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.

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.

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.”

 

Software Technical Writing Done as a Career: What Next?

Software developer—and former technical writer—Jim Grey gives advice to technical writers looking to stay in software as a focus on user experience (UX) replaces the need for technical writers.

Software technical writing is a dying career (but here’s what writers can do to stay in the software game) | Stories from the Software Salt Mines.

…the writing is on the wall. If you’re not finding fewer technical writing job openings yet, you will soon. Fortunately, your skills transfer to other jobs in software development organizations. You will need to build some new skills for many of these jobs, but you might be able to land that first new job without them and build them as you work.

New roles suggested include testing and quality assurance, product management, and UX/design.

…I think this trend toward effective UX is better for the user, and gives writers good paths for growth.

I love these tips and specific role descriptions. I’d say this advice applies to anyone who loves writing and documentation and wants to move into product design and development.

(Technical side notes: I found this post via the WordPress.com Reader’s suggested blogs to follow. I then posted it to this site using the Press This function in WordPress, called “WordPress Post” under Advanced Settings in the new WordPress.com interface. Screenshot example.)

Connect Coworking

I recently joined Connect Coworking as a Flock member.

Located in the historic Rialto Building at Tucson’s hottest corner, 5th and Congress, Connect is redefining the local coworking landscape. It’s a big step up from previous offerings—in many ways. If you haven’t been in yet, schedule a visit to see it for yourself.

A few recent photos from work and life at Connect.

The good photos here — in the first gallery — courtesy of Paul Holze, Groundwork Promotions. Thanks Paul! (The rest of the fuzzy, mobile photos are mine.)

Hope to see you there.

I'm Joining Automattic

These last few months I’ve been working, and not writing. I’ve been busy launching new sites, helping clients, and finding new opportunities. One such opportunity came in January.

Since starting simpledream web studio I’ve told people often that I’d like to be a freelancer for the rest of my career. I love working from anywhere—in the RV, co-working at Spoke6, in my home office.

That said, I have kept an eye on a few companies I’d love to work for: companies dedicated to open source software, that allow for location-independent employees, and have a great reputation in the industry. Automattic ranked high on that short list. When Matt Mullenweg contacted me about working with Automattic, I jumped at the chance.

I’m proud to announce that they’ve offered me a full-time position, and I’ve accepted it. I feel I’ve found a perfect match with the fine folks driving WordPress.org, WordPress.com, BuddyPress, Gravatar, Akismet, IntenseDebate, PollDaddy, and many other great projects.

Why would I love working for Automattic? It’s a distributed company: I can work from anywhere. They work on exciting, innovative projects. They are a prominent and active member of the open source community, and I want to be involved in that. There’s room for me to learn and grow. My day-to-day schedule won’t change much—I’ll be working a similar schedule and setting my own hours.

I’m stoked about my position as “Theme Wrangler” with Automattic. I’ll be working on web design and development projects, mostly revolving around themes and WordPress.com. I’m sure I’ll also use my Spanish and French skills since people all around the world use Automattic products.

If you want to learn more about Automattic, explore Automattic.com. And if you’re looking for an engaging job with smart people, check out the Jobs page and How We Work.

What’s going to happen to simpledream?

It’s been a great run! Five successful years managing my own business is easily one of my best and most fulfilling accomplishments. I learned, grew, and prospered as a consultant and contractor. The lifestyle I dreamed of—traveling around the US with my wife and working remotely–became a reality. The business, simpledream web studio, enabled that to happen.

I’m closing down the business soon. I’ll be helping to migrate my clients to new companies, passing them on to the capable hands of other web designers and developers.

I’ll be keeping the simpledream name, domain, and site alive as part of my personal brand. I plan to continue posting here about web design and development, web standards, and—of course—cool stuff going on with WordPress themes.

Stay tuned!

Having Customers Is Good, Too

Jared Spool on copying Amazon:

For a lot of products, such as alarm clocks, you’re only going to write a review if you have a negative experience. How does Amazon get people to write reviews? Most people don’t leave reviews. About 0.7% of people who buy something leave a review. But because Amazon has such a huge amount of customers, that equates to quite a lot. So the next time someone says, we should have reviews; that works really well for Amazon, you can respond with sure, we should have customers too; that works really well for Amazon.

It’s easy to build a product that copies other products, or run a business that mimics how another company does business. But do you add features just because the other product or company does it, or because you have customers that would use and love that feature?

The new feature may be good—it might be even be awesome—but having customers is good, too. Does your product or business attract and hold on to passionate customers?

(Via Adactio: Journal—Revealing Design Treasures from The Amazon.)