Journal

Design, Technology and Work

Leveling Up

September 30th 2016

Show me your bookshelf, or the courses you take, or the questions you ask, and I'll have a hint as to how much you care about levelling up.

This idea pairs well beautifully with an earlier post this week, Investing for Geeks:

I’d be remiss if I didn’t mention that most people in the tech industry have one asset which is orders of magnitude larger than all their others: the present value of their future career.

Reading the right books can be a cheat code to leveling up in unexpected ways and in entirely new fields. And they don't have to be dry business-y or design-y books; some of my favorites this year were Ready Player One (sci-fi), Replay (sci-fi), Sapiens (anthropology), and Thinking, Fast and Slow (psychology).

Information Addicts

September 29th 2016

The users weren’t fully aware of how addicted they were. They thought they picked up their phones half as much as they actually did. But whether they were aware of it or not, a new technology had seized control of around one-third of these young adults’ waking hours.

It took me over a week to finally find a distraction-free time to read this article. I disagree with some of it, agree with most. Finding a quiet moment is rare these days, constantly tempted by Twitter or Reddit or Facebook or Instagram. This isn't noteworthy for anyone who reads this, I imagine; it's ordinary.

Multiplayer Design

September 28th 2016

Introducing multiplayer actually reduced the overall complexity of Figma’s UX because it removed all of the awkward workflows that people had been using to work around the lack of multiplayer. The result is a few simple features that combine in powerful ways to provide a great collaborative editing experience.

I'm very curious to see where multiplayer might fit into my design process and where it can be creatively bent to fulfill new purposes (e.g. using it to multiplayer myself on a phone as a mirroring solution).

The Figma team has been building up to this moment for a while now, and I'm excited for their product to keep evolving. A tool with files that are automatically version controlled, are treated as a single source of truth, and that enable online collaboration by default is a huge step forward.

Investing For Geeks

September 27th 2016

I’d be remiss if I didn’t mention that most people in the tech industry have one asset which is orders of magnitude larger than all their others: the present value of their future career.

Patrick's advice is awesome, and is worth understanding if you're new to – or want to get started – investing. The quote above from the last section is a particularly acute way of keeping things in perspective as you approach an investing strategy, especially given the temptation to optimize for marginal increases in return.

Also remember the rule of 72 – the doubling rate of your money (relative to a 7-11% annual return) will be between 7 and 10 years. This means that if you're in your early 20s, anything you invest today essentially gets an extra doubling period before retirement versus someone just starting to invest in their 30s. Think:

$5k invested at 20 years old, given an annual return of ~9%, will double roughly every 8 years.

$10k at 28, $20k at 36, $40k at 44, $80k at 52, $160k at 60.

Play with those numbers accordingly, but never forget the power of compounding interest and the insane value of starting early. Even through high and low markets, the power of dollar-cost averaging means that one of the best things you can do right is to set up a recurring investment in an index, automatically withdrawn from your bank account. This will generally adjust risk in your favor through the inevitably tough years at some point in the future.

Redesigning Chrome Desktop

September 26th 2016

You don’t necessarily need to understand how to code, it’s more important to understand the people who do.

This quote is the most compelling argument to me for people to learn code and fundamental programming concepts: to build shared understanding and empathy for the people who are doing the building.

The rest of this (crazy long) post by Sebastien is worth a read. He has a fanatical approach to visual systems and pixel perfection, which is inspiring to see shine through in a beautiful final product.

When the update started to roll out, the hardest feedback I received was: “That’s it?”.

I love this.

Product Design Portfolio Examples

September 23rd 2016

In the last few months I've had emails from folks looking for advice on product design portfolios, how to structure case studies, how to describe a design process, etc. I thought it might be helpful to start compiling a list of some great ones, as a reference for anyone in the future:

Let me know if I've missed any!

Why Do Anything?

September 22nd 2016

The story is a fable, but its main idea — that a thing’s ideal state is before it comes into existence, that it is better to not be born — is equal parts terrifying and uncanny, especially today, when progress and productivity are practically worshiped.

This is an interest piece, especially as I substitute in the things I build daily at a large tech company, where nothing is permanent and everything is in a state of iteration. I find myself disagreeing wholeheartedly with the idea that to not build something is better; that nothingness is perfection.

For me, to build and create is a worthwhile pursuit in and of itself. To solve problems and exert energy in the pursuit of making the lives of others just a small bit better justifies itself, time and time again.

The decay of material things that time inevitably brings is a force worth fighting. And to fight that battle makes me admire, even more, those who have built anything that continues to stand strong against the test of time.

Reading further:

Idleness, as we know, has a bad rap in Western culture, but it can be a philosophical experience in its own right.

This struck me, because I'm wholly influenced by Western culture, and I wonder if my thinking is so betrayed by my surroundings that I'm unable to distinguish a better path.

But then:

It pains us unbearably to realize that, for all our good intentions, we are agents of degradation, that instead of creating something that stays whole and incorruptible, we by our very doing make it 'perishable and mortal'...

I would rather build and fall prey to the decay of time than to idle away in the perfection of that which doesn't exist, and never have made a difference in people's lives.

Learning

September 16th 2016

In the United States, the emphasis on understanding sometimes seems to have replaced rather than complemented older teaching methods that scientists are—and have been—telling us work with the brain’s natural process to learn complex subjects like math and science.

This is a worthwhile post to read, reminding me of the most basic methods for learning. I'm especially interested in ways to get better or faster at chunking – a method for storing small chunks of knowledge in long-term memory. An example:

It’s not necessary to go around with 25 marbles in your pocket and lay out 5 rows of 5 marbles again and again so that you get that 5 x 5 = 25. At some point, you just know it fluently from memory.

Of course, that's as simple as one might get. But humans can chunk things much more complex than multiplication tables. We can chunk formulas and concepts, visual arrangements and flows. As designers working with grids and constraints, white space and rhythm, colors and contrast, this is meaningful because we can actively build neural connections between visual expressions and design concepts that will manifest as instinct.

The tough pill to swallow in this article is that the main path to learning new things is through sustained repetition. And it makes sense, but carries certain implications: either you sustain a normal amount of work and repetitive practice for a long period of time, and then become good; or sustain an intense amount of work and repetitive practice in a short period of time, and then become good.

For me, the only time I actually get better at programming is when I program every single day. No brainer, huh? It's tempting to think that I can read a few tutorials and hack on an app once per week and actually get better. But this is an inefficient and ineffective way to learn.

Design systems

September 15th 2016

This was a turbulent thread yesterday about design systems versus style guides. The waters are still murky in terms of how we've defined these terms, and how designers are talking about systems in their day-to-day work.

After consulting Twitter, here are a few more resources/people to follow in order to learn more about design systems:

A design system is more than just a presentational layer for how things look. It's more than a bunch of buttons and grids. And it's definitely not a Sketch mastersheet.

For the past few months these concepts have been my deepest fascination. I thought about writing my perspectives here, but realized my understanding of the subject is still very rudimentary; I need to build a lot more before being able to articulate anything meaningful.

Also:

Oops.

Better

September 14th 2016

Yesterday I complained a lot on Twitter, mostly about iOS 10 and having to relearn the way to use some features of my phone. But unconstructive complaining isn't fun for anyone.

So I'll try to be better going forward.

Blind positivity isn't the answer. But the line between a justified rant and a public complain-fest is a challenging – and worthwhile – line to find. Hopefully I'll land on the right side more often than not.

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