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


In her article for Inc., Margaret Heffernan speaks plainly about how flexible hours inspire productivity. I am totally on board with her take on this, but what struck me most was this bit on rules in general. Makes me wonder what the implications are for parenting, because she's right — monitoring and enforcing rules is no fun.

"...I have always resisted rules, for myself and for others. Why? Because once you have rules, you have to enforce them—and there's no more tedious task in life."Margaret Heffernan

User Experience Margin

How much is User Experience worth? Would you be willing to pay a bit more for a product if you also knew you'd get a better experience? I've had to answer these questions lately and based on personal experience, my answer is definitely yes. A couple of weeks ago we had some new countertops and tile work installed in our kitchen. We worked with a local, family-owned remodeling company. Throughout the planning and selection phase, we had a great experience with them and were confident we chose the right company to do the job.

And then they started the work.

What was supposed to take one day lasted for a full week plus a couple of follow-up repair visits. There were several "snags" throughout the process - at one point the owner even paid us a visit to smooth things over. Most of these "snags" were made worse by a severe lack of communication.

The project is complete now and we are very pleased with the results. So, it started out really well and ended really well. But that time in between made for one of the worst, most stressful weeks we've had in a long time.

I had a long conversation with the project manager there yesterday about our experience. He apologized, but it was an excuse-ridden apology. His excuse for lack of communication was that he was the only one that did all of the planning, scheduling, calling, etc and that that was one way they were able to keep costs down.

To me, that excuse is bunk. I would have happily paid more - how much more, I'm not sure - for our kitchen remodeling project if I could have guaranteed the same great results plus an excellent customer experience. Offering low prices is not an excuse to neglect customer experience. If that's part of your strategy, you better pray that your prices are super low - low enough to offset bad experience.

Convenience, flexibility, communication, service - those are all important aspects of good user/customer experience. How much more are those things worth?

I believe a positive user/customer experience should be assumed. It should come free as part of your overall package - not as a line-item on an invoice.

I welcome your thoughts.

Traversing the Bermuda Triangle

Good, fast and cheap. Any project that aims to satisfy all three is as doomed as an aluminum canoe in the middle of the Bermuda Triangle. Perhaps you've been involved in such a project. It can be frustrating, stressful, uncomfortable and downright painful. So if you are ever dealing with a client that is asking you to do all three, point them to this graphic and ask them to choose which two aspects are most important to them. Then, point out what they get when they choose those two.

Project Triangle

This whole concept is a fascinating study of give and take, human needs and communication. As designers, I'm sure most of us would want to be challenged to do great work, be well compensated and not have a ridiculous turnaround time. On the flip side, clients want a good quality product at a fair price and they want it done quick - time is money, right?

Somewhere in the middle of all this is a sweet spot. As the designer (service provider), its your job to find the balance that makes your work fulfilling and profitable, while at the same time making the client happy.

Ah, but that's the hard part, right? Its never that easy just to get the client to "choose two", is it? If you want to keep your sanity, that's what you have to do. But of these three scenarios, which do we want our clients to choose? Do we have a preference? Maybe, but in each of these cases, there's a potentially great project. Let's explore.

Good + Fast

First, the easy one. The client wants it good and fast. Set expectations up front that it won't be cheap. Remind them of the old adage, "You get what you pay for." Most designers can handle this one, right? Especially if they know they can charge a premium for the work. Sure, its stressful in the short term, putting in lots of hours and effort, but its worth it in the long run.

Good + Cheap

What if the client chooses good and cheap? Shy away from that client, right? Maybe not. They'll need to be warned not to expect a quick turnaround time. If good quality and a low budget are priorities, then the client needs to know up front that they have to be flexible on time. Set realistic expectations for yourself and stick to them. More importantly, provide a development plan for the client so they can see just how long it might take. This will help them understand your process and is much better than "I'll work on it when I have extra time." Explore quick and easy ways of providing some value to them in the short term, like setting them up with one of the various free blogging services. Maybe they don't need a custom designed site right away.

Cheap + Fast

Finally, my least favorite - cheap and fast. The client needs to be warned to not expect it to look good. For me, this is where things usually break down. I have a hard time committing to a project when I know that its not going to look good and I'll be rushed doing it. But perhaps if you've had a previous relationship with this client and are comfortable working with them, you'd take on a project like this. Again, its all about setting realistic expectations. Maybe for now, just getting something out there is what is really important. Maybe its just a splash page with an email collection form or a Facebook page - something with a url that the client can use. Then improve it later when there's more money and time.

I think designers have a responsibility to educate clients regarding all these matters. If you set expectations up front honestly, speak from a position of authority and expertise, and choose your clients carefully, I'm confident your project stress meter will point down and the overall project satisfaction meter will point up.

If a client continues to insist on getting all three - good, fast and cheap - then you might want to direct them to this video. I'm sure they'll get the point.

Putting together these thoughts is as much for myself as it is for the benefit of anyone else, but sometimes we all need a reminder. I know I can improve how I approach each of these situations. Feel free to improve the conversation by adding your suggestions and advice in the comments.

How I Manage My LinkedIn Network

The other day I received an invitation to join someone's LinkedIn network. This was a person I worked with at a previous company a few years back. I declined the invitation because I didn't really know the guy. He worked in a different department and I don't even recall a one-on-one conversation we ever had. Before proceeding, let me just say that I love LinkedIn. I think its a terrific service and one of the most important networks I have. It has loads of great features, is easy to use and is very polished as an application. If you're not on LinkedIn, I highly recommend you sign up. (Just read below before inviting me to join your network.)

In LinkedIn, when you send someone an invitation, it pre-populates a standard message that says something like this:

Since you are a person I trust, I'd like you to join my network.

When you receive the invitation, you have the option to click on an "Accept" button or a button that says "I don't know this person". I feel bad whenever I click on that "I don't know you" button, because most of the time, I do know who the person is, but that's about the extent of the relationship.

Everyone has the right to manage their networks in their own way, but I personally don't want to be too flippant about that word "trust". I manage my LinkedIn network differently than I manage other networks, like Twitter, Facebook or Readernaut (highly recommended, btw). These networks have completely different purposes and deserve a different approach. They're more for social networking, keeping up with old friends, sharing information with your buddies, etc.

What is the purpose of LinkedIn? On the surface, it could be as simple as an online resume. The social aspect of it (connections, recommendations, answers, etc.) makes it much more dynamic than a standard resume, though. In addition, LinkedIn could potentially be your most important network if you were to suddenly lose your job. Your connections in LinkedIn would be the place you start looking for work, right? In this scenario, this network would have tremendous value.

So, who should you add?

Do you add everyone you have ever met or had a conversation with? I guess some people do and to each his own, but for me to maintain the "integrity" and value of my network, I try to only add people that I do know and trust. Even if its only someone that you know online, there can still be an element of trust in that "virtual" relationship.

In some regards, I think LinkedIn makes it too easy to add people to your network. In a few simple steps you could send an invite to everyone in your email contacts list. Or to everyone from Company X that you worked for 10 years ago. Those are nice tools that make finding potential connections much easier, but I like to think that more discretion should be used.

Who's In?

  • Current and former teammates
  • Current and former clients
  • People I worked closely with at previous companies
  • Online colleagues that I know do good work and that I trust
  • Friends and family

Who's Out?

  • People I shared an elevator ride with once, but never talked to again
  • Former colleagues that I really never worked with, even if I recognize their name
  • High school classmates that I haven't spoken to in 15 years and probably never will again
  • All Philadelphia Eagles fans (ha! I jest)

In the past, I have probably added people to my network that I shouldn't have, based on the thoughts that I've outlined above. I guess I just did it to be nice before I really formed a real philosophy about all this. Because of this, there are definitely people in my network that I don't really know or trust. Its good to be nice, but you also have to be smart.

With that said - good luck and have fun using LinkedIn. I highly recommend writing recommendations for people who's work you endorse and that you know well. But above all, be judicious with those invitations.

That's my take. How do you manage your networks?

I'm going on a trip and I'm taking ...

Remember the game we used to play as kids to make the time go by faster during long road trips? Well, I'm going on a trip to Chennai, India the first 10 days of December and I thought I would make a little list of the things I'm bringing with me. I don't want to be a pack mule, but I also want to make sure I bring "enough" for a trip half way across the world.

I'll be flying from DFW to Dulles to meet up with my boss and two others. Then we fly from Dulles to Brussels, Belgium — a 9-hour flight. After a 3 hour layover, we fly from Brussels to Chennai — another 9-hour flight. We'll work in the offices in Chennai for 3 days then travel to Pondicherry on the weekend. Pondicherry is some sort of resort town near the beach and is supposedly pretty nice. Then we go back to Chennai to work for two more days before coming home.

The following are things I'll be cramming into my backpack:


  • Opening Day: The Story of Jackie Robinson's First Season
  • I am the Messenger, by Markus Zusak
  • The Elements of User Experience, by Jesse James Garrett
  • Transcending CSS, by Andy Clarke
  • Don't Make Me Think, by Steve Krug (this one's not for me to read, but to give to one of the guys in India trying to learn about Web Design)

I hope I'm not bringing too many books. I hate to load down my backpack with superfluous stuff, but the last thing I want is to be stranded on an airplane with nothing to read.


  • Minority Report
  • Matrix Reloaded
  • Good Will Hunting
  • Office Space

I am borrowing these movies from my brother. I haven't seen any of them. Hopefully they'll provide a nice mental reprieve when I need a break from reading.


Of course, I'm bringing my MacBook Pro, my extra mouse and battery charger. Also bringing my iPhone and charger. I plan on taking some good pictures with our digital camera. I've never taken it on any of my trips, so I'm a little nervous that I'll forget I have it and miss some good photo ops. i also don't want to lose or break it.


Passport, sunglasses, business cards, gum. Maybe a couple of good articles printed off the internet and maybe a Sports Illustrated or two.

I'll probably bring a full size suitcase, but haven't even thought about packing it yet. I think its relatively warm, but not hot, over there this time of year, so hopefully I won't need to worry about a jacket. The typical jeans, t-shirt and running shoes outfit will probably be standard for me over there.

I'm very curious about what I'll be bringing back with me. I plan on getting souvenirs of some sort for Cori and the kids but no idea yet. I joked earlier that I'd bring a King Cobra back for Bennett. :)

Am I forgetting anything important? Any recommendations?

How to Get Hired

At Rosetta Stone, we're looking for a senior-level Interaction Designer to help us out on the Web Strategy team. This isn't a call for resumes or anything, but if you do happen to be interested or know someone who is, by all means send them this way. At any rate, as I've been receiving and screening candidates, I've been disappointed with the quality of candidate resumes and portfolios and thought I'd offer some tips to help job-seeking designers maximize the possibility of getting an offer of employment.

When I'm involved in the hiring process, the interview begins the moment I get a resume. Then it continues as I explore your personal site and peruse your online portfolio. Finally, the interactive part of the interview process kicks in when I actually speak to you on the phone or in person. Interestingly, two-thirds of the process happens before we ever meet. You, the prospective designer, are responsible for all three components of the interview process: resume, portfolio, and interview.

The Resume

The resume is usually the first encounter a hiring manager has with a candidate. Like the saying goes, "You never get a second chance to make a first impression." A well-written and smartly designed resume is a great way to make a good first impression.

Resumes are at the same time extremely important and potentially meaningless. If a resume is well-designed and thoughtfully constructed, it gets remembered. It gives the hiring manager confidence that he/she is dealing with a professional. Conversely, your resume can be potentially meaningless if all the "expert at this" and "proficient in that" are not supported by the other two components in the process. If you claim to be an expert in HTML and CSS, but your personal website/portfolio shows the opposite, then the words on your resume just lost their value.

If you are a designer, I think it is imperative that you "design" your resume. Sometimes you may not have control over the format of your resume if you have to input the information into a website or if you're only allowed to upload a text version. Personally, I think a PDF makes for the best resume format, but even if you create it with Microsoft Word, you can make it look good.

You should take advantage of the opportunity to prove that you have a firm grasp of typography, readability, information design and creativity. If you're sporting a resume built from a Word template, complete with Times New Roman font, you won't be getting a call from me.

The Portfolio (or Personal Website)

The next component of a successful attempt at landing that dream design job is your portfolio. The first thing I look for on a candidate's resume is a link to their website, where hopefully, I'll be impressed with the site and continue to like what I see as I go into their portfolio.

If you're a serious web designer, it is imperative (seriously - a must have) that you have a portfolio, personal website or blog or something online that showcases your skills and proves that you have talent.

I will be the first to say that portfolios are extremely difficult to do well. A portfolio is a complex set of content and interactions. When possible, provide links to projects that are available online. Many of us have pieces in our portfolio that are inaccessible to the public for one reason or another and that's fine. At least provide a few screenshots (obscuring sensitive information) that allow a peek into your abilities.

Use discretion on what you actually show in your portfolio. Show only work that you are proud of - avoid including older work that doesn't have quite the same quality just to "have more". Another thing that is helpful is some type of description of the work and what role you played, the tools you used, etc.

The Interview

I've learned that its risky to put too much emphasis on "interview skills" alone. Some people are just great talkers and can easily give the impression that they are competent. Sure, you have to be well-spoken and give intelligent, thoughtful answers to questions, but the interview is only one slice of the pie.

Speaking of giving intelligent answers, be prepared. Surely you can anticipate the types of questions you might be asked. Take some time before the interview to think about how you would answer questions like "tell me about yourself" or "where would you like your career to be 5 years from now" or "what's the hardest project you've ever worked on" and so on.

When answering interview questions, remember this - the interviewer (possibly your future boss) is trying to get to know you. They need to know as much about you in the small window of time they have. The more information they have at their disposal, the easier it will be for them to make a decision. You only have a limited time to show the real you, so take advantage of it.

When you're asked the dreaded question, "So, tell me about yourself." Don't just spout off your work history. They already know that - its on your resume. While you definitely want to keep it professional, tell them about you, the person, not the employee. Hobbies, interests, what makes you tick, that kind of thing allows them to get a sense of who you are rather than "what you've done".

Let me give you an example. I believe I cost myself a job offer once by being too sterile, generic and not giving enough about me, the person. I was asked, "So, what do you have to offer the company that you feel puts you ahead of others applying for this position?" I proceeded to ramble on about things that were already on my resume - my skills and abilities. Looking back, I feel like I would have been offered the position if I had mentioned some of the intangible qualities - my passion for design, how I value loyalty and teamwork, described some of the things I've learned through the school of hard knocks in years past, etc.

This goes back to letting the real you shine through. Don't be a robot and give boring, predictable answers. But don't be a robot that says stupid things either. ;)

I hope this helps someone out there be better prepared for their next interview. If you have additional tips or advice, feel free to continue the discussion in the comments.

Note: These tips are specifically targeted toward designers looking for senior-level positions. If you are just starting your career in design, go here for a healthy dose of sage advice.

Meeting Pet Peaves

I started this post a month ago and have written and re-written it numerous times. I've been trying to come up with eloquent ways to talk about how to improve meetings. But I seem uninspired by that and would rather just pine about the things that bother me instead. What I think would improve meetings the most would be to infuse some rigorousness into the way we schedule and conduct meetings. Without further adieu, here are my top-5 complaints about meetings:

1. Let's Begin! Isn't it annoying when you take time out of your busy day to walk down to a conference room (or call into a bridge line) and then have to wait around until everyone else decides to show up (call in)? I worked with a guy once that began meetings exactly at the scheduled time regardless of who was or was not in attendance. That's pretty rigorous, but I admire that.

2. Wake up! I am the first to find humor in the fact that a colleague is desperately trying to stay awake - droopy eyes, head bobbing, the whole bit - but it also frustrates me. Seeing that just makes you wonder if the whole meeting is just one big waste of time.

3. Pay attention! This includes me. Having people not paying attention, especially while on conference calls, is a real meeting downer. If people are not paying attention it usually means one of the following is true: the meeting is going too long, the meeting has lost its focus, there are too many unnecessary people involved or all of the above.

4. Do we really need a full hour? I think by default most people just schedule meetings for an hour. Perhaps some people view meetings as a reprieve from real work, so an hour break appeals to them. I'm not sure, but I do know that most meetings could be held to 30-minutes, if appropriate rigor is applied.

5. Time's up! No one likes a meeting that will not end. Not ending a meeting on time shows a lack of consideration for everyone's schedule. To me, this is most annoying when it is a meeting at the end of the day that makes me late for getting home.

I'm not proposing a militant working atmosphere, but I do think applying some measure of rigorousness to the whole meeting process would help us have fewer meetings, shorter meetings and get more out of the meetings we endure.

Let's Be Honest

Recently, I was reading the bios of the "executive team" for a local web design/development firm (undisclosed) and saw that a couple of them had "over 20 years experience" in the web industry. An acquaintance of mine at a different company states he has "over 10 years experience" on his bio. If that's true, then he started doing web development when he was 14. I guess that is not unfathomable, but honestly, how realistic is that? And what type of web projects were the other two guys working on back in 1987? Not saying it isn't true, just really wondering about the robustness of truth in those bios. Perhaps we're all a little guilty of this from time to time.

After reading all this, I started to wonder about a couple things.

I know we want clients to view us as professionals and give them the comfort of knowing we've "been around the block before", but why do we think that the number of years experience is a key factor in providing that comfort level? Do we think our clients, colleagues and web-based social network friends will think better of us?

I think I've indicated that I have 7 years experience on a few bios I have floating around out there. Technically, this is true, because I started designing websites in 2000. However, does it really matter that I spent the entire first year building web pages with Microsoft FrontPage 98? It wasn't until 2002 that I understood how to use CSS and grasped the idea of how to build web pages according to web standards. And it wasn't until probably sometime in 2004 that I had a clear proficiency of HTML, CSS, information architecture, usability best practices and graphic design.

Ah, yes, but "over 7 years of experience" sounds much better than just three. If we're honest with ourselves, I'll bet we all have similar learning curves that make our all-powerful "years of experience" seem a bit watered down.

Wait Just a Second!

I know what you're thinking. All experience is important because it shapes what we've learned up to this point and helps us make better decisions today. That's definitely true. In all matters of life, things we have experienced in the past make us who we are today. Mistakes we made yesterday can make us stronger for tomorrow.

We don't have to start the "years of experience clock" at the moment we stopped making mistakes; or when we started doing things a new way or when we had this job title or that training class. I think in all of us there is a sense of knowing when it all "clicked" and when you first considered yourself a "web professional" without feeling guilty. I just think that's how it goes with a profession such as ours.

Perhaps we feel the number of years of experience somehow offset the fact that most of us don't hold a Bachelor of Science in Web Design. Therefore, we need to augment our resumes and bios with important sounding experience and how we've worked on large, complex projects. Guilty as charged, your honor. But I think this thinking is misguided. The internet, as an industry, is still so young and things have and continue to change so quickly. I think its OK if you’ve only got a few years experience. There’s nothing wrong with that.

What Really Matters

Consider this an open plea for candid representation in bios around the web. Yes, I’m sure clients and prospective employers would like to know that you didn’t just start your career on the web last year. But I say let’s be comfortable in our own skin, confident in our skills and let our portfolios do the talking.

I’ll go out on a limb and predict that clients, et al, are more interested in seeing examples of our work and getting a feel for how we work than knowing how long we’ve been working.

In my book, its not the number of years that counts, but how you’ve used those years to get where you are today.

Overheard at Webmaster Jam Session 2007

Last weekend I had the good fortune to attend the 2007 Webmaster Jam Session. I enjoyed the experience of learning from some great speakers, meeting some new friends and hanging out with old friends and new co-workers. I haven't had the mental bandwidth to sit down and comprehensively write down everything I learned and how it will shape my future. But I did take a few notes and thought it'd be good to share something, so I put together a list of "one-liners" from my notes of a few of the sessions I attended. These really aren't in any particular order - more of a mind dump, if you will.

Successful interface design ...
integrates the user and the business
is invisible
is multi-disciplined
is cultural
- Jared Spool

The internet is smarter than you are. - Brian Oberkirch

Flat is boring. - Dan Rubin/Bryan Veloso

Change what you do everything 3 years. It keeps you intelligent, funny and relevant. - Michael Lopp

Make all visual distinctions as subtle as possible, but still clear and effective. - Tufte's "Smallest Effective Difference" Principle, quoted several times by different speakers.

The funniest thing for me was when I was thinking to myself why they call it the "Webmaster Jam Session". I mean, do people call themselves webmasters anymore? Not 5 minutes after I thought this did a guy stood up and introduced himself: "Hi, I'm ________________, I'm the Webmaster for Rockwall ISD." Who knew?

If I had a good camera or had a clue how to take good photographs, I'd post a bunch of them here. But I don't and I didn't. However, you might like to check out some photos snapped of the event here, here and here.