In Non-Designer Design Handbook, Robin Williams gives a very valuable advice on design (and life). I quote:
Don’t be a wimp
Don’t be afraid to create your Design (or your Life) with plenty of blank space-it’s rest for the eyes (and the Soul),
Don’t be afraid to be asymmetrical, to uncenter your format – it often makes the effect stronger.
It’s okay to do the unexpected.
Don’t be afraid to make words very large or very small; don’t be afraid to speak loudly or to speak in a whisper. Both can be effective in the right situation.
Don’t be afraid to make your graphics very bold or very minimal, as long
as the result complements or reinforces your design or your attitude.
Back when I was a research assistant at the Human Computer Interaction Lab in Maryland, a very interesting study was carried by Kent Norman on the acts of rage against computers. Kent surveyed people and asked them to “vent” their feelings and frustrations with their computers and software. The results showed that people screamed, swore, hit, and even killed their machines out of frustration and anger. For a full flavor of the acts of violence, follow the link to the full study below.
What was particularly interesting to me was the difference in opinions between Mac users and Windows users: Windows users blamed Microsoft for anything that goes wrong with their PC, even when it’s not Microsoft’s fault. On the other hand, Mac users forgave Apple even when it’s Apple’s fault. Back then, I wasn’t a Mac user (I’ve been a faithful PC user until Vista came out), so I grabbed a friend of mine who owned a Mac and asked him: “What’s so special about the Mac that makes you more forgiving?”.
“You know when you are driving back home through the rush hour traffic, after a long day at work, and your car suddenly gets rear ended by another driver. You stop your car, you go down and you’re ready to yell and fight with the other driver. And the other person gets off the car, and it’s this really hot chick, beautiful, well dressed, smiling at you with innocence and kindly apologizing. You can’t help but to smile back, tell her that it’s no big deal, get back in your car and drive back home. It may actually put you in a good mood that such a beautiful person has been nice to you today. That’s how I feel about my Mac!”
This person’s answer revealed to me the importance of a product’s look and behavior to users. It may even eclipse in importance its ability to function properly, or give users all what they need. We are mostly emotional creatures, and we like those who treat us well. Next time your product displays an error message, make sure it smiles, it apologizes, and qualifies as a hot chick.
A year ago, I walked into my manager’s office and told him that I was quitting. I was probably more surprised at my decision than he was. I just changed teams, and I couldn’t have been happier with the new team: every person was cooperative, positive, and respectful. My decision wasn’t based on any rationalization, but on a gut feeling and some strange bio-feedback: The minute I was stepping into the office, my heart would start pounding hard, and I would start gasping for air. I went to see my doctor, did all the tests that he recommended, and found nothing wrong with my heart or my health. Yet I kept getting these symptoms over and over.
I couldn’t understand what was wrong with me: I had a very comfortable job, working in a great company, getting paid a six figure salary and offered tons of benefits. There was no reason for me to be dissatisfied with my life, and yet I was. In fact, for someone who moved from a country where I was getting paid annually less than I was getting paid here monthly, it would be insane to give up such opportunity.
One morning, I looked myself in the mirror, and asked myself if I were to do what I was about to do that day if it were the last day of my life. I didn’t just say it, I felt it. During the following hours, I started seeing many messages, what one might call omens, that left no doubt in my heart that I am about to make the right decision.
When I walked out of the company that day, I felt light. I didn’t know what I was going to do next, and I didn’t care. I drove home with Castaneda’s sentence resonating in my mind: “I have told you that to choose a path you must be free from fear and ambition.”
The following week, my dear friend Aaron Jasinski emailed me and told me that he knows someone who’s looking for a good UX designer to help with a new startup idea. A week later, I was sitting in a coffee shop with Aaron and Kevin Merritt who pitched me a vision for an application that lets people create databases with the same ease and freedom that they fill out a spreadsheet in Excel. Since I don’t believe in coincidences, I told Kevin that I would help him with the product. During the following nine months, I had the most fun in my entire life, designing the user interface and interaction for blist, working with one of the most accomplished entrepreneurs in Seattle. blist went out of stealth mode with a bang, and everyone praised its slickness and ease of use. It wasn’t a surprise to me because it was a pure labor of love! In products, as much as in food, you can taste love from the first “byte”. What was a surprise to me was how my design work on blist was more effective than any PR or marketing work I would have done. Founders and CEOs started calling me, and I had hard time picking the next project to work on: every one had an interesting challenge, and I wanted to help every single company and make more users happy. And in making them happy, I am having the most fulfilling time of my life: When I go to bed at night, I can’t wait to wake up and do what I do one more day: Whether it’s designing a new user experience, or improving an existing one.
What brought these memories back was not just that it’s been a year since I quit Microsoft. A week ago, precisely a year from the day I walked into my manager’s office and told him I am leaving, the product I was working on was shut down.
The reason I am sharing this story is that every day, I meet entrepreneurs whom I admire for their determination and commitment to solve hard problems and make a big difference by doing things differently. I also meet people who are worried about what they would face “out there” if they leave their comfort zone and do something different. People who are longing for change, and yet are afraid of the slightest change. But at some point, we need to take that leap of faith, answering that voice deep inside, knowing that it doesn’t matter what we’ll face on that journey, and it doesn’t matter so much what we’ll accomplish. What really matters is who we’ll meet on the road, and who we’ll become at the end of it.
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I'm a serial entrepreneur, product designer, and startup advisor.
Previously designed and helped launch more than 12 startups, four of which have already been acquired.
Currently, I run several profitable eCommerce and educational platforms for designers, and I am working on a new startup.
Featured by Inc magazine, Entrepreneur magazine, Mixergy, Smashing Magazine, Swiss Miss, The Unofficial Apple Weblog (TUAW), and several entrepreneurship and design publications.