The Trouble with Lean Startup: User Research is Hard

When I first heard about Lean Startup I was tempted to dismiss it. The tech industry gets excited about movements and philosophies; when they do I tend to run screaming.

Parts of Lean Startup made sense to me, and indeed echoed what UX practitioners have been saying for years. Gather data. Make sure you’re building something your target customers will actually use. Test early and often. So I did something I rarely do: I read the book, Eric Ries’ The Lean Startup.

By and large I like Lean Startup, especially once you recognize how it’s been misunderstood by the industry at large: Continue reading

It’s OK to Work at a Big Evil Tech Company

It’s been nearly eight months since I quit my job at AOL to become an entrepreneur. It’s hard. They tell you it’s going to be hard; you say, “Yeah, I know, it’s totally going to be hard;” and then it’s hard.

Not a week goes by in which I don’t fantasize about going back to work at a big company. That’s OK: in unfamiliar, uncomfortable terrain it’s inevitable I’ll want to retreat to the familiar. It would be just that: a retreat. I’ve chosen this path because I want to start something myself, because I want to build a company. And as I said, I knew it was going to be hard.

But I’m equipped to do it, in no small part because I’ve spent the last five years at big tech companies – first Yahoo!, then AOL. I was thrilled to be there, surrounded by talented, passionate people who knew more than I did. There were fascinating design reviews, brown bag talks, hallway conversations. There was so much to learn, and I loved it. Continue reading

Introducing Stky: the To-Do List That Saves You From Yourself

You’ve tried a lot of to-do lists. It starts out well: a blank slate, a new system, a sense of purpose. But one day you open that shiny to-do app, see a “today” list a mile long, and can’t take it.

A sticky note on my monitorAnd what do you do? Grab a sticky note. Write down the five things you’ll do today, slap it on your monitor, done. Your life is under control again.

There’s a fundamental flaw in today’s productivity apps: the assumption that with a well-organized tool we can keep our lives under control. For most of us that’s just not true. (One glance at my desk should convince anyone of that.) You put ten things on your list and do five. You probably won’t do the others tomorrow, but you can’t bring yourself to delete them…so the list grows. And grows. Until it’s more than you can bear to look at.

Stky is a simple to-do list inspired by that sticky note on your monitor. By anyone who’s ever put a credit card in the freezer. Or taken change out of the vacation jar to pay the babysitter. Sure, it’s about getting things done. But it’s also about the satisfaction you get from crossing off everything on your list; and the freedom of waking up to a blank slate in the morning.

Stky is available now for iPhone and iPod Touch. I hope you enjoy it.

 Stky: First RunStky: Enter TaskStky: Home

Smart UX: The Power of Nuanced Behavior

As product designers we tend to seek holistic solutions to user problems. We ask, “Yeah, but what about when the user does this?” and then we seek a Grand Unified Design that takes this into account elegantly. But sometimes an elegant solution doesn’t exist. Sometimes the best UX is one where each edge case, each behavioral nuance is effectively hard-coded. It may seem cumbersome, but it can also result in a great user experience. Continue reading

You Should Absolutely Learn to Code

Jeff Atwood over at Coding Horror is frustrated by the tech industry’s current everyone should-learn-to-code theme, and struck back this week with Please Don’t Learn to Code. He makes some good points. But as someone who’s been promoting programming as part of a well-rounded education for years I fundamentally disagree.

Atwood writes, “Can you explain to me how Michael Bloomberg would be better at his day to day job of leading the largest city in the USA if he woke up one morning as a crack Java coder?” And of course Mr. Bloomberg wouldn’t. But there’s an implicit assumption that learning to code is the same as becoming an engineer. It isn’t. Continue reading

I’m Joining CrunchFund as Entrepreneur-in-Residence

I’m incredibly excited that I’ll be joining CrunchFund — the early-stage venture capital firm run by Mike Arrington, Patrick Gallagher, and MG Siegler – as its first entrepreneur-in-residence. Get the details over at Uncrunched.

I got to know Mike and MG while product-managing the redesign of TechCrunch.com as part of my role on Matte Scheinker’s Consumer Experience team at AOL. Mike and I kept in touch after I left AOL to enter the chaotic startup world, and he’s been extremely helpful in helping me find my way. Even as I continue that process I’m thrilled to be able to lend a hand at CrunchFund via my perspectives as product manager, designer, and developer.

For more detail check out Mike’s post over at Uncrunched.

One Year Later: Is HTML5 Ready for Prime Time vs. Native? No.

A year ago I published a series of posts about HTML5 mobile web frameworks: Sencha Touch, jQuery Mobile, jQTouch, and Titanium Mobile. Setting aside differences among frameworks, I tackled the question of native vs. web and gave a nuanced answer, even a hesitant yes. A year later I’ve abandoned HTML5 and begun rebuilding my app in Objective-C. And while the long answer is still nuanced, the short answer is easy: if you want to build a great mobile app, go native. Continue reading

I’m Leaving AOL. Here’s What’s Next.

In early 2010 I left my job as Director, User Experience for Yahoo! Messenger. After three years I was ready for something smaller, where I’d have more of an impact and spend less time fighting big company politics.

But something was brewing at AOL. It had a portfolio of embarrassingly bad products and was admitting that publicly. Tim Armstrong (AOL’s CEO) and Brad Garlinghouse (head of Consumer Applications and famous for his “Peanut Butter Manifesto” criticizing Yahoo’s lack of focus) pulled in Matte Scheinker to fix the problem. Matte — my former manager, ongoing mentor, and one of my absolute favorite people — invited me to help found his new Consumer Experience team. The opportunity was too intriguing to turn down. So I weathered the inevitable, “AOL? Really!?” from friends and family and signed on in May 2010.

Armed with authority over AOL’s product review process, the three of us — Matte, Christian Crumlish, and me — set out to turn terrible experiences into great ones. We consulted, pleaded, designed, brainstormed, fixed typos, debugged code, cleaned trash out of conference rooms. It was exhilarating. The team grew and flourished; by fall 2011 there were seven of us. In the course of it I got to lead the TechCrunch redesign, build an internal social network, and meet and earn the respect of product teams across the company.

Continue reading

The Frog and the Bunny: A Parable

The Frog and the Bunny took a road trip to San Francisco. The Frog drove, because he’d done this before. The Bunny navigated, looking for a balance of speed and scenery.

They drove all day. They drove all night. They stopped at a Denny’s in St. Louis. As they dug into their Moons Over My Hammy the Bunny said, “Tomorrow we’ll make for Denver. It’s a flat, boring ride but then we’ll have the plains behind us and see some mountains!”

Just then a long, furry head emerged from the booth behind them. “I couldn’t help overhearing,” said the Ferret. “I’m headed to San Francisco too. May I join you?” The Bunny looked worried but the Frog said, “Sure! I can see from your trucker cap that you’ll add value to our little adventure.”

The Ferret slipped into their booth, grabbing a mouthful of Bunny’s dinner. “All this speculation about routes is silly,” he said. “Look out that window! Hundreds, thousands of cars headed off on their own adventures. Surely our best route will be the one with the most cars. Let’s count how many go each way and follow the biggest crowd.”

“That’s a great idea,” said the Frog. And they headed south. Continue reading

Mossberg on Jobs: Risk-Taker, Perfectionist, Reductionist

Walt Mossberg on Steve Jobs:

He did it because he was willing to take big risks on new ideas, and not be satisfied with small innovations fed by market research. He also insisted on high quality and had the guts to leave out features others found essential and to kill technologies, like the floppy drive and the removable battery, he decided were no longer needed.

I’m often hard on Apple. But it’s because I can be: I hold them to a higher standard than their competition because it’s feasible to do so. Steve Jobs seems to have led Apple and often the whole industry through his uncanny gut instinct, willingness to take risks, and unerring attention to detail. We need more of that if we are to continue innovating.