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.

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.

Frustrated Inventor, and Loving It!

I don’t think a day goes by that I don’t get ticked off at technology…

…and I love it!

Well at least from my inventor perspective. Let me explain…

I know, we’re supposed to be spinning around this sun pursuing happiness and all things fuzzy, but when it comes to inventing, I love it when I, my kids, or a co-worker gets frustrated with technology, the way things work, the stupid designs we all come across that seem so un-obvious.

Why? Because every little thing that gets us frustrated might the beginnings of a beautiful, patentable idea.

Here’s what I do: When I get frustrated with technology, something clicks in my head to pay attention. And then, (and this is key), I notice WHY I’m frustrated, and then I write it down. I don’t solve the problem right then and there, but I’ve recorded a nugget of inspiration that can later turn into a patentable idea. And it doesn’t even have to be me that’s frustrated. I can point to at least a couple patents that started with my son saying “Dang, I HATE THIS! If only…”.

Maybe spend a day and try it. If not for the fun of inventing, maybe for the fun of discovering a new product or service you can make money at!

Here are two other things you could try to get ideas to surface:

1) Write down problems you needed to solve regarding a project you work on. Think back to meetings where you and your team wrestled with how to solve a technical issue. Then, recall all of the ideas that you crossed off as ‘too lofty’ or ‘too expensive’. Those may be nuggets for great patents.

2) Sit in a cafeteria/public place and listen for:

  • “You’d think they’d…”
  • “If only…”
  • “It would work so much better if…”
  • and my favorite: “They can put a man on the moon, but they can’t…”

These are not patents themselves, but they are nuggets of ideas that could turn into patents.

Finally, when you explore new consumer technology, think of how it could be applied to your area of expertise…some of my favorite patentable ideas have come from the strangest of locations (Hard Rock Cafe in Vegas) 🙂

Give it a go! Who knows, you may surprise someone when they say “Aw crap, don’t you hate it when…”, and instead of you feeling bad for them, you respond with a big ‘ol smile, pad and pencil in hand, and say, “Awesome! Tell me more…”

Related Posts Plugin for WordPress, Blogger...