Understand By Doing

This wonderful exposé in Kinfolk on fashion designers and artists Isabel & Reuben Toledo struck me in both its beauty, and a clear description for understanding a business or a craft. Do it yourself.

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The only way to truly understand how every piece of [a] business can be assembled…is to do it all yourself. — Isabel Toledo

I’m reminded of the actor-director duality of tech and design leadership. To provide deep and meaningful guidance I need to be not only aligned with organization and customer needs — but also knowledgeable of the daily practice, the details of the work.

The Starbucks Experience, In Stores Only

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Tall Flat White in a “real” ceramic mug. ☕️

Starbucks Closes Online Store to Focus on In-Person Experience – The New York Times.

Interesting move from Starbucks in an era of more and more commerce being done eletronically and at a distance. The goal? To become an “experiential destination” and compete with Amazon by only being offered — via a human connection — in stores.

CEO Kevin Johnson says, “To survive, merchants need to create unique and immersive in-store experiences.” Though I tend to prefer local coffee merchants, I still end up at Starbucks for the consistency and convenience.

Does that include drive-through? What about mobile orders where you just swing in without speaking to anyone? In both cases you’d still experience the smells and sights, and possibly interact with a human. Which is a good thing — human connections build trust, trust builds brand loyalty.

Photo note: I’ve recently started asking for a “real” mug at my local store, to see how it feels.

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.