Remembering to separate proposed solutions from insights & observations

A couple weeks ago I listed out a bunch of activities designers can use to reduce time to clarity.

Upon completing one of these activities I’ll generally report back to my team to recap everything that I’ve observed. This can be a really valuable step in the design process, for a couple of reasons:

A) By itemizing everything, I’m able to better mentally process what I’ve observed.
B) Other people on my team may end up seeing patterns that I didn’t see.
C) Everyone on my team will have the chance to learn (which is really the main goal of these activities)
D) By reporting back, I can help everyone on my team better understand the thought process behind my designs.

A quick word of caution

One pitfall I commonly find myself falling into is my tendency to mix “proposed solutions” in with my recap of insights & observations.

It’s easy to do.

But doing so can easily derail everything.

Why is that?

By mixing solutions in with observations, I’m essentially mixing biased ideas in with relatively unbiased insights. This just increases the chance for:

– disagreements (the focus of these recaps should be on the observations – on what I learned – ideally this should lead to very few disagreements)
– “rabbit hole” discussions that steal the focus of the thread
– my unbiased insights being ignored, or even dismissed completely

One easy solution

Why not just separate the two out completely?

1) Post my insights and observations, being careful not to mix in any proposed solutions.
2) Then as a threaded reply to that main post, go ahead and list out any solutions that I came up with.

By compartmentalizing the two, I can help keep the primary focus of the discussion on the insights & observations. Teammates are then free to pick and choose which discussions they want to participate in, be that:

– insights and observations
– proposed solutions
– or both

I’d love to hear your thoughts.

The future is bright

This morning while I was sketching out some rough user interface ideas, my 6 year old daughter came up behind me and asked,

“What is that?”

I said,

“These are ideas for a user interface.”

She then asked,

“What do you do with it?”

I then explained that,

“any one of these could then be coded up and people could use them on the internet.”

Fast forward an hour…

As I’m heading out to my office she comes up to me with this:

My jaw dropped… as I said,

“Wow, honey what is this?”

She said,

“It’s an interface that I designed. I want you to help me put it on the internet.”

I just stared in amazement.

At which point she immediately started walking me through the entire app (paper prototype style), telling me how you’d “click here to add things”, and “click here to save”…

She’s six.

She’s never done this before, I’ve never even really talked with her in detail about what daddy does for work. But she just gets it.

Needless to say, I was awestruck.

Anyhoo… Thanks for letting me show off my amazingly talented little girl. Not that I had any concerns before, but now I know for sure, the future is definitely bright.

Startup Idea – Gym of the future

I’d love to see someone get creative and disrupt the gym industry. It currently feels so stale. There doesn’t seem to be any creativity or innovation at all.

The Market

With a quick Google search I saw varied reports of the gym market being a $21.8 billion market, all the way up to it being a $78.2 billion market. In any case it’s sizable. There’s value to be delivered there, and ultimately money to be made.

How might someone disrupt this stagnant industry? Here’s my take:

Get creative with facilities

Instead of going with boring old rows of treadmills, and rows of elliptical machines, and small pocket of free weights route, why not mix it up?

I’d look around for some old abandoned supermarket/strip mall real estate. The inside of an old supermarket gives you quite a bit of room to play with.

I’d fill the space with an assortment of different sections. Of course there’d be an aerobic section, and a free weights section, but there would also be a small section for crossfit, and a small section for parkour, there would be a small bouldering/rock climbing section, in addition to multiple smaller yoga/pilate/dance rooms.

The idea here: attract a larger cross-section of customers than your typical gym.

I’d also figure out a way to keep the place open 24 hours a day (not novel these days, but important enough to mention).

Get creative with pricing

Every gym I’ve ever looked at has the exact same strategy when it comes to pricing. This is a huge opportunity for someone to come along and quickly differentiate themselves. Gyms know that for the vast majority of their customers, joining a gym is an idealistic impulse buy. They bank on it, and they price their services accordingly. Generally this involves yearly contracts, with penalties for breaking them early.

Here’s what I’d charge:

$5/visit, for the first 5 visits, then free for the rest of the month.

A couple of thoughts:

– Immediately your gym caters to a long tail of users who would otherwise never step foot in a gym. This long tail of customers knows that they’d never benefit enough from a monthly membership subscription to make it pay off, so they never go to a gym. But with pay as you go pricing that all changes. They could come once a month, and pay just $5.
– The $25/mo ceiling sets people at ease. Every trip they make to the gym after the first 5 visits makes them feel like they are cheating the system somehow. Like they’re sticking it to the gym owner.
– Occasionally I’d enjoy working out with friends. This almost never works in practice though as it requires two people to be members in the same gym. With pay as you go pricing, working out with a friend becomes something you can do without much thought at all. All you have to do is arrange a time.

Get creative with onboarding

I’d rather get a root canal on multiple teeth than be forced to deal with having to sign up for most gym memberships. The experience is down right awful!

Not a lot would have to be done to make it even slightly better, but what if we shot for the moon? Here’s my thinking:

What if the entire process was self service, and what if signing up took less than a minute?

You walk in the door and immediately see a number of self serve stations. You step up to one. Pricing is clearly visible. A screen asks you to swipe your card. You do so. If this is your first visit, it asks for your email address (and that’s it). You’re done. You see a big welcome screen that says “enjoy your workout”.

At this point, your mind is kinda blown. This is remarkable enough of an experience that you feel like telling everyone you know.

What about fraud, you say?

What if someone comes in with another persons credit card who has already paid for 5 visits this month? That’s where a little technology under the hood comes in handy.

Every self serve station has mat, that while you’re swiping your card weighs you. A photo is also snapped every time you swipe your credit card. If someone comes in, swipes a credit card to trigger a free visit, and the weight is inconsistent with a range of weights for the card holders most recent visits, then an alert is sent to the iPhone of the attendant on hand showing the weight discrepancy, and headshot photos of the card holders last visit, along with this visit. The attendant can then “help” the customer set up a new profile for that credit card.

Get creative with retention

There’s loads you could do to introduce “runkeeper” like mechanics into a physical gym environment. You might also experiment with offering some sort of fitbit like tracking device for customers to use freely, helping them track activity within your gym. All of which you could make easy for people to share with their friends and family, and all of which you could use to generate triggers to help bring customers back regularly.

There’s the idea

Now someone go build it so I can give you my money.

Comments

I don’t do comments on this blog, but if you have thoughts, I’d love to hear them. You can email me at designpro@gmail.com.

A list of reasons why I’m a Mormon

First, a few disclaimers:

1. If this topic is of no interest to you, don’t read it.

This is my personal blog, The vast majority of posts that I write will tend to be about design and startups. Occasionally I’ll deviate to cover a topic that is as important, if not much more deeply important to me personally.

2. This post is meant to be 100% informational. My hope is:
A) That by the end of this post, Mormonism will seem like slightly less of a cultish mystery to you, and
B) That at a bare minimum, you’ll be able to at least say to yourself, “I honestly don’t believe anything that dude believes, but I now at least think I understand why Dave Martin is a Mormon”.

3. I posted a link to this article on FaceBook, as that is where all of my closest friends and family are. I didn’t tweet this post out. I didn’t push it to LinkedIn. I’m not preachy by nature. Not in person, not on this blog, not on FaceBook. For the most part, just know that unless you ask, I’m probably not going to bring up religion with you, ever.

4. I’m in no way perfect. Not even close. I fail, and make mistakes all the time. I don’t write any of the following to set myself up on a pedestal in any way.

5. My intention in writing this is not to persuade. I’m not trying to turn you into a Mormon by reading it. Whatever your beliefs or religious affiliations may or may not be, however you choose to live your life, whatever things you value, I love you as you are. For those of you who know me closely, I hope that this sentiment comes through as genuine.

There’s a lot to cover. I’ll do my best to keep everything as concise as possible.

Here are the reasons why I’m a Mormon, ranked in order of importance (to me):

1. CHRIST

Our official church name is The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints. That’s a mouthful, so most people just call us LDS (Latter Day Saints), or Mormon for short.

Our religion is 100% centered around Jesus Christ, his ministry on earth, his atonement and resurrection, and his ministry in these latter days.

Christ stands at the center of our religion. Without him, I believe that quite literally I’d be lost.

2. PEACE

Life on earth can be lonely. It can be scary. It can be tough. Christ’s love helps me feel at peace, in both the good times, as well as the bad.

I pray for this peace daily, and find refuge regularly in the comfort it brings.

3. STRENGTH

Some trials in life feel too great for me to bear alone. In Christ I am strengthened. He helps shoulder my burdens. He’ll also help me turn my weaknesses into strengths.

I’ve witnessed this strengthening effect in my life numerous times.

4. PROTECTION

The world can be a dark place. I’m mortal. I make mistakes. No matter how good of a person I am, while on this earth, I’m not immune to temptation, which leads to sin, which leads to unhappiness.

After I was baptized, I received the Gift of the Holy Ghost, which serves as a constant protection to me, as long as I’m worthy of it.

I receive additional protection (from temptation) by doing things that bring additional light into my life. Things like: fasting monthly, praying daily, reading scriptures daily, going to church weekly, and through regular temple service.

5. ETERNAL FAMILIES

I was married to my wonderful wife in the Palmyra NY Temple. We were sealed for time and all eternity. Not just till death do us part. Our children are also sealed to us for eternity.

I take great comfort knowing that I can be with my amazing wife, and wonderful children forever.

6. PERSONAL REVELATION

Christ said, “Ask, and it shall be given you”. I take this quite literally. Whenever I am unsure about something, I:

A) think about the question myself
B) come to a decision on my own
C) seek conformation from God that my decision is according to his will

Sometimes it is. Sometimes it isn’t.

I do this with bigger issues (should we move to a new house), as well as with smaller issues (how can I best solve this tiny problem). It’s like having a magic 8 ball that actually works. It’s pretty amazing.

7. MODERN REVELATION

The LDS Church is established the same way Christ’s church was established when he was on earth. We have a modern day Prophet. We have twelve Apostles.

Twice a year we have “General Conference”, giving us a chance to hear from our Prophet, Apostles, and other church leaders.

I consider this a great, and fairly unique blessing.

8. SERVICE & SACRIFICE

The LDS church is a lay-ministry. This means that no local or regional leaders are paid or compensated for their service. Additionally, no one vies for office. No one is voted in to a church calling. Service callings are always extended through inspiration.

My wife serves in the primary presidency in our local ward (“ward” is the term we use for our local congregation). She helps lead the youth. I serve as the Elders Quorum President of our ward. I minister to the middle aged brethren in our congregation.

On top of everything else in our busy lives, it can be hard at times. But it’s service, as such, it can be very, very rewarding.

9. PRIESTHOOD BLESSINGS

With the restoration of the church in the 1830’s, came a restoration of the Aaronic, and Melchizedek Priesthoods. The same Priesthood that the Apostles of old used to bless the people of their time.

I’ve personally seen the priesthood work miracles in my life a number of times.

10. COMMUNITY

About seven years ago when my wife and I moved to The Sutherland Shire (just south of Sydney Australia) for work, all it took was a single visit to the local LDS branch, and we were accepted into the congregation immediately, like we were family.

This happens anywhere you move. The exact same thing happened when we then moved to North Carolina two years later.

The church is global, but it’s like one big family.

11. A SOLID FOUNDATION FOR MY KIDS

Having grown up in the church, I saw first-hand how much it shaped who I am today. The doctrine of the Mormon church is strict. I wasn’t always fond of that, but today (especially now that I have kids of my own) I absolutely see that as a good thing. It served as a spiritual anchor for me growing up, and I hope that it can provide the same solid foundation for my kids.

12. ANSWERS TO LIFES QUESTIONS

The Mormon church offers answers to many of lifes greatest questions. Questions like:

– Who am I?
– Where did I come from?
– What’s the secret to real happiness?
– Why do bad things happen to good people?
– What happens when I die?

13. ORDER

I thrive when my life is in order – when things are organized. I can’t really think of any other organization (public, private, government, you name it) that is more organized than the Mormon church. That’s pretty cool if you ask me.

14. WELFARE & HUMANITARIAN AID

The church operates it’s own welfare system, both internally for members, and externally as humanitarian aid. My family was blessed multiple times by the church welfare system while I was growing up, as such it’s also been something that has meant a lot to me personally.

WRAPPING THINGS UP

I’m Dave Martin.

I’m a husband

I’m a Father.

I’m the Creative Director at Automattic.

And I’m also a Mormon.

These are my personal beliefs.

Mormonism is tightly woven into who I am. It’s helped me become the person I am today, and it pushes me to always want to be better.

I don’t do comments on this blog, but if you have thoughts, I’d love to hear them. You can email me at designpro@gmail.com.

Learning to ignore the Sirens

We all know the Greek story about Sirens who would lure nearby sailors with their enchanting music and voices… How many of us are guilty of succumbing to the Sirens in our design work after settling for the first idea that comes to us?

It’s super easy to fall in love and become seduced by first iterations

After all, we designed them. At the time, they likely appear to have all of the right ingredients. But do they? Are they in fact the best possible approach?

Experience has shown me that they almost never are.

I’m as guilty as anyone

I can’t speak for anyone else, but I know that I am guilty. My plate is always full. I’m always eager to wrap “this thing” up, so that I can quickly move on to “that thing”. But in doing so, how often do I head down a less-optimal design path?

One quick method I’ve found to help avoid the Sirens

A couple of years ago, I attended a day-long workshop by Brandon Schauer from Adaptive Path on sketching and rapid ideation. It was excellent.

One of the points he made really stuck with me.

We were given a verbal summary of an interface that needed to be designed. We were then instructed to sketch out a solution (these were super quick, low fidelity sketches). After we were done, we were asked to raise our hands if we liked the direction our sketches were headed. Naturally, the majority of people were really happy with their sketches.

Next, we were asked to make 6 boxes on a blank piece of paper, and to brainstorm alternate approaches. We were given a total of 15 min to complete all 6.

At the end of the 15 min, he asked everyone to rate their favorite sketch, be it the original, or one of the six new sketches. He then went through and asked us to raise our hands for each set. The revelation came when only about 5% of the audience raised their hand for the original sketch. 95% of us preferred one of our alternate approaches. This blew my mind.

“Ya, I don’t buy it…”

You may look at this experience and be suspect of the conclusion that I came to. You might suppose that without doing any sort of 15-min-6-box activity, that you might just as well arrive at the same final design through the process of iteration. Truth is, you might be right.

But is it possible that this is just your pride getting in the way of you making progress? Is it possible that you are so set in your ways, and so used to the design process you’ve come to know that you’re unwilling to even try something new? I hope not. And to that end, I hope you give it a try, answering these questions for yourself.

It’s about giving yourself more paths to choose from

That’s ultimately what it boils down to. Instead of starting with a single option, you start with half a dozen. Starting with multiple options will give you better odds of actually heading down the right path from the very beginning.

So next time you start a new design, why not set aside 15 min at the very beginning to sketch out some alternative approaches. If it’s not for you, no worries, you’ve only wasted 15 min. But who knows, it may very well give you the edge you need to avoid those deadly Sirens.

Have some thoughts to share? Let’s discuss it on Twitter: