2010 Hindsight, 2011 Foresight

This may have been my most eclectic year ever.

It kicked off nicely with the publication of Designing for the Greater Good, my Luceo logo featured therein.

January through April were exclusively devoted to my Waggener Edstrom Studio D design duties. I experienced a renewed appreciation for sketching, sticky notes and paper prototyping.

In May, my team and I were thrilled to collaborate with Bing for the launch of a campaign commemorating Teacher Appreciation Day. Thousands of users contributed stories in exchange for a five dollar credit to donate to any Donors Choose project. Coverage from Jimmy Fallon, USA Today and many other sources amplified the impact of the campaign.

That same month, Peter Wooley and I launched our very sporadic (but very fun) Friends Electric podcast. Brizzly adopted my favicon design and my Twitter/RSS mashup TweetPlus won a WebVisionary Award. Ironically, Portwiture lost in the same category the previous year to Twendz, which was created by Tim Sears, with whom I later co-founded Backabit. If you can’t beat ’em, join ’em!

July saw the introduction of Fragments, a print-on-demand comic book benefiting Save the Children. Forrst and Streakly followed Brizzly’s example and had me redesign their favicons. I began teaching my ten-week Web Standards course at the Art Institute of Portland for the second year in a row, devoting half the curriculum to HTML5 and CSS3. I was honored to have Amber Case, Aaron Parecki, Chris Kalani and Jason Grigsby accept my invitations to guest speak.

My promotion to Lead Experience Designer in August was the welcome actualization of my longtime leadership aspirations. It’s been a blast directing the output and development of such a talented crop of designers.

As Summer came to a close, I submitted Surf by Osmosis to the 10K Apart competition. I lost to some amazing apps like Sinuous and Matchuppps, which are humbling in their polish and creativity.

2010 became the year of logo publications when Logolicious featured my KolorID logo in October.

In contrast to the docile nature of a paperback book, technology turned against me as I attempt to present The Uncanny Valley of Interaction Design at CyborgCamp Portland. The microphone, projector, speakers and presentation wand failed independently and unpredictably, which would have been merely bothersome had audio and video not been essential to the talk. Either the audience was extremely kind or I managed to rescue some semblance of meaning from the wreckage. I’m thankful regardless.

In November I was thrilled to meet so many inspired designers and developers while attending An Event Apart San Diego with my good friend, Erik Jung. Beforehand, I got to watch Damon Albarn, Paul Simonon and Mick Jones front a live Gorillaz band, monkeys and river otters play together and pandas eat bamboo. Regrettably, not all at the same time. Best trip ever.

I was thrilled to announce the availability of Ramps for the iPhone and iPod Touch just a week ago. By the way, Ramps is on sale right now as part of the New Year’s App Blowout. If you haven’t already done so, you should definitely go buy it!

Here are the four design revelations I plan to heed most doggedly in 2011.

Clever solutions differentiate, straightforward solutions succeed

Pizazz! Pop! Razzle-dazzle! The “wow” factor! There is no shortage of descriptors for giving users something they’ve never seen before. That’s a fun and understandable aspiration, but it can also cripple your chance of success. The web’s rate of innovation increases exponentially, with 125 million domains and a trillion unique URLs already in use. In this environment, “wow” has a regrettably short lifespan. Focus on creating intuitive, well-executed work that people will want to use every day. Then follow Aarron Walter’s example and inject some humanity into it. Cleverness should be a happy accident, a byproduct of solid design thinking.

Experiment swiftly, then iterate rapidly

Ambition is priceless, but only when managed appropriately. Unbridled enthusiasm can quickly inflate the scope of even the simplest notion. Before weighing your idea down with extraneous features, kludge together a quick proof-of-concept. Worst-case scenario, you’ll learn the idea isn’t worth your time to pursue. Otherwise, you’ll be able to develop it more quickly with a clearer understanding of its real-world application.

You are suffocating your work if you keep it to yourself

Many designers are artists at heart. Consciously or not, we project our insecurities into our work. Soliciting feedback for designs that have yet to crystallize makes us uniquely vulnerable. Contrary to this behavior, design is usually intended for an audience greater than ourselves. Crafting it in solitude contradicts this intention, and robs you of countless “why didn’t I think of that?” moments you’ll gain from quickly pinging your colleagues, friends and family for feedback.

Consensus can be wonderful, but not without a single, guiding vision

“A camel is a horse designed by committee.” Although the originator is disputed, this maxim holds true. Purely democratic design may start out peachy, but a single irreconcilable difference of opinion will bring your work to a grinding halt. Even worse, the resulting compromise may be too obtuse to satisfy any audience. Dissent should be acknowledged, appraised and acted upon where appropriate, but these opinions must always defer to the unifying vision. Democracy sure sounds nice, but you’re better off choosing a benevolent dictator.

2010 was remarkable, but 2011 will be even better. I can’t wait for you to see what we’re cooking up at Studio D. Tim and I are hard at work improving and expanding Ramps. Peter and I have started tinkering with a couple apps we think you might dig. Believe me when I say I couldn’t be more excited.

Thanks to all of you who continue to encourage and support my work. The best is yet to come!

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