JSN
3 min readJan 16, 2015

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“Learn all the changes, then forget them.” — Charlie Parker

I haven’t been keeping track, but by now I assume I’ve put in over 10,000 hours to my career — software product design. I’ve tried many different academic methods and attempted to assess which ones yielded the best results over many years. My conclusion on what really makes you great in this field: being well-rounded.

I don’t mean just well-rounded in all the various academic, scientifically-derived UX methodologies. I mean being generally well-rounded with a smattering of exposure to as many disciplines and as much life experience as possible — from graphic to industrial design, to engineering, to writing, to marketing, to law, to philosophy, to psychology, to making music, film, comedy, art, food, to working in a large company, to doing a startup, to being a competitive athlete, to traveling, to trying drugs, to being involved in romantic relationships. This kind of dabbling breaks the rule book dictated by the technology industry — that you must be focused, detail-oriented, collect and interpret data to dictate decisions on a product and iterate development based on user feedback — in essence, to acquire and process information like a computer. But should we humans emulate the computers we create, or should we design the computers to enhance our lives? And is deconstructing success the secret to creating it?

Just create

In college I minored in Music which taught me about the inner constructs of the works of composers, like J.S. Bach, Charlie Parker and Jimi Hendrix. Music theorists found and documented patterns such as “key modulations” and “polymeters” to explain how and why great music was great. My music teachers then drilled it into to me, so I could compose music like those masters. But ask Bach, Parker and Hendrix about such theorist-derived patterns and they’d probably laugh. They didn’t survey people to assess if their current listening habits would accept these new sounds. They didn’t write their music by consciously plotting key signatures and polyrhythms. They just went ahead and did it. They absorbed life and followed their ear to derive music from experience and emotion. Jimi’s word for a theorist’s augmented 4th interval was not “tritone”. It was “Purple Haze”. Great artists don’t deconstruct to recreate. They just create. I believe the same should be for product design.

Don’t ask for the answer, provide it

When asked what kind of user research Apple does, Steve Jobs’ reply was, “None. It isn’t the consumers’ job to know what they want.” According to his biography, Jobs was a mediocre engineer and rambling dabbler who dropped out of college, dropped in on typography classes and took a pilgrimage to India. Then, how was he behind the best product ideas and user experience execution time and again? Not by belaboring academics, rather, by being well-rounded, emotionally-centered and intellectually astute. He roamed the earth and absorbed life. That was his user research. Then, he came home to synthesize that experience and pioneer products. In addition to being well-rounded himself, he insisted on recruiting brilliant team players from a wide variety of disciplines to challenge him.

“Part of what made the Macintosh great was that people working on it were musicians, poets, and artists, and zoologists, and historians.” -Steve Jobs

With a product vision as the guiding purpose, the team then figured out how to build it. Purpose has a way with process.

Human

There is a gestalt to being human, and technology is oblivious to it. Because software design requirements are often born by technologists, the expectation is that design should track a linear process to determine needs. But creating a user experience for a technology product is not a narrow exercise in technology — it is a bridge that connects a technological opportunities with humanity. And incorporating dozens of activities in one life for this purpose is a guiding principle.

In the end it’s a wide variety of backgrounds that inform a designer’s ability to cater to a common psychology and then create a user experience that binds a world of users to a product experience. It’s about being well-rounded and in tune which ironically makes it possible to be break free from the status quo and design something great.

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JSN

Product Designer — Creative with technology. Destructive with bureaucracy. Darkly Humorous.