I have a two month old son. His super power is crying, but he's also developing a hearty laugh to balance out that rebel yell. Getting to know him has made it obvious that the first form of communication between people is raw emotion, especially those subtle flashes of expression around the eyes just before a mood swing. We're getting good at anticipating each other. I think we make a great team.
Design sometimes feels like therapy.
We met a lot of awesome people after our recent talks at BayCHI and Open Source Bridge and took the time afterward to field their questions. It was clear many people entered the talks hoping for some silver bullet in the form of a design process or technique they could take back with them to their work day.
Many folks were shocked by the idea of operating without requirements or other heavy documentation to communicate their work. When we asked them a few questions back, it was clear they were afraid to look their coworkers in the eye and confront real issues, big and small.
As Kevin Hale mentioned in his hilarious Soapbox
talk comparing business relationships to marriage, an inability to face each other, anticipate each others' emotions, and even argue can prevent people from clicking. The guests at our talks weren't on teams, they were just people who happened to be showing up to work at the same building. How are you going to build anything great under those conditions?
People who can't communicate with each other get stuck making complicated "stuff" to make up for it.
Frustration turns into PowerPoints, complicated charts, and lots of meetings. Stuff which requires layers upon layers of management to keep organized. Stuff that weighs companies down. Stuff that creates no direct value to their customers. This is why there are so many lame products in the world. There's not a wireframe or chart or design method that is going to save you if you can't look your team members in the eye.
In our talks we told the story of how we built Verify from pile of sketches to static prototype to functional release, making money from day one. Our teamwork made up for the lack of "stuff" other companies would use because we:
The surest way to complicate something is to make it in to two things.
- Shared a clear goal that we all understood -- design and build out would have five short phases, culminating in a money-making launch
- Worked physically close to each other and stayed connected by IM and phone when we didn't
- Spoke in pictures, sketching to simulate the actual UI and avoid abstractions of simple, detailed problems
- Shared feedback with each other and from customers out in the open every day, which builds confidence in arguing and makes new conversations really easy to begin
- Stayed together through thick and thin to build trust in one another -- this takes time and can't be forced!
By focusing on the interface without accompanying documentation, we could imagine our customers better and even test ideas out with them. If it worked, we went with our collective gut and built that sketch on the spot. If an idea was dumb, we weren't afraid to tell each other about it. We would quickly replace it with a better idea.
Verify benefited from this. The emotion of the team is literally embedded in the energetic decisions that made our application what it is.
Contrary to the feedback we heard at our talks, we don't think our team should be unique or rare in this approach. We know anybody can do this. It takes openness every day, getting really good at reading your teammates' emotions, and practicing again and again together without straying far from the finished product.