MIKE MONTEIRO is a man on a mission. He wants to improve design by fixing the core of it, which is the relationship between designer and client. Too many of us fear our clients—the people whose money keeps our lights on, and who hire us to solve business problems they can’t solve for themselves. And too many clients are even more frustrated and puzzled by their designers than the designers are by the clients.
It’s the designer’s job to fix this, which is why Mike first wrote Design Is A Job, and spent two years taking the message into conference halls and meeting rooms from New Zealand to New York.
I wish every designer could read this book. I can’t tell you how many friends of mine—many of whom I consider far better designers than I am—struggle every day with terrible anxieties over how a client will react to their work. And the problem isn’t limited to web and interaction designers. Anybody who designs anything burns cycles in fear and acrimony. I too waste hours worrying about the client’s reaction—but a dip into Mike’s first book relaxes me like a warm milk bath, and reminds me that collaboration and persuasion are the essence of my craft and well within my power to execute.
If the designer’s side of things were the only part of the problem Mike had addressed, it would be enough. But there is more:
Next Mike will help clients understand what they should expect from a designer and learn how to hire one they can work with. How he will do that is still a secret—although folks attending An Event Apart San Francisco this week will get a clue.
Design education is the third leg of the chair, and once he has spread his message to clients, Mike intends to fix that or die trying. As Mike sees it (and I agree) too many design programs turn out students who can defend their work in an academic critique session among their peers, but have no idea how to talk to clients and no comprehension of their problems. We are creating a generation of skilled and talented but only semi-employable designers—designers who, unless they have the luck to learn what their expensive education didn’t teach them, will have miserably frustrating careers and turn out sub-par work that doesn’t solve their clients’ problems.
We web and interaction designers are always seeking to understand our user, and to solve the user’s problems with empathy and compassion. Perhaps we should start with the user who hires us.
You redesign the website for an airline, but who is designing the check-in machines, the CRM systems used by call center staff, the print materials, or the policies the cabin crew must adhere to? Like it or not, these channels are part of the overall user experience. Your website or mobile app might be great on its own, but customers experience services in totality, and base their judgments on how well everything works together. Learn to design beyond the screen. By creating visual and tangible artifacts that can be experienced and tested, you can build a bridge between business and design.
Delivering bad news is hard, but it’s part of life and business. We notify customers when we’re out of a product they want to buy, and we send warnings when people violate our companies’ terms of service. God forbid we have to send a system alert because our database was hacked, affecting every one of our users. But these things happen to the best of us. Can you be the bearer of bad news in a way that respects your customers? Learn how to create empathetic content for tricky situations, and shape your internal culture to foster human values of support, respect, and empathy.
Tash and Tom recently resided in Brooklyn, NY and completed their MFAs in Interaction Design at New York’s School of Visual Arts, where I was one of their admiring teachers; they are now bound for Hawaii, where they will expand their web-based product empire. Coastermatic, their first joint product, converts your Instagram photos into stone coasters, and was conceived during their time at SVA. (More in the August 2, 2012 issue of Dwell.)
In a fast-paced hour-long podcast, we discuss design, product, and business strategy; finding the right manufacturing and fulfillment partners; the division of labor in a small startup; and other juicy UX and entrepreneurial topics.
I CAME to AdobeMAX in Los Angeles to give a talk to a room full of designers. Before arriving, I thought of Adobe as a historically important 20th century company that was slowly leaking relevance—a company web designers in the era of responsive design have begun to think of with a combination of fondness and embarrassment, like a beloved but somewhat shameful old uncle.
I came to LA with those perceptions, but I leave with the impression of an exciting 21st century company in emergence.
Realistic products for a magical age
The products I saw were both amazing and realistic. It was amazing to see a responsive design prototyping application that works independently and inside Photoshop, created by passionate people who actually work in our field and who consulted with Ethan Marcotte, for Pete’s sake.
That was the amazing part, but the equally important realistic part was that nobody was pretending this tool would be used to deliver final code on your website. It was not a responsive Dreamweaver I saw, but a prototyping tool, to help designers figure out how their responsive design should work (and maybe show the prototype to a boss or client for approval). Just prototyping. Nobody pretending they had a product that would make the difficult craft of front-end design redundant. No such intention behind the product. A product for the real work-flow of 21st century design teams. No marketing puffery, no inflated claims to set designers’ teeth on edge.
We are now them
More than that. Every Adobe employee I saw seemed to be excited, happy, and on-board with the mission. I see that kind of energy at good startups and small studios. I never see it in big corporations. It sometimes seemed to me that Adobe hadn’t so much acquired Typekit as the reverse: that the people and thinking behind Typekit are now running Adobe (which is actually true), and that the mindset of some of the smartest consultants and designers in our industry is now driving a huge corporation.
I never expected to see that in my lifetime, and to me, it is even more impressive than the amazingness and realism of the new product line or the transformation of the company from a shrink-wrapped product manufacturer to an inventor of cloud-based services. I never expected to see people like us running companies like that.
It makes me feel good about the future, when so many other things conspire to make us feel the opposite.
Big Web Show: Squarespace
SQUARESPACE CEO and founder Anthony Casalena is my guest in Episode 87 of The Big Web Show (“everything web that matters”).
We discuss the platform’s capabilities and the three markets it serves (consumer, designer, developer); the journey from one-person start-up to 120-person company; the launch of Squarespace’s ecommerce platform; how to design a start-up that makes money the day it launches; ways to build community around a non-open-source platform; the effectiveness of good old-fashioned traditional advertising in marketing an internet company like Squarespace; staffing up and laying people off; and much more.
Anthony is the founder and CEO of Squarespace, which he started from his dorm room in 2003. During the company’s early years, Anthony acted as the sole engineer, designer and support representative for the entire Squarespace platform, allowing for it to be a stable and profitable business from the outset.
In addition to his main responsibilities in running the company and setting overall product strategy, he remains actively involved in the engineering, design, and product teams within the organization. Anthony holds a Bachelor of Science in Computer Science from the University of Maryland.
IN EPISODE No. 81 of The Big Web Show (“Everything Web That Matters”) I interview Tina Roth Eisenberg, creator of swissmiss and tattly, founder of Creative Mornings, and cofounder of teuxdeux. We discuss discovering your path as a designer; why the motto “let it go or fix it” can help you create great product ideas; how to be a good boss; and how kids can have a profoundly positive influence on your career.
IN EPISODE No. 77 of The Big Web Show, I interview returning guest Sarah Parmenter about designing an app for the homeless; the challenges of multi-device design; teaching HTML and CSS to young people; designing a complex reader app; the ideal number of employees for a small design studio; Brooklyn vs. small-town UK; and more.
The Big Web Show features special guests on topics like web publishing, art direction, content strategy, typography, web technology, and more. It’s everything web that matters.
HEY, FRIENDS. I write from the magical city of Chicago, where I’m enjoying the first Happy Cog Summit. Next week, following our meet-up cum strategy session cum karaoke party, comes An Event Apart Chicago, three days of peace, love, and web standards (plus more Chicago magic).
I won’t be writing here much while these events continue, but I’ve started a Chicago 2012 photo slide show for your pleasure, and will add to it as time and aesthetics permit. You can also stalk me via my new Foursquare Chicago list.
Once An Event Apart kicks in, starting Monday August 27, and until it ends Wednesday night, August 29, I’ll post links and notes here—and you can follow the hot tweet-by-tweet action on A Feed Apart, the official feed aggregator for An Event Apart. Yowee!
IN EPISODE 63 of Triangulation, Leo Laporte, a gracious and knowledgeable podcaster/broadcaster straight outta Petaluma, CA, interviews Your Humble Narrator about web standards history, responsive web design, content first, the state of standards in a multi-device world, and why communists sometimes make lousy band managers.