Project Wild Thing
Digital Content Trends 2013

Where Traditional Design Thinking Meets Startups

So many mobile apps deliver relatively poor user experiences, or else are skeuomorphically trying to take traditional formats, assumptions or models and reapply them to a mobile experience (like Apple's newstand). Craig Mod talks about this in this wonderful post on 'Subcompact publishing' in which he deals with the inadequacies of many existing publishing apps and sets out a manifesto for dumping traditional publishing technologies and techniques, and building new approaches with a more 'digitally-native' editorial and design ethos built around simplicity. The temptation, he says, is to add layers of compexity to interfaces:

"In product design, the simplest thought exercise is to make additions. It’s the easiest way to make an Old Thing feel like a New Thing. The more difficult exercise is to reconsider the product in the context of now. A now which may be very different from the then in which the product was originally conceived."

Craig says this is like when Homer Simpson was asked to design his ideal car and made 'The Homer'. In an additive process he supplementing the existing design with new features like a sound-proof bubble for the children and lots of horns and accesories.

The homer

Instead, Craig puts forward some simple principles as a starting point:

  • Small issue sizes (3-7 articles / issue)
  • Small file sizes
  • Digital-aware subscription prices
  • Fluid publishing schedule
  • Scroll (don’t paginate)
  • Clear navigation
  • HTML(ish) based
  • Touching the open web

Much of Craig's thinking was inspired by using The Magazine, a new publishing app on the subject of technology, created by Marco Arment who also created Instapaper. I'd already subscribed to The Magazine, have been using it for a while, and can recommend it. Marco says in his 'Foreword' to the app that many iPad magazines are carrying unnecessary and expensive baggage from their print days, and so the app itself is gloriously simple, clean, reader-friendly, and totally focused on delivering a great user exeprience. You pay a small subscription each month, and get four or five high quality articles every two weeks.The Magazine does not seek to do news, reviews, or comparisons but instead, as Arment describes, "...takes a measured approach to the big picture: rather than telling readers everything that happens in technology, The Magazine delivers meaningful editoial and big-picture articles...rather than be limited to technology, it's topics appeal to people who love technology'.

Which brings me to Mike Kreiger, designer, engineer and co-founder of Instagram, and his thoughts (captured in the simple deck below) on where the principles of Design Thinking meet the reality of woking on a startup. Mike outlines eight principles that draw heavily from the design thinking process (which he says is still not observed in many companies) of understanding, observing, synthesizing, ideating, prototyping, and iterating, but then incorporate the context of the 'startup craziness' that was Instagram:

  1. Draw on Previous Experience and Understanding
  2. Have a Hypothesis About How You’re Different
  3. Never Code Before Sketching
  4. Learn in weeklong increments
  5. Validate in Social Situations
  6. Quick Wizard-of-Oz Techniques for Social Prototyping
  7. Know When It’s Time To Move On
  8. Build and Ship

You can read more about each one in the deck, and in this write up of his talk, but Mike talks about the importance of getting the design right, and not just getting the right design, which I think is very similar to what Craig Mod is saying. It's interesting that his principles talk about not just approaches to insight and design work, but also fundamental stuff about how you work, such as the work cycles that are required. At the end of the deck, Mike uses that apocryphal Henry Ford quote "If I'd have asked people what they wanted, they would have said faster horses" . And then he appends it: 'but sometimes your users are building cars out of old horse buggy wheels'. Brilliant.

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