Lifestyle design: beginning somewhere

This december my life changed dramatically. I transitioned from being a partner of the worlds best web agencies to what is essentially a normal, though mostly remote, developer job.
Then suddenly, my intended life partner left me. We came to terms again but after months of tears, talks and moments of happiness we finally parted ways.

So now I find myself in a situation usually refered to as a life crisis. But I’m not sure I would call it that.

I’m not crushed. Just a bit sad.

I am not powerless, but more empowered than ever before.

So what now?

Lifestyle design

I’ve always wanted to design my own lifestyle. To try and define how parts of my life fit together. And I’ve had some success creating an unorthodox daily routine already. But now is the perfect time to try something a bit more interesting.

I’m looking into every area of my life, to try to change basically everything, into something that is more me. I will post a step by step log here with my ideas, and my outcomes.

I have no idea where this is going.

But here’s my initial plan: Over the coming year, I will try to tackle one aspect of my life per week. Some might take many weeks. Some might take days. I expect most of these experiments to fail, but to be interesting nonetheless.

If you have any ideas, I’d love to read them. I have a few already and will post about the first one shortly.

 

Massimo Vignelli on focus groups

It is one thing to believe something, and an entirely different animal to put that belief into an articulate argument for that belief. This quote by Vignelli explains the true issues of trusting focus groups and market testing.

“I don’t believe in market research. I don’t believe in marketing the way it’s done in America. The American way of marketing is to answer to the wants of the customer instead of answering to the needs of the customer. The purpose of marketing should be to find needs — not to find wants.

People do not know what they want. They barely know what they need, but they definitely do not know what they want. They’re conditioned by the limited imagination of what is possible. … Most of the time, focus groups are built on the pressure of ignorance.” via BrainPickings

Whenever someone asks me to do a focus group, I usually begin with asking that person what they want the focus group to answer. It is usually quite easy to guess the normal responses. Especially if the product or service is entirely new.

It’s not that the focus group isn’t observant or brilliant, they quite often are. The problem stems from them not having enough time with the product or service to really give us the important information. And sadly we can’t observe a tester for weeks.

Don’t confused with testing for quality assurance purposes, I’ve never seen a project without a few rough corners left, and that sort of testing is essential.

 

The continuing decline of Twitter

As I’ve written about before I love Twitter, the service, but I’m not very impressed by Twitter the company. Twitter wants to change that, Twitters claims they have changed. This time things will be different. The problem is that Twitter seems to have become even less likeable.

A few days ago Twitter launched Digits, a service completely unrelated to their core product. Possibly because they don’t like the whole micro-blogging thing. Digits is a service to help people log in without emails or passwords (in detail over on the Verge).

The interesting part, to me, is how Twitter deals with developers.

Twitter now wants to reach out to developers, to tell us they’ve changed, by inviting us to a conference about what sounds like dev tools:

As a peace offering, Twitter on Wednesday is expected to announce a suite of tools that aim to make it easier for programmers to build apps, according to people familiar with the matter. – WSJ

But Twitter already burned developers severely a few years ago by closing down APIs. They burned developers so much that Marco Arment just wrote a scathing blog post arguing that we can’t trust them. And I think he’s right.

Responding to Marcos comments a Kevin Weil (“vice president of product for revenue”) tells the Verge:

He (Weil) named a few companies that have made millions of dollars developing on Twitter’s platform, including TweetDeck, Hootsuite, and the social-media monitoring company Radian6, which sold to Salesforce for $340 million. The changes in 2012 were intended only to ensure Twitter had control over its core service, he says. “Our API was so open that we allowed people to compete with us, and so there were changes we had to make.”

Wait. What is Weil saying here? That Twitter as a platform should only be available to companies who don’t make money? Or just the companies Twitter would like to make money? Or is Twitter NOT a platform at all, but a closed service that has an API just to taunt developers?

None of the services mentioned compete with Twitter as a platform or service. One could argue they had competitive UIs though. But shouldn’t all that traffic made it easy for Twitter to monetize? Perhaps sell higher volumes of API access? It’s hard to understand just what Weil intends to say with this strange answer. My only possible takeaway is that Twitter prefers its partners to not actually succeed.

I think this proves Marco’s point wonderfully. Twitter doesn’t want developers. Twitter is not a platform. And they want those meddling coder kids to stay off their lawn.

 

Ello – the good, the bad, and the ugly

Ello is a new social network, aimed to take on Facebook by not selling peoples information. It’s invite only, and has a very sparse set of features.

The good:

  • Follow people like Twitter
  • usernames like Twitter
  • focus on posting like Twitter / Tumblr
  • posts are re-shareable, full of media, more like Tumblr than FB.

The bad:

  • Execution is really bad.
  • It’s really strange to navigate and use.
  • Doesn’t work on mobile at all.
  • While the team seems to be scrambling, nothing seems to be happening.

The ugly:

  • VC funded with no business model. This is worse that Twitters year over year fail to turn a profit.
 

Let’s add some ethics to design

Why? Because we can.

A playful answer, but more often true than not. If something works, why not keep doing it? Marketing and sales are areas where this attitude is so entrenched that some people never question it. "Always be closing", "sell sell sell". Why are we pushing this grandmother to buy an android device she’ll never use? Because we can.

We put all the responsibility in the hands of the recipient, the buyer, or the clicker of ads. Often rightfully so, in my opinion. As good balance to douchy sales tactics is that if people simply don’t buy, the salesmen will quickly stop and try something else instead. Other fields are not so clear cut though.

As designer we believe it is our mission to delight users. To make the product easier to use, more entertaining, and always more sticky. Last week my favorite gamification researcher, Sebastian Deterding, posted a keynote where he questioned this idea; Why is it our job to make things more sticky?
I found myself agreeing wholeheartedly. No matter if work with web or apps, you are providing either tools or entertainment. There really is nothing else. Entertainment should of course be entertaining, and I wont rant about game design in this post. But should tools be fun? Should they be sticky?

Steve Jobs once described the computer as a "bicycle for the mind". A tool to reach farther and faster than a human could without it. But are computers living up to this promise? I would argue no, and it’s because of us. As designers, we’ve perverted the idea of tools. Creating hammers people really like to use instead of ones that gets the job done. We’re not looking for the best way to solve a problem any more, we’re debating how to make our users engage more with the product. Again something which is fine, if it’s entertainment. But if it’s a tool, this is a douchy sales tactic.

I think we need to stop talking about delighting our users and get back to trying to build the best tools for the purpose. No matter how good we dazzle our clients, eventually the sales pitch will end and the users are left holding chocolate hammers.