Job Search 2017

I’m looking for a VP/Creative Director/Product Design Lead/Head of Product role that lets me do what I enjoy and do very well: lead teams to design and launch products. Ideally, this role would be in San Francisco or Peninsula (no relocation) and involves either an interesting digital challenge or else consumer hardware, such as connected devices for the home (or office) or robotics. Financial stability (no early-stage startups) a must. This role should report to the CEO, other members of the C suite, or a VP. Dog-friendly workplace and San Francisco proper location are bonuses.

Here’s my

Contact me at dan [at] odannyboy [dot] com if you might have or know of suitable work. Thanks!

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.


My Favorite Design Articles 2015

Giving Customers What They Want, The Book of Life

Taste is a variable factor. We’re very good at appreciating moves of taste in retrospect – but in advance we are so much less alive to the inevitable repetition of the phenomenon. Therefore, businesses routinely end up assuming that their customers don’t care about anything they are not currently getting; and get bogged down in the worry that if they introduced something they feel is better – but rather different from current offerings – they will be punished. Such timidity tends to doom them.

Spacial Interfaces, Pasquale D’Silva, Medium

I believe the best software is an extension of the human brain. It lets us think naturally, and conforms to us, not the other way around. Translation of information should be the computer’s job, not ours. It’s what we built these digital slaves for. A great Spatial Interface meets our expectations of a physical model. Designed for human beings, it supports a mind, living in the dimensions of space and time. They are Interfaces that are sensible about where things lay. Like a well designed building, they’re easy to traverse through. One space flows into the other, without surprise.

What It Means To Be Great, Horace Dediu

Improvements which are not asked for but which change behavior suggest that the product is valued because it changes the buyer. I believe this is what causes us to pause and appreciate them. We feel we have been improved by the thing we bought though we did not ask to be made better by it. Collectively, multiplying by millions, the improvement we feel compels us to anoint the product as great.

Close at Hand, Diana Kimball, Medium

In a very real way, what people tuck into their pockets signals what they care about. Ötzi the Iceman carried fungus to make fire. Japanese men in the Endo period carried medicine and seals. Queen Elizabeth I carried a miniature jewel-encrusted devotional book. European women in the 18th century carried money, jewelry, personal grooming implements, and even food. Here in 2015, we carry cellphones — never letting them out of our sight.

Futures of Text, Jonathan Libov, Whoops

In contrast to a GUI that defines rules for each interaction—rules which, frustratingly, change from app to app—text-based, conversational interactions are liberating in their familiarity. There’s only really only one way to skin this cat: The text I type is displayed on the right, the text someone else typed is on the left, and there’s an input field on bottom for me to compose a message.

Tastemaker: How Spotify’s Discover Weekly cracked human curation at internet scale, Ben Popper, The Verge

Generating a human-curated playlist for each of Spotify’s users would be a challenge of mammoth proportion. “We probably can’t hire enough editors to do that,” says Ogle. So Spotify uses each of its users as one cog in a company-wide curatorial machine. “The answer was staring us in the face: playlists, since the beginning, have been more or less the basic currency of Spotify. Users have made more than 2 billion of them.” In effect, Discover Weekly sidesteps the man versus machine debate and delivers the holy grail of music recommendation: human curation at scale.

Inside the Design Labs Where the iPhone’s Coolest New Feature Was Built, Josh Tyrangiel, Bloomberg

The designers concede they were far down a rabbit hole until they remembered, as Federighi says, that while the hardware was measuring force, the software needed to measure intent. To make what is counterintuitive feel normal, each on-screen “peek” and “pop” is accompanied by a 10-millisecond or 15-millisecond haptic tap, little vibrations that say “good job” to your fingers when an action is complete. (The precise timing of those taps is a cosmology all its own.)

Tom Vanderbilt Explains Why We Could Predict Self-Driving Cars, But Not Women in the Workplace, Tom Vanderbilt, Nautilus

“Futurology is almost always wrong,” the historian Judith Flanders suggested to me, “because it rarely takes into account behavioral changes.” And, she says, we look at the wrong things: “Transport to work, rather than the shape of work; technology itself, rather than how our behavior is changed by the very changes that technology brings.” It turns out that predicting who we will be is harder than predicting what we will be able to do.

Dropdowns Should Be The UI of Last Resort, Luke Wroblewski

All too often mobile forms make use of dropdown menus for input when simpler or more appropriate controls would work better. Here’s several alternatives to dropdowns to consider in your designs and why.

Articles I Wrote in 2015


Job Search 2015

My role as Creative Director for New Products at Jawbone has been eliminated, so I’m once again searching for a new professional home.

I’m looking for a VP/Creative Director/Product Design Lead/Head of Product role that lets me do the thing I do very well: lead teams to design and launch products. Ideally, this role would be in San Francisco proper (no relocation) and involves consumer hardware and software. I’m particularly interested in connected devices for the home (or office) or wearables. Financial stability (no early-stage startups) a must. Dog-friendly workplace is a plus.

Here’s my resume as a PDF or on LinkedIn. Thanks to many NDAs, my online portfolio basically ends four years ago, but I can walk through some work in person, although all of my most recent work is unfortunately off-limits.

Contact me at dan [at] odannyboy [dot] com if you might have or know of suitable work. Thanks!

My Design Articles 2014

Designing a Creative Practice

For much of my life, I’ve taken a pretty haphazard attitude towards my own creativity. And while I’ve been mostly successful, I have long periods of creative block, as well as professional goals that have idled. I look back at envy at some of the most creatively-fertile periods of my life (2007-8 in particular) and I’ve realized there were activities I did every day that I should probably resume.

At the same time, for the last few months, I’ve been reading a number of books on creativity and forming creative habits. While many of these books have different, specific pieces of advice, I’ve collected the themes into a course of action for myself.

The UX of Commercial Drones, UX Magazine

Technology asks, “Can it be done?” Design asks, “Should it be done, and how?” I’ve thought about these questions frequently in the weeks following the 60 Minutes’ introduction of Amazon’s PrimeAir. While some were horrified by the prospect of commercial drones buzzing through the skies, I was amazed and intrigued at this vision of the future. But that’s all it is right now: a vision, and a somewhat crude one at that—one that leaves many questions unanswered.

Some of those questions are logistical and legal: Will this work and in what environments? What are the implications on a social level and where safety is concerned? These are all tremendously important questions, but let’s assume the issues surrounding them can be worked out. After all, there is plenty of money to be made (by Amazon and others like FedEx [and Google’s Project Wing]) by making it a reality. In fact, Ross McCullough, vice president of corporate strategy at UPS, recently said: “I believe these things will be part of the system in the future. I don’t know when.”

The Hidden Genius and Influence of The Traffic Light, Wired

See it sway: three-eyed blind bat hanging from a wire. Or perhaps there: perched atop a pole, lights moving from top to bottom–green yellow red green yellow red–in its unvarying sequence. Two hundred years ago, it would have been a wonder, something on display at the Great Exhibition of 1851, gawked at by Victorians. Today it’s seen but unconsidered, passed under a dozen times a day by most of us, influencing how we move, shaping our cities, warping how we travel, and occasionally, inadvertently, helping to kill us. Consider the traffic light.

The First Things on The Internet (of Things)

I was curious what the first non-traditional-computer objects were that were connected to a computer network. (A telegraph is probably the first device connected to any kind of network.) To be technical: a non-computer yet packet switched network device with continuous or frequent connectivity to said network.) Here’s some I found, stretching back 40 years.

Why We Need to Tame Our Algorithms Like Dogs, Wired

These coded aliens, these ghosts in the machines, are becoming even incomprehensible to their creators. With algorithms starting to take on oversight and control of our critical systems, we need to ensure that, like with dogs, we become comprehensible to them. If so, perhaps in the future we’ll think of them as Man’s Best Friend.

On Design Education, Medium

The crux of the matter is the feeling that many design schools are doing a disservice to their students by preparing them for careers they’re unlikely to have, at least right out of school. “No one wants to hire a 22-year-old strategist,” was how a colleague (perhaps indelicately) phrased it. Graduate schools focus on more and more specialized, baroque areas of design. Meanwhile, undergraduates are pointed towards areas like service and systems design, and social innovation, despite the fact that the job market for those is small. What most undergraduates in the design field will work on when they graduate are products: physical objects, printed materials, or (increasingly) hardware and software. Now certainly, most of these will be part of a service or system, and some (hopefully all) will have a benefit to society. And no one is arguing that an understanding of strategy, services and systems isn’t essential to understanding 21st century design. But too many graduates get out of school and become disillusioned when the work they’re doing is not at the system or service level, but at the product level, where their skills, at least initially, are needed the most. I’ve seen this first-hand.

Some Kind of Toaster, Medium

It wasn’t quite as bad for my father. By the time he was built in 2001, there were lots of things on the Internet: coffee pots, refrigerators, even toilets. Switching a toaster on — or even knowing if it was in use or not — was pretty trivial by then. People had gotten used to seeing objects online; it wasn’t quite the freakshow it was in grandpa’s time.

No, with Dad, connecting him had to be for something different, something interesting. It wasn’t enough that he was on the Internet — that he was present — but that he did something as well. Being online had to mean something. It had to be useful. So — get this — he told the weather.

The End of Design as We Know It, Medium

To many people this is a bleak, grim, oh-shit-there-goes-my-job, future. Which is understandable, because for many people this probably will be the end of their job unless they future-proof themselves. You future-proof yourself by ensuring that the kind of work you do cannot be easily replicated by an algorithm. In design, those skills are insights-gathering, problem framing, and crafting unconventional solutions.

The Wonderful Possibilities of Connecting Your Fridge to The Internet, Wired

Smart appliances humbly predict our needs and modestly adjust as little as possible to accommodate them. This sometimes requires connecting to the network for a better, bigger brain or to draw upon the collected intelligence of similar objects. You don’t need to stuff lots of processing power and memory into the object itself if it can use resources in the cloud. Imagine if your refrigerator could learn how to keep food cooler more cheaply by looking at the data from other refrigerators in the area? Collective machine intelligence and the benefits it could engender such as fixing model-specific problems and product efficiency are good reasons to enable network connectivity.

The Shelves Come to The Pickers, Medium

It could be that we’re finally seeing emerge what the late John Rheinfrank called “Adaptive Worlds”: products and environments that are smart enough to change their functionality, content, and even form based on the task and the person’s abilities. In this worldview, design isn’t human-centered (although humans are part of the system) but rather ability-centered: what are the capabilities of the people and products in the system and how can they react and supplement each other to perform activities.

My Favorite Design Articles 2014

Designer Duds: Losing Our Seat at the Table, Mills Baker

It’s now 2014, and I doubt seriously whether I’m alone in feeling a sense of anxiety about how “design” is using its seat at the table. From the failure of “design-oriented” Path to the recent news that Square is seeking a buyer to the fact that Medium is paying people to use it, there’s evidence that the luminaries of our community have been unable to use design to achieve market success. More troubling, much of the work for which we express the most enthusiasm seems superficial, narrow in its conception of design, shallow in its ambitions, or just ineffective.

The Squalid Grace of Flappy Bird, Ian Bogost

The games we find ourselves ever more devoted to are often also the ones that care very little for our experience of them. This is the devotion of material indifference. To understand Flappy Bird, we must accept the premise that games are squalid, rusty machinery we operate in spite of themselves. What we appreciate about Flappy Bird is not the details of its design, but the fact that it embodies them with such unflappable nonchalance. The best games cease to be for us (or for anyone) and instead strive to be what they are as much as possible. From this indifference emanates a strange squalor that we can appreciate as beauty.

Where Inspiration Should Sit at the Table of Design, Tanner Christensen

We seek inspiration when we don’t fully understand the problem or task at-hand.

That is: inspiration can be helpful, but more often than not we confuse the pursuit of inspiration with doing legitimate work towards creating an effective solution. The truth is that spending time seeking inspiration is typical of dilly-dallying and not real progress towards a solution.

The Nightmare on Connected Home Street, Mat Honan

I wake up at four to some old-timey dubstep spewing from my pillows. The lights are flashing. My alarm clock is blasting Skrillex or Deadmau5 or something, I don’t know. I never listened to dubstep, and in fact the entire genre is on my banned list. You see, my house has a virus again.

Technically it’s malware. But there’s no patch yet, and pretty much everyone’s got it. Homes up and down the block are lit up, even at this early hour. Thankfully this one is fairly benign. It sets off the alarm with music I blacklisted decades ago on Pandora. It takes a picture of me as I get out of the shower every morning and uploads it to Facebook. No big deal.

The Ubiquitous Button, Lars-Erik Janlert

But the operation of modern buttons is not as uniform as that of traditional buttons: The basic mode of operation is stretched in various dimensions to get additional control, mainly with regard to the amount of pressure, the duration of the press, and combinations and patterns of presses. The usual motive for this is that there would be too few buttons of the ordinary kind in the artifact to achieve the intended level of user control, either due to lack of space or because the designer wants a clean, nice-looking design and maybe hides away some rarely used functions or settings. In a modern camera, pressing lightly on the shutter button usually activates focusing and light metering; pressing harder takes the picture. Digital kitchen timers may suddenly increase the speed of counting up the minutes (for instance, from intervals of a minute to intervals of 10) when you keep holding the button. Wristwatches and mobile phones often have buttons that perform different functions if you press them for a longer time; also, hard-to-remember combinations of simultaneously pressed buttons take on special meanings. We are not very surprised anymore if a double-click achieves something different from a single click.

Home Automation is an EasyHard problem, Scott Jensen

As a UX designer, I know how quixotic and down right goofy humans can be. The simple rule-based “if this then that” style scenarios trotted out are doomed to fail. Well, maybe fail is too strong of a word. They won’t fail as in a “face plant into burning lava” fail. In fact, I’ll admit that they might even work 90% of the time. To many people that may seem fine, but just try using a voice recognition system with a 10% failure rate. It’s the small mistakes that will drive you crazy.

Tips for Designing a Connected Home That Isn’t Chaos, John Kiechel and Louisa Heinrich

Today, consumers buy kitchen appliances, and then take them home and do whatever they want with them. But if that product is “connected,” chances are it’s been pre-loaded with someone else’s idea of what a person should be doing with it. And no matter how well meaning that someone else is, when the objects we own contradict us, that’s going to be a frustrating experience.

Macrointeractions, Mike Kruzeniski

If I want the products I work on to be great, I need to think of the spaces adjacent to the product as being a design problem as important as the product itself. Though a lot of the Design canon is focused on the quality of craft — the details make the product after all — a lack of attention to the problems around the product may mean very few people ever experience all your attention to detail.

I’ve started to find it helpful to think of the problem space around the product as a Macrointeraction — an interaction design space at the other end of the spectrum from a Microinteraction. Any friction that might prevent your product (with all its wonderful details) from being made or connecting with your customers is a design problem worth spending time on.

Amazon’s Fire Phone May Be Too Magical for Its Own Good, Sean Madden

The biggest challenge of modern UI design is knowing when to stop. We have the ability to make every single moment sparkle and dance, so the new task is learning to restrain ourselves, and it’s hard. Most of a good user experience is forgotten, because well-designed often means forgettable: you can’t remember 100 delightful interactions a day, nor would you want to.

Perennial Design, Wilson Miner

If all we celebrate is what is visible on the surface—the fragile plant and not the durable root system—we limit the scope of our ambition to the shortest possible horizon. Are we making layers of sediment for future generations to build a mountain, or are we planting each year’s crop of new products and watching them wash away once their short-term value is harvested and consumed?

Can a robot be too nice?, Leon Neyfakh

The idea of programming a robot to have a specific personality might sound like science fiction; in a world where true artificial intelligence has yet to be achieved, a personality—an individual’s distinct mixture of emotional response, attitude, and motivation—seems even more subtle and complex. But for computer scientists interested in social robotics, it has become a surprisingly immediate goal. As machines become more sophisticated, and integrated in new ways into human society, researchers have begun to realize that their effectiveness depends on how easily we relate to them.

Rejoice: Tomorrow’s Tech Will Probably Stop Nagging Us, Kelsey O’Callaghan

As technology enters our homes we expect it to feel more personalized, evolving its role from a standalone product into a service mentality. This not only manifests through the customer-facing touch points but also drastically affects an organization and its strategic considerations. Take the connected home for example; an increasing number of automated solutions are available, yet many are destined to become obsolete (eventually residing in the drawer next to last year’s wearable wristband) due to a narrow product lens. The few living up to the hype, such as Nest, create value by modernizing a household while providing services that reinvent our relationship with temperature control. A strategic objective of their thermostat is to actually play a less noticeable role in our lives. While the intelligence baked in the app and hardware is busy gathering insights and predictively responding to emergent needs, it’s regarded as more useful the less we need to adjust it. Conserving energy and saving a few bucks each month are pleasant byproducts, but the service doesn’t inherently burden us with these incentives and instead silently controls temperature. Less really is more when it comes to invisible technology.

Conversations with the past: hermeneutics for designers, Sjors Timmer

When we look back it’s easy to see the past as a collection of outdated technologies and failed business models, to quietly reminisce on how far we’ve come. This however only works if we look at the past through the limited frame of technological and economical progress. If we expand our vision, follow Ive and add history and culture to our framing we can see the past as a rich landscape of ideas, artefacts and people all telling us something about what it means to be human. For us this means that we have to find out about the designers, the writers, typographers, toolmakers and architects that came before us and wonder how we can re-interpret their work and make it relevant for yet another generation.

Why Her Will Dominate UI Design Even More Than Minority Report, Kyle VanHemert

t’s not just that Her, the movie, is focused on people. It also shows us a future where technology is more people-centric. The world Her shows us is one where the technology has receded, or one where we’ve let it recede. It’s a world where the pendulum has swung back the other direction, where a new generation of designers and consumers have accepted that technology isn’t an end in itself–that it’s the real world we’re supposed to be connecting to.

Constraints are Hard, Julie Zhuo

Constraints are hard because they represent the bar, and the bar is high on existing, successful products. Designers who persevere to ship something beyond this bar have achieved something remarkable, but they’re often unsung heroes because what they accomplish doesn’t come across as big or splashy. It’s often the quiet hum of a product getting better and better through the years—a common action made a little easier, a confusing interaction made simpler, a habitual gesture made more delightful. Maybe the average person never notices, but the product continues its upward trajectory. It grows more popular. It has more impact in the world.

Related: My Favorite Design Articles from 2013, 2012, 2011, and 2010.

Job Search 2014-2015

In October came the news that Smart Design, the place I’ve called my professional home for nearly three years, was closing its San Francisco office. It’s a bit heartbreaking as the team I’ve built is now disassembled, and, well, I’m also now without a job.

I’m looking for a role as VP/Creative Director/Product Design Lead that lets me do the two things I do very well: lead designers and design products. Ideally, this role would be in San Francisco proper (I’m definitely not moving and dislike commuting) and involves designing hardware and software. I’m particularly interested in connected consumer devices for the home or office. Dog-friendly workplace is a plus. Financial stability (no early-stage startups) also a plus.

Here’s my resume as a PDF or on LinkedIn. Thanks to many NDAs, my online portfolio basically ends three years ago when I got the Smart Design job, but I can walk through more recent work in person.

Contact me at dan [at] odannyboy [dot] com if you might have or know of suitable work. Thanks!

New Talk for 2015: Practical Creativity

When we think about creativity, it’s usually the creativity of artists and musicians, novelists and poets. That is, people who create to express. But there’s another kind of creativity: that of designers and craftsmen, scientists and engineers. Those who create to solve problems or to invent. While these two modes of creativity aren’t exclusive, this second type of creativity, what I’m calling Practical Creativity, is defined by constraints that aren’t of one’s own making and are usually solved by putting together disparate pieces into a new, unique whole. This talk focuses on what you can do to increase your practical creativity through the deliberate practice of finding and gathering those pieces and the methods for fitting them together. We’ll look at everyday practices and methods to boost creativity, as well as how to overcome the (infinite) number of things that seem to inhibit creativity.

If you’re interested in having me speak at your conference or event, please contact me.

The First Things on the Internet (of Things)

I was curious what the first non-traditional-computer objects were that were connected to a computer network. (A telegraph is probably the first device connected to any kind of network.) To be technical: a non-computer yet packet switched network device with continuous or frequent connectivity to said network.) Here’s some I found, stretching back 40 years.

Interface Message Processor (1969)
“The packet-switching node used to interconnect participant networks to the ARPANET from the late 1960s to 1989. It was the first generation of gateways, which are known today as routers.”

The “Prancing Pony Cooperative” Vending Machine (early-mid 1970s)
“A computer-controlled vending machine…it used to be directly connected to the SAIL DEC-20 mainframe, but when SAIL was retired, it was defunct for a while, and it’s now connected to the UNIX box that replaced SAIL. It’s basically a payment system; if you have an account, you can buy things and charge them to your account. The machine has an early-model laptop attached to the front (replacing a Teletype KSR-35) for this purpose.”

The CMU CS Department Coke Machine (mid-1970s)
“They installed micro-switches in the Coke machine to sense how many bottles were present in each of its six columns of bottles. The switches were hooked up to CMUA, the PDP-10 that was then the main departmental computer. A server program was written to keep tabs on the Coke machine’s state, including how long each bottle had been in the machine.”

Argos Seabeacon Buoys (1980s)
“It was originally intended as a scientific tool for collecting and relaying meteorological and oceanographic data, but with its location tracking properties, scientists quickly realised it could do much more. ‘It all started with a huge programme where 200 drifting buoys were deployed around the Antarctic Ocean,’ explained Mr Ortega. ‘The idea was to collect data – atmospheric pressure and sea surface temperature – from the buoys and to locate them. But at the same time, the buoys were drifting, and because Argos could locate their positions, the scientists also found out they could start to compute the direction and the speeds of the currents.’”

The Internet Toaster (1990)
“The toaster…had one control, to turn the power on, and the darkness of the toast was controlled by how long the power was kept on. However, a human being still had to insert the bread. [In] 1991…a small robotic crane was added to the system, also controlled from the Internet, which picked up a slice of bread and dropped it into the toaster, automating the system from end-to-end.”

The Trojan Room Coffee Pot (1991)
“In the Trojan Room there were several racks of simple computers used in the testing of our networks. One of these had a video frame-grabber attached and was not being used at the time. We fixed a camera to a retort stand, pointed it at the coffee machine in the corridor, and ran the wires under the floor to the frame-grabber in the Trojan Room. Paul Jardetzky…wrote a ‘server’ program, which ran on that machine and captured images of the pot every few seconds at various resolutions, and I wrote a ‘client’ program which everybody could run, which connected to the server and displayed an icon-sized image of the pot in the corner of the screen. The image was only updated about three times a minute, but that was fine because the pot filled rather slowly, and it was only greyscale, which was also fine, because so was the coffee.”

Live Wire/Dangling String (1995)
“An 8 foot piece of plastic spaghetti that hangs from a small electric motor mounted in the ceiling. The motor is electrically connected to a nearby Ethernet cable, so that each bit of information that goes past causes a tiny twitch of the motor. A very busy network causes a madly whirling string with a characteristic noise; a quiet network causes only a small twitch every few seconds. Placed in an unused corner of a hallway, the long string is visible and audible from many offices without being obtrusive. It is fun and useful. The Dangling String meets a key challenge in technology design for the next decade: how to create calm technology.”

The Telegarden (1995)
“An art installation that allowed web users to view and interact with a remote garden filled with living plants. Members could plant, water, and monitor the progress of seedlings via the tender movements of an industrial robot arm.”

Drive Me Insane (1997)
“This is a website. Specifically, it’s a website where you can turn lights on and off, and watch it happen via a webcam.”

Icepick Internet Fridge (1998)
Also toilet (1998), doorbell (1998), and mailbox (2000).

Any more? I’m particularly looking for any from the 1980s, especially a rumored “MIT door lock” project and some elevators (MIT?) that were networked (1970s? 80s?).

Thanks to Mike Kuniavsky, Scott Berkun, Bill Buxton, Ianus Keller, and Thor Muller for help!

Louis CK and The Creative Process

I’ve watched a lot of Louis CK over the last five years and most recently his 2013 comedy special Oh My God and the first four episodes of the fourth season of Louis, his brilliant TV series. As I’ve watched, I’ve caught onto one of his tricks, which is completely illustrated here in this 90 second clip from the first episode this season:

So let’s try to deconstruct what he did here. He started with an observation, which in this case is pretty banal: Garbagemen early in the morning are noisy. A lesser comedian might have stopped there. “Didja ever notice how garbagemen always come by when you’re sleeping? Doncha just hate that?” Observational comedy, ladies and gentlemen.

But here’s what I think he did next. He took a quality of that noise—it sounds like they’re right in the room with you—and imagined what would happen if that were really true, that they were in the room with you. How would they get into the room? What would happen once they were there? What would be the most funny reaction to that situation? In this case, it’s acting as though it was a normal, everyday occurrence.

Bill Buxton has a term for this kind of creative thinking: Order of Magnitude (OOM). He says to take a characteristic and stretch it as a conceptual thinking trick. “If something changes by an order of magnitude along any meaningful dimension, it is no longer the same thing.”

Louis CK uses this trick all the time, whether it’s garbagemen in his bedroom or in Oh My God in a bit about stepping over dead children in the mall in a world where murder is legal. The mastery, though, is in how he stretches the audience, most of whom certainly wouldn’t normally make such conceptual leaps on their own, with him. And how he does it is by building on small moments of detail. Look at how the garbage scene above grows, cut by cut. At first, you are empathizing with him asleep. But then, without your realizing it, you’re standing outside the scene laughing, because we’re first startled by the men crashing through the window, pushing the scene clearly into fantasy, but mostly because his reaction is not what ours would be. He remains asleep, then groggily wakes up.

Like the best comedians, he does this to show us an insight from that observation. What does this mean? In this case, it’s that the world isn’t outside our window; it’s right here in our bedrooms, in our dreams. His blasé reaction is the acceptance of the noise of the world. I’m certainly over-analyzing it because this bit is a trifle, but it’s an amusing one. And one that can teach us a lot about how to take an observation, no matter how minor, and using Order of Magnitude thinking, turn it into something new, something with meaning.