While it’s good to regularly reconsider and rethink the way things are done, judging decisions from the past based on the knowledge we have today is far too easy, far too common and quite useless.
“Why is it this way? It doesn’t make sense!”
“It’s ridiculous, why was this built like this?”
“I wouldn’t have done it this way!”
Decisions are usually made based on a few assumptions and sometimes a few predictions about what the future may be. And as their name suggest, assumptions and predictions often turn out being wrong. Things simply change and today’s context is very different from what it was months or years ago.
So the easy reaction is to take what we now know — but didn’t at the time — and keep complaining about how horrible of a decision it was.
It’s easy because it doesn’t actually solve the problem and doesn’t involve any work. We’re not fixing anything, just continuously pointing out how obviously bad something is. It doesn’t help anybody and all that energy spent complaining is just lost.
A more useful approach is to think about how it can be fixed or improved and move forward.
Bill can’t find the document he’s looking for on the Intranet. Clearly it isn’t visible enough, so let’s add it to the home page for everyone to find it.
Someone told us he couldn’t find the contact button on the site. Let’s make the button bigger, change its color and add an additional link to the sidebar.
We don’t generate enough sales of that product. Let’s add a banner everywhere on the site promoting it.
Can you believe that feature was left out from the app? It has to be squeezed in the next release.
It’s OK to listen to these voices, but the danger is to think that because one of them is louder, it necessarily deserves more attention. Or that it’s even a statistically significant representation of the silent majority.
While some projects fail at simplicity right from the start, most really fail at keeping it simple. Keeping as in remaining simple over time, way after the project has launched.
“This is our latest innovation”
“We’re innovating once again”
“Innovation is at the heart of everything we do”
This probably sounds familiar.
We hear and read those everywhere. Almost up to a certain point where it becomes meaningless — so overused, that we don’t pay much attention anymore.
That’s why real innovative companies don’t even talk about innovation. They know the word is much more powerful when coming from the mouth of clients, partners or press.
Innovation is not just building new and shiny things. That would be easy — we can all imagine things that have never been done before. And most of the time, they’ve never been done for very good reasons. Innovation is the result of not just the new and shiny, but also the effective and useful.
And effective and useful, ultimately, can only be judged by others. Some sort of external validation. Then, only if truly new, effective and useful beyond what currently exists can it be considered as innovative.
Innovation is something earned, much like winning an award. It’s the result of great work being recognized by others.
Write short emails — preferably a few sentences maximum with clear expectations. People get hundreds of emails everyday and in an ADD world, nobody reads anymore. Apparently.
At least that’s what you’re being told.
Time. Man, is time precious. Who has time to read your 3 paragraphs email? 3 pa-ra-gra-phs. Can you just get straight to the point? Is there really anything these days that can’t be summarized in one sentence?
Let’s waste half of our week in meetings, but screw you, long email writer. Nobody has time for your emails.
I know, you took the time to fully structure your thoughts, every word is carefully chosen and it’s really all I need, but you know what? That’s too much for me to handle. It almost feels like you care.
Care, that’s it. I guess that’s why I don’t mind long emails.
A long, unstructured email is just garbage, as it often reflect a rushed message without a clear line of thought. But a well structured email with a clear line of thought, send more my way anytime.
Not everything can be summarized in a sentence or two. And even when people think they can summarize in a sentence, they miss a whole lot. You just get black and white messages, while the value is often in the grey zone.
Not every phone conversation is more efficient. I know, writing an email may take more time than just picking up the phone, but conversations don’t magically end up in a searchable transcript. I get that with email — a trace of a conversion, an idea, or some tasks. So we forget, and then we have to schedule another call or meeting about the same subject because we just forgot about half of the things we said. Of course, we’ll apologize for forgetting — “sorry, I have so much to remember that I seem to forget some details here and there”.
We have so much to remember because one sentence emails don’t say much. They’re not good at keeping traces. Email threads are incredibly good at that.
Our minds are too busy remembering every details of every conversations and meetings we had that it can’t focus on what matters — creating value through clear, creative thinking. Ideas need some quiet time, that’s how they grow. There’s no need to go over again why you get so many brilliant ideas in the shower, right?
When we share coherent, detailed messages, whether it’s through email or your favorite project management software, it frees our minds from having to remember useless details. It’s always there to be found later on.
Plus, try writing a detailed and clear-focused email. You’ll me amazed at how beneficial it is to clarify your thoughts on a subject. Writing is good for the mind.
Cardstack was never meant to be a local product. Not that there would never be local customers, but more in the sense that the target market is pretty wide. It’s small, lightweight and is easy to ship — perfect for an “Internet product”. Product and distribution was all thought with an international mindset.
But no matter how large the market is or how global the potential audience is, the initial market is often within your close circle of friends and contacts. Obvious, right? Well, this is something that was underestimated with Cardstack. Good products spread through word of mouth–especially for a fairly unknown brand that first need “social validation”–so reaching out first to your contacts make sense.
But of course there’s always the fear and anxiety of showing the world something new and being exposed to criticism. Is it good enough? Can it be refined? Is there really a market?
Overall, it’s probably why Cardstack was soft launched at first. After a few international orders, the market-fit was confirmed and only then did I feel ready to talk more openly about it. And then a flood of orders came in from friends, contacts, friends of friends and contacts of contacts. The global product was suddenly all local for a few days and it did put Cardstack on to a good start.
Wether it’s software or a physical product, consumer or business product, it’s easier to sell to people you know than to strangers. This makes any product a local product at first.
I stopped actively coding a few years ago, right after I graduated in Computer Engineering. I had to do something else. It’s not so much that I didn’t enjoy coding, but I wasn’t in love with writing code for the sake of writing code. I loved the craft, but not as a job or as a service provider.
Probably much like an author loves his craft. It’s great as long as you get to pick what to write. You get to actually create. When somebody else tells you what you should write, the whole magic goes away. You’re just trading time for money and somebody else ends up putting his name on your work.
So I went on and explored a whole lot of other things and got paid to do it along the way. I actually built a business around those things. Marketing, SEO, UX, design, conversion optimisation and digital strategy just to name a few. I learned a whole lot. I tried, experimented, succeeded and sometime failed.
I basically learned business. Sales, marketing, branding, product development, customer lifecycle and product design. The whole thing.
I never totally lost touch with coding though. I always ensured to stay somewhat up to date. Almost like I wasn’t completely assuming the decision of going in a different direction. Or maybe because it has always been a differentiating factor among other people — in a digital marketing world, I actually understand technology and how things are built.
But a strange thing is happening now. I had to get back into more technical stuff recently and I actually enjoyed it. Again. It felt like the pressure of experimenting with other things was gone. Not that I’m done experimenting or that I’m out of curiosity, but there’s no more pressure. I learned what I wanted to learn, what pushed me out of engineering.
My perception has also changed. While I was seeing software engineering as a job or a service — and the same goes for these other things like marketing and design — I now see them as a way to achieve something. To create.
I feel like I’m being brought back to engineering but with a much broader perspective and different context.
A context in which technology is not a job, but a way to build and create. A different perspective in which technology is actually nothing without sales, marketing, design and a creative process. Technology is a means to an end, not an end in itself.
Everything is somehow connecting.
Most of us use just a few cards on a daily basis, barely use cash anymore and store more and more on our mobile phones. Why is it then that we have to carry around that big, clunky, uncomfortable wallet?
It’s no surprise we see people ditching their wallet in favour of simpler alternatives. Sometimes quite radical alternatives like rubber bands or binder clips. Some other times, ones like slim leather wallets.
While the rubber band, the binder clip or even the money clip work well, the end result is far from elegant. And as far as slim wallets are concerned, they’re fundamentally traditional wallets with just less space.
So you either have to go for style or space.
That’s why last week we launched Cardstack. This is a project we had in the pipeline for quite a while now and it’s good to finally show it to the world.
Re-thinking the wallet
When designing Cardstack, the goal was to re-think the wallet and create a product that would allow to effectively carry just the few cards you need everyday without giving up on style or flexibility.
There is no better way to simplify and slim down a wallet than to just get rid of it altogether. So early on, it became very clear that the wallet itself had to disappear and that the cards should simply become the wallet. That’s Cardstack. A simple, yet elegant and stylish, stack of cards.
The back and front aluminum covers, at just 1mm each, take just as much space as a credit card. So no bulk is unnecessarily added. The same goes for the weight: aluminum ensures a robust wallet and keeps the weight incredibly low.
The back and front plates make it easy to slide in or slide out your cards, while preserving the intimacy of your wallet. The silicone band securely holds the cards into place without compromising the aesthetic and the use of silicone ensures the band won’t break or wear off prematurely.
Security also became a concern when designing Cardstack. Thanks to the aluminum plates, Cardstack will block any RFID signal and keep your cards secure.
The result is a modern, slim, lightweight and colourful wallet for our modern lifestyle.
Know who you’re designing for
Even though it’s a simple product in appearance, a lot of thinking and experimentation went into designing the product. One of the biggest takeaway from the design process is “know who you’re designing for”.
For Cardstack, it was fairly easy. I was mainly building it for my own needs and for people looking to radically reduce the size of their wallet. After carrying around for quite some time a wallet consisting of just a broccoli rubber band holding the cards together, I felt like it was the best wallet I ever had. Unfortunately, it was far from elegant.
We’re far from the broccoli rubber band now, but you can still feel where this product is coming from. What the initial inspiration was.
When you get early feedback, it’s easy to get caught into adding this or that. Add a pocket for keys. Add a pocket for coins. Don’t use a rubber band. Use plastic. Use Aluminum. But in the end, does it really make a better product? Will it be appealing to the people I’m designing this product for? Will it be as flexible and versatile? Would I use it?
Saying no is core. Most of the time though, I found out that saying no was more about explaining where the product is coming from and what we’re trying to improve. This gives a sense of context and what the overall vision is. Once people got that, their feedback was much more helpful and in line with the overall vision.
We’re really excited about Cardstack and so far, early customers seem just as excited. I hope you’ll love it as much as we do.
It’s easy to think of focus as just consciously putting more energy or time into something. It is, in a way, but without ignoring everything that gets in the way, it’s nearly impossible.
That’s why focusing is so hard. If it was just caring more about something without having to compromise or to let go, it would be really easy.
On the contrary, ignoring involves putting things aside, sometimes irritating a few people and making though choices as to what matters and what deserves your time.
So before trying too hard to focus on one thing, it may be a better idea to take a step back and define what has to be left out, what has to be ignored, what is eating all your time and energy.
The cost of ignoring may vary — sometimes it’s money and sometimes it’s relationships — but then focus just seems to happen.
Excel is being used to do quite a lot of things. Things it generally wasn’t designed to do — Interface design, project management, databases, invoices and more. I’ve seen it all.
It often ends up being a mess, awful to look at and impossible to maintain. But sometimes it’s quite impressive. Even surprising.
You see, Excel has this bad reputation in the tech industry because it’s getting used to solve all sort of problems it should not. Why use Excel when a piece of software exists to solve the specific problem you’re working on?
Well, Excel provides a blank slate. Almost like building blocks, allowing you to build anything you want without the friction of having to learn something new. Plus, you don’t have to take the time to find a solution that already exists, but doesn’t solve your problem exactly the way you’d want.
Especially in a corporate environment where installing new software involves a painful process with the IT department or costs approval.
I used to hate Excel and all the wrong ways of using it, but the truth is that it’s one of the most flexible and widely adopted piece of software. Not only can you use it in a lot of different ways, but you’re also sure anybody will be able to read and edit it. Without being collaborative in its features, collaboration is about people first and it’s easy to collaborate around a tool everybody knows. It’s friction less.
I don’t use it a lot, but I understand why non-techies use it that much. The grid is reassuring, gives structure and is easy to work.
I still think it’s broken in many ways, but I understand why it’s so widely adopted.