I had the wonderful opportunity to collaborate with the fabulous Ricardo Martinez of El Mundo. This has been a complicated time for international relations, and creating a powerful cover that did not focus on the character of Trump was important to keeping the larger situation in perspective. Together we set out to create a cover that captured that story powerfully and succinctly.
While we've had our work featured on The Colbert Report before, this is a first — Rachel Maddow featured our May/June 2017 cover prominently this week, quoting extensively. Powerful stuff — so proud of how this turned out and grateful to have worked with the talented Thomas Danthony on such a poignant cover!
"Do you sleep too much or too well? Are you too relaxed? Do you have low blood pressure? A lack of anxiety? Not a care in the world? If so, there's a cure for that. Foreign Affairs is out with a new issue today, it's titled "Present at the Destruction? Trump in Practice." It's illustrated with this handy sort-of-pictogram of… maybe that's Air Force One jetting directly into… I dunno? Volcanic eruption? Mushroom cloud? Giant mountain? End of the world? You get the idea. And that picture and that title set the tone for the content of this new issue of Foreign Affairs.
There's a detailed look at the initial behavior of this new president on foreign affairs and how if that behavior continues that could lead directly to three brand-new separate wars with three different countries. There's also a long piece about why the experts believe you probably don't have to worry about an immediate descent into full-on fascism any time soon but yeah, we are maybe sliding into what the experts might call a "competitive authoritarianism." Oh.
The editor of Foreign Affairs is Gideon Rose. He opens this hair-raising collection today with this question — it's actually a game, more than a question — the game is "Stupid or Nefarious?"
Quote: "Every administration spins, fights with the press and the bureaucracy, pushes its own agenda, and tries to evade intrusive oversight. But ordinary White Houses do not repeatedly lie, declare war on mainstream media institutions, pursue radical goals while disdaining professional input, and refuse to accept independent scrutiny… how seriously you take these behaviors depends on how you assess the motivations behind them, generating a game that some have taken to calling 'Stupid or nefarious?' …Do slow appointments to the administration signal poor management or a deliberate attempt to 'deconstruct the administrative state' …Is dismissing experienced senior officials en masse just a clumsy way of handling a presidential transition or a purge of potential obstacles and whistleblowers? …Are all the lies mere venting or a deliberate plot to distract critics and undermine reasoned discourse?"
That's your choice — stupid or nefarious? Stupid or nefarious. I would like to take door number three, please. If those are my options."
— Rachel Maddow
Let’s start with a painfully obvious statement: building great products is hard.
Countless strategies have been popularized to increase the chances of success in product development, from open-source frameworks and Agile development, to dev-ops and user-centered design. Yet, mitigating and navigating the many issues that arise in creating a new product — and within the team building it — can feel like an exercise in futility, like a bumbling Roomba that just can't escape from under the couch.
That may sound hyperbolic to executives or those outside the product team, but it’s reality. There are innumerable challenges which frameworks, processes, designs, or developer ingenuity can’t ever solve. That's because these "challenges" are better described as turning points — missteps, continental divides, and forks in the road — that can quickly become exponentially impossible to undo in the ever-forward march of a product's progress.
Everyone has the opportunity and responsibility to help the team avoid these turning points. But it takes vigilance, tension, argumentation, transparency, and above all, a willingness to change perspective. All of that is facilitated by a commitment to open and honest communication, something that’s surprisingly difficult for larger teams.
The shamefully obvious reality is that clear communication between all the people involved in making software, from founders and the c-suite to researchers and the QA team, is the panacea that most teams need. UX teams are uniquely positioned to serve this role, and as designers it is their duty to be the clearest communicators in the room — but if the rest of the organization isn't committed to communication and collaboration, one team's honesty can often be seen as another team's greatest threat.
Too often, people try to forget, give up, move on, or gradually justify their desires to do so. And each day, that fork in the road gets further away in our rear view mirrors — momentum takes hold, and talking about the wrong turn we took back there seems more and more pointless. After communication breakdown, sunk-cost fallacy is every product's greatest enemy. It’s critical to identify that wrong turn before, or soon after, it’s made. Otherwise, inertia sets in and it’s harder and harder to correct course.
This is complicated by the necessity to tolerate tension. It takes a commitment to stay the course, and patience on behalf of the leadership to avoid thrashing and dramatic pivots. The old “how can we deliver more, faster” question causes almost any team to cringe.
This is the reason companies like Facebook, Google, and Amazon often encourage rampant creativity and experimentation at a small scale, while in most cases discouraging quick and drastic changes at a large scale. It's usually strategically unsound to make decisions in haste and isolation, but in dysfunctional organizations that is often exactly what happens behind closed doors. When it comes to product development, we must all be willing to stand up and fight for open communication — and that means listening as much as it does talking.
So go out there and tell your boss you think she’s wrong. Tell that other team they need to consider outside perspectives. Tell them you see rocks ahead. Better yet, tell them you see a better way, because great managers love to hear solutions over complaints. At the very least, always work with them to find one.
Listen to experts and those “closest to the metal,” and discourage dogma at all costs. Bring other teams into the conversation and set a precedent for honest and blunt dialogue. People rarely see the peril of their own ways through the fog that surrounds the imaginary future — that's why we work in teams.
That's why we must always communicate and support the positive tension that comes as a result of open communication. Because we're stronger together. And making software is hard.
I've been working on an article about how honesty and communication is the solution to most of the problems that a product or team faces.
To write that article, I found it helpful to first list the most common problems large product teams face, particularly in enterprise software. I thought you might enjoy it, if only for your own commiseration and edification.
Timing / go-to-market / market fit / value prop / job-to-be-done is wrong
A competitor has any of the above down better than you do
Business model is wrong (e.g. selling a service that should be a product)
Bad margins per-customer (see above)
Ignoring a sea of unhappy customers
High costs due to internal "thrashing" (repeated pivots in product, design, tech, or strategy), leaving a team too weary to further correct course
Strategy team is too busy supporting sales to actually defend the product
Sales exist before product and thus heavily impact the product roadmap (yes, this was the arc of an entire season of Silicon Valley, and this practice is more common than you'd think)
Sales subsidizes development and thus, holds all the financial and political cards, steamrolling and ultimately unintentionally setting product roadmap
Sales distracts product leadership with exciting pre-sales deals, leading to a lack of product oversight
Sales is selling a vision of the product that is years away, but their runway with the customer's loyalty / their own reputation isn't that long (to paraphrase a wise and sarcastic friend, "never let reality impede your sale.")
Sales commitments outstrip organizational capacity
Leadership derails current efforts by making decisions behind closed doors that influence roadmap, tech, or design without understanding of the implications of their decisions
Design, development, strategy, or product teams do not have roles in the c-suite
Leadership is isolated or mislead by their own teams
Leadership is excited by a "bright shiny object," a holy grail mirage in technology, business, or design that distracts from the fundamentals of success
Product leadership can't or won't stand up and fight c-suite decisions
Product directors see themselves as "above" design and development teams
Product directors see "UX" dev priorities running counter to "product" dev priorities (â€œuser experienceâ€ development work comes second to â€œfeatureâ€ development work)
Design and development teams are isolated from or don't support each other
Product directors don't see the above as a serious problem
Strategy, sales, design, or development are not heavily involved in the product roadmap
Product directors de-scope without involving the team
Poor architecture decisions
Poor tech stack decisions
Avoidance of open-source frameworks
Lack of capable resources or uninterested talent pool (see 1-3)
Reliance on academic and unseasoned developers
Fixed scope and fixed timelines (both of which are about as real as Sasquatch)
Poor collaboration with designers and/or product owners in sprints
Lack of standards, UI component libraries, and clear devops
Negligence of performance problems and necessary refactoring
Orthodox agile development
Lack of close collaboration with and respect for design, development, or product directors
Designers aren't given the time to work in the backlog and practice rigorous user-centered design
Designers are given too much time and "waterfall" the product's design
Designers introduce unintentional scope creep with their clever ideas
Designers facilitate product owners' introduction of scope creep and thus hinder MVP mindset
Designers don't research or test with actual users
Designers don't understand development or scope implications of their work
Designers don't work closely with developers to continually evolve their work
An unintentional test of frictionless payment over two weeks, on two continents, without a wallet
My bags were packed and I was about to walk out the door for a business trip—a week in Minneapolis followed by a week in London—and I did the classic phone-keys-wallet pat down. The wallet wasn’t there, and the car was already downstairs. Without time to look around, seeing as I was already cutting it close to my flight, I had to make a quick decision: cancel an important trip, or rely on Apple Pay for two weeks. I quickly redefined necessity; I had my phone and my passport, so I locked the door behind me and hopped in the back seat.
Over the next two weeks, my only option was to patronize retailers that supported next generation payment technology, like Whole Foods and Walgreens. These retailers recognize that, despite the fact that the vast majority of their transactions use traditional payment methods, it’s beneficial to bet on the future—and each month more retailers arrive at that realization. Most customers aren’t exclusively using Apple Pay (or another platform solution like Android Pay or Samsung Pay), but the tide is turning. In September 2016 alone, there were more transactions made with Apple Pay than all of 2015 combined, and with a 75% share of the contactless payments market and over 35% of retailers now accepting them, this train shows no signs of slowing.
I learned the hard way that while plenty of retailers had the hardware to accept contactless payments, many of them disabled the functionality because they wanted to maintain control over their data and build their own systems. (It was actually much easier to get by in London, as contactless payments are more popular in Europe than the United States.) Major retailers that made the decision to opt out of seamless NFC solutions like Apple Pay have instead tried forcing their customers into poorly-designed and failing solutions that make good old-fashioned plastic feel effortless by comparison.
Is the investment in contactless payment worth it for retailers?
The fundamental question here is whether it’s valuable to invest in technology that, at this point in the game, relatively few customers are using. However, despite the fact that 92% of commerce—or possibly higher—still happens in physical stores, the allure of e-commerce is always growing. One way to match the convenience of online shopping? Making the payment process as simple and seamless as possible, and that means becoming an early adopter of cutting-edge technology. Not only are Apple Pay and its ilk more efficient, they’re also more secure as card numbers and identities are anonymized.
So, it’s clear that for the customer, the latest payment technologies are a huge upgrade. From a business perspective, the answer is less cut and dry. Customer card numbers are used to build spookily accurate customer profiles, which are a goldmine for targeted advertising; these contactless payment solutions deny them access to customer data by design. Then there’s the benefit of a proprietary system to dodge credit card fees. But at the end of the day, retailers’ core competency isn’t building technology, it’s selling products.
In the short term, it might be cheaper and less risky to build an in-house solution, but it hurts customers, and not just those of us who forget our wallets. Customers are already innovating faster than the industry can keep up. In fact, of active Apple Pay users, 80% are paying with the Apple Watch. In the long run it’s more valuable to think about the end user’s experience and rely on partners already living and iterating on the cutting edge to build the retail technology of the future.
Retailers should focus on creating the happiest path from intent to purchase, and the apex of that flow is the transaction itself. If a technology partner can help make every transaction better for the user (the customer), the only rational choice for retailers is to collaborate with them to create more modernized shopper experiences.