Hey friends!

I just got back from Portland last week. I’m still a bit jet lagged and I’m slowly catching up on my emails. I have so much feels to share with you all about the event I just went to—XOXO.

I’m dedicating this issue to XOXO, which is now one of my favourite events in the world. At the end of the newsletter, there is a list of cool projects by indie artists that you should check out 😄

What is XOXO?

According to the website, XOXO is an experimental festival for independent artists and creators who work on the internet. (If you didn’t understand that, same here. I didn’t understand what that meant until I was there.)

XOXO, in my own words, is an event for people to enjoy the works and listen to indie artists. That include game designers, filmmakers, animators, musicians, cartoonists, podcasters, writers, illustrators, and coders.

If I were to describe the audience, it is primarily people who work in tech companies that have side hustles (podcasts, comics, illustrations, etc.). If you’re into side projects, and you probably did or plan to monetize your side projects, you will love XOXO.

This year, the theme is about challenging social inequality. I didn’t even realize that was the theme until I listened to a few conference talks. It turns out, friends, these are exactly the topics we should hear about.

P.s. XOXO is not exclusively for tech people, but a lot of people who come to XOXO work in tech (mostly in-house) and do stuff on the side. That’s my interpretation.

Here's an official post about the core focus of XOXO.

Why did I go and how was it?

Honestly, I had no idea what XOXO is about nor do I know the names of any most artists. I just remember that at some point in 2016, my Twitter blew up with XOXO related tweets. It seemed like an event where people go meet Internet friends, and that was my primary reason for going. (I admit my shallowness...)

And...I had a blast! XOXO is special and well done in so many ways.

I have never been to an event where the talks and works highlight the struggles, feelings, realities of online work/culture and the difficulties of being marginalized.

I have never seen a speaker/artist line-up where marginalized groups are so well represented.

I have never heard any event organizers say to the crowd “everyone is almost universally friendly and interesting, and is open to talking to people randomly. If they are not open to talking, we will kick them out!” 🤣 That really helped to reduce my anxiety as someone who went to XOXO alone, for the first time, and knew nobody in the city.

I have never been to a large-scale event where people are so welcoming and inclusive.

Until XOXO. XOXO makes you feel like...you belong there.

So I want to share some high- and lowlights of my time in XOXO in photos and bullet points, otherwise this newsletter issue will turn into a book. 😂

Highlights of XOXO

1. Relatable and moving stories

Jonny Sun

  • The feeling of being a perpetual foreigner as a person of colour in the US. That me.
  • Loneliness, imposter syndrome and feeling like an outsider. Also me.
  • “People follow me expecting humour, but I can retweet things about social justice and be the trojan horse.” Also me. I'd like to think I'm a trojan horse that appears to be a Twitter account about design, but is actually one about diversity, inclusion and equality.

Helen Rosner

  • She’s a food writer that used a hair dryer to dry chicken, for no other reasons than to make delicious chicken. This story was used as a sexist punchline/headline to attract hits.
  • "A man used a hair dryer to dry chicken? What a genius! Food writer used a hair dryer to dry chicken? Must be for good reasons. A woman used a hair dryer to dry chicken? WTF is this stupid crazy woman doing!"
  • At the end of her talk, she made us repeat what’s on this slide and that felt GOOD.


  • Her work was turned down for being “too ethnic.” 😠 Then she created the Cartoonists of Color Database and Queer Cartoonists Database to highlight marginalized comics creators.
  • The databases are labours of love that took all her evenings and weekends. When other creators told her that they got commissioned work through the database, her heart was filled with joy. I related that to my devoted evenings and weekends towards Ladies that UX and my other D&I involvement. I found her story very moving and relatable.

2. Friends, family and good times!

  • I met up with many internet friends and made new ones! I made a Twitter list of people that I met or knew at XOXO.
  • Met up with #visual-arts people and drew together in this cool art studio! I can’t draw for shit so it was inspiring to see people who do full-time product/UX design work draw soooo well on the side
  • I recorded a podcast with Tamas and Samir in a professional podcast booth!
  • Spending time with family who drove from Vancouver BC to meet me ❤️
  • Amazing brunch in Portland (more on Instagram)

Lowlights of XOXO/Portland

  • Gendered language everywhere in Portland/USA! “Hi guys” “hey guys” “you guys” 😡 Gosh I hate this so much. Even though it was addressed on stage at the beginning of each day, I still hear it a lot in Portland and in the event. Gendered language is ingrained in many people. 😕
  • Missing Alex Norris’ talk in Comics (the only artist in the line-up that I know of) because I had to check in to a different Airbnb on Sunday. I’m still quite bummed about this. 😔
  • Because of the queue, I didn’t get into the beginning of Art+Code and had to leave early due to being exhausted. When I talked to people, they said Art+Code was their favourite. Unfortunately I didn’t hear the other talks. 😞
  • I brought the wrong clothes and for a few days I had to leave early because it was freezing at night.
  • I would really love to join the karaoke but the wait was like 1 hour, and I was exhausted.
  • I got to meet Alice Lee in person, one of my favourite artists but I was too starstruck and didn’t know what to say. 😳

🍏 Cool stuff to check out from XOXO

Enhance.computer (fun!)

A cyberpunk game you play by yelling at your computer like you're in a movie. It's an homage to the classic sci-fi "zoom and enhance" trope.

Here's an epic video of someone playing it that you must watch.

Untitled Goose Game (hilarious!)

It's a lovely weekday morning in the village and you are a horrible goose.

Emoji Garden

Make it rain emoji...in the garden?

Tweeter or Retweeter?

Analyze yourself or someone else. Are they an original tweeter?

Friendshipping podcast

A podcast about friendships, XOXO-y questions, recorded live from XOXO

Ladies Kicking Butt

Feminist art that's literally ladies kicking butt prints

Faces of XOXO ‘18

Diverse portraits of #xoxofest attendees. If you were there, maybe this can help you remember who you talked to...


Art+Code showcases XOXO's favorite creators working at the intersection of art and technology. If you weren't there, you can at least check out these cool projects!

👀 What's next

XOXO made me realize that:

  • I’m not the only one that feels like an outsider as a person of colour
  • It’s worthwhile to devote your spare time to do meaningful things, like lifting up others and creating opportunities for marginalized people
  • It’s still nice to be a creator on the Internet
  • If you want a dumpling emoji, you can actually make it and propose it to the Emoji Committee

Honestly, I cannot think of a better event than XOXO for one that upholds inclusion principles so thoroughly.

Not only do they have the most comprehensive and thoughtful inclusion policy...I mean, free non-alcoholic drinks all day long? Free on-site childcare? A chill room where you can hide away and be your introverted self? A diverse and representative lineup? Subsidized passes and prioritizing underrepresented and economically disadvantaged individuals? A detailed code of conduct and enforcing order when it is violated? Actively listening to people, taking in criticism and making no excuses for mistakes?

You can tell that the organizers really, really, care about the experience of everyone, and want we all to have a great time at XOXO.

If you’re an event organizer or know one, and want to level up an event, check out their inclusion policy and code of conduct which are licensed under CC BY-SA 4.0.

XOXO motivated me to create and do more. In my way as a creator, that is writing stories, speaking about my experiences, and building communities for marginalised folks.

I would happily return next year to meet old and new Internet friends, appreciate indie projects, share feelings, and enjoy the atmosphere of the most inclusive and welcoming event, possibly on Earth.

Hope to see you also there next year. Until next time!


Jenny Shen Design

Saturnusstraat 141, Hoofddorp

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