commadot.com http://commadot.com by Glen Lipka Tue, 19 Nov 2019 00:35:51 +0000 en-US hourly 1 https://wordpress.org/?v=5.3 https://i0.wp.com/commadot.com/wp-content/uploads/2015/09/cropped-siteIcon21.png?fit=32%2C32 commadot.com http://commadot.com 32 32 2075023 Clean and Modern http://commadot.com/clean-and-modern/ http://commadot.com/clean-and-modern/#respond Tue, 19 Nov 2019 00:35:46 +0000 http://commadot.com/?p=8674 Internally, I have a bullshitometer. It’s a technical device that detects bullshit. It looks like this:

My Internal Bullsitometer, highly accurate

One of the things that pushes this finely tuned device to the extreme right are when designers say the words “Clean and Modern”.

This is just a stupid Jedi mind trick.

It’s a way of a designer saying “It’s good, don’t worry about it.” Usually, the design has real problems and they want it to sound good. Here is how I interpret these words:

Clean

  1. It lacks affordances. In other words, the user would not know the functionality is there because it is too small and out of the way. The designer thinks that this is “good” because it isn’t cluttered, but in reality it is “bad” because the user can’t find the functionality.
  2. Functionality is just missing. This happens all of the time. I ask how the user does something and the answer is “It’s cleaner without it.”
  3. It is only black, white, and gray with a tiny splash of blue. It’s like designers are allergic to any colorful interfaces. Using color doesn’t make the UI look bad. It helps to differentiate parts of the system as well as indicate states.
  4. Everything is spread really far apart. This is not a good choice from a user interface perspective. You don’t want things to be cramped, but you also don’t want them to be too spaced out. Balance Daniel-San, Balance!

Modern

  1. Everything is flat. No shadows, rounded corners, gradients, or 3-dimensionality. It was popular for a few years, but it actually makes it harder to understand the information architecture when everything bleeds into everything else. Levels are very useful to show hierarchy.
  2. No icons. Icons + Words are the best way to communicate a menu option. Sometimes the icons are there, but muted and turned flat. What is wrong with 3 dimensional icons. Look at the Mac dock bar. It’s fantastically 3D and colorful. Designers need to stop getting rid of icons.
  3. Material Design. So many designers are just copying Google Material Design in their projects. It’s unoriginal and lazy. There are a million different looks to steal. Steal something interesting.

Please for the love of God, stop saying “Clean and Modern.” Be more critical of your work. Design a little better than you did yesterday. Clean should mean that you named your layers well. Modern should mean there are lots of micro-interactions that take advantage of new browsers. Don’t try to fake us out. Don’t try and fake yourself out.

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Inspiring Design: Google Doc http://commadot.com/inspiring-design-google-doc/ http://commadot.com/inspiring-design-google-doc/#respond Sun, 17 Nov 2019 23:43:11 +0000 http://commadot.com/?p=8660 A designer asked me the other day what application design I thought was great and I happened to be working on a Google Doc. I thought it was a terrific design in many ways.

Just as an aside, Google Slides is one of my LEAST favorite Google applications. It’s awful and everytime I use it, I wish I could use Microsoft PowerPoint instead. However, the Doc UI is much better.

Information Architecture

Google Docs does an excellent job in space management. They have many features, but it never feels cluttered. The focus os obviously on the middle on the screen where you type, but they do a great job of organizing the rest of the screen. The top menu and button area is compact, but not too busy for the use case. The footer is useful and also compact. They also do a great job of using side panels when necessary.

I often try to communicate the difference between a desktop application and a mobile application. This is a perfect example. The information architecture is perfect for desktop and you can imagine a completely different approach for tablet or mobile.

Direct Maniupulation

One of the hallmarks of a great design is direct manipulation. Modals are old and clunky. They get in the way and slow the user down. Docs removes excise in all sorts of use cases. When you add a comment, it isn’t disconnected from the text. When you add a link to the text, it feels natural and direct.

Obviously, the star manipulation is typing. Way back in the day, the concurrent editing of a Google Doc was a revelation. It was the perfect use of technology to create a better experience.

Great Inline Feedback

The obvious ones are misspellings and grammar mistakes, but Docs also has a great word count feature.

Lots of good tools.

If you check the box that says “Display word count while typing” it puts a little box on the bottom left, which can be expanded with great info for students.

Students often have to hit specific word counts.

Summary

I don’t have time to go over every single cool design feature, but if you use it, you will find it easy and pleasing. The tools on the strip all the way to the right are especially well designed. Use the little Task List and see all of the little things that make a design shine.

When I ask applicants to do a design exercise, I really want them to succeed. I show them great designs and give them all sorts of advice and hints to make the design better. One tip is to look at well designed products and emulate them. I don’t think everything Google does is great, but some of their applications are wonderful to use.

When you make a design, think about the little details. Think about the excise and get rid of it. Think about adding in little delightful touches. Think and keep designing.

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The Default Design http://commadot.com/the-default-design/ http://commadot.com/the-default-design/#respond Wed, 13 Nov 2019 02:58:18 +0000 http://commadot.com/?p=8643 I give a design exercise to candidates to bring in for their onsite interview. The point of a design exercise is shed light on the following:

  1. Are they masters of their tool?
  2. Are they productive?
  3. Are they creative?
  4. Are they logical?
  5. Are they detail-oriented?

One thing I advise candidates to avoid is the “Default Design”. The default is the choice is actually very common. Here are some characteristics of the Default Design.

Lists, Pages, and Modals

When web applications were new (late 90’s) you would frequently get this particular structure. It would have a long list of an object type. Clicking on an item would navigate to a page dedicated to that single instance of the object. Editing any part of it would pop up a modal. You fill out all the modal and then save and it updates the page.

This mode of interaction works to a degree. It’s logical and covers all the use cases. However, it’s also boring and not particularly efficient for the user. Lastly, this method creates a usage requiring pogo-sticking. This means it’s hard to navigate linearly through the content, but rather have to go from list to detail to list to detail, etc.

What is better is direct manipulation. This is when you can edit items directly from where they are and not have to navigate. All modern applications have direct manipulation built into the design. If you want a nice example: Go to gmail, and click on the little tasks icon on the far right. See screenshot.

It’s truly a beautifully designed little widget. All of the micro-interactions are on point. It has plenty of direct manipulation. I love the way it works. The point is that this is not the default design. It’s a modern application that takes advantage of current technology. It is not the default.

Flat Design

People don’t really understand where Flat Design originally came from. A little over 10 years ago the iPhone was introduced. It had a crumby battery, a slow CPU, and a poor screen. Apple wanted a way to simplify the UI so it seemed quicker. They got rid of shadows, gradients, and rounded corners. In other words, they flattened the visuals. This helped with battery life and performance.

Since the iPhone was such a hit, the style (which was meant for functional purposes) became “fashionable”. Everyone fell in love with “flat”. Microsoft dumbed down their UI to the point of absurdity, even on desktop UIs. Windows is still flat to this day. Everyone went flat. Then Google made a whole design language called Material Design and popularized design languages that were flat.

When a designer makes their designs flat, they are just copying 10+ year old styles. It’s the default. It’s not “clean and modern”. It’s old and boring. It also does a terrible job of providing visual hierarchy.

Monochromatic (or no) Colors

It’s like designers are allergic to color. Nothing is wrong with color. It’s beautiful and natural. Just because Apple (again the fashion problem) makes everything titanium white doesn’t mean that you have to avoid color. Color is an important tool in your visual toolkit. Use it!

Lack of Creativity

The world needs better designers. Stop designing exactly like everyone else. Be creative. Try things. Maybe they don’t work and are bad. Maybe they are amazing. Please try. Don’t just do the minimum. Don’t just design the defaults.

When I interview you, I am trying to see if you are a default designer or not. Show me that you are more than just copying other designers.

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Passion for Your Craft http://commadot.com/passion-for-your-craft/ http://commadot.com/passion-for-your-craft/#respond Sat, 02 Nov 2019 09:24:41 +0000 http://commadot.com/?p=8576 My mother-in-law, Penny, is a retired nurse. After retiring, she took up weaving. For those of you who don’t know, weaving takes up alot of space. There are baskets of wool everywhere. The loom itself is enormous. Penny’s loom is roughly as big as this one.

Looms are big!

She used to have a dining room, now she has a looming room. The loom connects to a computer and has a special attachment that lifts and moves different parts so that she can make exotic patterns and fabrics.

When I am interviewing designers, I sometimes tell them about Penny. She doesn’t get paid to loom. On the contrary, she pays money for equipment and books and materials herslf. She pays to go to conferences. She is heavily involved in the weaving community. She reads books on weaving, she watches videos on weaving. She learned Photoshop just so she can design patterns better!

In short, Penny is obsessed with weaving. Imagine loving something so much that you PAY for the privilege of doing it. Imagine being that immersed in your craft.

Now think about your career. Are you putting in the same effort into your career as Penny is into her “hobby”? There are people I have worked with who clearly do. I have seen people in marketing, sales, programming, HR, support, and (of course) product design all obsess about their craft.

When I learned design was a thing (my blog post about that) I dove deep, I read every book I could find on the subject. I went to every conference. I answered questions on every forum. (I still have posts being read from 10 years ago on UX.stackexchange.com). I designed all of the time. I focused on being a master of my design tools. I tried every piece of software I could find to be inspired. I made up things to design. Obviously, I blogged about design pretty frequently as well.

My question to you (and to the young designers I am interviewing) is this: Why aren’t you as energetic and enthusiastic about design as Penny is about looming?

I can tell you this: When I find people who are that excited about design, I am going to pay them every dollar I can to join the team. They are worth it.

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Designer Review Cheat Sheet http://commadot.com/designer-review-cheat-sheet/ http://commadot.com/designer-review-cheat-sheet/#respond Fri, 18 Oct 2019 01:10:36 +0000 http://commadot.com/?p=8553 When I review a new applicant, I look at their information and decide whether to set up a zoom video conferencing call or not. The truth is that I WANT you to succeed. I want you to have multiple lucrative offers. So to help you, here is a cheat sheet to get past my review. I made a little score card. It is what I look for and how long I take to review.

Review Score Card

#In 3 to 5 minutesMinMax
1Cover letter01
2Referral05
3LinkedIn Recommendations02
4Resume is “designed”01
5Website Blink Test01
6Site is “different”05
7Has B2B application work03
8 Can see design work easily02
9Work is reasonable quality05
10“About Me” Page is authentic02
11Has Figma skills03
12Has technical skills03
13Marketing domain experience02
14Wix/Squarespace-1-1
15Only marketing/mobile-3-3
16Grammar mistakes-1-2

Now certainly, one can be subjective about some of these line items. I put in a mix and max where I have some discretion. You might be shocked (or maybe not) how many people score less than 5 points on my review.

I speak with an average of 4 candidates per day. The truth is that my bar for speaking with you via zoom is about 7 points. That’s it. You don’t need years of experience. You don’t need fancy degrees. You just need to do the basics.

To me the most important one is “Site is different”. Currently 95% of every designer website is stylistically identical. All you need to do is add some color and boom, you stand out. Add some interaction design and voila, uniqueness! It’s not that hard. Please design your sites to be differentiated.

But also there is low hanging fruit. “Can see design work easily”. Why do designers put pictures of their work super tiny with no way to zoom? I just want to see the work. Please let me see it!

Interestingly, I keep hearing from candidates who tell me that a mentor at the design bootcamp they went to told them to have a minimalistic site. In fact, they are graded on having it look 100% the same as everyone elses. White background, super long case studies. I have a message to those mentors. “You are wrong. You are ruining their websites. Stop making them blend in. You want to stand out!”

If you disagree with something above, please let me know. If you are a hiring manager and look for something else, I would also like to know. Let’s not make this a secret. We want people to get better, don’t we?

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Tips for Designers 2019 http://commadot.com/tips-for-designers-2019/ http://commadot.com/tips-for-designers-2019/#respond Wed, 09 Oct 2019 17:41:51 +0000 http://commadot.com/?p=8514 Some of these tips are going to seem obvious. Like “Duuuuhhh” obvious. However, I can tell you that I am getting candidates who fail on every single one of these.

Master Your Tools

The job is to be in a design tool and make stuff (and go to a bunch of meetings). Meetings and design, all day long. So please, please, please, be a master of your design tool. If you use Figma, understand components, constraints, instances, and Frames. If you use Sketch, you better be great with Symbols. If you use XD, you should understand repeat-grid and all of their functions. You can’t just use the basics. Be a power user! Master the one and only tool that you use for work. I can’t believe how many candidates are just B+ on their tool of choice. This includes keeping up with the latest features.

Design isn’t just a job to me. It’s a calling. I feel so lucky to be able to do it all the time. I really want to hire other people who feel the same way and throw themselves into the details.

Proofread Your Text

I understand that many designers are ESL (English as a Second Language). This is no excuse. You have to have someone proofread your text. Grammar problems are everywhere on designer case studies. This is a weird situation. Designers write a bunch of text that they EXPECT no one read. Why would you do that as a designer? It makes no sense. And if I DO read it, it’s got grammar and spelling errors. It’s lose lose. #StopMakingLongCaseStudies

Stand Out

The bar is so low. Just put in a little personality and you are better than 60% of all portfolios. I blogged about this previously, so I won’t go into too much detail. But please, please, stand out.

Answer the Question Asked

I start with a zoom video screen call. I often will ask a question up front about some topic. When a candidate says, “Well, why don’t I start with a little bit about me? I was born…” I immediately want to hang up. If I wanted to know that, I would have asked that. Listen to the question being asked and answer that. Don’t improvise new questions. Being a good listener is important.

Read a book

My UX book list is still relevant in design. Reading Medium articles is fine, but doing ONLY that isn’t a good idea. You have to absorb more information than that. I don’t even bother asking about candidates influences because no one really has them. Influences are good things!

Don’t Get Defensive

Design defense doesn’t mean getting defensive about design. Sometimes you need to justify why you designed something in a particular way. Sometimes, you need to realize your design is sub-optimal. When a designer realizes that a particular choice doesn’t make sense and STILL defends it…it makes me crazy. Focus on the work. It’s not personal. You will not make perfect choices every time.

That is probably enough for now. Apply to join my team today!

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Project Roles and Responsibilities http://commadot.com/project-roles-and-responsibilities/ http://commadot.com/project-roles-and-responsibilities/#comments Wed, 02 Oct 2019 20:04:38 +0000 http://commadot.com/?p=8524 The Roadtrip Metaphor

I love metaphors and this one is one of my favorites. Imagine a project as a roadtrip with some friends. Sometimes you will be driving, sometimes you will be in the passenger seat, sometimes in the back seat. There are people, like your parents, who just want to know where you are, but they aren’t specifically on the trip.

Your project is the roadtrip. The people in the car and at home are the people you work with. If you are driving and crash into a tree, everyone will die. If someone else is driving and you see they are about to drive off the road, you have a responsibility to say something. You are all in the car and are responsible to each other. This is true whether you are driving or asleep in the back seat.

People have different roles during different parts of the project. It’s even possible that two people are driving two aspects of the project separately. I will break it down, but these stages are not linear and serial. They are parallel and can sometimes go out of order. Let’s define the roles in general, then we will talk about the stages of the project.

DACI

DACI (or RACI) is a framework I learned about in 2006 at Intuit.

D – Driver
A – Approver
C – Contributor
I – Informed

Basic DACI acronym

Driver is the person who is actively moving the project forward. They are making decisions and producing deliverables. They have the steering wheel.

Approver is the person who is the consumer of the deliverable of any particular driver’s work. If they can’t use the deliverable, then they can’t Approve or Accept it. (I will give examples in a moment)

Contributor is someone helping. They aren’t directly making the deliverables, but they are contributing. This usually takes the form of meetings, but could be more.

Informed are your parents. They just want to know what is going on and be in the loop. They are not contributing to any deliverable. This is typically people like project managers or executives who care about the project but not involved in every detail.

Stages of a Project with DACI Map

StageDriverApproverContributorInformed
Market ResearchProd MgtProd StrategyDesignEngineering
Problem PrioritizationProd MgtProd StrategyDesignAll
Problem DefinitionProd MgtDesignDesign / EngAll
General ApproachDependsDependsEngineeringProd Strategy
Design SpecDesignEngineeringProd MgtAll
Build ProcessEngineeringQADesignProd Mgt
Quality ControlQAProd MgtEngineeringDesign
Documentation/TrainingDoc WritingSupportAllAll
Go to MarketProd MgtSales / SupportMarketingAll

Note: This map is assuming a STRONG design team. If your design team is weak, then PM will take more responsibilities. However, it is a good thing to have a strong design team.

Deliverable Dishes

Another metaphor. As a driver, you own a restaurant and cook the food. The Approver is the customer. For every project, every stage of the project, whomever is in the Driver seat, they are cooking the meal. The approver is eating the meal. As a good restaurant owner and chef, you want to make sure your customers are happy. You should ask them, what do you like to eat? How do you want it prepared? How spicy should it be. Here is a map of deliverables.

Deliverable Map

StageDeliverable
Market ResearchCompetitive Analysis
Buyer and User Personas
Opportunity Assessment
Problem PrioritizationRoadmap
Portfolio Investment Levels
Problem DefinitionPRD
Use Cases
Capabilities Requirements
General ApproachUML Diagram
Presentable prototype
Whiteboard
Confluence
*Which ones of these depends on situation
Design SpecFigma Prototype
JIRA details (if needed)
Build ProcessCode
Quality ControlTest Plan
Documentation/TrainingDocs
Go to MarketWebinars
Emails
Website Changes
Etc

Note: There can be other deliverables, but these are the basics

Other Responsibility Details

Some things are important and people argue over who is the driver. Here is a limited list of some of those items and who I think the DACI is. It’s a good idea to get on the same page about these items in advance.

Microcopy – This includes labels, small bits of text in the UI, button text, tabs, and the names of objects in the system. I think the design team is best suited to write this copy.

User Interface and Information Architecture – This is one that drives me nuts. The product design team are not there to make it pretty. We are there to design how the system is used. Product management is not the Driver, nor are they the approver. Design is the driver and engineering is the approver. If you have a weak design team, PM will try and dominate this part of the decision making. This troubling dynamic is what makes designers hate their jobs. Please, if you are a PM, please realize that doing UI and IA is a design job and you are just a contributor, not the approver, not the driver.

Timeline and Budget – The driver here is Product Management. It’s not OK for the design team to make a design that takes 8 weeks to engineer if the budget is 3 engineering days. With a limited budget, you get a limited product, but sometimes that is the right decision. Design is the approver (accepter) of the timeline and budget. We need to say if something is impossible, but if it is possible, we need to adopt those constraints and accept the budget.

General Approach – This totally depends on your team. Sometimes there is an engineer who is great at this. Sometimes a PM does it. I personally love doing this job, especially for projects that are heavy on the UI side. You need to look at your organization and see who has talent for this task and make them the driver. Be open minded where you find the talent.

Milestone Strategy – Although design plays a heavy role in this, the driver is sometimes confusing here. It’s a collaborative effort between everyone in the car. I could make a whole post of techniques about this, but that is for another day.

Voila. There we go. What did I miss?

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Uppercase Lowercase http://commadot.com/uppercase-lowercase/ http://commadot.com/uppercase-lowercase/#comments Sat, 28 Sep 2019 16:49:10 +0000 http://commadot.com/?p=8516 I enjoy thinking about how things evolved, especially words. Like for example the word uppercase comes from the original printing press. If you don’t know how a printing press works, I’ll explain quickly.

There were all these little pieces of metal that had letters cast into them. A person would put those letters on a wooden holder. Some of the pieces were blank to create space between words. Those were called spaces. (Thus the SPACE bar on your keyboard)

Notice the letters are mirrored

Then the typesetter would put space between the rows of letters. This was with bars of lead. (Thus the typography term “leading” which is the space between lines. Finally, the typesetter would rub ink on the metal using a roller and then run a piece of paper over the inked letters.

Because the letters are mirror-type, they would show up on the paper correctly. Boom. Printed materials. Repeat the last step as many times as you wanted to make pamphlets, books, manuscripts, and more.

The letters weren’t just kept in a giant pile. They were neatly organized in a suitcase that opened up like the one below.

Notice the two parts of the letters storage container

See in the picture. Guess where all the capital letters were. Yup, they were in the upper part. They were in the upper case. The small letters were in the bottom part. The lower case.

Now you know where UPPERCASE, lowercase, leading, and spacebar comes from. Have a nice day. 🙂

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How to Resign Professionally http://commadot.com/how-to-resign-professionally/ http://commadot.com/how-to-resign-professionally/#respond Thu, 19 Sep 2019 18:43:12 +0000 http://commadot.com/?p=8493 I really wish they taught this in college. However, since I have recently had people resign incorrectly, I figure it would be a good idea to write down how to do it properly. To be clear, I am not encouraging anyone to resign. I am just saying how to do it professionally.

Step 1: Start early

Months before you resign, before you even start looking, you should give some indication to your manager that you are unhappy. You should say something like, “Hey, I wanted to let you know that I was feeling unsure about my future here.” The point is to give your manager a chance to make life better for you. Maybe even start the recruiting process in advance.

I understand that this is deeply controversial. What people are afraid of is that the manager will fire you on the spot. This is rare, but not impossible. In my opinion, it is better to be a good person and be communicative rather than not say anything, even if it means I get burned on occasion.

In the world where you say nothing, the manager has no recourse. They can’t make anything better. In the world where you say something, maybe they can adjust. In the end, it is a personal decision, but I hope I have at least given people something to think about.

Step 2: Write a letter

It seems obvious to me, but apparently it is not. You must write down your resignation on paper and also send via email. Here is text to use:

Date

Dear Mr./Ms. Last Name:

I am writing to announce my resignation from Company Name, effective two weeks from [date].

This was not an easy decision to make. The past ten years have been very rewarding. I’ve enjoyed working for you and managing a very successful team dedicated to a quality product delivered on time.

Thank you for the opportunities for growth that you have provided me. I wish you and the company all the best. If I can be of any help during the transition, please don’t hesitate to ask.

Sincerely,

Your Signature (hard copy letter)

Your Typed Name

Step 3: Take PTO if needed

Find out from your HR department what the policy is regarding PTO and Sick Days. Typically, you get those days paid out to you in your last paycheck. However, if you lose them, you should take a vacation. In other words, use your PTO if you are going to lose them. Again, this is rare. 99% of the time you get them paid to you. (Note: This is in Silicon Valley – could be different elsewhere)

Step 4: Resignation day

You sit your manager down and say “I am sorry, but I have bad news.” Then you hand them your letter. They might try and save you. However, the answer should be a definitive and emphatic No. Statistics show that most people who take the saving offer end up resigning within six months anyway. The time for saving is Step 1, not step 4.

They will tell you how they want to proceed. Ask them, “Do you want to tell the team or shall I?” Give your manager the preference of how to communicate. Don’t jump the gun and blab to everyone. Give the manager time to communicate.

If the manager asks you why you are leaving, you should be honest and forthright. Sometimes people honestly don’t know the grievances you have. It is good to hear critique. Don’t sugarcoat it. Don’t try to spare their feelings. Be objective and honest. You don’t need to be brutal or mean, but it is professional to be honest. If you really, really hate your boss, you can resign to the HR person (Assuming they exist).

People will ask where you are going. You can tell them. Keeping it secret is just being weird. Again, this is a weird phobia people have. They think their dickhead boss will call the new place and yell at them, and therefore they will rescind the offer before you even start. This is insane. This happens less than getting hit by lightning. Just be normal and say where you are going. People are just curious.

Step 5: Keep doing your job

For the next two weeks, do your job. This isn’t a vacation. Try and train other people to know your area. It is possible that the manager says “You don’t need to come in. This can be your last day.” If that is the case, you say thank you and hand in your laptop.

First and foremost, be courteous, professional, and polite. Don’t cause scenes as you are exiting. People need to continue to work. Don’t burn the building down metaphorically (or literally). Don’t rock the boat.

Step 5: Write recommendations and thank you letters

In the weeks when people know, make sure to meet with people and say thank you. They will all want to know the dirt. Why are you leaving? Who hurt you? Generally, don’t get into it. Don’t make the situation more tense. Don’t talk shit about people. You are there to say nice things to and to listen. Hand written thank you letters are especially nice and you should do it for the people you would like to work with again someday.

Also, write LinkedIn recommendations for the same people. It is a really nice gesture to coworkers and we don’t do it enough in general.

Step 6: Don’t recruit

Generally, it is very poor form to recruit people from your office to your new gig. The accepted time frame is one year. Don’t recruit from your old job for a year. After that, it’s fair game.

People (when they hear where you are going) will ask you, “Oh that sounds great! Can you get me in there??” Generally, you should say, “I shouldn’t recruit anyone for a year. I love working with you, but as a new employee there I want to get to know people first.”

Summary

There it is. Simple steps. Again, I am not encouraging anyone to quit and I am very happy with my current position. However, after seeing this done poorly, I thought it helpful to tell people the standard steps.

Be professional. Be kind. Be communicative. Bee pollen.

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The Design Case Study Paradox http://commadot.com/the-design-case-study-paradox/ http://commadot.com/the-design-case-study-paradox/#respond Sat, 31 Aug 2019 17:02:29 +0000 http://commadot.com/?p=8450 Every designer has a section of their portfolio where they show their work. The typical method of documenting their work is called a case study.

case stud·y
/ˈkā(s) ˌstədē/

a process or record of research in which detailed consideration is given to the development of a particular person, group, or situation over a period of time.

Here are attributes that I notice in most designer case studies:

  1. Very long pages with lots of text
  2. Limited navigation
  3. No progressive disclosure
  4. Emphasis on process and not design
  5. Majority of content is research, not design
  6. Usually static (not animated)
  7. A picture of someone staring at sticky notes on a wall

Paradox 1 – It’s not applicable

Never in my 25 years of designing have I ever had to write a case study for work. Never. Not once. Additionally, I have never even heard of a product designer having to make a case study. The only people I’ve seen make case studies are marketing designers. (And those look very different)

So the question is: Why do we make designers explain their work through a case study? What’s the point?

I’ve heard one hiring manager say that if the designer can make a case study, it shows they can do the research to design something. I think this is complete BS. There is literally zero overlap of skills. A designer needs skills to do the job, but writing a case study isn’t one of them.

In university or trade school UX programs, they emphasize making these case studies. Additionally, they make sure they all follow the same template. In other words, they all look the same.

Paradox 2: Same is bad

As a hiring manager, I look at dozens of portfolios a day. Truthfully, they are 95% identical. It’s very different than looking at books at Barnes & Noble. All books look the same if you don’t read them. It’s the WORDS that make a book better or worse. You don’t judge a book by its cover, right?

However, you DO judge a designer by their designs. As mentioned above writing is not the primary skill of a designer. Design is the primary skill. So the question is: Why are portfolio case studies using the “book” model? Why are they trying to differentiate using words when the primary skill is the opposite of words? To me, this just doesn’t make any sense.

I’ll often describe this as the Zebra and the Peacock. These two animals have very different ideas about “Getting chosen”. The zebra is being chosen by a lion. It means death. A peacock is being chosen by a mate. It means life. Zebra therefore blends in and the peacock stands out. Life or death, which is the right metaphor for a designer case study?

The Zebra and the Peacock

It seems obvious to me that being chosen is GOOD in the dersigner case. It means getting a phone call by the hiring manager. So clearly, you don’t want to blend in. You want to stand out! So why in the world is everyone teaching young designers to blend in?

Maybe some hiring managers want designers who don’t actually have creativity or design skills. Maybe they want to copy other company (Apple/Google) designs, follow the crowd, don’t stand out. This may be the case. If you are a designer, ask yourself, “Is that where I want to work? Do I want to blend in my whole career?”

Paradox 3: Time spent mistmatch

I spend on average 3-5 minutes per portfolio including their LinkedIn page. I think I am a bit above average in time spent. I’ve ask designers and they all say between 30 seconds and 2 minutes is their expected amount of time from the hiring manager.

If this is the case, why in the world would you make a giant long text page? Clearly in 3 minutes for one page (generous overestimation) you have no chance to read the whole thing. So what’s the point?

I have never seen a designer case study where they used progressive disclosure. They could make a 30 second version and allow the user to click on items they want to know more about. The case study could be interactive. It’s a complete mystery to me why people trying to get a job called Interaction Designer make a demonstration site with zero interactivity.

Bottom Line

The bar is actually pretty low. Most designer websites are awful. They spend all their time writing long case studies and no time creating a good design for their buyer persona (the hiring manager). Wix and Squarespace sites are a dime a dozen and honestly, the experience is terrible. Webflow is gaining in popularity, but I haven’t seen enough of it. I’ve been intrigued by this tool that sits on top of WordPress called Divi. It looks like a full blown design tool. I would suggest designers really take a good look at their site and ask if my paradoxes (paradoxii?) are true.

Either I am completely wrong or design websites are. We aren’t both right.

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