Don’t Ask. Do.

Don’t Ask.  Do.

Every work environment has its own levels of complexity regarding decision-making.  People will always have a stake in how decisions are made and more importantly, how the outcomes of those decisions affect their interests.  So as you can imagine, thinking differently to promote change and progress may come in direct opposition to interests at hand.  But is this really so?  A good idea which ultimately directly moves your organization forward is just that- a good idea.

There is no better way to kill a good idea before it even begins to materialize than asking for permission to proceed.  Here’s why:

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Inspire, Diverge, Converge

I recently co-led a workshop for another design group within my company where we aimed to determine the best way to partner with and synergize our groups’ talents to expand a new service line. To kick things off, and before jumping into any workshop specifics, (9:00 am on a Monday morning), a leader of my group began with a couple videos.    The content, very much a future state but relative to the work we do, was exciting and inspiring - exactly what we needed at 9:00 am on a Monday morning.  Actually, wait…we should be inspired not just early on a Monday morning...we need to do this more.

As we came to the end of the video and jumped into our session, it was clear that everyone was energized and ready to learn and work towards a solution.  It was obvious that we all had at the top of our minds the possible.

I work in a design group and we design and build app prototypes aimed to excite and display the “possible.”  A part of our job is to do exactly what this 9 am video set out to do with the clients we work with.

But what is inspiration if it doesn’t lead to a tangible result?  How do we harness this creative momentum and create impact?

A formula I see as powerful in range of situations goes as such:  Inspire.  Think divergently. Converge.

Inspiration is simply showing what is possible while creating excitement in the process.  This excitement can be harvested into what is called “divergent thinking,” an exercise where a prompt is given and we generate many ideas from this starting point (Diverging from a source of information- you may be familiar with the antiquated term “brainstorm?”).  The next step is critical- we now we have a bunch of ideas but no application.  We should measure and assess these ideas for solutions against some criteria or standards.  This is the “convergent thinking” piece (As we measure each output of our divergent thinking, we converge on a single or narrowed down list of solutions that make sense given the problem's attributes.). 

It’s exciting and fun to inspire and speak to the possible, but without taking some next steps it’s really only just that, fun.  Actually wait; it’s more than that…It can be a serious problem for a project.  If we only inspire, we run the very serious risk of potentially misleading.  Clients get excited and may assume promises are being made. 

We want to excite, show the possible and then have a conversation as to what the most appropriate solution may be given the client’s needs and constraints.  Maybe we go for everything…but at what cost?  Maybe we prioritize some of this blue sky thinking which will have the most impact (a more realistic scenario).

If you read only this:  Harness the power of inspiration, but follow with some next steps and ensure that everyone is as excited with the outcome as they were when the conversations began.


“Managing Non-Co-located Teams in an Agile Framework” - Agile / Lean Practitioners Meetup: NYC, 01/28/14

“Managing Non-Co-located Teams in an Agile Framework” - Agile / Lean Practitioners Meetup: NYC, 01/28/14

Here are a few thoughts on last night’s NYC Agile / Lean Practitioners Meetup.  The topic was certainly relevant to some of the work I do and was helpful to re-iterate some best practices I need to employ and keep in mind for my project work.

I work with teams to build prototype applications (typically for iPad) aimed to inspire clients and showcase how we take industry/niche insights and apply those to a client need/problem by building a functional prototype.

In order to do this, we work to understand what the client problem is, identify what type of tool may work best (dashboard, calculator,  workflow, diagnostic…), rapidly iterate on a design and develop the application - All in the timespan of 1-4 weeks, depending on the level of  app robustness the client may require.  To accomplish all of this, our teams work in an agile environment.

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Design Thinking Workshop, brandh@ckers Meetup: June 3, 2013

Design Thinking Workshop, brandh@ckers Meetup: June 3, 2013

Last night, brandh@ckers put together a panel to discuss, albeit at a very high level, the design thinking methodology.  It’s a rich topic with a lot of opportunity to delve into its many aspects much further- I suggest a Meetup dedicated solely to the methodology (in NYC) – But definitely a good top level discussion.  The panel included representatives from the likes of Parsons and Stanford’s (where all of this came about).

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Good to See You - My Introduction to Data Visualization

Good to See You - My Introduction to Data Visualization

I recently had the pleasure to attend a couple of Andy Kirk’s talks (one being at the Data Visualization In New York Meetup) on the topic of, well, Data Visualization.  I’ve known about the field for some time but I hadn’t had much of an introduction up until this point.  After spending a day in data vis. information sessions and presentations, I’m interested in further exploring the field.  This post will serve as my initial high-level understanding of data vis. but I plan to dive deeper in future posts.  Also, I am not a designer or developer so my writing will come more from a theory-type angle. 

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“Designing MVP Experiments” – Agile Experience Design Meetup @ Pivotal Labs NYC, 04/15/13

“Designing MVP Experiments” – Agile Experience Design Meetup @ Pivotal Labs NYC, 04/15/13

Right off the heels of the Lean Startup Machine NYC weekend, I participated in last night’s Agile Experience Design Meetup where the topic/workshop involved running through how to test an ACTAUL user problem through forming a super low functioning, but TESTABLE MVP.  LSM began its focus at point 0 in the process where we needed to validate who the customer is, if the customer actually has a problem and what the actual problem is.  Last night we came into it assuming that there is a user that does have a problem.  Unique to a lot of Meetups I’ve been to, we spent some time running through the high level process in workshop form to get us thinking along the build, measure, learn feedback loop.  Some of the thinking is counterintuitive to how people may want to think (jumping into solutions without thoroughly measuring and learning…) so the exercise was helpful.

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Lean Startup Machine NYC: Part 2 - My Experience

Day 1

Everyone met at the Alley NYCa coworking space in Times Square, Friday evening over pizza and conversation.  Soon after, people who brought product ideas had 50 seconds each to pitch to everyone in the room.  After the pitches, everyone had 3 votes and the top 10-15 ideas were chosen – people then formed teams.  I didn’t get an exact count, but I estimate that there were 12-14 teams in total.

I decided to join a team working on a product to create a program for 4th year undergrad students entering the professional workforce to join a recognized and visible industry rotational program.

Immediately we began to explore the idea by subjecting it to the Validation Board.  We first identified our customer hypothesis (4th year undergrads) and problem hypothesis (students are ill-prepared to find the right job fit).  We recorded our assumptions, chose which assumption we believed to be the riskiest and then our team agreed upon validation criteria for our assumption.  As it was late in the evening, we decided to save the in-person interviews for Saturday but sent out a survey, leveraging twitter (#college).

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Lean Startup Machine NYC: April 12 – 14, 2013

Lean Startup Machine NYC: April 12 – 14, 2013

Lean Startup Machine is a movement aimed to educate entrepreneurs and industry professionals alike on how to build products that people actually want.  Using Lean Startup methodology, LSM is a 3-day workshop where 50 people gather, pitch ideas for a product and teams form around those pitches.  At the end of the weekend, winning teams are chosen based on how well each team adhered to the process and how they were able to handle change throughout the journey.  Teams are not judged on how marketable or creative a product idea is.   Although many people who attend the workshop were entrepreneurs, I participated interested in the methodology and how it can be applied in enterprise situations.  Also, LSM is NOT a hackathon.  I was actually surprised to see that a majority of the participants were not developers but come from another discipline within tech or even different industries.

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Working with a Product Related Disagreement: The Product Group @ the Viacom Building, NYC 04/04/13

Last night I attended my first Product Group Meetup where people in the field of product development get together to discuss best practices and knowledge share.  The discussion is split into two parts: Part one focuses on a discussion topic and the second part of the evening is dedicated to a product showcase where a representative (usually a founder) talks about roadblocks, best practices and successes in creating the product.

The discussion last night focused on product related disagreements – What are common root causes and how do people manage disagreement?  Although billed under the “product” umbrella, many of the points discussed are applicable to most work situations, but let’s keep the focus on the product development process.

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Designed Collaboration

Designed Collaboration

One of the grievances I had with my last role (as a grants manager at a large Pharmaceutical company) was the physical space in which I worked.  We were lucky not to work in cubicles, but had our own offices each with their own door.  The hallway that I worked was comprised of a lengthy row of these closed off spaces where people tended to shut themselves in for most of the day…Sometimes I wouldn’t see my coworkers unless it was in a public space.  We mostly all worked on our own projects, and with teams literally in buildings across the street.  There are many things wrong with this scene but here I’d like to focus on collaboration and knowledge sharing.

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Design Agency vs. Startup Panel Discussion, The Alley NYC: 03/28/13

Interesting panel discussion last night that aimed to discuss various aspects of business as seen through the eyes of an established agency (R/GA) and a startup (Fitocracy).  The topic questions were centered around R/GA’s involvement and experience working on FuelBand and Fitocracy’s app.  It’s interesting to note the obvious differences between the two- R/GA partnered with Nike and Fitocracy of course worked for themselves…bootstrap central.  Also worth noting is the fact that many agencies and enterprises are taking note of startup methodology which is quick and lean.

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Exciting Web Design Trend


Web design has clearly come a long way and the standard experience is certainly more attractive and useful than in previous years.  We’re in an exciting period now where some design centered groups are pushing the boundaries of what a reading experience should be, taking into account the multitude of ways people consume information online in 2013 (smartphone, tablet…desktop…).  In regards to a reading experience, I’ve noticed two sites I frequent quite a bit (one more than the other) experimenting with heightening the consumption experience incorporating multimedia seamlessly within the narrative flow…and they are doing it beautifully.

The New York Times, known for their push for forward thinking, published a piece last December on the Tunnel Creek avalanche.  The piece incorporates excellent multimedia elements (which are USEFUL) and blend them into the flow seamlessly, instead of in parallel or as a distraction.  This effort took an initial agreement from all teams involved with the design and collaborative approach.  All facets from overall concept, flow and design needed to be coordinated during production. The NYT plans to roll this type of design out in an iterative fashion and I can only assume we’ll see more of this in the future as they roll it out to include the main site, ebooks and entirely new mediums.  It will be interesting to see how they incorporate adverting.

NYT: Snow Fall

Pitchfork (yes, this is the site I frequent the most of the two) is doing similar work with some of their artist profiles- check out the Ty Segall and Bat for Lashes pieces.

You’ll be seeing a lot more of this trend soon.

User Research for Agile Teams: Agile Experience Design Meetup, Pivotal Labs – 03/18/13

Last night, the NYC Agile Experience Design Meetup hosted a panel with 3 companies speaking on how they incorporate UX in an agile environment.  I found AppNexus’ talk particularly interesting in that they brought up the point that there seems to not be a good standard to this point for incorporating research in an agile (scrum) setting.  They believe that it is the designer’s role to incorporate the research into scrum (makes sense) and they typically follow a process broken up into four distinct phases:

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Design Strategies StackUp @ Projective Space

Last night I attended a StackUp on startup design practices where four startups presented some ideas and methods they use in regards to their design practices (mostly front end).  As this was for “designers only” I was able to penetrate the high level security of three flights of stairs and a bunch of friendly people.

Although I don’t have any immediate plans to become a visual, UX or UI designer, I’m interested in understanding the language these guys speak and I need to know the various processes designers use and why- At some point I will have a say in these processes as I work with design teams.

Points of interest:

  • The term “designer” is broad and, especially in the startup realm where definitions aren’t so much spelled out, can include an array of functions.
  • Agency processes have been heavily studied and documented, but the startup body of knowledge is only starting to grow.
  • Processes:  Designers at Kickstarter code their own work- this provides a greater sense of ownership and alleviates some handoff issues when the designer gives their work to a developer/engineer.  Product managers meet weekly for product road mapping sessions.  Branch pairs designers and back-end engineers for a few hours during the design process so that they can develop relationships and allow for smooth hand-offs.  HowAboutWe… relies on design focused weekly sprints, daily reviews with the CEO and product and retros (lessons learned).

"Talk Shop: UX Design" at General Assembly

Last night, General Assembly hosted a panel of UX designers (J. Crew, IDEO, Spotify, Charming Robot) to discuss what “good” UX means to them.   It’s interesting to note that all of the panel members had varying ideas of what a positive user experience is to them, although unsurprising due to their widely varying backgrounds and the fact that they all work in different organizations.  This is also unsurprising because depending on the product and type of experience in question, the meaning of an effective user experience should vary.

My very broad definition of a good user experience is that a user is able to achieve a predetermined goal/outcome successfully with little frustration.  An excellent user experience is all of that plus the experience being a memorable one.

Some interesting takeaways from last night:

  • Where does UX fit within the design process?  This generally depends on the project and the organization.  For example, IDEO likes to incorporate the UX process at the beginning of a project with a "synthesis session" where they identify users and, in person, get an idea of how they interact with a product and what the problems they encounter may be.  Spotify uses lots of up front real world testing and iterating.  Their process is not as defined but it works based on the nature of their product.
  • UX work is never finished.  Just like for digital product releases, it’s important to continuously iterate and refine.
  • A definition of a good UX design is one that is clean and simple.  Designers will tell you that this sounds easy, but as a product is iterated and more features are added, the level of complexity will increase and it will become more challenging to maintain simplicity.

A Technique for Producing Ideas

James Webb Young’s A Technique for Producing Ideas is a classic writing on, well, formulating new ideas.  Young spent his career in the advertising industry and writes this book in reference to that, but it’s easy to see that the simple concepts in the book can be applied anytime there is a need for a creative, useful idea. 

The Distillation:

The combination of old elements + the ability to see relationships between these elements and concepts (sometimes seeming disparate) = the formation of new novel ideas. 

This is so true for a lot of innovation we see today and can be especially seen in the digital realm.  Take the concept of the API for instance which allows an application or program to incorporate functionality of another app to assist or enrich the experience of the new creation.

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Design Thinking: Top-Level Process and Application

Design Thinking: Top-Level Process and Application

As I mentioned previously, I’m super intrigued by the “Design Thinking” concept.  I’ve always had a thing for process and methodology as I see it is a good way to organize thought and get to some point of solution- When applying the right methodology to a question, I’m confident I’m making progress because the process has most likely been validated with rigorous testing.

…Anyhow, the above schematic is a simplified depiction of the design thinking process that includes 5 phases.  These are meant to proceed linearly only in the sense that there is a full intention to iterate and begin the "Empathize" phase over again after “Testing”.

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"Five Whys"


So, I’ve been working my way through Eric Ries’ The Lean Startup and as I read, I try to connect the concepts he mentions to work I’ve done in the past and the work I plan to do in the near future.  Eric mentions the “Five Whys”…a technique used to get to the root cause of a problem.  I had previously worked for Genentech, an amazingly innovative biotech company, where I was introduced to the concepts of Kaizen, lean manufacturing and Six Sigma – all tools used for process improvement.  I remember that the Five Whys technique, where you essentially identify a problem and ask “why” until you reach a root cause (often part of the RCA (Root Cause Analysis) methodology) is associated with these methods.

This is a fascinating (and simple on the surface) method to understand where problems originate.  To me, part of the beauty of this technique and other processes associated with design and general problem solving is that you can adapt them to your own life…I suspect that using the Five Whys method can help to come to an actual solution of an issue efficiently and rationally. 

We all need some rationale in our lives, right?

Found Inspiration: David Kelley on Design Thinking

This is the first in a series of posts I'll frequently put up highlighting nuggets of inspiration I find, or that seemingly find me.  These are things that excite me, keep me going and inspire me to continue learning and moving forward.

First up: IDEO’s David Kelley on Design Thinking (pardon the “60 Minutes” stiff reporting style, the material speaks for itself).

I have a science background, so part of my trained thought process is observational and methodical.  Design Thinking is a super intriguing theory/practice because it combines human behavior observation, methodical process with creativity and art/design…all to make things better for people. 

I’m also in love with the fact that Kelley believes that design thinking should be taught and practiced by people from a range of backgrounds (I agree).  A team should consist of a diverse group of people who can build off of each other’s ideas. 

Completely solid and I’m completely sold.  This is the essence of my interest.

Meeting People is Easy: Informational Interviews

metting people is easy.png

One of the most helpful things I do as I make progress in my career transformation is to be open to meeting as many people as I can who work in the industry I’m moving into.  I started out small, knowing very few people working in digital or at a design firm or at a tech company but as I meet people, my network grows.  People enjoy talking about what they do and helping others who want to learn.  People are proud of the work they do and it’s their way of giving back.

So, I set up in-person meetings at my contacts' convenience.  Meeting in person is critical as it establishes a good report and allows me to get the person’s full attention.  It's also more fun and I have a chance to show some personality.

I make sure to leave every meeting with the following:

  1. Insight on information specific to the industry, role(s) I’m curious about and very importantly, what steps I can take to learn and develop.
  2. Another contact.  I make a point to ask the person if they know and are willing to put me in touch with some other folks who might be able to and want to help out.

I meet with as many people as I can, even if they may give me very similar information as another person who I’ve spoken to – There is something to be said about getting different perspectives. Even when a meeting is not what I had hoped for, I have always been able to take at least one positive from the experience.