How to Communicate With Designers: Speak by Purpose, Not by Pixel
The graphical representation of this post, courtesy of our Creative Director, Alex
Statistically speaking, most of us are not designers.
I am not a designer, but I am lucky enough to work with some of the top designers in the industry.
I love seeing great products come from nothing to existence. Successful existence is usually the outcome of successful design. A successful design is (almost always) the outcome of the designer and the decision maker working together, well.
When we tell someone exactly what to design, we’re ruining their talent. All “they’re getting paid so they should do what they’re told” aside, we’re also being disrespectful by infringing on their craft (hint: never say that to a worthwhile designer, they’ll never take you seriously again).
Design, for an application, is a channel between what a user sees and what a user can actually do.
What the user should actually do —
- Should be mostly in the hands of the client or decision maker behind a product.
What the user should see —
- Should be mostly in the eyes of the designer, but it should also be a derivative of what the user can actually do.
The best designers have a unique ability to design the details, the big picture, and marry the details to the big picture in the very end. Do not ruin this process due to ignorance or pride.
A preview of what’s coming for the LaunchSky mobile app, designed with purpose
Let’s take a decision-maker not liking a button, for example —
NOT helpful to say to a designer:
- Can we add some more color and make the button bigger? I think that will look better.
internal reaction from the designer: Why? But ok, whatever - I just want to get this over with.
helpful to say to a designer:
- The primary thing a user should be able to do on this screen is to register, the secondary thing a user should be able to do is to share to FB or twitter.
internal reaction from the designer: Ah - that makes sense. Let me figure out a way to make that clear to the user, first and foremost, and tuck the sharing in as a secondary priority.
Speak with purpose and respect the designer’s craft — in turn, they’ll respect you right back. Your product will most likely look better and cost less because of the time and frustration you save.
Everyone Should Learn to Wireframe. Start with Pen + Paper.
It’s difficult to communicate an idea to another individual without losing something in the process of knowledge transfer. This can destroy good ideas.
I’ve used plenty of wireframing tools, but I catch myself going back to pen and paper (and a thick business card, for straight lines) more often than not. This (and, sometimes, a phone camera) has been my go-to tool for conveying intangible to tangible.
I am not an artist, and I do use plenty of pro wireframing tools when clients, or a rigid design process, are involved (Omnigraffle or Photoshop are my go-to, but plenty of other great ones exist).
My recommendation (instead of googling/quora-searching “best wireframing…”): Start with pen + paper, and recreate something that already exists.
Supplies I use:
- Paper (I used to care what kind, I don’t anymore)
- Fine Pen
- Thick Pen
- Thick business card (Moo Luxe cards are pictured above)
The fine pen allows you to make some mistakes, and correct over them with a thick pen. The business card allows you to draw straight lines and make “browser frames” quickly. The entire set of supplies is extremely mobile, and doesn’t rely on a power supply or internet connectivity.
If your thoughts are 50% as all-over-the-place as mine: what your idea started with, and what you actually design, won’t be exactly the same same. To train against this, create something that already exists.
How to start recreating something that already exists via sketch wireframe:
- Pick your favorite web or mobile app (facebook/twitter/instagram/whatever).
- Wireframe one screen of that app by hand until you can say “this looks like the app I was drawing”.
- Wireframe the same screen, without any identifying pieces (i.e. logo/text) and ask someone to tell you what app you just drew.
Repeat step 3 until you’re getting a quick/clear answer. These wireframes should be taking you ~5 minutes total, so don’t be afraid to fail.
How to move from imitation to creation:
Add a pencil to the list of supplies. This allows you to sketch out some ideas, even less refined than with the thin pen. Use the pencil until you’re happy with a clear conveying of the idea.
Your minimalist wire-framing supplies will be accessible just about anywhere, so get sketchy when you’re feeling those moments of brilliance. Once you’re a pro, then you can go back to your “best wireframing tools” queries :)
Your product is like a sandwich: most will buy it without the pickles
Many early entrepreneurs struggle with “the pickle curse”.
Sandwich = Product
Pickles = “nice to have”
If your goal is to create a successful product, then you simply need to create an MVP (Minimal Viable Product) that people will actually buy — that’s it. This means that you should probably be selling your first sandwich without the pickles.
Graphic credit: Alex Lakas, Creative Director at DarwinApps
When you’re building your own product, it’s your baby. You want it to have all of the best features and you want it to delight your (currently nonexistent) customers in every tap, swipe, and click. This isn’t right, and delaying selling your sandwich because it lacks pickles is deadly. This is common, but it’s necessary to separate ”necessary” and “nice to have”.
Here are some specific mistakes I’ve seen when that product/sandwich is an app:
- My app needs to have the most gorgeous UI in its class
- My app needs to launch on web/android/iPhone on day 1
- I need push notifications for everything
- Everything needs to get cached/stored locally
- I need every element of my UI accessible within 2 taps/clicks
I’ve made some of the mistakes above, I admit that. That being said, I’m glad to have learned from our unshipped (or, simply non-marketed) products. Reflecting on your own costly mistakes is a top-notch learning method. If this lesson goes unlearned, be prepared for it to cost you in time or money.
- The sandwich shop owner with no pickles puts up a sign that reads “no pickles” and keeps on selling.
- The brilliant product engineering team with no pickles delays selling the sandwich until pickles are ready. THIS IS WRONG.
Your customers know what they’ll pay for, and they’ll show it with their wallets. Focus on selling the sandwich as soon as someone will buy it, and add the pickles later (if you must). You might discover that you’re not making any more money with the pickles on the sandwich, or maybe you’re losing money because the unused pickles (dev/design hours, storage, ram, bandwidth) are going to waste.
My advice for avoiding “the pickle curse” is simple: make a list — one side lists “necessary” and the other lists “nice to have”. Review this and be REALLY hard on the “necessary” side. Constantly ask yourself “will this really stop a customer from paying for, or using, an initial version of my product?
What creators think is necessary vs. what people actually need is something we’ve struggled with. We’ve struggled with this so much that we actually built a (minimal viable) product to help us, and others, solve this problem and quickly get an evaluation of necessity/viability from potential customers. LaunchSky is in beta (but you can probably get access today if you show some tweet-love)
10 observations: leaving your job to go create something awesome
For the last 2-3 years, I’ve been growing the team at DarwinApps. Most of that time, I still had a full time job. That wasn’t by choice — I simply didn’t come from wealth, and while there are other solutions to “not coming from wealth”. this approach is what made the most sense for the team and me.
On October 12th, 2012 I left my “dream job” of sorts at the US HQ of a major german luxury auto brand (I’m a car nut). On october 23rd, 2012 I booked a one-way flight to SF, where our VP of Product, Andy, had an office ready for us. Andy, and our Creative Director, Alex, (and his super supportive GF) have both taken similar risks in the last few months to join the rest of the team full time (Thankssss, you guys).
This is not fact, the below is simply a blend of my opinions and observations —
- Your time is your most precious resource. If your team’s hourly rate is $150/hr, that’s what they’re worth. Don’t skimp on them or on yourself. That $100 savings isn’t worth it if two team members each waste 30 minutes (you’ve effectively lost 50$).
- You will constantly worry about finances — more than you ever did, and that doesn’t get better as more money comes in. “Mo’ money mo’ problems” is true, but “less money, mo’ problems” is just as true. Just don’t expect to stop worrying about this piece any time soon (or ever?).
- Your parents will doubt you, even if they support you. That’s ok. Your parents love you and want what’s best for you. In their logical minds, leaving a good job isn’t a good idea. You know what’s best for you, so just thank them for the concern and proceed building your business with conviction. No one else will worry (or care) about you as much as they do.
- Deals you expect to close will fall through. Don’t let your business ride on any one client or project — no one owes you anything until a contract is signed. That being said, deals you don’t expect to happen will happen.
- Everyone will question your decisions. Your team members, mentors, partners — everyone. They’re in their full rights and it’s perfectly human to want to know the reasoning behind a decision or the cause behind a result, a few derivates back. Don’t take this as doubt, take it as logical curiosity. If it’s the right decision, you shouldn’t have any problem filling in the “why” part of it all.
- You will feel guilty about things you did not expect to feel guilty about — things that have nothing to do with your business. Your aging grandfather that you didn’t spend enough time with, your dog that unexpectedly died as soon as you took the plunge — these are all things that you may feel guilty about, because you’ve transitioned your time and your focus to your business. You’re human. Walk it off and go make them proud.
- Romantic relationships will be difficult to maintain. This one may be more personal, and unique to each situation — but I believe all quality CEOs possess a lot of empathy, a lot of logic, and not a lot of time. If you know that you can’t give a significant other the time and focus that they deserve, you probably shouldn’t be wasting their time or heart in the first place.
- There is nothing else you would rather be doing. Give enough time for the fog of change, worry, and responsibility to clear and ask yourself: “Would I rather go back to my old job, and tell my team to pack up and do the same”? If you even get to the end of that sentence, go back to your old job. I don’t get anywhere close and doubt you will either.
- You will also learn that you don’t necessarily have to write a list of “10 observations” just to please the status-quo, but the title sounds better. “Fluff” is nonsense. If you’re in the web industry though, you will learn that “10 observations..” is more click-friendly than “8 observations…” :)
Life’s too short not to follow your dreams. If the slightest window of opportunity opens, or you can pry one open: jump.
If you’re young, capable, and there are ways to relieve yourself of (non-professional) responsibility: go create something. Worst case: you go back to your shitty awesome job that you came from, or somewhere that pays you 25% more than your old salary, because of what you learned about the world while taking that plunge.
When is the best time to send a marketing email?
The more opens you get, the more chances you get to sell, but you have to consider the context of those opens. Depending on the time of day that someone opens your email, you have a variable restriction on the amount of time and attention you can expect from them.
For example, if you catch someone at 10:30am on Tuesday, they’re generally going to be at work. Your open rate might be high, but your customers will have other responsibilities, so they’re probably not going to be able to give you more than about 5 minutes - even if they are interested in your offering.
On the other hand, if someone opens your email on Sunday evening then they’ll usually have more time to offer. You’ll have lower open and click rates, but the people who do open your message might convert better if you’re asking them to do more than 5 minutes of work.
By adjusting the timing of our emails, we were able to increase our conversions on LaunchSky pitch submissions (a longer form that can easily take 15 minutes or more) by 250% (specifically, 3pm Sunday got us here). Of course, every situation is unique, so the real lesson here is to A/B test delivery timing yourself and see what works.
Here are a few other tidbits I’ve picked up while learning the ropes of email marketing:
- Study this infographic to understand open rates: http://www.adverblog.com/2012/10/12/the-best-time-of-day-to-send-emails-infographic/
- Absolutely schedule your deliveries based on timezones. MailChimp supports this.
- The best open and click rates I was able to achieve were at 10:45am on Thursday.
- Saturday emails had the worst conversion rates.
- Introducing an idea to a high number of users by emailing on a weekday morning, and then following up with a reminder email on Sunday worked very well.
- Andy Tiffany
Product / DarwinApps
The Infographic follow-up: How much does an App cost? About as much as a car.
About a month ago, I wrote up this to give people outside of the industry an idea of the costs and efforts behind app development.
The amount of traffic to the post was beyond unexpected. As a “thank you” to all of the traffic, feedback, and sharing — our creative director, Alex, went ahead and put together this infographic for your viewing + sharing pleasure.
Feel free to share anywhere you like or use it in your own estimates and proposals as a reference — I just ask that you please reference us and link back to our homepage.
Hope this helps all (or at least some) of the creators and doers out there.
Q: “How much does an app cost?” A: “About as much as a car.”
Custom designed icon above by Alex Lakas, Creative Director @ DarwinApps
How much does an app cost? It costs about as much as a car does, it just depends on what you want.
"I just want an app and I want it to work" = 1994 Honda Civic = $1-5K.
You just want a simple app. Nothing fancy, and you don’t really care who works on it. You can probably find a freelancer locally (hint: College students, trust the CS/engineering degrees first) or someone off odesk to do this for you. It won’t be anything amazing, but if you’re careful enough in finding someone and managing the process, you can get a few screens done on one platform, and in an app store (or on the web), and maybe even test if you can solve a problem effectively with said app.
[With enough searching, an old Honda Civic will get you from point A to point B]
"I want something that works well on one platform" = 2007 BMW 335i = $20-25K.
You want something solid that’ll work web/ mobile web / iOS / Android. Just one of those. It doesn’t need to be the most beautiful thing in the world, but you need it to be solid through one medium. It’s realistic to pay 20K+ for something like this.
[A used 335i will serve you well as a quick, luxury car in good weather.]
"I want something that works on anything" = Audi Q7 = $50-75K.
You want a solid app that’ll work on web/ mobile web / iOS / Android. You want to cover all of your bases, but you don’t need to be awesome in one specific concentration.
[The Audi Q7 will fit 8, is fast enough (S-line at least), comfortable, and luxurious.]
"I want this to be the best […]" = Lamborghini Aventador = $400K+
You think your idea (better read: problem solver) will be the next big thing. You have the money (or investors) to back that up. This category is for someone coming to make the next instagram / fb / quora / tumblr / whatever. You want to be the best in one specific medium, and the tweaking, specificity, and time necessary to think through / design / build / test / iterate can easily get you into the 100s of thousands. Hours behind deep detail dives and and iterations can quickly sky-rocket prices.
[King of the castle, king of the castle]
Tips for not getting screwed (at an “app dealer”):
- Learn to wireframe. It’ll improve communications between your idea and the physical reality of that idea. It’ll help yo think through problems easier. It makes handing off an idea/problem-solver to another party much easier.
- Learn the difference between web / mobile web / iOS / Android and what the time behind each of those can take.
- Learn what a designer can do and what a developer can do (bonus points: learn about what different devs can cover from the front-end to back-end spectrum).
- Look for shops that approach fixing a problem as cutting things out first. That means they can efficiently help you solve X problem with Y dollars instead of trying to up-sell everything you don’t need.
Stuck? Just shut up and be a robot for 25 minutes and see what happens.
If you can’t make progress on something, just turn off FB/Twitter/iPhone and work for 25 minutes straight. If something good came of that, Wikipedia the pomodoro technique, and maybe invest in a physical tomato timer to make that habit repeatable (or robotic, if we really want to bring it all together right here). It works for a few of us.
I’ve had a full-time job, alongside running DarwinApps, up until about 1 month ago. A few of us had pretty nice jobs actually. I quit mine and I somehow convinced a couple of other [ridiculously talented] people to do the same. Still shocking how that’s all worked out.
To say that my life over the past month has been “dynamic” is an understatement
Do You Take Your Work Home with You?
We are all to blame. Well, it depends on which side of the equation you see yourself on. Are you an obsessive perfectionist who can’t break away from the tedious and intricate details of your daily occupation? Or are you simply bored with your ‘outside’ lifestyle?
Nowadays, most people can’t avoid either. We look for distractions in both scenarios. Your phone, in which I will from here on out refer to as ‘my primary hand’ (considering one hand is soley there to hold a steering wheel or a pencil, while the other is to navigate my trusty device), connects us in new ways, every single day. It shoots us data, notifications, event invites - at least every 15 minutes. I mean, let’s face it, PhotoshopExpress for iPhone is a pretty handy toolkit (when Instagram’s 17 filters just don’t cut it of course). I can use Dropbox, Evernote, and iCal to set up meetings, share pertinent documents or even take note of an on-the-whim thought. Taking your work home with you (or rather, taking your life anywhere you go - ), is almost inevitable/impossible to avoid - unless you power down (and who wants to do that?).
Don’t feel too discouraged. There is obviously more to life than our handheld life-alerts and email threads. Or is there? Our lives have become increasingly more and more based around ‘instant-getification’, training us to live with with an unhealthy level of anxiety and anticipation when we don’t return a result or value in less than 40 seconds. Even in Airplane mode when flying (away or to the office) is hard enough. 5+ hours from DC to SFO/LA with no roaming?! No Facebook?! It’s almost too much to think about. Just remember to breathe. Or count some farm animal jumping over a fence 90 times in a row.
All in all, try to stay focused and enjoy your surroundings when not on the grind. We all know that picture of your friend’s Instagrammed dog is well worth the swipe, but just once, try to switch to ‘do not disturb’, and see how far it goes. Set your pushes to every 30 minutes instead of 15. Life itself has plenty of delays, and in the scheme of things 20-30 minutes more of grey space will only provide you with an extra 20-30 days of having full color in your hair. Or at least, I like to think so.
Just food for thought. So remember, stay productive, stay alert, but don’t short change the scented roses in between.
Creative Director + Cell Phone Enthusiast / DarwinApps