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What if I Screw Up?

If you’ve never read the Valve Employee Handbook, it’s worth a read. They have an amazing attitude towards their internal organization, culture and ways of working. It is maybe the only Employee Handbook you’ll ever read in one short sitting, happily. With a lighthearted tone and great diagrams, it’s an education.

One amazing point, on Page 20: What if I screw up?

Screwing up is a great way to find out that your assumptions are wrong or that your model of the world was a bit off.

As long as you update your model or move forward with a better picture, you’re doing it right.  Look for ways to test your beliefs. Never be afraid to run an experiment or collect more data.

This attitude of Make, Test and Reflect is amazing…you can talk about ideas forever, but until you make something and test it (or screw up) in the real world, you’ll never know.


Always Be Capturing

If you’ve wanted to run your own design sprint, you can always hire The Design Gym…but frankly you can do it yourself if you have enough Creative Confidence!

There are lots of great resources on the web, but DesignStaff.org from Google ventures has some great stuff. This article is about how to keep your meetings moving forward by keeping them visual. If you want to get some practice before you try it out, we have a class on Visual Recording coming up in March. Some critical points:

1. If you don’t write it down, it didn’t happen. Don’t trust yourself or your team to remember your great ideas. Write them on a post-it, a whiteboard or take pictures with your phone and have a shared folder

2. Appoint a facilitator: having someone who’s *job* it is to do the pre- and post-meeting work to collect and arrange some of these team-shared resources and agendas is essential

3. War Rooms: If you can, maintain a project room. This can allow some visual memory from meeting to meeting, instead of having to erase everything. Substitures are shared asana lists, trello boards or straight up google docs.

If you need other things to “always be” doing, besides closing, read Danny Meyers’ book Setting the Table. He talks about always “collecting dots” and “connecting dots”, a great metaphor for developing a designer’s mindset.

Hacking Networks: Barbed Bells

If you don’t get Now I Know, the awesome daily email on random things that are interesting, you should!

This article from a few days ago was fascinating, and about a very early hacker’s network: Farmers and Ranchers in the early days of the 1900s, using barbed wire for phone lines!

In 1894, the patent on the phone ran out, and Alexander Graham Bell no longer had exclusive rights to sell it…but his company *did* own the largest network on which to run it and make it useful. Someone discovered that barbed wire fences made a decent conductor, however, and was able to turn the fences stretching for miles from ranch to ranch and farm to farm into a massive party line – anyone could talk and listen, and distinctive ring patterns were used to separate who was calling.

To get around this… some communities developed a system where each ranch had its own ring — a unique combination of short and long sounds. Due to the nature of the phone system, the ring would sound on every phone in the network, day or night. Also, while it was customary to only pick up if your ring was the one being sounded, anyone else could (and often did) eavesdrop.

Second, the barbed wire fences were only good transmitters if they stayed up. The bulls that the fences held in were not privy to this system and didn’t always cooperate, at times taking down the entire phone network as they made their escape. This had a silver lining, though. As the New York Times noted in a 1901 report on barbed wire phone systems, at least the ranchers now had a way of knowing that the cattle were escaping: the phone suddenly stopped working.

What’s amazing about this system is that it persisted and grew for many years…until the main system, with it’s superior switching system which *wouldn’t* ring everyone at the same time, took over. The hacked network quickly fell from use.

What networks can you hack to accomplish something new?



Open-source Design MBA

“Design is the Future of Business” says author Nathan Shedroff. He’s written a host of books, started a school, and has the guts to open his materials up for anyone and everyone to use. Take a look here for his MBA curriculum. 

His Experiences studio is right on: everything is an experience and experiences can be designed.

He outlines the Six Dimensions of experience, and they’re all right on. Finding ways to shape, control and manage these triggers help shape a design experience.

1. Significance: Function/Performance, Price/Value,
Emotion/Lifestyle, Values/Identity, Meaning. Refer to the Meaning
Template for instruction on how to assess meaning.
2. Breadth: Product, Service, Brand, Nomenclature (Naming),
Channel (Environment), Promotion, Price.
3. Intensity: Reflex, Habit, Engagement.
4. Duration (Time): Initiation (Start), Immersion, Conclusion (End),
Continuation (Repeat).
5. Triggers: Taste, Sight (Visuals), Sound (Music, Voice, Effects),
Smell, Touch/Texture, Concepts, Symbols.
6. Interaction: Passive, Static, Reactive, Interactive.


22 Rules of Storytelling from Pixar’s Vaults

Oh it’s all over the web…and for good reason. Pixar’s 22 Storytelling Rules are jam-packed with great nuggets. Read and enjoy…and try some out!


1. You admire a character for trying for more than just their success

2. You have to keep in mind what’s interesting for you as an audience, not

what’s fun to do as a writer. Sometimes they are different.

3. Trying for theme is important but you won’t know what the story is about til

you’re at the end of it. Now rewrite.

4. Once upon a time there was a _____________________________. Everyday,

___________________. One day, ___________________________. Because of that,

_________________________. Until finally __________________________________.

5. Simply. Focus. Combine Characters. Hop over detours. It will feel like your

losing valuable stuff but it will set you free.

6. What is your character good at, comfortable with? Throw the polar opposite

at them. Challenge them. How do they deal with it?

7. Come up with your ending before you figure out the middle. Seriously

endings are hard, get yours working upfront.

8. Finish your story, let go even if it’s not perfect. In an ideal world you have

both but move on. Do better next time.

9. When you’re stuck make a list of what wouldn’t happen next. Lots of times

the material to get you unstuck will show up.

10. Pull apart the stories you like. What you like in them is a part of you; you’ve

got to recognize it before you can use it.

11. Putting it on paper lets you start fixing it. If it stays in your head a perfect

idea, you’ll never share it with anyone.

12. Discount the first thing that comes into your head. And the second, third,

forth and fifth – get the obvious out of the way. Surprise yourself.

13. Give your characters opinions. Passive/malleable may seem like to you but

it’s poison to the audience.

14. Why must you tell THIS story? What’s the belief burning in you that this story

feeds off of? That’s the heart of it.

15. If you were your character in this situation, how would you feel? Honesty

lends credibility to unbelievable situations.

16. What are the stakes? Give us a reason to root for the character. What

happens if they don’t succeed? Stack the odds against.

17. No work is ever wasted. If it’s not working, let go and move on – it’ll come

around to be useful later.

18. You have to know yourself: the difference between doing your best and

fussing. Story is testing, not refining.

19. Coincidences to get characters into trouble are great, coincidences to get

them out of trouble is cheating.

20. Exercise: Take the building blocks of a movie you dislike. How would you

rearrange them into something you would like?

21. You have to identify with your situation/characters, you can’t just

write ‘cool’. What would make YOU act that way?

22. What’s the essence of your story? What the most economical way of telling

it? If you know that you can build out from there.

Ideation Essentials with Startup KeyMe. Hint: You can do them all for free

At our ideation class last week, we brought in our friend Matt from KeyMe to present a design brief. The class, after learning some essentials of ideation, got to work analyzing the presentation from KeyMe and pitched back their concepts and approaches. Matt stayed to hear the pitches and give feedback. Each team approached the challenge of enhancing the engagement funnel for KeyMe in different ways:

How can we get people to scan keys sooner? People don’t loose their keys every day…so how can we get people to use the product right away and like it?


How can we make the process more viral and easily sharable? Can we help people with language and concepts to make sharing simple?


How might we adapt models and a halo of trust from other industries? Banks, Insurance and Doctors have our trust implicitly. How can KeyMe partner with these industries or model their behaviors to gain instant trust?

Overview Video

Each team adapted a simple ideation strategy:

  1. Lower the bar: How can we get people to learn the value of our product sooner rather than later?
  2. Pass it Along: How can we give people a solid reason or personal value to share?
  3. Adjacent Models: What are other industries doing right that we can learn from?

These three questions are easy and simple prompts that any team can use to drive new concepts. It shouldn’t take long to gather your team together and facilitate a short brainstorm on each. If you want to watch the pitches and hear the feedback for each, check it out here.

You can also download our PDF on ideation here.


User Experience Mapping

One of our community members sent us this:

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Which reminded me of this:


Mapping user experiences is so essential…without a map, how will you know where to go?

Also, check out Adaptive Path’s resources here and here. They are really awesome and can help you do a deep Experience Inventory that can help guide your design decisions.


Getting out of the Office to meet your customers

Here at The Design Gym one of our core beliefs is that it’s always a good idea to get outside of the office and meet the people you do it all for: your customers, your users, your stakeholders.

We run an intensive weekend workshop about once a month where we make two things happen:

1. Deep and broad learning in the phases of creative design work

2. Realtime experience using those learnings with a real client

Ironically, when we’re making that happen, we rarely have time to stop and look around, as ask the participants how it’s going.

This last weekend, with Marley Coffee, we took some time to ask our guest company, what it feels like to ask a room full of strangers what they think of the challenges they are facing and how to solve them.



What we heard is that it’s a very vulnerable position…one of the guests from Marley described it as


“It’s like standing in front of someone naked and being told you’re fat, when you thought you were in good shape…but it’s good”


The conclusion? In order to really dig in with dynamic, collaborative work, you have to be prepared to be wrong and to accept other perspectives. After all, the people in the room are your customers. If you don’t listen to them, who will you listen to?

How to make and use a Trend Report

Our friend Mike Roller teaches design in Cincinnati and has put together this interesting take on trend reports. If you have to draft one or use one, take some of his thoughts and do it better


Experience Design

What is an experience? And Where does it reside? We know we can’t make someone have an experience….you can lead a horse to water…etc. But we can set the table.

That’s why I start with Danny Meyer when I talk about experiences.




A-E-I-O-U Framework

This is a great lens to look at experiences with – what should we be looking for when we start the Examine Phase? How can we make sure we’re seeing all that there is to see? Tracking Activities, Environments, Interactions, Objects and Users can get us towards an understanding of the current state of an experience.

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Lots more detail here, if you want to dig deeper on this framework.


The 5Es: Entice, Enter, Engage, Exit, Extend

When you think about experiences, we often imagine an ideal state, with a live, fully living site and a happy set of customers. But how do we get there? Great products are great from the very start, which is why things like Unboxings are so popular. Giving your customers a great experience has a long arc. The 5Es help us to examine that arc.

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The Five Es of an experience arc, mapped with post-it confetti!

You can read a lot more in detail about the 5Es here.


Experience Inventory

Bringing these two together can help. We like to map out the A-E-I-O-U framework against the 5Es, to spot key pain points, frictions areas and spots where things are working well.


Mapping Experiences

There are Four Experience maps I like to make when working through these issues, zooming in on these key moments and arcs.


Emotion Maps:

Qualitative depictions of the arcs of experience for various users. What can be amazing about these is using these is that we can find and understand gaps, discontinuities and dissonances in user experiences.

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How users or businesses work through process

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My favorite, You Dropped Food on the Floor, is linked below.


Action Maps

Flows in Space and Time. These include physical and digital user journeys….these can be digital wireframes, or annotated system maps, or physical maps.

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Service Maps

Service Maps can help bring these all together: User Journeys, Decision trees, action maps. Playing with the line of visibility and arrows of action/transaction can help you figure out how to iterate on the value proposition.

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Learn a lot more about service blueprinting here and here.


Taking the time to Inventory, map and really understand the experiences your customers are currently having – either with you or with a competitor – is an essential first step towards designing better experiences.