Sharing is caring!

Missy Yarbrough is a product designer, photographer, and overall social experimenter. She and I sat down to do a follow up interview about making safe spaces for creativity and doing thumbnail experiments with her work and building relationships.

Read more interviews with Missy on being an ambivert in corporate culture and getting started in UX.

How did your path to creative begin?

This started maybe in first grade when I failed a reading test. It was my first experience with public failure. This struck a fire in my belly to go out and explore other worlds, and I found the ability by embracing reading.

I kept it up. By the time I was in fourth or fifth grade, I was reading at a high school level.

What was an impactful book for you at that time?

The Redwall Series is about society but interpreted through woodland creatures. Mice, badgers, snakes, and adders try to live “harmoniously” together. The are rats that are the primary antagonist. For me, it really formed the basis of understanding for how to work with people to grow in a healthy way.

Find the Redwall Series here.

Learning from play

I transitioned from reading books to playing games online with Neo Pets and Orbits. Each of those things had worlds where you can learn to make things online and sell. I learned a lot from playing around with those realities. This got me started with HTML and CSS. Joined forums where all the people were.

In one forum, I reached out to someone who had a cool personal signature, and asked her how she made it. That’s how I got started with Photoshop. I read and experimented with everything I could with the program. Eventually, I got to the point where I was making custom signatures for other people to put on their forum profiles. This forced me to not get stuck in one style since I could be making signature for a goth artist one day or a librarian the next.

Missy Yarbrough on creating safe spaces and doing thumbnail experiments in life and work

“I hated doing thumbnails in school, but if I applied the concepts to real life, it helped me safely experiment with my work and how I work with people.”

Thumbnails and creative experiments

In university, I hated making thumbnails. Looking back it was a way for me to experiment and discover new ideas. I have learned to do this with my work, and it has also proved helpful with how I work with people.

During my early years as a university student, a friend told me that I needed to do a wardrobe update. I didn’t like that feedback at the time, but I kept it in my head to see if there was any value for me. I eventually realized that what I wore had an impact on the people around me. If I wore something more formal or just my pajamas to class, my classmates behavior would shift accordingly.

Cosplay and perspective

One of my creative outlets is cosplay. This is another thumbnail experience for me. I realized that I could get completely different feedback in costume than what I would normally get. The feedback and the way it made me feel helped me understand that people and the World weren’t as one dimensional as I thought. It was invigorating.

This helped me with creative process. I may view it one way. Others may view it another way, and I have to ask myself what was missing in between.

Providing safe spaces for creativity

To be creative you need a safe space. I like to think I created one at home with my family. It’s also a place for people to come and re-establish themselves. I’ve opened up my house for people moving away from Mississippi to find a new homebase with more opportunities. Sorry Austin, but I have to help people.

At work, there are safe places where I can experiment and grow as well. I discovered Toastmasters. This helped me develop as a speaker by basically failing fast in a supportive environment.

Read more on creativity here.

Become a Patron!
Help bring more content on design and creativity by supporting the work on Patreon.

Sign up for newsletter. Get insights from other interviews as well as past transcripts.

Matt Eng

Matt Eng

DesignOps Manager. Based in Austin,TX. Worked with clients such as Alcatel-Lucent, Ogilvy, RBC, Deloitte, Whirlpool, Polycom, Symantec, and Pebble. Matt teaches, mentors, and speaks about design, creativity, and fostering stronger connections within teams.