17. The messy middle
Robert Frost’s poem ‘The Road Not Taken’ is famously misinterpreted. While many take it to be about making the right choice, it’s actually about post-rationalising our decisions. I was reminded of this when reading Scott Belsky’s business-book-meets-memoir The Messy Middle. Belsky ran the design-portfolio startup Behance for 7 years before selling it to design software giant Adobe in 2012. While his book includes stories from other entrepreneurial companies that Belsky has been involved in— ranging from Adobe to Twitter-acquired video streaming platform Periscope to hyper-feedback focused venture firm Benchmark—it’s primarily a story of the ups-and-downs of running a startup. Belsky was all too aware that startup stories—not unlike that road not taken—get abbreviated into a highlights real of inevitability, whereas the lived experience is far more murky. His book slows down that time, and even points to others who were just as committed founders but just didn’t have the same luck.
Two stories resonated with me. The first was Belsky’s challenge to founders to know when they have to tell staff and funders difficult news, rather than merely burying it (don’t hide the layoffs, explain why they’re important). The second was a plea that leaders remember to more generally do the hard-but-right thing even if there is noise from others to hold off (be it getting rid of a toxic person in leadership just before a funding round, or cutting a feature that has some fans but ultimately won’t serve the business’s main goal). Belsky has an acronym that he uses when talking about this to mentees: DYFJ. What it spells out in full: Do Your Fucking Job.
This month in digital government and design
The UK’s Government Office for Science (nope, I’d never heard of them either) has published guidance on systems thinking for civil servants.
Another thing that I didn’t know about: Google has a leadership academy for underrepresented groups. (Thanks, Chicago Camps!)
Dean Vipond, the former design lead for the NHS App, has published an unofficial 6-part history of the NHS design system.
My colleagues at GDS have published guidance on how to land a job as a junior designer or researcher.
The Central Digital and Data Office have published guidance on digital, data, and technology essentials for senior civil servants.
Over in the US, the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) network have released some videos about digital accessibility
“Until the lion has their own storyteller, the hunter will always have the best part of the story”. Design educator Leslie-Ann Noel on pluriversal design
Regulation technology (RegTech) talks about ‘radical user centricity’. I like this as a more honest alternative to co-design. (Speaking of which, there’s yet another article reminding people that co-design is more than just getting feedback.)
Laura Yarrow asks: how can designers use promise theory in their practice?
During the pandemic, the main thing I missed having access to for work were walls to act as ‘information radiators’. Snook have had a go at making a digital version.
Joe Knowles gives suggestions on how to scale a UX team. I liked the idea of setting up small critique cohorts, I’ve had this happen organically in programmes and the quality of feedback is a lot higher thanks to the extra context.
Want to get better at choosing and using type? Try out a free interactive game to improve your typography
Some researchers have noticed that Nielsen Norman Group videos feature a particular set of “tender technicians” - all young, female and conventionally attractive, with generic scripts. Why is this a problem? It downplays their expertise and, in a way, objectifies them.
Speaking of women in the workplace, have you found yourself telling one to ‘be more confident’? Perhaps you should be taking a cue from an HBR study on receptive leadership—and be telling men to be ‘more receptive’ instead.
They say to never work with animals or children, but Chris Corrigan facilitated discussion sessions with babies in the room and found some useful things about the process
And if you ever need to remind stakeholders that someone may try to game your system, from the world of Pokemon Go:
I saw the film Everything Everywhere All At Once (EEAAO) not once but twice at the cinema. From memory this is the first time that I’ve done this. The film holds up on a second viewing, and I agree with the buzz of it being the most original sci-fi film since the Matrix. Part of this may be because of how much is going on thematically: loss of faith, ADHD… Walter Chaw interviews EEAAO writer-directors “The Daniels” (Daniel Kwan and Daniel Scheinert) and unpacks these themes and more.
I also saw Top Gun: Maverick this week: it’s the rare sequel that improves on the story. For those that can’t remember much about the original (it did come out 35 years ago), treat yourself to a scene from the 1994 film “Sleep With Me” where Quentin Tarantino gives a memorable (if not Navy-sanctioned) explanation of its themes:
Do you play games like Animal Crossing? Some researchers define these as ‘cozy games’ and explain why they’re important.
Remember Metafilter? The Web 1.0-era social network is still going, thanks to great community systems.
NZ soap Shortland Street turns 30 this year. Journalist Russell Brown points out that it was groundbreaking in terms of representation:
And finally, cultural differences via detective shows
Until next time,