Topic: “Featured”

Experience, Commodities, and the American Dream

The psychic center of American social life has shifted from buying things to feeling them.

I’m struck by the implicit force that the “Experience Economy” has on value. When the value we derive from a good or service is inherently tied to our experience of it, this shields our ability to objectively assess its full worth.

For example, the value we assign to social media is a function of how immersed we are with its content (the experience). We don’t consider the opportunity cost of our time and focus. But is the value of Facebook really equal to the number of hours spent engaging with it?

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How Motown built their success on a culture of creativity and collaboration

I’d always thought that Motown’s success was a combination of its talented stars and fortunate timing, but I only recently learned that much of its success was due to a mastery of the power of the team–loosely coupled, highly aligned. Everyone at Motown was empowered with a singular goal that they all collected around: to create hit records.

And the mindset and methods responsible for Motown’s huge success in its heyday are just as relevant today.

These methods allowed Motown to build a powerful culture that turned an $800 investment in 1960 into $20 million annual revenue within six years and produced some of the biggest hits and superstars of the 20th century.

But teams that want to generate their own success don’t need a Diana Ross or Smokey Robinson to make it work. Motown capitalized on its vision by following a set of first principles that will sound quite familiar:

  • Iterate rapidly through divergence and convergence
  • Accept failure as a necessary step to learning
  • Critique artifacts, not people
  • Scale through strong, service-based leadership

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Inclusion, joy, and superpowers

Abstract mural with a rainbow of colors, with two concentric circles flipped 180 degrees, creating a sense of dissonance

There’s currently a video circulating of a man with cerebral palsy dead lifting 200 pounds, followed by a raw outburst of joyful celebration from his friends and supporters.

Lifting weights like that is an incredible feat for any human, but the moment is made more special by the fact that the man only weighs 99 pounds himself.

Since most of us don’t live with cerebral palsy, and many of us aren’t exposed to anyone who does, this video offers a rare moment to challenge our assumptions about the limitations of that condition and connect to the people who experience it.

As I spend more time focusing on inclusive design, I’ve become acutely tuned in to noticing the way we celebrate small acts of inclusion: The gym teacher pausing to redo the hair of the young student in his class, Susan Boyle sending shocks through the audience, the student athletes who help an injured peer to the finish line.

They create joy for the individual, and for those around them. Creating a more inclusive environment generates community, compassion, belonging. (more…)

Design and motherhood

When I was growing up, I didn’t dream about becoming a designer. I enjoyed creating, exploring, communicating, but I always figured I would settle on a more conventional career. To be honest, I don’t remember having a strong conviction to be a mother either. Yet here I am.

I became a mom around the time I started my first full-time, in-house position. We moved to California 6 months after I started, and a week later we learned we were expecting. You can imagine this threw a wrench in my plans.

I had anticipated spending my weekends exploring the coast, mountains, and forests of my new state, to balance the grind of the week that was already burning hot. Suddenly, I found myself swapping hikes for doctor’s appointments. Instead of grinding, I bargained with my boss to let me work from home a few days a week.

This was a hard time in my life. I felt tired, undervalued, and anxious about my visibility in the company. Oddly enough, though, the experience of becoming a mother made me a better designer.

I share this because I’ve seen others express concern that becoming a parent will negatively affect their career. Certainly, there are examples of toxic companies that only want to hire 20-somethings with no children or worldly commitments (though why anyone would fund leadership with such short-sighted expectations is beyond me). Parenthood teaches you ways of thinking about, reacting to, and experiencing life that you can never understand until you’re in it.

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Strength in flexibility

Living with 2 rowdy toddlers and 2 even rowdier pups, I’ve developed an unconscious habit of softening my knees anytime they are horsing around.

I’ve only recently become self-aware of this. If I’m standing around chatting and a child goes flying by, my immediate instinct is to widen my stance and relax my knees without even pausing my conversation.

In movies, before a crash, the pilot will often say, “brace for impact.” But parents, skiers, gymnasts, and anyone used to or expecting to take a hard hit to the legs know that tensing up and bracing the body before a blow can do more harm than good.

Flexibility, combined with a strong foundation, makes us more resilient. The next time you’re facing a tough situation, feeling threatened, or standing your ground, pause. Consider whether flexibility may help you around the conflict.

The ability to adjust to conflict instead of trying to fight it will only make you stronger.

Designing for Humans

There is a growing trend throughout the web community to embrace an understanding of behavioral science, and to apply its tenets to our designs. This progress helps us walk the delicate balance between providing an emotional and pleasurable experience for our users and communicating content and information through clear, intuitive patterns.

When the web was first developed, it functioned as a large database, a means of transmitting information from one server to another. Its design was, inherently, mechanic, and placed little emphasis on experience or enjoyment. However, its usefulness as a computing tool was quickly surpassed by its potential to connect. The act of browsing the web grew from a personal, targeted experience (one person looking for specific information) to a multi-user and multi-use phenomena (countless people across the globe exploring a myriad of information and interactions).

Today, the web is a primary means of communication, information-gathering, and enjoyment. Its users have as many interests, limitations, and characteristics as they have faces. I cringe when I hear web design referred to as a facet of “Human-Computer Interaction”, or HCI. Computers are mechanical and thus unable to elicit emotional responses to their users’ needs. If we inject a personal element to our designs, then we can provide an emotionally-driven interaction that is more than just a series of inputs and outputs.

When designing for humans, we recognize the innate differences that each person embodies while accounting for the absolute similarities that all humans share: a sensitivity to group dynamics, emotional stimulation, positive feedback, and familiarity. (more…)

A willingness to fail

What is it about our culture that some people are so keen to fail while others aren’t? The ability to cast off from the shore with the full ability that you may sink is a trait many envy. I envy it.

In Silicon Valley, failure has become somewhat of a badge of honor. A startup founder who was willing to move on his idea, though it didn’t gain traction, still holds value to venture capitalists and the industry at large.

The reality is, it’s not the failure that’s impressive, but rather the willingness to take a risk, to expose your brainchild to the evaluation of your peers (and complete strangers) and put it all on the line. Those people who are confident enough in themselves and their skills are willing to risk having nothing in order to have it all, and more importantly, to make something that matters; something that lasts.

I struggle every day with my fear of failure. I find myself afraid to speak my mind, share my thoughts, write a personal blog post, embark on my own. Working for a startup has eased that. I’m better at sharing ideas that may fail. In fact, many of my ideas do fail, but that makes the ones that stick much stronger.

As designers, we have to see failure as an opportunity. We must be willing to expose ourselves to criticism and change. To know that version A-L may not be accepted, but version M will be phenomenal. By being willing to fail, we are constantly pushing ourselves forward.

The empathy paradox

Empathy is so hot right now.

Whether you’re a user experience professional, visual designer, marketer, developer, empathy is the new skill to have. Unfortunately, like most buzz words that become jargon, the value of the word is being lost in the noise.

What really is empathy? The first definition that may likely come to mind is “the ability to put yourself in someone else’s shoes.” Much like its cousins, sympathy and mindfulness, its a skill that requires emotional intelligence and awareness.

On the surface, it makes a lot of sense. By empathizing with our users (clients, colleagues, etc), we are able to create more meaningful experiences, and therefore better designed products. However, there’s a paradox to empathy: The more we think we know another’s needs, the less effort we make to find out what their real needs are.

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