Category Archives: Education

Draw More Pictures

Drawing, you’ve been doing it since preschool. It’s so simple, yet so many struggle to use it as a business tool. Every single day very successful people struggle to communicate their ideas, brainstorm and compare thoughts with friends and colleagues. I’ve found that sketching and drawing will close gaps between people so quickly and so effectively that it’s shocking people resist it so often. I’ve used drawing in my day to day work for some time now, but it wasn’t until a couple years ago when I spent a weekend at a Lean UX bootcamp that this practice really crystallized with me.

Sketch of Customer Service Dashboard

Confidence and laziness. These are the two reasons people resist to pick up a pen, pencil or whiteboard marker.

Confidence, people simply don’t think they can draw. “I’m not an artist” or “I can’t draw” or “I failed art in high school.” These are poor excuses. Frankly, I’ve seen those who are the worst at drawing often get the most benefit from sketching or drawing for the sake of communicating or brainstorming ideas in a business setting. The pictures don’t have to be pretty. In fact a few lines and dots will do, these marks communicate a million times better than written words and a trillion times better than spoken word. Jason Fried of 37Signals has a great post on how they start product development, ignoring the details, and it all starts with sketching with a Sharpie. A low-fidelity way to get an idea on paper and quickly move forward.

On to laziness. People love to sit. Walk into a typical room of people meeting, they’re typically sitting, barely swiveling in their chairs. Around the room people are virtually glued to their chairs. But you can change this behavior. Get a whiteboard or tape a piece of paper to the wall, then stand up and start sketching. It rapidly becomes contagious, others will hop up as they start discussing and deliberating ideas… they may even pick up a drawing utensil!

I’ve done most of my sketching work with startups over the last few years, and it’s a highly effective way to get people aligned and moving forward quickly, something very important for cash and time-strapped organizations. But this art isn’t just relegated to the startup. I’m sure many Fortune 500 companies couple benefit from sketching, from the junior ranks through the CEO (especially the CEO).

You can truly sketch anything, here are a few ideas:

  • User interface (UI) for software
  • Technical specifications
  • Website design
  • PowerPoint presentation
  • Store layout
  • Restaurant menu
  • Mobile application
  • T-shirt design
  • Customer journey map
  • Sales process
  • Manufacturing process

Now for your homework. Next time you’re in a meeting simply pick up a pen or pencil, grab a piece of paper and start sketching, drawing and creating. Do you work with a distributed team? I highly suggest Balsamiq Mockups to help rapidly sketch and collaborate. It’s not just for wireframes, you can sketch pretty much anything using this super-simple, drag-and-drop software. Show your work to others in the room. You’ll be amazed at the reaction you receive, it will change the dynamic in meeting rooms and the outcome of your projects. Stick with it, as it will likely take a few sessions to get others on board, remember people lack confidence and are have been trained to be lazy, but that can change quickly.

Happy drawing.



Hands on coding

One of my goals in attending Code Academy was to get more hands-on with PVPower and the execution of SolarBear. Not to be “the guy” executing the front end, but to be able to pitch in when needed and get my hands dirty. Well my first project is upon me, I’m working on coding up a generic design that we had created. This is a great way to learn… and get frustrated.

Sneak Preview

Why the heck am I doing Code Academy?

Code Academy Logo

I started Code Academy last week, not the traditional Ruby on Rails track that they offer, but the design track. On Monday nights we meet from 6-9PM to learn HTML and CSS. Then on Tuesday nights for another 3 hours we meet to dig deep into User Experience design. And after a week I’m a bit tired from the hectic schedule, but quite excited about what I’m learning.

So why am I doing this?

Well, for a couple of reasons. First, many moons ago I studied Management Information Systems (a mix of computer science light and business) in college and I’ve grown increasingly frustrated with not being hands-on in the world of programming and making things the last few years. This has grown to be more and more of a frustration as I’ve worked with the team in getting PVPower and SolarBear off the ground.

Second, I want to be able to make stuff. This is closely tied to #1, but a little different. I want to be able to make a prototype of our next marketing page, or interface design or even a one page website for my brother. Just something, I want to make something and this seemed like the next step.

So why Code Academy when there are so many books and online resources covering the same material? I’ve been excited about Code Academy since they launched a year ago, they seem to be executing very very well, with a high level of energy and authenticity, all things that are very important to me. Also, one of their mentors, Troy, is one of our mentors and biggest supporters through the years and I felt the need to further explore something he supports. I then attended their demo day a couple months ago and saw the energy and legitimacy of Code Academy first-hand.

I look forward to becoming much, much better at writing my own HTML and CSS and applying advanced UX design techniques to PVPower and SolarBear over the next 10 weeks.

Now off to do some homework before class…

The 6 Foundations of Digital Creative

I love this presentation. A colleague of mine (thanks Jordan) found this and shared it with the team. Every creative and media shop should have these six, what I’d prefer to call principals, in their back pocket when moving into an assignment and should always strive to one-up previous efforts. Obviously being squarely on strategy and accomplishing objectives is key, however these principals will get customers and potential customers there much quicker. And you’ll have some great work to show for it!

A bit of a cheat sheet, here are the 6 Foundations discussed within the presentation:

Ideas Should Be…

1. Interactive
2. Customizable
3. Contextual
4. Entertaining
5. Playable
6. Useful

This was originally presented at the AdAge 2010 Digital conference by Ashley Ringrose who runs BannerBlog. There are great examples, of yes banner ads, within the presentation – many of which are clickable. This ad from Nike has to be my favorite. The combo of unexpected entertainment and product exploration is great. Not an easy nut to crack.

Take note, gain inspiration and use these foundations as a guide to great digital ad work.

3 Ways to Improve Presentations via Fast Company

Three seemingly simple ways to improve your presentations, dramatically from Chip and Dan Health over at Fast Company. I especially love the drill example in #3.

1. Be Simple
2. Show Something
3. Tease Before You Tell

From my experience #1 is the lesson that people (including myself) need the most work on, it seems easy, but it sure isn’t.

Find the full article “Made to Stick – Presentations That Stick” here.