Empathy for whom?

I've heard it said that the most critical trait for a designer to have is empathy. I think I agree with that. According to the Google, empathy is defined as ...

"the ability to understand and share the feelings of another."

Why is empathy important for a product designer?

In almost all cases, we are designing an experience that a person uses. Hence, the common word "user" is always associate with what we do — user, usability, user experience, etc. Unlike artists, our work is judged not only by how it looks, but also how it works. Is it easy to use? Can a user quickly understand it? Do they enjoy the experience?

As important as this trait is, I often see it applied in a subtle, yet incorrect manner. Scenarios like this often start with one of the following phrases ...

"What I think would work is __________."
"If it were me, I'd like it to work like this _________."
"You know what I think is a good idea?"

I know I'm guilty of this from time to time. Seems like we miss the boat sometimes as we attempt to be empathetic.

As designers, we can't just do what we would want if we were the user. When we do that, we are still bringing along all of our own personal preferences, expertise and preconceived notions. In a way, that's showing a self-centered form of empathy.

What I love about that definition above is the word "share". Its not enough to just understand, but we have to experience it ourselves for it to be true empathy. We have to take it a step further by putting ourselves in their shoes and really feel their pain points and look at the problem from their point of view, not our own.

How do we show empathy?

  1. Listen.
  2. Observe.
  3. Listen some more.
  4. Then ask questions.

So the next time we're solving a problem for a user, let's try to remember to apply true empathy.

Best Quotes from Megamind

MegaMind is the best animated movie ever made. That's my opinion, anyway. It is filled with great one-liners and funny quotes. Here is a list of my favorites:

Our battles quickly grew more elaborate. He would win some, I would almost win others. – Megamind

Okay, Minion, you were right, and I was... less right! – Megamind

I'll just pack my thing and go. – Minion

And, the best of all...

Megamind: You dare challenge Megamind?

Titan: This town is big enough for two super-villains!

Megamind: Oh, you're a villain alright, just not a super one!

Titan: Oh yeah, what's the difference?

Megamind: PRESENTATION! (cue the video)

My New Gig

If you read my last post, then you know I've been looking for a new job over the past several weeks. I have really enjoyed this September Sabbatical. The extra time with my wife and kids has been a blessing in disguise. Alas, all good things come to an end, I suppose. I start a new job this Monday.

I'm happy to report that I've accepted an offer from SPS Commerce to be the new UX Design Manager. I'm really excited about it because I'll be taking on a position that allows me to wear multiple hats and it also presents some pretty significant, but fun challenges and some tough problems to solve. It seems like a fantastic company and I'm really looking forward to working with some bright people.

Thanks to everyone who has networked with me over the past month and a big thanks to anyone that passed along my information with a good word. I never really put much stock in LinkedIn, but through the past few weeks, I've realized how powerful that network can be for someone actively looking for a position.

I feel very humbled and very grateful for this gift.

How I Survived Bloody Wednesday

For the first time in my adult life, I find myself unemployed. Three weeks ago, I succumbed to the axe on August 28, 2013, which will forever be known as Bloody Wednesday in Sport Ngin folklore. Throughout the past several years, as the economy declined, I really never feared for my job. I always thought, naively, that I was safe. That if there were going to be cutbacks, they would cut the slackers and underperformers first.

I was living in a fool's paradise.

Bloody Wednesday was, without a doubt, the single worst day of my career and even one of the worst days of my life. The news of the layoff came from out of the blue and caught me completely off-guard. It was a gut-wrenching experience.

I absolutely loved working at Sport Ngin. In almost every way, it was my dream job. The perfect blend of two things I really love - design and sports. I had a tremendous amount of influence over the direction of the product. I built a team of user experience designers and we were doing some fantastically fun work, designing Sport Ngin's next generation of tools to manage sports leagues, teams and tournaments. I had a blast designing two iPhone apps while I was there. I worked with some really smart people, worked for a great boss and made some good friends. I thought it would last MUCH longer than two years. I had mentally ripped up my resume and would have been content to work there the rest of my career.

One day, you're having a blast designing a new sign in screen for the app, the next day you are sitting at home, locked out of your laptop and wondering, "why me?"

I dealt with a good measure of rejection and quite a few "no, I do NOT want this!" moments for a couple of days. Thanks to the unending support and encouragement from my awesome wife, I was able to get back on the proverbial horse and prepare for the next phase of my career. I still don't know what that looks like, or even when that next phase will start, but my LinkedIn network has proven to be pretty valuable and I have several leads I am following, some definitely pretty promising.

In the meantime, as I proactively wait for the process to play itself out, I am learning a few things about life and about myself.

  • As painful as this is/was for me, it is nothing compared to the hardship and turmoil many others have to face on a daily basis.
  • Being mindful of the previous point, I have tried counting my blessings, but they are too many.
  • Even when you think you are in control, you are not. So don't act like you are; instead give control to God and walk in His will.
  • Companies are in business for one reason and one reason only - to make money.
  • From now on, I will put much less stock in the "operating values" of any company.
  • I am thankful for the talents God has given me to earn a living and take care of my family doing something that I am not only good at, but something that I really love doing - not many people get to do that.

All the unexpected time I have now has really been a blessing in disguise. This all happened right before school started. So for the first three weeks of school, I've been able to say good-bye to the kids in the morning and be there when they get home, help them with homework and, in general, just spend more time with them. Being at home more during the day has also been a fun time for Cori and I to spend more time together. We've been able to eat lunch together almost every day, we have time to take walks together and have even gone on day dates while the kids are at school. And the weather has been perfect. A guy couldn't have asked for a better time to have days off.

If you know of any great user experience design opportunities, feel free to send them my way. I am confident that this period of my career/life will be over soon. Until then, I'm enjoying what I get. And if what I get is more time with my family, then I have been given a wonderful gift.

Peace. /cm

Two Years in Minnesota

It was early morning on February 26, 2011. I was saying goodbye to my family. Not the most pleasant of days. Two years ago today, I began the journey of moving to Minnesota. I left the family behind to work onsite at my new job in Minnesota until our house in Texas sold. Its one of those scenarios that "seem like only yesterday" and at the same time I think, "that was 2 years ago?".

Looking back, everything worked out almost perfectly, even though we didn't realize it at the time. All we knew was that we were moving to Minnesota, but that our family would be separated until the house sold and they could join me. We had no idea of knowing how long that might be. We had no idea if we would like Minnesota. But we did know we were ready for an adventure and believed everything would work out in the end.

Boy, has it ever. It turned out that I was only up here without the family for about a month. It was difficult, but it could have been much worse. We found a great house in what we now know to be a perfect community for us, with outstanding neighbors.

On one had, it was difficult to leave Texas. We lived there most of our lives. Cori and I grew up together there. We were married there. All three of our kids were born there. We still have friends there and a ton of great memories.

But Minnesota has not disappointed.

A lot has happened since we've been here. I've changed jobs since then. We've done some remodeling. We've taken vacations. And we've had many visitors from out of state. All of this activity makes it seem like we would have needed more than two years, but that's the way its worked out. We absolutely love living here.

Here are just a few reasons we love living in Minnesota:

All in all, it was the right decision. And if you're ever looking for a great place to live or take a vacation, you might consider Minnesota - it might be right for you, too.


In suburban Dallas, having a wooded lot is about as common as having a moat in your yard. And if you are lucky enough to have a lot of trees, you pay a premium for them. Hence, we never really had trees, let alone woods. So when we moved to Minnesota, we knew we wanted to buy a house surrounded by lots of trees. That was definitely one of the must haves on our list.

If you've noticed the photos I take with my phone, it is apparent that I enjoy my back yard quite a bit. See Exhibits A, B, C and D.

We are very thankful for the lot we found and for the peaceful retreat of our backyard. Well, sometimes its peaceful. Other times it represents a monumental amount of work. You see, when we bought this house, it was still winter. There was about 2 feet of snow covering everything. So we really didn't know the details of what we were getting. All I knew was I could see a lot of trees out back and that was about it. Then the snow melted and leaves began to emerge. Then we realized we had a jungle.

The Jungle

I'll never forget one the conversation I had with my neighbor standing at the fence line between our houses:

Neighbor: "You know that's all Buckthorn, don't ya?" Me: "Uh, no. Buck what?" Neighbor: "Yeah, Buckthorn. All that green stuff you have is Buckthorn." Me: "Okay."

How do you intelligently respond to that? No idea. So, I did some googling. So it turns out that Buckthorn, Rhamnus cathartica, is an invasive plant species brought to Minnesota back in the 1800's from Europe. It was introduced as a very popular hedging material. It wasn't until about the 1930's that they realized it was such a problem. Basically, it out-competes native plants for nutrients, light, and moisture and forms an impenetrable layer of vegetation if left unattended.


In a nutshell, a big nightmare. So my "wooded lot" is filled with thousands of buckthorn "trees" ranging in size from about a foot tall to ones that seem like small trees - about 12 feet tall. The vast majority of them are about 3 feet tall with stems about the thickness of a pencil. The larger tree-types have to be cut down, but I have found the best way to get rid of most of them is to just rip them out of the ground. Fortunately, they have very weak root systems and can easily be removed, just like pulling weeds (big weeds).

I spent the majority of last summer clearing the buckthorn. I have a long way to go still, but it looks vastly improved from when I started. As I started clearing, I realized that once all the buckthorn is gone, there isn't much else besides really tall Amur Maple, Elm and Box Elder trees.

My background in horticulture and landscape design probably has me obsessing over this type of thing more than the average person, I admit that, but I do have a strategy. In addition to clearing the buckthorn, you have to replace it with something else, or else it can just take over again if neglected.

To that end, a couple of weeks ago I purchased 150 plants from the County Soil and Water Conservation program. I was very excited to come home with a bag full of tree and shrub seedlings. I bought 25 of each of these:

  • White Spruce
  • Norway Pine
  • Sugar Maple
  • Red Twig Dogwood
  • Highbush Cranberry
  • Black Chokeberry

Seedlings: Pine, Spruce and Dogwood

I've already planted the evergreens (spruce and pine) and am waiting for a day when its not raining (and I'm not at work) to plant the rest of them. Planting 150 trees takes awhile!

White Spruce

Norway Pine

It seems ridiculous to add 150 more trees/shrubs to an already wooded lot. But I'm a big fan of native plants and I also see the need for diversification. Adding some evergreen trees to the environment out there is a no brainer. And the Dogwood, Cranberry and Chokeberry will provide understory foliage, flowers, berries and ornamental interest.

Driving in India

The other day I came across an old thumb drive. One of the forgotten files stored on this thumb drive was a video I shot back in 2008 when I was on a business trip in Chennai, India. I thought I would post that video here, just for fun. I remember just being a passenger in the back of the cab, I was constantly on the edge of my seat, thinking after each close call, "I can't believe we didn't hit that person!" It really reminds me that driving here in the states is a walk in the park compared to this. Remember this on your way home from work today.

A small snippet of a typical driving experience in India.

All in a Day's Work

Me: Now, for my next trick, I will attempt to open this 47MB PSD file with Fireworks. Should be no problem. Alert: An internal error occurred. [ok]

Me: Fireworks, I'm not in the mood today. You WILL open this file or die trying.

Screen Shot 2012-02-21 at 8.24.56 AM
Screen Shot 2012-02-21 at 8.24.56 AM


It's not even 9:00am yet.

Setting a Proper Corner Radius

Rounded corners are a key component in interface design. Apple's iPhone, in particular, vaulted these little rounded-corner square-shaped icons into prominence. You see rounded corners everywhere these days. And all to often, I see rounded corners that seem to have been executed as an afterthought. Designers: please spent just a few extra minutes making sure your rounded corners are done right. Examples of negligence are easiest to spot when a rounded-corner shape is inset inside another rounded-corner shape.

If the corner radius is the same for both shapes, you'll have problems. If Square A sits inside of Square B and is smaller than Square B, the corner radius for Square A also has to be smaller. See the examples below:

Examples of proper and improper corner radii.

Its entirely possible that there's a Mr. Wizard math formula that will help you figure out how to adjust the corner radius depending on the change in size of the shape, but I'm not smart enough to figure that out. This doesn't have to be rocket science, though.

A designer's keen eye is often enough to prevent the problem. Spending just a couple of extra minutes paying attention to the details will make the world a better place, don't you think?

Five Fonts Designers Should Stop Using

I am a huge fan of good typography. That being said, there are very few typefaces that I really love. And there are a few widely-used fonts that I just can't stand. Sure, there are lists out there decrying the use of Comic Sans and Papyrus. That goes without saying by now, right? This isn't that type of list. This is a list of fonts that are otherwise perfectly acceptable by most designers. In fact, most people who read this list will think I'm crazy or just don't know anything about typography.

I'm not advocating that these fonts be completely uninstalled from all computers. Non-designers should feel free to mess around and use these fonts if they like. But designers can do better. Without further ado, let the countdown begin:

5. Futura

Ok, everyone can stop yelling at me now. Let me explain. Yes, I can't stand Futura. Sure, it looks great in diagrams and charts from old biology books from the 60s. But it is old and tired. There are much better choices for us now.

Recommended alternatives: Helvetica, Myriad, Frutiger

4. Trajan

This typeface should be reserved only for use in epic blockbuster movie titling. Maybe the reason I don't like Trajan is because I also hate the use of small caps. Again, there are simply better choices out there.

Recommended alternatives: Garamond, Goudy

3. Avant Garde

Another tired font that perhaps was once a great choice, but is now tired and over-used. According to Wikipedia, the term avant garde is French and "refers to people or works that are experimental or innovative, particularly with respect to art, culture, and politics." That's why we should stop using it. If we select this font, we're going out of our way to be perceived as "innovative". Let's put an end to that nonsense.

Recommended alternatives: Helvetica, Gothan, Din, anything else really

2. Lobster

We can all thank the Google Font Directory for this one. This font just screams "cliche" to me — in a really loud and annoying voice. Perhaps if you are making a logo for a restaurant, that may be the only acceptable use. I don't know, if you have a business that actually does involve lobsters, then maybe you can get away with this, but otherwise steer clear.

Recommended alternatives: Fan Script, Candy Script, Bello

1. Gill Sans

This is most likely the worst of the bunch. The only problem is I don't really have a good reason for disliking this font. But I just can't stand it. I have uninstalled it from my computer due to its offensiveness. Doing a Google search just now to look at some examples just makes me angry. Its so wrong in so many ways, I can't even begin to describe what I don't like about it. Typography kryptonite for sure.

Recommended alternatives: Helvetica, Gotham, Trebuchet, Museo, Facit, Din ... heck, even Arial is better!

Fireworks Interviews

Linus Lim has put together some really good interviews on his site, Fireworks Interviews. I always enjoy engaging with other Fireworks users and I learned a thing or two by reading some of the interviews. If you're a designer on the fence trying to decide between Fireworks or Photoshop, perhaps some of these interviews could help you decide. Or, if you'd just like to be inspired by some other Fireworks users, this is a nice resource.

Either way, check it out and while you're there you can read my answers regarding some favorite Fireworks features, how I use it and my thoughts on Fireworks vs. Photoshop.


When John Wooden was a boy, his father gave him a piece of paper with seven principles that his father hoped would guide him through life. Young John folded the piece of paper and put it in his wallet. He kept that piece of paper in his wallet for the rest of his life. John Wooden grew up to be the greatest basketball coach in history and his thought leadership has inspired millions. The seven principles his father gave him that day would later be known as John Wooden's 7-Point Creed, which has been used in leadership training around the world.

John Wooden's 7-Point Creed

  1. Be true to yourself.
  2. Make friendship a fine art.
  3. Make each day your masterpiece.
  4. Build shelter against a rainy day.
  5. Help others.
  6. Drink deeply from good books.
  7. Pray for guidance and give thanks for your blessings every day.

What a great legacy to leave for your children! These principles are certainly full of wisdom and good advice for all of us. Wooden's father clearly demonstrated that one person can truly effect the lives of many. I often think to myself what kind of legacy I am leaving for my kids. What will they remember most about me after I'm gone? How will my role as their dad impact their life and the lives of others?

So what would I say to my kids that could be as impactful? Most probably, it wouldn't be anything I say at all; they watch the things I do — my attitude and actions — and use that as a kind of standard. Hearing the story of John Wooden's father giving him that piece of paper reminded me that being a dad is the most important job I have. Much more important than being a UX Designer.

Thanks, Mr. Wooden!