Who designers work for

Mike Monteiro isn’t always everyone’s cup of tea, but I really like his views in Design Ethics & the Truth About Who Designers Really Work For. In short, designers need to work for users:

When you hire me as a designer, I do not work for you. I may practice my craft at your service, but you haven’t earned the right to shape how I practice that craft. One, you don’t want me designing at your level, you want me designing at mine, which means you don’t get to pull the strings. I do. Two, you’re hiring someone who performs a service, not a servant. There’s a difference. I’m not there to do your bidding, I’m there to solve a problem or reach a goal that we agreed upon.

More importantly, designers work for all users, not just the ones who look like them…

And your job, the glorious job you signed up for when you said you wanted to be a designer, is to support all of these people. Make sure none of these incredible voices get lost. And to fight against those who see that brilliant cacophony as a bug and not the greatest feature of all time.

You are our protection against monsters.

How would you rank your own skillset?

Chris Jones describes his favorite product manager interview question, but in the spirit of “know thyself” I think this is an exercise everyone should go through for themselves:

The question comes late in the interview, but early in the overall hiring process. The setup goes like this: “Now that I know you a bit, I’d like to give you a list of 4 broad work attributes. You’re a product manager, so I already expect that you’re strong in each. But I highly doubt that you consider yourself equally competent in all of them. So I’m going to ask you to stack rank them in order of strongest to weakest”. This setup should be disarming. The candidate must understand that there is no correct answer to the question, hopefully setting up an honest conversation.

The four attributes are Execution, Creativity, Strategy, and Growth. Chris does a good job of breaking down what each attribute means and why it’s important.

When it comes to roadmaps, focus on outcomes, not features

Here’s a pragmatic approach to roadmaps that I can get behind. Escape From the Feature Roadmap to Outcome-driven Development:

You’re exploring new lands. You know where you want to get to — that’s your outcome — but there’s no established route to get there. So you’ll probably set out, and if you’re measuring yourself correctly and you’ve got good feedback loops in place, you’ll be able to course correct and quickly iterate towards your outcome. But you could only draw the complete roadmap with hindsight.

So it’s time to take a new approach: forget the features and focus on the outcomes.

Roadmaps that include a bunch of features are doomed to fail. Instead, say “here’s the problem we want to solve in this iteration.” That allows you to be flexible on scope, and ship solutions to customers quickly.

A fluid approach to shipping products

I really like the this Mountainsides approach to software projects from the Postlight team:

It’s sort of like a Gantt chart that was left on the stove too long, leaving all those neat and tidy bars melting into one another.

Mountainside development

A thought on product thinking

I feel like we’re trying too hard to make “product thinking” a thing with fancy words and lofty concepts. Like we have some kind of inferiority complex with other disciplines we’re trying to make up for.

Talk to customers, understand the market and the business, and experiment until you get it right. That’s pretty much what product management is, right? How you do that looks different for every company, but that’s where the art comes in.

You can’t codify product management.

The user experience of treadmills

Sheila Marikar wrote a very interesting piece for Bloomberg called The Race to Disrupt Your Tedious Treadmill Workout Is Heating Up. It talks about the mind-numbing boredom of running on a treadmill, with a focus on their design:

Today’s electric machines absorb shock better and look sleeker, but the ones in most gyms retain a certain quaintness, with their last-gen phone-charging cables and omnipresent menu of Calorie, Heart Rate, Manual, Random, Hill.

It then discusses how companies like Peloton are trying to change that:

In a kettlebell-adorned lounge area afterward, Foley talks up the treadmill’s design. “You don’t want to hit a little button 20 times when you’re running full sprint,” he says. “So we asked, ‘Where are your hands, and what would be easy to interact with?’

“Fitness equipment is a very dopey category,” he adds. “It hasn’t evolved. You still sometimes see the dots rotating around the track. It’s a 1979 interface.”

I love reading stories about how user-centered design is used to upend and dramatically improve the user experience of entire industries. We saw it in phones, in the taxi industry, and countless others. I’m looking forward to seeing it in treadmills as well.

The rise of “real-time mood-based marketing”

Ok this is creepy:

Over the past few years, Spotify has been ramping up its data analytic capabilities in a bid to help marketers target consumers with adverts tailored to the mood they’re in. They deduce this from the sort of music you’re listening to, coupled with where and when you’re listening to it, along with third-party data that might be available.

And they’re not alone:

Spotify is far from the only platform helping brands target people according to their emotions; real-time mood-based marketing is a growing trend and one we all ought to be cognizant of. In 2016, eBay launched a mood marketing tool, for example. And last year, Facebook told advertisers that it could identify when teenagers felt “insecure” and “worthless” or needed “a confidence boost”.

Using storytelling to demystify meditation

I enjoyed this interview with Anna Charity, the head of design at Headspace. Here she explains designing the product specifically to make meditation feel more inclusive:

One of the main things that we considered when we created the brand was that meditation should feel like it’s for everybody, and it should feel accessible and inclusive. More importantly, we try to show meditation in a really everyday way — we show it in contexts that people can easily imagine. And one thing that all of us have in common is, is that we have a mind. Ever since Headspace’s inception we have always used characters and storytelling to explain meditation. As we all know, our minds are a complex place. They are full of different thoughts and emotions, and it isn’t always an easy place to inhabit. (That’s the reason meditation is so valuable.) From this, we knew we had to develop a style that communicated these ideas in an approachable and relatable way. And more importantly we found that characters are a great vehicle to represent the weirdness inside your head because they feel playful and memorable.

Product managers and the prioritization of problems vs. solutions

Scott Colfer writes about product roadmaps in this article, but it includes what I think is a pretty valuable overview of the core role of a product manager:

Product management makes promises to solve problems over commitments to specific solutions. We take the human tendency to specify the means of doing something, rather than the result that is wanted, and redirect it by specifying what is to be achieved, rather than how to achieve it. Product managers are usefully agnostic about solutions — we help teams to prioritize the most valuable problems to solve and then help them to prioritize the solution that requires the least work for the most value — and we’re happy when we learn something that helps us to refine and simplify our solution.

Video games to help fight climate change

Karn Bianco asks What if video games could help fight climate change? No, really:

One of the first in a new line of climate change-focused games was survival game Eco. Developed by Seattle-based Strange Loop Games, this massively ambitious civilization simulator includes everything from detailed ecosystems and realistic climate modeling to player-driven government and economies. Players work together in a shared online world where every action impacts the environment around them. Laws to restrict or encourage almost any kind of behavior can be suggested and enacted to test their effects on the world.

This is a really neat development. I also like the ideas about how this could translate to long-running simulation games like SimCity:

Imagine a SimCity that puts people (not cars) and sustainability (not endless growth) first. Where designing a city that’s easy and safe to navigate on foot or by bike is not just possible but rewarded, with lower pollution and healthier citizens. Where constructing energy-efficient buildings provide long-term in-game benefits like lower energy demands, as well as a chance to learn about real world trends like passive housing.


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