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Field Study

An Unedited view of design and thought process:

work, experimental and otherwise by Keenan Cummings

The Bold Designer

The ever eloquent Cap Watkins wrote a great post this week about The Boring Designer. I appreciate but don’t fully *identify with the Boring Designer. As a counter point, I wanted to write an ode to the bold designers among us, the designers who…


…are always trying to make it weird.

Conventions are conventions for a reason — they really do work. Our primary goal is to make something that works. But conventions don’t imply a an ultimate best answer, an single ideal solution. The bold designer is always playing at the fuzzy edges of functional. They’re seeing just how weird things can get before function breaks, because they know that there are unknown opportunities and undiscovered truths in the murk. Their response to a conventional solution isn’t “go with it”; it’s “yes, but what if”. A user’s needs, human motivations — those are the universals. The things we make to satisfy those motivations can take infinite forms. Convention is the tip of a super interesting iceberg.


…are in it for themselves.

The bold designer knows that their technical ability is a commodity. The only truly unique thing they bring to the table is a voice and point of view informed by their experience, ideas, and—most importantly—their curiosities. They know an idea cannot be optimized. There is no platonic ideal. They chase their own curiosities and try to align very real demands (that a product needs to function) with the desire to have a product inspire. They are not selfish; they are self-aware. They know their voice. And they believe it is in the user’s best interest to make that voice heard. They are competitive collaborators, but in the end they are happy to concede to a better solution, because it is in the struggle, the push and pull, that everyone brings their best work.


…are suspicious of process.

The bold designer is resistant to too much planning and process. They know what worked yesterday may not work today, and are weary of too many assumptions. They are protective of and try to remain in a state of play where curiosity trumps past experience (and sometimes even data!). They buck bureaucratic prowess in favor of raw skill. They avoid developing any skill set that isn’t directly relevant to success of their work (they will never master Power Point, they will never consistently log tasks into agile tracking software).

…do it the hard way every time.

They respect individuals but have little regard for artificial boundaries. They will take an idealized view of their work, the team, the organization — so much so that they are often left disappointed. And they will not stop pushing back on things that aren’t great. They can be uncompromising, unforgiving even, but they are hardest on themselves. They never try to make things go smoothly. Smooth is a welcomes side effect but they know that their best work always came by struggle.

*some of these ideas taken from this amazing post [LINK] http://randsinrepose.com/archives/the-wolf/

…value their voice.

They’re existential calculus is as follow: “if *I* am going to be *here* working on *this thing*, it must be influenced in a way that is unique to my approach, preferences, style, and opinions”. For the bold designer to be willing to exchange any measure of their life for the success of this thing, it must reflect them in some way. Everyone around them can execute, but the voice of that execution will be, must be unique to each designer.

The bold designer doesn’t lead with professionalism; they lead with energy and vulnerability. They assume everything beyond convention is subjective. That is the space where really interesting things happen. They don’t measure ideas by quality. For them, and idea is only as good as the conviction behind it. They have a strong voice and they try to bring that voice out of others. They ask others to meet them with enthusiasm and authenticity. They’re in for the struggle. They hold on to the idea that there is some illusive but very real greatness among all the button states, style guides, wireframes and flows.

The bold designer is a powder keg. But when harnessed the results can be explosive.a

So be great. Be bold!


*And my feeling is the the so-called “boring designer” maps to many of these traits, but they may manifest more internally than externally. When you work with good people, everyone cares, everyone has a unique and strong voice, and everyone has their opportunities to be bold, even quietly bold. Boring designer—you’re not as boring as you think :)

Drawing zodiacs

Drawing zodiacs

Everything we do has a very primal base to it, even this idea of competition. And I don’t deny that it is in me, and i don’t believe that anybody is free of that…

it is possible to really like competing against somebody that you don’t like. You like them for what they are giving you, which is a test that takes you to the limits of your talent.

Kurt “Mountain Man” Steiner, former world record holding stone skipper (via Skips Stones for Fudge on Kickstarter)

Trying the find the virtue in my competitiveness, and appreciate rather than antagonize those I compete with.

My soul is impatient with itself, as with a bothersome child; its restlessness keeps growing and is forever the same. Everything interests me, but nothing holds me.

—Fernando Pessoa, The Book of Disquiet (via wordsnquotes)

(via mikerugnetta)

The Great Un-Maturing

"It’s about infinitely flexible, sunny appropriation."

At what point did a generation shed the pressure of “figuring it out”? At what point did we no longer feel the need to answer the question: “what do you want to be when you grow up?”?. I’m sure there is a long list of factors, including a social promiscuity only afforded in an internet age, and an economic promise that’s held true since WWII and only recently fallen completely apart (ie. commit your life, your identity, your soul to a life as a “company man” in exchange for a safe, predictable, and prosperous life).

Somehow, a generation has unburdened itself from the demand for maturity, the need for a 5-year plan, the pressure to adopt an identity with clear and defined edges. The “self” is now a fluid concept. And rather than panicking over the lack of a solid foundation, we are embracing the freedom. It’s not that there is no more normal (the so-called “post-normal”), it’s that now everything is normal

"Basically, normcore has… more to do with personalities: it’s the idea that an individual adapts to a situation at hand and embraces the normalcy of where they are and who they’re with. So you could go to a football match during the day and wear a replica football strip like everyone else, then go to a cyberpunk night later on and wear head-to-toe Cyberdog. Normcore represents a fluidity of identity that’s emerging in youth culture: a willingness to forgo a consistent individuality in order to embrace acceptance. As Luke O’Neill puts: ‘Normcore then, in its pure state, is about empathy and connectivity.’”

- Everyone’s Getting Normcore Wrong

(It always comes back to the Human Universals)

I was lucky enough to grow up in a home where each new hobby was fully supported, each new curiosity enthusiastically encouraged. Someone recently accused me of “collecting hobbies”. I do collect hobbies. I also collect passions, curiosities, threads of questioning, social groups, personalities, heritages, etc. As a generation comes of age being completely comfortable not knowing exactly who they are and perpetually figuring it out, we’ll see more interesting lives take shape, more daring ideas, more diverse thinking. 

It’s the most valuable lesson we can learn — that we all need to go through a painful, awkward un-maturing process if we want to be as authentically ourselves as we can be. In a Benjamin Button like process, we can all crawl back in time: at first we will have a hard time admitting that we don’t know ourselves as well as we had thought; then, all over again, we traverse the awkwardness of our teenage years: self-conscious, scared, and trying to just fit comfortably into the world as we shape and reshape ourselves; then ultimately we get back to a child-like place where we have few concerns other than satisfying curiosity and engaging in pure play. We go from having a stake in the ground on who we are to playing with and entertaining all the possibilities of who we could be.

There is a thread in our culture that is still demanding that a generation grow up. But it’s not going to happen that way. This isn’t a group of the lost and lazy who have deferred adulthood. We are comfortable in the fluidity that the world now affords. And so we continue to play. They play gets more and more sophisticated, the consequences larger and deeper. 

Best learn to play. Best get comfortable. Best start to un-mature.

Thought I would throw in some links to some ways to engage in some sophisticated play, for the newly un-matured:

Killscreen Magazine : an amazing journal-style publication covering “the intersection between games, play, and other seats of culture from art to music to design.”

Geoff McFetridge: every.single.thing — so good!

Patatap: just click the link and start playing!

Playmobil - *I* collect these — my kids are too young. They would choke.

Teenage Engineering: amazing sound toys (that I wish I had)

Yuichi Yokoyama: his stuff is minimal but puts your brain to work and completely absorbs you. 

A failed experiment from over the weekend. Going to let this one rest and revisit it later. TOYU!

A failed experiment from over the weekend. Going to let this one rest and revisit it later. TOYU!

summer

summer

What Really Happens When a Company is Acquired

Since February, I’ve been trying to articulate just what happened through the course of our acquisition process. It turns out that the process is still ongoing. 

So what happens in an acquisition?

First off, why do acquisitions happen? This type of smaller acquisition that I’m talking about is becoming more and more common. It’s not an indicator of an economic bubble. It’s not about a tech talent arms race. Buying a company for the expertise or processes embodied in a great team has become a reliable channel for sourcing ‘talent’. It all looks sensational from the outside, but the reality is that the math just adds up: finding the right people is costly; not finding the right people is a huge risk as large incumbents are under constant pressure to keep a step ahead of the small and fast innovators at the bottom of the market. Acquiring teams is becoming standard procedure(1) for big companies that want to maintain relevance by moving at least as fast as these ever-emerging competitive threats. In a market where driven individuals gravitate toward assembling a small scrappy team and taking a shot at something big, there is an ample supply of preassembled teams ready to be integrated into a bigger company and get to work.

So in this kind of environment, most companies — at some point in their lifecycle — end up entertaining the option of an acquisition.

Read More

To extrapolate from today’s rudimentary fragments resembles an attempt to predict the publication of [Joyce’s Ulysses] after just having invented writing on clay tablets. Nevertheless the effort is probably worthwhile.

The Computer for the 21st Century (Mark Weiser, 1991)

I’ll identify something I want to change about myself, and then I’ll design a project to help me do it… For each of my deficiencies, I designed a project to help me confront it, which I hoped would help me transcend it. In a way, this worked. My life suddenly got interesting. People were curious. I always had outrageous stories to tell. I’d present these stories in intricate interactive frameworks of my own design, and I’d release them on the web.

—Jonathan Harris for Transom

We’ve spent the past few years figuring out how to make content creation as habitual as content consumption. That’s the idea behind Days, the daily visual diary we launched in May 2013. Nine months later, we’re excited to announce that we’ve accepted an offer to bring our work on daily habits to Yahoo. We started our company with the vision of transforming daily habits, and we’re proud to be joining a new one that shares that mission.
Our entire team will be joining Yahoo’s NYC-based Mobile and Emerging Products group, where we’ll continue on as a startup team within a larger organization. The Days app will live on as a standalone entity, and we’ll also be working on some exciting new projects that we can’t talk about just yet.
Sincerest appreciation to our investors, our advisors, our friends and families, the good folks at Apple, and, most importantly, our users! Your days have inspired us and it’s been beyond rewarding watching the product and community we’ve built together evolve and grow. We are so grateful, thank you!
If you have any questions, please tweet @wander or email us via founders@onwander.com.
Happy Days,
-Jeremy, Keenan, Lara, Sean, and Whitney

—

PS - I’ll be writing more soon about my personal experience with this process but just wanted to share the news from the team. Thanks for the support.

We’ve spent the past few years figuring out how to make content creation as habitual as content consumption. That’s the idea behind Days, the daily visual diary we launched in May 2013. Nine months later, we’re excited to announce that we’ve accepted an offer to bring our work on daily habits to Yahoo. We started our company with the vision of transforming daily habits, and we’re proud to be joining a new one that shares that mission.

Our entire team will be joining Yahoo’s NYC-based Mobile and Emerging Products group, where we’ll continue on as a startup team within a larger organization. The Days app will live on as a standalone entity, and we’ll also be working on some exciting new projects that we can’t talk about just yet.

Sincerest appreciation to our investors, our advisors, our friends and families, the good folks at Apple, and, most importantly, our users! Your days have inspired us and it’s been beyond rewarding watching the product and community we’ve built together evolve and grow. We are so grateful, thank you!

If you have any questions, please tweet @wander or email us via founders@onwander.com.

Happy Days,

-JeremyKeenanLaraSean, and Whitney

PS - I’ll be writing more soon about my personal experience with this process but just wanted to share the news from the team. Thanks for the support.

Looking for Home - A request to my NYC friends
We are officially on the search for a new home. We’ve been scouring the listings of New York City apartments and have some capable folks in our corner helping us navigate the process.
This process — it is daunting. The renters market is brutally competitive. The apartments are mostly overpriced and often in bad shape. The trick seems to be: keep at it until you find that one perfect place, that rare jewel, and when you spot it, go for it with everything you have. 
The application process is an intimidating leap through a series of hoops, flaming hoops, hoops that want to pry deep into your financial history and personal life. If the stars have aligned in your favor, you come out the other end with a place to live, and somehow, you feel grateful. “Thank you New York City for crushing my soul and then offering me a grossly expensive space to rest said crushed soul. I owe you one.” (I think this is an unhealthy relationship.)
Something always works out. We are confident of that. My faith is in the people that help along the way. If you have any tips, tricks, or leads on a good place do let me know. We’re looking for a 2 bedroom (a family of four all sleeping in one room has worn out its charm), mostly looking at Fort Greene or Clinton Hill. Tweet at me or comment if you got anything. Any help will be greatly appreciated!
Cheers to NYC!

Looking for Home - A request to my NYC friends

We are officially on the search for a new home. We’ve been scouring the listings of New York City apartments and have some capable folks in our corner helping us navigate the process.

This process — it is daunting. The renters market is brutally competitive. The apartments are mostly overpriced and often in bad shape. The trick seems to be: keep at it until you find that one perfect place, that rare jewel, and when you spot it, go for it with everything you have. 

The application process is an intimidating leap through a series of hoops, flaming hoops, hoops that want to pry deep into your financial history and personal life. If the stars have aligned in your favor, you come out the other end with a place to live, and somehow, you feel grateful. “Thank you New York City for crushing my soul and then offering me a grossly expensive space to rest said crushed soul. I owe you one.” (I think this is an unhealthy relationship.)

Something always works out. We are confident of that. My faith is in the people that help along the way. If you have any tips, tricks, or leads on a good place do let me know. We’re looking for a 2 bedroom (a family of four all sleeping in one room has worn out its charm), mostly looking at Fort Greene or Clinton Hill. Tweet at me or comment if you got anything. Any help will be greatly appreciated!

Cheers to NYC!

There are two novels that can change a bookish fourteen-year old’s life: The Lord of the Rings and Atlas Shrugged. One is a childish fantasy that often engenders a lifelong obsession with its unbelievable heroes, leading to an emotionally stunted, socially crippled adulthood, unable to deal with the real world. The other, of course, involves orcs.

—a quote without a source from a comment on A VC: The Limits of Capitalism (via fred-wilson)

(via bijan)

짱!!! Been playing with some Korean typography

짱!!! Been playing with some Korean typography

Kanye or Nietzsche?

Last week there was a Twitter conversation about Kanye, greatness, authenticity, genius, talent, gimmicks, hubris and excellence. Nietzsche came up (re: the Übermensch) and today I stumbled on this quote where Friedrich himself is describing his own work:

With [this book] I have given mankind the greatest present that has ever been made to it so far. This book, with a voice bridging centuries, is not only the highest book there is, the book that is truly characterized by the air of the heights—the whole fact of man lies beneath it at a tremendous distance—it is also the deepest, born out of the innermost wealth of truth, an inexhaustible well to which no pail descends without coming up again filled with gold and goodness.

Replace “book” with “album” and the resemblance uncanny. Kanye is not the first of his kind but they are rare. I’m sure, like Kanye, Nietzsche had his fair share of critics and detractors. Those people have faded with time; the work remains.