We’ve written a new User Experience and Design Book just for you — Making Things Special

This week marks the eighth anniversary of Jackson Fish Market. In the last eight years, and the many before that, Jenny and I have contributed designs, identity, strategy, and a fair amount of execution to dozens and dozens of technology projects large and small. We’ve spent years thinking about and honing our answers to the fundamental existential questions of our profession. What is a User Experience Designer? Why do they exist? And how can they make a meaningful creative impact?

Often, engineers, business leaders, marketers and other non-designers in tech don’t understand what user experience designers are actually supposed to do. (Hint: It’s not write code.) But even worse, UX designers are often complicit in this dynamic by trying to live up to the rest of the organization’s misplaced expectations. And they do this at the expense of learning fundamental skills that every designer should have – e.g. color theory, typography, etc. What if designers embraced the depth and complexity of their roles? What if designers exceeded the industry’s low expectations? What if designers demanded and earned leadership roles across the tech industry?

Today we have launched our new book Making Things Special – Tech Design Leadership from the Trenches.


We never would have reached this point without the support of our Kickstarter backers, the hard work of our Jackson Fish Market team and you, our loyal fans. Special Thank Yous to Tom Chang who illustrated the book informatively, beautifully, and with a sense of humor, and to Scott Berkun who edited our rambling text and kept us relentlessly focused on telling our story clearly.

You can read the book three different ways right now:

We worked really hard to make this book as useful as possible, your honest and thoughtful review would be greatly appreciated. There’s always room for improvement, and we can’t do it without your help. Feel free to spread word of our new book on social media by pointing people to http://makingthingsspecial.com.

As always, thanks for your support.

Celebrating Chinese New Year with a new book release on A Story Before Bed

Chinese New Year falls on February 14th this year and to celebrate it, we are releasing a new book on A Story Before Bed. Check out Immedium’s Year of the Tiger by Oliver Chin and Justin Roth. While you’re there, you can also record other great chinese zodiac books: Year of the Dog, Year of the Ox, Year of the Pig, and Year of the Rat for that special youngster in your life.

Goong Hai Fat Choi from Jackson Fish Market!

Maverick by Ricardo Semler

The formula for successful business books as of late is often as follows:

  • Novel observation: highly improbable stuff happens/little things make a big difference/committing to success leads to failure
  • Distinctive title: The Black Swan/The Tipping Point/The Strategy Paradox

Maverick, by Ricardo Semler, doesn’t follow this pattern. Not that it’s formula is particularly original (business leader recounts success story). In fact, the book is almost quaint and cute in terms of its style. First, it was published in 1993 – eons old in the world of most business books. Second, the author, Brazilian CEO Ricardo Semler writes with an energy and an almost kid-like passion that I think would make most CEOs self-conscious.

The book follows the journey of the author as a 20 year old being passed the keys to his father’s successful corporation, firing the bulk of the executive ranks (20-30 years his senior) and then spending the next couple of decades evolving Semco’s policies and culture to what he calls a “natural business”. I’ve always hoped that as we build Jackson Fish Market it will grow in a natural and healthy fashion… I’ve informally referred to that notion as building an “organic” business. Semler’s “natural business” (while based on experience instead of hopes and speculation like ours) doesn’t seem that far apart. And frankly, it seems pretty logical.

Semler’s basic philosophy is to treat employees like adults. He points out that even the most die hard believers in democracy and individual rights of the citizen come to work and become die-hard believers in autocracy, central authority, and rigid conformity. And it’s a good point. Why the difference? No doubt some CEOs would explain that running a society and running a company are diametrically opposite with a competitive industrial enterprise requiring thousands of cogs (people) to operate in perfect unison to achieve success. Semler would beg to differ.

And it’s not like he started out with these philosophies. He began his career pushing for efficiency and standardization that often infest all large companies. And, as they often do, these mechanisms result in greater productivity and profitability… for awhile. But Semler noticed that even as profits improved, the employees at the company seemed less motivated and committed than ever before.

The answer, democracy and common sense. They had tried to write new rules describing their new culture, but as Semler puts it:

“Only then did we say aloud what we had been thinking: that we were trading written rules for common sense. And that is the system we have today, which is barely a system at all. When you get a company car at Semco, you can do anything you want with it. If you have a friend who is a mechanic, have him take care of it. We want our employees to treat Semco’s vehicles as they would the family sedan. We’re comfortable having their judgment apply to our car as well as theirs. But this was all terribly frightening to some of our people, especially at first. We had to do lots of hand holding. Clerks in our finance department, for example, weren’t comfortable deciding how much Semco should keep as minimum balances in its checking accounts. ‘Just think of them as your accounts,’ I would say. ‘But Semco has so many accounts,’ they would reply. ‘What happens if we have an emergency and need cash.? And I would take a deep breath, and implore them, one more time, to use their common sense.”

This is just one example but they go on and on throughout the book. Not only are they entertaining, but the principles he espouses don’t just make sense, they reawaken your faith that there’s an alternative mechanism for running a business.

While not every large business is run in the traditional way, or experiencing the kind of problems mentioned above, I would imagine that most people who have experience with one or two large companies will be dreaming of sending copies of this book to those large company CEOs by the time they’ve made it through the book. Semler’s philosophies seem just the prescription for enormous companies that are struggling with employee morale, product quality, and customer loyalty.

Since we don’t have any full-time employees just yet (only full-time owners) it’s probably a little premature to start implementing all of Semler’s philosophies. However, it’s hopefully not too early to start thinking along the lines of the business as being a collection of talented and creative grownups who are coming together to do great things. It’s the basic premise on which our business was founded, and it’s so nice to have Ricardo Semler’s inspirational book to reaffirm the direction we hope to take.

Marketing IS User Experience

In so many (though not all) of my past work experiences there was always this weird dividing line between the people that made the product and the people that told the world about the product. I never understood it. To me the customer’s experience with our company and our software always started at seeing the first ad or hearing the first comment from a friend and continued all the way through usage of the product itself. I used to tell the marketing folks that the effective budget of the UX people in terms of making an impression on the customers dwarfed the dollars the marketing guys were going to spend. Users spend countless hours in front of the software they use all the while forming and reinforcing brand impressions both positive and negative. Customers don’t all of a sudden consider themselves dealing with a different company when they transition from potential purchaser to purchaser. So why do so many companies so obivously and unceremoniously hand off the customer from marketers to product development and support?

In the worst case the promise made by the marketers is completely out of sync with what the product actually delivers. The marketing may over-promise or under-promise or it may just be off-base altogether. Either way, the customer is left feeling confused and disappointed. Even when the product may be good, if it doesn’t match what the customer was expecting it’s an opportunity lost.

And the truth is that so many of the things that preserve continuity between the promise and the delivery are small. Little visual cues, coherency in message expressed in word choices. Companies trying to build relationships with customers need to present an authentic voice that is coherent in multiple situations. If you meet a person and they act one way in one situation and then give you a completely different impression in another, you will like not quite know how to feel about them. Which face was authentic? Were they both just a put on? Is there any way to know what to expect from this person?

I like reading books with gossipy tales from various business debacles. I especially enjoy stories where there’s lots of nutty spending and inappropriate behavior. (We’re using these tales to write our HR manual. ;)) The latest (for me) of these quick reads is Hit & Run — How Jon peters and Peter Guber Took Sony for a Ride in Hollywood. I haven’t finished it yet, but it’s fun. One passage struck me the other night. I don’t know why I was surprised to find this same disconnect in the movie industry but in retrospect this might just be a function of (many) larger companies. This passage discussed the marketing of the first Batman movie:

“‘Jon made the Batman campaign,’ says a Warner source. ‘It was Jon who insisted on no music in the first trailer.’ By bringing Furst [the production designer from the movie who designed the Batmobile and the whole look of the film] into the marketing process, Peters unified all the film’s visuals including the merchandising tie-ins. He even turned down a $6 million offer from GM to build the Batmobile because the car company would not relinquish creative control.”

Whatever you may think of Jon Peters (if you even know much about him), I love the commitment of turning down the cash to make an experience that has no weird moments that don’t work (other than Kim Basinger’s performance of course).

the myths of innovation

Years ago I got to work with Scott Berkun at the big software company over the bridge. After that time Scott started to figure out how he wanted to evolve his career and what he enjoyed doing. Ultimately, Scott is a really thoughtful and articulate person and enjoys helping others succeed. His transition to educator and ultimately tech industry persona started almost imperceptibly and arguably is still in its early yet blossoming stages. But clearly Scott had a plan, and he has executed consistently and well on that plan. And because of his dedication and focus, now the world gets to share in his thoughtfulness. First from his inaugural publication The Art of Project Management, and now through his new book (all lower case cause innovators think Caps are for lemmings pg. 80) the myths of innovation.

(For the next book that comes out on innovation I’d like to see iNITLOWERCASE as the convention used for the title. That would be truly iNNOVATIVE! It’s coming. You heard it here first.)

The thing that’s great about Scott’s books is that he writes the way he talks. Clearly, amusingly, and most importantly practically and in a down-to-earth fashion. Scott neither makes sweeping pronouncements that are too vague to attack or implement, nor does he act like his advice is the only way to get things done. The things I like about Scott in person are the things I like about his writing. the myths of innovation is a compact volume and enjoyable to read (full disclosure: I skimmed) skim.