Malin Sofrone

Product designer

Creative confidence. Dream big. Start small.

Whether we want to create a movement, start a campaign for people in Ethiopia or maybe change legislation in our country for a certain, we need to start somewhere.

Some options to do achieve any of that are to either: to start big and go viral or to start small and steadily grow big. The challenge with starting big is that it usually works for public figures with a big network of people and requires lots of resources. Starting small on the other hand is accessible anyone on the planet and it usually requires less resources.

One big advantage of starting small is that it allows for small wins along the way to build momentum in time and creates a more solid community. The people involved get in organic and become part of the vision, get to shape it. All of this creates a creative confidence. It allows us to trust that we can do it, step by step.

Starting small allows for a slow but steady growth.

In some communities, taking a stab at ideas like healthcare, elderly care or childcare services sounds like a too big fish to eat. But starting small, getting things done and seeing some results helps a lot of people believe they can achieve it.

In a way, this is also the story of most organisations around the world. It starts with one person or a small group dreaming big about something and then making the small steps to get there. Some go big in size and impact, like Facebook or Google. Some stay small but still have great impact, like Basecamp.

There are also exceptions to the rule where companies like Rocket Internet take tested ideas to new markets, invest lots of resources and see great results. But this works if you have the resources for it.

The power of starting small to gain creative confidence came to me as a conclusion after 10 years of volunteer work in communities with low trust in self-initiated activity groups or any type of work that is done “for free”. The creative confidence gained through small wins influenced both me and the great people I worked with. And gave us the energy to push things forward.

So this is what it takes to build a product

It’s both challenging and rewarding.

It is just amazing how many unseen decisions and thoughts go into a product. Working as a product designer in a tech startup gives me the opportunity to experiment this every day.

There are a lot of things to consider: people needs and problems, business requirements, design, emotions, technology or the people that are actually building the product. And all that while at the same time figuring out which direction to go while keeping the vision in focus.

Because neither the small garage startup, nor Facebook knows what the future holds. Everybody is figuring things out as they go. Experience does play a big part of how things go.

Let’s take a basic search input from an online shop for example. The working principle is apparently simple: I type something and get the results. But the way it actually reacts depends on things like context (where), who is the user, the technology behind it (instant, auto-suggestion, machine learning), how it looks like, how tolerant or smart it is to pickup mistakes. There are people who specialise in these kind of things. Here you can read a quick article from Nielsen & Norman group.

And this goes to show how important it is for a team to do great collaborative work and exchange ideas and knowledge. Because neither the UX people, nor the developers or sales, support, biz dev, managers etc, can foresee all the situations if they work in silos or just throw stuff at each other. And as they say at Facebook, it’s never someone else’s problem so follow up on things. This has become a personal mantra.

It is challenging enough to try and build something considering the technical requirements, but it’s maybe even more so to do it considering the behavioural understanding of the people using it.

At the same time, chances are that someone else has already had the same problem and tried different solutions. This is where rich websites like Stack Overflow or UX stack exchange help a lot of people to learn and share what they know. There are a lot of amazing people out there working in communities to help each other.

All this gives me a new found respect for all the people out there making great products and services. It is challenging and at the same time very rewarding. To see the customers using the app that you helped to build is a great feeling.

Of course it’s not always easy and simple. I sometimes bang my head to the wall, I try to understand how things work and how I can build with the team a solution that fits best for a particular case. But at the same time, I enjoy a good challenge which is always a great chance to learn more. And so does the team I work with.

One random but great example that comes to mind is Dropbox. For me it provides a great experience. I rarely interact with the app directly, but it helps me a lot in the work I do. Synchronising files and sharing links is provided in a seamless way, I just love how fast I can work with it, with more time to focus on what I care more.

This thoughts open the appetite to discover and share a lot of examples of functions or solutions that apparently are simple but which require lot of consideration. Cause there’s a lot of magic going behind Dropbox that makes everything happen, that we don’t ever see.

Here below is actually a part of it explained at the Dropbox developer conference (DBX).

DBX 2013 Keynote from Dropbox on Vimeo.

Drew Houston's keynote from Dropbox's first developer conference, DBX 2013.

July 9, 2013

Links vs buttons, a usability blurred line

Theoretically, links are for moving the user from one place to another, say from one page to another page. Buttons are for actions, like save settings or delete item.
But in reality, they mix. And they tend to be different and the same, depending on the user interacting with it.

Let’s say you want to delete an item. This is an action which makes a change, so it can be a button. And once clicked, it usually displays an alert dialog with two actions, usually “Delete” and “Cancel”. And here is where a exception is made. Clicking “Delete” will trigger the effect of deleting, but clicking the “Cancel” button will not do anything basically. So it can be a link. But since this became an informal standard and people expect it this way, this is the way to go usually. Unless you are Google or Facebook and have the chance to change a little of that behaviour.

I could even go an think that delete button followed by a dialog, doesn’t even do an action, just shows the dialog. But a link (Cancel) and a button (Delete), isn’t something you see everyday so it might seem abnormal. But again, this is only because of habits people using it have.

Then there’s also the need to attention. When having multiple buttons next to each other, they all compete for attention and also clutter the space. An example for this are the “Like, share, comment” buttons on Facebook. Or any place where multiple actions are available one next to each other.

So for people looking for black and white rules this might seem strange. But it’s actually not because it’s all shaped by human behaviour. And as we all know about ourselves, we don’t always react consistent to things. It depends on the mood, a recent experience, context where we are, how tired or fresh we feel, if we are under pressure and so on.

I guess a rule to point out is that we are building things for people to use and it’s mostly people that shape how something should work, if we want for things to go well.

Dead hero gets a job

Man, we’re living an age of speed. I guess nobody these days takes too much time to read so they use robots. Of course I’m making a generalization. (more…)