Tag Archives: business

Dear Design Student, we’re here to help.

Design can be a difficult job to get a hang of. There are no apprenticeships, hardly any mentors, and people guard their experience jealously because it’s a competitive advantage.

Now there’s Dear Design Student, a new publication featuring working designers (including yours truly) who take the time to answer the questions that have been on your mind. The writing team includes Erika Hall, Jennifer Daniel, Dan Mall, Mike Monteiro, and Liam Campbell — all very talented people with a wealth of experience to share.

If you’ve got questions about the business and practice of design, head on over and ask a question.

 

Your next project needs a white-hat jerk.

A couple of years ago, a startup called Stamped created an app and service that let you rate anything and everything. Your local doughnut shop? Rate it and tell your friends. Your favourite beach? Rate it and tell your friends. In fact, rate anything you want!

But Stamped never anticipated the prankster, or what I think of as the benignly destructive user. It seems nobody ever asked “what would someone do here if they were just here to screw around?”

To borrow some words from Mike Monteiro, it had never been DickProofed.

If it had, perhaps people wouldn’t have been able to rate “Getting a hand-job during the Muppets Movie” or any of the other things that people who totally weren’t me rated on there.

Maybe it would still be around.

Yesterday, I ambled up to a colleague’s shiny new iPhone 6. I saw that it was charging, and I said “Hey Siri, from now on call me Penis-Face”. Guess what? Siri duly changed his nickname in his contacts and said “Ok, from now on, I’ll call you Penis-Face.” I exploited a ‘feature’ of iOS 8—when an iPhone is connected to power, it constantly listens for the term “Hey Siri”, followed by a command. Then it executes that command.

What I did wasn’t really malicious, but it was a dick move and a childish prank. However the point is that I shouldn’t have been able to do it. Someone on the development team for iOS 8 should have seen that a prank so obvious is something jerks are going to want to do.

This matters. Users like that—the jerks—are out there in their tens of thousands. Millions, even. They’re not exactly attempting to hurt your business or product; they just want to have a good time. That’s your problem when that good time comes at the expense of your new service or product.

As we move toward a model of the world where nearly every business is just a website with some people out the back, we’ve got to keep these jerks in mind and anticipate where they might fool around with your product to have what (to them) are a few childish laughs.

When we at Floate build things for people, I always ask “how could someone screw this up for shits and giggles?” People tend to think I’m joking but I’m deadly serious because if your site, network, or product becomes a playground for a bunch of jerks, it turns off the people whose time and attention you’re really trying to obtain. Almost nobody ever got a promotion doing that.[1]

The internet security world has for years had white-hat hackers—people whose job it is to test code for security flaws. It’s time for designers to adopt the idea. Next time you’re working on a long-term project, appoint a designated white-hat jerk; someone whose job it is to keep thinking about how a person or group with a bit of time on their hands might try to bend and twist your system for a few laughs. This isn’t simply asking someone to be a tedious Devil’s Advocate—it’s ensuring that someone is always thinking “How could someone fool around with this, and what would that mean for our end product?”

If you want to make it next-level, create a Jerk as a user persona, create some stories for them, and work out if your system is ready for them.

You’ll get push-back, but it’s worth it. Nobody wants to be the next Stamped.


  1. Well, Stamped did get acquired by Yahoo for $10 Million. ↩

Empathy for The Devil (or, why we do The Nudge).

Empathy is a powerful word, and a strong emotion. It’s the ability to understand what someone else might be thinking. It’s being able to understand how someone else might feel, or how they might respond to a given situation. It is rarely one’s first response; it requires a certain spark of selflessness.

And it’s fundamental to the way that we view design. To be able to do great work, we need to understand and empathise with our audiences, the users of the products and websites we design, and importantly, our clients.

We at Floate think that learning to better empathise with people who are not designers is a path to growth as designers. That’s why 18 months ago, we started what we think is an unusual design event – one where it’s not designers telling other designers about how annoying their clients are.

The Nudge is an on-stage conversation with someone who works on the client side; it’s a chance for clients to tell us what challenges they face, and for designers to find out what goes on behind closed doors. This way, we can get an understanding of how and why the decisions that affect our work are made.

The on-stage guests are never Floate clients. This isn’t a showcase for us. We do this because we want designers, including ourselves, to understand the context that we work in, and to start to empathise with what clients experience on their side of the project. In a sense, The Nudge is the antidote to the poisonous attitude that gave rise to Clients from Hell.

We’ve also expanded our reach a little and created a podcast where we talk to non-designers about their experiences working with designers, and listen to their views on subjects designers could know more about. We’ve spoken with Marketing Professors and sex workers, and a range of people in between. Even founders of startups. Through it all, we find we learn the most when we ask non-designers what they think designers ought to know about their world.

Tomorrow night (September 25), our guest is Sean Hall. Sean is the General Manager of Brand Marketing at Telstra –– he’s going to talk to us about what it’s like to work on a rebrand as large as Telstra’s, and the challenges that can arise when working with external design teams. We’re very grateful he can join us and hope you can come along. I’m buying the drinks.

 

You can RSVP to the event at Eventbrite.

 

The Nudge is also a podcast. Maybe you’d like it.

Officially announcing The Nudge podcast, and a call for guests.

The Nudge Podcast

Now that we’ve posted our second (or third depending on how you count these things) episode, it’s time to tell you about our podcast, The Nudge. Way back when we started The Nudge events, we wanted to be able to share the ideas behind them with more than just those people who were able to attend on the nights.

So we recorded the events.

And then we started thinking about a podcast where we talked about being a better designer (and making the world a better place). And the result is the Nudge Podcast. On our podcasts Josh Kinal, Jerome Lebel-Jones, and Ross Floate grapple with the issues related to being a better designer, and we ask special guests from around the world for their perspective as well. What kind of issues? Issues like inspiration, trust, being wrong, and the nature of responsibility.

As we continue to present our events, we’ll keep including the audio from the live interviews as special episodes to our podcast – you can hear Elise Peyronnet from Melbourne Music Week on Episode 0.

Future episodes of the podcast (yes, they’re already recorded and in the can) include Ned Dwyer from Tweaky.com, Chris Clarke (now of Black Pixel), Brad Ellis of Pacific Helm, Jayne Lewis of Two Birds Brewing, and Associate Professor Peter McGraw of the Humor Code. You can listen to the podcast at the websitefollow via rss or you can subscribe on iTunes.

Are you interested in being a guest on The Nudge? Do you have something you’d like to hear discussed? We’re all ears. Drop us an email, or let us know in the comments.

Empathy is the soul of design

There’s been a lot of attention to Jack Dorsey’s recent realisation that ‘users’ is a terrible term and that Square (but not Twitter it seems) should change the way it describes the people who use its products and services.

Great. I mean it. This is great.

‘Users’ is a terrible term. Designers and developers employ the word ‘users’ when they’re thinking of the idiots they have to pre-empt, work around, and otherwise fix things for. ‘Users’ is a hostile label, spat out by people who don’t shave below their jawline. I’m happy to see it go.

Replacing it with ‘customers’ is a step in the right direction, and I have to applaud Dorsey for taking that step. But it still doesn’t go far enough for designers. See, ‘customer’ is still primarily a commerce-based designation. Think of people as customers (it is better than consumers) and you’re thinking of their wallet first, and everything else a distant second.

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