Getting Developers & Designers to Work Better Together

It’s interesting because every product I’ve worked for has suffered from some amount of the (mis)communication that happens between designers and developers. This is not a new problem to the industry, it actually seems to be an prevailing theme. A lot of companies I’ve talked to have this problem, and continue to have it, not really knowing what to do or how to fix it.

I think the answer is pretty simple, but definitely not easy. The answer is that development and design need to deeply collaborate together and be highly aligned to the same product goals. We need to be physically closer to each other. Development needs to understand why design decisions are being made, and get the opportunity to influence them when they happen. The same is true for designers when development decisions are being made. Ultimately these decisions overlap, and become the same product decision. Perhaps even the same product process.

Making or influencing and understanding those decisions is good product Design. 

On Overconfidence

The Guardian asked one of the most prolific psychologists of our time what he would like to eliminate from the human psyche, and his answer was quite interesting: Overconfidence.

After reading Kahneman's book, Thinking Fast and Slow, it’s easy to see how he might be very skeptical of human confidence. His book is focused on outlining the way our brains work, and he explains the various biases, fallacies, and effects to which our minds are susceptible. He puts experimental findings in context with real situations. The book incited a lot of introspection in me about my own follies in decisions. It’s somewhat unnerving–that your own mind could be ‘tricking’ you into thinking something that is against what you hold true. 

Kanheman defines 2 major thinking-process the brain does, which he coined System 1 and System 2. System 1 is the instinctive, immediate process, and System 2 is the slower, more rational process. Both have their limitations and strengths as systems and contribute both to ingenuity and stupidity. It tells us something deeper about our psyche; we make quick judgements that are affected by unknown factors and can see rationality in a completely different way depending on how our brain processes the situation.

I finished the book early last year, and there are many of its insights that I often think about. One impactful section of the book explains regression to the mean, a statistical concept for judging human performance. The concept goes that measures of performance are subject to luck, and more extreme measures–like a particularly good or particularly poor performance–are likely to fall back to an average level. This calls into question the causality of the performance–that it was a human act of genius or a great folly. But, it really could have been that the conditions affected the outcome more than human involvement. 

This has always been an interesting concept to me–that we place too much importance on human involvement (in some cases), and attribute good and bad events to a measure of performance. I know I’m not thinking about regression to the mean when the feature I just designed performs extremely well. I want and need to believe that it was apart of calculated decisions that I made. Good thing my boss isn’t so aware of it either.

Malcolm Gladwell’s The Outliers explore a lot about how luck shapes our lives and our world more than we would like to believe. It bears heavily on the regression to the mean concept–outliers being the statistical phenomena that are outside of what we expect to happen. He looks at everything from prejudice and privilege to understand the notion of success and the events that make it possible for us. 

Can humans reliably recognize luck, especially if it goes against our perceptions of ourselves? It's pretty humbling to realize most of the time we think we’ve been especially smart about a given decision, we are actually more likely  to have been just lucky. It’s easy to see how overconfidence seeps in and we can actually start to see how businesses and decisions are being based on…luck. Kinda scary.

I’ve been aligning to the idea that we can make better decisions and mitigate our own human errors by becoming more aware of these various follies in thinking. I think we They especially apply in UX and product design, as the field of human-computer-interaction is understanding the effects of cognitive behavior and decision-making through software. Aside from the psychology intersection of UX design, being aware of decision-making effects can make me a better business-person and employee across the board. 

Having read Thinking Fast and Slow has definitely positively influenced my design thinking and execution. It’s helped me make my own decisions in management as well as given me immense insight into how humans might react to the products I’m designing. It's an amazing resource and I would recommend it to anyone who wants to think better. 

Designers’ Value in Tech

Design in the tech sector is sparking new and extending existing economic growth. Expect more value creation by designers in the coming years as tech matures. 

- John Maeda, Design In Tech Report 2015


I’m really excited about the extreme amount of collaboration happening in software design, and that it’s becoming the job of the designer to be as deep and thorough as the complexity of the application demands. We have more responsibility to have access and influence on the internal teams who are also innovating and contributing to the final design and experience that everyone is so tirelessly trying to wrangle and make better. 

It puts some immense process, documentation, and communication challenges on the internal teams’ plates, but the really great companies and products are making it a priority to improve these things. It’s raising the status quo on the quality of software being produced these days, and maybe that is one reason it seems that the Tech industry is hiring and leveraging designers to have greater influence on the product experience and the process by which it’s created. 

I think it’s important to remember that every contributor to the product is participating in the Design of the product. If each contributor isn’t constantly asking, “What is the best way to do this right now?” and understanding the implications, we’re risking the greater business goals.

How You Handle Mistakes

I've been thinking a good bit about making mistakes. How they are frustratingly necessary, how I learn from them and how they help me become better. It's an uneasy feeling to know that everything I design will most assuredly have mistakes. Sometimes I feel like mistakes are little ghosts haunting me as I discover them, and each time I discover one I feel a little bit of that pit-in-your-stomach-oh-shit-why-did-i-do-that feeling. Though that feeling really sucks, but I'm glad that I have it because it usually motivates me to do whatever I can as quickly as possible to get rid of that feeling. It usually makes me committed to never feel that again, however lofty that goal is.

I find that feeling can also manifest as shame or confusion, and there are times I've completely wanted to ignore (or better yet, deny) the mistake and never think about it again. Or write it off as unfixable. But the ghosts are still there to haunt me and even worse, will be there to haunt the product and everyone working on that product with me. 

I think, how one handles mistakes says a lot about her character and work ethic. Handling mistakes well one of the true ways to display grit and tenacity and solve problems better. I'm trying to find ways to prepare myself for the next oh-shit moment, and am hoping I handle it well or at least better than the last time. Maybe I'll even dispel a few ghosts. 

Filtering Websites for Good Content

Pro Tip: when in search of good content on the Internet, exit any site that has those stupid link bait Ads:

“15 Foods That Will Make You Radiant On The Inside And Out”

“12 Celebrities You Didn't Know Were Alcohol Addicts”

“Woman in bikinis seen washing cars in freezing weather”

Seriously, no questions asked I almost always leave the site immediately. This tells me that your content is catering to the level of pathetic content that these ads promise to deliver. It's the basest of sell outs for content publishers.

Unless, of course it's some awesome gif list of things kids from the 90's would love. I'm all over that shit.


I'm Sick of 'Flat' Design

Seriously, I’m sick of everyone talking about 'flat' design as if it’s some sort of revolution. Mostly because none of the well designed interfaces that are coined as flat are actually flat. ‘Flat’ has a negative meaning, and is especiallynegative what talking about design. There has to be depth along with hierarchy, scale, and a slue of other elements in successful design. Just because a design doesn’t use skeuomorphism or gradients does not make it flat. What I see happening now is a form of minimalism. Minimalism in which depth is achieved by strokes, color variances, typographic changes, size, weight, figure-ground, etc.–in short many things that were principally employed in print design before appearing on the web.

I think this minimalism makes a lot of sense for the evolution of design happening in digital spaces. Interfaces are so prevalent in all our lives, even non-techy people, so we no longer feel the need to make buttons as evident as making them look like a real-life button. We need to differentiate functionality within interfaces, but we don’t have to make it a parallel to real life. Those real-life parallels have in some cases become annoying to users, as they are simply excess visual information. The reduction seems natural, even needed, while possibly the opposite is true for user groups who haven’t achieve that level of interface knowledge.

I would even venture to say that the old trend of skeuomorphic design has begun to create a cognitive dissonance in present culture. Millennials have never even seen a quill & inkwell or a dictionary in the form of a book, OR EVEN A BOOK.

This dissonance brings up many questions as interfaces continue to evolve; How much minimalism is needed? How far can we take it? Is it about visually reducing the style of something, or actually creating a reduced visual? Can we ever get to something that truly reduces the need for tactile parallels? I’m not sure that’s the right goal, it’s just the questions that I’m confronted with as I start to pick apart the why of interface design. We need to be asking many more questions that explore beyond the visual as we innovate forward.

Half of what we see is trend while the other half is the evolution of interface design as a whole, and I really don’t think it’s more than that. Users learn, so interfaces have the opportunity to mature. We need to look towards how interface design can be further evolved, and how we as designers can create innovative iterations while continuing to inform and delight users. Let’s continue to elevate interaction design as a whole, and let’s stop talking about this new-fangled ‘flat’ design.

Fight the Horizontal Fight

I recently read an article on Medium about the faults of designing a horizontal web 'We need to go back to a strictly vertical web' by Nils Sköld. It's an interesting article and I hear the arguments loud and clear. Nevertheless, just can't help but think that avoiding a problem never solves it. While reading the post, I kept recalling Thinking For a Living's breakdown of their new site functionality to horizontal scrolling 'Horizontalism and Readability' by Frank Chimero. It's a very pragmatic view of why horizontal scrolling makes a lot of sense for reading on the web. I revisited the article 3 years later, and it still holds up for me.

And, that was 2010, before I had lived with and used an iPad, but now that argument is even stronger with the advent of tablet and smartphone usage. Our 'browser web' does not just live on desktops.

I realize there are a ton of problems with scrolling horizontally on a desktop or laptop computer. Most browsers don't respond to a horizontal mouse scroll to easily move the page over. Clicking an dragging is a pain, especially if a user is reading and has to move their eyes away from the paragraph to the scrollbar. Also a ton of mouses only scroll vertically in the first place.

Thinking for a Living solved some of this with usage of arrow keys and keyboard shortcuts for navigation. This really suits it's designer audience who are very accustomed to keeping fingers on keys and trying to move the mouse only when necessary. I ♥ hotkeys. It works on tablet/smartphone swipe as well.

There is a long way to go with horizontal scrolling, I know. It's sort of a feature that isn't used enough to get browser support, and when used, it's not hacked well enough to create the right user experience and often not optimized for tablet/smarphone swipe. I just don't think designers should give up yet. We have to create the demand before we get supply, and so the web goes.

Purposely living with wonkiness is tough to do. I suspect that it weighs on most designers and builders who innovate the web pretty persistently. I suspect that was more of the motivation behind Sköld's article, and maybe he was sick of using a click to mitigate the lack of horizontal scrolling support. I just think we need to demand a better horizontal web and implement hacks that do it the right way, sans click.

I confront living with a healthy amount of wonkiness in some ways when designing MVPs for startups at Thinkiv, and I know it's frustrating at times. I struggle with it in my own knowledge and learning of things. But, if rowing boats on a crew has taught me anything about tackling a new technique it's that it usually gets worse before it gets better. But when the technique gets better, you get better and stronger. Plus you have some calluses, so next time it's less painful.