by Glen Lipka Wed, 14 Mar 2018 00:06:10 +0000 en-US hourly 1 32 32 2075023 London Trip 2018 Wed, 14 Mar 2018 00:06:10 +0000 Read More »]]> My youngest son and I just returned from visiting London for a week. Here are a few thoughts and highlights:

Apparently, everyone in London takes credit card. We didn’t find one thing that required cash. Next time, I won’t bother with Pounds and instead just use Mastercard on my Google Pay phone. One interesting thing is that they don’t take your credit card to a central POS system. They all bring the system as a handheld device to the table. I liked the system as it doesn’t let my card leave the table. Also, a note on the money itself. It was made of a thin plastic, not cloth like American dollars. It was well designed as artwork.

My kid isn’t a foodie, so we weren’t really able to same the interesting places to eat. However, there is clearly a rich tapestry of food choices. The standard English pub is on every corner, but I wouldn’t call it high cuisine.

Wifi and Phone Service
Verizon charges me $10 per day if I want my phone to work like it does here in the states. Instead, I tried to go WiFi only for the whole week. I thought it would be harder, but actually there was free Wifi in many restaurants and tourist spots. We ended up being fine. The only downside is that Google maps wouldn’t let me search for new destinations even though I downloaded an offline copy of London. You would think that would work, but it did not.

Adjusting to the Time Zone
We didn’t. We work up at 2am each night and lied awake for 4 hours. We messed this part up.

Underground (Tube/Subway)
I lived for many years in NYC so the subway system is very familiar to me. I found the London Underground to be efficient and well labeled. There were many locations that allowed you to get from almost anywhere to anywhere quickly. I suggest getting an underground app with a GPS to locate yourself. In general, they worked quite well.

Royal Observatory / Prime Meridian
To be honest, I didn’t totally understand longitude until I went to the Royal Observatory. The point where Greenwich Mean Time starts is basically a house on a hill. It is where a guy named Halley (as in Halley’s Comet) set up a very large sextant and measured where the stars were during the day/night. The spot where the sextant was built was the prime median. Using those measurements, you could tell at sea how far east/west you were.  A few decades later, a new guy came along and made a new prime median literally in the next room because he didn’t want to disturb the sextant, but wants to built a telescope. Then another guy built a bigger telescope literally in the next room over. It’s kind of silly. The place where zero degrees longitude exists is arbitrarily where that guy built his telescope. You have to see it to understand, but it is totally weird.

Cutty Sark
This is an old ship that has been restored. It’s kind of neat to see. It is both huge and tiny at the same time. It’s a big thing to build by hand, but each person’s bed is smaller than my desk. People used to be alot shorter.

Tower of London
London has way too much history. The city was founded by the Romans. Yes, the Roman Empire. They built a wall and called it London. Then several hundred years later, (1066) William the Conqueror built a fort next to the wall. Then 250 years later they expanded it. It goes on and on. There is literally no end to the history. It’s overwhelming. Also, I always thought the tower was a super tall tower hundreds of feet in the air. The tower’s are smaller than my house. Each tower is roughly a two story structure with one room each. The whole thing is weirdly small. They had the crown jewels on display in the tower, so that was nice. They have these ravens there for some reason. They don’t fly away so you can take selfies with them.

London Eye
It’s just a big Ferris Wheel but it goes pretty high up. It was worth the half hour to see the city from up high. London has a wealth of architecturally interesting buildings. From the Shard to the Walkie-Talkie to the ancient buildings, it has alot to offer visually.

London Dungeon
Kind of a waste of time if you ask me, but my kid enjoyed it.

Leicester Square
This is basically London’s version of Time Square in NYC. It was lively with many interesting side streets. It seemed safe with a bazillion people. There were many, many theaters. We saw Young Frankenstein, which I didn’t really enjoy. We got the tickets last minute. In hindsight, we should have seen a more local play or bought tickets earlier to Hamilton.

Warner Bros Harry Potter Studio Tour and Play
We didn’t actually go to this, but I heard it was good. Warning: If you are visiting and want to go on this, you need to book it a month in advance. Plus it’s not cheap.

Kensington Palace
One of many palaces, we toured through this one. It was a bit underwhelming. The area where the King and Queen resided was actually quite small. It’s strange to think about standing where Royalty stood hundreds of years ago. The history, once again is overwhelming. It reminded me of Washington DC, but with even more history.

Buckingham Palace
Apparently, when the Queen is in town, you can’t tour the palace. The only thing we could see were the Mews, which is basically where the horses and carriages are. It was kind of boring.

National Gallery
Probably the highlight of the trip for me was the National Galley. I would have liked to see more museums, but my kid was not into it. The National Galley has wonderful classic artwork there. My favorite was the Da Vinci, Virgin on the Rocks. Other highlights were Van Gogh (Sunflowers), Renoir, Michelangelo, Seurat, Rembrandt…the list goes on and on. I could have stayed there for days.

The activity and culture of NYC, the history of Boston and Washington DC multiplied by 10 and the architecture of Paris.  Hmm, maybe I should visit Paris next?

I am not a particularly good traveler, but I feel we saw a good week’s worth of London. I could have been more verbose in this trip log, but I didn’t want to bore you too much. Feel free to ask questions.






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Looking Forward Sat, 24 Feb 2018 01:19:09 +0000 Read More »]]> For the last half-year I was working with a stealth startup. Unfortunately, it did not work out as hoped. It’s an interesting space, but team dynamics is always a crucial factor. In this case, the ingredients in the crock-pot did not yield a pleasing taste. (Too much salt!) So, I find myself looking forward and thinking about what is next.  Maybe some unknown is good for the creative soul. I remember the Sabbatical I took in the summer of 2015. It really was the best summer I have ever had. If you ever have an opportunity, I strongly recommend it. There is a freedom in being able to do literally anything with your day.

If you know of interesting things for which I might be well-suited (short term consulting or full time), let me know on my contact page.


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My First Blue Apron Meal Thu, 15 Feb 2018 17:50:31 +0000 Read More »]]> We are trying Blue Apron. It’s a service that sends you fresh ingredients and the instructions on how to cook it. We are trying the once a week plan.

The first problem was that Blue Apron sent us too many boxes at first and then sent one late. The scheduling screwed up our plans, but we tried to make it work. We chose the Garlic Caper Chicken as our first meal. The picture looked good.

Cooking was relatively easy with the instructions. However, I noticed that the packaging all felt a bit wasteful. Everything was individually wrapped in little plastic bags. The bags  didn’t say biodegradable which worried me that all of these ingredients were creating a massive amount of plastic landfill. You can recycle the plastic, but I imagine much of it going in the trash.

The food was cooked and ready to eat. I took a bite and immediately regretted it. The food tasted exactly like a meal you might get at The Olive Garden. For those of you who love the Olive Garden, I apologize. To me, it’s just cheap, poorly cooked food. It has too much butter and oil and tastes bad. I thought back to the ingredients and realized the issue.

It was the butter and cheese ingredient. I was mildly concerned when we added them. The whole texture of the dish changed. Anyway, the result was not appealing to my fine taste buds.

What do I want?
I want Top Chef yummy high end cuisine in an easy to make package. I just read this article on cooking the modernist way. You have to buy some expensive equipment like a sous vide, but the author says that the cooking is actually really easy.

Anyway, Blue Apron better improve in the next meal or we are likely to eliminate them. Three strikes and they are out.


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We Are All Capuchin Monkeys Wed, 14 Feb 2018 18:44:11 +0000 Read More »]]> Short 1 min video showing how fairness is baked deep into our psyche.

Notice the monkey getting the grape. He seems happy. It doesn’t seem unfair to THAT monkey. It’s the monkey who gets the cracker that gets pissed off.

I have privilege coming out of my ears. I am white, tall, male, and American. No one scrutinizes me when I walk around in a store. Police don’t pull me over for no reason. I don’t have to worry about being sexually harassed or getting paid less because of my gender. I have the grape. All day grapes for me.

The people getting the crackers are women, minorities with various shades of skin color, disabled people, and old people. They are getting crackers now and have been getting crackers for hundreds of years. White men see the unfairness exactly like the monkey (with the grape) in the video. He thinks everything is fine. It’s easy to be happy when you get grapes.

Transition to the #meToo movement. There are some who equate the accusations to McCarthyism where even the hint of being a communist would get you fired and ruin your career. It was a bit of cracker for the white men who were accused. Nowadays, the accusations are for sexual harassment where men are getting fired or in the case of Al Franken, stepping down from their posts.

A white man might say, “Hey! this is unfair! Where is Due Process!”  You see? They are getting a cracker for once and get pissed off. Of course, it’s unfair. However, getting grapes for hundreds (thousands?) of years is also unfair. Maybe white men deserve to get crackers for a while. Maybe minorities and women deserve some grapes at the expense of white men.

Of course, it would be great if we could all get grapes. Unfortunately, anyone with kids can tell you that you can’t give perfectly equal treatment. One grape will be slightly larger than the other grape. It’s impossible to be 100% equal. You do your best, but sometimes the grapes and crackers get distributed unequally, even under the best intentions.

I support affirmative action. This is the practice of giving grapes to those of us who have been getting crackers for so long. This means hiring women and minorities even if you have a better candidate who is white and male. This means changing the laws to stop putting so many people of color into prison, even if that means some dangerous people slip through the cracks. This means skewing benefit to women and minorities in publicly elected positions. It means accepting the fact that we have received far too many grapes and we need to give some of them back.

Life is not fair. I learned this at an early age. We can choose to be selfish. We can just eat the grapes and make laws that keep the grapes to ourselves and dole out crackers to everyone else. Or… we can chose to be human beings and not monkeys. We can choose to give up the grape to make it more fair. We can cut the grape in half and take some cracker with our grapes.

We can evolve.

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Idea for Black Mirror Story Mon, 12 Feb 2018 12:43:12 +0000 Read More »]]> Its 4am. I woke up from a dream. It was an idea for a story. Here is it.

Title: Auto

Opening scene, close up of an eyeball with the reflection of a screen in the iris. Zooming out, you see people seated watching TV with blank looks on their faces. Next is a kid, watching a screen, hands folded on his lap, watching a video game being played on a screen. He is not playing, just watching, same blank stare. Next is a close up of a paint brush, painting thick oil onto a canvas. Zooming out you see a mechanical arm controlling the brush painting a woodland lake. Behind it, seated, looking blankly is a woman. She is watching the automaton paint for her. She says, “OK, add in a person swimming.” The arms pauses and the shifts slightly to grab new color and starts to add a person to the canvas.

Scene shifts to a boy about 16 years old. His eyes are darting around. His hands are fidgeting. He is watching his family. The mother is seated in the kitchen watching an automaton cook a meal. The others are seated watching a TV. The father coughs with a phlegmy sound. The boy lets out a few words, “I’m bored.”

The mother glances at the boy and then to the father. She looks worried.

Later that night, she is in bed and says to her husband, “Maybe we should get him tested. Maybe he can’t concentrate.” The father says, “Ill take him tomorrow.” He coughs some more.

Next day, the father and son are sitting in a car. They are not driving, the car is autonomous. The father is watching the TV in the car. The boy is looking out the window, eyes darting rapidly in that way when you look out of a moving train. There are no people on the road. The boy sees a an old part of town with some old stores. One building says Auto.

In the mall, the stores are simple and white with generic words above the entrances. Hungry. (People inside eating food) Bored. (People watching screens) Sick. The boy and father walk in. The father coughs again,

Inside, the father takes care of himself first. The machine diagnoses his cough and asks him to sit still while it fixes the problem. As this is happening, the boy gets up and walks around and then wanders out of the store. The father doesn’t notice. He is watching the machine work on his chest.

The boy goes outside. He walks a while looking around. He comes to that building called Auto. Inside, it’s deserted. There are old books and old machines. It’s the interior of a 20th century auto mechanic shop.

Switching back to the father, he is finished with his treatment. He looks for his son and realizes that he is missing. The father panics and starts to yell for him. People divert their gaze from the screens, but do nothing to help. One woman looks sad, briefly and then goes back to watching a machine paint her nails. The store she is in is called Ugly.

The boy is seated, reading a book in the auto shop. It’s a schematic of some sort. He looks up and searches the walls. He walks over to a set of parts and rummages through them. He finds a part and holds it in his hand. He caresses the gear. Black oil rubs off on his hands.

Montage. The boy is building something with the parts. He works quickly, focused. Screwing this, tightening that. It takes a long time. You see his mom crying while watching the TV. You see the boy in the mall eating quickly and then going back to the shop.

New day, the garage door opens with a loud clunky sound. A roar of an engine is heard. Out of the shop rolls a classic old Corvette from the 1960’s. At the wheel is the boy. The engine is loud and obnoxious compared to the electric whir of other nondescript cars. He drives down the street with a big smile on his face.

He honks the horn loudly/proudly. People turn away from their screens. People stare at the car and the boy with the same blank look they use for their screens. All except one teenage girl. She is wide eyed. She slowly starts to smile broadly and then wave energetically at the boy. They briefly make eye contact as he drives by. The boy yelps “Woo hoo!” as he cruises down the street.

He continues to drive until he gets to his house. His parents hear the commotion and come out. The mother is crying and the dad looks angry and relieved. He grabs his son and hugs him.

The next scene is back at the mall, in the Sick store. The boy is getting a treatment of some kind. The drive back is different. His eyes aren’t darting around. His hands aren’t fidgeting.

Last scene the boy is outside sitting on the lawn. The car is in front of him and an automaton is converting the car into a normal car. It’s adding in a screen and making the engine electric and autonomous. The boy stares quietly.

Fade out to the song Dreams to Remember by Otis Redding.


The inspiration for this story is my youngest son, Matthew. He has tried many different hobbies over the years (baseball, soccer, horseback riding, tennis etc) and lost interest in most of them. He watches videos of people who recorded their video games. To be clear, I watch plenty of screens myself. I’m no saint on this topic.

When we dream, it is our brains way of sorting out what we are feeling in a visual way. Clearly, I am feeling that something is changing about how we live our lives. Automation is taking many jobs and it’s not hard to see a future where we don’t do anything original.

I think I was also inspired by One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest. Black Mirror and Phillip K. Dick’s Electric Dreams have also been on my mind lately. What does out future hold? Will it be utopia or dystopia. I honestly don’t know.

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Talent Marketing Wed, 07 Feb 2018 19:02:36 +0000 Read More »]]> I was just talking with a friend who is in marketing. They are trying to hire someone and we were brainstorming different marketing techniques to land the candidate. We noticed a pattern.

Recruiting is exactly like Marketing. The parallels between them is striking and it made me wonder why we recruit people the way we do. (HR departments make a website, schedule interviews and that’s it) Imagine a different way of thinking about recruiting. Imagine a team inside the marketing department which had the following responsibilities:

Demand Generation
This is a universally accepted tactic for generating sales leads. You have webinars, you make websites, you buy lists, you advertise. Everything Demand Gen does for new leads can be applied to new recruits. You would have recruiting scoring like lead scoring and marketing automation where you email people and try to get them to read your content. The normal Marketo usage would apply perfectly here.  In fact, many years ago at Marketo, I set up the HR department with a lead partition for employee communication. The same can be done for candidate communication.

Why put demand gen tasks on hiring managers? Engineers don’t know how to market to engineers. They know how to program! Finance people don’t know how to market to finance people. They know how to manage the accounting. Let marketers who know how to market apply their craft to talent pools.

Recruit Based Marketing
Exactly like Account Based Marketing (ABM) but applied to an individual. Send people a t-shirt that says [Company] ♥ [Candidate Name]. Send them a bobble-head or flowers or candy. Find out who their parents are and send them an email saying,

“We love your daughter and really want them to work with us. However, we are traditionalists and wanted to your blessing to hire [candidate name]. You obviously did a great job raising her.”

Send them a mug. Take them to dinner with the team.

Talent Positioning and Branding
Why are websites so focused on sales and hardly focused on working that the company. Everyone in Silicon Valley knows that having great people will spur the success of the company more than any other single factor. Apply the same effort that we put towards product positioning towards the talent market. Why should people work for you? What is the culture/benefits/etc? Why not the other company? What is the mission and vision? Make it a place people WANT to work before they even show up.

Creative Services
Just like in all other marketing, there is often a need for graphic design in recruiting. Dedicate people to that task and the results will be there. Quality comes from all angles and this is no substitute.

Talent Operations
Just like Sales Operations (SOPS) and Marketing Operations (MOPS), dedicate people to running the machinery of this practice. Things don’t run themselves.

The reason to do all of this is simple. Hiring the best people is hard, but makes a huge impact on the success of the company. I was once trying to hire a product manager and made 4 offers before closing a candidate. The one I truly wanted took a different position. If only I had done a better job marketing to him.

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Deleted Post Tue, 06 Feb 2018 17:45:13 +0000 Read More »]]> Sometimes I wrote a whole post and then delete it. This is one of those.

It was about gratuitous violence in mainstream movies and TV shows like Altered Carbon and the hypocrisy of Hollywood liberals who star in movies which glorify torture, mutilation and murder and then say mass shootings are caused by loose gun control laws.

It was mostly a rant. It wasn’t even well written.

Anyway, have a good day.

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Product Specification Phases Mon, 05 Feb 2018 18:01:13 +0000 Read More »]]> TL;DR
Product specification has a point of diminishing returns.

Like most things in life, a nice chart makes it easier to understand.

Time flows from left to right. The green line is how complete a specification is and the red line is how hard it is to make the green line move.

Important: This chart assumes that product management has provided details of the problem space and requirements. How much of the specification they provide is variable and won’t be discussed in this post. Also the way PMs and Designers split up the work will also be omitted from this post.

Phase 1. Creative Burst
This is the beginning. Effort is low to yield alot of specification details. This is where basic information architecture and the structure of the system is designed. You can get about 30% of all the details in this short burst of time. Engineers should be aware of these designs on a loose basis. About 20 minutes a week is plenty of time to understand where its going.

The difference between a great product and a terrible one is often created in this phase.

Phase 2. Specification
This is where effort really starts. There are so many details on a single screen. Look at any UI of a product. Count the number of independent things on the screen. It’s not uncommon for dozens or even hundreds of variables/affordances to be present on any given screen. On a single blank screen of PowerPoint, I counted well over 150 individual things that need specification. Each of these needs programming and detail. How does it work? What does it do? Where does it come from? Can it be customized? What does it look like? The “job” of product design is to detail out as much of these questions as possible.

During this phase, we hit a point of diminishing returns. In other words, the effort to detail the design is higher than the value of that detail. Most organizations keep pushing the designers for more and more detail, despite the ROI being terrible. Enlightened teams switch to a different mode of design at this point.

Heresy: Designers should sit with engineers and pair on the work.

I know this is controversial, but the best designs I have ever done were accomplished sitting side-by-side with an engineer. Of course there are moments when you say, “Let me mock that up”, but often it’s just simply tweaking the UI with the engineer at the desk.

The devil is in the details and this is (in my experience) the best way to achieve excellence.

Phase 3. Development
The whole point here is that you shouldn’t wait for 100% specification to begin development. In fact, 100% usually is a pipe dream, an impossible end. This is because there is always room for improvement and the time it takes to get that improvement isn’t worth it. The ROI is terrible. It’s much better to get the thing to market and learn from the audience.

If you don’t have designers sitting with engineers, you will lose the benefit of design thinking at this stage. Get the best of both worlds. Don’t have designers throw something over the wall and then resign themselves to whatever outcome arrives.

There are many other nuances and facets to this work. There is no way I am able to be comprehensive in a single post. However, I hope the chart comes in handy and maybe helps someone along the way. This post was just a phase 1 exercise.

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Basic Civility Thu, 01 Feb 2018 18:48:05 +0000 Read More »]]> Kindness. Empathy. Civility.

I feel like the world is moving in the wrong direction on this. Maybe it’s the anonymity of the internet where you can say vile things to people on Twitter and feel no consequences. Even in a car, we yell at people, screaming that they are bad drivers when we would never do that in person. At work, I see an the volume of negativity increasing and the volume of camaraderie and collaboration decreasing.

To be clear, I have an extremely limited view of the world. Of the 7.6 billion people worldwide, I interact regularly with a few dozen and have met a few thousand in my life. I just tried to use a calculator to figure out the percentage of people I will interact with. The calculator just laughed at me.

So take my limited view into account. For all I know, civility is on the rise. For all I know, this is the best it has ever been.

So given that disclaimer, here is some of what I see:

  • The President of the US regularly engages in cyber bullying, humiliating and ostracizing people daily. Every time I hear him, it sounds like a 13-year old kid is living inside an septuagenarian body.
  • Many people worldwide live in constant fear of being blown up by radical terrorists.
  • People aren’t nice to each other at work.
  • Divorce proceedings are filled with hate and contempt.
  • Disagreements don’t explore the underlying principles of the disagreement, but rather each party digs in and refuses to engage. Online dialogue is atrocious.
  • Kids are bullied by peers and in some cases by teachers
  • Gossip and snide comments are rampant.

It feels pretty shitty.

There is a part of me that wants to stay in bed and sleep for a decade. There is another part of me, a small weak spot in my head, that says, “Get up…get through it…do something.” This is the part of my head that I try desperately to protect. It is fragile and insecure. Protecting it isn’t easy.

Im going to try and do something kind today. A random act of kindness. Maybe that will help.

Want to join me?

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Hello PowerPoint, My Old Friend Wed, 31 Jan 2018 18:20:41 +0000 Read More »]]> Figma had been doing a decent job of letting me specify the product I am working on. However, there were some pretty serious gaps.

  1. Performance was a constant problem. First time load: 20 seconds. Freezing the screen, about 20 times a day.
  2. Community is ridiculously slow to load/use
  3. Strange behavior pretty frequently

Also, a more important problem came up. As my prototype approached 80 screens, it started getting harder and harder to add/change things. What should have taken me minutes was taking me closer to an hour. Maintenance was getting harder and harder. Also, I noticed that presenting the prototype to people, I would often have to explain things that the screens should be able to explain themselves.

The missing ingredient?  Animation.

Animation helps demonstrate the USE of the product, not just the screens. To test my theory, I did a side-by-side comparison. I showed the product via the prototype and then the same screens in PowerPoint with animations.

As example, take a look at this single slide from the original Marketo design circa 2007. It’s not pixel perfect, but it’s in the ballpark. I call it Upper Middle Class Fidelity.

Look at the slide in presentation mode. Notice the technique of the hand moving to the right and dragging something to the left. To me, this is the core of the user experience of Marketo. Grab on the right, and drag it into the canvas. I tried to explain this at the time to people on a white board, but this single slide made people feel differently. Their eyes widened. They said, “Ooooooh, I get it.”  Keep in mind, at the time, drag and drop like that was pretty rare.

When I did the side-by-side test of my current project, I got the same effect. Menus sliding open, text being typed on the screen, the cursor moving…these are all powerful techniques to communicate the reality of the application. Prototypes are good if you want to simulate using the app, but not if you want to communicate more complex ideas about the design of the app.

So I switched back (AGAIN) to PowerPoint.  Interesting thing happened.

I have not used PowerPoint as my primary weapon of design in several years. Microsoft has clearly been working hard on it, especially the Mac version. It has progressed quite well.  Some examples:

  1. Concurrent editing across Mac/PC and across browser and desktop version
  2. Fully lights out Office 365 autosaving and version management
  3. Great design capabilities

It’s not perfect. Figma, Sketch, and Photoshop all have better, more exact, tools.  However, I can absolutely get Upper Middle Class Fidelity with nearly the same effort that I might put into Balsamiq.

Too many designers have an ALL or NOTHING mentality about fidelity. Either it’s wire-frames or its pixel perfect. Nothing in the middle. I fundamentally disagree with this approach. The key is maximizing your return on effort. A chart would help:

I believe that for nearly the same effort as a low fidelity tool, you can have almost all of the benefit of the high fidelity tool. You would still need to produce a graphic spec separately, but that is not something that happens in B2B software most of the time. You typically only need to do that for new projects.

To be clear, PowerPoint isn’t perfect. My current wish-list is significant:

  1. Switch from points to pixels.
  2. Allow rounded corners and other styling to be specified more like CSS.
  3. Import fonts. Why doesn’t Microsoft have something like Google Fonts??
  4. Make sure the online viewer renders fonts correctly.
  5. Allow components (reusable widgets) that I can control centrally
  6. Add in size constraints so I can pin parts of a grouped element to a particular position within the larger group.

One shocking thing was how frequently the Microsoft team is updating their product. Just look at how many releases they had in December, 2017 alone! SEVEN!  In case you didn’t know, December is typically the slowest month for development.

Anyway, long story short, I switched back to my old friend PowerPoint and it feels pretty awesome. I am co-authoring documents with a designer who is on a Mac and delivering the spec to engineers via the online browser.


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