Are Designers Too Obsessed with Perfecting the Details?

A formula for when (and when not) to fight for that design detail.

Sagrada 2.pngLa Sagrada Familia, known for its exquisite details, began construction in 1882!

Whether you’re an architect fixated with the way a series of fluted ivory columns reach up to meet a ceiling full of geometric openings that let in just enough light or you’re a UX designer in love with the way the subtle shadow of an element animates and transforms to become a different page, all designers are obsessed with details.

Crisis of Confidence — Why People Think Your New Idea Is Scary and What To Do About It

For most Americans, every April brings a certain sense of dread as the tax filing deadline looms. There are few things more intimidating than a tax code that’s thousands of pages long. Luckily, the tax filing app, Turbotax, does a great job of replacing this fear with confidence by removing ambiguity, giving control, and providing education for it’s users. And it’s a good thing, too. Fudge some arithmetic, and you could be subject to an audit by the IRS and ultimately prosecuted for tax fraud. Yikes. Not only are the stakes high, but the rules of the game are obtuse to say the least. Practically no one using Turbotax understands the tax code, so Turbotax really has its work cut out for it when it tries to replace that overwhelming fear with confidence.

Turbotax takes this fear dynamic so seriously that it actually begins its tax filing tutorial with an emotional check-in, asking its users how they’re feeling before they get started. Just by acknowledging that the people using their software might be a little bit nervous, Turbotax is letting its users know that it’s there for them. Next, Turbotax very clearly suggests to its users the most common path to filling out tax returns, but it very clearly lets them know that they can go back to any step at any point, so they don’t need to worry about getting the answers absolutely perfect the first time. Each step along the way is clearly marked and its completion celebrated. Finally, Turbotax offers tax experts to help with any questions. An explanation about a confusing tax rule is just a tap away. They’ve truly created a system of education on demand.

While filing taxes is an extreme example, the truth is every new thing we design creates a crisis of confidence for our users. New things always come with a bit of fear. Your users might have some idea of what to expect, but you can’t really say for sure. As designers and innovators, we need to be aware of this initial fear and work to counteract it. Instead of trepidation, we need to instill in our users a feeling of confidence. This confidence will give them the will to move forward through the experience and is a key ingredient to make sure they love what you’ve created.

We Analyzed Every SXSW Design Session Proposal. Here’s What We Found.


South by Southwest is the granddaddy of all conferences. With over 300,000 people descending on Austin, Texas every year and talks from design superstars like Bruce Mau and Elon Musk, it’s an incredible way to see what ideas are important within the design community. After attending the event for the first time this past year, we left with one goal: to one day get up on stage and spread our own ideas.

All the Feels — Designing for Emotion

The man needed to go to the store, so he drove to the store and got what he needed. 

Pretty boring story, right? But it is, in fact, a story. It has a hero. It has a beginning, middle, and end. It even has a challenge that the hero overcomes. But it’s awfully boring. So what’s the deal here? What’s missing? Just like with anything in life, stories can come in all sorts of varieties. Some are unbelievably compelling, and some, like the one above, leave a lot to be desired.

Great stories take us on an emotional journey. The not-so-exciting story of the man and his epic quest to get to the store is entirely devoid of any emotion. It’s dry as a bone. But it’s also simple. And simple is good, right? Shouldn’t all designs be as simple as possible? Isn’t it the simplicity that everyone loves about Apple products? Well… kind of. Simplicity is a crucial, but not sufficient. Great designs also have to evoke emotions. What if we were to tell you that the man in the story above was actually a father going to pick up a puppy for his daughter for her birthday, and he hadn’t seen her in six months? Your emotions would start kicking in a little more.

Google’s Got a Gambling Problem

Last year, I made a momentous decision. After 12 beautiful years, I broke up with Apple. Alright, it wasn’t a real breakup, I’m still typing this on my iPad, but I did I make the switch from the iPhone to the Google Pixel 2. And… (drum roll) … it was a great choice! The camera is stunning, I never run out of battery, and I don’t have to have any more extremely frustrating “conversations” with Siri.

But this article isn’t about which phone is the best (because lord knows we’ve got too many of those already). This article is about Google’s ecosystem – something that I wanted to learn more about by making the switch.

Twins.pngEmail Twins, Messaging Twins, Video Chat Twins, and Music Twins

Since moving to Google’s world, I’ve noticed something that seems to hide in plain sight: Google has two (or more) versions for a lot of their apps. Just took a look at all of the choices you have today:

The Power of Conflict — How Musk, Jobs, Disney, and Ray Dalio Fight Failure


Have you ever noticed that pretty much every superhero has experienced some sort of terrible trauma before they transformed into someone extraordinary? Ironman was kidnapped. Batman saw his parents murdered. Ditto for Wonder Woman’s aunt and Spiderman’s uncle. This kind of transformational trauma seems to happen in the real world too. Some of the greatest innovators of all time faced major failure in their careers.

5 Dangerous Words – “Hey, Can You Help Me?”

Hey Can you Help.png

A Typical Day at the Office

  • 8:43am: Arrive at work.
  • 8:47am: Continue working on a prototype for a new feature.
  • 9:09am: I’m stuck. I ask a coworker for some quick feedback.
  • 9:51am: A tap on the shoulder. It’s a developer with a question on the feature he’s working on. I help him.
  • 10:06am: Present my designs to a group of team members. They make some great suggestions.
  • 10:45am: Stuck again. This time, it’s a question about Photoshop. I slack another designer. He answers.
  • 11:02am: An email from an account manager comes in with a new feature request. I respond.
  • 11:11am: My phone buzzes. It’s a slack from our lead tester. I head over to make sure everything’s pixel perfect.
  • 11:29am: Ready for a new design challenge, I meet with the product team. We discuss requirements.
  • 11:51am: I slack an account manager to set up an interview.
  • 12:07pm: Lunch.

If you’re keeping track at home, it’s only noon and I’ve already gotten help or given help to someone a total of 8 times. Joe Cocker’s “I get by with a little help from my friends” song might as well be playing in my headphones all day. And that’s how it should be at a collaborative organization.

Asking for help is something that happens every day. No matter what your role is, there’s always going to be something you need help with; and for people in the business of creating new things, this occurs a lot. We’re constantly searching for answers to questions that have never been asked and we tend to use tools that are ever-evolving and overly complicated (looking at you, Adobe).

On the surface, asking for help seems harmless. But lurking behind the scenes is a dangerous productivity killer. According to experiments conducted by David Meyer, Ph.D., a psychologist at the University of Michigan, “mental blocks created by shifting between tasks can cost as much as 40 percent of someone’s productive time.” That’s 16 hours per person per week!

Evolving towards greatness — 3 habits to find the right path

SpaceX LandingPhoto by SpaceX via Unsplash

When you look for innovation inspiration, it’s natural to look at others that have been successful.  Netflix, Google, Disney, SpaceX, and more have all risen to the tops of their industries by producing innovation after innovation.  And while it’s exciting when Google announces that they’ve developed an assistant that can make phone calls to schedule appointments for you and pass as a real person, it can also be somewhat deflating.  Of course Google can do that. They have billions of dollars and 80,000 employees.  How could little ol’ me ever hope to do something like that?

Fortunately there’s hope. None of these companies started off with a billion dollars.  And even though they’re all in different industries, there’s one thing they all did from the very beginning.  They learned how to evolve. Rather than come up with one big “disruptive” idea over night, they found success through evolution.  By starting small and then taking one small step at a time, they got better and better.

It’s one thing, though, to commit to making small continuous change, but it’s another thing entirely to know what to change or how to change it.  Without any kind of direction, you’ll wind up in an endless spiral. Fortunately there are three tried-and-true methods for finding what to change: feedback, retrospectives, and research.  Through these methods you can ensure that your changes are taking you in the right direction, setting your organization on the path of true evolution.

The Biggest Factor in Brand Loyalty You’re Overlooking

Simba or Hamlet.pngLeft Photo by Hans Veth via Unsplash Right Photo by Phil Kalina via Flickr CC

Most organizations define their brand through “Brand Guidelines.” While these are a step in the right direction, they just aren’t enough to create a brand that people love. Just look at the name “Brand Guidelines.” Would you think that has anything to do with how team members interact within the organization? Nope. Does that name even really imply injecting emotion into your designs? Not really. The word “brand” itself has a connotation of an assumed visage, a mask. Most of the time, these guidelines are just seen as a marketing effort to make sure that the visual aspects of our designs and ads are consistent (Our color hex code is #2196F3, not #1E88E5. Can you please change the text to match that color?) This not only continues to perpetuate the myth that design is only about the visual elements, but also does nothing to help us create truly unforgettable experiences for our customers.

People don’t fall in love with brands because of their color scheme. People fall in love with brands because they think of brands as, well, people. When you meet a new person, you make all kinds of judgments about whether this person is going to be just a casual acquaintance or a friend for life. But more important than aesthetics is their personality.

The Biggest Problem with Agile Design (and how to fix it)

The Director and the Jedi.pngPhoto by Daniel Benavides via Flickr CC

I recently had the chance to watch The Director and the Jedi, an extraordinary documentary about the making of Star Wars: The Last Jedi, and one thing was very clear from the film: Director Rian Johnson deserves a standing ovation.

While there might be some of you out there that feel like the film didn’t live up to the holy standards of The Empire Strikes Back (because it didn’t), it’s hard to argue that it wasn’t a successful movie. (It’s the 10th highest grossing film of all time for crying out loud.) So putting aside criticisms of the film itself, Rian Johnson deserves a round of applause because of the sheer amount of effort that is required to pull off a film like Star Wars.