The Automattic Designers Creed

I’ve always loved the Automattic Creed:

I will never stop learning. I won’t just work on things that are assigned to me. I know there’s no such thing as a status quo. I will build our business sustainably through passionate and loyal customers. I will never pass up an opportunity to help out a colleague, and I’ll remember the days before I knew everything. I am more motivated by impact than money, and I know that Open Source is one of the most powerful ideas of our generation. I will communicate as much as possible, because it’s the oxygen of a distributed company. I am in a marathon, not a sprint, and no matter how far away the goal is, the only way to get there is by putting one foot in front of another every day. Given time, there is no problem that’s insurmountable.

In a single paragraph it communicates the things we value most as an organization. It’s especially powerful because it applies to all Automatticians equally.

A couple of months ago I started wondering if we should also come up with a Designers Creed. Something specifically for designers that represents the core values each of us should aspire to. Something that would supplement (but not replicate) the Automattic Creed.

As it turns out, coming up with a creed is one tough endeavor. :-) It’s taken much longer than I’d originally anticipated. After multiple brainstorming sessions, and after loads of feedback internally (huge thanks to everyone who helped), here’s our Designers Creed:

The Automattic Designers Creed

I take pride in my craft. I ensure that everyone — regardless of ability or device — can use my designs. I routinely ask for feedback, even when it’s uncomfortable. I regularly watch people use my designs, because testing leads to clarity. I will never stop at “good enough”.

Wanna join us?

Our company is 100% distributed (you can work from anywhere). Sound like something you’d enjoy? We’ve got over a dozen positions open. We’d love to hear from you!

Don’t pay for design leagues – just start designing…

I regularly receive pings from friends and family for advice on how to get started in a new design or front-end coding career. The emails usually read something along the lines of:

Hey Dave,

I was hoping I could hit you up for some advice. I’ve decided to switch careers to become a designer. I’m thinking of either applying to this [ENTER_NAME_OF_2_YEAR_UNIVERSITY] course. There’s a [ENTER_NAME_OF_PRERECORDED_VIDEO_SERIES] that looks good, and only costs $X00. There’s also this [ENTER_NAME_OF_HIPSTER_DESIGN_TRAINING_SCHOOL/COURSE/LEAGUE] which lasts X weeks, and costs $X000. I’m undecided. Which would you choose?

Thanks,

After a deep sigh, my answer is always the same, “I wouldn’t pay for any of that“.

Here’s my reasoning:

The best way to become a designer is to just start designing (same for learning to code)

It often takes a couple of emails back and forth before they really hear what I’m saying, “Don’t waste your time/money with these programs, just pick a project that you want to build, and build it. Then keep doing that until you’ve got a small portfolio of things that you’ve built that you’re proud of.”

Your quickest path to becoming a good front-end coder or designer is to just start coding or designing. Please forget about school, or paying for a single thing. Seriously!

You don’t have to pay anything to become a great designer or front-end coder

There is so much info available for free these days. You can easily learn everything you need to know without spending a single dollar!

  • When you get stuck, or when you run up against something you don’t understand? Try Googling for an answer. :-) Chances are, many people will have asked a similar question, and will have shared a solution that works.
  • http://stackoverflow.com/ will soon become your best friend.
  • http://www.codecademy.com/ is free.
  • Go to your local barnes and noble. Grab a book off the shelf. Sit and read it.
  • There are so many great resources out there for learning to design and code. The vast majority of which are free.

We’ve been trained as a society to think: “I’m starting a new career, I guess I’ve got to go back to school”. With regard to careers in design and coding, this is simply not true. In fact, it’s a lie.

The unfortunate bit is that this mentality has lead us to ever increasing student debt levels, which now exceeds one trillion dollars nationally.

Given the option between

1) racking up student loans, wasting time writing stupid papers, and doing countless hours of busy work, or
2) spending your time just building stuff you’re interested in, learning as you go, building a portfolio which will earn you more over time, and potentially charging people for work, or getting a job (where they’ll pay you to continue to learn)…

Hands down, I’d go with option two, every single time. :-)

For many, I think the decision to go back to school actually comes down to some amount of uncertainty and fear.

Unfortunately the fear doesn’t go away just because you attend school

Deciding to build something is intimidating. I get that. You feel like you don’t know enough. Or maybe you legitimately don’t know the least thing about designing.

When it comes down to it, you’re afraid to fail. But truth be told, we all are. This fear is not unique to you.

It’s better to try and conquer your fear now – by just diving in, and deciding to start building something – instead of delaying the inevitable (and racking up more personal debt in the meantime).

Okay… So, where do I start?

Here’s my recommendation:

1) Find a mentor – It could be a relative, a neighbor, someone from church, or a parent from your kids school. Find someone who already does what you’re hoping to do, and ask them to mentor you. Tell them that you’ll try not to bug them, except for times where you really get stuck. This person becomes your lifeline whenever you hit a wall.

2) Find a project – It could be a website for a hobby, or for a relative, or for your church, or for something that is completely made up. 37signals, used to make up projects years ago, before ever releasing their hugely popular Basecamp project tracking software. It worked well for them, and it can work for you.

The focus of these projects is to both build up your portfolio, and to learn as you go.

3) Once a project is complete, return to step #2. Then, repeat this cycle until you have a portfolio you’re proud of.

And that’s it. It really is that simple.

Ego may very well be killing your chances at great design

This chart shows the level of “process” a typical designer will incorporate into their designs over time.

As a designer, you’ll start off with very little process. (beginning of the wavy line)

Over time, you’ll pick up some process here and there, mostly out of necessity (that’s that first hump).

Then, after you’ve got some experience under your belt, you’ll almost certainly start abandoning process (what I call “the slump”).

This pattern happens like clockwork. The actual timeline may differ from designer to designer, but I see the same pattern all the time.

So… what exactly is “the slump”, what causes it, and what can you do to avoid it?

The Slump

The slump is a naturally occurring phenomenon that I see in most, if not all designers. It almost always creeps in soon after you start getting comfortable with your craft. It’s a subtle thing. Probably something you won’t have even recognized in yourself until someone calls you out on it.

It’s a deterioration of design process.

  • It’s an “Ive been doing this a while now, I’m a good designer, I know what the user needs” false narrative.
  • It’s starting a new design project and going with the first idea that comes to you, instead of first spending time to sketch out a bunch of ideas.
  • It’s jumping straight to pixel perfect mockups, or straight to code without putting much thought into who the design is for, and what they’re trying to accomplish.

It’s laziness, and it’s driven by ego.

As your design skills increase, your ego will inflate along with it. If you produce good work, your ego will constantly be stroked. Likes on Dribbble, positive comments at work, from friends, or from clients all add to the problem.

An inflated ego leads you to believe that you can do no wrong. That you instinctively know what is best for your users. That you can skip all of that boring process, and jump straight to later stages of the design process.

But unfortunately your ego is wrong.

How to avoid The Slump

Great designers eventually recognize the power of process in their designs, and pull out of it.

It’s not easy. It means that you’ve got to admit that you don’t have all of the answers. You’ve got to admit that you don’t know what is best for your users. You’ve got to deflate your ego.

“But process just stifles creativity” you might say

Quite the opposite actually. Process frees you. It allows you to consistently create great designs.

In an interview, Steve Jobs once said:

Making insanely great products has a lot to do with THE PROCESS of making that product.

I wholeheartedly agree.

If you’re new to design, why not just bypass The Slump altogether. You can do this by learning to embracing process early on, and by not allowing your ego to get in the way.

If you’re an old-timer, and you find yourself in the slump, no worries. Now is the time to change. Decide today that you’ll no longer be held back by your ego.

Now is the time to drop your ego. Do this, and you’ll be well on your way to great designs.

If you aren’t testing your designs, you’re wasting your time

Every public facing design you push live – which has the potential to affect core metrics – should be A/B tested. Period.

But, why?

A couple of reasons:

– Data helps you make informed decisions.
– You test to learn. You’ll find out what works, and what doesn’t. You can then share what you’ve learned with others, and apply what you’ve learned to future hypotheses.
– As much as you’d like to think that you can predict success, humans are terrible at it. There are no exceptions to this statement. That’s not to say that you don’t have a wealth of knowledge and experience that you can leverage. You’re always going to be fairly confident that each test you run will lead to an increase in your core metrics (else why would you run the test in the first place). But just understand up front that half of the designs you release are going to be a bust. That’s just the nature of the game, and if you’re not testing, you won’t know which half.
– If you launch 6 new features in a month, and as a result, a month later you start to see a slump in your core metrics, which of the 6 features do you attribute the slump to? Or is it something else completely? If you don’t test everything, you’ll be in the dark.

While testing may seem burdensome (and perhaps pointless), I promise that as you start doing it, it will get easier. Eventually, you’ll be able to launch tests in a matter of minutes, and you’ll begin to see with absolute certainty what is working, and what isn’t. It actually becomes very addicting, and can be very fun.

Again, by all means, please leverage your instinct and your experience as a designer to come up with the best design possible. But then please test each design, as a safety mechanism to make sure your assumptions were correct.

If the test succeeds, celebrate! Great job.

If the test fails, celebrate! You just learned something new about what doesn’t work, and you avoided launching it to your users! Now share what you learned and use your new found knowledge to keep iterating.

The important bits

Eliminate ego – In order for any of this to work, you’ve got to drop your ego. You’re going to instinctively want to mask every test you run as winning in some way. Don’t do it. Just know that 50% of your designs are going to be flops, and less than 5% of your designs are going to be major improvements.

Get in the habit of testing everything – When you launch designs without measuring them, you learn very little about which designs work and which don’t. That’s a shame, and a waste of your time/resources.

Focus on learning – Whether a test is a success or a failure is unimportant. The important part is that you learn something new with every design you ship, and that you keep on iterating.

Data informed vs. data driven

There’s a difference between being data informed and being data driven. If you are data driven, you are being lazy by allowing the data to make decisions for you (bad). If you are data informed, you are using the data to help you validate your hypothesis and make informed decisions (good).

Simple example

Let’s say you’re gut says you should move a signup button from the right side of the page to the left. In testing the button on the left, the biggest thing you should be looking for is to ensure that having the button on the left doesn’t completely tank signups. Even if the data tells you that having the button on the right is slightly better, you should trust your gut.

Summing it up

Use your existing knowledge to make a hypothesis. Use A/B testing as a safety mechanism. As long as your change doesn’t sink the ship, trust your gut. Use data to help you make informed decisions, but don’t let data bully you around.

84 highlights from The Startup Playbook

thestartupplaybookI just got done reading through The Startup Playbook, which I really enjoyed. Here’s a list of the quotes that I found most interesting:

  1. Intro – Building a startup will be the homeownership of the next century.
  2. Intro – Ruthlessly focus on your biggest ideas. While you might think keeping your options open creates added opportunity and paths to fortune, it actually does the reverse.
  3. Intro – Ultimately, you are trying to unlock your product-to-market fit equation as quickly as your talent and capitalization will allow. It is critical to select your problem well, focus intensely, and crack the code.
  4. Intro – Be 10 times better than your competitors. You cannot Be incrementally better. Incrementalism kills companies. Radically differentiate your company by being 10 times better than anyone else in the world.
  5. Intro – Be a monopolist. Few entrepreneurs think as boldly as they need to from the very beginning. Yet, this type of thinking needs to be woven into the fabric of the company’s psyche from day one. We are only limited by the scope of our vision.
  6. Intro – The entire company and its ultimate outcome are a reflection of your ability to set the foundational purpose, beliefs, and focus to contribute to a lasting organization that effectively solves a major market problem.
  7. Intro – We have a responsibility to take great risks because in truth, we have few true risks at all. I believe a life fully lived should be lived boldly, loaded with chances to push yourself to the greatest extremes of your abilities.
  8. Intro – Don’t suffer from the sin of comparison. Follow your own path. Trust your gut, focus on the voice of your customers, and move forward on a committed, decisive path.
  9. Intro – I feel one of my most important jobs and my companies is to give my teams the ability to take Great risks without fear of failure or peer contempt. Don’t hide failure. Admit it, address it, learn from it, and then forgive it and move forward.
  10. Intro – Start ups are stupidly hard. The decision to pursue them is irrational.
  11. Chris Anderson – If you can’t define your brand in 3 to 8 words, you’re doomed.
  12. Chris Anderson – Build your reputation through transparency.
  13. Charles Best – Users will reward you for being transparent and giving them choices.
  14. Charles Best – Learn to utilize crowd sourcing on both the front end and the backend of your business.
  15. Sara Blakely – Money is a magnifying glass. It makes you more of who you already are.
  16. Steve Blank – Populate your board with dinosaurs.
  17. Steve Blank – Make “good enough” daily decisions. If someone comes into your office with the question, they should leave with an answer.
  18. Steve Blank – When you run the startup, you’re breaking every rule, shattering every piece of glass, punching through walls, and leaving rubble along the way. It’s like being a platoon commander.
  19. Matt Blumberg – You have to be the most optimistic person in the company and the most pessimistic person company at the same time.
  20. Rodney Brooks – Fire people when they lose faith in your ideas.
  21. Jeff Bussgang – A fatal mistake that some people make is either to ignore data or actually deny what the facts are presenting. It’s easy to fall into that trap at a startup because you’re constantly getting barraged with imperfect information. You shouldn’t let that paralyze you.
  22. Jeff Bussgang – Build a love driven culture.
  23. Jeff Bussgang – Be a mentor. If your not mentoring someone, you’re missing out on something special.
  24. Jeff Bussgang – Don’t neglect the contract with your family. Your strongest as professional and as a person when you have a strong family foundation to rest on.
  25. Steve Case – Change the world. The key driver for me is finding businesses that change the world. These are businesses that empower consumers in new ways, giving them more choice, giving them more control, giving them more convenience in important aspects of their lives.
  26. Steve Case – Focus on people, perseverance, and passion.
  27. Steve Case – We have a great need for people focused on the bigger ideas. Entrepreneurs are the change agents that need to take the lead in building iconic, lasting companies that will improve peoples lives.
  28. Steve Case – Be an attacker, not a defender. What people underestimate is how risky it is to operate in a stable business as a defender rather than an attacker.
  29. Steve Case – Be loyal to your team, but make changes as you scale.
  30. Steve Case – Once you have found the revolutionary idea that you are ready to start a company in pursuit of, you need to be sure you survive to see it through. Occasionally there is an overnight success, but more often it is a marathon, not a sprint.
  31. Steve Case – Set direction and step aside. If you are a really great CEO, you should wake up in the morning and have nothing to do.
  32. Steve Case – Don’t build companies. Build industries. One way to identify entrepreneurs or companies that will change the world is by finding startups that are trying to create an entire industry rather than just build a company. That ambition is the foundation of lasting, iconic, platform companies.
  33. Marc Cenedella – Use passion as your filter. Realistically, there won’t be 100 things or 1000 things that you could execute on as an entrepreneur. At some point, you have to pick one and go, and it has to be something you have a passion for.
  34. Marc Cenedella – Show up and don’t quit. The once you say, “You know what, I didn’t quit”, there’s really deep wisdom in that.
  35. Marc Cenedella – Over-communicate in a crisis.
  36. Marc Cenedella – When you have 50 to 60 hands working on your business, you need to step back from tactical issues and focus on strategic life or death decisions.
  37. Robin Chase – Be frugal, personally and professionally.
  38. Chip Conley – The most neglecting fact in business is that we’re all human.
  39. Chip Conley – When you start, you have no idea what you don’t know. If you keep your business small in the beginning, your initial mistakes are going to be small and you can use them to create a better product.
  40. Jeff Dachis – Build backward from a future state. The issues I tackle are often wildly complex and years into the future.
  41. Jeff Dachis – When you first enter a marketplace, you’ll get laughed at and ridicules and have tomato thrown at you. It’s difficult, but it’s the only way to see if your arguments stand up.
  42. Jeff Dachis – Only take risks when you can affect the outcome. Focus on eliminating risks.
  43. Jeff Dachis – Don’t get lost in lists.
  44. Jeff Dachis – Build solutions, not features.
  45. Kevin Efrusy – Don’t clutter your time. You make your best decisions, when your time isn’t cluttered with a bunch of random stuff.
  46. Caterina Fake – Make something people want to use every day.
  47. Caterina Fake – Working on the right problem is more important than working hard.
  48. Caterina Fake – As a leader of a team or company, you will always have to deal with anxiety. You cannot let those anxieties spread out past you.
  49. Mitch Free – Bootstrap your business for as long as you can. If you can prove that customers are willing to pay money for your offer before you raise money, you’ll get a much higher valuation.
  50. Mitch Free – A great salary on day one often means significantly less upside later on down the road.
  51. Mitch Free – Recognize the life cycles in your team. Not everyone will transition as your business scales.
  52. Mitch Free – The bigger an organization gets the more important it is for you to explicitly communicate with your team.
  53. Mitch Free – share the blame when letting people go. It’s never, “screw you you didn’t work out”, but, “I’m sorry that we didn’t assess the fit properly”.
  54. Tom Gardner – Defined the perfect outcome. You have to nail down what outcome you are seeking.
  55. Tom Gardner – Recognize your actual revenue streams and diversify them.
  56. Tom Gardner – Create an environment that people wouldn’t make sacrifices to join.
  57. Tom Gardner – Deploy a capital like an investor.
  58. Tom Gardner – There is almost always a better option than taking on another full-time employee. The keyword is almost.
  59. Eileen Gittins – It’s through telling stories – about the business, the founding, the customers – that people take on the spirit of the company.
  60. Eileen Gittins – Leadership is, in part, the art of storytelling.
  61. Eileen Gittins – Ineffective team members cause more harm than terminations.
  62. Eileen Gittins – Grant here employees autonomy, mastery, and purpose.
  63. Seth Goldman – The challenge, as I see it, is not, “How do you sell products?” Its, “How do you communicate your beliefs to people and make them into believers?”
  64. Seth Goldman – You want employees to care about the long-term performance of the company, so you should give them as much control over their part in the business as you can.
  65. Scott Harrison – Everything that you do must express your passions and your purpose.
  66. Reid Hoffman – Execute on your biggest idea. Building up a small idea is as much work as building up a big one in the first phases, so you absolutely want to execute on the biggest possible idea that you can.
  67. Reid Hoffman – The only competitive differentiations that matter are ten-times-greater differentiations.
  68. Jeffrey Hollender – Radical transparency and authenticity should dominate your brand and culture.
  69. Ben Horowitz – People are fundamentally lazy, and they’re not going to adopt something unless it’s at least 10 times better than what they are ready have.
  70. Ben Horowitz – You always want to build monopoly because that’s where you’ll get outsize returns.
  71. Tony Hsieh – Be humble. The people in overly proud companies start believing their own press releases and feeling like they can do no wrong.
  72. Tony Hsieh – Giving early managers and executives top-heavy titles inhibits growth.
  73. Cyrus Massoumi – Most startups do A/B testing. But we A/B test everything.
  74. Cyrus Massoumi – Keep your entire company aligned to the core mission. Our goals aren’t centered around money or valuations.
  75. Jim McCann – Managing in underfunded startup is terribly exhausting.
  76. Jim McCann – Cultivate an alumni. If someone leaves on good terms, give proper notice, and treats everyone with professionalism and integrity, we want them to be one of our alumni.
  77. Elon Musk – Impact the future of humanity. I’ve always tried to be involved in things that will impact the future of humanity and have a good impact on the world.
  78. Elon Musk – The most important thing an entrepreneur can do is focus on making a great product or service. Stay very close to the product and be hell-bent on making it as good as it can be.
  79. Elon Musk – Make sure people know exactly why somebody was fired.
  80. Elon Musk – Run your company for as long as you reasonably can. You should only consider passing over the reins to somebody as good or better than you are at creating great products.
  81. Adeo Ressi – Start with multiple ideas and kill them off. It’s much easier to kill an idea when it’s not yet a business.
  82. Adeo Ressi – Conserve dollars in every way you can.
  83. Kevin Ryan – Get to market. In the beginning, you have no way of knowing if you have the right design, or if it’s going to work. There are a lot of things you don’t know. You just have to get out the door and find out.
  84. Jeff Stewart – A business isn’t one big invention. It’s hundreds of small inventions.

Side Project + Endurance

Let’s say you worked on a side project 2 hours every weekday, and took the weekends off.  How much could you accomplish?

Well, that’s:

  • 10 hrs in one week
  • 520 hrs in a year (or a total of thirteen 40 hr work weeks)
  • 2600 hrs in 5 years (or a total of sixty five 40 hr work weeks!) That’s over a years worth of work!

That’s insane.  If you were able to stick with a single side project for 5 years, what could you accomplish?  

I bet you could change the world… I’m not kidding.

Now go and do it. :-)