Some design readings: 1/8/16

A few reads that caught my attention recently…


In Search of the Design Documentation Unicorn: Is there one right formal way to document design decisions for use by your peers in the midst of product development? This nicely articulated essay argues it’s more about the higher level issues around communications, goals/intents, and outcomes in practice, applying the tools and artifacts that serve the situation. (which is my philosophy as well, do what makes sense per the needs!) 


How to Copy Netflix: This brilliant (long, about 16 mins) overview of the key factors of Netflix’s recent explosive success/growth is valuable, essential reading for anyone… just don’t expect to truly “copy” it for your company, exactly ;-) It’s more about the critical elements and how they worked together for this unique star.


Twitter Isn’t Raising the Character Limit. It’s Becoming a Walled Garden: This past week, the interwebs were, ahem, a-twitter about the rumored prospect of Twitter raising it’s character limit. This article dives deeper beyond the superficial aspects into what’s perhaps driving such a change — the business and the need for a “walled garden” of retained (imprisoned?) users for content hosted by Twitter itself. Hmm! Who knows but fascinating with real impacts for UX strategy and product direction/focus, as well as customer behavior too.


How Design Thinking Transformed AirBnB… : No question that AirBnB is one of the premier “design-driven success” exemplars today. This article offers some nice explanations of how and why that is so. Of particular note are the points that “coding your way” is not the best way forward, and data is useful in the context of scale and value to customer-oriented decisions. Highly rec for your skeptical peers in PM or Eng. 

Reflections 2015 / 2016

A new year already! Wow. How time truly flies when you’re busy… prototyping your career? Hmm. The final months of 2015 found me in the midst of a post-startup sabbatical, re-assessing my career trajectory after some unexpected changes, and taking time to shift things around in terms of personal and professional priorities. Lots and lots of coffees and conversations and “catch-up” meetings with many good people in the SF Bay Area, from designers to startup CEOs to engineers and even sales folks. I also began “prototyping” my career situation, trying out a variety of possibilities that keep me engaged and (hopefully) financially sound! I don’t know if it’s permanent just yet, but I landed upon a conceptual structure of proportionally striking a balance among three elements: a) UX Consulting b) Speaking/writing and c) Teaching (or somehow involved in design academia).

The idea is to continually tweak (iterate) the proportions of time and energy allocated to each element, per circumstances and dependencies, i.e., it’s always dynamic and evolving as a “virtuous cycle” framework. This is not new, of course, but it’s new to me for sure!

Some big challenges I encountered while embarking upon this virtuous cycle model during the last few months of 2015:

• Protecting my own time and energy for what I want to focus on, not just giving in to any “we need a designer pronto” request.

• Juggling how to keep various doors and windows of opportunity open while closing those that aren’t immediately or initially relevant, but preserving connections for later… because you never know! 

• Communicating and justifying my value as a strategic, principal-level design leader while educating folks who may not be knowledgeable about the wide, diverse spectrum of “design”.

• Defining my own goals for pursuing “academy” in small engagements, and how to balance that with paid vs non-paid speaking opportunities (for pragmatic reasons, of course ;-)

• Reconciling the inherent “hurry up and wait” model of consulting with an innate passion to tackle problems and prove my talent / leadership / value to skeptics with immediacy of impact — definitely not easy! 


So, the non-stop iteration of this model continues in earnest as I head fast into 2016. But looking ahead I’m mindful of also applying attention to a few key areas of significance for me:

• Role modeling good design leadership behavior, with clients and students alike. This includes communicating abstract concepts of design and demonstrating how to apply design thinking effectively…and strategically. 

• Avoid preaching or lecturing (ahem ;-) but instead cultivate an attitude of “inviting people along”, via thoughtful questioning of issues, encouraging responses and debates from skeptics, thus serving as an unbiased open-minded guide, not someone with an agenda to prove.

• Allowing situations or personalities to play themselves out and assess the outcomes with curiosity, rather than impatience beset by remorse or regrets. Some things aren’t meant to be, or maybe they just connect nicely! 

• Pursue design challenges (in practice and teaching) that speak to issues around ethics, philosophies, psychologies, and organizational themes, beyond “yet another screen/device”. Start developing the “meta-design” aspects of practice with clients and students, for long-term traction.


Amid such reflections of the past and what’s possible for the future (at least this year), it will be an exciting time with further forethought and adjustments along the way…Stay tuned.


Some design readings: 1/3/16

Some recent design-oriented articles that caught my attention recently…


10 Key Design Trends for 2016: Ah yes, as we begin the new year it’s always fun to prognosticate a bit about what’s coming for designers! Fast Co has published this article based upon Fjord’s Trends report. I’m most intrigued about the importance of micro-moments, big data getting “manners”, design going more in-house, governments becoming digitally savvy, and the mainstream rise of VR (finally?)…


SAPs UX Value Calculator: This site offers visitors a very tactical calculation of the value good UX provides your enterprise environments, driven by ROI arguments and productivity needs. Okay, I don’t know about the actual feasibility of this calculator, but I do like the specific terms used to break down UX value, like training hours, data quality, and change requests. Tangible factors, that I can see woven into arguments with your critical execs!


How Understanding Disruption helps Strategists: This brief HBR essay goes beyond the hype of the phrase “disruption” and re-states the benefits of really grokking it as a viable strategic concept, particularly relevant for those responsible for shaping coherent design strategy. 


What’s Next for Design Leadership: A longer essay at Fast Co that delves into valuable key points true for any design leader of contemporary times: empathy for peers, cross-functional design, mixed media savviness, cultural and business value drivers, and still remaining committed to “good design”. Good stuff!




Some design readings: 12/11/15

A few reads that caught my attention recently…


The Making of Gyroscope Running: Wonderful design creation story from draft concept to gorgeous mockups, highlighting various moments of inspiration, realization…and delight, including the “donut counter”. Highly rec! 


Modern Design Tools — Using Real Data: Excellent overview on why and how designing with actual data (not “lorem ipsum” filler or made-up fake content) leads to better, faster designs in product development cycles, driving improved overall process and feedback loops, as well. Everyone benefits, including users!


Building Project Comet: Another thorough dive into the app design creation process, from the perspective of engineering development. This piece nicely explains the details in building “micro-interactions” and “getting the feel” just right when it comes to direct manipulation of screen objects with correlated mouse behaviors. Every digital product designer (particularly students in GA or IxD classes) should read this! 


Victory Journal: A new sports and culture online journal with some astounding, gorgeous photography! Check out their instagram feed too. 


Some design readings: 12/4/15

A few reads that caught my attention recently…


Bots, Messaging, and the Interface Visibility Scale: Not quite sure how the “bots” figures into this (a fairly light treatment at the end of the essay) but love the notion of a visibility scale of interface, as a metaphorical way of thinking about how interfaces register in our perceptual and cognitive awareness levels. Adds nuance to the simplistic notion of “no UI”. 


A Behavioral Approach to Product Design: Excellent overview of how the design team at Opower employ a behavioral method to influencing user decisions and product engagement. A 4-part model, it’s very much similar to the Hooked model, with further vocabulary and explanation to help teams apply it. 


Startup, A Silicon Valley Adventure: Fascinating book-length read I’ve just started this week, this was written 20 years ago, covering the rise and fall of GO computing which advocated a pen-based computing model for ordinary folks. If anything it’s a wonderful historical record of the “startup scene” before Google and Facebook and the technologies & challenges prevalent back then — quite a few parallels! 


Interview Cheat Sheet— UX Designer at GE: Nice visual chart of what it takes to join the illustrious and ambitious design team at GE tackling complex problems around the Industrial Internet and beyond!