Grabbed a few pow laps this afternoon after a 2 foot dump. Brought the GoPro along to make a quick lil edit and because it has been a while since I strung some clips together to music. After a slow start, it’s turning out to be such a good season.
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Really excited about all the design work we put into WordPress this past year. Both within the product itself as well as in our external communications, as seen in this video I worked on that highlights all the cool stuff we are about to release. Super proud of the team working on this with me. We’re really just getting started and I’m ready to keep going to make WordPress an intuitive, well-designed experience for all.
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Big fan of Strava’s year in review design.
I use Strava record all my rides, runs, and snowboard adventures since 2016. The past couple years I’ve hovered around 2k miles on the bike, which feels pretty solid. My favorite times on the bike this year were bikepacking with friends and I hope to keep that up this year. I’d also like to add a lot more days on snow.
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I listened to a bunch of books last year. On walks with the dog, on the way to and from mountain biking and snowboarding, and on countless road bike rides around town. These were my favorite:
Ealonor Olyphant Is Completely Fine by Gail Honeyman
This book was hilarious but also wrecked me. I couldn’t stop thinking about it and has stayed with me more than any other book has.
Maybe You Should Talk to Someone by Lori Gottlieb
I mean, who doesn’t want to know what therapists really think, how they work, and what they talk about with their own therapists? Also, it’s hilarious.
Dear Edward by Ann Napolitano
I need a good sad book every once in a while.
Powerful by Patty McCord
Practical and no-nonsense. I listened to this twice and then re-listened to certain bits. I was going through a tough time at work and this book was one of the things that helped me through it.
Daisy Jones & The Six by Taylor Jenkins Reid
Love the format, almost felt like you were listening to a music documentary. Read by a bunch of different actors. Made me start listening to Fleetwood Mac again.
The Seven Husbands of Evelyn Hugo by Taylor Jenkins Reid
Who knew I needed a love story? A full life lived.
The Seven Husbands of Evelyn Hugo by Taylor Jenkins Reid, Daisy Jones & The Six by Taylor Jenkins Reid, Powerful by Patti McCord, Dear Edward by Ann Napolitano, Maybe You Should Talk to Someone by Lori Gottlieb, Ealonor Olyphant Is Completely Fine by Gail Honeyman, The Nix by Nathan Hill, Where’d you go Bernadette by Maria Semple, Hard-Boiled Wonderland and the End of the World by Haruki Murakami, The Windup Bird Chronicle by Haruki Murakami, Convenience Store Woman by Sayaka Murata, Strange Weather in Tokyo by Hiromi Kawakami, In the Woods by Tana French, Normal People by Sally Rooney, Conversations with Friends by Sally Rooney, There There by Tommy Orange, A Tale for the Time Being by Ruth Ozeki, Olive, Again by Elizabeth Strout, Self Compassion by Kristin Neff, Nine Perfect Strangers by Liane Moriarty, Such a Fun Age by Kiley Reid, Pieces of Her by Karin Slaughter.
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I tend to think about things for a bit before sharing with others. I also really like to fix things. This combination can sometimes lead to jumping into solution mode really fast when I’m discussing with others. This happened yesterday when I realized the person I was having a conversation with didn’t even agree on the same problem I was coming to him with. And I was already talking about potential solutions! Our conversation didn’t get far and I had to back up and start again.
Since a big part of my job is coming up with solutions, I think it’s important to get it right. It’s also important to know when solutions are necessary. I jotted these notes down based on my conversation yesterday and others that I’ve learned from in the past:
When someone is coming to me with a problem:
- Give them a very quick high level overview of what they are saying so you know you have it right.
- Ask if it’s something they want help with solving or if they are just venting. If they are just venting, move on to other topics.
- If they want a solution: Agree on the problem(s) they would like to solve. Contribute additional info and suggestions if needed.
- Ask them for their thoughts on how to solve. Add your suggestions and agree on a path forward.
- Follow though and follow up.
When I’m going to someone with a problem I’m observing that directly effects me:
- Clearly communicate the problem from my perspective.
- Ask if they understand to get on the same page with them about problem I’m trying to solve.
- See if they agree it’s a problem to solve. If it is, ask the other person for their thoughts on how to solve. Add your suggestions.
- Agree on a path forward. Make it clear who will do what.
- Follow though and follow up.
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I was recently reviewing a design iteration that wasn’t intuitive and lacked attention to detail. I thought to myself, “You (the designer) did research and checked out how others solve a similar problem. Go back to your research, look at your inspiration, and compare it to yours.”
Research, competitor analysis, or anything that you choose to do as a designer as part of your process to ship amazing things isn’t something just to check off. Refer back to it after every iteration. Ask yourself: Is my design as good as or better than this?
When you’re heads-down designing, it’s easy to get caught up in technical requirements and a million other things. Referring back zooms you out a bit to help you recall the bigger picture.
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I recently joined a team of designers to lead. One of the patterns I noticed was a lack of ownership over the product areas some of the designers were working in. This came about in a few ways, but the biggest and most common sign was how someone approached a problem. Some designers propose a solution and others ask how something should be solved.
“Should the settings be in a modal or the sidebar?”
“Where should I show the error message?”
When I see a question like this being asked without an accompanying design, I reach out to the designer to learn more. I go about it differently depending on the person, but overall I remind them that this is their project. They are the lead designer on it and they were put on it for a reason! I ask them to use their experience to first ask the question to themselves and start exploring possible solutions. Then, when they had a good grasp and handle on the problem and many designs that solve it, to propose the best solution (or two) instead of asking others how to.
This is a small shift but I’ve seen it have a big impact over time on my previous teams. It leads to more thought out designs, fruitful collaborations, and a sense of pride and ownership over the final design that gets shipped and used by millions of people.
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The projects the designers on my team are working on are ones that don’t have a person whose full time job it is to Project Manage. This means that the job falls to different people. In the past, this job has fallen onto a designer, often as a second full time job. Over time, I’ve taken steps to make sure that doesn’t happen. After all, designers still need to design. Here’s the current way I’m approaching it.
Starting a project when you don’t have a full time Project Manager:
- When a project gets identified as a priority, the designer assigned to it spends some time understanding the problem and fully wrapping their head around it through exploration, research, etc.
- The designer writes out a list of user flows: all the things the user will be able to do when the first version of the project ships.
- The designer shares this list with the devs and they both iterate on it until everyone is in agreement and feels a shared sense of ownership over the project.
- The list then gets posted where everyone can see it and Github issues are made for each item in the flow, along with any corresponding dev tasks that are needed to support the flow. This provides a solid baseline and can help when issues “pop up” in the middle of design and dev cycles. The designers and devs can work together to decide if each one is worth adding to this release or the punting to the next.
Designs get added to issues, are iterated on with dev feedback, PRs are made, and as the product area comes to life, it can be tested. (The original list of user stories also makes for a great test plan.) Repeat a few times and ship it!
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I recently had a conversation with a design manager that started something like this:
“I want to start having my team to do daily standups.”
“Just so I can easily see what everyone is doing.”
This sort of scenario is pretty common and I’ve actually done this myself in the past. (Standups on their own aren’t the issue here, its any task managers ask their team to do that is strictly for the manager’s benefit only.) I now question every non core-work related task I add on to my team’s workload. Otherwise, it will quickly add up and a designer will spend more time not-designing than designing. It will also send the wrong signal: that I care more about the meta work than the core work.
Back to the original example: If you have trouble seeing what everyone is working on, I bet there’s another problem. Focus on that instead. For me, it was just not being used to working in Github after using another system for so long. I ended up finding a solution that surfaces each team member’s comments with images (designs) attached. That way, I can give design feedback without asking my team to add an additional thing to their to-do list. After all, I want them to focus on their work, not on fixing mine!
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Note to self:
You have expectations. Don’t make people guess what they are.
Write them down. Share them openly. Refer to them regularly. Put them in context of the work. Let everyone know where they stand on each. Alter the expectations as things change. Repeat.
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