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Hi. All my current writing is over at Audacious Fox, and I'd love to show you around. Thanks for reading.

100 words on design

I’m stealing this “100 words” exercise from Jeremy Keith. It’s a fantastic idea, and as Mr. Keith says, “when it comes to writing, there are no shortcuts.”

I also believe that writing can be a great way to learn. Take any topic, write 10,000 words about it, and I bet you’ll finish smarter than you started.

For this experiment, I want to spend some time exploring what it takes to design great digital products. Specifically, I want to get better at recognizing what makes good designs good and others not.


Bias is the preference of one thing over another. It’s the reason some people use iOS and others Android. It’s why I favor buying certain types of shoes, and it even influences what I order when we’re out for ice cream.

Recognizing your own biases is incredibly important. Product designers rarely, if ever, design websites or applications for a single user; rather, we’re creating something for a wide range of people, each with different personalities, behaviors, and preferences. There’s no room for unfounded or blind bias in good products.

I really like the way Joel Beukelman puts it: “get bias from experience, not ignorance.” If you don’t like big phones, but have never used a big phone, that’s ignorant bias. If you don’t like big phones because you’ve actually used one for a period of time and don’t like how it’s difficult to reach the screen corners, that’s bias from experience.

Everyone has bias, but it seems the best designers regularly challenge their own assumptions, and they’re acutely aware of how their personal preferences may influence a product’s design.


Users like to know that they’re using a product correctly. Knowing this, designers will often use small visual cues to help reaffirm the intended use of their product.

But what about for apps that can be used in many different ways? Periscope is such an example. Periscope lets a user broadcast realtime video from their phone, but once things get streaming, it’s hard to know how the user is feeling. Are they feeling self-conscious or confused (like I was, after seeing my face onscreen)? And you don’t want the system to pop up a “looking good!” message if, in fact, they’re bombing it.

Periscope handles this by providing the audience with a frictionless method of sending positive, visual feedback during a stream. All the audience has to do is tap on their screen and little, colored hearts will appear. There’s no limit to the number of hearts a single viewer can create, so a single person could produce a plethora of visual, realtime feedback for the broadcaster.

Periscope encourages the audience to encourage the broadcaster, which ends up coming across far more genuine than any canned message ever could. It’s cute, and it works.

Saturday, 30 April 2016