Oh, so you’re not a REAL designer…

We have one of the most supportive, fantastic communities of all time. I love being part of it. I can’t even tell you how many social threads and forums I’ve seen completely blanketed by folks who have been in the biz for years helping answer questions and mentoring new designers. Our community is awesome.

I was at a conference recently, and overheard a conversation that left me feeling really angry. An attendee was chatting with a speaker who had given a killer preso about UX strategy laced with both interaction design and user research tips. His presentation was informative and well thought out, and attendees left raving about the session. Several people walked up to the front of the room to congratulate him afterward, myself included. I overhead the attendee standing in front of me say, “This was great, but the session title was misleading, since you’re not a REAL designer.”
The speaker looked a little stunned.

I was dumbfounded. Then I was angry, so I calmly approached, and said, “I’m sorry, what exactly is a “real” designer in your opinion?”

I tried REALLY hard to keep the anger and sarcasm out of my voice, but was apparently only partially successful, because the guy went from cocky and condescending to startled and uncomfortable and said eloquently, “Well you know, he doesn’t like, make graphics and stuff like designers on my team do.”

I diffused a bit there, and realized that the guy wasn’t a designer, and he just didn’t have a clue. I felt like a jerk for getting up in arms when they guy was just legitimately ignorant, and said, “Gotcha. Yeah, there are tons of different specialties in the overarching design profession. Graphic design is one of them, but there are tons more.”

Then we sat down and chatted at length during the break about different specialty design professions. Sometimes I forget that people (even people in the tech industry) don’t have a firm grasp of who makes up the design industry.

Graphic design is not better than interaction design is not better than front end dev is not better than information architecture is not better than content strategy is not better than user research, etc.. The design profession is made up of all types of people with all types of backgrounds who come together to design amazing products. There is not “more important” or “less important” there is just a “design team”.

The lesson I took from my interaction with this dude at the conference (who turned out to be a systems admin btw) was that anger isn’t the appropriate response to ignorance; education is. Unless the ignorance is heavily laced with elitist jerk mojo, in which case, pity is the appropriate response. ;)

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Go UX Planet!

I just had a conversation on Twitter with Elena Schulte and Kayla J that absolutely had to have a corresponding doodle! Go UX Planet! :)


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“Why do you love design?”


Tonight I was chatting with a friend, and he asked a question that comes up with my friends and family on a fairly regular basis: “Why do you love being a designer so much?”

Normally I ramble off a long list of detailed reasons, most of which include design jargon and acronyms. This time I decided to break it down into 8 easy to digest one liners. They went something like this:

Being a designer is amazing because…

  • Creating something that didn’t previously exist is intoxicating
    It’s kind of like having kids. First there’s an idea. Then over time it turns into this amazing thing that exists, and you are its creator.
  • Designing products and features is completely addictive
    Once you been bitten by the design bug, you’re a lifer.
  • Solving people’s problems is incredibly rewarding
    When you’re starting a new feature or product, you’re trying to solve a problem for a specific audience. You research, you interview, you do kick off meetings, all of these things are to make sure that you’re solving the right problem. Once you’ve nailed it down, you start brainstorming all of the zillion ways you could go about solving that problem, until you find the magic one: the square peg to fill the square hole.
  • There is always something exciting to look forward to
    No matter how much you love a design, you’re proud and excited for about 30 seconds when it’s done. Then you hit 31 seconds and you’re consumed by thinking of all of the enhancements/changes you want to make in the next iteration, which is just as exciting.
  • You will never, ever know everything
    As a designer you learn new tips and tricks and find new tools every single day. Trends change, new tech is created, new languages are written, tools are enhanced, tools disappear, you have to enjoy being a life long learner to survive in this profession.
  • Design inspiration is EVERYWHERE
    Everywhere you look, you’re taking in detail and drawing inspiration. There are the expected places, like design blogs, sites like Dribbble, beautiful collections of inspiring design on sites like Muz.li, etc. But the main source of design inspiration comes from EVERYTHING — the shade of the orange on your countertop, the shape of a lamp post, the design on a comforter, the shading created by a shadow on the sidewalk, the vibrance of flower petals — there is a never ending stream of inspiration everywhere you look.
  • You see the world around you differently than other humans, and want to fix all of the things
    As a designer, in addition to seeing inspiration everywhere you look, you see things that need to be fixed. Poorly designed doors are your nemesis. Oddly arranged grocery store layouts give you a twitch. Menu’s with terrible font choices are cringeworthy. Kerning in school holiday performance programs can be painful to look at. And it’s not negativity driving these observations, it’s a deeply rooted need to fix these things that makes them stand out. You constantly imagine ways to improve the world around you. And when you get to act on those thoughts? It’s a great day.
  • You’re always surrounded by a deeply passionate, supportive community of like minded people
    Being a designer means you’re part of something big. Designers understand each other because we process the world around us in similarly different ways. It makes us close knit in a way that other professions don’t seem to understand. The design community is a family that celebrates thinking outside the box, and imagining that the impossible is possible. We embrace this line of thinking because all of the most innovative creations have come from designers making impossible things exist.

After I rattled off my quick list, my friend seemed to really get it.

His response was, “I’m pretty jealous that you found a career that you love so much. Most people never get to experience that feeling.”

He’s absolutely right. Having the opportunity to design for a living is a magnificent gift.

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Good Designers vs Great Designers

We’ve all been there right? A client or stakeholder stomps in and tells you exactly what you need to make. If you’re new to the design biz, your knee jerk reaction may be to make it. On command. Immediately.

The longer you spend in the design world, the more you realize that building on command never, ever ends well. People usually ask for things they want, not necessarily for what they need.

Case in point, a buddy of mine works for a major design firm. They have a program in which senior designers mentor newbie junior designers when they first come in the door. At the start of his career, about 10 years ago, my friend was that newbie designer.

His first week, his mentor had a meeting with a sizable client, and invited him to come in and shake some hands, and observe the kick off session.

As soon as they all sat down, the clients immediately whipped out a comp that outlined exactly what they wanted, down to the colors and fonts. They basically predesigned the entire project.

My friend’s mentor looked over the comp, looked up and simply asked, “What are your goals?”

The clients looked a little confused and taken aback. They responded with something along the lines of, “Um… we haven’t really given that much thought.”

My friend the newbie admitted that the sudden left hand turn in the conversation made him squirm a bit. He said the clients were visibly very uncomfortable, and he was sure that they were going to storm out of the room.

His mentor smoothly responded with, “Ok, lets talk about it.”

After an hour long discussion, his mentor had a full list of goals to take back to the rest of the design team, as well as the client’s blessing on taking a week to brainstorm the best possible solutions to meet those goals.

When my friend the newbie designer caught up with his mentor in the hall after the meeting, he told him he couldn’t believe that he “stood up to them” like that.

The mentor just grinned and said, “I wasn’t standing up to them, I was making sure that I clearly understood the problems that they need to solve. Good designers take orders and hand over exactly what a client wants. Great designers dive deep to uncover what a client actually needs.”

My friend said that those 3 sentences completely changed the trajectory of his entire career. He knew at that moment that he wanted to become a great designer. And as it turns out, he did.

Stop Letting Your Garbage Onboarding UX Destroy Your Company

We’ve all been there right? A company advertises their product as “free”. You get all excited and run out to their site to sign up. You provide your name and email address, maybe even a bday, no big deal. Then you hit next only to find that they want your #$(%&*$ credit card number!

Why? Why do companies do this? They are CRUSHING their onboarding conversion potential! This is the LAMEST UX on the face of the earth. Other than, you know, nuclear reactor buttons being poorly arranged.

Horrible practice though, seriously, especially when your target audience is even remotely tech savvy. You need to gain user trust before folks are going to fork over their credit card numbers. By asking for it too soon in the workflow you alienate people who could have become paying customers over time. Not only did you alienate them, you just completely obliterated any semblance of brand trust that could have existed straight out of the gate if it weren’t for your shady, lame onboarding UX.

So in a nutshell: Stop it. Right now. If you’re guilty of this, fix it. You’re brutally murdering your company’s sales potential at the very first user touch point.

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App Design + App Development + Research = Success


Recently there has been some discussion around how app design can hurt app development. It’s kind of blowing my mind. 


  1. A app that isn’t designed by folks who have conducted research and understand their audience is typically doomed to fail.

  2. Developers are amazing at what they do. And they are passionate about what they do. And there are even some killer devs who are also killer designers. But most of the developers I know HATE the design phase, and are happy to have designers on the team to handle that aspect.

  3. Creating prototypes and checking in with the dev team throughout the process is key to creating mobile apps in an agile environment. If your dev team doesn’t see, or give feedback on an app until the prototype has already been through the usability testing phase, then of course you’re going to have a train wreck on your hands. That’s not a designer or a developer issue, thats a serious workflow issue that needs to be corrected.

  4. In order to create a solid app, you need an outstanding communication and feedback loop. One tool that makes this pretty seamless is InVisionApp. Both my dev friends and my designer friends love it, because they can give feedback in a matter of seconds without having meetings about meetings all day long. The designers finish a couple screens, shoot the devs a link, the devs reply back with any technical limitations that could get in the way and then the designers iterate. The process loops until they have an amazing technically plausible prototype to test with users. Layer consistant Slack communication on top to clarify details, and you’ve got a beautiful, agile, functional workflow on your hands. 

The best part is that this process flow works for huge teams as well as teams of 2. 

Please, please, don’t try to jump on the designer-less app bandwagon… You’re going to fall off the other side and crush your app’s potential in the process. 

People of Earth: InVision Added Overlays!!!

So yesterday an announcement of epic proportions was launched at the design industry. InVision added overlays!!!! OMG!!!

If you’re not using InVision you def should be. It’s a freaking amazing rapid prototyping and design collaboration tool. And now it’s even freaking amazing-er!

This is functionality that fills a market gap with UX excellence! It was being done here and there by others, but InVision‘s interface for setup is gorgeous and intuitive.

You can see it in action here: http://blog.invisionapp.com/get-higher-fidelity-prototypes-with-less-work-using-overlays/ 

I have used InVision for years now, and have been a giant fan since the first day I touched it. In fact I was such a huge fan that exactly 8 days ago, I started working for them! (First week = awesome!)  I’m so proud of/excited for the team that made this happen!

I just thought I’d toss out this Friday design candy to make your weekend a little sweeter. Enjoy!

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So wait… Why are we building this?!


I was chatting with a friend last night, and he mentioned that he’d run in to what seems to be a fairly common frustration. 

He is employed at a startup that recently received series A funding. He’s been on the product design team since the very beginning. 

Last week a stakeholder approached the design team and gave them a detailed description of exactly what they needed build next. 

When the design team pushed back because the request seemed unrelated to the product vision, they were told that they had to add the feature because a competitor was offering it.

Sound familiar? When innovation takes a backseat to mimicry startups rarely survive. If you witness this starting to happen in your company, try your best to push back. 

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MacBook Death Mid Usability Testing Series = Horror!

Soooo prior to starting my mega sweet gig at InVisionApp (Yesterday for anyone who wants to keep track of my work schedule. lol), I was wrapping up loose ends and finishing projects at my other sweet gig at Schoolwires. I had scheduled 4 usability testers to come in during my last 3 days of work there.

The first test went off without a hitch. Awesome tester, great feedback (she loved it so much that she hugged me when she was done), all was well in the world. The next morning I was sprinting about getting ready for my second tester. I whipped out my MacBook and… my keyboard was dead.


I restarted 2 times, sprinted around like a crazy person, and finally decided to try connecting my bluetooth keyboard and mouse. I usually didn’t do that until AFTER my machine booted, but it was worth a shot.

It was then that I realized that… MY TRACKPAD WAS ALSO DEAD! I couldn’t even get to the bluetooth icon to sync!

At this point the horror had set in. The client was going to be at the office in less than 15 minutes. None of my coworkers’ machines had licenses for SilverbackApp. I tried one more restart with my bluetooth accessories on… and SUCCESS was mine!!!

The client showed up exactly 6 minutes after I finally got things working. She looked at me a little funny when I opened up te door, I was probably giving her the crazy eye due to the adrenaline rush I’d just experienced, so I explained that there had been some technical difficulties. 

She, also being a Mac lover, expressed her condolences and we settled in to testing mode. When we had finished, she ALSO gave me a hug. I had never met her before in my life. These people REALLY loved our new product concept!

Since I was leaving the company in 2 days  didn’t have the heart to ask for a loaner, so I just suffered through sans keyboard/trackpad. Not having my MacBook function was basically the equivalent of losing multiple limbs. Crazy how much I’ve come to rely on my trustworthy machine over the years. 

InVisionApp (being awesome) ordered me a brand new squeaky clean one. I can’t wait to hold it in my arms. lol

May all of your MacBooks live long healthy lives, and prosper! :)


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