from assisting with basic research in the hard sciences to design research in the “soft” field of education, in hopes of 1) networking into an actual, paid job while 2) better understanding how/why my former post-9/11 and post-No Child Left Behind students arrived at university deeply traumatized and with so few coping mechanisms necessary for critical thinking and collaborative problem-solving, by 3) applying my educated expertise to real-world problems. Along the way, I have been privileged to observe designers and engineers from some of Seattle’s most elite design consultancies and technology firms in action as they conduct their design research and struggle to collaborate on solving problems, including one memorable conference co-sponsored by Pepsico and AIGA, our national professional association for design, where they worked very hard to avoid solving the correlative problems of obesity and poverty by 1) devising several stereotypes, which they referred to as “personas,” 2) chasing around the city to find people who matched their preconceived stereotypes, who were neither obese nor poor, and 3) inventing products to later market to these stereotypes, even after the original problem had already been identified for them by another conference attendee, an NSF- and NIH-funded University of Washington social sciences researcher. Curious if that was how Alan Cooper intended others to emulate his “persona” method of empathizing with end users of his products, I went directly to the source and asked. Currently, I am researching the problem of poverty, both my individual experience wading through the staggering mountains of paperwork required by America’s poverty industrial complex, and collecting the systemic qualitative data most frequently missing from published research studies – not the pie charts and bar graphs, but personal narrative, as told through sometimes audio, audiovisual, or visual data, though most often my journal notes from encounters with my research subjects.

What have been your most impactful publications, if any? Please explain their impact.

Obesity is the body’s physical manifestation of the soul’s lack of nurturing. Thus, no sophisticated technology product combined with cultural shaming will ever substitute for adequate nurturing missing from early childhood. Strong correlations, too, between abuse and poverty. Not just abuse in families, but as you’ve observed in your Request for Research, the government deploys an abusive, fear-based system for managing poverty. This question I examined at the crux of my MFA thesis research: is it the presence of abuse, or the absence of nurturing? I pulled my argument from strictly text-based into the design, printing methods, and even the structure of the book itself, which meant petitioning my graduate school for permission, a process the administration tried to sweep under the rug until an article in the campus paper attracted warm responses from students, faculty, and staff at two universities, including the support of our conservation librarian, and eventually my thesis was exhibited in Moscow and Chicago, and still won me glowing praise from students five years later. That said, I feel prouder of the publication of my healthy communications model, Unplay the Shame and Blame Game, which takes up where my graduate research left off. Unlike the communications design funded by our Department of Justice to mediate domestic violence, or the designers who maintain Liz Claiborne’s global portfolio of brands, basing their models on the false dichotomies between victim/abuser, black/white, female/male, etc., my model is based on the structure of trauma. A humble contribution: I have reduced all of human communication to just five little dots. As you can see, not very many views yet on the motion graphic version, but that’s just a matter of marketing to my intended audience.

If you have any ideas, please tell us how you’d design the study.

Of course I have ideas. I am an educated artist and designer, which means I am an unlimited fountain of imaginative problem-solving expertise, or the reason why a Gates Foundation blogger tried to brain drain me for free to work on finding solutions to poverty and other sustainability design issues. Because his own imagination suffers under the limits of capitalism and he is not able to envision solutions for problems beyond seeking still more money is the reason why homelessness has increased over 20 percent in the years since I have been away from the Gates Foundation’s own headquarters city. Last year, despite the very best combined efforts of nonprofit CEOs and local politicians, they finally had to concede their 10-year plan for solving the problem had failed. Like consultants to the Gates Foundation, Seattle’s current mayor cannot imagine a solution to the communications problem of dire poverty beyond declaring a state of emergency and asking for still more federal dollars. The Emerald City is blushing so hard with shame soon they will need to rename it the Ruby City. No amount of money will ever solve the communication problem of dire poverty. Only healthy communication can do that. Your budget “well above market” and five-year timeframe sound reasonable to me. Before I give you still more of my ideas for free, let’s hammer out details and sign that contract, okay?

Why do you want to work on this?

Obviously, I want to work on basic income because I am personally and profoundly affected by the problem of narcissistic aggression, or disdain, if you prefer Code for America’s terminology. While I can appreciate your Bay Area perspective that you are getting an early start with this pilot study, from my perspective, you are 10 or 20 years too late. Basic income, for me, would have meant spending less of the last nine years writing job application cover letters like this one and more of that time simply rolling up my sleeves and getting to work on the larger social problems that designers at the world’s most prestigious design firms either do not know how or seem to be afraid to solve. Basic income would have protected me from labor trafficking and being locked up without access to competent counsel or fair trial while my family lied to authorities about child abuse, elder abuse, rape, homicide, and our shared genealogy in an attempt to force their will over me. Basic income could potentially solve the many social problems larger, wider, and deeper than mere fear of not being able to eat. While Bill Gates, with his funding research for new toilets or local waste treatment systems without the need for costly infrastructure, has rightly figured out that what goes into the mouths of the world’s poor must come out, the United States government, with its non-food limitations on food stamp budgets, demonstrates its lack of comprehension of basic biology. In a sense, the USA already does provide a “basic income,” of sorts. It’s just a matter of asking, but what is the quality of care? What bang are you getting for your taxpaying buck? Because right now you have a graduate school graduate, better read in psychoanalytic theory than anyone employed within at least one state’s entire mental juridical health system, who might spend three days tracking down one roll of toilet paper, while another state spends $4,500/month supplying antipsychotic injections for one methamphetamine-addicted victim of unremediated childhood trauma, who then blows his taxpayer-funded SSI or SSDI payments on more meth. The other reason I want to work on basic income or finding better solutions for poverty, or, more correctly identified, the problem of disdain or narcissistic aggression is because I think my combination of educated skills and experiences might more deeply inform the limits of your current research, working together to devise heathier systemic solutions.

Would you commit to this for the next 5 years? Would you be willing to move to the Bay Area? (Answering no to either does not disqualify you)

My willingness to commit to your project for the next five years depends on the health, or emotional intelligence, of the members of YCombinator. Will you respect my educated expertise in areas that may overlap with or provide alternative perspectives multiplying your own? Is your working group able to listen to multiple perspectives and resolve conflict without pouting or shouting? If not, are you open to learning collaborative working skills? I take it as a good sign that you recognize the value of working together in meatspace, despite all of the communications technologies available in the 21st century, in wanting your basic income researcher to move to the Bay Area. Another bullet point for our contract negotiations: I am happy to relocate to my native state of northern California, but I also plan on starting law school in fall 2017. Would you be willing to schedule our group meetings around Stanford’s classes? Or if I choose an urban school as I would prefer, and work very hard to get your project off the ground before then, maybe we could thereafter deploy 21st century tech with fewer in-person meetings for the duration? Alternatively, if our group works very well together and your project looks like it might lead to others, solving still more real-world problems, then I am still open to skipping the logocentric environment of law school altogether.


Captain Chris Fowler
West Precinct
Seattle Police Department
810 Virginia Street
Seattle, WA 98101

Dear Captain Fowler:

Thank you for considering me for the available position of 9-1-1 Communications Dispatcher with your precinct that came to my attention via the City of Seattle jobs board.

Exceeding your desired qualifications, to your support staff I bring a graduate degree in art, or visual communications, with my computing technology and multitasking skills evidenced by my social media design and multimedia portfolios. I decided to emphasize my graduate research in what public agencies typically describe as “diversity” or, academically speaking, critical theories of identity, as well as trauma and the taboo after observing in my university-level foundations drawing students remarkable shifts in learning cognition, classroom engagement, and trauma recovery simultaneous with their acquisition of the tools of visual vocabulary and grammar:


Collaborative class assignment, 2007, studio drawing class discussions prompted by the tragic mass shootings across the nation at Virginia Tech. As the instructor, I took on the role of mediator between what soon came to be two vigorously opposed groups of ‘save-the-world’ and ‘screw-the-world.’ By semester’s end the class was so well bonded that everyone stayed after class after our final crit, or the visual communications equivalent of a final exam, with the exception of a former elementary school teacher taking anti-depressants and battling through a codependent relationship with her own mother.

The last time I type-tested for speed and accuracy, I believe my score was in the high 70s or 80s, with my best reaching 90 wpm. I offer over 20 years of customer service, with probably the switchboard experience most closely aligned to your call center description a brief stint at the teachers’ union, or Clark County Classroom Teachers’ Association, which I’ve since dropped from my cv for space considerations.

Until recently, my knowledge of our legal system was limited to sacrificing my own career to put my prosecutorial ex-husband through law school, observing mock court, providing feedback for his prepping for jury trials, and encouraging remediation and therapy over punitive judgments in his sentencing recommendations. My personal experience with psychotherapy was a welcome listener educated in human psychology who encouraged my writing and art-making, provided objective feedback about my upbringing, and made thoughtful suggestions for better understanding myself, my behavioral choices, and building healthier relationships; my recent experiences through Idaho’s mental juridical health system tells me that their Skittles School is every bit as broken as Oregon’s system, currently under federal Department of Justice investigation. My blogpost, The Boy on the Bicycle, gives you an opportunity to compare my counseling expertise grounded in my graduate readings in psychoanalytic theory combined with my university-level drawing studio teaching experiences, akin to clinical practice, against the fragile ego, frantic typing, and circular logic of a certified marriage counselor in the state of Kansas, himself a victim of childhood Prozac early clinical trials. From what I understand from conversations with my current psychologist, listening to members of Seattle’s oftentimes deeply traumatized homeless community, and observed downtown with my own eyes as a DSHS grille-windowed van dumped onto Third Avenue and Stewart two men in no condition to navigate the real world, King County social services follows more of a catch-and-release system for avoiding viable alternatives to the pharmaceutical lobby’s failed solutions for the problem of trauma.

I welcome the opportunity to interview with any number of psychologists approved by your department, provided they are better educated in human psychology than Ann Rule, may she rest in peace, but if hers is the expertise advising your predecessors, it is no wonder it took them so long to track Ted Bundy, and are able to supply prior to our meeting their curriculum vitaes, with publication credits and links to social media, as well as five years of income tax returns or annual reports revealing their fiduciary relations to the pharmaceutical industry. Provided, also, that you and they will agree in advance to not lock me up without access to competent counsel or fair trial for my ability to think critically, solve systemic problems, my writing or visual communications skills, or for attempting to report crimes by describing my educated expertise, my post-Great Recession job-seeking efforts, or genealogy, before pronouncing those facts to be “delusions” without first fact-checking those experiences against public record, contracts, email communications, audiovisual evidence, and design files. Or for any other reason. Because of course that agreement was written over two hundred years ago and signed by our founding fathers. Please do run a background check at least as thorough as the biographical evidence I supply on my blog in my open letter to one of my ex-husband’s former law professors, currently the Director of the Constitutional Law Center at Stanford University.

Kudos to the officers from your precinct who responded to my call when I recognized the deeply traumatized fellow who disrupted my morning workout midsummer would not respect my autonomy without mediation from their higher authority:

Night and day to Boise’s law enforcement or my earlier experiences with SPD’s domestic violence victim support supervisor, your officers impressed me as being genuinely committed to protecting and serving all of the members of our community, not just the wealthy mansion-owners in Madrona and Queen Anne, describing their hands-off approach for Seattle’s homeless citizens who generally sleep outside because they have found it to be safer than navigating the abuses within the shelter system, including one compassionate encounter with a young woman who sleeps in Seattle’s alleys by day, staying awake throughout the night for better hope of survival, and continued to treat me as a human being even after they learned, to their surprise, that I am homeless too. Do you credit their emotional intelligence to department-wide changes following Jenny Durkan’s investigation, the strength of your leadership and professional training, to their personal integrity, or some combination of all of the above? I shudder to think that your officers are being placed in greater harm’s way simply because no one educated in psychoanalytic and feminist theories and graphic design has bothered to visually analyze the vernacular design of the model deployed by your domestic violence victim support team, with their supervisor too busily tell-tell-telling her own unrecovered trauma monologue to be bothered to learn healthy communications.

In lieu of a post-Great Recession work history, would you please review my bullet-point list of accomplishments and evaluate me on my behaviors and my continual professional development throughout this era simultaneous with global socioeconomic collapse, a lingering decade of war, government shutdown, hiring freeze when I first moved to King County, job market age discrimination, oftentimes blatant job market sex or gender discrimination, my educated expertise across particularly challenging, cross-disciplinary fields often dismissed as “talent” or unnecessary luxury but are actually integral to psychosocial maturity and healthy communication, and my gradual awareness that all of the communications design problems that I am interested in solving are simultaneously legal problems, and consider the value that my experience and skills add to communications internal and external to your department?

Thank you for the opportunity to be of service to your department and the general public, during both emergency and non-emergency communications.


Jana Brubaker

Supplemental questions

*1. In this position, you will be required to handle a high-volume of calls and make important decisions quickly and accurately. Please describe a situation in which you have had to perform the aforementioned job functions.

Seeking freedom from an abusive family followed by Idaho’s failure to investigate domestic violence, human trafficking, and evidence previously withheld from a cold case homicide investigation that I reported to suburban Boise police followed by the state’s violation of my constitutionally protected liberties, I had to quickly make life-sustaining decisions while under threat to my immediate physical safety and longer-term income-earning potential. One of those decisions led to a drug bust for a rural police department but also follow up theft of my entire oeuvre, or a decade’s worth of work including bespoke furniture that I designed and built, paintings of a technical caliber arguably on par with Gerhard Richter, a living master of 20th century painting whose work individually values in the multimillions of dollars, what some people like to dismiss as “talent,” and visually uneducated mental health professionals confused about the differences between Van Gogh and Munch might describe as evidence of “mental illness,” but what I know to be the result of visual literacy and hard work.

The resulting loss from my decisions taught me not to call the cops until after you have removed your property from the property of a victim of state-sanctioned drug abuse. Were those decisions accurate? I feel grateful to still be alive, free, and with all of my f-a-c-u-l-t-i-e-s intact. Despite my losses, I can still meet my likeness in the mirror and know that I made the right decision for the greater public good in speaking against the abuses in my family and about a broken state system causing severe multigenerational harm, decisions that I feel confident, particularly in light of the Justice Department’s recent analysis of unconstitutional law in Boise, that homelessness is not a crime, and that, if their investigators can just spend a little less time on Ashley Madison, and a little more time focusing on their jobs, their legal expertise will soon affirm my communications and psychoanalytic expertise, that homelessness or dire poverty does not de facto mean mental illness, decisions that will, from a longer term perspective, prove to be just, some might even say patriotic, made under circumstances of intense pressure.

*2. Do you have good communication skills?

*3. If you answered yes to the question above, please provide at least two (2) examples of your communication skills.

In my experience, my direct, or healthy, communication skills will be admired by other healthy communicators, and I will patiently watch while passive aggressive communicators twirl around the four points of their trauma narrative that I have identified in my healthy communications model, Unplay: deny, avoid, blame, propelled from their self-identified position as martyr, while they insist that any opinion that disagrees with their personal experience is wrong wrong wrong, all the while adding still more evidence supporting my MFA thesis research and subsequent graphic design model. I am consciously ever working on finding new tactics for resolving conflicts with passive aggressive communicators, as there can be no hard-and-fast rule to cover the nuances of each and every situation. “I hear you,” or “How do you feel about…?” or “What I hear you saying is…” are usually effective, but some people are so traumatized by child abuse, or unhealthy behavioral role models, or subsequent illicit or licit drug abuses, that to even greet them with “Hello, how are you?” will provoke rage.

After I was involuntarily committed, I quickly saw that I would have to behave better than my jailers, which was not difficult, given most of the so-called mental health “professionals” that I observed were experiencing workplace trauma or compassion fatigue or unrecovered trauma from growing up in their own abusive families, and were themselves severely passive aggressive. One example of my successful conflict negotiation, mediation, and resolution skills was design direction to competitively solve, in fewer than 20 minutes, a beginning-level design problem working with my team of involuntarily committed psych patients, while the clinician stood to one side taking notes on our behavior. Yes, indeed, what we teach in the fields of art and design is that there is no one right answer to any given problem, through a process of critique, so students learn to hear multiple perspectives, and, yes, collaborative design assignments or real world problems require teamwork, most effectively performed with healthy communication.

Within Seattle’s homeless community I am finding unlimited opportunities for practicing healthy communication skills. One recent example, at a SHARE storage locker meeting, the nonprofit’s staff asked for feedback for establishing locker rules. The only two other women attending a male-dominated meeting suggested “no sexual harassment.” Staff edited their suggestions to only “no harassment or verbal abuse” to his whiteboard notes, and the meeting progressed until I first complimented the professionalism of the meeting’s chair, where my experience with SHARE’s meetings is that Seattle’s homeless community follows Robert’s Rules of Order better than my grad school cohort at the University of Idaho, before pointing out the distinction between harassment and harassment of a specifically sexual nature, by providing an example that had occurred earlier that morning, when one of the men suggestively twirled his middle finger in my palm on the pretext of introducing himself to me by shaking my hand.

Providing yet another example of the accuracy of my model deconstructing passive aggressive communications, male staff first denied, “That’s not sexual harassment.”

Moi: “Sure it is. Instead of greeting me with a professional handshake, Gregory made an unwanted sexual advance.”

From denial, staff proceeded to avoid resolving the problem by blaming the abusive behavior on my “feelings”: “I’m sorry you felt harassed, but I already added no harassment to the rules.”

Moi: “My feelings have nothing to do with Gregory’s abusive behavior. What I am describing is an example of what sexual harassment looks like in practice.”

The room broke into a chorus of the women and most of the men agreeing with me, and I felt so proud of this community of homeless and predominantly black men, who know better than many of the men in so-called higher education, “Just don’t go there,” and “Don’t do it, man,” and “Stay away from that.”

Passive aggressive and male-privileged staff still only reluctantly added “sexual” to the no-harassment rule, and only after threatening to hold everyone to a minute of silence after the meeting by way of reprimanding me for contributing to the general discussion without first waiting for the chair’s permission to speak. I decided then was not the time to point out that most of the men had not waited for the chair’s permission to add to that discussion, staff included, which meant that what turned out to be his idle threat was gender discrimination.

After the meeting adjourned, the relatively youthful chair, who had supported the rule change to include no sexual harassment but had not fully tracked all the nuances of the discussion, followed me outside to ask, “What just happened in there?”

I replied, “Well, I think what happened was I placed a public boundary on Gregory’s sexual harassment, staff resisted checking his male privilege at the door, but all of the rest of you guys backed me up on it, so thank you.”

Of course SHARE’s ability to enforce its rules will likely prove as ineffective as U.S. federal education law, Title IX, for the same lack of emotionally intelligent leadership across our campuses nationwide ( but thanks to the overall community support, I have experienced no further harassment from Gregory.

*4. Do you have the ability to treat callers courteously and tactfully?

*5. Please provide an example from your previous work experience of a time when you had a difficult caller and you had to treat him/her courteously and tactfully.

In my position as the Executive Assistant to one of the real estate developers responsible for the buildout of the south end of the Las Vegas Valley, I often began my days with early morning Hawaiian callers irate with the slow rate of return on their investment in desert property. To make fielding those calls even more difficult, I would sometimes hear a click as my boss frequently picked up the phone from the line he installed at his house to delay his arrival to the office, but would not always choose to speak to the callers. I learned to imitate his wonderful salesmanship, listening and soothing, without making promises that I was not in a position to fulfill.

*6. For this position, you will be required to frequently use certain skills such as conflict resolution, mediation, and negotiation. Please describe a situation in which you have had to perform these job functions.

Unplay provides a model for resolving, mediating, or negotiating any conflict, regardless if that conflict is in business, public, or domestic spheres.

Within my open letter to Professor McConnell I thoroughly analyze (see Unplaying the Shame and Blame Game) multiple instances of my conflict negotiation experiences with multiple generations of my abusive family, drug addicts, trauma victims, mental health patients, mental health professionals, and law enforcement. In my experience, Unplay’s success will depend on the relationship between two or more participants, and the health of the person in the more powerful position, but even as the person so often in the less powerful position, recognizing that structure has already proven immensely valuable in negotiating with passive aggressive communicators.

*7. Are you willing to work the shifts a structured 24/7 workplace requires?

*8. If you answered yes to the question above, what do you feel has prepared you to work this schedule?

Growing up in 24/7 Vegas culture, my flexibility when juggling college and grad school work/class/teaching semester schedule changes. People who knew me in earlier phases of my life would not now recognize someone who wakes before dawn and is working out by the time the sun rises, adapting to the curfew schedule of Seattle’s shelter system.

Why Amazon?

Phillip Hunter
AWS UX Design Architecture Team

Dear Phillip:

After meeting with you to discuss your Mobile UX Designer position, thank you for also either/or considering me for the position of Visual Designer assisting your design team. For about an hour I felt like a real human being again, finding our common interests in design, sociology, technology, and human psychology, while listening as you described your business goals and my potential role helping you achieve them.

During our interview, you asked me a very simple, thus very good, question:

Why Amazon?

Our conversation turned before I had a chance to answer, which means I have given it a good deal more thought. As a former bibliophile, it would not have occurred to me to apply to the online bookstore that virtually crushed out of existence the few retail venues that I used to enjoy in meatspace. But someone pushed your hiring tweet into my feed, and I try to remain open to opportunity when it comes knocking:

Which of the following possible answers will get me hired?

  • You are the Borg, and after seven years of post-graduate professional development, I am ready to be assimilated?
  • Because if Amazon coughs up the salary you suggested, that beats rebranding and identity on the campaign for a Seattle School Board director who could not design her own identity, write her own tagline, or articulate how she planned to solve problems debilitating public education, instead, wasted valuable time post-primaries raging her derision for her visually educated, impoverished staff, yet was still successfully elected despite a budget vastly smaller than the corporate-backed incumbent?
  • Ditto with my work for Stanford University, whose in-house, salaried designers neglected to proof the colors against their corresponding hexadecimal numbers suitable for use according to their brand guidelines? And if their Graduate School of Business administrators want the various logos of their programs or departments scaled to the same size, then maybe their salaried designers could provide the web assets or design files so I don’t have to redraw Stanford’s seal from scratch? And surely their salaried business administrators could scrounge up an Apple somewhere on their campus instead of relying on their online design sweatshop labor for troubleshooting help installing font files illegally downloaded to their PCs?
  • Because all of my hours volunteering for Washington State’s Artist Trust and AIGA Seattle, even assisting in the former studio of Starbucks’ Global In-Store Experience Director while he complimented one of my installation suggestions with, “That’s the best idea I ever heard!” only led to still more volunteer “opportunities” instead of job offers?
  • Because throughout my first four years of post-graduate professional development, academia seemed to want me to supply not just educated skills but also bring my own budget to their impoverished departments, plus provide jobs for their students, and without credentials from progressively more expensive Ivy League institutions I am not qualified for non-tenure track adjunct labor earning not enough to live on in North America with no job security, in exchange for performing mainly clerical and data entry tasks, rather than research and scholarship or applying my educated professional skills toward solving real-world problems?
  • Or because, as I suggested to an unsuccessful Seattle mayoral candidate who did not want to hear my expertise after my experiences closely observing Washington school teachers in action, “If this is public education, then maybe we should reconsider the corporate options?”
  • Because you would arrange a face-to-face dialogue after just a few tweets, which to me communicates reciprocating respect, instead of requiring me to first slog through pages and pages of some badly designed HR interface inputting or uploading data redundant in this era of social media and cloud computing.
  • Because, unlike academia, you do not (still!) require portfolio files copied to a shiny disc-object and sent via snail mail in this era of cloud computing.
  • Because if the analogue publishers do not want to profit from my writing, editing, graphic design, full press production, coding, and multimedia skills, perhaps Amazon does?
  • Because I do not want to work for advertising agencies who do not want me to think?
  • Because your response to my interactive business card designed using currently available materials tells me that, while Amazon leaders may not always agree with my visually educated expertise, they will at least listen to me before making sound business decisions.
  • Because your responses during our conversation tell me you will make sound business decisions rather than seeming to do everything you can do to sabotage the success of your own election/project/department/team/family/business/institution/democracy.
  • Because your current web presence tells me that even a company the size and ambition of Amazon could really use my help to develop a visually coherent language to better communicate your products and services to your global audience.
  • Because if you deliver on your promised weekly crits with a multidisciplinary team from whom I might learn all the tech skills I would like to continue adding to my toolbox plus leadership who will hear the merits of an argument before making sound business decisions, that sounds less like a survival job, and more like a dream job to me.
  • Or there’s always the trite, because when a company with Amazon’s scope and influence makes even a tiny shift, that shift results in global change? And making teeny, tiny, pixel-sized shifts toward global visual literacy, while a humble occupation, sounds rewarding to me?
  • Or the “when in Rome” option: instead of resist the tech, why not fully surrender to the technology of any given era, and maybe along the way design some meatspace options even more delightful or with greater benefit to the needs of 21st century communities?
  • Or the answer I typeset in lead and letterpress printed on the backs of my business cards for my 2008 startup that resulted in double the web stats boasted by a local communications firm, or the efforts of an entire team to attract an already built-in audience for a microsite they built for Seattle Art Museum?
why not business card reverse

Six Other Press, 2008, identity, full press production, letterpress from movable lead and wood on Magnani Pescia.

I still take type-geeky pride in managing to find in a dusty metal shop a face that could fit sideways the text press in a 72-point line, and that my startup favicon was initially set in wood and printed letterpress before I digitized and optimized the image for web usage. As you can see from just the updated multigif version on my social media portfolio site, that level of attention to detail readily translates to vector graphics, digital typography, and the speed of 21st century communications. My experience working with physical type taught me to anticipate the shift years ahead of the curve in UX to “flat design” which of course is not a new aesthetic at all, but simply a long-overdue return to modernist design principles. Just because the software engineers enabled us to highlight and drop-shadow everything under the sun does not mean those visual distractions were necessarily good ideas for improving human-to-human communications.

With Amazon’s commitment to hiring veterans and providing equal opportunity to qualified minorities, females, and people with disabilities, would you consider pushing a seven-year veteran of America’s war on democracy to the head of the hiring line? Maybe also fast-track your job application deadline to sooner than 11 September, a date historically rotten with negative energy? Because I’m not sure how much longer your “talent” can survive the brutal warehousing that Seattle has chosen for its untouchable classes, similar to impoverished women in Pakistan, no, worse, because at least they get cots instead of dirty mats on dirty floors:

amazon equal opportunity

Screenshot: Amazon HR interface.

To put my experiences in first world perspective, if your boss was judged by the same standard applied to a destitute, multiracial woman, after being trafficked by his own family, he would be locked up without access to competent counsel or fair trial, transported in shackles and chains across the width of the state for his long-term thinking and writing skills, and force-fed psychotropic pharmaceuticals that might leave him feeling suicidal, hands trembling, with difficulties concentrating, increased irritability, bleeding from his orifices, or suffering side effects identical to symptoms of intense trauma currently defined in the pop cultural imagination as “mental illness.” Since I’ve already used doors as cheap substitutes for desks we have that in common as well, and wandering walks were one of the assignments I gave to my former first-year university students.

Bonus, to your two-pizza team I bring the “symptoms” of “expressing new ideas” (err, otherwise known as innovation) and what I like to call visual literacy rather than “cre8tivity,” but none of the wild mood swings between depression and frantic tasking ­– which may lead to the accomplishment of business goals but more likely their opposite – or rage typically associated with the behavior currently labeled by the psychiatric industry as bipolar disorder, post-traumatic stress, or the side effects of heavily marketed pharmaceutical “treatment” options, happy evidence supporting my 2008 MFA theories about the healing power of art-making, as data-collecting psychologists and neuroscientists worldwide may soon conclude. If they keep researching at their current pace. And if their research can become less biased by pharmaceutical dollars. Or if those researchers can kick their personal pharmaceutical habits. Or it may take them another decade, their 2014 discovery of the importance of handwriting to information processing, learning engagement, and memory retention coincident with Idaho’s violation of my civil liberties.

With kudos to Amazon, you have actively reached out, the federal government gets its quota, you get the qualified talent you seek, and I get my life back: wins all around.

During our interview, you mentioned you would like to apply your design skills toward solving the problem of hunger in Africa; in essence, I’ve already accomplished that design research for you, simply by visually analyzing a vernacular graphic design “solution” to a communications problem, before connecting the financial dots to recognize the same multinationals that benefit from slave labor in Africa also reap lucrative administrative salaries on the backs of the impoverished in the United States. So what do you do when the folks earning salaries to ostensibly solve these troubling global design problems are instead exacerbating them? In my opinion, the Justice Department would be well advised but may not be neutral enough to investigate the nonprofit laundering money for terrorism, both foreign and domestic, if government operated half as well as business, and began design researching from the pain points of any given problem, or listening to the point of view of their clients, before establishing sound public policy. If you listen to Senate Minority Leader Harry Reid’s opinion of my extended family, my opinion is formed by not just my education in psychoanalytic and feminist theories, but also some considerable personal experience now. As you and I discussed, however, while it is good to recognize that we are all interconnected, those decisions are matters of politics and power, and well beyond the scope of any one designer.

From reading your Visual Designer job description as it is currently written, it sounds like your marketing and business folks are accustomed to balancing fragile cre8tive egos against business goals. You’ll get none of that tug-o-war with me, simply because visual communications do not form a binary duality with business. Instead, I encourage your team to begin thinking of visual communications as very similar to written and verbal communications, only using a visual vocabulary, organized with visual grammar, integral to all business communications.

Simply put, if the visuals are not communicating your business goals, get rid of them.

As I successfully defended with my MFA thesis, written content cannot be divorced from visual form, and the same language should be communicated with the structure, whether printed book or communication intended for screen media. For that matter, ideally, written content, visual form, and structure should extend from virtual to architectural space. Your shift from the former VA Hospital to your new South Lake Union headquarters, with its multiple locations, wandering walkways, and private outdoor areas that welcome public seating as long as the public can restrain itself to civil behavior all tell me that Amazon cares about the surrounding neighborhood and is working hard to create communal space.

Now that I’ve stolen a peek at your AWS site, strangely, for a company built on tech, and a subsidiary department even more tightly focused on the burgeoning cloud market, your virtual space visual communications are less coherent than your architectural, landscape architectural, and urban planning space. Let’s call this the ‘before’ screenshot:

amazon aws home

Screenshot: Amazon AWS before.

My heart aches with compassion for whichever member of your team was tasked with creating these illustrations. All those curves. All those anchor points. All those handles. Hours of painstaking labor staring into a lighted screen.

This visual language I tried to educate out of my university students, by teaching them to pay closer attention to the subject-object problem for art and psychology, positive-negative space in design, or form-counterform in typography. It looks like somebody worked really hard to make line drawings of various computer parts. But powerful and persuasive visual language uses metaphor, not literal objects. And is Amazon’s cloud service in the business of selling computer systems, or, as we discussed, communications between and among human beings?

Here, a closer look at the site’s brand and naming convention, including the URL, has your external audience wondering if your cloud services are even a subsidiary of the online everything-under-the-sun behemoth, or do you mean to dissociate from the parent brand? Or is there some wavering of decision about the direction Amazon would like to go?

amazon aws logo

Screenshot: Amazon AWS logo.

Where is the cheery smile leading from A to Z? The acronym AWS may communicate internally, but obscures services to an external audience. No portion of this name and logo looks prepared to reduce to the scale of a favicon and still communicate your core identity. Maybe, as with Fresh local delivery of food products, thus more true to the umbrella brand, consider a renaming? How do you feel about Rain? All sorts of visual possibilities there between cloud services and seeing the forest for the trees. But of course I’d like to hear more about your business objectives before making further suggestions.

Scrolling down the same page, a second visual iconography emerges, where the subject/object problems become pudgier, yet still without metaphorically communicating or visually enticing the viewer to learn more about the product or service offered:

amazon aws scroll down

Screenshot: Amazon AWS before, scroll down.

Your iconography reminds me of one of my first semester design students, who arrived boasting of his software skills, thus I wasn’t going to teach him anything about design. But of course design literacy has nothing to do with software; software simply provides the tools used in any professional field today. With this form/counterform assignment, he created a mark for a landscape architecture firm, first drawing illustrations similar to those at AWS, and was busily adding more confusion or three dimensions in SketchUp as I made my rounds of the studio. We had a nice conversation about metaphor and paring down to the essentials to communicate his intended product and services. In class, he continued to socialize with his peers and fiddle with SketchUp for the next few weeks of the assignment, so I felt very proud of him when he showed up to final crit looking as bleary-eyed as I remembered from my college days. What I still love about this mark from my teaching or art direction portfolio is the image continues to visually communicate with audiences far removed from the field of architecture:

form counterform mark

Designer: Chance Munns, student work

Notice the almost-perfect yin/yang balance between positive and negative space? How the rounded curves of 20th century design technology echo the serifs of his carefully selected typeface? Each of your icons for your products or services should have this level of attention to detail.

The AWS line drawings also remind me of my “before” struggle to get to a visual identity and structure for my healthy communications model, Unplay:

In my design process, I wrestled with that similar urge to get the iconography of objects just “right” to communicate each of the products your service offers, so I am wondering if your illustrator might be working from a similar toolbox of inherited communications baggage? Would you like my help unpacking those bags with your team?

Still a third, sexier visual language, but inconsistent across your brand, emerges for your upcoming conference in Vegas:

amazon aws conference

Screenshot: AWS 2015 conference page.

So in meatspace we’ve replaced wandery bookshops with high-speed geek conventions to the town of my coming-of-age years? Is it okay if I bring along my knitting needles, maybe a book?

Continuing with my analysis of Amazon’s visual communications in physical space, since light bulbs have long been iconic for visually communicating “bright idea,” they are not innovative icons for visually communicating the concept of “innovation.” Awhile back, there was even a movement afoot to do away with incandescent bulbs altogether. What will “innovation” look like eighty years from now? We have not envisioned that yet:

light bulb innovation

Bezos Center for Innovation (edited).

If you want to turn that light bulb into art, maybe follow the example set by Paul Allen’s purchase of Claes Oldenburg and Coosje van Bruggen’s visual pun on 20th century technology, and adhere to the design grammar of scale:

typewriter eraser

Typewriter Eraser, Claes Oldenburg and Coosje van Bruggen, 1999, Stainless steel and fiberglass painted with acrylic urethane; Space Needle in background.

In Paula Scher’s design lingo, that’s make it bigger.

But if you want to visually communicate “innovation,” the light bulb parked at the history museum says: don’t look to Amazon.

Maybe this is art in Seattle:

amazon window trash

Amazon window trash.

To me, this visual communication does not transcend trash:

window trash detail

Amazon window trash, detail.

The other side of the building looks like a poster shop at a low-rent mall:

window posters

Amazon window poster shop.

And since when did kitsch become art?

window kitsch

Amazon window kitsch

Regardless if you apply the label “art” or “design,” why is Amazon wrapping its global headquarters with data that does not visually communicate nearly as effectively as the Azzedine Alaïa windows at the downtown Nordstrom? Is it because we have neglected to teach a generation or two of screen media consumers how to make things with their hands? Or is it because a budget of $500 for rebranding, product design, and window installation for up to four months does not come close to federal minimum wage?

If Amazon genuinely wants to support artist labor and not just the salaries of arts administrators, to your team I add the only artist in the room participating in the collaborative breakout session at Seattle’s 2010 Designers Accord. Business writer Daniel Pink is only too happy to explain to your marketing folks why my contribution is important to the health and wealth of nations. Or corporations. (First rip off the die-cut jacket if you must read the print version. Flinching while I wondered why a design mentor whose aesthetic I deeply respect recommended a badly designed book paradoxically heralding the wonders of design, I nevertheless found some kernels of wisdom buried between the lines of the textblock that looks like it was designed using Excel and Publisher.) When most of the meeting attendees hastily averted their eyes or peered around the room, either reluctant to be vulnerable by speaking first, or unable to describe healthy communication in their workplaces, I provided a ready example, from my teaching experiences, what collaboration looks like in practice. Wrapping up the session, a Boeing engineer wondered aloud, “But what happens when management says ‘collaboration,’ and then we all go back to working in our individual cubicles?”

While an Idaho judge’s mind was a little too muddled to comprehend the value of healthy communication in real-world, business dollars, as you can see from my links to subsequent news reports, what happened next was Boeing went into $12 billion in cost overruns on their 787 Dreamliner. Top-down, dictatorial management soon cost the state of Washington educated engineering professional jobs. And the last time I checked, there is still that little issue of the costliest search so far in world history for one of their missing planes. That’s not “delusion.” That’s history. And one of the ways my thin thread weaves into its rich tapestry. Because all communications are visual, particularly in this era ripe with our 24/7/365 sexy 21st century technology, visual communications connect directly to business budgets.

Approached by a young Amazonian in the same coffee shop where we met, lured by my handwriting in the same hard copy journal I lugged to our appointment, after I asked why, he commented, “Because I don’t remember the last time I saw handwriting.”


Starting each workday with some analogue drawing/writing time will build a healthier, happier, more holistic workplace, time wisely invested before focusing your team’s energies to screen media. Yes, even the business folks. Maybe especially the business and marketing folks. Because the mind needs wandering time as much as the body is nourished by wandering walks. Soon you won’t need a dedicated Visual Designer. I’ll have to look for another job. Maybe transition to the UX position, because by then you’ll have taught me more about 21st century technology, which is what I want to learn anyway?

That’s it. That’s all that Amazon gets for free from me. As your Visual Designer, I would of course conduct a much more thorough analysis of your current web presence, the services visually communicated by your competitors, identify the needs of your current and intended market, and listen to the input from your internal teams. If you want still more constructive criticism, from a recovering liberal to a recovered conservative, may we meet somewhere in the middle to further discuss that salary?

As we discussed, I first cut my teeth on HTML while simultaneously learning to set cold type, designing sites and maintaining databases to assist the research scientists affiliated with the globally renowned program in human genetics at the University of Utah, including a site designed for a nationally attended research conference, yet both my Dell and my Mac laptops did not outlast my post-Great Recession-era job-seeking. While I have not personally built my own computer from scratch, my multiplatform skills and trouble-shooting patience were praised by the tech support of an entrepreneur on the other side of the country with that experience, who nevertheless needed my help to track virtual business shutdown due to two lines of code leading to her C:\ and D:\ local drives with paths inconsistent with the file organization on her remote server, thus resulting in no search results and 500 errors; in my analysis, the least of that business owner’s communication problems.

Maybe we could compare our adventures from Blackfoot to Blackfoot? Talk some more about Alan Cooper’s personas versus my deep design research working with many personalities in an environment he only uses as metaphor? I welcome your constructive criticism on either my digital work or that hand-bound portfolio too “dangerous” for a court of law. My analogue design book had been previously not at all frightening but useful as a substitute mousepad when I interviewed with a Seattle design firm and their infrared couldn’t interact with the swanky glass top of their conference table while we reviewed my web build that required me to troubleshoot Adobe’s JavaScripts to get my XML interacting properly. Listening to their feedback to include in my portfolio work relevant to global brands, I thought I would go one better and analyze the brands profiting from education policy that separates STEMs from blooms and coincided with the doubling of adolescent suicide during the same decade.

Unlike you, I didn’t have the two college friends who recognized the value of my art degrees to the field of technology. I ran out of mentors before I finished grad school. Further reading for your marketing folks, business writer Malcolm Gladwell thoroughly researches the importance of those connections to our society’s definitions of failure and success, using Seattle’s own Bill Gates as one anecdotal example. I prefer the Paul Sahre-designed boxed set. To me, Brian Rea’s illustrations add so much more to my enjoyment of the written content. But what’s your opinion?

Why Amazon?

Because you were responsive, and what respect means to me is hearing and being heard. What I’d like to learn from you is how you maintained such healthy listening skills while not just surviving but also thriving in the notoriously sarcastic corporate culture at Microsoft? I could be wrong, but I suspect something to do with your degree in English, much as Steve Jobs credits the invention of the graphical interface to just one calligraphy course and education technology entrepreneur Salman Khan his genius to public school and oil painting.

Before meeting with you, I was beginning to wonder if I would be able to regain an interest in first world problems, but now I feel confident that my experiences of being so far marginalized by society will actually strengthen your team, able to peer in and approach any problem as something of an anthropologist of my own culture, identifying problems others might miss before envisioning innovative solutions. Would you mentor me back into the world of business at the intersection of design and technology?

With warm regards,

Jana Brubaker