Blog

There and back again

This year I have been giving a talk called "There and back again: the journey of product discovery and exploration" at conferences and meet ups. The essence of this talk is about exploring creative ways to generate ideas as you continue to develop your product. This is a work approach that I was heavily influenced by my friend and mentor Alan Cannistraro.

I put the talk in GitHub so you can have the source material and all the content. If you have any ideas or feedback, please submit an issue.

T&B GitHub Repo

If you're interest in me giving this talk at your conference, please email me!

I'd like to share a few moments and tweets that I have really enjoyed seeing from attendees. Thank you to everyone who took the time to hear me speak—it was a great pleasure.


Photo: Evgenia Grinblo

https://twitter.com/Grinblo/status/776044438556639233

https://twitter.com/sarahklassen/status/776042892091613184

https://twitter.com/jimpick/status/781690144998862848

https://twitter.com/AndrewDoesSEO/status/776038733892161536

https://twitter.com/boonych/status/776057209071558656

 


Designing Native Prototypes With Xcode

I am a huge fan of doing prototypes natively, especially on iOS. When some designers hear Xcode, they might cringe or be intimidated. Though Xcode does have a bit of a learning curve, it is no different than any other tool you might use. Understand the tools intent, and be empowered by using it. Some benefits of prototyping in Xcode:

  • Native functionality. Buttery scrolling is real in native prototypes
  • It gives the engineer you're working with your intent. Your approach won't be practical, but they can see what you are trying to do
  • A great way to visualize navigational flow by using Storyboards (though some people prefer to do it in code, everyone working in Xcode understands the functionality)
  • Uncovers a lot of design problems (such as keyboard states, device classes, and other edge cases that may not be considered in Sketch.

I used my friend Lana's business Lembas as a prototype use case (You should also check out Lana's site and buy some of the amazing jewelry she's making).

Process & Components

My process is simple: work to a state where you have enough to put into the app. This might look like doing some light mockups in Sketch to get the idea of the layout. Once I have an idea I would export all the assets (I use 1x PDF assets) I currently have into the Xcode project. If you stay organized with your naming conventions and layers in Sketch, exporting and replacing assets is simple. I refine assets and screens as I go along to rough out the flow.

With a few components you can build a pretty comprehensive prototype. I basically used:

  • Sketch for asset generation
  • Auto layout to build on every device the right way
  • Stack Views
  • Table Views (all as static cells)
  • Tab Bar and Navigation Controllers

Screenshot 2016-07-05 09.21.59

Fake it till you make it

This prototype was built with all static content and predominantly constructed with stack views, scroll views, and table views. A lot of what you see in iOS apps are actually table views. This lays the groundwork for some more functionality to prototype. I now have the option to iterate on this project or create a new one off of this. Some things I am planning to explore:

  • Camera functionality to give you a preview of what the piece of jewelry would look like on you. (I've done this in the past using Form)
  • Parallax scrolling of the table view cells
  • Implement my first authentication
  • Trying collection views
  • Add analytics such as Mixpanel to track events.

Screenshot 2016-07-05 09.33.04

This prototype was built using tools in Xcode and a little bit of Swift. The final result is a native prototype that you can build on devices to get user feedback.

screenshot

Credits:

 


Don't build The Homer

Much of my time these days is focusing on working with product designers of various skills either at my current work or externally. Coaching and mentoring other designers has become something I deeply love. It was the way I started in design and there is nothing more gratifying then seeing people grow and exceed even you. Aside from fundamental skills and the creative process, one area I like to focus on is how you present your work and talk to stakeholders.
Everyone has stakeholders, but in design it can be more difficult because not only do you have your immediate stakeholders such as your manager and leaders in the company you work at, but also the end user. The vision of what is best for the business and best for the user is not always harmoniously aligned. Young designers want to do good work and be seen as successful in the eyes of their managers and stakeholders, but there is the danger of simply doing what you think what they want.
“Don’t build The Homer! Don’t build The Homer!” I often exclaim to them.
This saying was inspired by my favorite television series, The Simpsons. In an episode called “Oh Brother, Where Art Thou?” Homer discovers from his father Abraham that he secretly has a half-brother, Herbert Powell, a successful car salesman who has a little bit more hair and less of a belly than Homer.
Herb (voiced by Danny DeVito) is so thrilled about the discovery of his family member and invites the entire Simpson family to stay at his mansion. Herbert then gets the idea that Homer, the average American, is the perfect person to design a new care for his company.
Homer then has full authority to approve the car’s design despite the engineer’s hesitance on the ideas, which includes a bubble dome, tail fins and a horn that plays “La Cucaracha”.
When the car is unveiled it was so poorly received and because of the $82,000 sticker price, it cripples the company leaving Powell Motors bankrupt.

1*8AT_gZAzmTzpDqIgC999Tg

We as designers have a strong responsibility as decision makers, and simply saying “yes” to whatever people tell you to do can have sever unintended consequences. You owe it to your end users to not do everything your stakeholders want. In the end, stakeholders will want you to make the best decision regardless of what they say to you.
At WWDC I met up with my former coworker and manager Phil, a huge Simpsons fan as well. He got me the Hot Wheels version of The Homer, which I leave at my desk for inspiration and serves as a reminder…
Remember, don’t build The Homer.


I'm speaking at UX Cambridge

ux_cambridge

I'm so thrilled to have been accepted to speak at UX Cambridge. My talk is called There and Back: The Journey of Product Discovery and Exploration.

Abstract:

Product strategy is evolving and becoming less clear, as is the ‘product roadmap’. Requirements, business needs and user expectations are changing at a rapid pace. This session focuses on the process and thinking of product discovery and exploration to inform your product roadmap by running multiple projects that are all connected to the problems that need to be solved.

This talk will be a deep dive of the process I've taken everywhere with me and used with different design teams. UX Cambridge is September 14 to 16 and I hope to see you there!

Links:


Me too! Designers Working in Xcode

My talk from Seattle Xcoders in April is up. As always, thank you for having me speak!

[pexvimeo pex_attr_src="https://vimeo.com/165782581"][/pexvimeo]


Assembling Your Personal Board of Directors

It is quite common for a company to have a board of directors who act as representatives to stock holders.

I have written a lot about the importance of mentorship and these type of relationships to help you grow as a practitioner in your career, and there is no reason you should limit yourself to just one. As in other forms of relationships, you will find that you gravitate around certain people for specific things.

Assembling your own Board of Directors (BoD) for you as a person can be beneficial in getting the hard questions answered. Though family members and friends have good intentions when giving you advice, they can often be too affirming and support you in what you want to hear, and not necessarily what you need to hear. With your personal Board of Directors, these are (or should be) constructed with people who will give you a dose of reality in each of their respective practices.

An example of some people who sit in my personal BoD:

  • Adam: One of my best friends since I was 10 years old and former co-founder. He knows my habits personally and professionally and has a channel of communication with me that’s the realest.
  • Alan: The ex-Apple engineer and inventor who teaches me about shipping, ideas, discipline and getting things done.
  • Dylan: The UX Designer who used to teach web design/development. He encourages my writing and generously edits it.
  • Jaimee: A seasoned UX Director who expands beyond that. The person who really encourages me to speak at conferences and publicly share ideas.
  • Joris: My Dutch friend, a software engineer who chats with me about every month or so about our side projects.
  • Kimber: My new manager with industry knowledge of building and running product teams in the bay area. Not only do we have 1:1s professionally in my role but she gives amazing insights personally in my growth as well.
  • Marie: The first mentor who taught me the skills of design and has seen my progression from the very beginning. I go to Marie for everything but she has the most knowledge of my career historically.
  • Natalie: The proven executive and company builder who has really mentored The Rock Tumbler Collective and advices particularly on my innovation projects.
  • Laura: A former VP of Strategy who helps me focus on…surprise…the strategy of my career; where I am now, where I want to be, and how I position myself to get there.
  • Lesli: The Canadian Creative Director who I met sitting next to each other one day. A peer mentor who is going through similar growth challenges as I am now in a leadership role.
  • Rich: A former colleague and VP of Engineering. He loves to tinker, code, and has encouraged/helped me throughout my quest to write better Swift code.

(This is not everyone but a sampling of the range of conversations)

After reading that you may think, “Wow, that’s a litany of mentors.” It definitely is, and each person voluntarily shares so much value with me.

hangout_2
A Google Hangout with Lesli.

How to Assemble Your BoD

This is simpler than you may think. Design the structure around your BoD and it will take form. You can formally ask each person for their time, but I’ve often found these relationships form naturally. If they cannot commit to it, they will tell you or it will be very apparent. The cadence in which I meet each person varies on who they are, what they do, and what their schedule can be like.

Put it on the calendar: Treat your Personal BoD like a real board and make time for it other on the calendar. Otherwise it is at risk of getting pushed back or becomes secondary. The BoD provides value for you and your future so you must carve time to do it.

A conventional BoD typically meet synchronously, but it is not necessary in this instance. In fact, I do not think anyone in my Personal BoD has ever met one-another. Just know what information you want to tell them.

How you should meet with your BoD:

  • Set time to meet with them on a cadence. It can be quarterly, weekly, or even annually
  • Give a clear update of what you have been doing. This isn’t a time to impress anyone. Let them know what is going well and what is going bad
  • Ask for specific advice and insights about what you’re going through, and what your goals are
  • Take notes and write down your follow up plan. I like to write on physical paper and then add it in OmniFocus as an actionable item.
  • Most importantly, don’t waste their time. These people clearly are invested in you and care about you. Make sure you follow up and update them with what happens after you meet.

If you have a BoD, make sure they get a return on their investment. In this case, it is not financial (though it possibly could be), but the return is on you as a person. There is no gratification a seasoned vet in the industry gets more than seeing someone they coach and mentor grow exponentially.

Set the expectation for yourself, not that you’re afraid of letting them down, but strive to make them proud.

Who is on your Board of Directors? Is it time for you to reach out to people who you trust that will push you to get the best ROI on yourself?


It's Never Too Late

“Yeah, I'm losing my edge. I'm losing my edge. The kids are coming up from behind. I'm losing my edge.”

—“Losing My Edge” by LCD Soundsystem

In the closing talk of Webstock this year, Natasha Lampard, creator of this glorious experience, told a story about Paolo Nespoli, an Italian astronaut from Milan. As a child, Paolo dreamed of being an astronaut. Those dreams were put to rest when he joined the military. It wasn't until 1987 that he left the military and pursued his dreams of becoming an astronaut. Decades later, Paolo became an astronaut and finally went to space at the ripe young age of 50.

paolo

Dreams never die, but they often are buried—waiting for us to find them again, if ever. As we grow in our life they often get put under layers of obligation, new important things vying for our attention, and yes, sometimes toxic excuses as nails in the coffin of dreams. It’s never too late to start those dreams you had, learn something new, or changing your career.

“I’m too old", "I'm too busy", or "It's too late to get started." These words are echoed around us...sometimes by us.

Age is simply a number—a ring around the tree stump, telling how many times the earth has revolved around the sun in the duration of your existence.

Yet, it is often the comparative measuring stick comparison we use with ourselves in relation to those around us. As humans, we can’t help but think about age. It’s the stick in the ground that shows us how many years we have lived, and having us speculate how many we have left.

Not only is it intimidating enough to feel like we can't start something new because we are aging, but the next generation of young and talented humans apply even more pressure. I started at a young age in both my college education and design career. Then something happened. Suddenly, I was no longer the youngest. Now, I find myself introducing myself to designers and artists younger than me, with fresh experience.

“But I'm losing my edge to better-looking people with better ideas and more talent. And they're actually really, really nice.”

It’s overwhelming and intimidating to see people younger than you achieve success in what you want at such a fast pace. It makes us scared of starting, because we feel younger people have so much time ahead of us.

The 30 under 30. 20 Under 20. Hey, the 10 Under 10? These people should be celebrated and commemorated, but often reading about early success discourages those who are feeling like they are losing their edge. Let us also remember to recognize those who spent their later years learning or starting something new.

In my 20s I had goals and aspirations to be 30 under 30, but it’s too late (and it is okay). The older I get, the more I seek longevity as a form of inspiration instead of early success.

Here are some examples of notable people who ended up finding success later on. (Note: if you are older than this, don't take it the wrong way. There are a few examples I was able to extract)

  • Amy Poehler didn’t start on SNL until she was 31
  • Vera Wang was a figure skater and fashion editor before becoming a designer at the age of 40
  • Harland (Colonel) Sanders founded Kentucky Fried Chicken at age 65
  • Paul Cezanne did not discover his painting style until he was 56 years old.
  • Stan Lee created The Fantastic Four at the age of 39
  • Henry Ford was 45 when he created the revolutionary Model T car.

I believe these people simply found success not because of when they started, but how: through focus, passion, discipline and the dedication to try to make it happen. As my boss says, don't create a sense of urgency but foster a sense of purpose, as she articulated so well in her post.

And for me, you may ask? What am I going to learn or start?

  1. I am going to learn how to make music on my computer
  2. I am going to learn how to prototype in Swift
  3. This year I started a new project called The Rock Tumbler Collective
  4. Going to spend more time photographing again

How about yourself? What are some things you've been wanting to do and start but have felt discouraged?

It's never too late.

--

Notes:

  • A big thank you to Michael Lopp for encouraging us to write in his talk "Fear is a Liar". I used the pen he gave me to write this post on the flight back from New Zealand.
  • Late Bloomers - Later in Life Success
  • Thank you, Natasha Lampard for another inspirational closing talk. I tell people that your talk alone is worth going to Webstock.