Journal

  • On Accomplishment, Failure, and Zipping Your Hoodie

    I disjointedly try to get my kids to the kitchen, grabbing jackets and shoes in a fury of infant-squirming and groggy toddler hollers. I need coffee, and the kids are mine for the morning. I give Asher his hoodie to put on while I put on Harper's jacket, thinking as a four-year-old he's totally capable of that small feat. The first time I turn around it's wrapped around his head. The second time it's inside-out and wrapped around his waist. This isn't going well by any means, and in my rush I immediately think "Okay dude, just let me do it." Then I pause.

    Doing that would do two things: it would communicate that he had failed at the task that I had given him and couldn't be trusted with something so complex. It would also rob him of any sense of accomplishment he'd get from solving the problem himself.

    So instead I set Harper down, and explained how to get it on and zip it up, all by himself. As he pulled the zipper to his neck he smiled at me. And the coffee didn't taste any worse with the few-minute postponement.

    I've found myself in that same situation on the teams I've been on, both as the parent and the four-year-old. There's deadlines, client meetings, investor pitches, product launches—any number of things—looming in the distance, and the immediate thought is "Okay dude, just let me do it." But how often do we think about the real ramifications of what we're communicating to our team members in that moment?

    Whose hoodies are we zipping up?

  • Design Week Portland

    Design Week Portland

    I spent this last week in the beautiful Pacific Northwest with an amazingly talented group of designers, printers, creators, and makers. Design Week Portland was a great experience, and I enjoyed connecting with all of you who came out.

    We set up an awesome little exercise at the Opening Party that let all the attendees draw what they loved about PDX. People were amazingly creative (and funny), and we had a blast getting to know everyone. It's amazing what you can do with some foamcore, a box of Sharpies, and an amazingly creative community.

  • The Customers You (Think You) Have

    I've been creative directing and designing at Virb for a couple years now, and for a long time I had an idea of the customer we were reaching—or so I thought. We've always designed and positioned ourselves to focus on the everyman, our friends, wives, and moms, people who have ideas that they need to get online—not digitally or design savvy. Having this goal user and target market was a great asset, and it helped us make informed decisions for years.

    Ummm...Wait

    We're a pretty small team here at Virb, so we finally had a chance to send out our first comprehensive customer survey in June. And man—we were pretty wrong. This is what we found:

    • 87% of our customers are adept with computers
    • 66% are under the age of 35
    • 70% are creatives or content creators

    Let's just say that this wasn't the target market I had in my mind over two years ago. I was pretty floored to learn that we had attracted a customer base very aligned with who we were as a team, and who understood the value we were trying to bring to website building. They weren't necessarily our friends or moms—they were us.

    Real Data

    This new data has been a huge asset so far, and it's allowed us to re-evaluate our roadmap and re-envision our target user. As designers and directors, we love user stories, but I learned from all of this that all those stories need to be rooted in real data. Whether you're part of a giant company or a small team, there's a huge difference between designing for who you think your user is, and who they actually are.

  • The Paradox of Choice, or, why I don't believe in drag-and-drop website building

    A few weeks ago I was in Los Angeles with Brad and Rubin, a few of my compatriots at Virb, and we were talking over dinner about how often we get asked a certain question—it has lots of forms but usually goes like this, "So you work on a website builder? Aren't you worried about competing with [Company]?" And my answer, always, is a resounding no.

    Call it pride, or hubris, or confidence, but that's not really it. I'm not worried for one simple reason: I firmly believe that the way we let our customers build sites is not only simpler and easier, but best for our target market. At its core, it's actually one of our product's biggest differentiators, and one I'm surprised more products don't employ.

    The reason I believe it's better is really less about Virb (we're by no means perfect), and more about the current trend of drag-and-drop website building used by a majority of our competition. With equal parts flashy UI, complex controls, and the possibility of endless design decisions for customers, this option seems great, right?

    I would suggest the answer is a resounding "no" and the reason is perfectly summed up in this TED talk by Psychologist Barry Schwartz entitled "The Paradox of Choice."

    Choice is something engrained in our culture, so much so that we barely think twice about whether endless choice is actually beneficial—for us or for our customers.

    As a designer, I would wager that the single hardest part of any design is the blank slate, that point where the possibilities are endless. It's like when a friend asks you to make a tattoo (sidenote: why does that always happen?), and says "Just make something cool." It's why as an industry we've developed Creative Briefs, exploratory meetings, mood boards, style guides, deadlines, and budgets. We love operating inside a set of rules, and we love it because it helps guide us from point A to point B. If we've created all of these things for ourselves, and value the guidance they provide us in order to eliminate the paralysis of endless choice, why can't we provide the same guidance to our customers?

    For my customers at Virb, I firmly believe that the best thing I can do is actually lessen the choices they face. As a design professional, I want to make decisions for my customers, if only to decrease the chances that they make poor ones. That's why we do what we do—to help people solve problems. If the core problem is that a person needs a website, as designers we should be creating solutions that say "Sure, let me help you as you build it," instead of "Just do whatever you want; good luck."

    Sure, drag-and-drop feels great to us—our peers and Tech Blogs love it, and we get to flex all of our sexy-CSS/JS-transition muscles while developing an incredibly complex and powerful UI. But during that process all of our wisdom and knowledge is poured into this powerful tool we're providing to our customer, when at the end of the day I think that, sadly, most people who use a tool with that much freedom end up with exactly what they started out with: a blank slate.