January 4, 2020

The Courage To Be Disliked

You notice only your shortcomings because you’ve resolved to not start liking yourself.”

At the end of 2019, I shaved off most of my hair. It sounds like a straightforward thing to do, and for many men, something no more important than shaving their chin, or taking out the rubbish. But for me, it was a bit more complicated than that.

For most of my life, I didn’t notice my hair, until someday I did. As a baby it was ginger and wispy, as a kid brown and mousy and once puberty kicked in it got curly.

But I became fixated with it, and most of all, worried what other people thought of it. I spent too long brushing it, staring at it in mirrors, adding product to it, washing it, not washing it. There was never any real end goal, just fleeting moments where it didn’t look ugly and bad. Why I cared about looking ugly and bad’ was something I never thought about, just something to avoid – or to become preoccupied and fearful about.

My hair always caused me more stress than happiness, yet as I hit my mid 20’s, a new fear crept into the mix. Losing my hair altogether. Baldness was the ultimate thing to worry about. There would not be a bad’ hair day, or bad’ shampoo that left my follicles limp and lifeless, but every day would be a recurring nightmare. A bald head staring back at me.

It happens gradually, and with my panic levels through the roof, a few extra hairs in a comb were enough for me to cover my scalp with hats and beanies. Searching for a new look that I would need to stick to for the rest of my life. Maybe I could shower and sleep with a beanie on, and no one would ever think or ask about what was going on beneath the surface. Not long after, I read an article that hats SPEED UP baldness, due to stifling the oxygen, so I was left with my back to the wall. Again, not a lot of long term thought goes into these bizarre anxieties.

My hairline was the next frontier of worry. I was constantly patrolling it, with covert brushes with my hand and with especial caution when it was wet, and the hideous truth would become apparent to all.

When I did need a haircut, I felt a sickening dread – I believed only my barber knew my dark truth, that I was going to be bald. And maybe this time, he would finally throw down his scissors and say I can’t do this anymore!”. Like a confidential informant who couldn’t take the pressure, or a scientist asked to solve an impossible problem in 30 minutes. But, as he brought out the hot towel, there was always enough’ hair left on my head. With my ego intact, I would shake his hand (this time I’m thinking of Vlad, a Russian barber in Manhattan), and pretend like there was never any doubt about my hair. I had a healthy head, I was in great shape, and I’ll be back in a month! I practically skip out, searching around on the street for admirers of my new cut.

I never really stopped to think a few years ahead, to the actually reckoning. I pretended like it wasn’t going to happen. Maybe I’d still be spraying some sort of sea salt and weaving in some high tech pomade in 2040.

Of course, you see this sort of delusion all the time. Combovers that resemble modern art. Blonde spiderwebs stretching over a red raw desert of a scalp. But those guys were never me, I was different.

Once in a while, with people I felt comfortable around, I might say something like, yeah, I’ll probably just shave it off.” I didn’t mean it, but it felt like the right thing to say. Casual, cool, calm. Like I’d never had any anxiety, or never felt self conscious. Like my hair wasn’t part of my identity, and I wouldn’t spiral into homelessness and ruin without it.

But one day, I did actually mean it. And the next minute, I was sitting in the chair, quite confident, and asking for a… How do you put it? I start explaining the way my hair works, the intricate details. The part line, the curls, how it looks today, how it usually looks. The expression on the hairdresser tells me a more important truth, she’s only looked at my hair for 20 seconds and it’s entirely unremarkable. She doesn’t feel my pain, she doesn’t know the journey leading up to this point. I sigh, and just ask for the clippers. How anticlimactic.

She must have seen the fear in my eyes, because before the blades are plunged past the point of no return, she says absentmindedly, here we go” and grimaces (well, I think she grimaced a little). I see my face go white and my mind races forward a few days. All the hairdressers and customers have stopped to gawk. They are laughing and pointing. One older woman has gone green and is about to throw up at the sight of my head. At work, I’ve been fired, since no one can sit across a table from me, and my own family won’t answer my phone calls. The hairdresser is crying and apologizing, I’ll get a refund she assures me, just please leave and don’t come back.

Alright, all done.” Her voice brings me back to reality, and my new head. I pay, walk out, and go back to my life.

I’m not sure exactly what I was expecting. Maybe I would be escorted into a room filled with other newly shaved, balding men and given a powerpoint presentation on the history and road ahead. Would I need to wear sunscreen on my scalp, will people treat me differently. What new celebrity role models will I need? Do I need to change how I dress too? Should I use a different dating app? Do I need to update all my old hairy internet avatars? So many questions left unanswered.

Since there’s only a few tiny 2’ on the clipper lengthed hairs on my head, I can’t do anything. Shampoo does nothing, it looks the same when it’s dry and wet. There’s no hair peeking out of a beanie. It doesn’t fly in the wind, or look different after a day on the beach. The comb is useless. And forget gels, pomades, waxes and all the other stuff. After my haircut I skipped the sales presentation entirely.

But most of all, the most confronting thing is the fact that other people, will see it. They might like it or dislike it, and that was true of having hair, and a maddening thing to worry about, but with no hair, it is completely out of my control. I have to accept it and be ok with it.

Because the truth, that I’ve never really faced directly or connected with, is this, it doesn’t matter – it has no substantive impact on any real important metric of your life, and should not take up your energy. It took too long for me to hear that, or really understand it.

But do other people really look at you so much? Are they really watching you around the clock and lying in wait for the perfect moment to attack? It seems rather unlikely. A young friend of mine, used to spend a lot of time in front of the mirror arranging his hair. And once, when he was doing that, his grandmother said,”You’re the only one who’s worried how you look.”

He says that it got a bit easier for him to deal with life after that.”

December 21, 2019

A text from Bodley 764 (c.1225-50) neatly describes the cat: This creature is called mouser because he kills mice. The common word is cat because he captures [captat] them … Catus is the Greek word for cunning.’ - London review of books

December 12, 2019

User Overboard

For actual tips, go to User Onboard

Have you considered showcasing MY feature?

Onboarding is a chance to teach new users about the whole product. If it’s unfocused, nearly every product team will want to showcase their feature, action, value etc.

Wait! You’re recreating functionality

It’s a common pattern to recreate functionality so that you can teach a user how to use the product. For example, maybe with Grammarly, they get you to write a sentence so that they can give you suggestions. What do those suggestions look like? Are they illustrations, or are they literally the product. Some argue that if you get too detailed, you might as well drop them into the app already… Which takes me to the next thing.

We should just make the actual product more simple, and designed better.

At this point, onboarding is forgotten about, and the product team starts talking about all their hopes, dreams and aspirations for the core functionality. If only search did this.. If only the home page could do that.

Did you see what Netflix did?

Digital products are always copying each other, that’s how we get better right? Well, if you have a good idea that’s er, not defensible, well you’ll see that quickly spread around. For some reason onboarding seems particularly prone to just doing what X is doing.” Again, without a tight strategy, you are really spinning around with a blindfold on at this point.

Where’s the skip button?

A savage remark, but speaks to a core user need how do I get past this modal?” In many cases, onboarding walkthroughs are so tired, badly written and designed, that it becomes a game of find the next arrow’ and tap as quickly as possible. We see a similar effect on every media website circa 2019. SHOW ME THE RECIPE FOR BAKED SALMON!!

Have you considered the other type of user.

Onboarding struggles to support all user types. Too simplistic, smarter users get no value. Too complex, and the average user never makes it past step 5… Speaking of steps.

The Step Paradigm

In a similar way to just doing what you saw another well designed app’ do, onboarding seems fixated on steps’. I get it, you’re telling a story, you don’t want to overwhelm, but by fixating on steps, and the number and order of them, may be missing the point.

Leaking into the product.

Since onboarding inevitably drops you off somewhere into the app, usually a home page, the two things become very linked. Maybe onboarding never dies’ and lives on as educational tips littered around. There’s no simple way to separate onboarding from the rest of the product. In fact, the more useful onboarding becomes, the more users might say how do I get back to that nice thing at the start?”

The Aha moment

There isn’t one.

December 9, 2019

Great Design Happens In The Open.

A few notes and quotes around design visibility, or as we like to say socializing”.

1. Uber shows work

This was from a conversation with a designer at Uber. The key thing was speed. Uber is a big company with lots of things going on, and spending weeks polishing a design is to not going to ensure it’s success. It’s not just about showing it early, it’s about rapidly folding in feedback. And you can’t get feedback without showing , so it’s actually more about the feedback than the work.

His process was: get something rough (but never wires), get feedback and action it immediately. By the time the work is shown to high-ups, it’s in a good place and gets sold. The feedback rides along and gives the work a gleaming armour. I wanted to know more about the design, I still hold this belief that polished design takes time, but he emphasized speed. You’ve got to go fast.

The metaphor here would be cooking a pancake, sharing it around before it cools down, and asking everyone what they think. A bit more sugar, a bit bigger, more blueberries, rounder. And he’s immediately back at the stove whipping up the next one, while everyone still in the room chatting. There’s not long winded discussions about”what the perfect pancake could be” and grouping back in the kitchen in 2 weeks to discuss gourmet Italian flour. It’s cook, eat, cook, and next thing he’s got the budget to start a pancake factory.

This may or may not be a coincidence, but the first rule (of 77), from Uber Design is Great design happens in the open.” So his approach may have been something instilled in all Uber designers. We say you have 24 hours to post because when your work is in the open it invites collaboration and everyone benefits. Consider it design by osmosis. Your work gets better when everyone can share their perspective and learn yours. Design can and should reach far beyond the design studio and into every part of the company, from the C suite to the people deep in the field.”

2. Apple shows work.

Steve Jobs doesn’t like to be suprised. I like to think Steve Jobs is sort of the ghost in the room of every design critique, endlessly shaking his head at all us poor designers. But Steve also doesn’t believe in vacuum design. He says, if anybody ever brings in anything that surprises me, something’s wrong in the process.”

Bob Baxley, a director of design at Apple, talks more in detail on a Design Better podcast. If you ever found yourself sitting at your desk by yourself with your headphones on stressing cause you felt like you had to figure it out on your own (pause for nods), something was really broken.”

People had to show their work every 48 hours basically. I came to describe the process as a little bit like Saturday Night Live, where Monday we sort of threw around some ideas as to what we might think we’d have for the week. On Tuesday we sort of had like the initial run through the sketches. On Thursday we had a dress rehearsal, and on Friday was the show with the executive team.”

From what I’ve heard, Apple still follows this structure very closely. I can’t imagine this would work in many other orgs, for a number of reasons, mainly because most of big tech is handled by product managers, whereas Apple relies on design and engineering to figure a lot more of the problem space out. But they are working that muscle of showing work early and often.

3. Facebook shows work

This one is from a designer at Facebook. Find a way to make your shit visible. Don’t toil away in secrecy, show people shit.” Nicely said.

December 1, 2019


I’m starting to realize titles are completely meaningless.

Designers at huge tech companies can have 10 years of hardened experience and still be a product designer.”

Grads are Senior designers. Interns are senior designers. Your mum is a senior designer.

Everyone is a lead.

I’ve interviewed designers with impressive bios, titles and projects only to find out they are all fake, and were compiled in a sub 6 month bootcamp.

The first designer at a startup, perhaps a freelancer or opportunist with some generalist skills at a startup instantly becomes Head of Design.

Our industry fans the flames, with a dizzying array of titles

I get it, and I’ve been told this many times. Titles. Don’t. Matter.

But they matter to me. Or they have. I fought hard to become a product designer’, because it was a career goal to transition away from graphic design.

It was a big moment for me, defining, but I realize now anyone can update their Linkedin in a few seconds.

What really matters is what you achieve with your team, and how you help your users and the business.

Maybe we should be more focused on testimonials than titles. I know it’s something that can be gamed, but it’s a stronger signal.

Kevin designed key components of our product, and the results were an across the board improvement in engagement and conversion.”

Damn. Does it really matter what Kevin’s title was then?

November 30, 2019 stroszek