August 7, 2019

Imposter Syndrome

I see a lot of advice that people shed imposter syndrome. Imposter syndrome is a psychological pattern of thinking where people doubt the worth of their experience and accomplishments. The fear of being exposed as a phony controls the thinking and takes the wheel of the person’s confidence and drives the person to take actions to prevent exposure.

Imposter syndrome can be a major negative force in people’s lives. However, we sometimes confuse imposter syndrome with the nagging reality of inexperience.

It’s important for us to embrace our inexperience and honest with ourselves when we have things to learn. Growth is positive and new experiences require a void of experience to fill. We should embrace the void and shouldn’t confuse its presence with Imposter Syndrome.

Don’t get it twisted; you should be proud of your experience and own the person you are in this moment. Just don’t let your aversion to the feeling of inexperience trick you into thinking you know more than you really know. Focus on growth and be kind to yourself.

August 5, 2019

Clooney

Clooney

George Clooney’s 1995 airport fit is a big look. Stolen from this amazing GQ gallery.

July 23, 2019

Future Fit

Future Fit

I’ve been using Future (a fitness app, not the rapper) for over six months and I’ve really enjoyed the experience. The easiest way to summarize the concept is that it’s a personal trainer who trains you via an app and sends you text and audio messages to track progress and keep you motivated. The app pairs with an Apple Watch to get your fitness metrics and track your progress.

Fitness has been a hobby for me for a long time. I’ve never been much of a sports person, but lifting weights and running has been a way for me to get healthy and push myself. My problem has never been the habit of going to the gym. (In fact, the first thing I learned with Future was that I was going too much.) My issue has always been hitting plateaus. Future changed this.

My trainer, Parker, started me off with a weekly plan of four days in the gym and we’ve been tweaking things for over half a year. Every time I hit a plateau, he switches things up on me. When I travel, he contacts the hotel I’m staying at and tweaks my workouts to accommodate the limitations with the facility and equipment.

Every workout starts with a little audio message from Parker with daily goals. At the end of each session, I send him a summary of how I felt during the workout and he uses that information to plan the next week’s workouts. It’s a solid routine, and it has been awesome to get to know Parker.

The biggest hurdle for most people would probably be the price. $150 / month is no small fee. However, fitness is my main hobby and I can honestly say that it has been the most impactful change in my personal fitness that I have ever made. Plus, if you trained with a personal trainer as much as I use Future you would spend 10x this cost.

From a tech perspective, the team keeps iterating and adding features that make the experience better. I already love the product, but the tweaks they make add a lot of value to already solid experience. Specifically, the Apple Watch UX improvements. It’s the best fitness experience I’ve had on the Apple Watch, which is saying a lot because I’m a huge Strava fan. (Shout out, Strava.)

If you’re looking to step your fitness game up to the next level try Future. The extra motivation and personal guidance go a long way and the personal connection to another human makes the product super unique in the space.

July 21, 2019

Curiosity and the Beginner Mindset

I saw this tweet by James Clear, author of Atomic Habits, and it made me think about the things that keep us from growing. The more we think we know, the less we think we have to learn. The issue with this is that learning is presented as something that can be finished.

This probably stems from our mental model of learning that was established through elementary school. Learning was presented to us in stages that could be measured on a linear timeline. As we grow older we set knowledge as something to be obtained through time. (Time is often represented by years of experience.)

I wonder what would happen if experts hit the reset button and adopted a beginner mindset. Perhaps redefining learning as something that is infinite would unlock our unlimited potential to learn and grow.

July 20, 2019

Being a Generalist

When I went to school for graphic design, I started my journey with the simple goal of becoming a designer. The designers I looked up to at the time had a wide range of projects in their portfolios. Some were more print heavy than others, and some might have had a focus on software design, but overall I didn’t notice a clear need to specialize out of the gate.

My first job was at an agency that did a little of everything. There were no specialized roles and no rules around who could work on what. They often threw me into projects without a clear understanding of how I would make something work. I relied on the anxiety of imposter syndrome and the curiosity to learn new things to push me through each opportunity.

Fast forward to today, and a lot has changed. The teams I’ve worked on have slowly gone from being more general design” teams and have become more siloed by specialty. The two most common design roles being brand design” and product design.” Brand design often supports the marketing functions of an organization, and the product design team supports the product functions of an organization.

I don’t consider myself a brand designer or a product designer. I consider myself a designer. You might call me a generalist designer if you felt I needed a qualifying term. This label has been a source of anxiety for me in the past couple of years. The feeling that designers need to specialize has never been greater, and as I grow in my career (especially as a manager) the pressure to choose a side feels even stronger.

The unfortunate part about this is that I don’t see being a generalist as a weakness. In fact, I feel like it has equipped me with some unique strengths. When I think of the great generalists I’ve worked with, I’ve found them common strengths amongst this type of designer:

Generalists are adaptable

Generalists need to build a framework for problem-solving that allows them to solve any problem we challenge them with. Depending on the problem space and work they are working in, they might need to leverage existing frameworks for problem-solving alongside their own. For example, a generalist might need to work within a jobs to be done” framework to do product design, or work within a more brief-oriented framework to work with a team on an out-of-home marketing campaign. In either case, being confident in your past experience as a problem solver can push you into any process with confidence.

Generalists are objective

Generalists are good researchers. They can often gain specific knowledge at a fast pace. The need to understand new problems to solve them requires designers to cite evidence instead of having first-hand experience. This evidence-based approach removes bias that often comes with citing experience and allows the design process to remain objective.

Generalists are systems thinkers

Having worked on a wide range of projects, generalists can recognize patterns and approach problems at a systems level. Not every project benefits from systems thinking, but this skill is a huge asset when working within a wicked learning environment. I find this is the biggest benefit of gaining expertise as a generalist.

The great thing about these strengths is that they get better with each opportunity. The ability to learn new frameworks, dig deeper into evidence-based research methods, and approach problems at a systems level are skills that get better when we expose ourselves to new challenges.

If you’re interested in exploring this more, I would suggest reading the book Range by David Epstein or checking out this post by Airbnb Design if you’re interested in seeing how this applies to work in a more specified role.

May 12, 2018

Choosing Your Book of the Month

Choosing your Book of the Month

At Book of the Month we help readers discover new books that they’ll love. We’re dedicated to providing not only great books, but a great experience that is fun, easy to use, and ultimately useful.

At the end of 2017 we sat down to reimagine what choosing a book could feel like. We had gathered a bunch of data on the types of books people enjoy reading and the unique properties of those books that make the reading experience enjoyable.

We wondered if we could craft a new type of shopping experience for books. One that was built uniquely for the types of books we choose and the people who read them.

Finding your next read

Choosing a book

There are some key pieces of information that might come to mind when describing a book: genre, author, and title. Traditionally, books have been organized this way in brick-and-mortar stores as a way to filter from endless shelves of books down to a singular title. This way of organizing books works for bookstores, and is especially great if you know the title, author, and genre of the book you’re looking for. If you don’t know what you’re looking for it can become a daunting experience.

Choosing a read

Of course, picking a book is much different from the experience of reading that book. A lot of readers go to sites like Amazon and Goodreads not only to find recommendations, but to also find reviews that communicate facets of the book that aren’t covered in the synopsis. This includes things like the pacing of the book, explicit language, the usage of multiple narrators, and non-linear narratives. Ultimately, a synopsis is great, but a lot of the times it doesn’t capture what we find most important about the reading experience: how it makes you feel. So we set out to create an experience that captured not just the summary of the book, but a summary of what it feels like to read that book.

Getting started

Initial research

Book of the Month picks five books each month to offer to our members. Every month our editorial team works closely with publishers, a group of our members, and guest contributors to choose these five selections. We constantly survey our users for feedback on their reading experience, and overall experience with Book of the Month. We also allow users to create a virtual bookshelf where they rate the BOTM books they have read. After doing this for a year, we had a ton of information on what made some of our books hits, and what made some of our books misses.

Research

The beauty of collecting information about what users disliked about our selections was that we came away with a clear understanding of what information our members needed to avoid choosing a book that isn’t right for them.

Organizing information

Working closely with our editorial team, we reviewed the feedback we had from our members and uncovered some recurring problems our readers were facing:

  • Picking one book out of five was largely a process of elimination and our members needed a faster way to compare our books without having to visit every product detail page and read a lengthy synopsis.
  • Our members care about what other readers think. We needed a way to collect member reviews and surface that content to our community.
  • The majority of negative feedback we receive had to do with traits of the book not communicated in the synopsis. We needed a way to give this information to our members.

Our design process

Our design process consisted of sketching, wireframing, high-fidelity prototyping, user testing, and some final rounds of visual design and interaction to cap things off.

We relied heavily on Sketch and Invision which allowed us to test the new design with our members over the course of multiple weeks. As questions crept up, we implemented small changes to our prototypes to better understand which pieces of the design were functionally helpful and which pieces just added noise.

The end result was an experience that was not only usable and functionally essential, but also a friendly experience that we found made our members more delighted when using it.

Design process Finished product

The finished design

The shopping experience was a true test of information hierarchy. The final version we shipped to our members included some new features, and some updated ones, that surfaced the right information at the right time.

Screens

What’s new

  • The quick take: a quick and easy way to read a book synopsis, free of marketing speak.
  • Good to know: a fun and easy way to quickly understand if the reading experience will be right for you.
  • Why I love it: an updated version of what used to be our guest judge essays that made this content easier to read.
  • Member thoughts: book reviews from other members of the Book of the Month community.

I’m thrilled with where we landed and we’re continuing to make improvements to this experience every month. Looking back on this work, I’m pretty impressed with how quickly we redesigned this experience. Sharing work with stakeholders using tools like Wake and Invision drastically improved the speed and quality of this project. 💪

The entire BOTM product team was involved in the success of this project, but I’d like to personally thank Liza Heussler and Siobhan Jones for their hard work and dedication to providing the best possible experience to our members.