Product design can look like magic. When I started doing it ten years ago, the small team I worked on made decisions intuitively. There was no system and it worked fine. But as the company grew, I found myself unblocking teams and diagnosing problems. When I saw patterns repeating themselves I decided to codify the questions I was asking. I hope that by sharing my techniques, people will learn to unblock themselves and diagnose their own product design problems…
“There are thousands and thousands of people out there leading lives of quiet, screaming desperation, where they work long, hard hours at jobs they hate to enable them to buy things they don’t need to impress people they don’t like.”—
- Nigel Marsh in his TED talk, How To Make The Work Life Balance Work
Or, you know, Henry David Thoreau in Civil Disobedience and Other Essays…
Most men lead lives of quiet desperation and go to the grave with the song still in them.
…and Chuck Palahniuk in Fight Club:
I see all this potential, and I see it squandered. God damn it, an entire generation pumping gas, waiting tables - slaves with white collars. Advertising has us chasing cars and clothes, working jobs we hate so we can buy shit we don’t need. We’re the middle children of history, man. No purpose or place. We have no Great War. No Great Depression. Our great war is a spiritual war… Our great depression is our lives. We’ve all been raised on television to believe that one day we’d all be millionaires, and movie gods, and rock stars, but we won’t. We’re slowly learning that fact. And we’re very, very pissed off.
less TV, more reading less shopping, more outdoors less clutter, more space less rush, more slowness less consuming, more creating less junk, more real food less busywork, more impact less driving, more walking less noise, more solitude less focus on the future, more on the present less work, more play less worry, more smiles
“How in the hell could a man enjoy being awakened at 6:30 a.m. by an alarm clock, leap out of bed, dress, force-feed, shit, piss, brush teeth and hair, and fight traffic to get to a place where essentially you made lots of money for somebody else and were asked to be grateful for the opportunity to do so?”—Charles Bukowski
“For all of the most important things, the timing always sucks. Waiting for a good time to quit your job? The stars will never align and the traffic lights of life will never all be green at the same time. The universe doesn’t conspire against you, but it doesn’t go out of its way to line up the pins either. Conditions are never perfect. “Someday” is a disease that will take your dreams to the grave with you. Pro and con lists are just as bad. If it’s important to you and you want to do it “eventually,” just do it and correct course along the way.”—Timothy Ferriss, The 4 Hour Workweek (via collinmnewman)
This kind of counts as doing my essay, right? Even though I probably won’t mention any of this stuff, much as I’d like to?
After the cut I ramble for about 800 words about my design politics and how they intersect with my queer politics. It is probably boring and makes no sense to anyone else but I had to get this stuff out. I really need some queer designers to talk to and thrash out some viewpoints. ¬¬
This is a great read and I wanted to respond to it.
To the author, jamesalexander, I would say - I think your heart, politics and consciousness are all right on, and I’ve shared a lot of your concerns. I don’t think they should keep your from helping people.
Design is communication. As designers, we have the power to facilitate communication. As politically conscious people, we want to help others. A lot of people who need help don’t know how to design - sometimes this is a community aesthetic that is celebrated and should perhaps be protected (think punk zines, graffiti, art pieces), but sometimes it’s JUST BAD DESIGN.
Marginalized communities need effective communication to get the word out to others in the community, to draw the curious in, and to make an impression on everyone else.
Effective design means people will see your flyer, poster, billboard or article title and stop to read it. I feel like this part is morally unambiguous - if you’re an ally who wants to help, I don’t think anyone’s going to turn you down.
If effective design gets people to stop and read, outstanding design will get them to think (or will impact them subconsciously). Communities may not be aware of it, but I believe if they want more supporters, they need to care about their “brand”.
This is a good place to step carefully, but I do NOT believe that you need to be a part of the community to help “brand” them. I do think your help should be wanted, and that you do your best to talk to the community - but your level of sensitivity to issues like style, language, and appropriation make you a PERFECT candidate.
You are a unicorn - a rare thing to people who would benefit from effective design.
I won’t go deep into what constitutes effective design in terms of “rebranding” a community. The trans magazine example you gave was fascinating. I will say that I think there are many possible ways to “brand” a marginalized community, and I think as the intention is good and the work done consciously, we should try them all.
Turning marginalization into exclusivity, I think, is quite brilliant, and will probably work on a lot of people. But transpeople also need “branding” that shows them as painfully boring, or as genuine and loving (as opposed to sexy and rich as the magazine may be representing them).
Seattle’s The Stranger recently had an article called “Anarchy is Boring”, which I thought was brilliant and highly effective. I don’t even think it was written by an anarchist, which actually can be a BOON to the branding of a culture. When a respected Republican supports the trans community for example, that gives the idea more cred with some people, even unconsciously.
So. If you want to help, bring your rare sensitivity and OFFER! Don’t hold back out of a fear of being an “outsider”. Everyone needs allies. Everyone needs effective design.
I’ve been contracting at OneWed.com for asdfasdjf many months now. Loving it. Great challenge. Although it’s funny that we’re 17, above a bunch of other way more funded companies. I think it’s because our team is awesome.
As if women in tech don’t feel alienated enough, enter the “Brogrammer”. The article suggests some interesting social trends that I’ll be on the look out for.
What I find most interesting about the Brogrammer is that it seems to stem from two obvious possibilities: Geeks feel ostracized from the larger male community or someone thought this would be a good marketing gimmick and it spread. Really though, if the fear of being judged as a geek is leading someone to take on an extreme macho attitude (the “Bro”), we’ve got more problems than we thought.
I think the further marginalization of women in tech is a huge issue. But I think the marginalization of tech folk, men or women, is a problem to be considered as well.
How can we give this community self esteem, discourage negative judgements about it and find a more positive marketing technique to pull in both more men and women?
The Brogrammer is easy. Marketing to men with chicks in underwear is easy. Making sexist jokes to a largely male community to get them to like you is easy - but it’s like candy - it’s not real nourishment.
I just wrote this suggestion to Tailored.co, a really cool site that shows you wedding-related products and images based on a short quiz and your behavior on the site. I’m super envious that they have a survey about Gender Roles In Relationships, because I really want to know how much gender roles are changing (especially in regards to the wedding industry, which I am now a part of).
I was a little disappointed by their execution however. Despite being a survey designed to suss out how many couples are acting in “traditional” and “non-traditional” ways, the survey itself is heavily biased towards “traditional” roles, assuming that the user is a straight female who plans on marrying her current partner and having children with him. So many gender- and sexuality-based assumptions!
I’ve been trying to assess everything in my life (but especially information coming from social media) against whether it makes my life more fulfilling or not. Rainbow cupcakes and lolcats are fun to look at, but I think they actually take away from my overall well-being (if for no other reason than they waste time I could be learning, feeling or creating).
We have to become more picky if we’re going to stay sane in this information-heavy environment.
Can your mainstream company benefit from a more inclusive approach?
Currently I’m working at a wedding-related start-up with a group of really cool people. We want to be more inclusive but the concern is that it’ll alienate or confuse our mainstream audience.
Here are the realities that we’re working with:
Heterosexual relationships are the majority.
Women in heterosexual relationships are still the primary decision-makers on weddings.
Because weddings are a niche market, we have to aim for the biggest audience possible.
Equal marriage is gaining momentum in the US, and more queer and hetero couples are having wedding-like celebrations.
In addition, men are slowly taking on more of the decision-making in regards to weddings.
Most wedding-related products are aimed at women, which may perpetuate their prevalence as the primary decision makers.
Considering the above, I see an opportunity to benefit from a hole in the market and be more inclusive at the same time. This might sound cold to radicals (like myself) - but it’s the best way for me to sell it to my team, whose main two concerns are making a great product and keeping the company afloat.
I don’t know the solution to this problem. The concern is that being more inclusive may alienate our main audience or lose us some of our readership. Maybe writing more content for men will mean there’s less content for women. Maybe we’ll confuse people with gender-neutral language.
Most companies avoid these changes because of these concerns. But damnit, we’re not most companies. I want to find a way to be more inclusive AND be more successful.
Here are the suggestions I made to my team:
What if we treated all users as just people, rather than putting the word “bride” everywhere?
What if we made our language more gender-neutral - can we do it without sacrificing the quality of our editorial content or UX?
What if we looked at “men’s content” as something that appeals to both genders? I love looking at cute boys in dapper outfits! Both male and female decision-makers might benefit from male-oriented content.
What if we considered “couple’s content” that focused on the relationship or mutual interests, beneficial to both genders?
There’s gotta be a theory out there that you can benefit from controversial content…
It’s an open question, and it might be harder for us than for most companies because wedding products and concerns are HIGHLY gendered. But it might be applicable to your company or project.
The truth is, most companies are still not inclusive. How can we come up with new ways to make inclusiveness a strength instead of a weakness?
It’s articles like this that make me think I must be in the wrong field. I suppose I don’t mind the idea of small companies essentially gaming the system (it’s effed, we live in it, may as well try to make some money), but the idea that large corporations manipulate us in so many ways drives me up a wall.
And I feel icky living in the kind of culture that accepts this as normal.