Category Archives: Design

Woman with megaphone

Digital Ignorance is Not Bliss

Time to get real. The web is no longer a teenager. We live in the digital age. If you have a job building the digital world, it’s past time you learn how a web site works and how it is made. The time when a marketing strategist could get by saying “I’m a print guy. I don’t get that web stuff.” is beyond over. Web, mobile, print, TV, they all work together creating seamless experiences. Or at least that’s what your audience expects of your brand. Throwing up your hands in ignorance of one channel does not amplify your brilliance in those you claim to understand.

Woman with megaphone


At the risk of breaking into a rant I’ll speak plainly. I get it that you are a gifted graphic designer. Really, your shit is beautiful. Photoshop is an extension of your physical being. The problem is Photoshop is not your medium. Designing for digital means that screens, pixels, browsers and apps are your media. If you want to design awesomeness, you need to learn how to best exploit their attributes like a painter understands paint and canvas.

Myopically focusing on your pixels handicaps the teams who build what you imagine. You are limiting your own pool of ideas; limiting your usefulness in a world of collaborators. You are the lab partner that no one wants because you don’t do your share of the work. Pleading ignorance of the web is no longer acceptable for those designing for it. It is merely and indication of your lack of dedication to your craft. Don’t be that guy.

The web grew primarily through the spirit of those building on each others shared work (open source). Networks of self-motivated individuals figuring out what we can make this internet thing do. Self teaching is still the primary method of education among digital professionals. No one gets to stand off to the side refusing to learn and keeps a seat at the table. Everyone around you is learning as fast as they can. You need put on your big girl pants and step up.

You don’t need to become an expert developer. You DO need to understand the foundation of how the internet works. Understand HTML5, how data gets in and out of a web page, and how all of those computers talk to each other.

I’ll up the stakes just a bit more. If you have anything to do with strategy, marketing or user experience please for-the-love-of-Pete start participating in social networks. This is a major part of how brands are connecting with people. You need to understand how Facebook, Twitter, etc. fits into the collective experience. If you can’t empathize with those users, if you don’t understand it, how can you design for it?

Thanks for listening. Now go learn something.

End of rant.

photo credit: hebedesign via photopin cc

Revising UX: Learning from the Lean Startup Movement

As a consultant, I’m always interested in new ways to win interesting engagements. By interesting, I mean the opportunity to do research based design, measure the ROI and perhaps even have a publishable case study. UX designers are consistently plagued with situations that shut the door on research and KPIs. “We can only afford the time and budget for wireframes.” and “If only we would have brought you in at the beginning of the project you could have had more impact.” Are frequently heard when I to dig into a new project. I love Leisa Reichelt’s  great presentation Strategic User Experience at UX Cambridge 2011 discusses the state of typical UX engagements.

Brick Wall
User Experience projects consistently face the same barriers to delivering value.

User Experience has had considerable time to mature as a discipline. Heck, we even have a cryptic acronym with an ‘X’! It’s surprising that we haven’t broken through the roadblocks that we were fighting a decade ago. At the same time, iterative, user centered methodologies like Lean Startup are gaining significant momentum. The message is the same; make informed decisions about your product based on empirical information. From this we can see that the value proposition is not what businesses don’t embrace. It’s the packaging and delivery of that value. The way that UX presents itself to the market is in need of a pivot.

Stephanie Sansoucie and I have been discussing the shared ideals of UX and Lean Startup. Eric Ries doesn’t make much of a mention to user experience even though UX strategy is the core of what he is presenting. Stephanie and I have concluded that it’s time for User Experience to heed its own message and become more accessible to those we work with and serve. How do we do that?

User Experience has centered itself around design activities, always hoping to get the budget and time to do research first. What would happen if our defacto deliverable was research, and design was what got done with copious time and budget? Think about it. The UX resource focuses on doing the research necessary to develop a UX strategy to fulfill the product vision. He ensures that the project team is exposed to the information they need about users in order for the team to make informed interface and workflow choices. What would happen if our primary role was providing that information and we left the bulk of the designing to those with their hands in the code? I have a theory that the world would become more user friendly.

Which produces the better experience? A skilled designer making assumptions about what will work for users based on experience and no data, or developers making design decisions armed with ample information about their users? We have a world full of digital products produced using the former process. I’d like to see us try a new way rather than banging our heads against the same brick walls. I think it will be the first step to finally gaining wide adoption and having a better way to deliver on the promise of UX.

Meeting Mindfulness

Mindfulness, which, among other things, is an attentive awareness of the reality of things (especially of the present moment)


Meetings meetings meetings… There are always too many, they’re too long, and they don’t seem to help you get much done. Throngs of people have written about how to have effective meetings, planning as well as conducting them. Getting together face to face should be a very productive moment.  That said, I’ve seen few organizations get them right.

Listen by Ky Olsen

There’s a certain meeting amnesia that happens when a meeting disperses. You just spent 2 hours in a discussion but no one can seem to remember what was decided. You have the same debates over and over. A stunning amount of time is spent reworking the same features. Frankly, it makes me stabby. I can’t stand being in a meeting when I know that the same conversation will be replayed again for no reason other than the lack of attention paid the first time. I’ve been in plenty of meetings when even the person talking wasn’t paying attention to their own words. Oh to have those hours back!

In my quest to invent the 28 hour day, I came upon a great video that mentions the effectiveness of fully focusing on the task at hand, practicing mindfulness. Tony Schwartz: The Myths of the Overworked Creative He makes the profound statement that we are infinitely more efficient when we focus on one thing at a time. If everyone focused on the discussion during a meeting, would it be faster, more memorable, more productive?

All the structure in the world can’t make your meetings effective if no one is paying attention. I’m not talking about sitting quietly staring at whomever is speaking. I’m talking about mindfully listening and considering the discussion. We need to do this to be effective. At Centare I see many examples of getting this right. It’s one of the things I love about the people I work with.

My list of what works:

  • Meetings are only as long as they need to be. Less time with follow up questions is better than a long meeting.
  • Be frank and concise.
  • Have a clear purpose. Once that is satisfied, end the meeting.
  • If the people you need are too busy to pay attention in the meeting, don’t have the meeting.
  • Don’t interrupt when someone’s speaking. It’s a clear sign that people are thinking about their response rather than listening to what is being said.

That last one is huge. Everyone is crunched for time, and everyone wants to contribute. Interrupting is a red flag that no one is listening and you are doomed to repeat this conversation. This behavior becomes part of your team’s culture and it’s a tough habit to break. We learned to wait for our turn to talk in kindergarten for good reason.

I spent some time with a team that was so desperate to make sure that the project succeeded, design arguments went on for weeks. For all the words that were said, very few were ever heard. Our team culture became so toxic that ideas were shot full of holes before they were fully presented. In meetings it was rare that anyone could finish what they intended to say before someone else started talking. We weren’t looking for the gems we could harvest out of each other’s ideas. The sad truth is that a lot of those ideas were awesome. But we missed them. We were too busy jumping to conclusions and assuming that we knew what the person was about to say to consider a different point of view.

Respect your own time, respect other’s time by allowing ideas to be heard and considered before moving on to rebuttal. Make sure that you are harnessing all those great ideas rather than talking over them. We are all busy, but we will get more done if we take the time to listen to each other. (Stop, collaborate and listen) apologies

Think of how short and useful meetings would be if everyone paid attention.