Coming up with an illustration for each Alpha Projects concept challenges me. When I set out to represent friendship, I considered the following kinds of imagery:
- Hugs: COVID made this a more fraught gesture, but the connecting moment of a hug is such a great symbol of the emotional aspect of friendship.
- Food pairings like PB&J sandwiches: Forrest Gump referred to his friendship with Jenny as “like peas and carrots” showing how natural it is to think of food pairings in representing how we can be different from and perfectly complement our friends. Personally, I love the combination of soy sauce and egg called “shoyu tamago” that my fiancé, who I consider my best friend, makes me. That particular combination may be too esoteric. A more clichéd version with PB&J wouldn’t have spoken to me at this point in my life.
- Garden flowers: This is a popular symbol of friendship, representing the care that goes into cultivating strong friendships. Kat Vellos, an author and expert on friendship, even goes as far as referring to “hydroponic friendships.”
- Puppy and kitten companions: My partner and I have dreamed for a while of raising a puppy and kitten together with the hope they become best friends. Who doesn’t swoon for interspecies companionships?
- Symbiosis: The topic of interspecies relationships sent me down an internet rabbit hole exploring symbiosis. Wolves and hyenas. Crabs and sea urchins. Oxpeckers and zebras.
Ultimately, I sketched an image of a puppy and kitten hugging. They’re enclosed within a heart shape to represent what is created between, the closeness and connection of friendship.
The dictionary definition centers around a state of being friends or friendly. When I think of friendship, I see an additional entity that’s created between two (or more) people. There’s a relationship, a dynamic, and intangibles. Respect. Love. Commitment. Vulnerability.
When I decided to focus the F sprint on friendship, my mind immediately went to Kat Vellos who I referenced at the top. Last year, I was introduced to Kat through the Connection Club she runs. The community is a craft-and-chat club for making connections. As a seasoned facilitator and UX designer, she designed the experience to include rituals, community agreements, and an intentional structure. The first half supports “introvert time” where you can write letters or make art to send friends. The second half opens up to “extrovert time” where small groups can discuss curated questions and go beyond small talk. I attended her sessions for a few months before the Pacific Time schedule became more challenging for me to maintain.
Kat was kind enough to curate friendship-related resources for me that I’m including in my newsletter. That generous act was the final push for me to buy one of her books, We Should Get Together: The Secret to Cultivating Better Friendships. I had resisted buying the book, assuming a lot of the content I would be familiar with. I was right about my familiarity with much of the research. What was missing, and what ultimately drove me to buy the book, was the whole of how the research, her own research, and her personal insights and illustrations come together.
If I’d bought Kat’s book prior to this project sprint, I could have run with a “zero to sixty in two weeks” plan that leverages what she refers to as The QQ10 Method. While I associate QQ with “quick question,” in this context it means “Quality+Quantity” and the 10 refers to the number of consecutive days of quality time she hypothesized would accelerate closeness. The goal is for there to be sustained immersion through committing to 10 days straight of seeing and communicating with someone else. The friendship experiment draws on the Seeds of Connection she names: proximity, frequency, compatibility, and commitment. If two weeks doesn’t sound right, she also offers up a 90-day “Friendship Incubator” featuring weekly hangouts during that time. Another tactic she references is a friend's where you build momentum and connection in an early friendship via a staycation weekend. If any of those formats pique the interest of my friends or friends-to-be, I’m game!
I thought my “E Is for Emotion” sprint was already challenging and this topped that. When I thought of potential friendship projects, before I read the book, my mind went to clichéd associations like friendship bracelets. The sprint overlaps with the second half of my Creative Quest focused on color, so I also thought about painting colorful postcards to send. These kinds of projects are one-offs and I instead wanted to consider incorporating a personal practice around cultivating and deepening friendships.
I also thought about mapping my ego-centric networks as referenced in this piece that synthesizes a lot of research I’m familiar with from Jeffrey Hall, Robin Dunbar, and others. Here are a few excerpts:
Dunbar’s friend layers:
- 1.5 people: The intimate couple or the individual.
- 5 people: Intimate friends or family. People you can call in a crisis.
- 15 people: Best friends. People who you can ask for sympathy.
- 50 people: Good friends. The majority of regular social contacts and, by extension, all of one’s emotional and economic support.
- 150 people: Casual friends or acquaintances.
Time required to build friendship bonds (based on Hall’s research):
- Casual Friend: 40-60 hours
- Good Friend : 90-110 hours
- Best Friend: >200 hours
I hadn’t seen this before but found the framing helpful:
- Casual friends meet up at least once a year.
- Good friends meetup up once every 6 months.
- Best friends meet up once a month.
- Intimate friends meet up at least once a week.
Much of this information is also captured in these graphics.
Years ago, I first read about Hall’s research and the magic number around 200 hours. My mind back then envisioned projects around this including a friendship “punchcard.” I never pursued the idea because there’s a big difference between breaking down 200 hours into 100 or fewer milestones and a much more achievable neighborhood coffee shop’s 10-cup loyalty card. Kat also assumed that many people may feel hopeless about the large number of hours. She also felt optimistic she could share how she has fast-tracked relationships, as she beautifully writes:
I call this hydroponic friendship. In the absence of abundant soil (aka abundant time), nutrients (aka deeply-enriching, immersive experiences of connection) can be supplied to the plant (aka people) in such a way that growth (aka friendship) can fully blossom and thrive.
Kat also writes about another tactic that has helped her nurture friendships. She schedules repeating reminders in her phone to keep in touch with old friends, who she defines as anyone she’s known for 2+ years, and new friends who include anyone she’s met in the last 1-2 years. Each reminder includes 5 names and each week one reminder pings her. She then picks 1-2 people and sets up a time to connect, sends them a postcard, or sends them something digital that reminds her of them. Hopefully she doesn't mind me taking a snapshot of her illustration from the book (👋🏻 Hi Kat!).
Her system for maintaining friendship ties inspired me to consider one of my own. During the pandemic, I’ve been creative in keeping in touch with friends—coordinating chat-and-chore sessions, sending treats and postcards, attending Zoom illusionist shows together, engaging in socially distanced outings, etc. I haven’t been methodical about my approach and so some friendships may have unintentionally received more attention than others. So I decided to create a randomized Friendship Connections Generator to offer up connection recipes including a friend’s name, connection experience, and a color to theme the experience around.
I thought I had the perfect tool to prototype this. I learned of Glide app two years ago and mostly forgot about it until Lee encouraged Chris in our Identity Lab to repurpose a Glide app around generating habit recipes for incorporating more play into our lives as adults. I realized this version of the app only randomized categories one-by-one. I wanted something to take a friend’s name, connection experience, and color into a connection recipe.
After exploring other no-code options (including Adalo and Excel), I scaled back my vision to match my time constraints and current patience. In this design, the first tab would randomize and present one friend where I could swipe left to choose someone else that day or swipe right to take me to the second tab where I could select from random options for a connection experience. Depending on the mood and context, I could also view the third tab featuring a shuffling selection of connection questions from Kat’s book. This is far from an ideal UX but since this app is privately accessible by only me, I decided it worked well enough.
The experience of building the app in Glide was clunky and frustrating when I wasn't able to get some of the functionality to work (swiping, reshuffling, etc.). That said, I got a prototype up in a couple of hours, which includes populating the spreadsheet data to power it.
Friendship is another challenging topic for me which is not surprising if you read my post on community. Moving around a lot, and even feeling shame about my family’s homes and what happened within those walls, meant it wasn’t easy to form or maintain friendships. Unhealthy family dynamics also translated into listening and supporting friends while never quite letting them in to my independent life and guarded inner world. As I’ve spent more time making sense of my history, I’m more accepting of who I am, my feelings and my needs. I’m excited to see how greater self knowledge and acceptance translates into richer relationships and meaningful moments with more friends.
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