Motivation and leadership are passive qualities.

Sometimes I come across quotes and ideas by people that resonate so intimately I can't help myself but share them:

"You can’t motivate people. The best you can hope for is to inspire them with your actions. People who think they can use behavioral “science” or management techniques have not spent enough time on the receiving end of either."
— Leo Babauta (Zen Habits)

The science of motivation, and of fun, is quite clear on the subject. It's very easy to motivate someone who wants to do something. It's near impossible to motivate someone who doesn't want to. Which is why leisure and luxury sells well, while real fitness and learning looks stuffy and boring.

This is a moral question for designers. Because the easy design, the quick sell, will be motivating. It will also, quite probably, be the wrong thing to do.

The anti-conspiracy theory

In literature and movies there's an archetype, a certain type of character, that I enjoy; the antihero. 

An antihero or antiheroine is a protagonist who lacks conventional heroic qualities such as idealism, courage, and morality. (Wikipedia)

The antihero usually portrays how a slightly more realistic person would react in situations in need of heroism.

These days conspiracy theories are both abundant and constantly heckled. Something about great mysterious behind-the-curtain players who try to mastermind humanity into their evil machinations speak to us. It probably makes us feel like the underdogs, or heroes, of our daily situations.

The anti-conspiracy theory would, like the antihero, explain all the same facts and results as the conspiracy theory. But instead of grand masterminds hiding in the shadows, the antagonists world be plodding middle managers doing a series of dumb things to further their immediate, and often political, claims. With little or no thought about the actual results their actions have.

Basically, the road to hell paved with good intentions.

"Never attribute to malice that which is adequately explained by stupidity."
(Hanlon's razor)

    A perfect example of this story arc would be Ayn Rands much debated Atlas Shrugged. The story is often ridiculed for over-the-top heroes and a utopian view of rationalism. While most of those criticisms are pot shots at an author that never really mastered the English language, they completely miss the main plot of the story; in Atlas Shrugged the world is ruined by a series of bumbling idiots trying to pursue their own political power and ideals. To effects all to common in our own world. It's an alternative narrative to why things are so messed up, taken to an extreme.

    It doesn't really matter if you think Atlas Shrugged is a good book or a terrible one (I love the book for it's contrarian world view, but the author was not a very good writer). But the way the story is built up, the narrative, is a perfect anti-conspiracy theory. 

    The next time you hear a conspiracy theory, try turning it into an anti-conspiracy theory and see if that story doesn't work a little bit better. 

      Lifestyle design: iteration two

      I’ve spent 20 days trying to follow the routine I set up in iteration one. It didn’t work.

      Well maybe that is a bit dramatic. It didn’t work as expected, but I learned a lot about how time tracking an entire life really works. As usual, I’ve been slightly too enthusiastic. So I need to tweak my formulea based on what I’ve learned.

      What I learned one: Sleep is hard

      I planned to sleep 8 hours and spend an aditional 1 hour per day in bed to relax.
      I mananged an average 6 hours of sleep and I felt like shit. I was lucky if I spent more than ten minutes relaxing before I needed to sleep.
      This isn’t really a fault in planning, just an observation that I’m not disciplined enough. I need that sleep. It’s the foundation of everything else.

      What I learned two: No one works 8 hours a day

      Now when I say work I mean active time being productive. Since all my work is digital I’ve been able to track every minute of work. And let me tell you, whenever someone says they work more than 40 hours a week, what they really mean is they spend that time in proximity to work.

      • At 4 hours a day I work great. A lot of things get done and I’m nice to collegues.
      • At 6 hours a day I work sporadically. Some things get done but I get easily distracted and I’m a bit of a grouch.
      • At 8 hours a day I don’t work well. Little things get under my skin. My solutions are equally brilliant and idiotic. I’m easily angered and everything stresses me out.
      • At 10 hours a day I’m mad. Everything pushes my blood pressure through the roof, and little real work gets done.

      Thankfully I also tracked the number of tasks that got done. I’ve edited out the small stuff and most of these tasks were about as much work.

      • At 10 hours: average of 4 tasks.
      • At 8 hours: average of 6-8 tasks.
      • At 6 hours: average of 12 tasks.
      • At 4 hours: average of 15-25 tasks...

      Working less apparently forces me to focus better. A lot better. In fact I’m slightly shocked at the difference.

      What I learned three: Media is not rest

      I had 3 hours of play, or rest, planned per day. But after 8 hours of focused work, I ried watching a movie or reading a book. Both of which made me even more tired. Media, it turns out, is not really that restful.

      We spend a lot of time with media, as relaxation, as a social event. So much time we take it for granted that we should. But at least for me, I’ve found that media doesn’t relax me at all. On the contrary, it keeps me focused and alert, spending more of my energy.

      Perhaps more media is not the answer.

      What I learned four: This is going to take forever

      I can’t keep testing this slowly. Or I will never find a balance that works. Thankfully a tip from my friend Michael gave me an alterantive strategy.

      From now on I will try to plan only the next day, and evaluate how it went each night. I’ll keep tracking my time and use Day One to plan and evaluate my days.

      What TV executives believe about their audience

      A few years back I was involved in redesigning a website for a TV channel in Sweden. What they told me gave me a profound insight into the minds of the networks. To bait your click, you won't believe what they believe. We met in a conference room in the networks main building. He was in charge of communications for several channels that belonged to the network. I was a junior employee at a highly regarded marketing agency.

      We sat down, three of us from the firm, and the TV exec, to discuss what we would be doing. We began by offering a series of ideas about how they could communicate their unique brands and shows, but the exec stopped us half way though.

      "No, no. You've got it all wrong." he said "this isn't why people watch our channel at all".

      We all leaned in. The exec launched into a vague pitch about what made them truly unique, summing it up in a phrase that is forever etched in my mind:

      "People stay with our channel, for our programming"

      I was confused. I didn't think he meant any coding was going on, but didn't understand the term, thankfully he explained it. In the view of the network, people tuned into to a channel, and stayed with that channel, because of their unique arrangement of shows and commercials. The programming, is their term for the schedule of material broadcast. Each show, each commercial break and even the ads themselves, are scheduled to reflect the overall feel of the TV channel. This is, according to him, why people like one channel over another.

      I was stunned by this. Not the information itself, I've always expected every media form to think like this to some degree, but by the thought that these executives actually believed that in the age of the internet.

      This was prior to Netflix launch in Sweden, but anyone who had seen any statistics about video usage online, or seen anyone using youtube or torrenting a movie knew that this was completely false. Not just ignorant, but incorrect almost to the point of lunacy. People find and watch specific content because they like that content. They might endure everything else, only if there's no easier way. But they do not choose their content by association.

      I walked away from that meeting in a stunned silence.

      Recently I think I have realized how this idea took shape. TV usage is measured by putting a box near your TV that records audio cues from the programs and commercials. This recorded data is later collected and aggregated to find statistically interesting patterns.

      The problem, like with most statistics, is of course that this collection method cannot measure intent. So if you were to turn on your TV while you do the dishes, and talk on the phone, and then see one program before you go to bed, you will be measured as staying with one channel for quite some time before jumping to a specific show and then turning off.

      Even though your intent was background noise while you do something else, the measurement is easily interpreted as you enjoying the channel and sticking to the programming.

      For that network, or at least that executive, the numbers were clear. Their unique programming was what kept people glued to the TV screen five hours every night.

      This is not a jab at TV, though they are aging rather badly, but a warning to all of us not to get caught forcing what we want users to think onto statistics, just because we believe our work to be important. Let's never become so arrogant we start believing our brand is more important than our product. In the end, every business is about creating value for your customer.

      (If anyone has similar insights into the TV industry, I'd LOVE to hear it. Please post in the comments below.)

      Lifestyle design: the plunge

      Getting started was much harder than expected. After I got past the first wave of fear & procrastination actual problems reared their ugly heads.

      "Problems"

      Now there are a lot of people who complain about this word; problems. They seem to believe that by admitting there is such a thing, we stop and give up.

      I’ve never believed that. I think we need to clearly state and define every problem and complication before we can do anything about them.

      In my experience, the people complaining about this word are the same people who are least likely to solve anything. I might be wrong about this, but it is interesting to note that the larger and more sluggish an organisation, the fewer problems they seem to communicate.

      Problems solved

      I have things I need to deal with to really get going. The first of these major hurdles I’ve just left in the dust. I’ve managed to clean up my debt and I’m back in the black. It took some radical action, but I’m actually better off now than I have been in years.

      Getting ready to celebrate

      Happy celebrations

      I also managed to celebrate my 31st birthday with a few of my dearest friends. We drank sparkling wine far into the night and both laughed and cries. There was also chocolate cake that might haunt me forever.

      Friends

      Thank you everyone, I really needed that.

      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.

      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.

      Building web apps with WordPress and BackBone.js

      Gave a talk today at WordCamp Norrköping on how to build web apps using WordPress, JetPacks REST API and BackBone.js. A short presentation on the why and how to use BackBone.js and WordPress to build interactive web, apps or otherwise. My slides are available below and you can find the demo app on GitHub.

      http://www.slideshare.net/raelmiu/wordcamp-2014-norrkping

      Medium's new embed feature

      Medium.com is quickly shaping up to a great reading and writing experience. A recent surprise feature is their story/collection/user embeds which let you bring medium with you anywhere. JesperBylund

      Odd to see what is basically an iFrame experience from such a design focused company. One can only conclude that they see some great experience behind this. Can't wait to find out what it could be.

      The surprising effect of boredom

      I've spent years trying out all the tools and tips for increasing productivity I could lay my hands on. Hundreds of apps, and services. Tips for sleeping. Hacks for staying focused. They all worked.

      Each one increased the number of todos I checked off my lists. At least for a day or two. After that the search was on for whatever could help me improve more. I'm not even sure now if the methods failed as novelty wore off, or if I just got bored and started looking for my next fix.

      The problem is that time went by and I wasn't actually getting anywhere. My todos were demolished but poured in ever faster,and I never really achieved what I wanted.

      I had become an efficiency junky.

      I'm not sure when the turning point came. But over the last few years my projects are reaching further, quicker. My todo lists shrank, as did my working hours, but my output increased.

      What did I spend the rest of my time on? Being bored. Nothing I've ever tried has increased my output or my mood as much as being bored. Boredom has a bad reputation, but it seems to focus my mind.

      I've come to enjoy being bored. Even try to find time to be bored. Not that I enjoy the actual boredom, but I do enjoy the simplicity that comes after it.

      Like meditation but without the training. Being bored for a few minutes, by yourself, can make all the difference in a stressful day.

      Try it. It's free.

      How to plan UX, the right way

      The most common gripe I hear from UX designers is that they're not invited into the process early enough. This is absolutely a problem. If you get on board when the code is done and time is running out, there's only so much you can do. But there's another common problem, rarely talked about. Getting on board too early. Subtle project fail

      Many companies I talk to today want to plan their UX in advance. Basically they want sketches of how the end user will interact with the finished project. Several things can go wrong with this approach:

      • You get locked into what the project was supposed to be and you can no longer change it for the better.
      • The sketches might not be technically sound. Small details can often be the largest technical hurdles.
      • There might not be enough time to realize the planned UX, but it's just so tasty that your iterative process becomes a linear project doomed to miss the deadline.
      • The designer(s) fall in love with an ideal, and are less open to change.

      All of these issues, and all the ones I did not list, can be summed up in this sentence:

      Premature UX is like masturbating before sex

      No one is satisfied, it doesn't help you with the actual project and worst of all: The people involved in the pre-production process feel they've done some real work. Worst case they might feel that their job is already done. Just as the real work starts.

      When and how to plan UX

      Instead of trying to plan out a theoretical product of a project, find the parameters:

      • Define a problem that the project is trying to solve, without actually proposing the solution.
      • LIst the key issues and responsibilities the project must adhere to.
      • Set measurable targets for the project, then divide by half.

      This way the problem solving is a part of the project, and the project may run more smoothly. It also forces UX to be a part of the project process instead of just something to check off before the project starts.

      As always, the key to great UX and design is iteration. Having UX as a part of the development process, without the limitations of a set goal, makes a vast difference.

      The next step for Apple

      With the launch of the iPhone Apple changed the world of computing forever. Since then Apple has fought a war against Samsung, Google and others over the dominance of the mobile market. But not a lot has really changed. Android comparison

       

      Apple introduced the high pixel density display, Samsung launched larger displays. All the companies have introduced all sorts of bells and whistles to try to catch the interest of the consumer, but to little real effect. The basic model hasn't changed all that much from the original iPhone.

      iphone comparison

      Many people are thinking about and desperately trying to predict the next step. Google is launching Glass, a smartphone-like display that sits in the corner of your eye and is controlled by your voice. Most companies are working on watch-like devices based on the rumour that Apple is making one.

      That got me thinking, this is an odd assumption. Why should reinventing the market require a new device? The iPhone was certainly not the first phone, nor smartphone. It was just radically smarter then the competition. Instead of launching a new type of device, what if Apple would drastically improve the devices they already have? What could they do?

      The next generation: Real Touch

      The central feature of the iPhone, and the iPad, is the screen. When Apple added the Retina screen the other companies scoffed and smirked claiming it would only decrease battery life. But after they got their hands on it, the entire market rapidly went with high pixel density displays.

      What if Apple would add high density touch displays next? You can still use your finger as a primary pointing device. But also a stylus without lag or stutter. Maybe several people could draw and sketch together on an iPad.

      The scoffs and smirks

      Very few people will read this and go "wow! What an amazing and novel idea!". Most will remember the failed styluses of yester-year and think I've fallen off the wagon. But what if, just like with the retina screen, there would be no down side to these screens? What if they simple worked as magic paper?

      Wacom

      Wacom has the technology already. Now it is just a question of price and if Apple believes the market wants this. I say Apple, because even if Samsung and Microsoft could also do this I think their implementation of it would be lacking.

      The problem with people without problems

      You've worked with them. Perhaps you've even been them. The people who claim "there are no problems, only opportunities". This needs to stop. Putting your head in the sand doesn't make the tiger go away.

      Problems are the interesting bits. Where the plans collide with reality. Solving problems is what we do. Solving problems is the only fun part about our jobs! Issues don't solve themselves because we reframe them. But they might if we talk about them.

      Fuck all the people who tell you there are no problems.

      If the connotations of the word makes them wet their bed, they have bigger problems than language in the workplace.

      I'm not saying that the connotations of words have no power. Words have great power and choosing the right ones is very important. But if your organisation is stumped by the connotations of one word accurately describing reality, than there is a severe lack of direction.

      If you trade a swearword for "sugar", you've only moved the angry connotation about. You haven't stopped swearing. You'll find yourself sounding crazy instead of mad.

      We need to stop recoiling from the realities of the world, and of our work. Words have power. But so do actions. Deal with it. Learn to work with problems.