Blog Thoughts

Emotions and design

I read this post by my colleague Jesse Friedman at Automattic during the week:

Don’t become emotionally invested in your design until the people who use it do.

I often feel that most of my time studying design was spent learning to disassociate my personal emotions from my work and be able to look at it objectively and from the perspective of the customer – and it’s something I think as a designer one has to continually fight against. It’s very easy to just open up a new canvas and start designing something that looks great vs designing something that people will use – and don’t get my wrong – I’m not saying the two are mutually exclusive.

Just this week at WooThemes, we put out a ‘small’ additional page needed on the site – and that quote was very relevant. The success of the new design was enabled by the fact that no-one on the team involved tried to over-control their specific role or contribution. Everyone was open to input – or as Jesse said – no-one became emotionally invested in their specific contribution.

I think the same could be applied to MVPs as I wrote about last week – the more time you spend working on something – especially in isolation – creates a greater chance that you will become emotionally ‘over-involved’ in your design or product. Rather involve others, get feedback and stay open to criticism.

Blog Thoughts

Mountain biking and MVPs

So it seems spending time exercising gives me time to think about what I’m going to write about. I spent some time this week reading a few varying views on Minimum Viable Products. One of my own personal favourite descriptions of this term has been Josh Longs Smallest Viable Product from his book Execute. But it still gets tricky to decide what is minimum vs loveable vs smallest – and that’s where my afternoon ride gave me some personal clarity on this topic.

It’s nearly one year to the date that I won my first mountain bike race – now you may be asking what has this got to do with MVPs, MLPs or SVPs for that matter? Let me explain my view.

Last year (2014) I had been doing a ‘reasonable’ amount of training again after spending nearly 4 years off my mountain bike after an injury. By nature, I am competitive, and so using Strava enabled me to quickly see where my fitness levels were when compared to other riders in my city and area.

So when I saw this race – close to my home town – I knew that my Strava logs over the same distance in training were comparative to the winning times of the previous years race – bar a few minutes or so. At this time I considered entering – but still thought that maybe I was not quite ready yet to race – so put it off. Finally on the day before the race I thought, Ah – why not – so I entered (late entry fee and all). I drove up early in the morning to take part in the race – with a strategy of starting from the back (literally) to not get caught up in any early racing and rather ride the race at my own pace and just see what happened. To cut a long story short, it did not take me long to pass most of the riders in the race – with most bombing on the first big climb and I progressively caught the remaining few riders, and finally the race leader with about 3km to go before the finish where I out sprinted him to win the race.

So as I was riding today and remembering that race it made me think of this term MVP, and what does it mean to me – and that’s where my race comes into it. Eventually, I had to make a decision to go ‘race’ – I could not continue just training and using my Strava times to work out if I could have won that race or not had I entered. I had to actually put myself out there and take a chance and see what happened in the ‘real’ world. I think this is much the same for MVPs – there comes a time where trying to push the design just that little but further or including that latest feature you’ve thought of stops you from getting your product out there and seeing how it compares. You are never going to know just how fit or strong you are – or in the product world how good your product is or if it answers an actual user need unless you ‘put it’ out there – or as our industry likes to say – ship it.

Blog Personal

Walking the hills

This past Sunday I went for what was probably my first run in nearly ten years. I blame my company perk Fitbit! I thought; how hard can it be? I could easily have climbed on my mountain bike and gone for a 100km ride without any real sweat – but was I in for a surprise!

As I made my way up what must have been the steepest hill on my 4,4km (only) run I remembered how running used to be a naturally easy thing to me and that once I was actually pretty good at it and I thought there must be some kind of lesson I can learn from this.

I wished I could have gone back a few years and maintained some level of consistency rather than finding another reason why I could no longer jog. Then over the weekend my colleague Joel wrote a post titled There is No Reset Button and it struck me – there really is NO reset button in life.

We only get one chance to do something the first time.  Thereafter we choose to continue or choose to stop. If you consistently work at something you will only get better at it – it’s inevitable. But if you are consistently doing nothing – then well – you going to do nothing – and something which seemed easy, even second nature a few years back is going to seem harder and more challenging the next time round.

So the next time you get to start something for the first time, keep at it, even if you have to walk the hills.



Blog Thoughts

Making sales vs building a brand

I read Seth Godin’s Pretty Websites post this week – and it got me thinking. I was not sure if I actually agreed with or disagreed with the post – but it did make me question: where do we draw the line between making sales vs building a brand?

This has been a long debate – and I would ask is it potentially short-sighted to only build a website that is orientated around conversions and making sales – or is it a wiser long term investment to build a brand that resonates with customers and builds a loyal following, which in turn should lead to sales and long term brand loyalty?

In a world where our experience of brands is increasingly being driven online, how much should we be investing in brand building and what role does the overall design of your website play in this? There are numerous studies and books on how companies like Apple, Nike and IKEA have used a design driven culture to position themselves in competitive markets. I would be interested to read case studies on how sales focussed companies have managed to position themselves as sought after brands as an after thought. Or is it a bit like trying to have the chicken and egg debate?

In his article Seth refers to:

If the goal of your site is to position you, tell a story, establish your good taste and make it clear what sort of organization you are, then pretty might be the way to go.

I would ask in what circumstances is it not the goal of your site to do those things? Often Amazon is shown as an example of how a sales focussed ‘ugly’ website is better than a pretty website – but now we have a website like Canopy which essential curates Amazon products and presents it using a ‘pretty’ website. I know which website I would rather shop use. But is that because I am a designer?

Blog Videos

The Four Horsemen

I came across this interesting presentation by Scott Galloway, a trademark analyst and founder of L2 on the strengths and weaknesses of Apple, Amazon, Google and Facebook.

His delivery style is fast, and I mean fast – so its just as well you can pause the video, take stuff in and replay sections if you want to analyse specific things he mentions in a bit more detail. Key outtakes from what he shares would have to be:

  • Google is not winning the mobile war
  • Amazon can’t sustain its online pure-play
  • Facebook’s acquisition of WhatsApp was a genius move
  • Apple has all the traits of a successful luxury brand – craftsmanship, exceptional price-point and self-expressive benefits
Blog Personal

Moving beyond ‘drafts’

I read this post today by my colleague at WooThemesDwain Maralak – and it really resonated with me – to the extent that it actually got me to write and publish my first post on this new site.

His post got me thinking about the many reasons that I have not actually disabled the maintenance plugin on this site and put it out there for the world (okay probably a handful of friends) to read! I even started to create a list of the various ‘hurdles’ I sought to overcome in publishing this site – but ultimately as I looked at them they all had one similar theme: fear.

The internet (which I love don’t get me wrong) has enabled us to access so much information so easily that it becomes too easy I find to compare myself to others who I feel are ‘making it’ and start to discount my own life experiences and knowledge as insufficient or boring.

And so I plan to follow the advice of Nathan Barry to learn, share and create.

So this site might not be perfect yet, it still lacks an about page and a whole lot of tweaks I would love to do as a designer, but as the title of the post says – I am moving beyond ‘drafts’.