aqua-commute

I live in Oakland. I work in Mountain View at Intuit. For those of you who have done this kind of commute, you know how exhausting, soul-crushing and just maddening it can be.  And given that Intuit’s offices are right on the bay, it’s probably not surprising that I’ve had fantasies about commuting by water. After all, it’s a bit more direct if I were to go from Alameda to the wetlands, just off Shoreline. I thought about taking a Zodiac or a hovercraft. Neither of which I own. I heard about some folks at Google who bike from SF to Mountain View. I think there’s even something called the Golden Ride that where you go to Half Moon Bay, then over the hill to Google. But I’m not into biking.

But there has to be a better way to get to work. So this August I’m going to Stand Up Paddle board from Alameda to the Intuit offices in Mountain View. I’m trading in Waze and Google Maps for a nautical chart, tides tables and a lot of sunscreen. It’s my Aqua Commute 2013.

Here’s the plan.

  1. Leave from Alameda around 6am – 8am (depending on my speed – which I’ll test.)
  2. Paddle through the relatively shallow eastern side of the bay where the currents will be minimal to the point where the San Mateo Bridge Crosses the Easter side of the channel.
  3. Take advantage of the currents all the way down past the Dumbarton Bridge
  4. Get out at the East Palo Alto put in.

Right now, I’m targeting August 22nd since there’s going to be a strong flood tide that day with the max current sometime around 2pm. That should give me the most time to take advantage of it.

I don’t expect to get much work done after the 22+ mile paddle, but I think it’s going to be so much fun.

Total Distance: Approximately 22.5 miles

Expected time: 6-8 hours

DSC02057-800I’m excited to announce that we’ve finally launched Hummus Apparel. I’m one of the c0-founders. I’ve been working on this with two friends from work on our nights and weekends. After a ton of prototypes, epic fails and a whole lot of fun, we launched our first major product, the Booyah Belt.

We’re pretty excited about it.

Please support us and help spread the hummus!

The financial year for Intuit just ended. It has plenty of implications for product strategies, 3 year road maps, budgets, and headcount. As that trickles down, it also means that things like yearly goals are due. I typically dismiss this stuff as corporate bullshit and then go through the motions. But this year, I’m using the corporate structure as an excuse to think about my own journey and professional exploration. In the process, I pulled out a job description I wrote for myself about a year ago, before I started my current role. I thought I’d share it.

We are looking for the following:

An experienced designer who:

  • Wants to develop both the brand and the product direction.
  • Is passionate about translating user needs into compelling experiences (both off and online)
  • Has proven leadership skills
  • Is a jack of most trades
  • Has a passion for the craft of his or her core skillset
  • Creates experiences that go well beyond the disciplinary touch points (interaction design goes beyond the screen, etc)
  • Knows when to sweat the details and when to let them slide
  • Executes with speed
  • Understands that user-centeredness should extend to his or her team
  • Is itching to make a meaningful difference in the lives of millions
  • Has experienced the rollercoaster of a startup
  • Has a good sense of humor
  • Has enough confidence to surround him/herself with smarter team members (preferably ones with a diverse skill set).
  • Fights for ideas, but is humble enough to let them go
  • Doesn’t have to be the lead singer, but can do a kick ass solo every so often
  • Desires to continually stretch his or her skills
  • Has an intuitive sense of the importance of team dynamics
  • Facilitation experience
  • Thorough understanding of design thinking

Pluses:

  • Can write good
  • Has teaching experience
  • Understands what it takes to build interactive experiences
  • Communicates visually
  • Can create compelling motion graphics
  • Loves making beautiful things/experiences/objects
  • Knows that a live-work balance makes for more productive workers
  • Located in the East Bay

About Us:

  • We are a mature and driven group (regardless of age).
  • We have a solid business/financial structure.
  • We understand the value of creative thinking. (We want it to inform our products)
  • We have kids, or a partner, a dog, or any other passion that’s primal enough to contextualize where work fits into our lives.
  • We honor multiple perspectives. We think it makes better products.
  • We know that different situations require different types of leadership.
  • We expect to find fulfillment in our work.
  • We try to help develop our coworkers personally and professionally.
  • We have a variety of interests, we think it makes us smarter.
  • We get our work done, then we go home.
  • We value diversity of all sorts (ethnic/queer/mindset)
  • We are present.
  • We’ll tell you if you’ve got spinach on your teeth.

Ceremony Invitation

Sharing this is long overdue. In April we celebrated our commitment to one another, which also happened to be our 8 year anniversary. I was really proud of the invitation (a 11×17 poster) that we created which was inspired by the work of Nicolas Felton. Our relationship is something that we create every day, so it was fun to capture the story of our eight years together with some good old fashioned graphic design.

I’ve been so consumed with traveling and an art piece I’m working on that I haven’t had a spare minute for shoes. That said, I’ve been learning a lot as I go through the process of making another large photographic quilt. Once I’m done I’ll write up my thoughts on tool use, creativity and prototyping. In the meantime, here’s some of what I’ve been up to.

One of the "d's" shot for the piece at Stanford. This on is formed by an ambulance stopped at a light on Cortland and Bayshore.

I’m psyched. I’m going to be making an installation piece for the new d.school space at Stanford University. More precisely, the Hasso Plattner Institute of Design at Stanford University. As a result I’ve been shooting photos recently related to the work I did years ago.  I love the patterns that emerge when creating an entire alphabet. But for a variety of reasons, that’s not necessary, or possible for the work I’m going to do with the d.school. And it’s resulted in something that should have been obvious, but I never thought to do. That if I prototype an alphabet by just doing variations on one letter, I’ll learn much more in much less time.

You can see a bunch of the “d’s” here. It’s been a great way to develop different methods around something that I’ve been playing with for years. I’ve learned more in two days of shooting in a new way than I did in months. That’s prototyping at it’s best.

The only real downside is that I’m making more “mistakes”. There’s a ton of photos that just aren’t working. But who cares, it’s digital, and it costs me nothing.

I made this paddle blade cover this past week. As a product it’s incredibly simple, but I thought it might serve as a useful springboard for the end to end experience of launching a product. Below is my first pass at the elements I’d need to take into consideration if I were going to try to sell this simple product.  What would you add? What’s missing?

User Considerations – Does the idea have a chance?

Feasibility – Why wouldn’t someone buy this? It’s weird. It doesn’t protect the whole paddle. It’s not from a trusted brand. They wouldn’t know how it works.
Value – What is the value you are offering? Just enough protection for 90% of your needs. Simplicity = a cheaper price, and a recycle-able solution. The benefits of singular material. Is that enough?

Design Considerations – How can we make it better?

Transitions – Right now it works from a functional standpoint, but it’s not the easiest thing to get on. I see so many products that fail to take the process of transitions into consideration. So how could we make that process better? My friends Hetal and Eva have done a great job of this with their bag, Flip And Tumble. Their bag is defined by the playful transition. It’s wonderful.

Polish – How would I go from a 5 minute prototype to something that is worth $5? If you want someone to buy a product, it’s got to feel like something magical happened somewhere. It’s easy enough with a cell phone, but much more of a challenge with something as simple as this.

Business Considerations – How do we make it profitable?

Competition – Who is it? This cover from Dakine. It costs $15. We can either go upmarket or down market. My gut says to charge $30 or $5. I don’t to find some clear space to play. We may come back to this if we can’t own either of those price points.

Brand Space – What kind of product are we going for? Who’s going to buy it? What’s going to resonate with them? Is there even anything here? Any need?

Value Proposition –  Where are we in the scale from hi- to low -end. As a designer, my skill is often in finding ways to get people to desire a product. This gives me the ability to squeeze profit from design. But that’s just one way to make a profit. We can also channel the creativity into the ways we manufacture it in order to maximize the efficiency of production. That’s what Wal-Mart does.

Manufacturing – How and Where are we going to get it made?

Local? – How local? In my home? Would that be a good way to prototype this? All I’d need to do is find a supplier for the tubes and develop a way to cut them that yeilds a cleaner slit than the one I did with an X-acto knife.

Sustainability – How critical is that to this process? How can we use it to create something with a triple bottom line? How it what we’re doing more sustainable than the competition? If we don’t use mixed materials, it’s much easier to recycle at the end of it’s life. And because we’re using less mass, my hunch is we’ll have a much smaller carbon footprint. But that’s a dull story. It’s got to be pepped up and simplified.

Marketing – How do we get people to care about this little strip?

Advertising – The answer would depend on where we’re going to sell it. If we go for that $30 price point, our advertising is going to have to sell that promise. Every touchpoint will need to reflect the richness of the experience. If we go for $5 dollars, however, a slick design might send the wrong message. 

Blogs – Are we going for Core77, a Kayak/Stand Up Paddle Magazine, or REI? Who do we want to target

Word of Mouth – Who are our friends and will the care enough to help spread the word. If they don’t love it, time to move on to a new idea.

Distribution – Where do we sell them?

On-line – Great margins. Poor visibility.

Paddle/Surf shops – Good visibility, poor margins. But we’ll also get better feedback. They are the people who will know if it sells or not. Go to them early.

This is part of a series of photographic typefaces I did for my Personal Statement while I was in grad school. I did it at a very painful point of my life… a time when niether images or words seemed to do justice to what I was feeling. It was my way of giving voice to feelings without the specificity of content. It was a shitty period. One that I don’t wish to visit again.

But this was also one of the better things I’ve done. In part because the personal statements at Stanford are a point where the faculty takes a break, they don’t interfere with the students for a two week period. That freedom from constraints helped me to let loose and play. Something that I think I’ve been missiong for quite a while.

I’ve been really stuck on trying to figure out how my creative process fits into my career path. I’ve been doing this for a while with very little success. And despite the variety of jobs I’ve had in the last couple of years, the way I’ve been going about finding fulfillment has been relatively narrow. So call it prototyping, or going broad, but I’m going to take a risk. I’m going to let go of trying to figure out how my projects lead to a profitable, fulfilling career. Instead, I’m just going to try to channel my creativity into something that’s meaningful to me. Carissa at Snowflyzone is an inspiring example of this with her explorations in skateboards.  So, for the next five months, I’m going to skip thinking about how what I do will fit into a distribution system, business strategy or even design thinking. I’m just going to build.

On April 1st, I’ll have a small “show” going up with a friend I met a few weeks ago. I think it’s an opportunity to create without limits, to get myself building and perhaps to do what I’d do if I couldn’t fail. It’s an experiment, so we’ll see how it goes.

In reality, it wasnt that interesting.

In reality, it wasn't that interesting.

Last week I posted an idea for an art project. Time-lapse photography through a webcam to see if we can learn anything about the way we relate to our tools. At the time, I thought it was a pretty cool idea.

In reality, it wasn’t.

My excitement drove me to prototype the idea. And then it came. The crushing realization.

MY IDEA IS NOT THAT GREAT. F@#%.

This is a critical moment for a designer. How do you pick yourself up from failure? Do you convince yourself that the feedback you are getting is skewed by some sort of data? That your users and colleagues just don’t get it? Do you jump to another half-formed idea which you’re certain they’ll get? Or come up with another idea on the spot?

I’ve found that I’ll use almost any trick in the book to get over my wounded pride. Failure sucks. It’s the biggest obstacle I face when trying to make/do/publish anything. As much as I intellectually understand its role in the creative process, the emotional story is completely different. Failure is frustrating and painful. It makes me feel stupid. In response, I’ll often keep my ideas in a blurry realm where I can continue to delude myself into thinking they are something groundbreaking.

Building breaks that illusion. Once in the world, it’s much easier for me to see the idea it for what it is.

So what did I learn from my experience?

1. I’m not as clever as I hoped.
I never am. But it doesn’t stop me from hoping.

2. If the failure doesn’t sting, I’m probably not committed enough.
It’s a tricky balance. We shift between excitement and dejection. Without blind enthusiasm, I’d never have done half the things I’ve done. But left unchecked that excitement limits my thinking.

3. If the failure stings too much, I’m probably too committed.
We’re looking for that edge. How we push ourselves without getting injured? Stretch without straining.

4. It much easier to let go of ideas once I’ve expressed them.
This is of course, why experts suggest that you should always get your early ideas out in a brain storm, why it makes sense to prototype early and often.

5. Making something shifts the conversation from the personal to the object.
This doesn’t mean that the stuff we make isn’t still loaded with emotion and ownership, but it’s much easier to see the thing for what it is when it’s an object on a table (of the internets).

6. Creation isn’t a safe experience.
We insulate ourselves with processes like design thinking where we create a safe place by determining rules like no judgment in brainstorming or fail fast to minimize risk. Adding more security to the process is great, but sooner or later, you are going to have to put yourself on the line. That’s a scary moment. It’s also what makes creation fun.

7. Letting go of the idea makes it easier to imagine other uses.
This is the whole idea behind collective brainstorming. It’s not my idea, it belongs to the group.  As a designer, my skill is not that I’m able to hatch brilliance fully formed. My skill is much more about using interesting connections to generate new ideas.

8. More ideas are coming.
I find that it’s challenging to let go of ideas because I’m not quite sure what will take their place. But more ideas will come. They always do. And by learning to be more nimble with the ways we connect to our ideas, the quality of the ideas that will come will improve.

So what’s next?
What about my not great idea? Is it just dead? Will it go anywhere?

Sure. Although I was disappointed that my first idea didn’t yield any really interesting results, I think there could be something interesting to it. Are researchers using time-lapse photography to prompt in-depth questions? In the research I do, we’re always looking for ways to get rich information in less time.

Perhaps something like this set up could help in that regard. Set up the camera for a day, take a photo every minute, then review a day’s worth of video in 5 minutes? I could imagine it showing some interesting patterns. (So what was going on here? Looks like you were moving from your desk to computer a lot, tell me about that?) And just like that I have a new pet idea.

Now it’s time to build it and let it go.

Time-lapse, day at the office from Thomas Maiorana on Vimeo.

webcam-600Random thoughts about our relationships to computers. This is a faked out version of an art project that I’d like to do. Basically, a take on time lapse photography, through the webcam in my computer. I look into the “face” of my computer more than I look at my life partner. I wonder if there’s anything to be learned from taking candid photos of myself throughout the day. Is there an analog? A cowboy to his horse? Carpenter to hammer? Surgeon to her scalpel?

Is this relationship as cold as I may imagine? Or might we catch glimpses of the richness of life which is filtered through this little machine. Connections to my family. Vida Mia. Co-workers. The natural world. At any rate, it’s an experiment I’d like to do if I can get my hands on what seems like a very simple technology.

I would look into it more, but I still have some work, and it’d late.

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