What happens when hype exceeds expectations, and other lessons from a missed product opportunity

An abstract image of a pink comet-like dot hurtling forward
An abstract image of a pink comet-like dot hurtling forward

InVision’s decline makes me sad. I was an early adopter. I remember the joy of no longer having to string JPGs together with my own crappy HTML, the thrill of collaborative commenting and feedback right on the designs themselves.


What to study if you’re interested in Product or UX Design.

An abstract image that looks like an x-ray with cmyk color dots overlaying it.
An abstract image that looks like an x-ray with cmyk color dots overlaying it.

Interested in a career in product or UX design? Wondering what to study to get you there? It’s a common question. In fact, after being asked this question by prospective candidates and others for months I wrote, somewhat glibly:

First study philosophy, psychology, sociology, anthropology, critical reasoning, statistics, writing, architecture. Become a student of human nature. Practice empathy. Learn a little code.

Then study UX.

Although it’s been a few years, I stand by these words. …


I didn’t quite make my goal of posting one long-form story per month, but I was close. Some of my stories were among the most popular I’ve written, though, so it wasn’t a total wash.

1

I would have liked my most popular piece to be something more than a listicle, but with 41K views and almost 1,000 fans, I can’t complain, right?

2

This was one of my favorite stories, and apparently 8.2K people liked it enough to view it as well.

3

This one was a lot of fun to write, so its 5.2K views are icing on the cake.

Honorable mentions


Image for post
Image for post

In August, I watched two dozen cursors swarming my screen, a hive of designers working together on a single Figma file. We were mid-sprint, a week in, and the team was powering through the challenge not as a group of solo artists, but as a symphony. It was breathtaking.

When I started designing 25 years ago, we worked in isolation on our individual project slices, coming together to share our work at infrequent intervals. Although we wanted greater collaboration, the tools stopped us in our tracks. That’s no longer the case.

I’ve witnessed a handful of watershed moments, times when it was clear everything would be different. Those fluttering cursors, moths around a flame, represented one such moment. I made a mental note: 2020 is the year design collaboration officially moved from wishful thinking to reality.

Shelve your ego: there’s no going back.


Veteran product designer explains why this is a good thing

A sketch of a USB Type-A plug
A sketch of a USB Type-A plug
Guaranteeing you’ll be wrong half the time. Wikimedia Commons/Public Domain

“You ruined my life! All I see everywhere is bad design!”

— A non-designer friend

The outburst surprised me. I guess years of listening to me point out bad design finally took its toll. Instead of just traveling blithely through life, my friend now found himself scrutinizing everything around him, often finding things lacking, ill-conceived, and frustrating.

“Congratulations,” I told him. “You’re now officially a designer.”

“I guess one of the curses of what you do (as a designer) is that you’re constantly looking at something and thinking, ‘Why is it like that and not this?’ …


Sharing thoughts on staying true to our principles and vision.

A semi-abstract image of geese flying, with one going off in a different dirction
A semi-abstract image of geese flying, with one going off in a different dirction

Last Friday was my last day as TED’s Director of Experience Design, hands down the best gig I’ve had. I believe in TED’s mission, I admire our content and curation, and I love my colleagues.

After I’d said my goodbyes, I decided to write one last, brief email sharing my thoughts on how to keep true to our principles and vision as a product team. One of my colleagues jokingly asked if I’d just tricked him into reading a preview of a Medium post. It wasn’t my intent, but upon reflection I think he had a point, joking or not.


How I applied semi-technical solutions to human problems.

An abstract design featuring the Slack app icon and other colors, shapes and patterns
An abstract design featuring the Slack app icon and other colors, shapes and patterns

Like many product design teams, we embed our designers across various squads, an approach with at least two distinct upsides:

  1. Each squad benefits from a dedicated design resource who has deep knowledge of the product and team dynamic
  2. Designers are involved from project inception through launch and beyond, affording them an informed voice in all aspects of the work

There is, however, one distinct drawback: embedded designers can feel disconnected from the larger design culture. Put another way, it can be challenging to build a sense of camaraderie, culture and shared knowledge when designers are dispersed across squads. …


The dualistic mindset that can prevent catastrophic design decisions.

An illustration of two skulls facing each other, each surrounded by an orange and blue circle
An illustration of two skulls facing each other, each surrounded by an orange and blue circle

I don’t think I became a good designer until I became an empathetic designer. And yet, that’s not entirely accurate: how can I be truly empathetic with people I’ve never met, people I can only conjure in my mind?

Empathy is defined as the ability to understand and share the feelings of other people. I’m designing products for millions of people. I can’t possibly understand them all. I can’t truly share their feelings. So what can I do?

Over the years, I’ve adopted a dualistic approach to this problem. First, I imagine myself as the primary user. …


A toothpick with crosshairs
A toothpick with crosshairs

What product designers can learn from 0.1 grams of wood

The toothpick is the paradigmatic example of the design axiom, form follows function. But it’s more than that: it’s form and function in a singular, compact, lightweight, biodegradable, sustainable entity. It’s as sleek as a rocket and as simple as a rock, with a certain mid-century Eamesian charm.

Self-evident

Its shape is the epitome of design affordance, serving simultaneously as handle, digger and instruction manual. Its form tells you not only how to hold and wield it, but where to put its pointy bits.

Reliable

It has no moving parts or circuitry to falter or fail; its only part is itself, and…

Michael McWatters

Director, Product Design at HBO Max, formerly TED. Writer everywhere. Autism dad always. Better after a nap.

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