My Favorite Design Articles 2016

Crafting The First Mile of Product, Scott Belsky, Medium

A failed first mile cripples a new product right out of the gate. Your product may get lots of downloads or sign-ups, but very few customers get on-boarded and primed to the point where they know three things: (1) why they’re there, (2) what they can accomplish, (3) and what to do next (note: users don’t need to know how to use your product at the beginning, they just need to know what to do next!). Once a new user knows these three things, they have reached “The Zone.” Fantastic businesses are built when the majority of users that express interest in a product are able to get on-boarded and into The Zone.

Play Anything, Ian Bogost,

In truth, the most useful lesson to take away from games doesn’t have much to do with games at all. It’s just easier to see the lesson inside of games than outside them.

That lesson is that things are most compelling when they are allowed to be exactly what they are. And they’re even more compelling the more they are exactly what they are. That means that the designer’s job is to make things even more what they already are.

Why Can’t Designers Solve More Meaningful Problems? Andy Budd

Every few months, somebody in our industry will question why designers don’t use their talents to solve more meaningful problems; like alleviating the world from illness, hunger or debt. This statement will often be illustrated with a story of how a team from IDEO or Frog spent 3 months in a sub-saharan village creating a new kind of water pump, a micro-payment app, or a revolutionary healthcare delivery service. The implication being that if these people can do it, why can’t you?

Buttons in Design Systems, Nathan Curtis, Medium

I love buttons. I can do things with buttons. Take a next step. Make a commitment. Get things done. With buttons, interaction springs to life.

That’s why Buttons are arguably a design system’s most important component. Devilishly simple, they offer a simple label in a defined region I can press. As such, buttons are where you apply a design language’s base attributes in ways that’ll ripple throughout more complex component later.

The Life and Death of Data Products, Fabien Girardin, Medium

At the crossroad of data-science and design are emerging living products with an experience that evolves according to human behaviors and constantly updating models fed by streams of data. Design Fiction is one way to approach the design of data products anticipating their evolution, the frustrations they produce, their potential death and their after lives.

A man sent me a dick pic on Instagram, Ash Huang, Medium

The dick pic was an edge case that did not get properly addressed, and now I forever have to have some stranger’s penis on my phone. If it were actually addressed, maybe I could say whether or not I want people to send me message requests at all (after all, with the cute little alert is visually designed, a message request is as almost as good as a message from someone I follow). If it were addressed, maybe I wouldn’t see image previews from strangers unless we had a friend in common.

Yep. That’s complicated. But it may have stopped me from seeing a dickpic today, which pretty much makes me forget every good simple interaction I had on Instagram in the last month.

The Internet of Things has a dirty little secret: it’s not really yours, The Internet of Shit, The Verge

The hidden costs of running these operations are immense. There are servers to rent, bandwidth to pay for, and salaries to pay. But none of that is mentioned when you buy a gadget off a shelf, and in the majority of cases there’s no way to actually pay for your ongoing use of the product. How are those costs going to be recaptured when you’re paying a one-time fee for the hardware? I can’t wait until my Nest starts asking for an in-app purchase to heat my house one day.

Designing Complex Products, Erik Klimczak, Medium

Complexity in product design tends to rear its head in two ways 1) the complexity of managing people and opinions. And 2) the complexity of designing the product itself. It’s not always intuitive how to keep your head above water in a sea of features, users and stakeholders. I’ve certainly fallen on my face in the past, so I’d like to share some insights I’ve gleaned about tackling these big design projects.

Bad Housekeeping, Ava Kofman, The New Inquiry

Just as women’s magazines pressured wives to make their faces and surfaces more spotless, the collection of ever more precise standards of childhood achievement, linked to social media, will create new standards and objectives for caring for children. The numbers will make it even easier to compete—and to blame. Shame on you for forgetting to count baby’s first steps, even if you don’t know why you’re counting them.

Why Your Startup’s Founding Team Needs A Designer, Sallie Krawcheck, Fast Company

Everyone seems to think they have a great design idea. As a startup founder, no doubt you do, too. This may be the best argument in favor of hiring a design head from the very outset: It simply lessens your risk of self-sabotage over your own misguided and inexpert design ideas. Instead, it’s your job as a founder to make sure your senior team members have room to do their own jobs—which means not every design idea is going to be tested or adopted, including your own.

The Secret UX Issues That Will Make (or Break) Self-Driving Cars, Cliff Kuang, Fast Company

Technology is like that: We don’t ditch what we have. We constantly update our metaphors, trying to find familiar handholds that quietly explain how a technology works. In digesting new technologies, as we climb a ladder of metaphors, each rung might follow the one before. Over time, we find ourselves further and further from the rungs we started with, so that we eventually leave them behind, like so many tiller-inspired steering wheels.

So Your Boss Doesn’t Believe in Design Research, Laura Martini, Medium

A finance team doesn’t say that they make spreadsheets for a living; they talk about their benefit to the company in terms of how much money they save. Recruiters don’t say that they write emails and make phone calls; they help build teams necessary for a company’s growth. Start to think of research as a way to give value to the company, and be ready to articulate why it’s important using words that other teams will understand.

Who Really Controls What You See in Your Facebook Feed—and Why They Keep Changing It, Will Oremus, Slate

Facebook’s algorithm, I learned, isn’t flawed because of some glitch in the system. It’s flawed because, unlike the perfectly realized, sentient algorithms of our sci-fi fever dreams, the intelligence behind Facebook’s software is fundamentally human. Humans decide what data goes into it, what it can do with that data, and what they want to come out the other end. When the algorithm errs, humans are to blame. When it evolves, it’s because a bunch of humans read a bunch of spreadsheets, held a bunch of meetings, ran a bunch of tests, and decided to make it better. And if it does keep getting better? That’ll be because another group of humans keeps telling them about all the ways it’s falling short: us.

What is Good Product Strategy? Melissa Perri, Medium

Most companies fall into the trap of thinking about Product Strategy as a plan to build certain features and capabilities. We often say our Product Strategy are things like:

“To create a platform that allows music producers to upload and share their music.”
“To create a backend system that will allow the sales team to manage their leads.”
“To create a front of the funnel website that markets to our target users and converts them.”

This isn’t a strategy, this is a plan. The problem is that when we treat a product strategy like a plan, it will almost always fail. Plans do not account for uncertainty or change. They give us a false sense of security.

Why The Heck Can’t We Change Our Product? Steven Sinofsky

The biggest risk in product design is assuming a static world view where your winning product will continue to win with the same experience improving incrementally along the same path that got you success in the first place.

What Do User Interfaces Want? Rob Tannen, UX Magazine

User interfaces want what languages want. They want to extend our ability to generate and communicate information, which leads to new ideas. As we figure out how to interact with technology, we stand at the cusp of another potential advancement in civilization – just as the emergence of spoken language caused the rapid growth of information and ideas over 500 centuries ago, user interfaces have quickly accelerated the exchange of information and ideas between people and technology. Like spoken language, user interfaces are a technology, but also a meta-technology that allows us to generate new technologies.

The Man Who Invented Intelligent Traffic Control a Century Too Early, Lee Vinsel, IEEE Spectrum

The success of an innovation often depends as much on the quality of our institutions as it does on the quality of the technology itself.

Design Doesn’t Scale, Stanley Wood, Medium

How does a team of distributed designers, spread across different time-zones, projects and competing objectives ever find a way to work together so they can create one coherent experience? Here’s what we discovered.