Our industry has gotten really good at making living style guides out of parts: reusable components like color, typography, buttons and forms, voice and tone. We’ve also learned how to map skills to these parts by mobilizing the best people to make decisions across platforms. But, argues Nathan Curtis, a third element is crucial to any design system mission: products. What products will use our system? How will we involve them?
Venting isn’t exactly an innocent activity. Rolling our eyes at a struggling client—no matter how justified we may think we are—hints at a skewed sense of entitlement. It means we’ve forgotten that our experience working with others reflects their experience working with us. Orr Shtuhl shares how the team at Blenderbox changed their “venting culture” to proactively hunt for subtle flags of distress and take responsibility for their clients’ side of the experience.
Good intentions can easily blind us to bad ideas—accidentally awful outcomes that alienate and distress our users. It’s time to take a hard look at our processes, to recognize and work through our biases toward idealized users in ideal situations. In this interview with managing editor Mica McPheeters, Sara Wachter-Boettcher talks about what she learned while writing Design for Real Life.
Our industry is remarkable for how many of us do unpaid labor—sometimes for exposure, other times to give back to the profession and help our peers. We’re all grateful for the free software, learning, and support made possible by this generosity. But in coming to depend in it, we can’t forget that people need time to pay the bills and assure a secure future for themselves and their families.
Technology rests on a discovery of patterns: of behavior, association, energy, thinking. How valuable those patterns are to us is constantly being renegotiated as we experience a series of reveal shots that show us another part of the big picture, and yet another part of the big picture, and so on. To rely on a favorite cliché, it’s turtles all the way down.
The people who determine product strategy move through a world of analysts, media, division leads, shareholders, stakeholders, monetization, and marketability. They seldom get a chance to come back to the corner where users and designers mingle. Rian van der Merwe suspects that increasing the communication distance between the decision makers and the product’s builders and users leads to a loss of perspective—and the results are products with marketable features that no one really needs.
When we prioritize billable hours over people, our work environments can take a turn for the tense. Some agencies try to combat low morale with foosball and fancy perks, but what really matters is investing in people: fostering a workplace that supports dialogue, collaboration, and professional development. From onboarding new hires to ongoing engagement, Justin Dauer shares some starting points for a healthy office dynamic and confident, happy employees.
We’re short on mountaintops where we can find mentors, but the good news is mentors are actually just people like you and me who keep at it. They work at listening, ask people how they prefer to learn, make time to meet. Lyza Gardner talks about her early-morning motocycle practice, and how she loves gradually building her mentoring muscle by overcoming the embarrassment of being a beginner and just doing it.
Little kids have an endless supply of Why! Why is everything the way it is? Why do people do the things they do? We grownups don’t pester each other with a relentless stream of why?, and that’s mostly good. But kids could teach us to ask why when it needs to be asked: why are only some people able to build lives they love and find fulfilling work? Does everyone truly have the same chance, or do some of us start the game already a few rolls of the dice ahead? In order to grow, we have to ask the hard questions.