I’ve tracked personal data like weight, heart rate, productivity, and sleep for years now. As a data-junkie, it’s been a fun resource for experiments. At first, it took a lot of effort, and I gave up on a handful of datasets. Now, I spend less than a workday per year (total) working on what’s become a very rich and useful collection.

Collecting rich data about my life has given me an objective way to look at my past. It’s also become a significant part of how I make decisions about the future (maybe I’ll cover that in another post). …

When we were developing Digital Directories at Mappedin, we faced a unique design challenge. It’s what I like to call a problem of “fuzzy constraints” (more on that later).

Last month I helped build and launch JUJU, a live streaming platform for artists.

JUJU was founded by artists who recognized a gap in the market for live online entertainment.

On one side of that gap, you had short-form events on platforms like Instagram. These streams were not curated, the quality was inconsistent, and the only way to earn from them was with a tip jar. Many artists aren’t comfortable “passing around the hat” to collect donations and end up giving away their content for free.

On the other side, you had long-form concerts with high quality and high ticket prices. These are expensive productions. …

If you have a hard time understanding design roles, here’s a shortcut: design is a spectrum from conceptual to practical.

Research → Experience → Interface → Prototyping

Research is where you gain detail on your users and the challenges they face. A talented researcher will uncover insight and empathy by monitoring and interviewing users. They’ll build tools (e.g. user personas) that will ground your team in a deep understanding of the problems you’re solving.

Experience covers the pattern of interactions, feedback, and information that define the way a user will engage with your product. Experience designers produce wireframes and flow charts that choreograph a user’s journey from their first impression to their mastery of the product.

Interface designers create visual…

If someone at work asks their manager “Why do we hold this weekly meeting?” or “Why does our product have this feature?” the response should never be “Why not?”

Why is it important? Maybe it’s mission-critical, maybe your competitors do it, or maybe it’s just “expected” in your industry. Processes are defined with good intentions but over time conditions change and when they do our instinct is to hold our ground.

To ask “Why not?” is to justify losing effort and gaining complexity just because there’s no good reason not to. Instead, we should ask ourselves “Why?” and remove those features, meetings, etc for which we don’t have a good answer. It ensures everything we do has a clear sense of purpose, and it creates space to do the things that our competitors don’t do and that aren’t “expected” in our industry.

As designers, sometimes we forget about our audience. We set out to build things that are trendy or technically interesting instead of powerful and meaningful. We can spend hours tweaking the aesthetic only to populate our work with meaningless placeholder content.

Brutalism has set out to challenge what’s trendy. It ignores conventional grids, opting instead for an ugly mess of layered content. It denies users of common patterns for navigation and leaves them on their own to discover how to access other pages (or not). …

As the modern movement emerged in fields like industrial design and architecture a designer’s most important asset was their understanding of materials and production. There’s a sense of modesty in the designs of the 60s and 70s. A sense that designers were chipping away at the usual facade to uncover something about the things they were creating.

In UI design, the methods of production (programming) have become so flexible and abstract that exposing them seems less valuable. The fact that the work is so unconstrained has caused many designers to become less engaged in implementation leaving the choice of tools…

A few weeks ago I saw the Berliner Philharmoniker. The show was so full that the only available seats were in a balcony behind the orchestra and facing the conductor.

Watching from this perspective it was clear how important the conductor is to the group. It’s rare to have such an intimate view of the art of coordinating people. It made me realize that there are a lot of parallels between conductors and managers:

  • The conductor’s purpose is not to make bad players sound good, it is to help great players achieve a level of balance and compatibility that would…

When a startup has plenty of funding, they take the shortest path to their vision. They get out ahead of the market to offer something new. What they build is disruptive. It’s different from what customers are asking for.

In contrast, bootstrapped startups need to sell their product right away. The resistance of customers to change has a greater impact on what they do. Many will take “the path of least resistance” by simply doing what the market asks them to until they inevitably reach their vision. The problem is that someone else will reach it first.

Companies that minimize…

Every early-stage startup knows the importance of company culture. There’s no shortage of books and advice on the subject. The attitudes and motivations of early employees are amplified as the company grows. Setting the right culture from the start is critical to scaling the team successfully.

Equally important (but less known) is that this also applies to customers. Naturally, as the first few are on-boarded, the team and the product will be affected by their attitudes and motivations. When aligned with your company, the right customers will accelerate everything you do. The wrong ones will set you back.

Startups should evaluate and seek early customers with the same care they apply to early employees. You want to find valuable allies that you can trust with your product.

Mitch Butler

Product Architect, Composable by Myplanet. Founder, HumanCollective.co. Co-Founder, Mappedin.

Get the Medium app

A button that says 'Download on the App Store', and if clicked it will lead you to the iOS App store
A button that says 'Get it on, Google Play', and if clicked it will lead you to the Google Play store