I have a friend named Xianhang Zhang – he goes by “Hang.”

I was in the middle of my studies in the Near Eastern Languages & Civilization department at the University of Washington, and through a student group, we met, and started chatting. Pretty quickly, we began discussing principles of web and graphic design. I was entirely self-taught at this point, and hadn’t pursued any sort of design as anything much beyond a hobby, but I was confident that I had design figured out.

I’m sure he found this very amusing.

Yet, for whatever reason, I suppose Hang saw some potential in my ability to design – or at least in my ability to learn to design. He offered to employ me for the summer as a full-time designer, and excited at the prospect of a job where I could learn, I jumped at it.

Hang had a dream to create a social design firm. He was bursting with ideas and experiments he wanted to let loose in the world, and needed help making those dreams a reality. Thus, Bumblebee Labs was born.

The first project we undertook was the branding and identity of the firm itself. I did all of my designing in Photoshop at this point (the thought makes me cringe now), and I think that was the first of many mistakes Hang helped me overcome.

It became a summer of learning. Hang gave me book after book about the classic fundamental principles of graphic design that I thought I was smart enough to never have to learn, and as time passed, my skills, my eye, and my process improved significantly.

Looking back at the designs I made at that time is like looking at a visual timeline of the growth of my brain. I’ll see an old screenshot and think, ah, that’s right. That’s when I discovered the importance of grids for web sites.

The design of bumblebeelabs.com, blog.bumblebeelabs.com, and the logo and identity of the firm were the final products of my first few steps in the right direction.

Hang is now in Silicon Valley, kicking ass and making things like this.