That is my son and his buddy, right before they disappeared from sight over a rapid.
I want my kids to take risk. I want them to skin their knees, loose control and learn from mistakes. And as I turned around to watch my youngest dive into the rapid on a boogie board, the boys slipped from sight into a rapid.
After sprinting down the bank to check on them it occurred to me that it was going to take a LOT of work to catch them. Once I saw them and they me, they stood up and raised their arms over their heads with two thumbs up. They were more than fine. So I watched and they figured out how to get back.
Once they returned, “Dad, that was awesome!”. They went on to describe what it was like, what had happened and all that they had discovered in just a few minutes. In reality, the water was only a couple of feet deep and if they had fallen out, the could have been on their hands and knees and been just fine.
One of the greatest gifts my dad ever gave me as a boy was the freedom to make my own boat and launch it. He left me to spend the afternoon paddling it in a pond. I only did it once and only for a few hours, but to this day, I remember that feeling. Freedom, confidence, and empowerment. Years later he told me how worried he was.
Driving home it occurred to me, how much of my time is spent NOT going down the rapid. For me, the “art” I create is a user experience in something that I care about. I provide the protection and the safety for the experience to happen, but do I go over the rapid, taking risk and see what I’ll learn?
I’d like to think that I do, but there are times when I play it safe. Honestly, there are times when fear or time or expectations keep me from pushing over the edge and really learning what it’s like. So the goal for me is to not hold back. To let the current take me down the river and learn.
I want to get beyond the rapid, turn around and hold up both my thumbs and say “That was awesome!”.
“Casting for steelhead is like calling God on the telephone, and it rings and rings and rings, hundreds of rings, a thousand rings, and you listen to each ring as if an answer might come at any moment, but no answer comes, and no answer comes, and then on the 1,001st ring, or the 1,047th ring, God loses his patience and picks up the phone and yells, “WHAT THE HELL ARE YOU CALLING ME FOR?” in a voice the size of the canyon. You would fall to your knees if you weren’t chest-deep in water and afraid that the rocketing, leaping creature you have somehow tied into will get away.”—The Last Days of Stealhead Joe | Fly-Fishing | OutsideOnline.com
Why the small business website business should die
I may be stating the obvious here, but building small business websites are no longer a way to keep the lights on.
Services like Shopify, Wordpress, Tumblr and Squarespace allow you to create something special with very little knowledge about how the pieces go together. And if you include a service like Zapier, you have a powerful suite of technology that will allow you to build great experiences for your users.
And let’s be honest, the templates that come with these services can be amazing. There are some great one’s for free and amazing one’s at $300. Why would you pay a developer to do this for you when you can figure this out in no time and have an impressive site?
I think that we should be building applications as tools instead. For instance, if you sell widgets, build tools for managing those widgets. Or tools for making those widgets more important. Or tools for integrating those widgets in surprising ways.
Let’s say you have an amazing backpacking stove. It works really well in very specific, marketable ways. Why not create a recipe app that allows you to focus on using the stove in ways that show people not only how the stove works, but what’s possible when you live your life WITH the stove.
You could be building more than just a place to learn about your product. If you allowed people to contribute recipes, you could build a group of customers that are creating real experiences with your product FOR you.
So, building tools for your small business is an important way to differentiate yourself in the market. I argue that you should save your money and build those tools instead of hiring a designer or developer to build you a small business website when, chances are, it’s already been done for you.
You see, one way to build things that matter, is to not waste money on things that are already done. Instead, talk to your customers, find out what they need in ADDITION to your widget and build them that.
I’ll be tackling this issue in more detail at the end of the month. Sign Up for the newsletter if you’d like to discuss.
I’ve been planning this for a long time and things have freed-up just enough to launch a newsletter.
Introducing… Making Things That Matter
This will be an email newsletter that discusses important ideas about making things that matter. We’ll discuss what we should or should not build, how to get ideas out there and what opportunities there are for making a difference. Here’s a sample of what we’ll discuss:
Please, Not Another F*****g Social Network
How to change the world one app at a time
Why you are more prejudiced than you think and how it’s affecting your business
My desire is to open a discussion with you and challenge ourselves to do good work.
In a few of the apps that I work on I recently got rid of every icon I could and here’s why.
No one actually knows what they mean.
I sit with users while they use the apps. Complete tasks, problem solve and we discuss what’s happening the whole time. The think aloud protocol is one of my favorite methods. And for the user, there was confusion about what the icons did. We’re not talking about complex concepts either.
These were simple icons for delete, edit, home and the like.
We tried placing them in different places, coloring them differently, treating the buttons differently and the like. We even used icons AND words together which introduced a whole different legibility problem.The basic issue is that there is no real common vocabulary for icons. We may “think” there is, but what I’m seeing is that users are not getting it. ESPECIALLY if the users has any kind of cognitive impediment.
The reality is, icons are hard even when they are what we agree are a common set. A great example is the different icons for sharing. They are different between OS and different again between OS versions. Even for myself, I still have to hunt for the icon I’m looking for in my iOS devices because the icons changed.
So, unless it is extremely important (and I mean EXTREMELY important) I’m using words for navigation. Of course, you have more latitude with some populations than others. When I do need icons, I’m introducing them in the on-boarding process for the app. That way the user isn’t being thrown into the application blind.
The reality is, we have SECONDS to get that first impression right. I find that, without an on-boarding, the user can get confused and then leave. I’d want the user know that they can use the app and be delighted by what it does. For me that means eliminating any sense of friction.
I recently finished Mike Monteiro’s Design is a Job. It’s an excellent read, whether you’re just starting out or you’ve been around for a season or two.
One concept discussed is that the designer needs to sell their own work. Not the art director, or the senior designer, but the person who did the work needs to sell the design. I wasn’t so sure about that. I’ve been a creative director for a few years now and lot’s of presenters on a pitch can create confusion and come across as scattered. But after I thought about it, I realized that’s not a process issue but a team issue.
For me, the question really comes down to this. If the designer can’t articulate the decisions that they’ve made, did they make sound decisions?
Look at it from a different perspective. When a client or stakeholder gives you a requirements brief (you ask for those right?) you assume that every word is sound and is the gospel of the project. Right?
No, of course you don’t. You immediately start to look for holes. And if the document handed to you has any holes in it, you’ll find them. And you will work really hard to get those holes filled.
You, who are encountering this problem for the first time, have the arrogance to ask questions. You, who really know nothing yet, dare to question the logic behind what needs to be done. Why do you do that?
You want to build something great. And if there are holes in the logic, than you want to fill them. You are being paid to solve problems and a solution with more problems is just another problem.
Don’t pitch in the dark. Make sure you present to your clients/stakeholders your ideas. Walk them through the concepts. Let them ask questions. Talk about decisions and have the confidence to trust that what you are recommending solves problems for their users. Know that there are thousands of ways to solve any given problem, but this is the one that YOU are recommending.
Conversely, don’t accept documents as discovery. Have your clients/stakeholders explain them to you. Don’t be afraid to “not get it”. A little bit of humility now will save time and money later when you DON’T provide the wrong solution.