Ben Judy presents Designing for Professional Users at SXSW Interactive

SXSW Interactive is a global conference featuring five days of compelling presentations and panels from the brightest minds in emerging technology. Over 30,000 people from 82 countries attended the conference in Austin, TX, in 2014.

Intuit was represented at the March, 2015 conference by Ben Judy, Sr. Interaction Designer for Intuit's Pro Tax Group.

Ben co-presented Designing for Professional Users: A New UX Playbook with Alan Baumgarten, Principal UX Strategy Lead at Sabre Airline Solutions.

“Almost all of the advice, methods, and ‘best practices’ you hear promoted within the UX community today are oriented towards designing for a consumer user base," Ben says. “Based on our years of experience as user-centered designers, we believe that highly skilled and knowledgeable professionals — tax preparers, for example — have unique needs. We need to adapt our user-centered design approach accordingly."

“The session at SXSW was confirmation that designing for professionals is an under-served topic at design and technology conferences. We had a packed conference room with a wonderfully engaged audience in Austin. Clearly it was a conversation they were eager to have."

Ben (right) and Alan pause for a selfie shortly before their session.

SXSW wasn’t the first time Ben spoke about the topic.

“After presenting this talk in 2014 at our respective campuses — Intuit in Plano and Sabre in Southlake, Texas — we showcased it at the Big (D)esign Conference in Dallas. That’s where we became convinced there is a real hunger for thoughtful exploration of what makes professional users different.

“There are countless designers, product managers, and software developers involved in creating the digital tools that professionals use worldwide. But if they operate from the same playbook they use when designing for consumers, they can really miss the mark. For example, how is the emotional journey different for a professional doing a job, compared to a consumer shopping online or playing a game? Does ‘easy’ mean something different to a professional in regard to interaction design and information density? How can you design for someone with over twenty years of industry experience when you don’t have any domain knowledge in their field? These are some questions that become critically important when you are designing for pro’s. I enjoyed bringing my perspective from the Pro Tax Group at Intuit to this important conversation."

Being selected to speak at SXSW is a highly-competitive process. Over 3,300 entries were submitted and the criteria is weighted heavily on an individual¹s industry expertise and influence. Congrats to Ben!


SXSW Interactive 2015: Day 5

Tuesday, March 17, 2015

Big problems and the big picture

The final day of SXSW Interactive is always funny. It feels like the entire town is moving in slow motion, because everybody is exhausted after the previous four days and nights of speaking sessions, parties, huge crowds, and general mayhem. The Film festival is in mid-swing, so those folks are more present than they were at the start of the Interactive conference. But just as the nerds start thinking about their flights or drives back home, Austin transforms into a music town as those people show up. Everywhere you look there are tour vans and trailers, guitar cases and tatted-up kids striving to look their most ‘artistic,’ whatever that means to them. It’s a fascinating scene.

Due to a two-hour morning conference call followed by a two-hour wait and shuttle van ride into the city, I was only able to catch two sessions today. But they were both great. One was about Google X and innovation; the other was a surprisingly fun and insightful workshop on Agile Story Mapping.

Talk Takeaways
(Photo courtesy of Mashable - my photos from the back of the auditorium weren’t great.)

“Captain of Moonshots" at Google X, Astro Teller talked about experiments, picking big-vision projects, failing fast, getting real, and the fluffiness of socks.


“I just wish we could have made these mistakes faster."

Key Points

Secretive vs. open: Google X has been operating in a fairly secretive fashion, but is beginning to open up and make projects more accessible to the wider world more often, and earlier.

Long-term vision: Projects (such as Google Glass, Project Loon, robotics, Project Ara, self-driving cars) are moonshots that won’t make a lot of money immediately, but could make a huge impact in the future. “When we say moonshots, what we mean is that we're shooting for things that are 10 times better." It’s a long play.

Fail early: “The longer you put off that learning, the most you will unconsciously avoid getting the news."

Where Google Glass went wrong: “We did things which encouraged people to think of this as a finished product." Doing the Explorer program was the right thing to do, but the message that got out was that it was going to be a consumer product very soon. That was never the intent. Controlling the perception of experiments is key.

Balloons build to fail: Project Loon is an effort to provide Internet access via balloons high in the atmosphere. “We designed our early balloons to fail." They were worried the balloons would drift into countries where Google didn’t have permission to fly them, so they build them so they would explode.


Finding leaks: new designs of the balloons had leaks. They couldn't realistically simulate conditions in the stratosphere, so they couldn’t find the cause of the leaks. They wen’t to the Nth degree — “We literally ended up doing a detailed study on the fluffiness of the socks" worn by the guys who build the balloons. They learned that fluffier socks are better than thin socks.

Get real: When testing self-driving cars, it’s impossible to list all the different scenarios where things could go wrong. They have to test in the world. One car encountered a duck being shooed across the road by a woman in an electric wheelchair. Nobody could ever have planned for such a situation. But now it’s in their database, and future versions of the software will know what to do in a similar situation.

Humans are unreliable: “The assumption that humans could be a reliable back-up for the [self-driving car] system was a total fallacy." Google began to pursue a car that doesn't have a steering wheel or gas or brake pedals, because on the highway people who were supposed to be ‘backup drivers’ were inattentive. “People do really stupid stuff when they're driving." Once you trust the system, you really trust it. So self-driving cars have to be 100% capable of driving themselves, without even the possibility of human manual control.

Deadlines make you double-down on failure: eighteen months into making tail-sitting delivery drones, “80 percent of the team" knew that design wasn't going to work. But Sergey Brin wanted a vehicle ready in five months, so the team had to “double down on their failure." Still, even though it didn’t work out, the team learned from the experiment and now is moving forward with a new design.

Failure to fail feels like failure: Google X is making a wind turbine / electricity generator that doesn’t require a tower. Propellers are arrayed in a circle and tethered by a cable to the ground. Larry Page wanted to “crash at least five versions of the vehicle," so they would learn faster. They picked one of the windiest places in North America to do testing. But the prototype didn't crash! The team was disappointed and felt like their failure to break the prototype was the worst possible outcome. There’s magic happening when your team desperately wants to fail just so they can learn from it.

So what?

Being risk-averse and avoiding failures is ingrained in most corporate cultures. The Google X culture that Teller described paints a completely different picture. Getting your ideas out in the world as quickly as possible, pushing things past their breaking point, and learning and iterating on failure — this is how big innovation happens. Playing it safe is a surefire way to never do anything remarkable.


“No process supports stupid."

Key Points

Documentation vs. conversation: Mars Climate Orbiter crashed because teams didn't use the same units of measurement (Metric vs. English.) They passed documents back and forth, but they didn’t have enough face to face conversations, otherwise they might have caught the error.

Agile means talking: “Stop exchanging documents and talk to me."

Stories facilitate a conversation: An Agile User Story isn’t about the format of what you write. In fact, it almost doesn't matter at all what you write. The story is simply a placeholder for a conversation the team should have. Just use the story to remind yourself of what you want to talk about.

Show and tell: When we talk, use whiteboards and sketch and point at things. It has to be more than just talking, because software is too complex for mere words to establish shared understanding. Draw your thoughts together.

Atlassian: In the halls of the company that makes Jira, the walls aren't covered with burndown charts or tasks. After all, they make Jira for that stuff. The walls are covered with stuff that helps their teams understand the product and what they plan to do with it. Shared understanding happens face to face around stuff. Atlassian knows that their product isn't for the product you're making, it's for the process.

Vacation photos: What you record during an Agile team conversation works like a vacation photo. It's not a document someone else can gain understanding from. It's to help you recall the details and the outcome of the conversation later, not to replace the conversation.

Stories solve 2 problems:
1. Shared understanding
2. Minimize output & maximize outcome and impact

Dent the universe: Your job isn't to build a product. It's to change the world.

Deadlines: “Think of a product you love. You don’t love it because it was finished on time."

Efficiency: Minimize output at the same time as you maximize outcome and impact. What will people do differently as a consequence of us delivering our product?

The big picture: Story Mapping helps you see the big picture. The full vision of what you're going to deliver. It facilitates product strategy decisions.

People are different. Focus on the differences that have to do with how people use your product differently.

Goal Level (or Altitude Level) for tasks:
- Summary Level
- Sea Level: you'll complete it before you do something else (showering)

Collaboration tricks:
- Externalize your thoughts (stickies)
- Shut up. Talking messes things up.
- Act, don't think. Go fast.
- Fewer people
- Time-box the work and satisfice

Story Mapping Steps:
- Framing discussion
- Personas
- Collect Tasks
- Organize into a flow
- Distill flow into activities
- Fill in ("what about..?")
- subjective data (emotions)
- context, place, who's there, etc
- Slice
- move things down below the line (prioritization against target outcomes - so you need to be clear on your desired outcomes)

Mapping a story this way is an old screenwriting technique.

Non-linear stories: You will have an imperfect story because interactive experiences aren't linear like a movie. So you come up with a typical flow, but when you tell the story you can point out variations in flow. Identify dependencies that matter versus false dependencies based on wrong assumptions.

Roll up to the big things: Group steps in the user flow into Activities to form the backbone of the story.

Four steps to writing steps:
Think, write, say, place.

Journey maps:
Popular in Service Design. Amplify the joy. Example: the Hotwire “reveal" - people were clicking through all the other offers to get to the joy. If they offered rental cars and things after revealing the hotel, people were more likely to spend.

So what?

Software teams working in an Agile manner must map out the end-to-end vision for the experience their product should ultimately deliver. Even though you’ll build and deliver it iteratively in small chunks, if the team doesn’t have a complete vision laid out, you’ll just do what seems possible rather than changing the world.

SXSW Interactive 2015: Day 4

Monday, March 16, 2015

So much good stuff

Today was my favorite day so far at SXSW. I took in five sessions at the Interactive conference, and capped off the evening with an amazing screening at the film festival. So let’s get right to the session summaries!

Talk Takeaways

This was a Core Conversation in which Gajendar set up the topic of leading a UX team in a startup environment, and audience members chimed in with their perspectives.

Key Points

Strategic Line of Sight: Beginning as the UX leader in a startup, you need line of sight to the business, marketing, and engineering strategies.

Set expectations: politely but firmly insist that as a design leader, you need to be involved in executive-level conversations.

Say no: Gajendar: “I was asked in my first week if I would design the logo, t-shirts, business cards, etc. I said no, I need to focus on the product design."

Research: get executives involved in user research. Have leaders and team members name customers - real people, and talk about them.

Transparency: make design open and accessible to all employees and executives, not a magic art or black box.

Demonstrate value: show the before & after of your design projects. Be your own champion. Show and tell how your design is making a difference as you go along.

Goals, risks, and asks: know where you want to go, identify the risks, and make clear what you want people to do for you.

Now vs. next: balance the need to support current products, but keep your eye on what’s further ahead.

Getting others involved in UX / design thinking: be transparent. Put your work on the wall. Get people involved in research.

So what?

There were some good nuggets here. Nothing I haven’t heard before, but what stood out to me was the discussion about getting others involved in design. It isn’t just for the experience designers. Made me so happy to be at Intuit, where design is such a part of the culture. Yet there are always more opportunities for us to be inclusive and collaborative as the XD team.


“Design programs weren't made for data, and data programs weren’t made for design. We need new tools."

Key Points

Led a project to publish an open source ebook (Data + Design) about data design. Ironically: “There's no open source book about how to write an open source book…"

The goal of the book is to make data design concepts accessible to everyone.

Textbooks about data design are written by and for statisticians. Many young students feel like it's not for them.

Why do infographics suck? Three possible reasons:
1. Graphic designers are evil
2. Marketers are evil
3. It's hard to do it well
(#3 is correct.)

Infographics require require a blend of graphic arts, programming, and data analysis. Extremely unlikely you’ll find one person who is an expert in all of those.

Without even thinking about it, we are collecting a ton of data (example: Google Analytics.) But we don't know what to do with it.

Graphic artists being asked to visualize data don't have the required skills.

Graphical perception principles are largely unknown even to most designers. Data viz people (Tufte, etc.) hate pie charts. There's usually a better way such as column graphs, which provide easier data comparisons than multiple pie graphs.

Color theory comes into play. Monochromatic data viz is often better than different color scales. Blue & orange are pretty safe colors for data viz.

It’s easier to differentiate between distinct colors than shapes.

Visual trickery: stacked area charts make it difficult to see the trends because we look for a baseline to compare.

If you're not sure the best way to show a data set, show it in multiple different ways. Redundancy is often good in data visualization.

How do we make data more human? Example: consider two headlines above an infographic.
1. “US Unemployment Rates"
2. “The jobless rate for people like you"
The second one makes it personal and brings the human back into the story the data tells.

The 2008 Sichuan, China earthquake - one man sought to visualize the names of the many thousands of children who died. He printed spreadsheets of the names and covered walls with the sheets.
Then, he made an art installation featuring a backpack for each child who died. It made a massive mural that spelled out, “For seven years she lived happily on this earth" - a quote from one of the mothers who lost her child. Emotionally devastating example of how a designed data visualization can be artful and tell an impactful human story.

So what?

So often we think of data visualization (if we think of it at all) as merely an exercise in cognition. Help the user gain insight from a data set. This is in itself an area of design that requires deep study and hard work to master. But there is also a human element to be considered. When data tells a story about people, make a personal connection come through the design. The words, colors, shapes, materials used to represent the data can all make an emotional impact.


“I have been to the deep, deep bowels of corporate America. I have seen the most boring things one can see, and I’ve applied Lean Startup there."

Key Points

Has the meta-theory of the Lean Startup been proven?
It has only been since 2011 when the book was published. There hasn’t been a rigorous longitudinal study to prove it, but I think it has been successful.

The fastest way to describe a startup: “anybody trying to create something new under conditions of extreme uncertainty."

It makes sense to use science, not astrology or willpower, to see if your business plan will be successful.

Key aspects of Lean Startup that everyone repeats: MVP (iterative: build-measure-learn) and Pivot (a change in strategy without a change in vision.)

“It’s moved much further beyond silicon valley than I expected." Seeing entrepreneurs around the world, and in different industries and sectors, has been a surprise.

Company founders send a signal by the systems they put in place that innovative thinking will get you fired. “What kind of company do you want to create in the first place?" Do you want to have one good idea once, and ride that until you’re disrupted? Or build a company that can grow and sustain itself through continuous innovation?

Interview exchange on the last 3 years of Eric’s career:
Interviewer: “You said, companies of any size can use The Lean Startup."
Eric Ries: “Right, but I didn’t really mean…!" - regarding Jack Immelt of GE reading the book and calling him. (GE has 300,000+ employees worldwide.)

Toyota wanted Eric to consult with them. “To me it was like getting called in to the principal’s office. Am I in trouble?" Eric thought this because Toyota is famous for lean manufacturing, and many of his ideas in The Lean Startup book are derived from Toyota’s methods. Yet, “Toyota was the least defensive from day one. The missing half of Toyota was to ask, what should I build in the first place?"

A lot early adopters of lean startup just adopted MVP and Pivoting, but didn’t pay attention to the managerial and accounting stuff, because it’s not as exciting. As companies grew, they called Eric back to ask about that management stuff.

It doesn’t matter if you’re 5 years old, or 200 years old, if your company is built to the old blueprint, you’re going to have the same problems.

Leaders something think their employees won’t adapt to an entrepreneurial culture shift and a new culture of innovation. Managers point at employees, employees point at managers. Engineers point at designers, designers point at engineers. Everybody thinks somebody else won’t change.

What would it be like if we came in to work one day and your leadership supported you in doing the thing you do best?

Entrepreneurship is the missing function of organizations. It’s like when companies used to not have a marketing department. They still do marketing, but nobody’s in charge of it. People do it on the side. That’s true for every function. So, entrepreneurs are product managers, brand managers, or other roles.

If you’re an entrepreneur, you might miss your revenue projections by many orders of magnitude. Very different from traditional, corporate management in which people get fired for underperforming by 10%.

Multitasking between multiple projects isn’t effective.

Our organizations are set up so that work passes through functions in a waterfall matter.
In that kind of org, if you have a $100k project, it’s not a one time cost. It at least that much for perpetuity. That’s one reasons companies won’t innovate. But if you just get $100k once, and you have to prove you learned something valuable before you get more funding, it’s a different story.

Ownership is different between large companies and startups. Equity ownership makes sense for startups. It’s skin in the game.

A lot of times employees get blamed if things go wrong, but if it all goes well their boss takes the credit. This is demoralizing.

Have productive failures. Learn what you need to stop doing, or learn something that allows you to proceed to something greater.

Companies are sometimes afraid the Lean Startup glorifies failure — but that never happens.

If people come up to you again and again, asking the same questions, and you have the answers, it’s time to write a new book. I swore I’d never write another book because it was so difficult.

A community where Eric can learn and test out what happens when you use his ideas.

Is Lean Startup leading toward a professional certification?
“I’m not a fan of that approach. Being a certified entrepreneur seems like the dumbest concept to me. That is more certifiable than certified. In some certification programs you make up a fake, hypothetical project to learn the concepts. I don’t want that to ever happen with Lean Startup."

Management is human systems engineering. Debugging human problems isn’t that much different than being an admin for a very complex server.

On Pivoting: Ask frequently and regularly, what’s the evidence that our strategy is leading us closer to realizing our vision? If it isn’t, pivot.

If you’re not trying to do something ambitious, don’t to learn startup experiments. Just go do the small thing.

Sometimes people like the crappy MVP thing better than the big, complicated thing you could build. Example: Google search. If you look at their About Us page from the early years, they apologize for not having some huge, complicated portal. Turns out people didn’t want that. People loved the simplicity of Google. So now Google gets to claim they had that vision from the beginning.

Viral, Paid, and Sticky - three kind of sustainable growth engines. You can’t do all three, you specialize in one. Don’t argue about it. Just pick one, stick to it exclusively until a set date. Then have a pivot or persevere meeting to decide if you’ll continue.

So what?

As designers we can embrace Lean Startup principles such as rapid iteration, learning quickly from users, and always being prepared to pivot our strategy to better pursue or vision.


“Design is better when it has a point of view."

Key Points

Examples of intelligent spaces in architecture:
- 21 Swings in Montreal is an example of a deep understanding of the problem space - unused space in the city.
- Luminous carpet puts messages on the floor so you spend less time on your smartphone.
- The Reunion Tower redesign in Dallas uses 52 monitors.

One of the challenges for people visiting mediated spaces is there is a screen in between you and the space.

What's the person's intent in the physical space? Don't put tech in the way. Cash registers get in the way in a retail environment, but as a shopper you just want to walk away with the stuff.

Will architecture know me?
The smart hotel of the future knows all of your preferences and needs, and senses your arrival. “Your digital concierge." The appearance of the lobby could change when you arrive.

The Disney magic band increased throughput in the park.

Architecture and technology have different paces. Tech moves a lot faster.

It's rare to find architects who practice from a user centric point of view. That's how it's taught now but old school architects don't work that way.

Any surface can be an input or output device.

So what?

This was a panel discussion among architects, and they didn’t really connect well to an audience of software designers and developers. But the comment about design being better when it has a point of view resonated with me. Integrating technology into a physical space requires a keen sensitivity to the needs of people using that space. So, too, does software UX design require a sharp awareness of the needs of our users in their various contexts.


“Our brains have biological functions built into them that serve a purpose, but work counter to the way we need to think as designers."

Key Points

Mental tripping hazards:

1. Confirmation bias
When we receive confirmation we stop testing.

"The triangle of dumb."

The blurriness heuristic turns into a clarity bias.

If a UX researcher helped design the UI, they have a confirmation bias
You can't eliminate it. Just expect it and mitigate the damage.

2. Survivorship Bias

Aircraft survivability studies in WW2 led to designers wanting to put the armor where surviving war planes suffered the most battle damage. They didn't pay attention to data that was missing — planes that didn’t survive got shot in other areas. So they put additional armor there and saw better results.

You can always find a cluster of super successes, but these aren’t very helpful.
Restaurants fail and disappear. All that's left are survivors.
Competetive research only looks at companies currently around. Not the ones who failed.

3. Pluralistic Ignorance

The Princeton Drinking Study proved that people will keep their feelings and opinions to themselves, thinking that everyone else feels differently. But, in fact, many people agree. They just don’t share their thoughts out of fear, assuming the worst.

Get people in smaller groups and get them to freely share their thoughts.

Focus groups are a great example of what people do in focus groups.

4. Sunk Cost Fallacy
The Ski Trip Study
The Concord Plane
Escalation of Commitment
Ask: What’s the cost to NOT abandon?

5. Theory Induced Blindness (disconfirmation bias)
The Extramission Theory of vision
Glowing animal eyes
Plato - a gentle fire mixes with another fire
Superceded scientific theories

GI Joe Fallacy

So what?

Knowing about these problems does nothing for you.
Adapt your process.
Be open to criticism from all people.

Sights & Sounds

Monday night I was in documentary film nerd heaven. I caught a world premiere screening of "Mavis!" at the SXSW Film festival. It’s about legendary gospel and soul singer Mavis Staples (of the Staples Singers.) An incredibly well made and emotional film. Lovers of music, American Civil Rights history, or just good documentary film will adore this movie. Here's director Jessica Edwards and her producer Gary Hustwit after the screening.

(Hustwit, by the way, directed the Helvetica / Objectified / Urbanized design trilogy -- a personal favorite. I nearly had a fan boy moment when I got to talk with him.)

Cameo appearances in Mavis! include: Bob Dylan, Prince, Bonnie Raitt, Chuck D and more.

Check out the film web site:

They had just finished making this film 3 days ago, and it didn't have a distribution deal yet. But it is amazing and I hope it’s a huge commercial success. Keep an eye out for Mavis!

SXSW Interactive 2015: Day 3

Sunday, March 15, 2015


The Trade Show opened today, with many fantastic exhibits.

The coolest stuff came from Japan and Korea. Like Robots playing soccer:

The Seesaw is a “display terminal as an interior ornament." It takes a data stream (say, a stock price or the temperature outside) and represents it by positioning a ball on a tilting platform. It also changes color.

NASA was there.

aBubble is mobile technology from a company called Crunchfish. You use gestures to share content from any device to any other device nearby. I was impressed with the cool use of gesture controls, and the cross-platform (iOS / Android) capabilities. For example, you could start playing a video on an Android phone, then “grab" it and “toss" it with your hand to fling the video to an iPad.

Beyond the trade show, sessions in larger conference rooms were recorded by sketchnote artists, which were later placed in the hallways of the Convention Center.

Speaking of sessions, today I caught three very different talks, none of which had much to do with UX. All of them gave me a different perspective to consider on topics I don’t spend a lot of time thinking about.

Phil Libin, CEO of Evernote, gave his perspective on fear-based decision making in the context of running a startup business.

Martine Rothblatt, CEO of United Therapeutics, gave an all-over-the-place interview about artificial intelligence, transgenderism, and “mind clones" as the future of humanity. Seriously.

Brian Grazer, movie / TV producer and co-founder (with Ron Howard) of Imagine Entertainment, explained how curiosity fuels his life and his work in Hollywood.

Talk Takeaways


“What if we don't screw it up? What does the world look like then?" - on positive versus negative thinking while deciding what opportunities and projects to pursue.

Key Points

Rock, Paper, Scissors is the meaning of life for startups:
- When you start, you're scissors. You’re trying to cut your way up to a threshold of relevance in the marketplace.
- Then you become a rock, with enough heft to smash (or simply acquire) scissors, but not able to move quite as quickly. Rocks have a lot to worry about.
- If you grow to dominate an industry (Microsoft, Barnes & Noble) you are paper that covers everything broadly, but can easily be cut by darting scissors.

As a “scissors" startup, your job is to attack paper. You don't worry about competition at all. Just make something great enough that people notice you.

It's not a race against the other scissors. Do not worry about how many other startups are in your space. Focus on achieving the threshold you have to clear to make it.

Avoid entering a market where there are lots of rocks. They were startups a few years ago but now they have some serious ability. However, markets full of rocks are where most companies start -- because the presence of rocks gets people excited. The opportunity to succeed at reaching the threshold of startup success is visible because a few companies have done it recently. So everyone says, "me too!" It’s a trap.

Uber and Lyft are examples of rocks. Now would not be a good time to enter that market as a startup.

When Evernote started in 2007 there were no rocks in the productivity space. Now, Dropbox, Evernote, and a few others are rocks. It would be a mistake to try a pure startup in productivity right now.

A few years ago, there were no rocks in personal fitness, wellness, and the ‘quantified self.’ Now FitBit and Jawbone are the rocks.

What industry should my startup be in? Look for one with no rocks, and with some paper from which you can cut market share.

How do we make decisions? The part of your brain that handles fear based responses usually dominates. It wins when you set out to compare possibilities. You are blind to upsides, and you pick the options that seems least bad.

In groups, negativity bias means you sound smarter when you say something critical or negative vs. positive.

To understanding how we make strategic decisions at companies, you have to understand how humans make decisions. We tend to focus on the negative and avoid things we’re afraid of. Self-preservation.

To make good strategic decisions, you must block out the negative. Compare good to good, not bad to bad. Pick the opportunity with the most upside, and don't talk about risks.

In the early days of Evernote, they had three logo candidates. The team met to pick which one to band the company with. The discussion skewed negative, with people talking about why each logo wouldn’t work. The Elephant is used by the Republican party, elephants are big and slow, etc. Trying to make a “safe" pick, the team settled on a round logo that didn’t really mean anything. Fortunately, one executive decided it was stupid decision, and said, “we’re using the elephant." It led to hundreds of millions of dollars in free marketing, as Apple and Microsoft featured Evernote’s app logo in their ads. Moral of the story: choose the option with the most upside. Don’t pick the least bad option.

If you ask people to weigh options, they weigh negatives.

At the scissors stage, Evernote was looking to make a splash with stuff that was impressive, cool, and attention getting. Evernote Peek served this purpose. “It's kind of stupid. It was good, until it was a waste of time."

The goal of startups is to “be sufficiently epic."

Early on, Libin decided Evernote had to go to Japan “because what's the point of having your Internet company if you don't go to Japan?" All of the advice he was given about Japan as a market was negative. Similarly, he was told, “Chinese people don't like stuff that's too nice. They like UI's that are cluttered with blinking stuff." Lots of fear, but Libin focused on the upside, and now Evernote is popular and successful in both markets.

As Evernote has become a rock (successful medium sized startup), two big things have changed:

1. They’re still not afraid of scissors - if a competitive startup does something cool, Evernote can do it bigger (or just buy them.) But now Evernote is scared of paper. Libin realizes he doesn't know how to play golf, and that's a threat in the world of successful CEO's.

2. The most significant change is the need to focus.

Johnny Ive quoted Steve Jobs: “Saying no to stuff you don't want to do isn't focus. Saying no to stuff you love is focus." Kill your darlings.

But that's only half of the thinking. What do you say yes to?

Evernote had to make a decision: focus on their new product, Evernote Food? Or zero in on productivity at work? The company isn't paper, so it can't do both well. But Libin loved both ideas. So, they imagined hitting a home run with food, versus a home run with productivity at work. What does the world look like if we nail one versus the other? Which is more epic?

Scissors are like infants: your job is to be loud and impressive and adorable. Then (as a company) you grow and you realize you're beholden to users, investors, employees, media, competition. So as a rock need to find a place where you can make high impact. You push in one place for a long time until you move the world.

The thing that screws you up is conflicts of interest. No ads in Evernote means passing up on lots of revenue. But it contradicts their mission of helping people get work done.

“I realized we were a rock when I realized we had employees." Libin started having new kinds of conversations about things like career development. He had to deeply care about stuff that matters to other people, and line up the company’s interests with the needs of others.

Picking a slogan: Libin loved “Remember everything." But it doesn't mean anything. “The modern workspace." is the new company tagline. They compared best to best, and this won.

What do you do when you become paper? “I have no idea. Maybe really successful big companies avoid becoming paper, and are more like rockslides." Maybe you make money out of conflicts of interest, rather than resolving those conflicts?

Libin investments:
- Zen Payroll, “because the companies in that space are horrible and slow and old." (Hello, Intuit Online Payroll!)
- NewAer. The intersection of AI and environment (what's around you) is a good place for scissors.

Three lessons for startups:
1. Avoid the rocks.
2. Focus. (At scissor level, be impressive. At rock level, sustain pressure.)
3. Ask, “what if it's great?"

So what?

Avoid negative comparisons and fear-based decision-making.

Compare good to good, not bad to bad.

Focus on opportunities that will allow you to push in one place for a long time until you move the world — don’t get distracted, conflicted, or spread out too thin.



“Our identity will transcend ourselves."

Key Points

Questioning authority: challenging those in power and being curious are virtues.

Films: Ex Machina and Her are art leading society. Software that is trying to achieve consciousness is inspirational.

Mind Clones: Conscious, cybernetic versions of ourselves will be a thing in the near future. People will be able to be in multiple places via extension - and this will be normal in 20 to 30 years.

Mirrors: Cyber-consciousness creates a great mirror. Storytelling, mirrors, selfies — these are ways we seek to understand ourselves. But when mind-clones become reality, our identity will transcend ourselves, and we will be able to converse and even argue with ourselves.

Relationships: There will be full diversity of relationships with mind clones. Some clones may choose to divorce themselves from their originator.

Beingness: As humans, our “beingness" resides in our consciousness.

Rights: Mind clones will have rights. This can be seen as a metaphor for all kinds of people in society who aren’t afforded rights today (e.g. illegal immigrants.) Cyber-conscious people (mind clones) who value their lives must be given rights and obligations. It will be wrong to deny them rights such as citizenship and freedom if they fulfill their basic obligations to society (don’t kill anyone.) We must avoid a slave vs. free motif between flesh and cyberspace. Will mind clones get their own votes? No, you get one vote. You and your mind clones must get together and decide.

Caring for clones: Cyber psychiatry will be a huge area.

Robot spouse: Built a robot version of her wife. “As an engineer I don't expect it to be perfect."

Organ transplants: Genetically modifying pig organs so they aren't rejected by human hosts

Faith: Where's the line between faith and science? “Science without religion is lame, religion without science is blind." - Einstein. To believe in something we can't prove is faith. I don't think I've ever met a scientist that didn't believe their hypothesis is worth testing, which takes some measure of faith.
“My religion is about making science serve my faith." Transhumanism is a faith, and it has three components:
1. Diversity
2. Unity
3. Immortality - there no line where human consciousness should end

So what?

There are serious people pursuing a vision of a transhuman future, striving to make conscious, artificial intelligence a reality. If they are successful, humanity as we know it will end and be replaced with something different.


“Curiosity is the source of all my success."

Key Points

Tinseltown: “Hollywood is not the land of ideas." Grazer feels it is vital to go outside of his industry and his town to find great ideas for entertainment and storytelling.

Curiosity conversations: Roughly every two weeks for several decades, Grazer has met with someone who is an expert in something other than filmmaking and entertainment. He’s had 470 meetings over 30 years! “The conversations made me interested in the world they're in."

Small world: “My world was tiny growing up." Grazer never traveled far from where he grew up in Southern California until he was an adult. He didn't feel like he learned anything in college. So, after graduating, he chased down this one professor who he thought was interesting, but had never been able to meet. Through persevering, he was finally able to schedule a five minute conversation with the busy prof. It turned into a 90 minute conversation — one that Grazer felt gave him more knowledge and inspiration than he had acquired in 4 years at the school. It was then that he decided he would use this as a tool for the rest of his life: meet interesting people and have conversations to learn from them.

Breakthroughs: “After meeting with many experts in different fields, including Nobel laureates, I came to the conclusion that without curiosity there are very few breakthroughs."

Liar, Liar: While working on the TV show JAG, Grazer met with top trial lawyers and looked for commonalities. He found that they all use the force of words to convince people of something. But he wondered: if they could be forced to tell the truth for 24 hours, could they do their job effectively? This was his inspiration for Liar, Liar with Jim Carrey.

24: Grazer met four different former CIA directors. He was struck by the amount of red tape and thick politics they had to deal with to do their job. So he got an idea: wouldn't it be great to have a plausible wish-fulfillment character who could cut through red tape and just get things done? “Jack Bauer never went to the bathroom and never ate food. He was just a bad-ass."

Two things curiosity gives you: 1 Curiosity gives you courage, and 2 informs your taste. You have a better chance of doing something original and authentic if you're informed. Don't have a dilettante's view that you can be creative by merely operating from instinct.

Curiosity is free for everyone to use: “Curiosity is democratized power that everyone has access to. It’s expanding your world in ways you don't think about."

Ron Howard: “I hired him to be my conscience." We share taste, work ethic, and trust: these are essential for good partnerships. We respect each other. We don't yell at each other. We have to make a case to each other. We never tell each other what to do; it’s partnership through a question.

On filmmaking: “I'm in the feelings business." Most of my successful movies have to do with people wrestling with internal barriers.

So what?

Let’s get curious! As designers, we do in depth interviews and follow-me-to-the-office visits with our customers, but what if we framed these as “curiosity conversations?" We have incredible access to (in some cases) leaders in the industry of accounting and tax preparation. Are we curious enough that our time spent with them is truly reshaping our creative focus?

Are we curious enough outside of our industry? Are we getting inspiration from interesting people who have nothing to do with our work, but who might provide creative fuel?

Sights & Sounds

Squirrels crossing the street, safely.

SXSW Interactive 2015: Day 2

Saturday, March 14, 2015

Expectations and Adaptation

Today did not go as I planned. But by staying adaptable and positive, it all went just fine.

I was unable to get into another couple of sessions due to full rooms and lines down the hallway 30 minutes before start time. This is really ridiculous. SXSW needs to find a better way.

However, the time I would have spent in more sessions was used to make last minute preparations to speak with my co-presenter Alan. It was a good thing we peeked our head in our room early in the day, because we discovered something unexpected: there was no projector or projection screen!

After bringing this to the attention of some conference staff folks, we spent several hours trying to get an answer as to whether we could have one set up. You know, since we had slides and all, which they should have known about since we sent them in advance with our talk summary.

Long story short: we had no projector, but tried to make do with a television placed in the corner of a room configured for “theatre-in-the-round" seating. Really weird. But the audience was game, and the conversation went just fine.

Prior to my talk, I did get to participate in one good session about the age-old problem of job titles for UX people. I don’t think we broke any new ground, but we certainly covered a lot of pain.

To end the day, Alan and I stood outside in line for about an hour hoping to get into a film festival documentary screening at the Alamo Drafthouse cinema. Naturally, after waiting with scores of other people for what seemed like an eternity, we were told to go away. The theater was full. (Are you sensing a theme, here?)

Talk Takeaways

This was a core conversation session, which basically meant the presenter framed the issue and allowed the audience to talk it out.

Ms. Thomas asked questions such as, “What kind of job titles do you have?" and “Where do you think the industry is going in terms of how we label designers?"


“Know what you don’t do." - A member of the audience giving advice on how to shape the direction of your career as a designer.

Key Points

(Random comments made in the course of discussion by people in the room:)

For most UX designers, value is placed on their function, not their job title.

Sometimes, getting involved in a project as a designer feels like you geared up for a soccer match, and then discovering you’ve been invited to a baseball game. You aren’t what people think you are as a professional.

Google has candidates interview with multiple teams to assess their skills. Then they place new hires where they can work best.

Disney theme park job titles: Imagineer, Cast Member

“Unicorn" is a trendy - but utterly useless - job description

Job titles are useful for for H.R. purposes (e.g. pay bands) and for hourly rates to charge clients

Designers often encounter inaccurate assumptions about our educational background or work experience because of interpretations of our job titles

Frustration from a client of a design firm: how can you tell me to pay for your services if you can't tell me what you do?

Growing trend in corporate organizations: centralized design groups shared across business units and functions, rather than sitting within marketing or technology.

Where you physically sit in the building (who is around you) has a lot to do with what you actually accomplish as a designer.

Job titles enable laziness: “that's not my job" because it's not related to my title.

Sights & Sounds

Hootsuite is in town. (Honestly, I didn’t know they were still a thing. But hard to miss a bus with a giant owl on top, so now I know.)

Here’s Apu’s Mini Mart from The Simpsons.

These guys did a decent cover of I Am The Walrus at a pub called The British Music Embassy.

SXSW Interactive 2015: Day 1

Friday, March 13, 2015

SXSW In Lines

The most “Interactive" part of day one at this conference is likely to be interacting with other attendees around you in line as you wait to pick up your badge. I spent almost two hours just to get my speaker badge!

It’s a well run conference overall, but you have to know how to navigate and position yourself among the massive crowds. The first session I tried to attend was a misfire, as I wasn’t able to get in the room. All seats were filled and lines were out the door — 25 minutes before the session even started. This is typical throughout the five-day conference.

The best approach is to be relaxed and opportunistic at all times. There are always interesting things around you, wherever you are at SXSW. Catch what you can and go with the flow.

On example: I happened to pass by the Samsung Galaxy Gear demo, where I got to try on a virtual reality headset.

I caught the tail end of writer and entrepreneur Tim Ferriss, dispensing his wisdom about how to optimize and prioritize various aspects of life.

I liked the opening keynote presentation from Paola Antonelli, who holds the impressive title Senior Curator of Architecture & Design and Director of Research & Development at MoMA in New York City.

Then I enjoyed Daniel Pink’s very practical and good-humored approach to behavioral science.

By 5:00 PM I was exhausted. I hadn’t slept at all the night before, as I flew overnight from far northwest Washington state to get to Austin by Friday morning. So I hopped on the hotel shuttle bus, which headed out into rush hour traffic… and 85 minutes later dropped me off at my hotel.

Talk Takeaways

Tim Ferriss

On project prioritization: "Do the one that makes the others irrelevant or unimportant."


“The future of design is about the ambivalence and ambiguity of many disciplines coming together."

Key Points

Art doesn’t see design the way designers see design. Paola is an art curator. I found her take on design as a profession interesting. I’ll put it this way: there are people who take strong positions, and there are people who enjoy ambiguity. Paola is an outlier far on the ambiguity end of the spectrum.

Framing is where it’s at. Paola said in the past, design was viewed as a problem-solving effort. Today, she thinks the best design is “problem finding." Or, in a word, “framing."

Quantum design is the future. If we become comfortable with design being ambivalent and ambiguous (as opposed to certain and rules-based), we can conceive of multiple realities happening at the same time. Mind-bending stuff. Paola lost me when she went into a discussion of quantum entanglement: distant objects can be connected. I didn’t see the connection to either art or design.

Emotional design. The source of human emotions are often ambiguous. Design should be sensitive and share human emotions.

Contribute something useful to the world. I saw this motivation as a link between art and design that I could easily understand. An example: a paralyzed graffiti artist “tags" a building across town from his bed by using a device that tracks his eye movements, and controls a remote device to draw with light.

Design “in between." Paola offered many examples of really ‘out-there’ design that broke down walls between conventional categories, such as: past and present, manufactured and natural, African and Western culture, living and not living, etc. I found these examples most helpful to understanding her viewpoint about how design as a discipline should evolve. An example is the “silk pavilion" project, which entailed designers learning how to influence silk worms to build an organic structure according to human design. Quote: “The work of designers is to understand the spaces in between. We are curators."

Art + Design + Science. Paola sought to bring disparate disciplines together. It seems any kind of unexpected mashup between art, design, and science — especially if it has a touch of absurdity — fascinates her. An example is the “menstruation machine for men" which is a controversial, shocking piece of functional art.

Modern art is transparent. Paola said she could not define art. She offered up a number of possibilities: perhaps you deliver art as a means of self-expression? Perhaps you receive art as something that inspires you? However, she landed on one definition for Modern Art that she liked: Modern Art is art that does not conceal the way it is made. It exposes the methods and means behind its production, so that the art and the artist’s work are one. This is pretty different from my understanding of Modern Art, but I liked thinking about this definition.

My thoughts: I really enjoyed the presentation. Paola is a deep thinker and a gifted speaker. However, I have mixed feelings about her views of design. On the one hand, I appreciate the way she challenged my thinking about design, which I’ll admit can be a bit rigid. However, part of me feels like she doesn’t respect established definitions of design as a discipline. As a lover of art, I found it telling that she would not commit to a definition of her field, and thus sought to introduce extreme ambiguity in how we should define design as well.

Where does art end and design begin? Shouldn’t science be a separate discipline from both? If you’re trying to mash up all of them, can you really be good at any of them? When should design be more scientific versus more artistic, and how do you know? I feel like these are critical questions for designers to wrestle with, but I felt like Paola dodged answering them by praising the merits of ambivalence instead. Frankly, if all designers shared her views and interests, our world would be insane and everyday objects would probably be weird and dangerous! Still, I liked how different her viewpoints were from most of what you hear at design conferences, and (ironically) how clearly and understandably she communicated her love of ambivalence and ambiguity.

So what?

What does this mean for us as designers? I think three things:

1. Don’t avoid ambiguity, but rather press into it. Is there something of value in the chaos? Might we break through to something great if we set aside the self-imposed boundaries around our discipline? I don’t mean to suggest that we should approve of ambivalence and ambiguity, but rather than we should learn to master it as a way of thinking about our work. Find how it can be helpful and use it.

2. Become a well-rounded thinker and synthesizer. Learn about art. Learn about the sciences. Look for intersections.

3. Find and frame problems. Even if our design work may have ambiguous, Modern Art sensibilities, the need for shared understanding of problems we are trying to solve is critical. The trick is not to zero in on solutions immediately, but rather to find the right problems and define them in helpful ways.


A few examples of boundary-crossing design mentioned in Paola’s talk:


“Let me start by saying this panel is not going to be visionary. I’m going to be very specific, tactical and practical. I also promise not to use the word disrupt, disruptive or ‘disruptafarian,’ which is very appropriate for Austin…"

Key Points

Seven ways to change behavior:

1. Use fear the right way. Negative emotions narrow our scope and cause us to focus. If you want people to expand their view, don't use fear. Example: a senior business leader saying, “If we don't come up with a new product idea, we're sunk." This doesn't work for people.

2. Questions (often) beat answers. Example: Presidential candidate Reagan used a question to persuade — “Are you better off than you were four years ago?" Questions elicit an active response. People come up with their own reasons for agreeing with you, thus they believe those reasons more strongly and adhere to the behavior more strongly. Caveat: the facts have to line up. If you don’t have facts on your side, don't ask questions! People will combed up with their own reasons for disagreeing with your proposition.

2. A. Ask two irrational questions. “On a scale of 1 to 10 how ready are you to (do whatever behavior.)" This surfaces intention. Then, follow up: “Why didn't you pick a lower number?" Or, more directly: what would it take to make you a higher number? The person starts coming up with their own reasons for doing what you want them to do.

3. Enlist the crowd. Create the feeling, “this is how we do things around here." Example: different messaging to encourage hotel guests to re-use towels. Read Robert Cialdini’s book Influence: The Psychology of Persuasion. People look to other people for queues about how to behave.

4. Make time to rhyme. Present people with two sets of aphorisms: set A are rhyming phrases, set B do not rhyme. People will agree with the rhyming set of sayings than they will agree with set B. The reason: rhymes increase processing fluency. The language goes down easy, like a smooth drink. Use rhyming, repetition, and alliteration. Example: Haribo candy rhymes their value prop in every country where they sell their products, and in each of those countries’ languages. They believe in the power of rhyming so much, they will change their value prop so it can rhyme!

5. Give people an off-ramp. Peer evaluations tend to be pretty accurate — our friends know how we will act. But in predicting behavior, we always overweight personality and underweight context. You don't always have to change people's minds. Just give them an easy way to act. Their response might be, “sure, what the heck, you made it easy to do, I’ll do it." Example: auto-enrollment dramatically changed 401k adoption. Making it the default made it easy to get off of their ideas about how to use their paycheck, and invest more.

6. Put a face on it. People will think twice about doing something with concrete consequences to another human being. Example: illegal parking in disabled parking spaces decreases when the signage shows a real person in a wheelchair. Don’t make the imagery abstract, use a real person.

7. Try stuff. You never know what people might do until you run an experiment. Example: bike theft was reduced in New Orleans by placing cardboard cutouts of cops near bike racks. However, instead of taking bicycles, people stole the cardboard cops…!

So what?

The upshot of all of this is: designers need to be students of human behavior. There is so much good behavioral psychology research that could change the way we design for our users.


Home on the Range

Stove top ranges crack me up. They are often examples of hilariously bad design.
This one has two burners.
You’re busy making breakfast. Perhaps you are running late. The kids are hungry and fussy. You have an important meeting to get to. Just barely enough time to cook something fast and get out the door.
Glance at this quickly and then look away. Remember, all you have time for is a quick glance. You’re bleary-eyed and in a hurry.
Then tell me: how many burners are hot?

Here’s another example. This one was in my kitchen for a few years. And for the life of me, I could never get it right. I was always turning the wrong knob and getting wrong burners hot - leaving a cold pot sitting there, staring at me stupidly, and a dangerously hot surface next to it which I expected to be cool!

Looking closely at the complicated way the knobs are correlated with the burners, it’s not hard to understand why I had this problem.
(I might also point out there is just one “Hot Surface" indicator. No indication of which burners are hot.)

There are four burners in a simple, proportional arrangement. They are not staggered, they are directly across from each other in a “square" formation. So how could they possibly justify making the arrangement and positioning of the controls this complicated and unintuitive!?
I’m left to assume that the people who designed the control panel were not in the same building (or possibly country?) as the people who designed the stove top.

Maybe it was some kind of experiment. “Let’s have the people designing the controls be COMPLETELY IGRNORANT of what the things they are controlling look like. Muh ha ha. Mwaaa ha ha haa! MUHWWAAA HAHA HA HA HAAA!"

Boy, those diagrams sure are helpful, though.
Except I have to think about what they’re telling me.

Please call .

They’re a fine bank, really.

But they lost my business awful quickly.

This is what happened when I tried to recover my password on their web site.

Say it with me… “Who ya gonna call?"