New DirecTV UI Fail/Learn

As a designer, I always look at the design of things, especially user interfaces. Recently DirecTV updated their user interface in dramatic fashion. It’s very different than before. I could call it an epic fail, except that I hate that term.

It’s an Epic LEARN.

There is a forum thread on AT&T (who now owns DirecTV) about the “upgrade”. Here are some before and after pictures and analysis.




Ok, the first thing, what do you notice? It should be the contrast ratio. The blue UI is bright and easy to read. The font size is large and the coloring is designed to stand out. In the dark UI, the font is thin and gray and small. Also, the ON states are much harder to see.

The person who designed the dark UI is 25-39 years old. Any older and they would have learned (first hand) that people over 40 can’t see as well as they used to.  I see this mistake in designers all of the time. People’s eyes degrade over time and there is a real benefit to clarity and contrast. Way too many designers are trying to make it look pretty rather than make it usable. If you are a designer or product manager, please make “readability” a primary requirement.

The Fade Sucks
Second “learning opportunity” is the giant black fade on the bottom of the screen. It’s hard to see in the screenshots, but it is extremely annoying. It flickers and hurts my eyes and more importantly, it degrades my experience of the thing its covering up. In the example above, why in the world would fading out the last item be helpful?  When I am fast forwarding a show I recorded, the fade obscures part of the screen making it harder to understand when to stop forwarding. The fade is poor design. It doesn’t even look pleasing aesthetically.

Information degradation
Related to forwarding a recording, it used to be easy to understand the different states of a recording. There is the current position, but also where the real-time mark is. This is very useful when watching a sporting event a little later than everyone else and you want to understand how much more before you catch up to real-time. In the new UI, its really hard to see that mark.

The UI (to me) feels slower. It seems slower to boot up and slower to navigate. It used to be snappy and now it feels like each click takes forever. This is such a crucial factor in any interface. Speed is a feature. And right now, DirecTV regressed this feature for me.

What to do?
I am so disappointed in DirecTV, I am actually considering cutting the cord in favor of other streaming options or …(shudder) Comcast. I already get (and am happy with) my internet access from them. I will have to research options for cutting the cord.

Designers beware. If you fuck with the experience in a negative way, you will lose customers. You moved my cheese in a major way and made it worse. You will have to live with the consequences. I hope you learn from this experience.


UX Tool: SubForm

These two guys apparently set up a kickstarter to build a new design tool, named SubForm. I just watched a few videos. It’s not available for download yet, but rather than go “stealth” the two founders decided to build tool in broad daylight. I have alot of respect for that. It jives with my personal value of transparency. Of course, it means your competition can see your work, but I have always found that the benefits of being open outweigh the benefits of being secretive.

The videos are interesting. The SubForm folks have really taken responsive CSS strongly into the design tool itself. It is really easy to make components adapt to the screen. I was imagining making a complex grid and could see how you could resize the columns and it would adapt accordingly.

My Figma grid is much more finicky.

Additionally, SubForm does a nice job with component states. These two features are missing from Figma and would be greatly appreciated. The UI seems pretty well thought out considering how many options they are giving people.

However, in looking through the videos, I definitely saw some missing features including Concurrent editing and Prototyping. It looks therefore (imho) that SubForm is really a competitor for Sketch more than a competitor for Invision or Figma or Adobe XD. Having a windows version helps in that battle. This is yet another reason for Sketch to be freaking out.

I definitely like the innovations SubForm is bringing to the table, but the bar for design tools keeps going up and up. Obviously, They are going to need more than 2 guys.  If they don’t add prototyping, it would bar me for my use case.

Also, side note. Why do all design tool videos focus on mobile design? Is it really the majority of design projects?  Am I the only one who makes desktop apps? My prototype has 62 artboards at this point.

I am still waiting for Microsoft to get in this game. What the heck are they waiting for? They built their business on Tools. They could easily buy one of these design tools and add a bunch of resources. Oh well, I think I am fighting the tides on that one.

Anyway, good job SubForm on innovating. Keep it up.

Concurrent / Collaborative Editing

Metcalfe’s law states that the value of a telecommunications network is proportional to the square of the number of connected users of the system. In other words, the more people using something, the more valuable that thing is.

My first few computers in the 1980s were islands, completely isolated from the rest of the world. It wasn’t until Prodigy and CompuServe that I realized there were other people in the world like me. My first modem was a 1200 baud. I think my dad paid $400 for it. Later, I was one of the first 1000 members of America Online which brought usability and graphics into the mix. Mainly, I used AOL to download software and modifications for my Windows 3.1 PC with a 286 chip.

The value of the computer rose exponentially with the access to other people.

Enter the internet. Obviously this blew away anything AOL could muster. I started working from my apartment with my then girlfriend. We had no Ethernet network so we would just throw floppy disks at each other around a large potted plant. We called our system FloppyNet.

During this time, I played online text games called MUDs. The cool thing was that there were other people in the game and you could see their moves as quickly and you saw your own. (“see” = see their words, it had no graphics) However, It was a multiplayer experience and I loved it.

After I started Koko Interactive in 1995 (a web dev company in NYC), we could finally afford a real network, but almost all of our software was still single player. Think Photoshop. One person opens it up and uses it and then outputs the results to a shared drive. My first product, Hotkoko, was an attempt to make a system through the browser where multiple people could work on something together.

Still, the system was limited. You had to refresh the screen to see updates. I wanted the real-time interactivity of the MUD with the GUI of the browser. Some games started popping up that you could play games in this manner like Second Life. However, for work related stuff, it just wasn’t there. Apps like Salesforce would (and still do) require refreshing the browser. Games moved forward, but work apps stayed behind.

It wasn’t until 2006 that I saw Writely and then Google Docs. Right in front of my eyes you could see the other people working. You saw their cursor, you saw their edits. It was a revelation. There is no doubt in my mind that Google Docs made huge inroads based exclusively on this feature. Microsoft had nothing similar and lost some market share and certainly some hearts/minds.

The technical capability in broadband access, computers and browsers has improved enough to allow for truly multiplayer experiences for work related applications. Last year, Figma became the first tool (to my knowledge) that allowed multiple designers to work on a project at the same time. Several people I know, who were die hard Sketch fans have embraced Figma in large part due to this feature. Designers previously thought, “Why would I need to design with another person?” are now embracing this new methodology. Adobe is working on a similar technology, albeit slowly.

I believe Pair Designing will start to gain traction to the levels that Pair Programming has in the last 15 years. Also, I can see more and more work applications adopting concurrent editing. Microsoft has made moves in that direction to make Office collaborative, even in the desktop. However, many other systems are slow to adopt the technology.

The reason for the slow adoption has to do with two factors. First, the technology is still not plug and play. There are some really good JavaScript libraries to get started, but the backend is not bullet proof yet. I have tried 3 different times to make concurrency work and have been stymied by the cost of the technology and the lack of commitment by product leaders.

The more tools which appear with an unfair advantage based on concurrent editing, the more it will become common knowledge that this technology is a key value driver. The more that happens, the more investment into the technology. It might sound like a chicken and egg situation, but I think it will get better at an exponential rate. We have Metcalfe’s law on our side.

We are still in the early days, but this design choice is compelling. It will get more popular over time. It takes some more effort to design, but the results are worth it.

Decision Models

In 2005, I worked for a year at Intuit and they claimed to be Customer-Driven. This came from a specific story. Originally the company produced Quicken, a personal finance tool. When they watched their customers, they realized that many of them were using it for business purposes. They realized this market and produced QuickBooks, which turned into the category king of small business accounting software.

The customer DROVE them to build the software. They took their cues from the customer. They weren’t data driven or creativity driven or any other kind of driven.

At early Apple, one might say it they were “Steve-Driven“. Steve Jobs had a vision and was a force of nature. He DROVE the company towards his vision. Then he was driven out.

Don Normal talks about the process after Steve departed as “Human-Centered“. Certainly better than Customer-Driven, but still had problems.

Norman describes Apple’s design method back then as “a well-structured process” and says he is still proud of it. But he is quick to point out its shortcomings.

“It was a consultative process,” he says; many different points of view and impressions were solicited. But “this can lead to a lack of cohesion in the product.” Then Steve came back and famously said, “You can’t just ask customers what they want and then try to give that to them. By the time you get it built, they’ll want something new.” —Steve Jobs, 2005

This was around the same time Don Norman changed his tune and was quoted, “I prefer design by experts – by people who know what they are doing” —Don Norman, 2005 Actually, I heard Norman speak at a conference and he said that Jobs fired all the data analysts and scientists and hired designers. He said that after Jobs did that, the products improved and sales went up.

I call this model Design-Driven. Jef Raskin said it well when he was quoted, “As far as the customer is concerned, the interface is the product.”—Jef Raskin, 2001

In the last few years, there has been this new popular phrase called Data-Driven. For me it originates with this quote, “If we have data, let’s look at data. If all we have are opinions, let’s go with mine.” -Jim Barksdale, former CEO of Netscape. Jim was basically denying any form of expertise to be a factor in the decision.

“Data” can be anything. My opinion is data. Your opinion is data. That’s not what Jim was saying. He was saying that unless you have something resembling a scientific mathematically-provable study, then it’s all just opinion. I believe this is wrong-headed and led to poor product decisions. Remember Netscape? Many poor decisions in that company’s history.

It’s very tempting (especially for engineers) to believe in a data driven world. What can you hold in your hand? What can you see with your own eyes? Prove it. This is totally aligned to an engineering point of view.

If you have ever been to a doctor with a problem you probably have direct experience with the lack of science that most medicine entails. Sure, there are amazing things happening in medicine, but more often than not the doctor has no real idea what is wrong with you. Example: It took a year and 4 doctors and 1 surgery to realize my wrist pain was a torn ligament.

Doctors are not data driven. They are Experience-Driven. Doctors spend an enormous amount of time studying, training, interning, and practicing to be a doctor. They literally say “Practice Medicine”. They read studies for sure, but doctors make their decisions based mainly on their experience. Keep in mind, a doctor’s decisions are literally life-death struggles. No one (usually) dies when a product manager chooses a poor path for a product.

Most professions are Experience Driven.  Here are some problems I see with the Data Driven approach.

Statistical Confidence
A huge majority of tests I have seen lack basic statistical confidence in the results. Great post on A/A testing demonstrates this. What this means is that if you test a hypothesis, you can get a result that is actually just random. Flip a coin 10 times and you should get 5 heads and 5 tails, right? I will bet you a dollar that you don’t get that result. Randomness is a powerful force.

Replication Crisis
In the academic world, there has recently been an existential earthquake. According to a 2016 poll of 1,500 scientists reported in the journal Nature, 70% of them had failed to reproduce at least one other scientist’s experiment (50% had failed to reproduce one of their own experiments).

This means that the majority of FACTS that you think you know, based on DATA and SCIENCE are just flatly untrue. Randomness is the nemesis of being Data Driven. It will screw up your results more often than not.

We are living in a world of “Fake News” partially because we can’t believe data anymore. This is incredibly stressful and makes decision-making difficult.

Pre-Testing Politics
At Intuit, Avinash Kaushik was an extreme proponent of testing. My simple question, however, bothered him. I asked, “Who decides what we test?” The problem is that you can’t test everything. There are audience limits and analyst limits and designer limits. We have to pick and choose what we test. In most companies, the decision of what to test is political and completely opinion based.

If I test two flavors of cookies, A) Shit-flavored and B) Puke-Flavored, I will end up with a winner. That doesn’t mean they are good cookies or deserve to win. Our presidential politics are often described as choosing between two bad choices exactly for this reason.

Luckily Avinash allowed me to add test variants without committee approval. I think he was surprised how often my version would win the test. It wasn’t surprising to me though. It’s not hard to beat a shit-flavored cookie or website designed by a committee.

Confirmation Bias
Test results are rarely black and white. They are often interpret-able. People will find the part of the study that agrees with their point of view and emphasize that. We want to confirm that we are smart and prescient. We want to believe that our opinions are, in fact, correct and true. I saw this first hand when a VP would cite a minor result in a test to overturn the clear fact that another choice was superior in most ways.

This was extremely depressing because it showed that Data-Driven was just a smoke screen for HiPPO. (Avinash’s acronym) If the executive wants data, but really just wants data that backs up their own opinion, then the results are no better than opinions in the first place.

So what do we do?

I believe there is a better way. I think being Data-Driven doesn’t actually work in the real-world. Here are elements to a new model I just made up called Team-Driven.

I don’t think people work best alone. I don’t think you need one super genius to make all the decisions. It’s disenfranchising to the team and yields results that often are sub-optimal. Pair-programming, pair-designing, Co-owners…people work better as teams. This kind of collaboration requires trust and Radical Candor. (Im listening to that book in the car and think it’s pretty good.)

Important: If you have co-owners of a project, they need to have proven to work well together.  Great things happen in that case. It also bolsters camaraderie and higher productivity.

Don’t try and build the right thing on the first try. Actually, build it once and throw it away. Your final version will be much, much better. Most things in programming, products, and design improve with iterations. Plan for it. Stop being in such a rush. Raise more money to iterate. Have a culture where improvements are embraced. It’s not a fail to iterate, it’s a way to learn. I hate the term “Fail Fast“.  How about “Learn Fast” instead? Learning is part of iterating. Do more retrospectives and learn and pour that into the next iteration.  Yes, you need to ship, so don’t iterate forever and ever. Zero is the wrong amount of iteration.

Respect for Expertise
An engineer is trained to understand computer science. A designer is trained to understand user experience. A marketer spent years learning how to generate demand. Good ideas can come from anywhere, but experts should be given some latitude to do their jobs. There is nothing more depressing than someone who has no experience whatsoever in your field making decisions for you.

Important: Collaboration and Respect for Expertise go together. It’s not blind trust. Everyone is expected to participate.

A good team understands their own style. All too often values are “mom and apple pie” meaningless phrases. A true value is one where you are strongly guided about decisions based on the values. I can blog about this more another day. This post is already too long.

Ok, how do I end this thing…

Data-Driven is flawed. Team-Driven is the way I would do it if I had my own startup. How would you do it?

Interview Questions for a First Marketer

I have a bunch of questions for Product Designers that I have evolved over time. However, I don’t think I have ever done the same exercise for Marketing. The context is the “first marketer” in a company. At Marketo, this was Kelly Abner. He did an awesome job and helped the product development by being his usual brutally honest self.

So I’ve been thinking about questions I could ask. Not all of these will end up in the interview, but here are some:

Topic 1: Traffic Cop

“Are you aware of the Marketo Traffic Cop? Do you like it?”

If they indicate any tolerance for Traffic Cop, I flip the table over and tell them to GTFO. Kidding, partially. Anyone who likes traffic cop is a Nazi. Kidding, not really.

Topic 2: Tactic Ranking

I put 10 tactics on pieces of paper and ask them to organize them in order or priority and explain the thinking. It’s interactive. Also there is a blank tactic you can fill in! Ok, it’s not “Secret Hitler”, but its different at least.

Topic 3: Best and Worst

“What’s the best/worst marketing you have ever done?  Why?”

The reason I ask is to see how much pride/excitement they show and also how much self-awareness. We all have bad ideas sometimes. It’s good to be able to face them and learn from them.

Topic 4: Text Stack

“What is your go-to tech stack?”

Marketing automation is just one of many tools. Do they pick old-school technologies or stay on the cutting edge. The stack they choose also indicates their priorities.

Topic 5: Culture Fit

“What’s it like to work with you?”

Over the past few years, this has become the number one concern for me. I want to get along with people and collaborate with them.

Often people tell me that I ask questions they haven’t heard before. I don’t know why this is the case. I don’t think my questions are that odd. Maybe everyone else is asking the same dumb questions, who knows? Interviewing should be an enjoyable experience. Here in Silicon Valley, talent is in demand, so it’s crucial to sell candidates just as much as to evaluate them.

If you think your job in an interview is to evaluate the candidate, you are probably not going to get the best people. Make it fun for them, make it informative for them and make sure you get the feel of what it is like to work with them.

If you are a marketer in an interview with me, you can say the word “Sassafras” and I will give you 1 extra point. Good Luck.

The Care Pie

We all care about lots of decisions. However, it’s not healthy to argue about every single decision. In fact, it’s not healthy to argue about 90% of the decisions that are made.

I talk to people about the Decision-Care Pie. This is a pie-chart that has two parts.

The first part is the 10%. These are the decisions that you truly should argue about. You should be passionate and defend your position. I sometimes call this “Using your chips”.

The other part is 90%. These are the decisions that you should NOT argue about. You should let other people decide. Do not get passionate about this. Ask for others to help decide.

To reiterate, I am saying that 9 out of 10 decisions should be decided by other people. And 1 out 10 times, you should stand your ground and say, “This is important to me and I believe I know the right way to do it.

Another way of saying all of this is “Pick your battles”. However, there is no pie chart in that phrase.  I believe that most people remember things better when there is a visual component to it.

Anyway bottom line: we argue too much and we all have opinions that are too strong. We need to chill out and only use our passion for really important things. Like 10% of the time is appropriate. Not the other way around.

Design Tools 2018 Prediction

I think the market for product designers stink. We have no real loyalty and minimal budget. I would never join a startup that targets me as a customer. However, there are plenty of players out there. Here is my prediction for 2018 in the space:

The category king in many ways. Photoshop and Illustrator still dominate worldwide design. However, Silicon Valley and the early adopters have begun the revolt. Adobe has to re-earn loyalty from scratch the way Microsoft has lost Silicon Valley and early adopters as well for the OS.

For product design, Adobe has XD. I tried really hard to make it work, but it’s a a mess. It doesn’t really work, it’s missing features big and small. It seems like it will take them a long time to make this thing work. They are building in slo-motion. In 2018, I think Adobe will continue to slog through, but not make real progress. They will continue the slow and steady decline that will likely take 10 years to finally crater.

The newest competitor onto the stage, Figma has innovated in several areas. It is browser based and multi-player concurrent editing. It also has native prototyping built in. This formula is the right vision of the future. However, they are babies compared to established players. They need to work on performance, better prototyping and lots of details.

My prediction is that Figma will go viral in 2018 and they will freak out. In other words, success is not always a good thing. I think Figma may be crushed under the usage load and bright lights of a hungry audience. Their community is not scalable, the permissions system is really basic and there are bugs. Figma is my current tool, but I am really afraid for them. This could be a train wreck if they don’t rise to the challenge of success.

Invision has grown steadily in the past few years based on strong prototyping and commenting. They rely on Sketch and Adobe to power the actual design process. There are competitors in prototyping, but they have largely been niche players. However, Invision must be aware of tools that combine prototyping AND design like Figma and Adobe XD. This is likely sending alarm bells off in Invision.

2018 should be the year that Invision makes a move into the design space. The question will be whether they can execute or not. This is a life and death struggle that they need to win to survive. My prediction is that their tool will not catch fire, mainly because it is difficult to pivot like that and cannibalize your strongest partner (Sketch).

The darling of Silicon Valley, this Illustrator look-a-like only works on Mac. I have never used it because I am on Windows, but people who use it will rave nonstop to anyone who will listen. HOWEVER, the lack of native prototyping has forced Sketch into a strong partnership with Invision. So here comes Adobe from one end and Figma on the other. Meanwhile your strongest partner (Invision) is going to start and compete with you. This is a serious flaw for Sketch.

My prediction for Sketch is grim. I think they are fucked. It’s possible they try to get into the prototyping game and compete with Invision (again a strategic dilemma). However, I haven’t heard anything in this vein. Ultimately, I think their lack of cross-platform use will be an Achilles heel.

This is a real battle for the hearts and minds of product designers world wide. We have little money and complain alot. We use a ton of resources and will switch to a competitor on a moments notice. We suck as customers.

Good Luck.