Abstract, High Resolution, Listen & Learn

Have you watched Abstract on Netflix yet? World-class designers share their life and work and philosophy, which I’ve found fascinating. A common thread in the episodes I’ve watched so far is that design doesn’t happen in a vacuum. In order to produce something useful and beautiful that people will love and buy, you have to engage with the world. It involves talking to people. Listening and verifying with your own eyes and ears.

Ralph Gilles — Head of Design at General Motors — says in Episode 5, “Go out and talk to people.” He gives the example of his Chrysler/Jeep design team engaging with millennials literally “in their living rooms.” Listening to their problems and trying to solve those problems, taking it all back to the car design lab. “How do you know what consumers want even before they know what they want?”

Tinker Hatfield — shoe Designer at Nike — says in Episode 2, “Get outside, engage with the world.” How a steady stream of fresh input leads to innovation and being outside, doing sports he loves, helps him staying connected to everything. Running a mile in their shoes, if you will. An example of the years of close back-and-forth work with Michael Jordan to perfect the Air Jordan basketball shoes.

I’m sensing a trend here: if I listen, I learn. When I approach my own software work, do I understand the needs of the person for whom I am designing and developing? If the answer is no, I need to step outside my office and talk to people using the software.

Another compelling series to hear from talented and innovative product designers is High Resolution, available on YouTube. In Episode 8, similar ideas emerge from Automattic’s own Head of Computational Design & Inclusion, John Maeda:

Don’t focus on kerfuffles within your org — keep your focus on the world. That’s where you are meant to be. No matter how great of the place you’re in.

… Creative people are diverse-oriented, and great remixers. — John Maeda

These thoughts remind me of the “jobs to be done” philosophy where success comes from understanding peoples’ circumstances. And not only accepting input when it fits a certain profile I already expect.

The key to successful innovation is identifying jobs that are poorly performed in customers’ lives and then designing products, experiences, and processes around those jobs. — via Harvard Business Review

Discovering what those jobs are requires engaging with your customers, in their lives, in their work. Now it’s time for me to get outta this chair.

Scott Stancil: Effective Bug Discovery and Management (WordCamp DC 2017)

If you’re on the East Coast and love WordPress, here’s a great chance to catch my Automattic colleague Scott Stancil speaking live about our work on Flow Patrol for WordPress.com — this Friday July 14, 2017 at 2:15 PM Eastern.

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Details on the WordCamp DC 2017 website. Learn more about what “flow patrol” is here on Make WordPress testing.

Running to Stand Still

With Jeff Immelt out and John Flannery in as General Electric CEO, The Economist describes the company as having gone through a lot of important changes without achieving greater results. Shuffling. Reorganizing. Yet in the same place as before.

“GE has been running to stand still. …what it now needs is less re-engineering and more consistent execution.” — General Electric picks a new boss

This made me think. When I have the urge to shift things around: team, products, projects, office furniture, books on the bookshelf — I can ask myself, “Am I doing this just to stay busy? Look busy? Feel busy?”

Instead of movement for its own sake, I should find impact where I am today in my exact location. With this team, this project, this company — not something new. Work on meaningful results to help people by finishing what I’ve started.

Automattic: When a Company Grows, but the Office Shrinks

The story behind Automattic’s decision to emphasize a distributed company by downsizing our “office” in San Francisco.

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Automattic, a distributed company with over 500 people, is moving out of our San Francisco offices. Why?

The story begins in late 2011. Automattic had about 100 employees with 15 of us in the San Francisco Bay Area and the rest spread around the world. We had a small office in San Francisco’s Pier 38 that we used for Bay Area employees, various visitors, and WordPress events. Then we, along with dozens of other startups, got evicted by the San Francisco Port Authority and started looking for a new space. Since 15% of our company was Bay Area based and we were planning to grow to 500+ people over the next 5 years, we decided we needed space for about 75-100 people. We ended up leasing a 14k square foot warehouse in the SOMA area of San Francisco and renovated it into a fantastic space for both co-working and events.

Then something…

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Design in Tech Report 2017

A must-read zeitgeist if you work in tech, no matter your role.

Design trends revolutionizing the entrepreneurial and corporate ecosystems in tech. Related M&A activity, new patterns in creativity × business, and the rise of computational design.

View the full video + slides and an executive summary on LinkedIn of the presentation led by my colleague John Maeda, Automattic’s Global Head, Computational Design and Inclusion.

Key takeaway: “Design isn’t just about beauty; it’s about market relevance and meaningful results.”

 

Open Source Stories: Ball Aerospace, AT&T

I love seeing a trend of large companies embracing open source projects, both from the business angle and understanding that open standards help everyone.

An Aerospace Coder Drags a Stodgy Industry Toward Open Source (via Wired) — see projects on GitHub.

Opening up Cosmos wasn’t an easy swallow for the aerospace industry. It’s historically closed-off: Big companies sell big-bucks programs, and people either shell out or cobble together their own kludgy systems. But a freely available, edit-able, enhance-able program has been a boon to researchers and businesses—anyone that can benefit from a robust system to point satellites and display their data.

AT&T Releasing Its Network Playbook into Open Source (via The Economist) — see projects on GitHub.

This is a big decision and getting it right is crucial… We want to build a community – where people contribute to the code base and advance the platform. And, we want this to help align the global industry.

Design Success Ladder: Meaningful Products

Via design.org: The UX Design Success Ladder: Achieving Meaningful Product Design.

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Product success envisioned as rungs of a ladder, that you climb up from the bottom: functional, usable, comfortable, delightful, meaningful.

I first heard this concept last year at WordCamp Phoenix in a presentation by Ward Andrews; the article showcase examples of products or services at each level.

Takeaway message: don’t stop at functional and usable. Set the bar higher.