Although I am losing faith in Medium and Facebook as places to share my thoughts, and it’s comforting to know I have this place that’s all my own to do as I please, free of ads and unpleasant people. Let’s write and be pleasant!
I was talking with some folks the other night, one had written three books, another five. “It’s like having a baby,” they said, “it hurts so much you swear you won’t do it again, but you forget the pain.” I can proudly declare I stopped after one book. But but… there’s all these books that don’t exist yet but should. Who will write them?
One of those books that doesn’t seem to exist is the small (small as in fits-in-your-pocket small) book for product managers, programmers, and business people to understand how human-centered software design gets done. By that I don’t mean how to start doing human-centered software design, there’s plenty of good resources for that (e.g.). And there’s good resources for people willing to devote the hours of reading it takes to get through a 350+ page book (e.g.). But in my experience people just don’t have that much time to devote to anything outside their area of focus unless they’re changing careers.
My inspiration is this: Scrum: A Breathtakingly Brief and Agile Introduction is a wonderful little book that does exactly what it says on the label. It slips neatly into your pocket for reading anywhere anytime. There’s even space in there for a few useful illustrations. As a non-programmer needing to understand how my programmer colleagues are working, it’s perfect. I want to give them the same kind of book to understand what I do.
Working in the fast-changing world of digital product design, thereâ€™s always some new and exciting tools and techniques to learn. The flip side of this coin is that you must keep learning to keep up with the industry or your skills become irrelevant.
So naturally it would be helpful to know how our practice will change in the future so we can figure out what to learn next. This article is my attempt to look into this future.
I’m at an inflection point in my career of building digital services and reflecting on two things:
How can we design better?
How can we design faster?
While the thoughts are still in flux I’m going to set them down here and stew on them a bit.
A Cadance is a cycle like a sprint, but every day is scheduled for a certain activity such as designing, studio, making tests, testing, reviewing tests, etc. If the schedule is set there’s less need to spend time discussing the schedule and less time figuring out what to do each day, instead you just do it. And if it’s an aggressive schedule you get a lot done fast. It relies on a project manager/product manager/leads to work in a parallel track to slot work into the cadence.
Made-to-measure design recognizes that not every assignment requires bespoke design, and not every schedule or budget allows for bespoke design. And from the customer’s point of view we may want to leverage UI conventions that are familiar to them. So instead a made-to-measure approach uses not only frameworks (e.g. CSS and HTML such as Bootstrap) but genre-specific templates for dashboards etc.
Inverting studio and desk time is something that often happens naturally when in war mode, but could be done all the time: spend most of the time together designing and rather than stop the studio at the post-it note or sketch level, keep iterating and adding details. Then spend the minority of time, say one day per week, working solo to document and refine the work.
Testing constantly is now possible. Remote, asynchronous testing tools have become so easy and affordable we can bite off many more of our hypotheses and set up a queue of tests so feedback arrives as rapidly and as plentifully as analytics.
It’s a brave new world of auto loans out there with many customer-friendly features that traditional banks lack. Some of the new student loan companies for example will pause your payments if you’re out of work. How nice is that?
So when I was researching loans for a used car we wanted to buy, I looked at all my options. The Simple Dollar’s review of auto loans was especially helpful. We ended up with a loan from LightStream (aka SunTrust) because they gave us a great rate and would allow us to buy from a private seller which saved us a few thousand dollars.
Oddly enough we didnâ€™t realize until after we registered the car that the bank gave us an unsecured loan. Normally a car loan is secured by the car, so if you don’t pay the loan the bank takes back (repossess) the car. But because our credit history and salary history is very good, they gave us an unsecured loan. Why? I don’t know, maybe it’s simpler and less expensive for them.
What this also means is they donâ€™t have a lien on the title. And when we registered the car at our local New Jersey motor vehicles office they didnâ€™t believe this because 99.99% of car loans are secured. The solution? We had to get a notarized letter from the bank to prove it the loan was unsecured and there was no lien on the title. Four DMV trips later we have the title!
In my continued quest to simplify my life and reduce expenses, I discovered the MVNOs like Ting and Consumer Cellular that lease infrastructure from the big carriers have come of age. They have straightforward pricing plans that are a fraction of the cost, better designed websites, and better customer service as reported by Consumer Reports.
Although I like Ting better as a company, our GSM-network iPhone 4s’ would have slowed down on their network. By going with Consumer Cellular I stay on the AT&T network and cut my bill in half ($45 vs $90) for two phones. That’s even $10 cheaper than Ting.
The process is easy. Order online, swap in the free SIM card they send, and give them a call to activate service. There was a bit of fidgeting to get voice mail re-setup etc. but now it’s working just as it did before, but cheaper.
And here, in a single screen, is what makes them different. I hear usage alerts are available on AT&T. I’ve read articles about them. I’ve seen links to that effect on their customer website. But I (a software designer) was never able to set them up. But here’s what they look like on Consumer Cellular:
Not only is the design clear as day, they default the alerts to ALL ON. They’d rather you be in-the-know and have plenty of notice before you go over your plan so you can decide to pay-per or change your plan. Love that.
By contrast, the number AT&T displayed on their website to cancel their account was only for new accounts. And when I tried to use the online chat instead I get this:
And that number is actually only for reseller agents. I’d tell you how it all turned out but I’m still on hold with them.
OK, there’s not much info on the web about this so I can confirm that yes, you can run iOS9 (9.2.1 in my case) well on an iPhone 4S. It’s not slow, it’s not weird. That wasn’t always the case with old iPhones and new OSes. For me it’s the same speed, and some of the ‘new’ features are quite nice.
I was an iOS7 holdout for a while, because it worked and I had no reason to upgrade. Then my phone began spontaneously rebooting, and taking a long time to do so. I thought maybe the battery was fried, but Apple’s online wizard says to do a full restore. I was inspired by Rob Rhinehart’s How I Simplified My Phone to rethink how I use my phone. First off, I hold onto my phones until the hardware fails for minimalist and environmental reasons, so that helps me stay simple.
Software-wise, I thought it would be good to wipe the phone, start fresh, and only install stuff I need and stop falling into the abyss of the phone (love that phrase) with social network stuff, games, news, etc.
How? Follow the official advice: backup phone (to iCloud), then do full restore while plugged into a computer using iTunes. Only my music got screwed up, but I think I can just re-sync to fix that.
Last year we refinanced our home mortgage and saved a bunch of money, but at the time it didn’t occur to me to refinance my auto loan.
In preparation for replacing our second car I was reading The Biggest Lies Car Manufacturers and Dealerships Tell to Sell You a Car and I recognized one: You Donâ€™t Have to Finance Through the Dealership. With our first car that’s exactly what I did, not realizing I had the option to shop around. So as preparation for finding a new loan, I decided to refinance the loan we had and in the process find out how it works and who has the best rates.
My current loan is with TD Auto Finance at 3.99%. Not horrible, but I’ll save a bunch if I can get down at least .75% on a 48 month loan. Here’s what I did:
Contacted TD via secure website message to see if they would refinance me. They responded, “Unfortunately, as an indirect lender, TD Auto Finance is unable to offer a refinance option at this time.”
Asked the local bank where we scored an awesome home mortgage rate, but they don’t offer auto loans.
Tried LendingTree and received four â€œquotesâ€â€Šâ€”â€Štwo lenders that wouldnâ€™t give me a rate unless I called them, one that gave me a range of rates, and one (CapitalOne) that gave me an actual rate of 2.99%. For the amount of personal information I forked over, the results were disappointing. Still, I was happy to get one rate in my green zone.
Talked to Chase where we have our checking account. I don’t have any great love for Chase, but operationally they work, there’s a lot of branches near me, and there’s a convenience to both myself and them of paying the loan out of the checking account. I walked into the branch hoping for a better, high-touch service, but their rate using the quick calculator wasn’t great: 3.64%. They offered to submit a loan application to see if their actuaries might do better, so we did. The next day they offered me 3.09%. I asked if they could beat Capital One’s rate. They asked for some more information about the car and then offered me 2.84%. I accepted, and stopped by the branch to sign the documents in about 30 minutes.
The upshot is now we’re saving $60/month on the loan. Yay! I’m paying $85 in fees to the state for transferring the title, but I’ll recoup that in less than two months.
In my work on Nickel I want to avoid giving the same old tired advice that a lot of financial advisors give — manage your money well, then go out and life your life with whatever money is left. That’s not how most of us live.
For example, my family is planning on going on vacation this year. Does that mean we have excess cash because every other area of our financial life is tied up with a neat bow? Definitely not. But after working all year we need that time off, in our case to play on the beach, go swimming, and just enjoy being a family.
I was thinking of this because we’re about to replace one of our cars that is coming off lease. It would primary act as my wife’s way of getting to work, so she’s taken the lead on testing driving and figuring out what she wants. She narrowed it down to a few options:
Buy the car we have if the loan payment is within our budget
Buy a new car within our budget
Buy a used car within our budget
We’re lucky to be in a golden age of automobiles where there are plenty of cars, used and new, that are attractive, affordable, and reliable. But many options can make it complicated. I love car research; my wife does not.
But “The Budget” is a constant factor there. And so my thought is we can just make that a constraint. And as I know from my design work, constraints actually make it easier to get things done because you can focus your creativity. In this case, we can focus on our desire, on what makes us really happy. So before getting lost in details and financial options I find it helpful to just set a simple financial constraint and then focus on fun.
So I proposed another approach to my wife:
How about you pick the model that will make you the happiest and then weâ€™ll find one that fits our budget?
Perhaps the single most useful thing a manager of a design/development team can do is to raise the bar of quality. By extension, I think this also holds true for clients of design agencies.
By ‘raise the bar’ I don’t simply mean saying, ‘This isn’t good enough’ or ‘work harder’, or this…
Raising the bar sounds simple but it’s not. To do it properly, the manager/client must first understand what is possible given their budget and timeline and resources. Once you know this, you can see when the output is short on quality and you can do something about it.
Second, you need to have a sense of what is currently keeping people from falling short. Is it a personality conflict? Too many meetings? Not enough coordination? Rushing into execution without generating enough good ideas?
Third, you have to have the guts to deliver the message in a constructive way. The Steve Jobs yell-at-people method worked for Steve Jobs, but unless you work at Apple it may not work for you. In my experience good people want to do well. They want to feel good about their work and themselves. They want awesome samples in their portfolio. So appeal to their work ethic, paint them a picture of how awesome the future is going to be when things are different, then set the bar of what you expect.
Understand what is possible in your situation
Figure out where the obstacles are and remove them
Constructively set the bar higher for the team by inspiring them
Just as container ships can carry more cargo because they use a standard form factor for storing the cargo, software containers can run more apps on each server by using a standard way to share the operating system without all the wasted overhead of virtual machines.
Containers bundle together all the pieces you need to run the app into one package.
Containers make it easy to deploy apps to local servers and the cloud.