A New Job, We’re Moving

I apologize for the general unfriendliness or overall lack of formality in this, but this is the fastest way to get this story out to all our family and friends.

I posted on Facebook and Twitter and other outlets that I got a new job at Renovate America in San Diego. We’re moving in July. A lot of people gave me the good ol’ “Whaaaaaaaa???” and I think that’s reasonable. So here’s a rundown of what’s going on and what’s ahead for us.

What’s the company?

I’m going to work at Renovate America. It’s headquartered in the San Diego area.

What do they do?

They are the creators of the HERO Program, a financing option used for home renovations that include high-efficiency improvements.

So what?

It turns out that this kind of financing is extremely important.

Let’s say you want to put solar panels on your house. You talk to a solar company and, after they take some measurements, they guarantee that they can install a system that will eliminate your electric bill. Then, they show you the price: $25,000. Let’s face it, most of us on earth can’t afford a purchase like that. But, if your home is in a city or county that works with the HERO program, then you have another option. You sign for the loan, HERO pays the contractor and then notifies your local tax jurisdiction. At that point, your local jurisdiction starts collecting the loan payments as a line item on your property taxes. Your electric bill is gone, your payments are tax deductible. There are some cases where people can get solar panels on their home and never pay anything out of pocket.

So, what do you do?

The HERO program has materials and products that face each of the three audiences listed above: property owners, contractors, and local governments.

I’m a focused on the contractor experience. Every contractor that works with the HERO program has access to HERO-specific products. That’s where I come in. In particular, I’m working a lot on the system that contractors use to manage sales and financing in progress.

What’s so great about it?

This job really covered the basic, most important things I’m looking for in a job.

The people I’m working with are fantastic. Creative, driven, and focused, but friendly and easy going, too. It really is a great shop. They have a deep commitment, from the C-suite on down, to use design as a strategic advantage for their products. The co-founders are still actively involved.

The company is poised for significant growth. They take care of their employees. They made me an offer that I found appealing, coupled with the company’s existing creature comforts like catered lunch every day, etc.

It’s a good fit, culturally.

Oh… and did I mention it’s in San Diego where it’s 74 degrees and sunny almost every damn day? And that the tacos are amazing?

It’s pretty sweet.

How did you get set up with them?

For the last couple years, I have been working with the Mag7 Collective, a product design freelance collective. It’s a great team. For most of 2014 the co-founder of Mag7, and my good friend, Brent worked with Renovate, managing the relationship and demonstrating the value of UX for their practice. He asked me if I could come out to San Diego and help him with the gig and I had always said ‘no’ because we were dealing with my mother-in-law’s cancer and ultimately her passing, which happened in October. He asked one more time in November and I figured, sure, why not? That was a three-week gig that led to six months of living in hotels and getting to know the nation’s airports.

On a personal note

Eventually, after all that travel, I was exhausted. I was fried. My wife was fried. Our kids were fried. And all of this was in the wake of what was already a very tough year for our family.

My wife and I have lived in Arlington, VA together for about 13 years. It doesn’t seem like it could possibly have ben that long, but it has.

It’s time for a change. The wife and kids are ready and, honestly, so am I.

In the meantime, I have developed a little bit of a litmus test recently to gauge if I should be working on something. I ask myself, “If I do my job right, what happens?”

I have worked for lobbyists, so if I do that right, they get people to do what they want. Meh.

If have worked for a place that produces custom T-shirts, so if I do my job right, customers get their shirts and their events are better for it. OK, that’s nice.

I have worked on pharmaceutical marketing, so if I do my job right, we sell more pills. Hmmm… no, thanks.

Now, working for Renovate, if I do my job right, we accelerate the adoption of alternative energy. We give people a way to get off the grid and reduce their dependence on fossil fuels. We cut down on carbon. We reduce water use. We generate un-exportable jobs.

I can get down with that.

I’ll miss you most of all

So now we begin the whirlwind of planning for moving, getting everything ready, and trying to desperately see everyone we know in our short amount of time left.

We’re leaving behind a great network of family and friends, not to mention over a decade’s worth of business contacts and professional networks. It won’t be easy. But we’re not interested in easy, not this time.


The Problem With Podcasts

First things first: I love podcasts. I have been digging into podcasts for 10 years. And I listen to a lot of them. I love being the guy that helps other people download and explore new shows.

It is my love of podcasts that drives my frustration around podcasts.

Let me be clear: I don’t have a problem with podcast content. The shows are weird and niche and long-form and wonderful. That’s what makes podcasts great.

The problems lie elsewhere.

Problem 1: Watch Your Language

Like I said, I love podcasts. I also can’t stand the word podcast. I realize the etymology of it all, and it makes sense. But I also believe that the word podcast has itself been one of the most substantial barriers to widespread adoption of the medium. We need to move beyond that word.

No podcasts, downloads or subscriptions. Let’s use plain language to make this more approachable.

If you are like me–a designer, developer, investor, blogger, or any other kind of person that spends the majority of their time using computers to make digital things–then yes, you are part of the problem. We all got too cozy with the parlance of downloading podcasts through RSS feeds that sync with our latest app update blah-blah-blabiddy-blah. Knock it off.

Problem 2: Playlists Without Any Play

Podcasts apps today are pretty straight forward. You subscribe to shows. Episodes are downloaded. Episodes are sorted under their respective shows and also in a master playlist. A Listener scrolls through shows, picks one. Find the latest episode, then listens. Rinse and repeat.

This isn’t a bad thing, but it’s dull. The player is dead–a machine. It doesn’t figure out that you listen to the latest BBC news podcast every morning at the same time while you’re in the shower, or that you listen to three brothers telling giving hilarious advice every evening at the same time while you’re on your commute home.

You’re loyal to your shows, but your playlist isn’t loyal to you.

What if your player learned your habits, cued up the shows that you always listen to at the times that you’re likely to listen to them, so you could just hit play?

What if your player knew that you liked to listen to really boring shows at night? It doesn’t have to know that you’re putting yourself to sleep, it just has to know what you like to do, and when you like to do it.

Why couldn’t it work?*

*I also want to make it clear that this is about the point when I appreciate that podcast fanatics (including me) are a bunch of first world spoiled brats, but I digress.

Problem 3: Troubles with iTunes

There is a lot to talk about here. I’ll just cover the big picture: Apple doesn’t like you.

It seems to me that Apple shoulders the mantle of the podcast world with great reluctance. Rather than embrace an emerging media format, and a new revenue channel, it seems that they view podcasts as necessary evil, a byproduct of the media mobility that their hardware inspires.

The iTunes podcast catalog is arguably the most popular tool for finding and subscribing to podcasts, but it’s a sterile, boring environment with the charm of an assembly line robot. It’s ranking algorithm for Top Podcasts is confounding, its featured podcast slots appear random, and its search results are unnavigable.

Most importantly, it is missing a critical ingredient for podcast discovery: recommendations from friends. With hundreds of thousands of available shows, word of mouth has become a critical ingredient for filtering out shows. You can find a better network of podcasts recommendations through Facebook and Twitter, from people you know and/or trust, but neither of these networks has the actual content for your listening enjoyment.

Problem 4: Shut Up And Take My Money

On top of that, iTunes has huge problems for podcast producers and their pursuit of sustainable revenue.

There are dozens of ways to make money off of podcasts. Most of them involve sponsorship for content within a given episode, read: selling ads of some kind. Other revenue can come through selling tickets to events, selling merch, or using the podcast as a tool for getting clients for some other business.

But none of this recognizes the exchange of funds from a listener to a producer in exchange for content. And this is where there is probably room for growth.

A lot of podcasts come from the world of public radio or other non-profit organizations and these shows rely on donations from listeners. This American Life, one of the top podcasts in the world, relies on donations to cover its hosting fees, which can go into the six digits. Today, the listening experience and the donation experience are completely separate form each other, and that should probably change.

In the meantime, there are other podcasts that are building a revenue stream around premium content. While this can sustainable, or even lucrative, there are quite a few barriers to widespread success. As I understand it, based on numerous complaints from podcasters, iTunes does nothing to truly support the sales of premium podcast content. There is no concept of a premium podcast in iTunes, so there is no concept of a premium time-based subscription, which is a popular among producers. If a show goes with a la carte sales, it gets even worse.

The podcaster has to upload each premium episode to iTunes as if it were “music” with each episode as a “track” on an individual “album.” At this point, their premium album is priced at $9.99 by default, while most podcast producers sell premium content for much less per track. The podcaster now must update the price to bring it down to the correct prices, usually around $1.99-$2.99. It usually takes another 24 hours for iTunes to process, during which time, the show’s loyal listeners are wondering what’s up with the $9.99 price tag.

And when tracks finally sell, iTunes takes 30%.

Or… the podcasters will dodge the 30% haircut at iTunes and sell premium episodes through their own site, using platforms like Content Shelf, Paypal, myLibsyn etc. This creates an even worse scenario–logistically speaking–for people who are actually trying to give you money. A listener has to:

  1. create an account (usually through a desktop site)
  2. pay with a credit card
  3. download an episode
  4. listen on your desktop or
  5. move that episode to your phone
  6. open the app for listening to music
  7. find the playlist on my phone that has the premium episode
  8. now, listen

This is ridiculous. Why would I ever do this again?

I have found that more people would buy shows if it were more straightforward. And, in all likelihood, more producers would probably sell content if it wasn’t such a pain in the ass to manage.

Premium shows should be easy to find, and easy to buy. A person with payment information in place should be able to one-click their way into super fandom, purchasing subscriptions and episodes whenever they want, and listening to them immediately. It’s digital content, often enjoyed on mobile platforms–act like it!

Problem 5: Where are My Friends?

When I listen to podcasts, I am often doing something else. I might be doing dishes, laundry, working out… These are all things I’m doing outside of the app, in the real world.

But while I’m listening, there’s still something I do inside the app: looking for the next thing to listen to.

With today’s apps, I have to bounce around going from show to show, figuring out what has downloaded. Or, I have a playlist that I can scroll through… this leaves me wanting.

You know how I decide what to listen to next? I find a show that a friend of mine mentioned and check it out. So, let’s make that happen, directly in the player. Let’s make that an easy, seamless way for me to see what my friends recommend.

Why can’t there be something more interesting, merging the episodes I have already downloaded (up next) with suggestions from friends, and doing it in a way that I can view seamlessly while a podcast is already playing?

I should also mention that my boy Pots is hard at work on this very problem and he’s made some exciting progress, creating a feed of his recommendations that you can subscribe to, as if it was its own podcast. I subscribe, and his recommendations just show up in my listening app.

So What Now?

I have a theory. I believe that the distribution, revenue, and–most importantly–enjoyment of shows can be improved by a new distribution platform in the form of an app for listening and a platform for producers to sell premium content.

Here’s what I want to see in how we enjoy shows:

  • Plain language to talk about shows, getting away from techno babble.
  • A smart playlist that prioritizes my favorite shows
  • A straightforward catalog that showcases all shows, free and paid, with easy ways to search for shows I want to hear
  • A way for podcast producers to sell their premium subscriptions and a la carte episodes directly in the app
  • A seamless transition from listening to discovering new shows, including recommendations from my friends

I’m working on it. I’m not a podcaster and there is a lot I don’t know, but I’m willing to take a swipe at it.





Podcasts I’m Listening To

A friend asked me the other day what podcasts I was listening to and I sent over my old post on the topic from May. It was out of date, so I figured I would update the list and repost. Enjoy!


Added a new one here, a little odd, The Duncan Trussel Family Hour. Duncan Trussel is an oddball guy, interested in comedy and meditation… not usually at the same time. The guest list is broad.

  • WTF with Marc Maron (interviews comedians and musicians): Site | iTunes
  • Bullseye with Jesse Thorn (interviews lots of cool creative people): Site | iTunes
  • The Duncan Trussel Family Hour (interviews on comedy but also meditation, mindfulness, and consciousness): Site | iTunes

Awesomest NPR

Still the best. Serial* is the newcomer here.

  • This American Life (masterful narrative journalism): Site | iTunes
  • Serial (one story, week by addictive week): Site | iTunes
  • Radiolab (science, told through stories): Site | iTunes

 *I would be remiss if I didn’t mention that Serial, This American Life, and RadioLab are not actually produced by NPR, they just have a lineage from NPR stations. 

News and Business

Hot and cold on these, but they’re all good. Startup is a newcomer here.

  • Planet Money (financial world, explained): Site | iTunes
  • Decode DC (the political world, explained): Site
  • BBC Global News (latest news, twice a day): Site | iTunes
  • Startup (the inside, realtime story of founding a business): Site | iTunes

Design Chatter

I have really cut down on the amount of design-related podcasts I listen to. Mainly because I find myself listening for entertainment, so the podcast better be pretty damn entertaining and/or unpredictable to keep me interested. Nerds talking about CSS classes and typographic trends doesn’t really do it for me.

  • Let’s Make Mistakes (Mike Monteiro and friends know you’re doing it wrong): Site | iTunes


These are sort of guilty pleasures: guys shooting the sh*t and making jokes.

  • Uhh Yeah Dude (two american americans discussing issues in america, very west coast): Site | iTunes
  • The Mike O’Meara Show (a radio god and his friends talk about their lives and bust each other’s chops): Site | iTunes
  • Judge John Hodgman (usual disputes resolved by an unusual man): Site | iTunes
  • Cake and Cookies, The Robb and Katie Show (two friends talking about their problems once in a while): Site | iTunes


New word: Hatesketch


v. the act of quickly creating a visualization in response to a negative situation, when the alternative would be to verbally argue about the subject.

“Where’s Tom?”

“Oh… the client wouldn’t shut up about taking all this in a new direction and it turns out she never told us about a bunch of constraints. It’s maddening. So, Tom is hatesketching a new approach to get his rage out and maybe come up with some ideas.”

“Oh, great! Hatesketch on, my brother!”

n. 1. a quickly-rendered visualization that acts as an approximation for an otherwise furious verbal argument, 2. the output of a hatesketching

“What’s this?”

“Well, I couldn’t deal with that designer going on and on about nothing, so I just banged out this hatesketch of the new landing page so that I wouldn’t have to punch him in the throat.”

“Looks great! The IA makes a lot of sense and I can really feel the scorn.”


My Birthday Charity:Water campaign–Please help!

I will turn 35 on October 11th. I am donating my birthday to Charity:Water this year for these reasons:

1. Three years ago, I was fortunate enough to see a presentation from the founder of charity:water. I was moved by the charity’s impact and impressed by the fact that they guarantee that 100% of all donations go to the cause–with complete accountability.

2. I told my wife Katie about it and since then she has donated her birthday each year, raising something like >$2,000 for water projects around the world.

3. My wife grew up in rural New York in a home that got its water from a well. The well was contaminated by a nearby metal-finishing industrial plant. The family cooked, drank, and bathed with water from that well for 15 years.

4. This year, my wife’s mother has fallen ill with pancreatic cancer and Katie’s usual projects like birthday campaigns have all been set aside. I want to be sure that the campaign continued somehow.

For all fo these reasons, I believe deeply that water is a fundamental part of a healthy life: if you don’t have that, then you are fighting an uphill battle from the beginning. On top of that, with the family in a difficult spot right now, it renews the connection we all share.

Please join in!

Let’s keep it going in recognition of my wife’s efforts, our family’s current challenges, and the impact that we can all make each day. Remember, 100% of donations are tax deductible and charity:water will show you how every dollar is spent, on the ground, providing clean drinking water in the Sahel. Thank you so much!

The 3 Decisions That Helped Me Lose 25 Pounds

So far, I have lost a little over 27 lbs, and I’m going to talk about that a little bit here. I realize that the subject of weight gain and weight loss is one that everyone takes a little differently and a little personally, so please understand that I’m only speaking as myself, for myself.

Here’s the good news: the results.

Screen Shot 2014-09-24 at 5.05.28 PM

That’s the chart I use to track my weight. It’s trending downward at a pretty good clip. This represents the trend my weight has taken as a result of all the things I discuss below.

But before I got there, I had to decide that it was time for a change. This is not a decision that came lightly.

Bad Trajectory

About a year ago I got on the scale and I saw a number that made me really uncomfortable. It’s not a mind-blowing number when it comes to weight. But it was a number that I had in my head as an “I’ll never get there” kind of marker. The sad part is that at the time, I wasn’t surprised by it at all. I knew I was on a trajectory towards poorer and poorer health.

I tried to get serious about working out. No… no. I told myself that I was getting serious about working out, but I really didn’t know what the hell I was doing. I had the idea that I could “power through” and “just make it work.”

Session after session at the gym and some of the weight started to come off. But I didn’t change anything else about my lifestyle. In particular, I didn’t change much about the way I ate. A mocha with a sausage biscuit in the morning. Anything on a bun for lunch. Dessert–mandatory. And, of course, after working out, I had to “feed those muscles.” And there were cocktails. Always cocktails.

1. I Decided to Give Up

I quit drinking in April, but replaced a lot of that with stress eating instead. All the weight I initially lost found a way through my workouts until the two of us met again, that number on the scale and I.

This time, I just gave up.

I didn’t give up on improving, I gave up control. “Fine. Somebody else can tell me what to eat from now on, because I clearly can’t do this.”

At that point, I ordered a book on dieting and just said to myself, I’m going to do whatever is in this book. I had heard of this particular diet before. I had heard that it could get results. I even know someone who was a case study in the book.

But none of that matters. What matters is that I stuck with it, through thick and thin.

It was a deep act of letting go, putting someone else in charge of something as personal as what I eat. This was insane–I know what I can do! I know what I can eat!

It turns out, I knew exactly what to eat to satisfy years of cravings and urges, but not to nourish my body in a way that kept me lean.

2. I Decided to Forgive Myself

As I started to figure out my new meal routine, I took a little time to look back over the last 15 or so years over which I put on this weight. I had:

  1. graduated college
  2. convinced an amazing woman to marry me
  3. moved up in my career
  4. become a father
  5. screwed up in my career
  6. survived my own screw up
  7. struck out on my own as a consultant
  8. reached new peaks in my career
  9. connected with countless designers and colleagues
  10. become a father again
  11. mentored other designers
  12. struck out on my own as a consultant again

…and a lot of other big things. So, I realized that, yes, I am proud of what I have done so far.

As for my health, I have made some mistakes, some more serious than others. I drank–sometimes too much. I ate a lot–almost always too much and almost always a lot of junk. Most importantly, I did it all without caring what long term effects could arise. I knew what the consequences were, but I just didn’t care.

A pound here and a pound there just wasn’t a big deal. But a pound here and a pound there over 15 years had put me on a certain trajectory and I felt guilty about the fact that I knew it was bad but didn’t do much about it that whole time. I’m not an idiot when it comes to food: I know that cramming down a pint of Ben & Jerry’s or a bag of cheddar pretzel combos (omg so good) isn’t good for me. I know these things. But I did them anyway and I enjoyed every second of it.

Now, overweight and unhappy, I had to reconcile the fact that I basically got myself into this situation willingly. I ate that food. I drank that booze. And here it is, staring right back at me through the scale. I had no one to blame but myself.

So, I realized, in short, that everyone makes mistakes and some of us make the same mistakes over and over and over again. I looked back at what I had done to my body over the last 15 years and forgave myself. I realized I didn’t make good decisions, and I could have done better, but I also accomplished a lot during that time. I had to see that the past is in the past and the only way to improve my situation was to let go of the guilt that was holding me down.

I don’t want this to sound like I just woke up one day and all was forgiven. It was torture to grapple with the fact that I was in a shitty situation and that I was only there because I had got myself there. I felt like an idiot. The decision to forgive myself came slowly. It wasn’t easy.

This gave me the raw materials for improving myself: an open mind and a clear conscience.

3. I Decided Not To Try Too Hard

And so it goes on. I am at peace with the fact that I drank and ate myself into this situation in the first place. Nut now I have a plan for dieting and I follow it.

I heard someone say that in losing weight, the weight loss is not the goal, the lifestyle is the goal. I tend to agree. There is a huge machine that is out there for the sole purpose of getting your attention and then convincing you to shove booze and junk food down your gullet in amazing quantities. Tuning out those signals are key, and for me it took about a month or so. But now that I’m there, the force of habit allows me to look beyond those dietary needs, just meeting those as part of my day rather than a mission unto themselves.

At this point, the good habits have taken hold. I don’t have to work hard to keep my eyes on the prize. I have enough momentum at this point that it’s easier to seek out healthy options for lunch. It’s easier to leave the snacks at night. It’s easier to get up early so I can make myself the healthy breakfast I need. I’m unfocused, doing the right things out of habit without having to think so hard about it. That’s the key. 

It’s easier, but it isn’t easy.

So now I think: Have a little faith in the plan and see what happens. Do better each day. Don’t be hard on yourself.

Essential Tools, According to UXers

Once upon a time, I asked this question…

And these fine people answered…

The Nexus of the Obvious

There is a certain scenario that unfolds in some designer/client relationships (or designer/anyone relationships) where an enormous and previously undetected misalignment between two parties suddenly becomes evident.

Here’s the scene, where I’ll use myself as an example so the rest of you can mock me if you like…

I’m walking through a basic prototype, which we have worked on for the last few weeks. I explain, “Here we’ll be showcasing X and Y.”

Things are generally positive as the client takes their time asking a few questions. I can’t put my finger on it , but something seems off. Then the client chimes in, “This looks great. I really like what you’re doing with X and Y. Can I ask a question? What happened to Z? That should be included here.”

“Sure, that makes sense, but Z is reserved for logged in users, so it’s not included here.”

“Right, but this service is part of the super suite of services, so we can’t show it unless you’re logged in, meaning that anyone that sees this will have Z.”

Wait, what?

“Oh… It’s part of the super suite? I thought it was on its own… so the whole experience is only for logged in users?”

“Yes. I thought you knew that.”

Are you serious?

“Oh… well… (blink)…”

Oh my fucking god, how did they not tell me this? 

“The rest of it looks good, but we really need to see Z. We might not have mentioned that thing about login, but that’s definitely part of this.”

“Oh, ha, heh, sure. I can definitely incorporate that immediately because putting this behind a login certainly affects how we’ll steer this interaction doesn’t it? Let me just make a note in Basecamp (frantic typing, trying not to look frantic).”

Sweating. Pulse rising. 

The client has that cool, office-appropriate smile. “Sure.”

And… scene.

This is the moment I call The Nexus of The Obvious:

  1. one person thinks a subject is so obvious that it doesn’t need to be stated
  2. another person thinks the same subject is so obvious that it simply must be stated

Misalignment, and hilarity, ensue during an awkward and inevitable moment where the unstated assumptions about what’s obvious are very suddenly exposed. No one ever thinks to bring up the obvious.

This is also a situation where, as a designer, you want to die, crushed by the volume of your own self-doubt. Where did I go wrong? How could I miss this? I can feel the cool hand of death wrapping its fingers around my throat. Sweat begins to bead at the hairline. Visions of my children becoming juvenile delinquents flash before my eyes as their incompetent designer of a father can no longer support them. Everyone in the room must be looking at me thinking, ‘Why are we paying this guy again?’

On the other hand, “Hey, client, what the fuck? You didn’t think it was important to tell me something so obvious about this project and your business? What is wrong with you?”

All kidding aside, the truth is this happens, but it is avoidable.

Learning the Business

Coming out of art school, I was one of the fortunate ones. A professor offered me a job in her shop as an all around junior designer/office manager. It was a great opportunity and I went for it. I didn’t make the most of it, though. I left the position after only three months.

When I was discussing my departure with my former professor, now boss, I lamented the fact that I didn’t feel like I was prepared to actually work as a designer. My college education prepared me to be an art director and I draw on those skills every day, but I was lost when it came to working through a client relationship, or working with business stakeholders.

In that conversation, I wished that the curriculum had included a class that I would have called “The Business of Design.” The class would have been an introductory business class for designers, walking art school kids like me through the mechanics of client services, product teams, sole proprietorship, basics of business taxes, and other business basics.

Hindsight is 20/20, of course, but this conversation I had with my old boss came back to my mind this morning when an article surfaced from the Wall Street Journal, highlighting top arts schools now provide classes for their students on the fundamentals of business of the arts and pairing students with funding sources like grants to get their early business ideas off the ground. The article focuses on artists and musicians, and my experience was in design, but the same rules apply.

On the one hand, the lessons you learn while fostering the business relationships necessary to your craft are the lessons that come with experience. These are best learned in the field. On the other hand, even an introductory course in business probably would have gone a long way in providing some much needed context for a young whippersnapper like me when I first graduated.


Finding Rhythm in a Day

I had a thought recently. If I strung all of my Facebook posts and tweets together and wrote them here instead, I would probably have enough content for a weekly newsletter, a daily blog post, and a self-published book in three volumes. Instead, I have spent the last several years pumping my thoughts into various other outlets. I figured I would give this blog some much needed love today.

This is a personal update (sorry, no UX tips and tricks today).

Some things remain the same, as they have been for the last year.

I’m still self-employed, working remotely. Right now, I’m working remotely with some pretty cool people in the midwest, designing apps for a big grocery chain. My wife is also still self-employed, keeping her clients happy. Our kids continue to entertain, inspire, and confound us.

But some things are new and significant.

Looking up at the tree behind the High Falls house

In about mid-February my mother-in law suffered a series of small strokes, leaving her nearly incapable of speaking. While still in the hospital, doctors began performing additional diagnostics, as is routine in the event of a stroke. They went searching for blood clots, but instead found pancreatic cancer, prolific enough to have spread to the liver and lungs.

We were all shocked, then mad, then confused, then depressed, then hopeless, then mad again, and sad over and over. Tears and bleary eyes and clenched fists at home, forced smiles and deflected conversations in social situations. Lots of plans went on the back burner. Then, after some time, the bizarre rituals that had entered our lives took their place as our newfound normality.

My sister-in-law left her apartment in Brooklyn and moved home to manage the new regimen of round-the-clock care. My wife travels to be with her parents every other week. On those weeks, I’m single-daddin’ it with my girls. Summer camps and activities have been rearranged around the rhythm of chemotherapy. For instance, we have all been staying at my in-laws this week. Next week, we’re all headed to the Massachusetts coast for some time at the beach at grandma’s request. The week after, we return to my in-laws. All in all, a three week trip together.

But an upside of sorts starts to shine through as you begin to appreciate what you have, seemingly more and more every day.

Mommy's hair salon

Some days are long. Others blow by like a car on the highway.

The sun rises. I’m awake. My wife is lovely. My kids are great. My work is satisfying. My family is strong.  My friends are caring.

The future is uncertain. There is no such thing as fairness. The greatest things in your life can be taken from you before you are ready, by something that you can’t see or fully understand. There is good and bad in this world and they often offset each other, but sometimes they don’t even come close, leaving an incomprehensible imbalance.

At this point we’re able to take it a day at  time, finding good days in the midst of tremendous uncertainty.

That got pretty heavy, so here’s an adorable cat gif.

A Reading List for Those Transitioning Into UX

One of the slides from my presentation, Getting from here to there..

One of the slides from my presentation, Getting from here to there..

I had the pleasure of giving a presentation last week for the NovaUX meetup on transitioning into UX. It went pretty well. The presentation was not recorded, but there is some information and reaction captured here, and I posted my slides here.

I promised the group that I wold post a UX reading list. So, here’s a set of books that should keep any budding UXer busy. This is, by no means, and ehaustive list, but I think it covers some key areas for an upcoming UX designer, or anyone looking to take on a greater understanding of user-centered product design and management. I have read almost all of these, but even those I haven’t read come with a high recommendation from colleagues. There are many, many more… so have at it!

Feel free to post any additions in the comments. I’d love to hear about any books that have played a role in your professional development as a designer.

Another one of the slides from my presentation, Getting from here to there..

Another one of the slides from my presentation, Getting from here to there..


To help with basics of UX and Design…

To help you with research…

To get to know content strategy…

To dive a little further into important UX concepts…

To learn how to make deliverables and specific types of design…


To get good at the overall process…





The Pi-shaped Designer

On my way to lunch, I noticed a little Twitter conversation between Christina Wodtke and Steve Portigal.

For a long time, there was talk of looking for designers, engineers, or other creative people that were “T-shaped,” a shorthand for “good at a lot of things and great at this one thing.”

For UXers, this came to mean being great at one of the core facets of the UX field, be it Information Architecture, User Research, Interaction Design, Content Strategy, etc.* All of us need to be functional in all of these disciplines, but it pays to have a focus in one of these areas.

Increasingly so, the UX field is turning its attention towards what Jared Spool likes to call “unicorns,” people who are particularly strong in two areas: one of the UX disciplines and front end web development. There is an increasing appetite in the job market for people who carry both of these types of skills. There’s even the forthcoming Unicorn Institute that will crank out a new super-charged breed of UXers who have UX and coding chops.

So now we’re in a place where the UX talent market seems to be gradually shifting towards this double-layered skill set. The Unicorns are not T-shaped, they are instead “?-shaped” With a wavy level of competence in a variety of skills, but two deep skill sets: a UX discipline and development skill. This combination provides the 1-2 punch of designing and building, or at least designing and more realistically prototyping the design. We can argue the nuances of process and deliverable fidelity, but the fact remains that the “?-shaped” is in many ways representative of a future vision for UX.

Will there still be t-shaped designers? Of course. We need specialists, but as the UX field expands to include more people, the role will evolve as well.

*Before you get mad at me, yes, I think front-end web development can be called one of the UX disciplines because of its direct impact on the user. But humor me for the sake of this conversation, and consider a chasm between design skills and coding skills, would you?