“I wore black because I liked it. I still do, and wearing it still means something to me. It’s still my symbol of rebellion … against people whose minds are closed to others’ ideas.” – Johnny Cash
I spent 2018 working in the unique role as an experience strategist within the high performance sector. In that I become immersed in the concept of the ‘performance of design’ and wanted to share some thoughts:
- In game, designers are at the frontline. They don’t have six weeks, they have the end of the sixth inning. Designers lament over what we have to achieve in two months, designers in sport have to do it in a game.
- I learnt a new appreciation for what they do. Speed. Accuracy. Working the best under pressure.
- Design is a gift that you can craft and if you focus it in, you can create a beautiful system. Bad day or good night, there is a way to handle it with a good design system.
- Parts and pieces of the typefaces and assets ready to go. That is how they handle the pressure.
Just flow of the music, liquid and Momentum
Summertime in Brooklyn, mustard on your lip. I knew I loved you by the bottom of the fifth.
There is that moment of impact when a song starts playing, you hear a few chords, the downbeat drops in and your mind naturally travels somewhere else.
All cognitive friction is gone. You feel a rush go through your body and for a brief moment everything is tranquil. Your mind is absolutely focused on it’s subtle chord progressions and rich tapestry of words that have now formed a detailed picture.
For three minutes you share that composite character’s experience.
I’m sitting in East Nashville right now, my head is with David Nail in Brooklyn at a Cyclones game, sharing his perfectly detailed heart break. His life is becoming a blur, it’s the end of summer and mascara is running down his lover’s eyes as she ends their relationship.
Isn’t music bloody awesome?
This post was written on January 3, 2018 at Barista Parlor in Nashville, Tennessee
(Source: Nick Jaffe)
Infuse your life with action. Make your own future. Don’t passively wait for things to come to you. Startup yourself, right now.
A lyric from a song by Sugarland still flaws me to this day: “Pictures, dishes and socks, It’s our whole life down to one box.” The simple attention to detail is a reminder that country music at it’s foundation is written for humans. Beautifully described by Bill C. Malone, country music is a vigorous hybrid form of music, constantly changing and growing in complexity, just as the society in which it thrives also matures and evolves, with no practical limitations.
I will now offer up a loaded statement: as designers we are finally catching up to country music.
We are beginning to focus not just on customers, but humans. This puts us in an exciting position, we are increasingly adopting a human-centred approach to design to create experiences while adapting to the same technology in tandem ourselves.
Large scale organisations are now (finally) zooming out and focusing their products based on the needs, habits, desires and motivations (as well as the context of use) of their customers whilst balancing this with technical and financial feasibility.
Companies like Netflix, Spotify and Uber have disrupted stagnant industries and markets. Their success is a result of not simply looking at where the industry was at the time, but where they wanted it to be. Bill Monroe did the same for country music in 1948 when he decided to place fiddle, banjo and mandolin at the front line of his music, creating a new style and genre known as bluegrass.
Outside of Appalachia, these companies now continue to experiment, grow, thrive and adapt based on how their customers use their product every day. If we like Netflix and Uber look at the long game, focusing on basic customer needs, habits, desires and motivations this will as assist us in understanding the activities relevant to our designs, products and the expectations of the humans we are designing for.
For the “non-disruptors,” the logical step is not creating small teams in pockets of the organisation, but how they can persist and continuously reimagine where humans are going at an organisational scale.
Time to cowboy up.
There is an amazing talk by Wilson Miner titled “When We Build,” sharing his observations about our role as product designers in the new digital world. But what happens when do won’t build?
Sometimes you become complacent, but the creative brain never dies, it still wants to think, solve problems and design solutions. In my role at General Assembly I am experiencing elation watching my students rapidly evolve into user experience practitioners. While I am sitting there helping them grow, I find myself walking home every day feeling a little unsettled.
After some reflection I realised that I’m not infused with an action, I’m not working towards something tangible.
At the beginning of the course I began sketching every night as a drill to keep my hands busy and fluid. That drill and focus quickly turned into an indispensable design tool: it developed into a habit.
On Friday morning I was early for a meeting, I found myself pulling out a small notebook and drawing shapes, keeping my hands busy. My hands have now become conditioned to generate whenever I have a spare moment. The frustration of not building took a daily routine and transformed into muscle memory.
I was taught early on in my career that when you see your pencil, a sketch and the work that you are put into making something so simple, your creative wisdom grows. When we build, we become product designers, create stories symbolic of the milestones and moments in the lives of other human beings.
These ten weeks have infused my need to create. I have returned to my pencil and notepad, wireframing screens that I’ll never ship and constantly reading. I am not passively waiting for things to come my way when I can do them by myself, right now.
At this moment I’m not building an actual product, but I am helping to build tomorrow’s designers for the new world.
In four weeks I step out of my role as teacher and return to the world as designer. I’m excited.
We should work together.
This summer I spent a lot of kiteboarding, hitting the road and taking on small projects. I’ll be honest about playing the role of design troubadour…it’s really fun!
Then six weeks ago I was pinged by General Assembly asking me if I had a spare ten weeks to come on board as an Instructional Associate for their User Experience Immersive Class. I meditated on the opportunity for about five minutes, stretched, and emailed them back: challenged accepted.
Walking onto the GA campus for the first time was a little daunting, knowing that these people (adults, wow!) had set aside twelve weeks of their lives to jump feet first into something completely new. My role with is to help take them from inception to industry ready in just ten weeks.
Throughout my career it has been drilled into me by my mentors that knowledge is a gift, something that’s never to be taken for granted. It’s my responsibility to make sure it is shared, not restricted to my own mind.
I quickly found myself going back to the basics, revising things that I had not thought about in over half a decade. Card sorting anyone?
After spending time with the students it didn’t take me more than a day to get excited. Witnessing the curiosity from the students after exploring something as simple as contextual inquiry made design feel alive again.
“It is not enough that we build products that function, that are understandable and usable, we also need to build products that bring joy and excitement, pleasure and fun, and, yes, beauty to people’s lives.” – Don Norman
Teaching is intense and still feels new. There is pressure to be the person students turn to when they have a problem, to be the source of knowledge. It’s a positive pressure and a rare joy when work feels like a privilege, not just a necessity.
Half way in. Watch this space.
Fewer things excite me more than building things.
Today I’m sitting in a coffee shop (surprise, surprise), I have my beloved overpriced Bose QC25’s cancelling out the loud music and white noise. I’m trying to smash out a lo-fi mock up by midday. Today I’m constantly thinking of ideas, seeing potential in everything.
I’m also having one of those days where the fewer interactions with people the better. It’s the glorious experience that one of my friend’s has labelled “lone wolf mode” – a brief sabbatical from human interaction while still engaging with the the world. This leaves me alone to think and make things.
When the waitress brought over my flat white, I returned to the world for a brief moment to say thank you and took the opportunity to look away from my screen for a quick people watch. What I saw came as no shock.
The main focus of my fellow humans was not the person sitting at the table opposite them, the individual deemed important enough that they carved out time in their lives to see. No, they’re on their phones, capturing beautiful snaps of their coffee from a flawless vertical angle.
They are sharing a carefully maintained and perfectly curated projection of their life to the world…through a filter.
I am both intrigued and horrified by this at the same time.
They are skipping an opportunity to connect with another person and instead striving to ensure that their other life, the one watched in pictures by strangers and voyeurs, their own personal audience, is perfect.
They are developing a character, an individual created for their audience to see, enjoy and envy. They are auditioning for that same role every single day.
Perhaps Macbeth had it right, “Life’s but a walking shadow, a poor player, that struts and frets his hour upon the stage”
If you want or need to celebrate something, celebrate the sun rising and the sun setting. Celebrate each new day, every day. Now is new.
A crazy road with nine weeks of anticipation. At last it was there. UFC 193. Etihad Stadium, 56,218 people. A UFC record (sorry Canada).
Yesterday I experienced something of unlikely beauty in the twisted, alluring and violent game of MMA. It’s a difficult task to describe the brilliant dance that takes place when two humans step into the cage, set their fears aside and commit their bodies to battle, voulntarily placing themselves at the intersection of greatness and violence.
There is no guarantee of win or grandeur – just the chance to add the mark of victory to their own story.
Sitting first row, barely ten feet away, I witnessed the rich tapestry of footwork, head movement, every set up and level change, every clinch. The exact moment that a human being is battling their natural instinct with logic and implementing the perfect game plan. Also the carnage. It’s indescribable, like watching pieces of puzzle fall perfectly into place.
For over seven hours I watched men and women exit the cage, some left battered and bruised, others with their head held high. Their victory is one of primitive destruction and their minds briefly abducted into absolute triumph before gravity drives them back to down to earth.
Knowing that these prize fighters have physically diminished their bodies for a day, a week or perhaps a lifetime is a heavy cross to bare when it happens right before your eyes. Voluntarilty watching a body fall limp to the canvas after a brutal head kick or a witnessing a fleeting moment of unconsciousness after a perfectly executed rear naked choke – it’s an emotional quandry, not something to be taken lightly but something that demands respect.
It’s almost impossible not to become captivated by the experience, even more impossible to explain it to those who don’t understand it. To them it’s an exhibtion of violence, not art. And thankfully, they don’t control the narrative.
My first chapter in MMA has finally been completed, I wait in eager anticipation for the next.
“The mountains are calling and I must go” – John Muir
I’m replacing the Melbourne laneways with the Colorado Flatirons as the backdrop for my work for a few weeks.
The goal is to write more, work intelligently, walk often and sleep a little. Hopefully the beer will be cheaper.
For the last few months I have been sitting inside a dark room illuminated by three monitors. A trace of sunlight that makes it’s first appearances in the late afternoon when the sun moves itself to the west side of my building. It’s a subtle reminder to get away from Sketch for an hour and go for a walk.
Melbourne has once become a vortex filled with awesome coffee and fine people…and habits. Every other weekend I used to drive out of the city and journey through the winding roads to Flinders, escaping the noise of the city and finding flow in the analogue experience. I really don’t do that anymore.
I’m looking forward to looking at the world through fresh eyes once again. It’s time to explore the next town. Projects will not suspend in time: conversations will happen on Slack, scheduled weekly meetings will happen on Hangouts and the screens being designed in this room will still be shipped (in a different timezone).
I’m excited to experience a place that has fascinated me for years. Time to find out.
Small columns sit on street corners in Nashville, playing country standards to the downtown foot traffic. They carry the writing, ‘Music is the true barometer of a person’s soul’.
I’m at Hub Melbourne sitting opposite the divine Sam Bell. A mate of nearly four years, after picking up a takeaway coffee from Kinfolk we have settled back into the peaceful dance of dry humour and producing work, driven by experiences that delight the world.
It’s an interesting dynamic sitting opposite someone and exchanging few words, it’s an easy silence. It yields a unique insight into a person’s mental model, especially when layered with Rdio activity.
Sam is listening to Sebastien Tellier. An electric emotional synthesised roller coaster. A subdued style of music to compliment her work style and decaf coffee.
I’m contradicting her with a long black, finding restlessness in Rick Rubin’s stripped back production of Jennifer Nettles’ new album. This tension is mirrored in my leg shakes and clicking fingers.
It’s the magic of multiple layers of data forming it’s own temporary stream. The inputs come from insights captured by the internet and the brain’s wiring, a unique shared DNA that will expire when the moment ends. Brilliant.
Until a few months months ago I had been juggling (rather unsuccessfully) multiple projects at the same time before committing my time and focus to jack.io. That was an easy decision.
Every day we find things in life that aren’t that simple, that’s pretty much a given. But some things are. When I want caffeine, I walk to Kettle Black. When I want to hear music, I launch Rdio. When I want a hug, I call my Dad.
Other things are not. We give ourselves challenges, throw down gauntlets and put ourselves in situations that are we are not always going to win. That is fine. It’s the awesomeness of life, setting goals, conquering them and sometimes even exceeding them.
It’s often the question of when is the challenge too great and when do I give up? I really don’t know, but I’ve been thinking about it a lot lately.
Three years ago while scanning the old television box at an ungodly hour of the morning, I landed on an MMA match. Once I got past the cage, the men sporting trunks that could only be compared to a Nascar truck of sponsors, hideous tribal tattoos and the ring girls, the stupid ring girls. Yes, once I got past those little things I found the rules and judging decision to be quite interesting.
When two fighters are on the mat grappling, the individual with top position control (Fighter A) is usually considered dominant. The person in bottom position (Fighter B) can be defending from their back, striking, controlling the posture of their opponent, looking for a submission, transitioning into an escape, but to the judges Fighter A who is on top is seen to be winning the fight.
But he can’t just sit there passively resting. There is a catch. Unless Fighter A is trying to advance to a more dominant position, they will be put back onto their feet and lose the advantage.
This makes a lot of sense. If I’m not advancing what I want to do, if I’m not taking steps to achieve a goal, if it’s not in my GTD pile then maybe it’s time to put it on ice, reset and move on to the next.
This does not mean give up, it means that if you’re being passive about an action, maybe it’s time to put it away for a while and move on the next, the one that you are advancing, and maybe we’ll get shit done and win the fight.