The Uncanny Valley

The Uncanny Valley
used in reference to the phenomenon whereby a computer-generated figure or humanoid robot bearing a near-identical resemblance to a human being arouses a sense of unease or revulsion in the person viewing it.

In other words, the uncanny valley is when something looks close to the real thing but our brain freaks out and keeps saying, “Something is wrong.” If you have ever been to a Wax Museum, you get that feeling alot.

which is real?
It’s really easy to tell which is real and which is fake, but look closely. They are very similar. This is a really close match, like a wax statue
Uncanny Valley
The uncanny valley is what happens when your brain tries to make it real, but keeps finding flaws.

I have been a fan of this new technology called a Bond letter. It’s kind of awesome. It is a machine that writes in your own handwriting. Today, I got my hands on a real bond letter written by a robot. Here is a picture of it:


It’s hard to tell from the picture, but something just seemed wrong about it. I didn’t feel right. It felt like a machine wrote it. What was happening?

For several minutes, I studied the letter to see what my brain was “feeling”. The letters were different from each other, no pattern was visible. The line-heights were varied. However, I found a couple of flaws.

  1. The lines were perfectly horizontal. When I write on unlined paper, I never ever get the line so even. (See image below)
  2. The quality of the writing didn’t vary through the letter. Usually my writing changes from the beginning when my hand is steady to the end when it is a little tired. It’s not perfect, but it’s not unperfect enough.


In theory, this could have been written by a person, but they would need a combination of slightly messy handwriting and perfect line management. That just didn’t seem right to me.

I love that Bond is trying to get this right. It’s amazing to me that something like handwriting could trigger that weird part of our brains.

In Marketing, people send dynamic content emails all of the time. I believe that the content of the email fails the uncanny valley test all of the time. Does this sales person know me? or is it just “close” and feels wrong.

Beware the uncanny valley.

There are two kinds of people…

Of course there aren’t, but it is a great way to simplify decisions. Break down the problem to two kinds of people and decide which one you want to optimize for. Some examples:

There are two kinds of people…

  1. Those that wants their inbox to be empty except new things and
    those that let’s their inbox pile up until kingdom come.
  2. Those that browses by clicking and
    those that searches.
  3. Those that likes their UI to be dense with every choice available and
    those that likes progressive disclosure.
  4. Those that loves analytics and
    those that don’t.

The reality is always a mix. There are people on all points of the spectrum, but putting people in a mutually exclusive paradigm that then you can sometimes shed light on your design choices.

When I design user interfaces, I try to remember my design principles, but also be open to the minority of people who like strange things.

There are two kinds of people … those who think there are two kinds of people in world and those who think there are more…or less…or both.

Pokemon Go is already over

The speed of memes has been rising exponentially since the industrial revolution. When I was a child and a new idea or fad became popular it would take 1-2 years for the idea to spread and take a few more years for it to become officially dead. Just look at mullets from the 80’s!

Last week Pokemon Go hit the world like a ton of bricks. There was literally hundreds of people roaming the streets staring at their phones while walking. Today, I visibly can see a drastic diminishment of the zombie numbers on the sidewalks. My oldest kid said he gave it up and started playing Overwatch.

This whipsawing effect of new memes is the fastest I have ever seen. If you weren’t part of the pokemon revolution, don’t worry. It’s already over and a new meme is about to take its place.

Here are some funny vines about Pokemon Go.

Lastly, I think the reason for the quick demise of the game is the fact that you can only collect Pokemon. You really couldn’t battle all that much. The game was just too limiting.

Product Responsibility Framework v0.1

I’ve been thinking about how product teams are organized. I have seen several good frameworks out there, but none felt quite right to me. There are traditional models, but of course, I want to try something new. I took the framework from Pragmatic Marketing and started moving things around.

I put the columns into chronological order when thinking about building a product and bringing it to market. One thing I realized was that Product Marketing has a responsibility in the beginning and the end of the product life-cycle. Here is a little breakdown of my initial thoughts.

Product Intelligence
This is the time for research. I think almost every department has a role to play with interacting and interviewing customers, however, some responsibilities are very specific. I think having a department focused on this would be beneficial. This is typically a product management or product marketing task in more traditional companies.

Product Planning
This is the meat and potatoes of product management. Figuring out the roadmap, developing use cases and requirements. Defining the problem space in detail and prioritizing different projects. Planning is a crucial part of product development and often left to executive whim and the squeaky wheel.

Product Design
This is supposed to be the User Experience department, but often is done in product management anyway. This is where the design/build spec is formed. It’s alot of work. I’ve blogged about this particular area for a long time.

Product Positioning
I actually do alot of work in this area. For my current company, I write and maintain demos and train everyone internally. Additionally, I work on outside training and support. I have tremendous respect for people who can create a pricing plan that monetizes properly, doesn’t leave money on the table AND is easy to understand. It’s a real art.

There is so much that goes on in Marketing from demand gen to events to Account Based Marketing. The sheer number of marketing technologies is vast. One area often overlooked is branding. Most companies do not spend time on their brand. They assume it will take care of itself.

All of these areas (if left to chance) will break your company. You need all departments pulling their weight. Of course, these aren’t the normal titles of the departments in Silicon Valley. Product Management, Product Marketing, Sales Consulting, Sales Enablement…these are the names of the departments we are used to.

Maybe, just maybe, if we change the labels we put on things, we will change the way we think about those same things. If we call it Product Intelligence, how would we staff it? Who would it report to?

This is version 0.1 alpha. I will be working on it further, but I appreciate your input. If you want to have lunch with me to talk about it, just let me know.

Managing via Dials

Often, I will have feedback for a product manager, marketer or designer when they are writing text. I find that people have a hard time taking the feedback in a very specific way. If you say it’s too serious, they assume you want to take it to the extreme. As if there are only 2 settings. People naturally think in binary terms; it’s either fun or not, verbose or completely word free.

The reality is that text exists in a spectrum where you can change things slightly and have a big impact. I find the best way to give feedback is in terms of speedometer dials. For example:

Rather than saying, “The text isn’t action oriented, Fix it.” you can say, “Here is a dial of how action-oriented your text is. You are currently at level 3. If it was level 6, what would it look like? What about level 4?” Turn the conversation into baby steps and give someone an idea of how far off it is.

The same holds true for UI Design. Let’s say there is a button that the user needs to see. You might say, “It is too hard to see.” which is vague. Better to say, “The visibility of this button seems to be level 2. I think it’s importance is such that it should be higher. How high would you go with this button and still feel comfortable? 3? 5? 9? Why?”

The dials automatically create an atmosphere for discussion where the binary feedback does not. I find this technique is extremely useful in collaboration and mentoring.

Even Slack can have bad UX

Even a tool that is awesome like Slack can have bad UX sometimes. Here is a perfect example. Try to make a new channel and you get this dialog

Notice the error in yellow and the text underneath. After typing in my channel name, I pressed submit and nothing happened. I didn’t notice the italic/bold yellow verbose text or the tiny note in gray underneath.

I don’t think the right answer is to let the user type in spaces or capital letters. There are reasons this would cause problems later in the app.

However, a better option is to not let the user type in incorrect values at all. This is super trivial programming. If they type in “FOO” just enter the value as “foo”. If they enter a space, either ignore it or add a dash instead. Why bother with a stupid error message when the field could have been smarter?

When this happened I got angry and thought the app was acting like an asshole. I was like, “Come on dick, you know what I meant. Don’t make me lowercase the fucking letters. God damn it.”

People hate the little things and love the little things. Make your app friendly. Make it anticipate the users needs. Be a friendly and competent assistant. Don’t be an asshole.

Slack, I love your app. Most of the time, you are awesome. Just this one thing. You can take it. Much love.



Being the target of a bully sucks. I recently heard of someone who was being bullied on an online social site. Here are some trademark qualities of the bully:

  1. They create fake accounts to hide their identity
  2. Their comments are cruel and seek to de-humanize their victim
  3. They do it in a public forum meant to embarrass the target
  4. Any response is met with mockery and additional cruelty
  5. They know you, but you don’t know them which gives them a tactical advantage
  6. They are persistent and clever, they will bypass any security measures
  7. They seek for you to crumble, quit the internet and have a nervous breakdown

Bullying is as close to torture as most people can experience. It psychologically fucks with you in a way that is damaging for a long period of time. I still remember times as a child when I was bullied. The hurt does not go away. Time does not heal this wound.

However, it does not mean you are defenseless. Online bullying can be fought. Here are some tips:

Rule #1: Do NOT feed the trolls!

  1. Ignore them – Radio Slience. Bullies thrive on interaction where they can control the dialog. Do not give them a chance to interact. Do not speak to them, do not argue with them, do not try to bully them back. You will lose this battle. Ignore them. Ignore them, Ignore them. Pretend they are invisible. Never let them see you sweat. Do not feed the trolls!
  2. Delete their messages whenever they arrive. Treat them as spam. Like a Viagra email. Try not to think of it as a person attacking you. Imagine a lifeless computer was programmed to hurl insults at people randomly. It’s just a bot. Erase. Treat it like brushing your teeth. It’s not fun, but you gotta do it each day. De-humanize your attacker. Brush your teeth, delete their messages, eat your breakfast.
  3. Block their accounts. They will make new fake accounts. This is fine. Make them work. Get good at blocking accounts. Make it a streamlined process, bookmark the right page. It doesn’t stop them, but they might as well have to work to annoy you.
  4. Have pity, not anger. These people, these bullies are hurting themselves. People who are happy and at peace with the universe do not bully people. These people deserve our pity. They lash out at us because of their lives, not ours. They may feel ugly, so they say YOU are ugly. It’s a defense mechanism. When you pity someone, it lowers your own anxiety. We can’t control what the world does, but we can control the stories we tell ourselves about why it is the way it is.

Once, my son started receiving text messages from an acquaintance. He received 1 text every 3-5 seconds, non-stop. In other words, the attacker made his phone completely unusable. He couldn’t block the sender because the phone was in perpetual beep/text received mode. It was a denial-of-service attack. He was understandably distraught. I was ultra-tense about it as well.

Bullies can be ingenious about their attack method. They are quite clever. If only that creativity and persistence were targeted towards the public good. We could solve world hunger. (or something)