words on the internet

i'm will dennis. these are my movie reviews and thoughts. i don't proofread before publishing so forgive the editing or lack thereof

Category: design

Building What You Design

I’m teaching myself iOS. Before that I was primarily focused on mobile design. I’ve found interesting the new transparency with which I can see through the “design stack.”

Before learning iOS, I would design with the user in mind — in pursuit of that perfect user experience. Now I design with both the user and the engineer (me) in mind.

If a design is marginally better for the user, but much more difficult to build, is it in fact the best design?

It’s a new question I’ve been wrestling with. We’re in the business of building things that look great, work great, and also ship quickly.

Having insight into each part of the process is forcing me to make engineering related design decisions at the UI level — sometimes consciously sometimes not.

It makes me realize how costly some “design-y” decisions can be to the actual building process.

My main perspective shift is that “design then build” may be a fundamentally flawed workflow. Engineers should be alongside designers when scoping projects.

The best design may be the one that minimizes the time-to-build/user-benefit tradeoffs.

This brings me to the next question I’m wrestling with: Is pure user-centric design bullshit?

The tradeoff between time and polish is not an engineering problem, but should be a framework for software design itself.

An Argument for Building Multiple Apps at the Same Time

I believe more small start ups should build multiple consumer social products at once.

I’m not going to blindly advocate for a labs model, or an in house incubator. I don’t think these models make sense for small teams in most industries or verticals.

I am, however, going to make the argument that when building a specific type of consumer product — consumer social networks — parallel development of multiple products is likely the right strategy.

Even 6 months ago this would have been a bad idea. I now believe building apps in parallel is the right approach for consumer social apps for a few key reasons.

The first reason is that consumer preferences demand dead simple apps — apps that do just one or two things really well. Instagram and snapchat are great examples. You can also see companies like foursquare and facebook currently unbundling their flagship apps to simplify their experiences. Yo, whether a long term success or not, has garnered attention and usage for its simplicity.

The second reason is the time needed for an mvp has drastically changed over the last 12 months. Mobile infrastructure as a service, whether it’s backend, social, or messaging has finally emerged. Services like Parse, Firebase, Layer, and Hull are comodifying a lot of mobile tech that had to be build in-house 12 months ago. Prototyping concepts has gone from months to days.

The third and final reason that parallel development makes sense is that market adoption is still the main obstacle for breakthrough consumer apps. Unfortunately for developers and startups, the timeline on which mainstream adoption happens — if at all — is highly variable. If you’re instagram then it can happen quickly, if you’re snapchat it can take 6 months, and if you’re whisper it can take a full year. Simply put, apps that break the mold often need time to find their audience or for their audience to adopt the behavior.

The opportunity for parallel development really emerges from the timing mismatch of the second and third reasons above: It is quick to build an app (Yo) but it’s often slow to pick up (Whisper). Building, releasing, and marketing extremely simple apps in a tight, disciplined cycle may be the best option for hitting it big in social. This cycle allows you to stomach the risky experiments for long enough to see if they resonate.

Truly game changing apps emerge from a mix of risk taking, experimentation, patience, persistence, and serendipity. They often look crazy or weird when they first launch.

Parallel development lets you ship more crazy ideas and watch them for long enough to tell if what you’ve built is actually a niche art project or possibly the next Facebook.

Our small team just finished Techstars NYC with an app called Hollerback, which we’ve since decided to pause development on. We’ve been experimenting with parallel development of a few consumer social apps and the results are promising so far. If you want to take a look at our latest experiment Hopscotch, you should sign up for early access here. We think it could be big ☺

Of course, you should also follow me on Twitter

Edit Your Product into a Corner

keith-haring-painting-into-corner2

When building out a product, there are so many potential features to include, it’s hard to decide which features need to be included in the first version.

What we’ve found helpful building Hollerback, is actually editing back features until the experience, well, breaks.

By taking away the very features that make your product useable, you quickly get a deep understanding of why each feature has to be there. You also get the added benefit of cutting out fluff in the process.

A good rule of thumb is that if you cut something and don’t miss it after a week, leave it out.

With aggressive feature editing, you arrive at the experience that truly matters — the set of features that accomplishes your “one thing” in the simplest way possible.

Well designed products aren’t sets of features, they’re systems that accomplish a task with little to no friction.

By editing your product into a corner, you start to consider each new feature as necessary to solve a specific friction point. Eliminate features until your experience breaks, then only add the features that eliminate friction.

The result is a product that feels both whole and simple.

If you’d like to check out our execution of a whole-yet-simple product check out Hollerback.

Let me know if I can be helpful will@hollerback.co

How to Talk About Design

I watched a talk yesterday by Ryan Singer, design guru of 37 Signals. The talk has a bunch of great points, but one struck me in particular – his description of how to qualify effective design.

Effective design is a lack of friction.

I love this definition because it fully captures the iterative process of design and the trade offs that come with iteration. The best part is that it doesn’t rely on “designery” language.

It’s not just a great definition, but it’s a great way to tackle design problems and opportunities.

Designs can always be better if there is friction in the system. That’s why iteration is necessary. Finding the best design is often a process of designing then using then designing then using. Using your product allows you to find friction. Design allows you to eliminate it. It’s tricky because eliminating friction in one area can introduce it in another. That is what makes design so fun and challenging.

If you’re able to kill friction without introducing it elsewhere in the system then you’re on your way to a great design.

“Friction” is just so much more tangible and human than terms like simplicity, aesthetic, design, feel, or ux. Simplicity and aesthetic result from an absence of friction – I don’t think they drive effective design in and of themselves.

Our understanding of friction as a word and a feeling is basic, it’s human. Your mom can feel friction just like a designer can feel friction.

We have frequent field tests at Hollerback where the entire team goes out and uses the app for a few hours. When we come back, we discuss bugs and potential UX improvements. The UX part of the discussion was good, but hard to nail down exactly what UX was.

From now on we’ll be using points of friction as the focus of our discussion. I look forward to seeing if it pushes our design and product in a more effective, delightful direction.

My Favorite Design Links of the Last 6 Months

Over the past 6 months I’ve been actively working to improve my design chops. Visual design, interaction design, ux, design thinking — you name it. When I find a helpful resource (ie asset, article, definition, process) I save it to a bookmark folder in Chrome.

Below you’ll find an unordered list of design focused links I came across over the last 6 months.

Instead of writing descriptions or trying to cull the list, I thought I’d share it in its raw form. Click around. Explore. Hopefully you’ll find some of them helpful.

If you know of a resource I’ve missed, add it in the comments!

Why good storytelling helps you design great products.

The Kano Model

What is Product Love?

Dribbble Mock Up Resources

Starter’s Guide to iOS Design

The iOS Design Cheat Sheet

Upping Your Type Game

Wilson Miner — When We Build

The Mental Model of Verbs in App Design

Getting to Signature Moments with Microinteractions

Improving UX with Customer Journey Maps

How to become a designer without going to design school

Creating Successful Product Flows

How Designers Can Help Developers

Required Reading For Product Designers

Learning to See

Dieter Rams: ten principles for good design

Final Designs are Always the Simplest and Most Practical

New in Android

Android Design Guidelines

inVision Mobile Prototyping

From Google Ventures: How to Hire The Best Designer for Your Team

Your App Makes Me Fat

Warm Gun: Lightning-Fast Mobile Design

Butterick’s Practical Typography

C.R.A.P.

Why Whitespace Matters

Glyphish Icons

Digital Design — GUI, Layout Interfact on Pinterest

Adobe Kuler Color Wheel

A Rare Look At the Graphic Design Guidelines at Google

Google Visual Assets Guidelines

10 Rules for Making Good Design

PlaceIt — Generate Product Shots in Realistic Environments

Designer News

Review: The Design of Everyday Things

First Principles of Interaction Design

Gestalt laws of grouping

Forget All the Rules About Graphic Design

Design Better and Faster With Rapid Prototyping

Creating Prototypes with Keynote

Fake It. Trash It. Build It.

Balsamiq

Mobile Design Details: Performing Actions Optimistically

My Six Rules for Mobile App Design

Design By Numbers: Typography

52 Weeks of UX

Learning from “bad” UI

Cognitive Overhead, Or Why Your Product Isn’t As Simple As You Think

Portkit: UX Metaphor Equivalents for iOS & Android

An Event Apart: 10 Commandments of Web Design

BJ Fogg’s Behavior Model

Type Hunting

What To Do When You’re The Only Designer They’ve Got

Best Logo Designs of All Time

Trade Marks and Symbols by Stefan Kanchev

Great Products Focus on A Motif

Thirteen Tenets of User Experience

Five Ways to Prevent Bad Microcopy

If you see a UI walkthrough, they blew it

Touch Gesture Reference Guide

Taste for Makers

Beyond Flat

A Brief Rant On The Future Of Interaction Design

There is no place for just shitting all over other people’s work

Felt Presence — Ryan Singer

An Insider’s View of Mobile-First Design: Don’t Make These Mistakes

If you’re interested in seeing if any of this pays off, you should check out Hollerback

Let me know if I can be helpful: will@hollerback.co