The Blogroll: Week 16

If you’re asking “what the heck am I looking at?”, here’s a primer. Also, if you know of an article or blog I should be reading, let me know.

The Blogroll


Mike Davidson - Design-Driven Companies. Are We There Yet?

Finally, I also think it’s important to highlight the value of helping upgrade your own company’s product development processes. Designers love talking about the actual product design work they’ve done in the form of visual artifacts and launched services. Just as valuable, however, is the work that went into reshaping the processes that made these products possible. PMs make their own PM-centric contributions to what product development processes look like, and engineers do the same with their own lens. By adding your own perspective as a designer and improving the product development process at your own company, you’re accomplishing something you may not even get to accomplish at a place like Apple… and that, is something to be proud of.

Designers, and really anyone involved in creating user experiences, need to be fighters to be successful. It’s not only your job to produce good shit — it’s just as important to show the design agnostic what good shit can do for them. Prove to them that good taste isn’t just superficial.


Cal Newport - Open Offices Make You Less Open

Here’s a summary of what they found:

  • Contrary to what’s predicted by the sociological literature, the 52 participants studied spent 72% less time interacting face-to-face after the shift to an open office layout. To make these numbers concrete: In the 15 days before the office redesign, participants accumulated an average of around 5.8 hours of face-to-face interaction per person per day. After the switch to the open layout, the same participants dropped to around 1.7 hours of face-to-face interaction per day.
  • At the same time, the shift to an open office significantly increased digital communication. After the redesign, participants sent 56% more emails (and were cc’d 41% more times), and the number of IM messages sent increased by 67%.

Not surprisingly, this shift from face-to-face to electronic interaction made employees less effective.

This probably sounds crazy, but in my ~15 years of professional life, I’ve never worked in a “traditional” space — it’s all either been open offices or remote. There was a two-week span though where the company I worked for merged/bought with another company and I was temporarily planted in their closed office to integrate with their creative team.

It was glorious. When there was work, I had a quiet space to do it. When meetings were needed, we would gather up in meeting rooms. And if you wanted to talk to someone, you didn’t have to have a big public conversation with everyone in the “cluster,” you just sat down and could calmly talk.

Remote work is the extreme form of this tough. Humans crave face-to-face conversations, but the only social options we’ve come up with are big, open coworking spaces and coffee shops. What we need is a closed coworking space that gives people a reason to co-mingle with people doing different things. Tough challenge.


Alexis C. Madrigal - Disposable America

The big paper and food companies circled Maryland Cup, but it was eventually sold for $534 million to Fort Howard, a paper company that had gone public in the early ’70s, and began to aggressively expand beyond its Wisconsin base.

The sale was a boon for Maryland Cup’s shareholders, but the company did not fare well under the new management. Following the transaction, the Baltimore Sun relates, Maryland Cup executives flew to dinner with Fort Howard’s hard-charging CEO, Paul Schierl. He brought out a flip chart, on which he’d written the company’s “old” values—“service, quality, responding to customers.” He turned the page to show the company’s “new” values—“profits, profits, profits.” It’s like a scene out of Tommy Boy, or a socialist’s fever dream.

I like how the same Americans who yearn for “old” values of “service, quality, responding to customers” voted elected the poster child for “profits, profits, profits.”


Cate Huston - Towards Productive Technical Discussions

The goal of these discussions is to define a path forward, and they should end with a specific decision which we then act on. Non-decision decisions* are a common dysfunction that I strongly prefer we avoid. Have some back and forth, switch to a call if necessary, but at the end of the thread there should be a decision and some next actions. Review the feedback, answer the questions, and then based on that, circle back, summarize, and state the decision.

My summer resolution has been to come out of every work conversation with either a to-do list or a Mario Tennis match scheduled. Anything less is unprofessional. Also, playing with Bowser Jr. is unprofessional.


Cameron Adams - Creativity at scale

From the germinating seed of a musical idea, a film score passes from the hands of a composer to an orchestrator, a conductor, musical performers, editors, sound engineers, mixers, and the film director themselves. Each of them puts their fingerprints on the work, and it’s the coordination between each of these professionals that produces the finished piece of creativity.

I’m reminded of the insight into fashion design delivered by Dior and I (ok, I might be a bit of a creative process nerd) which looked at the creation of Raf Simons’ first haute couture collection for the Christian Dior label. It was fascinating to see the interplay between Simons’ creative direction and the countless craftswomen whose hands his vision passed through, each helping to shape an idea into something tangible. It was truly the work of a finely honed creative team and a testament to collaboration over isolation.

While I wouldn’t dare to put a sublime piece of art like the theme from Jaws in the same ballpark as making software, great products aren’t made by great people, they’re made by great teams. Having a brilliant idea or a beautifully executed design is meaningless without the ability to galvanise and work with engineers, QAs, marketers, salespeople and support staff.

Here’s what this says to me: the best things come from the combination of heirarchy and trust. Managers/idea people have to be trusted to put forward ideas/plans that are actionable and makes sense, and they have to trust that the people under them will make the best decisions they can based on the expertise they have. If that’s not the way it’s working, there’s a problem.


Mike Davidson - How To Give Helpful Product Design Feedback

Level 2: Understand

See something that looks sub-optimal and begin an inquiry to figure out why.

Example: “The Profile page is much harder for me to get to right now. What advantages are achieved with this tradeoff?”

Appropriate Usage: Now we’re getting somewhere. Product design is a series of tradeoffs. Simplicity vs extensibility. Speed vs power. Whimsy vs seriousness. When designers move something around, it is usually with an objective in mind. That objective could even be to intentionally get you to do something less frequently. Designers, however, often misfire and don’t fully appreciate what they are giving up for what they are gaining. Worse yet, sometimes they may be gaining nothing at all. It is more than fair to ask these questions. It is helpful! Often in the course of giving Level 2 feedback like this, you may in fact cause the designer to think of this tradeoff for the first time, since they may not have even realized the magnitude of the downside.

To me, this goes for all feedback. In a professional setting, always assume that things are done with a purpose, because all things should be done with a purpose. If your question triggers a “hey, I never thought of that” response, that’s great. And if someone provides a thought-out resonining, that’s great, too. But never assume there was no thought put in (the author’s example was “Something about the navigation just feels wrong.”). Even if you mean well, you have to go in assuming all choices are intentional — assuming complete lapse of judgement is pretty disrespectful.


Ben Wolford - Gmail’s privacy problem and why it matters

The Wall Street Journal recently published an article highlighting privacy concerns related to Gmail’s use of third-party apps. When users install tools known as “add-ons” in their Gmail accounts, they are often giving outside companies full access to their mailbox. In at least one instance, the WSJ reported, “engineers personally read through thousands of emails“.

In the public debate that followed, many people focused on Google’s poor oversight of these third-party developers and the inadequacy of their privacy policies. While these are important concerns, they distract from the fundamental problem with Google, which is that the company’s entire purpose is to spy on you and sell your private information to organizations that want to influence you.

I don’t want to be alarmist guy, but we should all make a plan to get off Google platforms. All of them. There are companies out there doing the exact same things without a business model based on exploiting your data.

The actual blogroll

(Blogs are ranked in order of appearances in these Blogroll posts. Also, I’m only listing blogs that don’t act as newspapers, because those are the ones I feel need the most support.)