Jack White on Constraints

Telling yourself, “Oh, you have all the time in the world, you have all the money in the world, you have all the colors in the palette you want, anything you want,” I mean, that just kills creativity.
—Jack White

I was going through the parts I had highlighted in my Kindle version of Austin Kleon's book, Steal Like An Artist, and I keep thinking of how much I like this quote from musician Jack White, talking about using constraints to stay creative. I think about how much constraints and removal of the unnecessary makes a difference in helping flow in the tools I use as well.

The quote was actually taken from an interview of White that you can watch in the documentary Under Great White Northern Lights. There's an extended except in the Makin' Ads blog here, or watch a video clip on YouTube here.

Your app is a collection of tiny details

"Getting the details right is the difference between something that delights, and something customers tolerate."
—Jeff Atwood

I didn't read Jeff Atwood's article about cat feeders right away, because it really is 90% about a cat product. It's also a terrific demonstration of what he's saying above. The first version of the product, a cat feeder, served a core need well enough for him to satisfice with its shortcomings because the net return in time savings and improved quality of life, for him anyway, was absolutely worth it.

The punchline is this.

  • Be sure you're first getting the primary function more or less right.
  • Do the work of listening to users every day.
  • Refine the details of your product based on their feedback.

Listening to the opinions expressed by customers, obsessing over the details, and getting them right in the design is necessary and hard. But over time, if the points of pain are incrementally addressed and the design improved, the collection of those well-thought-out details embody a better experience.

Get better slowly, but do get better. Suck it up and feel your users' pain. Assure them that you're listening by sweating the details.


New sketch gear at JetPens: Maruman sketchbooks

People still occasionally ask me if I make the small bound Wireframe Sketchbooks, but I stopped selling them after a few years, and instead just posted instructions for how to make your own. I know that few people have the time or interest to do that, so I've been looking at alternatives for them.

A month ago, Brad from JetPens contacted me to tell me that he started supplying a sketchbook from Maruman that I might like. What I really liked is how closely it resembles the one I made. Some of my Instagram friends have been seeing pics of me using the Maruman Mnemosyne Inspiration Notebook, and a few like it as I do. The one I'm using is the A5 (5.8" X 8.3"), which has a 5 mm X 5 mm pale gray lined grid, title line, and 70 perforated sheets.

Below is a photo of the Konigi notebook on the left and the Maruman on the right. The Sharpie is there to give you a sense of scale.

You can see that the Maruman is the same width, and only 1/4 inch taller. The Maruman paper is smoother paper than the Konigi, and works well with inks. I'm using with a fine Hi-Tec-C and really love the feel of pen and marker on it. The Konigi book had a little tooth/texture because I like to work with soft pencil as well as pen/marker.

I think this is the closest of any notebook I've tried to mine. It meets the same requirements that I had for a sketchbook: small and wire-bound, white sheets with small quadrille, perforated paper, and can ideally be used in landscape orientation.

Thanks to Brad Dowdy for indulging my pen and paper addiction by letting me test and review the Maruman. If you're interested, you can check it out here.


Bruce Springsteen on Creativity

I'd like to talk about the one thing that's been consistent over the years—the genesis and power of creativity. ... It’s all about how you’re putting what you do together. The elements you’re using don’t matter. Purity of human expression and experience is not confined to guitars, to tubes, to turntables, to microchips. There’s no right way, no pure way of doing it—there’s just doing it.

From Bruce Springsteen's inspiring 2012 SXSW Keynote Speech.


We are Colorblind Relaunches

Tom van Beveren re-launches We are Colorblind. The site is restarting from scratch with new articles and examples of good and bad uses of color in terms of how those design decisions affect people with colorblindness. When you mouse over the examples, the screenshots allow you to compare the example with normal vison and simulated colorblindness. He also presents excellent examples for how these interfaces can be improved to become more accessible.


Give it five minutes

I'm certainly no stranger to being opinionated and argumentative. I've put my foot in my mouth a few times by pushing back on others' ideas, and am well aware that being quick to react can be detrimental. The older I get, the more I realize how little I know and how much more time I need to spend thinking after listening, before I open my mouth or start to type to respond.

I admire Jason Fried's recent blog post, "Give it five minutes." In it, he writes candidly about the issue of pushing back on ideas, starting from an exchange he had with Richard Saul Wurman, where the two had given talks at the same event. Wurman approached Fried to congratulate him, and Fried replied by telling Wurman what he disagreed with about his talk. The take away from that exchange was that Wurman taught Fried to stop and think, to give ideas a chance before challenging them with little respect or consideration.

I like this bit of advice from Fried, who turned that lesson into an opportunity to grow personally, and share what he learned from that exchange.

There are two things in this world that take no skill: 1. Spending other people’s money and 2. Dismissing an idea.

Dismissing an idea is so easy because it doesn’t involve any work. You can scoff at it. You can ignore it. You can puff some smoke at it. That’s easy. The hard thing to do is protect it, think about it, let it marinate, explore it, riff on it, and try it. The right idea could start out life as the wrong idea.

So next time you hear something, or someone, talk about an idea, pitch an idea, or suggest an idea, give it five minutes. Think about it a little bit before pushing back, before saying it’s too hard or it’s too much work. Those things may be true, but there may be another truth in there too: It may be worth it.

There's a fantastic little Jonathan Ive anecdote in there as well, where Ive explains Steve Jobs' respect for the fragility of ideas, the best of which can start out naive, but lead to beautiful things if they're allowed the time and space to be explored.

While some of the best products can grow out of one's work done in isolation, the ideas need to be shared to grow into products. Stifling others' ideas with immediate push back is not only a quick way to alienate your team, but squashing them too early can really do the most harm to you, by depriving you from seeing what it might become. This is one of those rare reminders that with maturity, hopefully we can learn to become more humble and grow. We just have to be open to the ideas.


Teddy on haters

It’s the doers who do.

I’ve never read Theodore Roosevelt’s “Citizenship in a Republic/Man in the Arena” speech before hearing it in this BoS2011 recap video.

“It is not the critic who counts; not the man who points out how the strong man stumbles, or where the doer of deeds could have done them better. The credit belongs to the man who is actually in the arena, whose face is marred by dust and sweat and blood; who strives valiantly; who errs, who comes short again and again, because there is no effort without error and shortcoming; but who does actually strive to do the deeds; who knows great enthusiasms, the great devotions; who spends himself in a worthy cause; who at the best knows in the end the triumph of high achievement, and who at the worst, if he fails, at least fails while daring greatly, so that his place shall never be with those cold and timid souls who neither know victory nor defeat.”

I’m seeing him with his pince nez saying, “It’s not the critic who counts,” and thinking, even Roosevelt agrees, “haters gonna hate.” I think that’s a good reminder to every one of us showing up every day, trying, failing, and succeeding, despite the obstacles, critics, haters, etc. But don’t take it from me. Teddy told you so.

You can now post Mockups to UX.StackExchange.com

I’m pretty excited about the announcement we at Balsamiq were able to make jointly with the group at StackExchange today. The two groups have been working together to integrate Mockups into the UX StackExchange. You can now post Mockups wireframes with questions and answers to UX.StackExchange.com using the free integrated Mockups editor.

I’m really excited about this. One of the conversations Peldi and I had before I joined Balsamiq was about creating something I’ve wanted to use for a long time–a site where you could upload wireframes to vet ideas, get feedback, and test concepts with other peer professionals. I’m of the “show me, don’t tell me” school of communication. Luckily the excellent UX version of StackExchange was created, and Mockups had the plugin model to integrate with it nicely, so lazyweb wishes can happen without even asking.

Here’s a bit from our announcement at Balsamiq:

If you don’t know what StackExchange is, you’ve been missing out. It’s a collection of community-edited and moderated question and answer websites, each dedicated to becoming the single best online resource on a number of different topics. The most famous StackExchange site is StackOverflow.com, the ultimate Q&A site for programming questions. Other popular StackExchange sites are Startups.StackExchange.com or English.StackExchange.com, about the English Language and its Usage. See a full list here.

About a month ago we were excited to see that UX.StackExchange.com launched publicly, and thanks to the long beta period had already become a wonderful resource for anyone interested in creating better software.

Some users had been posting Mockups to the site, and finally user Moshe Berman posted this question asking if the site could license Mockups. Peldi got a message from Joel Spolsky, the two groups iterated on ideas in myBalsamiq, and the rest is history.

You can find out more about how to use Mockups in the UX StackExchange in our blog and in this thread on UX.SE.


Realizing Empathy: An Inquiry into the Meaning of Making

Seung Chan Lim, better known as Slim, spent 10 years making software, working in computer science and interaction design at MAYA Design where he was the Assistant Director of Engineering. After some soul searching he began to ask why he was doing what he was doing, and at the suggestion of a mentor, he went out to do something different, something he didn’t understand. He went to art school.

Slim’s book explores how making works (as a process), what it means (to make something), and why it matters (to our lives). Through this exploration the book also investigates the ethics of our relationship to Computer Technology, and proposes a new direction.

I love the idea of learning something new and unfamiliar as a way of expanding one’s perspective. Two of my favorite articles/talks in recent years that relate to this topic are Bill Buxton’s article on how to keep innovating and Paula Scher’s Ted Talk on finding fun in the unfamiliar.

Judging by the introduction video, the book looks to be substantial, exploratory, humble, and inspiring. I’m really looking forward to reading it.

The book is being funded now, so if you want to see it happen like I do, you can back this project on Kickstarter.


Offscreen Magazine

Offscreen is a print magazine that takes an in-depth look at the life and work of people that create websites and apps. They’re interested in telling the less obvious human stories of creativity, passion and hard work that hide behind every interface.

The first issue includes conversations with web standards wizard Dan Cederholm, all-round-talent Drew Wilson, former last.fm design lead Hannah Donovan, 37signals' designer and product manager Ryan Singer, design entrepreneur Andrew Wilkinson and pixel-perfectionist Benjamin de Cock.