Opportunity Curve!

PD_0068Come on, you remember. You’re in high school. You are riding on the bus (or the back seat of your friends car), and the vehicle makes a sharp turn. Etiquette says you fight against the G-forces to keep in your space. But sometimes physics takes over and you lean hard into the person next to you.

If the person next to you is a pretty girl, it becomes an “opportunity curve”…

…a chance to get close to someone who is way out of your league

…a chance to say, “Sorry…the curve was sharp”

…and if you’re lucky, a chance to hear, “That’s OK. It was nice”

There are all kinds of forces that affect us every day. Most of them we naturally resist…it’s what etiquette suggests. Etiquette says it’s not proper to let that force push you…to be pushed into something you can’t control or foresee. Etiquette says you must always be in control.

…but what if etiquette is wrong?

What if etiquette is restricting an amazing journey that could be wonderful…life changing…terrifying…and beautiful all at the same time?

What if…the force isn’t something pushing against you…what if the force is something pushing for you into a dream-making opportunity that could only happen if a greater-than-you-could-muster-on-your-own force helped make it happen?

What if the force is the gentle presence of God guiding you, a divine nudge into your next-best-of-all-possible-multi-verses, and all you have to do is trust that this G-force always has your best interest in mind?

How about this: The next time a force guides us into a direction we aren’t in control of, lets…

…let go

…see what happens

…embrace the challenge/change/discomfort/awkwardness

…smile, take a deep breath, and yell, “OPPORTUNITY CURVE!!!”

Educate, Entertain, Inspire, Guide – That’s How to do “DOCs”


What a great way to educate, inspire, and entertain all at the same time. Beethoven  #GoogleDoodle.


While I’m way into music, I still found myself immersed in this little Google Doodle…enjoying the music, the story, and rooting for a cartoon character I was just introduced to seconds ago. For others not as familiar with his music, they learned that he composed music they recognized but didn’t know who wrote it…and even learned some sheet music structure as well!

Through it all, the Google Doodle inspired me by telling a story, complete with showing problems, sadness, and finally, resolution with resounding 9th symphony chorus. Most importantly, it made me want to continue to the end…to learn more, to stay curious for the outcome.

Think about it: “Inspired”…”Stay Curious”; quite an accomplishment from a silly little web app.

I just gotta wonder how much more our users would get out of our IBM Cloud content if we focused on those two phrases: “Inspire” and “Stay Curious”. What if we were driven to inspire by telling a story, educating with exercises along the way, and use emotion and success to keep users experimenting…to stay curious?

What if we made our documentation an actual reason to click to IBM Cloud? What if the experience of our DOCs was so satisfying, so sticky, so valuable, that the natural next step was to actually try the product out?

…and what if our DOCs were so intertwined with our product that after our users were educated, entertained, inspired, and guided, only then would they realize that through their curiosity, they’ve  been using our product all along?

Thanks, Google, for a great lesson.

Here’s to inspiring users…

Here’s to helping users stay curious…

Here’s to creating the best cloud experience imaginable!





Nothing Lasts – Except …

This link really screwed me up…


It was the announcement that IBM Systems Director, the product I spent years working on, was officially being pulled from market.

From 2004 through 2012 I spent most of my time at work working with users, designing, leading, educating, writing, and traveling to make IBM Systems Director the best it could be.

…and now it’s gone.

Not that it shouldn’t be…it’s a product from another era…pre-cloud. It’s purpose was to provide IT administrators a single experience that could manage the whole data center in a company’s shop. Certainly we can talk for hours about to what degree it succeeded doing that. While some may have criticized it, I loved working with a fantastic development team, and I felt like through our work with users and focusing on what they need, we were able to raise it a whole grade (or two) compared to what it could have been.

But, in the end, customers, and IBM, moved on.

What really messed me up is trying to think of all the personal and family sacrifice I made to make it better, not to mention the hit to the ego. I started to think of the missed family activities, all the effort, all the “we’ll fix it next release”, and it hit home that nothing…especially nothing in the IT world…lasts.

Which makes me think: what will last?  In a big company like IBM, even the best employee leaves a hole that fills in within a week or two. It reminds me of a Diary Queen shake: A new employee is like taking a spoonful out of a melty shake…the melty ice-cream quickly folds in and within minutes, nobody knows the spoon was even in there.  Even a stellar employee is like a spoon getting pulled out of a thick custard shake…it may take a bit longer but soon enough even the biggest hole gets filled in. Actually, a healthy company is designed to do that so productivity isn’t impacted by one person.

So where does that leave me?

When I boil it down, most things I just lift right out: Church, worship band, work, hobbies…

So what’s left? Relationships. My relationships to my family and friends. Most of my work relationships won’t last…hopefully some will but most are merely acquaintances (who will hopefully one day pause a few minutes before claiming my chair, monitor, and white-board markers). My family relationships are what might last: My wife, my kids. My wife I love dearly, and we are each-other’s anchor. But really the only thing that I am uniquely essential to is my kids. Sure someone else can raise them, but they won’t be their dad. That’s all me.

So what do I do with that? In a way it’s invigorating! It helps me focus on what’s actually important.

…to raise these kids the best I know how…

…to show them what hard work looks like
…that sometimes responsibility DOES mean sacrifice
…that a career is the HOW to provide and have a fantastic life, but not the WHY
…that life doesn’t revolve around them, but in how they can serve others
…that they should be driven by their passions and a career can possibly become that passion but will more likely their passion will become a wonderful side-car to their career that will give their life a sparkle.
…that they don’t forget what is most precious…it’s the WHO’s in your life, not the WHATs

Anyway, I’m still learning and trying to balance how this all works. Maybe I can teach and guide them so it doesn’t take them 23 years of hard work, where 8 of those years were entirely focused on a product that is no longer in the market…just to realize that the product’s purpose for me was to enable a fantastic life…it’s not the source of a fantastic life.

Drummer Lessons: Serve Your Team, Your Designs, Your Users

My sons are drummers. One is a killer-good drummer who can riff in a drum-line or a kit all day long. The other is just starting out, but already lays down a groove that compels me to pick up a guitar and jam along with him.

They just make me want to play with them…because they make me sound better.

Well, now I know why. Their teacher just published three drumming books (Get them…you’ll love them). The forward of the third book is so inspiring I think we all could learn from it in how we work with our team at work, how we approach our designs, and ultimately how we can delight our users.

Especially the last line:

“What actually makes drummers of great value in the professional world is not the amount of fills they know but rather their ability to make the rest of the band sound as good as possible”

Imagine: While a drummer has the ability to be the loudest one in the group, the most impressive (selfish?), the most showy, what Alec shows is that by serving the band and letting them shine, you will actually be the most valued and sought-out drummer of anyone.

What could it be like if we used all our talents and skills solely to make the rest of our ‘band’ sound as good as possible, rather than to make ourselves look good? How motivated would our teams be? How focused would our designs be? How great will our user’s experience be…because we are serving them, not furthering our own agenda/portfolio?

Do me a favor: As you read the image below, replace “drummer” with “designer”, “leader”, “general manager”, or heck, even “dad”.

After you read it, list below who your ‘band’ is. your family? your team at work? IT administrators? Developers? A youth group? Your users who are skeptical of any software because they’ve been burned in the past? Then, describe what you could do to make the rest of your band sound as good as possible.

Ready? Go.



PS: I’m serious. Go get these books. At least, go read the intro yourself

Judas Priest on Leading a Design Team

I love guitar. I love playing it, recording it, composing with it, and reading about it.

…and I love how it can apply to design.

In a recent issue of Premier Guitar magazine, an article on Judas Priest focused on how they’ve thrived over the years and what it was like bringing on a new guitar player after playing with their last one for decades.

This quote:

“When somebody comes in and sees it in a different way, let them go with it for a minute. Live with it. You never know whether you’re going to like it or not. If you don’t, you can always go back to what it was”

It’s a great lesson for both new designers coming on board and experienced designers welcoming them.

Experienced designers need to embrace change, welcome new ideas, and new directions. Welcome your awesome designers’ ideas, passion, energy and run with them for a while. See how the ideas breathe and interact with your vision. Maybe your vision needs changing.

New designers need to understand the story, the history, where the product has been and how its customers interact with it. In Judas Priest’s case, they had loyal fans but also wanted new fans. They didn’t want to stay a tired “back in their glory days” band.

The combination of new designers paired with experienced designers can produce powerful results through a collaborative exchange of ideas, old and new, that might surprise your customers and make for an even more delightful experience.


Kinda Like Finding Dog Hairs In your Cupcake

When we designers at IBM start communicating ideas for a new design, one powerful way is through an analogy. It’s a way to relate a powerful capability and user value of complex enterprise software by associating it with something that everybody 10 years or older can understand.

“Our cloud?…it’s kinda like Disney World for your workloads”

But sometimes analogies are great to communicate how crappy software can be. Like this…

“Bad messages in your software is kinda like finding dog hairs in your cupcake.”

Mmmm…yummy…and thoughtful.

Cupcakes are delicious, beautiful, and everybody likes them. We want our software to be the same! The problem is that your software could be the most functionally rich, best designed, and beautiful UI in the world…but if bad messages appear, it wrecks the whole experience…frustrates your users, and sometimes makes them angry enough to make your users abandon your product.

It just happened to me.

Recently I watched my son register to automatically submit his transcripts to the university he was applying to. Great! Very useful! Love it!

When he signed up, here’s the message he got:


We tried other emails and it worked fine. We copy/pasted and all the other tricks (thinking it had hidden characters somewhere) but no luck. Finally, beyond frustration, we just gave up and contacted the guidance counselor the next day.

Days later, we learned that the email was not valid for registration because his school had ALREADY REGISTERED HIM!

While it’s technically accurate that the email is not valid during registration because the email was already registered, it’s a stupid message! It caused us endless grief and prompted us to use the ‘old fashioned’ way and abandon the software.

In the end, a user experience is only as delightful as its weakest message. Designing for error paths and writing great messages is boring. I get that. Most of us leave it to the end. But if we DO focus on messages just as much as the colors and fonts of a product, it could have a far deeper impact for our users.

How about you? Have you been delighted by a products messages? Or did you eat dog hair, too?

The Washed-Up Rock Star

Two months ago, I was reassigned from leading a large design project to instead focus on a subset of that same design project. I called it a demotion,  others just viewed it as a shift. For me it was painful. I let it get to me personally.

This is what I wrote to capture my state of mind:


Sometimes the rock star doesn’t feel washed up.

He feels he has years of ground-breaking creativity left.

But the record company drops him in favor of new talent.

His band mates don’t understand what happened.

He certainly doesn’t understand what happened.

All he knows is he’s got this pent up energy to be creative…be productive…be valued…

…and he’s not being given the opportunity.

At best he’s been offered to play rhythm guitar in the new guy’s band

What does that rock star do?


…and that’s where I ended it. I didn’t know what to do. I was in a fairly deep valley.

Then, I sought guidance from a former mentor. She provided three things that were extremely helpful:

Empathy, Support, and a Kick-in-the-butt

In one week, she offered:

  • Empathy that what I was feeling was real, and that it was not just a made-up circumstance.
  • Support in options, opportunities, and approaches to overcome
  • A kick-in-the-butt that I need to get over myself and start killing it again.

What a great combination. Turns out that at least for me I need to know that someone has my back…someone is supportive and cares about my well-being. At the same time, I also need a challenge.

Now, I think I have an answer to the washed-up rock star:


…What does that rock star do?

He keeps rockin’ it.

He keeps being creative.

He stays curious. Always learning.

If the new guy was put in charge, it’s for a reason. Observe why…it’s most likely an area you can get better at.

Learn, improve, adapt.

He uses his strengths to compliment the new guy all the while adding new strengths.

Before long, the record label notices…or, a new record label notices with better residuals.

Before long, he’s valued, rockin’, and more creative than ever.


Do I know how this is going to finish? Nope.

Am I taking the opportunity to improve, learn, stay curious?  Yep.

Above all, I’m taking the long view, that this is just one small piece of my adventure-filled life, and if I remember to learn from both failures and successes, I’ll have a greater, more rewarding, more fun journey that can take me to stadiums to rock out in that I haven’t even dreamed of before.

Here’s to 2015.

Lets Rock It.

“Delightful” Doesn’t Have To Mean Simple

At our last design summit at IBM Design, we worked through some pretty great ideas, including how to delight our target user, Maureen, who we defined as an experienced developer who lives and breathes “DevOps”…she needs a much better experience than the one she has now. During one of the “User Empathy” sessions, we were trying to define what would delight her…what would “wow” her…what would make her jaw drop and wonder out loud how she ever got work done without it. We spent quite a while discussing how to simplify her experience and make things more automated…

…when a colleague quipped:

“A ‘wow’ for a craftsman is not a button that “with one click” creates a table. A ‘wow’ is common tools, common grips, common chargers, that enable him to fluidly use his skills and express his creativity”

We all stopped talking.

Yes. Yes. Yes. Yes. Yes. Yes.

We can’t assume that a delightful experience equals a guided “let me help you” approach.

That’s exactly why I use Logic Pro as opposed to Garage Band. I want to express my creativity using my skills to the best of my ability…not press “Create” and have a fake song appear.

Thank you, Johnathan, for this infinitely valuable reminder.

Now That I’ve Experienced Creating Great UX, I…

Over the last several months, I’ve been working with the IBM Design team. Through that interaction I’ve come to improve and refine my measure of great user experience. The project I was just on had it, and it was so exciting…so unifying. We brainstormed on parts of the experience that would add no functionality other than pure delight. We were very proud of what we did. The “It’s like a dream” user quote will stay with me for quite some time.

But now I look around and there are other projects…I have a pit in my stomach…what will it take to change the culture…change our DNA…to make everything we create outstanding…to make everything we create delightful to our users?

I’m not the best designer. By far. But now that I know what working on a team that strives to deliver a great user experience is like, anything less is just sad.

No, not sad.


The Power Of Twitter

I had just finished a session on IBM Design Thinking in a room full of technical analysts. We taught, had some quick exercises, and the interaction was great. Some great questions showed that the audience was thinking deeply about a topic new to them. Some laughed, nodded in agreement, while others asked hard questions and we had rich conversation.

Yet just a few minutes later I was shown the twitter feed.

My heart sank. Sure the rest of the night was filled with other great conversation, complements on the session, how we were spot-on, but the negative tweets really stuck to me.

It’s amazing the power Twitter has to…

…enable anyone to make an accusation without the chance for true human to human dialog

…make a seasoned presenter feel like a incompetent middle-schooler

I won’t mention the third.

I guess I need to trust my instincts, engage with real-life humans to learn, get tips, understand, improve, and receive compliments (and complaints) and ignore the smug (and hurtful) assertions that litter twitter feeds from those that sound so confident in virtual-land but don’t seem to want to say it face to face.

Related Posts Plugin for WordPress, Blogger...