Re-inventing Tech Meetups

First thing first, please forgive me for the Buzzfeedy, blatant disrespect of a headline.

Thank you.

Now, here’s what I’m thinking. There are lots of tech meet-ups  for designers and developers of all variety, from startup to enterprise, from niche specialty to full-stack. The one thing they all have in common–as it seems to me–is they all involve meeting up at bars, or venues where you stand around and drink. (I’m not talking about events where there’s a presentation or a talk, I’m talking about straight up socializing.)

For me the tech meet-ups represent three personal trade-offs:

  • Moving my body (and stilling my mind). A perpetual problem for me is deciding whether to spend my evening getting exercise, being outside, moving my body, which is much needed after a day of sitting and typing, vs. getting out there and meeting people with a common interest in the community.
  • Drinking. I also don’t drink much. I was ordering Scotch neat regularly, and then I turned 30 and my body said, “Ok, that was fun, but we’re done here.” Most of the time this is not a problem. I can usually get a non-alcoholic drink, or get a house wine and hold it in my hand to blend in socially. But I’ll confess there are times when I get more particular and wonder, why couldn’t we socialize with something like tea, or juice, or kombucha? I know, I know, liquid courage and social networking and all that, which leads me to my next point.
  • Introverting. In her book, Quiet, Susan Cain describes Introverts as “Many have a horror of small talk, but enjoy deep discussions.” I’m an Introvert, and unless I have a friend or two, networking events are pretty much mostly small talks, which at best can be draining and at worst horrifying.

I had this Jerry Maguire moment the other day after getting back from bouldering around the  Volunteer Park Water Tower. Why can’t we host a tech meet-up doing things we love? Like climbing? Or yoga? Or walking? Or… actually making something?

Why can’t we talk about Designing for Cats at our favorite climbing gym, like Dogpatch Boulders or Seattle Bouldering Project? Why can’t we carpool to Green Gulch Farm on Sunday mornings and sit and listen to the Dharma talk and walk to Muir beach and talk startup or product design? Or the SF Zen Center on Saturday mornings and Samovar after to share our side projects? Why couldn’t we walk around Greenlake with our dogs, you know, ahem, Get Out of the Building and all that?

What do you think? Do you have a similar experience? Would you show up for a tech walk-around? If nothing else, science says it’s good for us.

Feedback from my friends:

  • Kutta said this could be a complement to bars meet up, not a replacement, and I agree. It’s for climbers to tech, for example. “But if there was some kind of group session that’s social-friendly (like, hire a couple of bouldering instructors to teach a loosely organized group class, who can tailor their teaching to both noobies and more experienced participants)… You could get 10-20 people to hang out and socialize and bond.”
  • Brendan (@brendanreville) favors meet-ups that “actually involve people making stuff in the shared space.. or show off what they’ve made.”
  • Jonathan (@jmfd):  “I think it’d be much more fun to do demo-style meet ups, and actually show what you’re working on and discuss the problems.”


True heroism

I’ve been mildly obsessed with this page for a few weeks. I keep it open among  20+ other pages, occasionally forget about it until I’m cycling through all the tabs, come across it, then I’d sit and stare at it for a few minutes, smiling.

It reminds me of a quote I heard once by Wendell Berry, an environmentalist and author, “The real work of planet-saving will be small, humble, and humbling, and (insofar as it involves love) pleasing and rewarding.”

"True heroism is minutes, hours, weeks, year upon year of the quiet, precise, judicious exercise of probity and care—with no one there to see or cheer. This is the world." – David Foster Wallace in The Pale King

“True heroism is minutes, hours, weeks, year upon year of the quiet, precise, judicious exercise of probity and care—with no one there to see or cheer. This is the world.” – David Foster Wallace in The Pale King

The Pale King quote is grounding, and quite humbling. What’s also neat, is the quasi-hidden navigation on the page. You mouse over the colored bars, and oh, look, more quotes with the same category tag! You mouse over the quote and get the posted date and other social media sharing options, which, at worst, are typically vomited on a page to accompany an article or image.

Does it work as well on other devices? Nope. It works ok, but not fantastic; it’s only optimized, and–to use a word my friend Brendan has been using lately to describe games and software–pleasurable on one medium.

But, does it matter? I would contend not. Not for what I use it for, and not for what I find it useful for. Sure, right now there are lots of healthy spirited discussion out there (and probably one nasty one) about responsive design, cross-channel design, build once run anywhere content, etc. etc. It makes good sense, yes. Yet, I find the discoverability and animation on this site so… what is a good word here, I think “delightful” would do it, yes, delightful, that I really don’t care that it doesn’t behave the same elsewhere.

So, sometimes, maybe, just maybe, getting one thing right for user satisfaction, in just one way, is sufficient?

Here, you play with it.

Design Leadership and the UX of Organizations

I’ve been thinking about how good design happens, organizationally, and I’m certain that it doesn’t happen by simply hiring one or even a team of so-called rock-star designer.

Matt Drance wrote about this in his post The Problem with All-Star Teams arguing that you’ve got to have leaders “who care about design and “get” design.”

That’s not to say you don’t go for the talent if you can; of course you go for the talent. But the work only begins there. The solution to this too-many-cooks problem is leadership.” – Matt Drance

At HIVE 2011, Hillel Cooperman, Co-Founder of Jackson Fish Market, emphasized this idea in his keynote: most organizations don’t have design leadership. They’re using metrics they learned from B-school to apply to something they don’t get, and designers are rarely in decision-making positions.

At the most recent Seattle InfoCamp, while Ario Jafarzadeh talked through 10 Observations from 10+ years in the Corporate UX Trenches, I noticed a theme: it’s not just the software and user experiences we work on that are broken, the corporate environment in which we’re working in is also broken.

Today, Marco Arment penned four steps on how to bring good design to a platform, and step one starts with the top, again.

Demonstrate from the top that high quality and attention to detail are prioritized and appreciated above everything else, including being the first to market, having the most features, or having the most aggressive prices. If you can get those as well, that’s great, but quality will not be sacrificed to do so.” – Marco Arment

Are you seeing this pattern too? Is it too hokey to chant leadership, leadership, leadership? If there are people trying to improve the experience of the users, who’ll improve the experience of the corporations?

Happiness, and the Point of Friction

QOTD today:

The products we design are going to be ridden in, sat upon, looked at, talked into, activated, operated, or in some way used by people individually or en masse.

If the point of contact between the product and the people becomes a point of friction, then the industrial designer has failed.

If, on the other hand, people are made safer, more comfortable, more eager to purchase, more efficient—or just plain happier—the industrial designer has succeeded.” – Henry Dreyfuss, American Industrial Designer

Emphasis are mine. Something about the idea of friction is sticking with me. Also, I like this as an effect of a design: “or just plain happier”.

No, we don’t always have to merely be more productive or efficient. Happiness is a legitimate goal on its own.

Deploy the Sentinels!

Agent Smith: Never send a human to do a machine’s job.
Agent Brown: If, indeed, the insider has failed, they’ll sever the connection as soon as possible. Unless…
Agent Jones: …they’re dead. In either case…
Agent Smith: …we have no choice but to continue as planned. Deploy the sentinels. Immediately.

King county library system error message: someone is looking for you.

Thanks for sending someone to look for me, KCLS.

Beyond Gamification – Designing up Maslow’s Pyramid

The broader one’s understanding of the human experience, the better design we will have.” – Steve Jobs. [Wired, February 1996]

The outpouring of love for Steve Jobs over the past couple days is summed up by Techcrunch writer John Biggs: “Apple and Jobs brought something to technology that it didn’t have before he began – irrationality.”

I can accept this view in the sense that you can’t explain it, people wonder why they’re crying for a complete stranger, and that you can’t understand it, some other people, mostly non Apple users, consider those of us crying crazy and ought to be committed.

Here’s my take: people love their Apple products, so they love the person(s) making it possible. Beyond word processing and making spreadsheets, they have an emotional connection to their devices.

But don’t take my words for it. It turned out through neuroimaging that You Love Your iPhone. Literally.

“But should we really characterize the intense consumer devotion to the iPhone as an addiction? A recent experiment that I carried out using neuroimaging technology suggests that drug-related terms like “addiction” and “fix” aren’t as scientifically accurate as a word we use to describe our most cherished personal relationships. That word is “love.”” – Martin Lindstrom

Ok, love may be completely irrational. It’s also another thing: the third level in Maslow’s hierarchy of needs.

The challenge of business: how to serve needs higher up Maslow's pyramid. - Alain de Botton

I wonder: What are examples of products in each of Maslow’s level? What do they do? What are their characteristics? What works? What doesn’t work? Most importantly, how do we design to serve up the pyramid, all the way to the Self-Actualization level? 

Design is often viewed as a compromise between business needs, user needs, and technology capability. If we take out the business needs, which I’ll abbreviate as money and profit, and technology, which usually becomes possible in due time, we are left with user needs, or what Interaction Designer Jonathan Korman calls human sense.

“Apple has aggressively worked on accessibility for users who are blind or deaf or have other limitations, an effort that makes no “business sense” but surely makes human sense if you read that or any of the countless other articles about what a boon the iPhone has been to the blind.”

Money and technology represent the first two Maslow levels and provide shelter, safety, food, water, sleep, sex(?), employment, property, resources, etc. User needs span the whole pyramid, and we address the most basic needs first: the functionality, ie. user must be able to input username.

We have User Interface Design Guidelines for non-functional needs, like consistency and appropriate error messaging. We have usability tests, we have user research data. Yet, how do you spec Love?

Question: We already have guidelines to create passionate users, what does it take to create self-actualized, compassionate users?  In other words, what are products that make us feel fully human: more fulfilled, more self-aware? What are apps that do this today? 

“We tend to assume the problem is with us, and not with the products we’re trying to use. In other words, when our tools are broken, we feel broken. And when somebody fixes one, we feel a tiny bit more whole.” – Jonathan Ive

One more thing: Am I crazy for thinking about this in product design?

This constant fear: is it insanity or just ambition? - Alain de Botton

What a Girl Wants, What a Girl Needs

I am booking a flight. It looks like all the Economy tickets are gone, and I need to buy an Economy Plus ticket, or I’m SOL.

The copy on the United site, however, gives me the idea that should I want more space, I can get Economy Plus, but I don’t really have to. Which, of course, is not the case at all.

Also, is it just me, or the image does not inspire confidence? I know what they’re trying to say, you’ll have so much space, but to me, it just looks ridiculous.