Wise Words from SwissMiss

SwissMiss speaks at TYPO SF

Pardon me for being a little flustered – I met my design idol last week and am still a bit awestruck. Tina Roth Eisenberg, often referred to by her popular blog’s name, SwissMiss, is a designer, blogger, wife, mother, and the self-proclaimed “queen of accidental income,” living in Brooklyn by way of Switzerland (in case you didn’t catch the reference).

She gave the opening keynote speech at last week’s TYPO Conference here in San Francisco, and took the opportunity to share eight simple lessons that she hopes to impart upon her two young children, Tilo and Ella. For myself, the nine other design-minded CfA fellows in attendance, and the hundreds of other type-geeks that packed the main auditorium at the Yerba Buena Center for the Arts, the talk felt more like a blueprint for establishing a fulfilling and sane creative career: from “Trust Your Intuition” to “Ignore the Haters” to “If an Opportunity Scares You, Take It,” every single nugget of wisdom resonated deeply with me on a personal level. A few of the other fellows and I also noticed that several of them were in complete alignment with the core principles of Code for America, as outlined below:

Don’t Be a Complainer.
Instead, make things better.

BAM. This is what CfA is all about. We are trying to build a movement of empowered citizens who are willing to be more than just consumers of government services — government, after all, is by the people, for the people. So why shouldn’t we as citizens pitch in when we see an opportunity to help our goverment serve us better?

See an opportunity to help using skills or resources you already have? Do it!
Need help from others with different skillsets or resources? Form a Brigade in your community!
Want to spend a year turning complaints into useful tools? Apply for the fellowship!

We are in the business of not only reimagining government, but reimagining citizenship as well.

Find Like-Minded People.
Make sure they’re a respectful and good bunch.

Building a supportive community is vital to doing creative work, and I have yet to find a more supportive bunch than the staff and fellows at CfA. Much like at SwissMiss’s Brooklyn coworking space, StudioMates, there is an endless amount of encouragement, knowledge-sharing, and inspiration happening within the walls of our office and throughout the extended CfA community. When times get rough or I reach a road block in my project, being a part of such an inspiring and compassionate community reminds me why I am doing what I’m doing, and why it matters.


Remember how Tina calls herself the “queen of accidental income?” Almost all of her income-generating side projects (her popular productivity app, TeuxDeux, her designy temporary tattoo company, Tattly, and even StudioMates itself) were born out of spontaneous collaboration between herself and her, well, studiomates. At Code for America, some of last year’s most successful projects such as Iconathon and MuralApp emerged out of “Labs Fridays,” in which us fellows are explicitly encouraged to spend 20 percent of our workweek pursuing no-pressure side projects in collaboration with fellows outside of our primary city teams. Similarly, our city partners are “partners” rather than “clients” for a reason: from our experience, collaborating as equals fosters stronger relationships and ultimately yields more thoughtful and effective products.

Inspire Others.

We know that in an 11-month fellowship, we won’t be able to revamp entire systems, break down every possible barrier, or reinvent city government as we know it, in one fell swoop. But that’s not what we’re going for anyway – we are here to show what is possible when you make the technology and design advancements from the private sector available to the public sector. We hope that by creating that one app, visualizing that one dataset, or encouraging a new way of approaching that one problem, we can send the message that harnessing open-source technology, design-thinking, and a transparent, collaborative approach allows cities to tackle big problems using fewer resources, and share their learning with other cities, too. We are here to inspire — to inspire city governments to rethink what is possible, and to inspire citizens to reimagine their relationship with government.

By the end of the two-day conference, my brain (and notebook) were jam-packed with new ideas, and I returned to work reinvigorated and filled with a renewed sense of pride in our organization’s mission and strategy. Big thanks to our office-mates FontShop for making it possible for so many of the CfA fellows to attend, and I’m looking forward to seeing Tina’s eight principles continue to resonate in our work here at CfA.

photo credit: Amber Gregory

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