Sure, I’m super proud of the 20 years of design experience and 10 years of being a successful freelancer I have under my belt—sounds pretty legit, right?—but the truth is those years of experience came with tons of mistakes and setbacks.
The books below are handy collections of tips, hard-won wisdom, and general guidelines for what I’ve found works (and doesn’t work) in design and in freelancing. I hope they’ll be a guide for those taking their first steps into these areas and help budding designers and freelancers take a shortcut to success, with fewer tears and ramen meals.
August 16, 2019
Freelance and Business And Stuff
We’d like to start by saying: dumber people have done this. Starting your own business will be clunky and unfamiliar at first, like a baby deer on a trampoline, but it’s just new. You’re building new skills in an unfamiliar environment. Fearing what you don’t know or don’t understand can only last as long as you let it. Freelance and Business And Stuff
August 12, 2019
UX can’t be defined by one set of "rules"
Even though UX is a very broad subject to write about, to find new ideas for my newsletter on a bi-weekly basis is sometimes hard. I don’t want to sound like a broken record and after 300 posts - it’s just hard to come across new ideas sometimes.
I’ve found a lot of the posts that get traction on Medium all seem to offer the golden recipe for how to make your UX ‘right’. Just like for personal advice, they all seem to offer this perfect formula of ‘if you do UX this way then you’ll see great results and users will love your product’. They all claim to be the “Ultimate Guide to UX in 2019”…
Don’t get me wrong, I do read some of these guides myself and find that they all seem to have one or two things that are worth reflecting over. Also, I know that especially junior designers or people just starting off with UX like to get these kinds of rules to follow. So what to do?
As you might know, I’m a big fan of learning about great user experiences not only from UX design, but from design, writing, and life in general. In Kaleigh Moore’s newsletter the other week, I read this quote from Gary Provost:
This sentence has five words. Here are five more words. Five-word sentences are fine.But several together become monotonous. Listen to what is happening. The writing is getting boring. The sound of it drones. It’s like a stuck record. The ear demands some variety.
Now listen. I vary the sentence length, and I create music. Music. The writing sings. It has a pleasant rhythm, a lilt, a harmony. I use short sentences. And I use sentences of medium length.
And sometimes, when I am certain the reader is rested, I will engage him with a sentence of considerable length, a sentence that burns with energy and builds with all the impetus of a crescendo, the roll of the drums, the crash of the cymbals–sounds that say listen to this, it is important.Gary Provost
For me, this highlights perfectly how to think about these golden UX guides. They’re fine as long as you use them in moderation. If you adapt them to the product you’re currently designing for. However, to think there is one set of rules to apply to any product and get a great user experience is nonsense. Total nonsense.
Just like the rule that a blog post should only be 700-800 words for good SEO, this post is only roughly 400. I’m breaking that rule simply because I have nothing more to say on this. You wouldn’t want to read uninspired filler text for 300 more words, would you? I didn’t think so. :)
July 30, 2019
5 Years - 300+ Posts!
One of the things I always try to push right away with new or potential clients is that I’m just a one-man company. That means more personal service and better communication. If you call me, I’ll be the one answering (please email unless it’s super urgent though). So I figured it’s time to give some personal updates here too.
Lately, I’ve been thinking a lot about the future of my work. On a general level - what will be the requirements for the UX designer or UX lead of tomorrow? It seems like it’s been ages since we all agreed that voice is the future, but I’m not sure if we’re any closer to that future at all? (The Future of the UX-Designer (2017), Hey Siri, what’s the future of user interfaces (2015) and Voice Input is the Next Big Thing - Or is It? (2018))
On a personal level, what is the kind of work I want to do? I think any senior designer have thought along these same lines from time to time… “Will I still be doing websites 20 years from now?” “Do I have the motivation for another 20 years?” “How do I want to work?” “Do I have other options?” (Let’s assemble like the Avengers and… do work (2019))
During the past year, I’ve been doing somewhat different kind of work for IKEA, leading a team and focusing on aligning people and deliverables rather than designing or focusing on features. I realized that it’s not exactly the kind of work I wanted to do, but, in hindsight, I’m really grateful for the experience and the insight it brought. It brings to mind a quote from Kaleigh Moore from Mastering Freelance:
Everyone’s path is going to be different, but I think one of the best ways you can find your purpose is by doing a lot of things you DON’T like. I had a few jobs and internships in college that made me realize what things I absolutely did not want to be doing—so getting those experiences, even while they weren’t fun at the time—were important.Kaleigh Moore
Since then I’ve begun working with Superfriendly. I reached out to my friend Dan to talk to him about my idea of a new type of consultancy. If you want to grow as a designer, as a developer or whatever it’s really important to surround yourself with the best people out there. This is easy to dismiss because you don’t have the power to change your co-worker’s skills. However, you CAN always try and find other, better co-workers. Working with people who are better than you is the easiest way to grow your skills and makes work a whole lot more fun! (The Life of a Freelancer Shouldn’t Be a Lonely One (2016) and Without Struggle, There Isn’t Success (2017))
I’m planning some traveling in August (Biarritz, France), September (Antibes, France), and October (Toronto, Canada) as I haven’t really had any time off at all since last summer. I was in Boston for a few days in the beginning of July and traveling is such a great way to find inspiration through reflection. (Built to last (2016))
A good sign that it’s soon to be fall is that I’ve begun thinking about doing a minor update on the design of my website. This time, I’m thinking both of features and visual design (and less about technology). (A Redesign (2017) and I’ve redesigned my website and it looks exactly the same (2019)) I also want to get back into more long-form writing this fall. I’ve had a bit of a lack of inspiration lately and, to be honest, it’s felt more like something I have to do rather than something I want to do. I have an idea where I would publish one article a day for a month. It sounds like a fun challenge! (Why Designers Need to Write (2017)
The other week I ran a small ad for User Experiences that Matter in Dense Discovery, an excellent newsletter that I think you should subscribe to if you aren’t already. It performed really well and I sold more than 10 books in a single day (which is about what I normally sell in a month). Yay! You can still get 20% off using the code ‘DENSE’.
July 24, 2019
Why Consultants Quit Their Jobs to Go Independent
They also do not miss the internal politics and career management involved in staying inside a traditional firm. They are clear about what is important to them: great client work, intellectual challenge, the flexibility and control to choose where, when and with whom they work, and a good work-life balance – and independent work is delivering on all these dimensions. Interestingly, their traditionally employed peers also find these things important, but their satisfaction levels with most of these elements are significantly lower.HBR: Why Consultants Quit Their Jobs to Go Independent
July 24, 2019
Superhuman and email privacy
I’ve told the basic Superhuman tracking story to a few people over the last few weeks, and asked whether they realized this was possible; all of them expressed shock and many of them outrage as well. Email should be private, and most people assume, incorrectly, that it is. You have to be a web developer of some sort to understand how this is possible. Email is supposed to be like paper mail — you send it, they get it, and you have no idea whether they read it or not. It bounces back to you if they never even receive it, say, because you addressed it incorrectly. The original conception of email is completely private.Superhuman and Email Privacy
When we’re designing digital experiences, we focus on the big stuff - the overall experience. We discuss things like information architecture, user flows, research, and visual identities. When we’re working with an e-commerce solution, we discuss the full checkout experience, but rarely discuss the things that will actually make our users remember us - and even talk about us. This makes perfect sense, because the checkout experience is what will make the meal. But in order to have users that love your experience, we need to offer not just the entrée, but also candy. Confused? I get that. Let’s back up.
Perhaps you’ve heard the expression “God is in the details” which was said by Mies van der Rhoe, mid 20th century architect. Mies, famous for being one of pioneers in modernist architecture, is often associated with his fondness for the aphorisms, ”less is more” and “God is in the details”.
“The devil is in the detail” is an idiom that refers to a catch or mysterious element hidden in the details, meaning that something might seem simple at a first look but will take more time and effort to complete than expected and derives from the earlier phrase, “God is in the detail” expressing the idea that whatever one does should be done thoroughly; i.e. details are important.
If you’re interested in creating great user experiences, you already know the important part well thought out details can play in the experience of a product. Do you remember that first time you “slide to unlock” an iPhone? Then, years later, you were mesmerized by TouchID. While these may feel like features and not details, they all have details that make the feature. Whether it’s that little click sound or the animation that follows, the entire experience is based upon those details.
What does this have to do with candy?
I was watching Malcolm Gladwell over at Masterclass (a great class - highly recommend it!) and he talks about how every story needs candy.
Candy, in a story, is stuff for people to talk about. The fun stuff. The meal is the thing they dwell on, and take home and process on a much more meaningful level. And it’s totally fine to have candy as long as you have a main meal, as long as you have the entrée. It’s a bad idea to have candy and no entrée, but also a bad idea to have an entrée and no candy.Malcolm Gladwell
I think this is a far better analogy for what we want than just talking about ‘details’. Details are easy to ignore when time gets short. Details are unnecessary. They become an expense that’s hard to see when considering ROI. Details are the antithesis to the MVP, the darling of Silicon Valley.
Unfortunately, when time is short we tend to cut out the candy in order to not mess up the entrée. And sometimes this makes sense; the candy won’t be worth anything if the entrée is uneatable. Maybe we should instead think of candy as something that could take an ordinary entrée and transform it into a great night? Isn’t that really the experience we want to design?
“The details are difficult to include when you’re building a product; they’re expensive both in terms of time and technical overhead — which is why they’re rare.” God is in the details - Buzz Usbourne
Candy comes in all forms and shapes
Candy is interesting because it can come in so many shapes and forms. Sweet or sour, large or small, thick or like jelly. As you may know, my commitment with IKEA is over, but my time with them offered me an example of candy that I love (I think IKEA does candy really well). Their offices in Malmö have 7 floors. While I usually took the elevator, I occasionally took the stairs to get some office exercise. Right above the baseboards there were small messages printed. They were very discreet and it probably took me a couple of times running up and down the stairs before I noticed them. After that, they always brought a smile to my face.
It’s such an easy thing. It doesn’t cost much. It’s not difficult. The result? You improve your co-workers’ days, making them happier, more engaged and active. That’s priceless.
The thing about details - sorry candy - is that it works best when we’re not expecting it. The unexpected treat is the best one right?
Surprise sometimes. You’ve heard of dopamine, right? The reward chemical? Here’s some news: Dopamine isn’t about the rush from the reward. It’s about the good chance of a reward happening. We love that uncertainty. Therefore, let your words surprise sometimes, but not all the time (think of the flying Asana unicorn or Slack’s random welcome messages). Bam!A UX Writer’s Journey Into the Deep … Parts of the Brain, and 3 Insights From It.
What’s your favourite candy?
When you start looking for candy, you’ll notice that it’s in places you’ve never expected. You can almost make a game of it! There’s even a great little website, Little Big Details, that showcases small pieces of candy from all of the websites and software you probably use on a daily basis. (like what about this one from Google Forms or this one from the Invision Blog)
What’s your favorite candy? I would love to hear about it!
July 10, 2019
Your inbox is spying on you
Davidson’s extremely detailed posts get at a core issue of the privacy debate, which is that none of this invasive technology happens by accident. Our privacy crisis is a crisis of design. Take that telling line from Vohra, Superhuman’s C.E.O., which is less than a week old and has already aged poorly. We did not consider potential bad actors. But, as Davidson goes on to explain, Superhuman did receive negative feedback about email tracking; it just didn’t listen. “We did not consider” doesn’t mean the company was unaware but that they didn’t seem to take the feedback into consideration.NYT Privacy Project Newsletter
It’s Time for a Code of Ethics for Designers is my first post over at Modus - Medium’s design publication. I’ve been honoured to have been featured in other publications at Medium before, particularly UX Collective and Prototypr but this is my first piece in Medium’s own publication.
I’d highly appreciate any ‘claps’ for this piece if you like it!
This is our vision for Modus: We want to create a place where designers can read high-quality, practical, thought-provoking pieces that will help them be better at their craft. We want to go beyond the design-basics articles you can find anywhere on the internet and be a trustworthy source designers can rely on to help them level up their skills and knowledge, stay current on the state of the design and tech fields, and dig deeper into the areas that interest them.