Startup Years = Dog Years

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We were in a meeting recently and someone made a comment about startup years being like dog years. Definitely an accurate statement!

If you analyze the progress made by a successful fast growth startup in sales & revenue, feature additions & product growth, and staffing additions, each year is often equivalent to about a decade (or more) of large corporation progress.

One of the biggest thrills of working for a startup is the breakneck pace. It’s not for the faint of heart, but man is it ever a fun ride!

The Impossible Icon: Giving Designers Nightmares Since The Dawn Of Time

I got to hang out with some of my favorite designers tonight! One of them is working on a project for a niche company that requires them to use solely material icons. The entire project is complete other than one pesky icon.

All 6 of us took a look at it together and not one of us was able to come up with an icon selection that fit. It’s one of those impossible icons that consumes your thoughts. Because there HAS to be an icon that makes sense, right? Wrong.

It’s 3am, and I STILL can’t stop thinking about it haha—it’s driving me crazy. C’est la vie! #DesignLife

 

The Powerhouse Leader Your Org Is Probably Missing

So there are all kinds of manager vs. boss vs. person-in-charge-who-you-hate posts kicking around. They define the difference between the various types, talk about their flaws and positive traits etc.

I’m going to skip all of that since it’s been hashed out a billion times, and bring a powerful leader that is often overlooked to your attention instead. A few of the initial traits I describe are going to sound familiar, but the last one is what really defines this type of leadership style.

  1. This leader is someone who naturally earns the respect of a team, by respecting the team. If a team member does something disrespectful, out of line, or just wrong, the leader handles it immediately in a manner that is fair. (Stern talking to, probation, kicking them out the door, whatever needs to be done to ensure the rest of the team culture can continue rocking along.)
  2. This leader is someone who notices when something stupid happens. They have the skill to either identify the stupid thing immediately themselves, or they listen when another teammate comes to them to point out the stupid thing.
  3. This leader can make someone realize that they’ve done something stupid without actually making them FEEL stupid. This is a rare trait. It’s possible to coach people without making them feel like morons when they make a mistake. Obviously if someone is making repetitive mistakes that are negatively impacting your business, you need to take a different approach (up to and including letting them go) but when someone makes an honest mistake these leaders can coach them to improve without making them feel small. They empower people to succeed rather than scaring them into a state of constant fear of losing their job if they do one thing wrong. 
  4. This leader can diffuse raging battles like a champ. They march in and activate their mad (and sincere) empathy skills and magically resolve the issue at hand without making any party feel slighted

This is the secret sauce I was talking about.

I say they do it magically because it seriously SEEMS magical. I’ve had the opportunity to work for several people in my life who had this skill set, and it’s mind blowing to watch.

At my previous startup, we had a VP named Patti DiSanto and another VP named Jason Coudriet with this power, and I SWEAR they could walk into the middle of a riot and their mere presence would make everyone immediately calm down.

They’d ask the people to hug, and they’d do it. Then the people on both sides would offer them their first born children and left kidneys as a token of their thanks. (I work with incredible leaders with the same skill set now, but I won’t embarrass them by mentioning names.) 😉

This skill-set isn’t just an “HR rep” thing. Putting people with this level of empathetic skill in the position to lead a team and impact business decisions is a benefit to your culture, to every employee who ever has the opportunity to work for and learn business practice from them, AND your to bottom line. These folks are an absolute POWERHOUSE when it comes to building strong client relationships that last. ($$$)

You typically can’t identify these people with a resume, “Magical conflict resolving/make clients love us skills” isn’t a common resume bullet point, but when you meet or interview one, you’ll know immediately.

Often times, the person doesn’t even realize how powerful their skill-set could be in a business environment.

If you immediately thought of someone you know when you read this post, encourage them to pursue a position in leadership if they have any interest in it—they have the potential to make a huge, positive impact.

Companies (ESPECIALLY startups) need more of this form of leadership to survive and flourish.

I really don’t think it’s any coincidence that my last 2 back to back startups have gone on to be extremely successful. Both companies had a variety of powerhouse leadership styles including this one in the mix.

Without this person in a startup leadership team, when you hit the rapid growth stage and everyone starts to freak out, panic, and turn on one another due to stress, you’re dealing with sheer mayhem that can topple an entire company.

I’m not trying to say that hiring someone with this skill-set is the only thing you need to make your startup succeed, but hiring them WILL get you to the finish line with less permanent business & interdepartmental relationship casualties than you would have incurred otherwise.

Picking the right combination of inspiring, powerful Senior Leadership team members is key to any business’s success—make your choices wisely.

This Design Life Contribution: Designers, Are You Special?

Hi All! Recently folks have been asking me to let them know when contribution pieces I’ve written for other publications go live, so I’m going to post them here on the blog so that subscribers are notified. Thank you again for all of your support and for checking out my posts! It means the world to me!

This Design Life Contribution: Designers, are You Special?

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http://www.thisdesignlife.net/designers-are-special/ 

 

9 Tips To Help You Rock Your First (Or Next) Conference Presentation

A few years ago I submitted my first ever conference presentation proposal. My super supportive design team encouraged me to give it a shot, and a friend gave me a final guilt trip/shove that made me pull the trigger on the submit button.

I submitted the same proposal to 2 conferences. I knew that there was absolutely no way my proposal would get selected since it was my first time, but it was a great experience going through the process.

A few weeks later, I got an email from the first of the two conferences. My proposal had been accepted.

When I first got the email, I was elated! Overjoyed! Mega pumped! I was going to have the opportunity to share some of the research I’d been working on with the UX & Design communities!

45 seconds later, I was panicking and considering moving off grid to a cabin in the deep woods with no internet access so I could pretend I never got the acceptance letter.

I’m an introvert and public speaking is definitely not my forte.

Even though it was borderline terrifying, I was really passionate about the topic, so I wound up going for it.

The session went well, and I got some really great feedback from the attendees. And then I went and hid in my car for an hour to blast some music and decompress.

As it turns out, even though presenting at a conference was draining, it was also kind of fun. So much fun that I did it again. And then again, and again and again.

I learned some pretty valuable lessons after my first presentation experience, and thought some aspiring conference presenters might find them helpful.

1. Make an outline first, don’t touch that deck

When I put together my first presentation, I whipped out PowerPoint and started adding some slides. Then more slides, then 8 godzillion more slides. Then I realized that my presentation was out of order, confusing and had no flow. Then I got frustrated and slammed my laptop shut. (Sorry MacBook.)

The second time I put together a presentation, I made my outline first. It made the process about 9000% easier.

2. Once you have an outline, pick graphics to support your points

I said keep your hands off that deck! Take a look at your outline, and then grab graphics to support your points. Don’t be afraid to make them amusing graphics.

3. NOW open your deck program and go to town.

You now have permission to open up your deck program, and add your slides. Your flow has been defined, so creating the deck will go relatively smoothly.

4. In your slides use your pictures, not your words.

As you’re creating your slides, remember that people will need to see them from a distance. Use large fonts, and as few words as possible. If you can skip the words and just go with graphics for some slides, even better. If you’re doing a presentation that requires a bunch of text (I did one on a research method once that required equations like crazy) sprinkle pictures in between the boring parts to keep folks attention.

To improve accessibility, make sure you describe the images in your deck as you present.

5. Use your words to create a transcript to make your presentation more accessible, instead.

Creating a transcript is awesome for several reasons. First, if you post your presentation online people who attended your session will be able to get a refresher on the details. Secondly, if people didn’t attend your live session, they’ll still be able to learn from your presentation. Thirdly, and in my opinion most importantly, creating a transcript will make your presentation more accessible.

6. Tell stories.

When folks leave presentations, they remember stories that were told to prove points far more often than they remember detailed facts or figures. If you really want to make a lasting impact, weave stories into your presentation.

7. Make sure that your presentation works both online and offline.

Luckily for me, a seasoned presenter mentioned before I headed to my first presentation that I should always have a copy of my presentation that could be presented completely offline. If you’re using an online deck program, download a copy too. If you’re doing live demo of a product, get screenshots or a screencast of what you’ll be walking through just in case.

The woman who gave me that advice saved me from having an absolutely horrifying first presentation experience. About 10 minutes into my 50 minute presentation, the wifi in our building completely tanked. All of the presenters were booted offline for 15 minutes. I just whipped out my thumb drive and continued on, it was a non-event.

8. Back up your backup.

During the same conference, I attended a session in which a presenters thumbdrive failed. It just straight up flat lined. He didn’t have a backup, and we were using the venue’s laptops, so he was completely SOL. I felt absolutely terrible for him. He got through it lecture style, and offered to post his slides once he got back to his personal machine, but it was one of those worst case scenerio situations.

After witnessing that train wreck, for my next conference preso I had a copy up on an online deck service, but in case their service went down I also uploaded a hard copy of the presentation to Dropbox and emailed myself links to both, AND I had a copy on a thumb drive in case the wifi tanked. I was taking no chances.

9. Stop editing!!!

My final bit of advice is to leave your presentation alone once it’s complete.

With my first presentation, I spent days and weeks working on my presentation, then kept tweaking it pretty much daily for the months leading up to the event. This is a surefire way to drive yourself insane. I was even still tweaking it the night before the conference.

Do not do that to yourself. Edit what needs to be edited early on, and then DON’T TOUCH. Unless of course you’re using stats and they change. Seriously, leave it alone, or you’ll drive yourself mad.

If you wind up submitting a proposal and/or speaking at a conference for the first time, I’d love to hear about your experience! Hit me up on Twitter at @jma245! 🙂

Work-Life Balance: Workaholic Designer Edition

workaholicI’m a workaholic. Finding a solid work-life balance has been a lifelong battle for me. My brain never shuts off, and I have a really hard time pulling myself away from something I’m passionate about. And it seems to be a REALLY common trait among designers, both the guys and women I’ve talked to in the industry. We work extremely hard, and that’s great… as long as we also take time to enjoy the fruits of that hard work.

I will NEVER forget the day my daughter walked into my office and asked me if we could play, and I snapped back, “I’m working overtime right now so you can have your toys and video games! Please stop interrupting me!”

Her face fell and her eyes welled up with tears, and she said very quietly, “I don’t care about those things. I care about spending time with you.”

And then my heart shattered into a million pieces and I took a step back. I asked myself 3 tough questions in that moment and thought they may help another workaholic realign in the future.

Workaholic Reset Questions

1. Why am I working overtime?

The answer? Because I wanted to. I didn’t NEED the money. It wasn’t going to make or break my financial situation. It would mean more cash in my savings account, which is fine and good, but I didn’t NEED the cash. There was a time in my life when I was working 3 jobs to survive and the OT was absolutely necessary, but that wasn’t the case at this point in my career. We were fine financially—I had worked my ass off for many, many years to get to that point. But I still had that lingering voice in the back of my mind telling me that I had to work myself into an early grave to live comfortably. It simply isn’t true.

2. Is the project I’m working on more important than my kid?

Obviously not. The reason I’m working is to provide an awesome life for my kiddo. Putting in crazy, uneccesary hours and missing her childhood was robbing her of one of the most important parts of that awesome life—quality time spent with a parent.

3. Will the entire project burst into flames if I step away for 15 minutes to play with my kid?

No. No, it won’t. Tight deadline? Still no.

As you’re pouring your heart and soul into your projects, don’t forget to keep some on tap to actually enjoy life. Spend time with family and friends. Life is short and kids grow up really, really fast.

Is adding some extra cash to your retirement fund really worth letting life completely pass you by?

Design Thinking Combat Zone: Undermining Decades of Industry Progress

img_5489Recently the design community has developed a giant central rift over the concept of Design Thinking. There are those who absolutely love Design Thinking, what it stands for, and practical applications they’ve been able to employ in their workplaces.

There are others who are blowing the whistle on Design Thinking and are trying to explain the reasons why, “It doesn’t exist.”

Here’s the thing. For decades, designers have been silo-ed away in dark rooms and viewed as tortured artists. There is absolutely nothing wrong with being an artist, in fact, many designers are incredible artists, but their skillsets also extend far beyond. Designers are problem solvers, business leaders, execs, founders, innovators driving the future of technology, the list goes on.

Design Thinking really took off because for the first time in decades, designers had a way to explain and then clearly demonstrate why they should be permitted to exit the dark room and contribute to the high level conversations. Instead of being given instructions on what to create, they were given the opportunity to actually design solutions to the problems companies and clients were facing.

Design Thinking gave designers the vehicle they needed to have conversations with C-level staffers around why they needed a (I hate this phrase so much but I’m going to use it here for dramatic effect… wait for it…) seat at the table. (Blech. But You get the idea.)

Prior to Design Thinking taking off, it was EXTREMELY difficult for designers to break out of the design room into a space where they could help guide business decisions.

And the companies that embraced design leadership and let them join the conversation? They have been making it rain when quarterly earnings reports come around.

Not going to lie, you hear the occasional horror story about how a company embraced a really terrible design leader and wrote off the entire industry as a result. But those stories are few and far between these days given the high bar put forth by the industry.

Talented design leaders are absolutely crushing it right now in senior staffer positions.

So what’s the big deal about this whole Design Thinking fight? Who cares right? It’s conceptual.

Except it’s not folks. Design Thinking is the crowbar that opened the door to enterprise companies letting designers in to help guide business decisions in addition to product design decisions. People who are discounting it now, aren’t discounting it in a designer only vacuum.

Enterprise companies and C-level leaders are now paying more attention to the design industry than ever before. This argument that previously may have gone unnoticed beyond our immediate design community is being seen by C-level staffers and they’re starting to question their investments in design leadership in general. They aren’t paying attention to the nuances of the language being used, they’re just seeing a headline that says Design Thinking is dead. Then they’re giving their design leaders the side eye in board meetings. We’re undermining our own industry, and we need to knock that ish off before we sink ourselves back into the dark silo-ed off hole from whence we came.

If we want to fight about nomenclature, and specifics, and concepts surrounding methodology and what is and isn’t design, it’s fine. If we want to redefine Design Thinking, and create new terms and descriptors it’s cool. But loudly and proudly shouting that Design Thinking is BS, is… well it’s BS. It needs to stop before any more damage is done to designers on the threshold of pushing through to having the opportunity to make their products better from the top down.

And seriously, there are still enormous enterprise companies that don’t even HAVE product designers. At all. We’ve come a long way, but we still have a long way to go.

So designers, let’s not distract ourselves so much with internal arguments that we lose our footing in the corporate world. We can evolve our thinking, adjust our methods and keep moving forward without cutting each other down. Let’s just do our best to keep kicking ass in the board room and keep our sights on our mission as an industry: Improving the world around us for the next generation, one project at a time.

New Tech = A New Definition of Privacy

pavan-trikutam-1660So I got a phonebook in the mail today, opened it up and discovered that it doesn’t contain people’s phone numbers anymore.

I totally get it, it’ll save a zillion trees (which is great), and to be honest I don’t think my daughter has ever used a phone book in her life, but for some reason it made me a little sad.

It contained contact info for schools, an area code map, gov and emergency numbers, information on how landline phones work and business numbers and ads, but no people.

It feels like the end of an era. Or a statement about the future of our society.

That being said, someone being able to access your phone number without your permission has become something that many people very seriously consider an invasion of privacy.

We’re willing to put our entire lives on Facebook and Instagram, but if someone gets our cell phone number and calls without asking personally if they can have it? Creepy.

You can do a white pages search online for anyone with a listed landline number in the country, but we don’t because it feels like an invasion of privacy. Uninvited phone calls have reached the the same emotional trigger as telemarketing or spam mail or email. If someone I haven’t seen since high school where to Google my number and call, I’d be really freaked out. Sending me a Facebook request is a totally normal, socially acceptable move though.

And people add loads of “friends” and followers who are often complete strangers on social media without batting an eye, giving them a street level view of their entire lives and the inner workings of their minds with a click.

I hate talking on the phone. With a deep seated passion. (PTSD from my early days as an emergency support rep getting calls at 4am.) It’s not just me though, a lot of people who grew up in chat rooms seem to prefer texting to talking. And kids who grew up on Facebook and Instagram and Snapchat and Video chat seem to consider talking on the phone a boring waste of time.

I understand it though. When you’re used to having a fully emmersive, multimedia experience while you communicate with people, moving to voice only seems silly.

Originally we spoke out loud and sang songs to pass down stories. Then we figured out some written language and started carving messages into stone and painting on walls. Eventually we had a postal service and telegrams and could write letters and messages and send them all over the world. Then people realized they could use the medium as a way to advertise, and spam mail began. It was annoying, but not considered a huge invasion of privacy—which is interesting becase for most people, the mail was being sent the the physical address of their actual home. The person sending actually knew where they lived.

When the phone hit, it seemed really oldschool to write a letter or send a telegraph. Then telemarketing exploded. Telemarketing seemed more an invasion of privacy, because a person was bringing their voice into your home. Anger toward telemarters started early on and has persisted.

When we moved into the world of email, spam email immediately followed suite. It was highly annoying, but again, not as offensive as unwanted phone calls. (Until people started riddling them with viruses.)

When cell phones hit the the scene, they were considered personal communication devices, to which unwanted calls were considered an huge invasion of privacy (seemingly more than any other communication medium to date), and that sentiment has stood the test of time. Cell phone numbers are considered private information, and breaching that privacy line REALLY upsets people. You take your cell phone with you everywhere you go, it’s kind of the point. Someone highjacking access to your cell phone number, giving them the opportunity to talk to you no matter where you go is just seen as offensive and inappropriate.

Social media and video chat picked up speed and brought us to where we are today, but even now, cell phone numbers are considered very private.

It’s kind of fascinating considering our comfort allowing strangers to see our social media profiles, and message us at any time through those applications. The difference is, we can delete communication apps. At this point cell phones go with us everywhere and cell phone numbers are a fairly permanent companion. It seems that they made us feel TOO accessible.

And now there is an uproar over internet providers being able to sell our browser history to 3rd party companies. (Which I find infuriating.) This is another area that people don’t have personal control over. They can’t delete internet access, because in many areas there is only one provider to choose from. Folks are willing to sign over their history to other companies that use it for ad targeting in order to use their services beause they have the choice to NOT use those services if they don’t want to. This ruling has taken away that choice, much like someone getting your cell phone number. Having access to you anywhere you are, and now having access to anything you do online is just a horrible invasion of privacy. (Which is why call blocking and VPN’s have gained so much traction.)

Pretty soon, we’ll probably just be holograms jumping out of each other’s -whatever future device we come up with next- to chat (personally I’m hoping for Captain Planet style rings, just tossing that out there).

Forms of communication have shifted and will continue to shift throughout history as have our definitions and social constructs around privacy.

So I suppose it’s ok that the phonebook doesn’t contain people’s phone numbers anymore. The important constant is that we, as people, need to feel connected through communication in one form or another. We’re naturally social creatures. People have different preferences for how they enjoy communicating most. You have to give and take a bit since those preferences vary widely across lifestyles and generations.

When it comes to communicating as a society, the medium doesn’t really matter as long as we keep the conversation going.

So what really I’m trying to say is… DON’T CALL ME.

Kidding! Actually I’m not kidding. Talking on the phone is the actual worst. Just shoot me a tweet and let’s chat.

(Until the Captain Planet hallogram rings hit, at which point… you know what to do.) 🌎

5 Books Every Designer Needs

Recently I’ve been asked for design and UX book recommendations fairly often, so I thought I’d put together a list of 5 of my favorite design books. I hope you love them as much as I do!

And just in time for the holiday season! Feel free to direct that family member who keeps buying you socks to this list for gift inspiration. 😉 Enjoy!

The Design of Everyday Things: Revised and Expanded Edition


Don’t Make Me Think, Revisited: A Common Sense Approach to Web Usability (3rd Edition) (Voices That Matter)



Hooked: How to Build Habit-Forming Products



Rocket Surgery Made Easy: The Do-It-Yourself Guide to Finding and Fixing Usability Problems



Sprint: How to Solve Big Problems and Test New Ideas in Just Five Days


 

Bonus: I also adore the A Book Apart Series. You really can’t go wrong with those. My very favorite one in the series is Designing for Emotion.

Why Medium Should Thank Twitter For Pulling Share Counts From The New Tweet Button

twitterWe have become a society that places major weight on peer validation. Product reviews, Facebook likes, Twitter shares etc, have become a way for us to score the value of any given product, service or publication.

Twitter’s recent decision to pull share counts from the new tweet button has thrown a lot of people/companies into a tailspin. A heavily relied on and socially accepted marker for success has been yanked out from under the industry.

People who have written articles that were shared thousands of times, have now lost their symbol of baller status, and they are angry about it.

What does this have to do with Medium?

When I first began blogging on the Medium platform, I found it odd (and admittedly annoying) that the only marker of social interaction they shared publicly was the number of Medium recommendations a piece received. They don’t display social network share stats at all. You can pull referrer stats in the reports area, but they aren’t publicly associated with any of your posts.

Now that Twitter has removed share counts from their tweet buttons, the reasoning finally clicked. The creators of Medium are geniuses. They’ve created a whole new metric of peer affirmation, that isn’t reliant on any 3rd party products. They OWN recommendations, and can do what they want with them for all of eternity.

The services who up until this point have been using the Tweet button to represent their clout in the market are in an uproar, and for Medium and the Medium community as a whole the change is a non event.

Add that to the fact that Medium doesn’t require membership or sign in to view content like other networks do right now, and you’ve once again got a very public marker of success and documented social approval.

Twitter just inadvertently launched Medium to a whole new level of desirability, and I believe that while that platform has been steadily gaining traction in the industry, this change will launch it rapidly to becoming one of the primary platforms for both personal and corporate publishing.

So basically what I’m saying is that the team at Medium should really send the Twitter team a fruit basket, because they just kicked down a wall that will give Medium range to take over the digital publishing industry.