A weird question came across the Dear Design Student desk recently: "What are some things (if any) that designers are incapable of?"
My immediate reaction was, "nothing." Why would anyone seek to define limitations to someone's capabilities? I grew up in a community that assumed anyone from fifty miles out was better, smarter, and more successful. That point-of-view sucks and it took me decades to understand that it's simply not true.
That said, after giving the question more consideration within the context of my experiences as a designer, I uncovered more than a handful of things designers are incapable of doing.
Things Designers Simply Can't Do, The List
Each of these points was written based upon a lot of career experience earned the hard way over the last twenty-plus years. There are a lot of bad expectations out there regarding the design trade. That said, if you treat designers right, they can be capable of a lot. Give them the proper support, a collaborative environment, the freedom to do their job, and then prepare to be pleasantly surprised.
In the days after September 11th, I waited for news of terrorist attacks in small towns around the United States. As horrific as the attacks were in New York City and Washington D.C. (including the crashed plane destined for the White House), they took place in two big cities on the East Coast. At the time, I lived in Southern California, three times zones or a six-hour flight away. I felt a certain amount of security being so far away from Ground Zero (except that one time a F/A 18 flew CAP (cover and protect) above Disneyland for about an hour, that was pretty freaky).
I thought for sure a few small towns around the country were going to get hit. Nothing as spectacular killing by jet plane, but maybe a local diner or cafe shot to hell. Keep in mind, assault rifle massacres were not so common as they are now. At the time, I theorized that the best way to really shut down the United States was to hit a handful of really small towns in Middle America. Thankfully, it never happened.
This evening I read the attack in San Bernardino is being investigated federally as terrorism. And now, though I am thousands of miles away in Austin, I don't feel the same security via distance as I did fourteen years ago. Look, I'm not going to avoid public places, but with all the shit going down this year, nowhere is 100% safe. Nothing is off the table anymore: Elementary schools, university campuses, offices, government buildings, theaters, malls, coffee shops, and now Christmas parties.
Given the current state of our country--our government--I am concerned that our country's leadership will be more willing turn parts of Syria and Iraq into glass (that is to say, drop a nuclear weapon) than they are to conduct level-headed discourse and take appropriate action about access to weapons in this nation. I don't see the government willing nor able to come together to work this out.
So, Happy Holidays everyone! Drink and be merry, this will all pass soon or at least never happen in your townmaybe. And may little, Instgramable, birthday boy, baby Jesus bless the United States of AR15s.
"I work at IBM Design here in Austin." For many people outside the program, that statement doesn't do much to explain what I do or what IBM Design is and what it's trying to do. Even after I explain what I do exactly, I still get puzzled looks.
This is understandable. After six months, IBM at large is an enigma to me, but I'm learning. A lot of people I talk to think IBM makes the Thinkpad and that I'm required to wear a suit to work every day. Neither of these things is true and haven't been for some time.
This morning, the New York Times published a fantastic, well-rounded article on the IBM Design program in Austin. The piece provides a full overview, from humble beginnings to a group that is tasked with helping IBM do what it has done time-and-time again: Evolve. A major theme to the story, and where my own comes into play, is that for IBM to evolve with the times we have to hire designers at an incredible scale.
The recruiting pitch made by Mr. Gilbert and his colleagues has been essentially twofold: First, you can make a difference in socially important fields because IBM's technology plays a crucial role in health care, energy, transportation, water and even agriculture. Second, you can be part of a groundbreaking effort to apply design thinking in business.
The wonderful part of my job is to work with the new hires in their first three months and lead them through a six-week-long project that has a direct impact on a product or line of business. To date, I have led six teams of six-to-seven designers and front-end developersforty people total. And that's just my teams, there are several others.
We have created everything from re-envisioned service designs to prototypes for brand new mobile experiences. The work is real, not theoretical. The teams is tasked with a tremendous amount of research, prototyping, and user testing all the while learning how to interact with IBM executives and presenting their work for discussion and critique.
This is the type of work that would make the average new employee fold, give up, but not these young men and women. Oh, if I could share their portfolios with you! I'll just say that the recruiting department does an amazing job finding and hiring a lot of very intelligent, smart, and gifted designers to the program. And it is my pleasure to be a part of their first projects at the forefront of their career.
Tomorrow begins the last week of the current cohort. On Thursday, my three teams will present the culmination of their work to executives. It's nerve racking and exhilarating. Come Friday, "my" designers will move on to their assigned business unit, the 7th floor will go quiet, and I will begin preparing for the next wave of work in early 2016.
Last night Kitchen Storey and I came to a difficult decision that I hope will spare our marriage, reduce blood pressure, and result in a much happier life. After careful consideration based upon some bad history, we have decided to stop going to restaurants during their opening week. We are done spending good money on an intended experience that always falls through the floor.
And this is frustrating because we love to try new places and because She Who Flies All The Time is on the road, it's not often that we get into a place during their debut. It's also really frustrating because almost all of our bad experiences aren't the result of the food, but the quality of customer service.
What I don't understand is how restaurant workers, especially servers and bar tenders, who typically move from restaurant to restaurant seem to fall all over their faces during an opening week. Let me clarify that I don't take issue with food coming out at weird times. That is expected up to the point of ridiculousness (e.g. food not coming out at all). I get that it takes time for a kitchen to develop its cadence.
Good customer service is not reliant upon having a rhythm. You only need to pay attention and check-in with your customers to communicate, set expectations, and do what you can to avoid a bad experience. This is the basic structure of the relationship between the restaurant server and the patron. And yet somehow this all falls to the floor during the first weekmaybe three weeksof a restaurant opening.
I'm sure everyone is nice and doing what they can, but that's not good enough when we're dropping a few hundred dollars on, what we hope to be, an amazing meal. Thus was the case yesterday when we went to Wu Chow, a new Chinese place on West 5th in downtown Austin. It wasn't the white-hot mess that we experienced at Juliet's opening weekend back in July, but here again, we left the restaurant wanting for a better experience and making excuses.
I love that Austin is growing and with it an ever-expanding restaurant scene, but I'm done paying for on-the-job training for servers, bar tenders, and the like. I'm happy to be a user tester, but not on my American Express. There is nothing special gained by attending an opening other than bragging about itwhich would be cool if I was still in grade school.
This following discussion, "Medium vs. The Self-Hosted Blog," occurred June 29 between 10:18-10:28 AM in the "ATX Built" Slack. Some dialogue was edited to protect the innocent from bad grammar.
Professor Plum: Has Medium killed the self-hosted blog? Does publishing on Medium make writers appear more "legit" (especially if you're not web-famous like Adactio or Daring Fireball)? Is there any advantage to hosting your blog on a personal site?
Professor Plum: What if you're an agency/business? Does anyone worry that their content (or at least URLs) might be gone if Medium calls it quits one day? I like owning my content, but it's hard to beat the Medium platform for writing and publishing.
Mrs. Peacock: I think it's a great place for posting essays and thoughts. Just post to your blog first and cross-post to Medium. Too bad Mrs. White isn't on here, her Medium post has 7000 views today!
Mrs. Scarlett: Just invited Mrs. White, tell her to check her email.
Professor Plum: I was thinking about that approach as well. I do like the idea of having posts on my site so that places that I'm interested in working at can see my work and writing in the same place.
Mrs. Peacock: I also think it's great for non-web famous people. Your posts look exactly the same as everyone else's. If you write something worthwhile, people will respond.
Col. Mustard: Medium is awesome for discovery. And you can still "own" your content.
Miss Scarlett: Professor, I am totally a fan of cross-posting b/n your blog and medium. Medium gives you exposure outside your circle, but I like the idea of still "owning" my writing, so to speak, and keeping it on my blog.
Col. Mustard: Lots of people publish both places similar to Linkedin.
Mrs. White: Hello.
Mr. Green: I'll often post on my site, and then post to Medium. Then link to the Medium post with a "Recommend this article on Medium" type blurb somewhere on my site's version.
Professor Plum: So I guess the answer is just do both.
Miss Scarlett: Also, from the perspective of someone Googling you, if they go to my site, I want them to stay there and view my writing without making them leave to Medium.
Mr. Green: But Medium has offered me far more reach every single time than my site ever has.
Professor Plum: Nice. They do a good job with the daily read emails.
Mr. Green: Yeah, they do. One of the only of its kind that I actually insist on looking through daily without archiving right away, lol
Mrs. White: I would definitely go for Medium. I am an indie web booster, and all, of course post it on your own site too but the readers are on Medium. There are lots of them, and If you get a boost by getting recommended by someone, it can be huge.
Col. Mustard: /gliphy huge
The last time I saw Bruce, he was bent over an old truck engine, taking a turn at a rusted lug nut. The garage was as cold as a meat locker, but that didn't stop the guys. They had a refuge from the dinner party, a mechanical project, country music, and a case of beer. By the time I got out there, half of the beer was gone, and most of the guys had worked up enough sweat to shed their coats.
Bruce cranked on the lug nut hard enough to cause the truck to move. His grip slipped, the wrench fell to the floor with a clang, and he came up with chunks of his knuckles freshly removed. Despite his best attempts, the engine won that night. With blood running down his hand, Bruce grabbed a fresh beer, opened it up, and took a swig while staring down his foe.
He surrendered the battle as he told his son-in-law that he'd have to take the truck into a garage with a lift where they could get to the problematic part directly. The truck hood was closed, and tools put away. We stayed out there a bit longer and talked about life and family in "these parts," near the border of Kansas and Missouri. Not much longer we had to say our goodbyes and return home.
For most of his life, Bruce drove a truck around the country. In the beginning, he worked for himself with his company name on the side of his rig. Towards the end of his career, his truck was adorned with a familiar big box store logo. I always enjoyed talking to Bruce about his job because talking to him was like taking several road trips. He was a living Rand McNally and knew every Interstate and highway for eight-hundred miles in every direction. Exit numbers were as familiar to him as stars are to an astronomer.
Just a few months ago, within the same week of losing a daughter to a decades-long battle with cancer, Bruce learned that he was inflicted with the same poison. Stage four, inoperable and maybe, but not likely, treatable, he was told that his time was limiteda year, maybe longer.
Unfortunately, Bruce didn't make it that far. It was one of the few, if not the only trip he did not complete. Sometime in the night Bruce Voigts (father, brother, uncle, grandfather, and great-grandfather) found his last exit and turned the wheel to the right. While I am sad that I will not be able to hear another story about his time on the road, I am glad that Bruce did not suffer for very long.
My longer-than-expected, un-intended, un-paid, dumb "sabbatical" is finally at an end. The last nine months have been exhilarating, fun, stressful, depressing, eventful, and then non-eventful. I spent more time talking to cats than any grown man should. I'm glad it's over.
I traveled more than I thought I would which led to making new friends and reconnecting with a few people I haven't talked to in years. I also got to spend more time with family than I have in a while. Looking back, things were not as horrible as they felt at the time, and I'm incredibly lucky to have had those opportunities.
Airbag signed two clients in 2015, which means I'll be able to celebrate the company's ten-year anniversary (soon and in full-on Storey Style). Boy, talk about your highs-and-lows...I don't think I'll bother putting together a Keynote deck for that party. I intend to write more about this, but for now, let's get to some great news.
Next week I will begin a new chapter in my career.
I have accepted an amazing position at IBM Design in Austin. A few years back IBM initiated a massive design program dedicated to a big, bold vision for the future. Today there are four hundred designers in the program, and hundreds more to come. IBM Design itself is bigger than any place I have worked before, yet it is tiny when you consider there are four hundred and twenty-five thousand employees around the world. As a Design Practice Manager, I will step into a new position on a new team that will work across all of IBM's business divisions. From what little I know about my role, I'm in for an incredibly crazy ride.
Thank you to everyone who went the extra mile for me in the last nine months, I won't forget it. To the Austin digital community-at-large, thank you as well for your support and selfish desire to have me stay in Austin. I'm not going anywhere.