Dont be stupid but don’t be a coward!

Benjamin W.

April 5, 2010

I’ve been listening to a couple new podcasts my Dan Benjamin. The Conversation and The Pipeline are really good. I also just read REWORK by 37signals. An awesome read.

There’s some really good advice in both. And though I agree, I couldn’t help but feel that there’s another side to it.

When 37signals says, “Don’t quite your day job” This isn’t an encouragement to be lazy, or afraid or anything else. They’re encouraging smartness. Most of the stuff you think you need to do to accomplish something isn’t actually necessary. The time or money you think you “have to” set aside to get something going is probably an overestimate. You’re making it harder on yourself than is necessary to get started.

Listening to The Conversation, I almost feel discouraged from going out on my own. There are comments from Garrett Dimon that make it sound like it’s a hassle to have a successful app that’s actually making money. And I know that Dan would definitely want to encourage people to do their thing. Whatever their thing is. And sometimes that takes courage.

I think you need smarts and courage and sometimes they go against each other. It takes courage to ignore every excuse and impulse you have to do anything but what really matters to you. And once you’ve overcome that bullshit, it takes a lot of learning and getting kicked in the teeth to make it work so you can keep doing what matters to you.

People have to do what matters to them. So, if what matters to me is hard to do, I only want to hear your advice on how to make it easier or how to deal with it. Don’t tell me how I should reconsider because it’s tough. Anything worth doing is tough. Get smart and get brave.

Designing for engagement: Please make me think!

Benjamin W.

January 4, 2010

Hope your New Year is starting off with a bang.

I just bought Universal Principles of Design: 125 Ways to Enhance Usability, Influence Perception, Increase Appeal, Make Better Design Decisions and Teach through Design. I started reading it today and I can already tell I’m in for a few “Get out a town!” moments. But the second principle in the book, Accessibility, got me thinking about a different approach to design.

I’ve been studying web and graphic design for some time now. As soon as I began I came across the terms accessibility, usability and simplicity used everywhere. And these are ideas I definitely agree with. But there’s another side to it that I’d like to see talked about more.

Accessibility and Usability are means to an outcome. A way to help accomplish something. But they’re aren’t the thing you’re trying to accomplish.

In the example of an elevator, accessibility helps those who can’t see by adding braille to the numbers. Or those who can’t walk by putting the buttons low enough so that people in wheelchairs can reach. In this example the benefits of accessibility are clear.

In the world of web sites and software, the benefits of making something simple, understandable and easy to use are equally accepted by anyone taking this stuff seriously. But it’s not as cut and dry as in the case of the elevator. I’m not talking about making your site screen reader friendly or increasing the text size so it’s more readable. I’m talking about users, audience, customers and how to help them achieve an outcome that we want them to achieve. This goes beyond just getting out of the way and letting someone do what they want and into teaching them, inspiring them and pushing them to do what they really want.

As a creative person, the most difficult thing is not learning Photoshop or Final Cut Pro. It’s not picking up a camera and figuring out what that button does. It’s not my lack of a great “point and shoot” that is preventing me from becoming a photographer. And it’s not my lack of recording equipment or the complexity of Protools that keeps me from making that record I’ve been wanting to make. It is the lack of inspiration and motivation necessary to get my ass out of bed and believe in something strongly enough to learn, experiment, read, practice, try, persist, care and be passionate.

Most people are not lacking great tools to write. Writing something worth reading was never hard because of the pencil. We don’t need a new, simpler, more intuitive text application. We need a personal and relevant reason to write in the first place.

I think that products, software, sites, tools and everything can be better designed to inspire us to put effort into things because the outcome is worth the effort. I have no problem with making something easy to use as long as you don’t sacrifice the outcome in the process. People need challenges and obstacles. Overcoming them is the reason the goal is valuable at all. I like learning curves but I want get passed them without a reason.

So the next time you’re designing an interface, a piece of software or a poster, see if you can give them really good reasons along the way to use it and use it well.

Holiday Bus Drive: A great cause, site and animation.

Benjamin W.

December 23, 2009

Holiday Bus Drive is a great example of how a simple idea can impact many kids lives.

Not to mention the site and animated film look amazing and really help tell the story.

(via designworklife)

Usability or Usefulness: the forgotten side of user experience.

Benjamin W.

December 4, 2009

Usable: capable of being used.

Useful: being of use or service; serving some purpose; advantageous, helpful, or of good effect.

Kathy Sierra is awesome. I didn’t know much about here until she was interviewed on the web 2.0 show. It’s amazing that you can design websites for a while and still not be fully aware of the people that matter on the web. Anyhoo…

Since that interview I’ve been completely stuck with the idea of making people kick-ass. Or at least asking myself how I can help people kick-ass. I’m a designer not a programmer, although I build the sites I design. But I have users too. People use my design to communicate. And if I’ve done my job, it helps them kick-ass at communicating to their audience.

This brings me to my point: Useful is way more important than usable. Usable seems so obvious to me that I don’t know why it gets so much attention. But usable implies that someone wants to use it. That they’re trying to use it. But why would they even try in the first place? They’ll try it if they think it will be useful.

The tools that exist now are unbelievable. We have it so easy with Photoshop, Coda and Final Cut that by myself, I can do what it used to take 25 people and 20 machines to do. And I can do it faster. Yet there is a relatively small amount of people who have taken the time to learn any one of them, much less all three.

Making a product simple or usable reduces the friction of getting people to use it. But it doesn’t motivate people to do so.

The value is not in usability but in usefulness. To the degree that usability makes something more useful is the degree that your user and you win. But everything, even Basecamp, has a learning curve. And people need to know why they should bother. Or better yet, how it will help them kick-ass at whatever they want to kick-ass at. I’m excited to see applications, sites, posters, video games, movies, blogs and books that really take into consideration how to help people kick-ass and remind them how much they want to.

A design inspiration blog with a bit more.

Benjamin W.

November 19, 2009

I’m a big fan of design blogs. I have my favorites that I check about every day: Swiss Miss, It’s Nice That, FormFiftyFive. The usual.

But I recently ran into Design Work Life. A blog by New York based design studio, Seamless Creative. (who also has some great work!)

It is rad because they don’t just post great stuff but they also write a bit of info about the studio or designer or concept behind the work. And that is really valuable to a learning designer like myself. Plus, I’ve seen quite a few things on there site that I haven’t seen featured anywhere else. Check it out and tell me what you think.

Read Between The Leading is awesome!

Benjamin W.

October 28, 2009

Letter Case is my one-man design shop. I’m building it as fast as I can. In my continued self-education, podcasts have proven to be really useful because I can pop them on my iPhone and listen away while I drive to lunch, go for a walk, tidy up the room, whatever. And one of my favorites and definitely my favorite podcast on design is…

Read Between the Leading.

Just two young designers who really love design and talk about it. There are great interviews with well known names in the graphic and web design world. Some of my favorites are: Jason Santa Maria, David Airey, Ryan and Don Clark of Invisible Creatures.

Check it out. It’s really good.

Jason Fried is a man of his word…

Benjamin W.

October 20, 2009

Honestly, I just spent about 2 min harping over how I should put “social media” and “transparency” in the headline because that would make it more “searchable” and “buzzword” friendly. And I decided to stick with what I have. Because that is what this post is actually about.

I am a big fan of 37signals. And I like being a fan of them. They’re one of those brands that I want to be associated with. I want people to know I’m a fan so they know a little more about me and what I stand for. And I’m now a fan for life.

I just called Jason Fried on the phone. And he picked up. I know that doesn’t sound too profound. But I look up to him and the 37signals team. It was fucking bad ass.

Yesterday, Jason announced that he would be taking calls on tuesday and thursday between 1pm-3pm pacific. You can call and talk directly with him about pretty much whatever is on your mind. This immediately blew my mind. Not only is it a bold and innovative move but it was an opportunity for me to ask Jason Fried of 37signals anything I could think of. And the pressure was on.

So, I dialed the phone… And it started to ring. “He’ll never pick up. There are too many people calling right now for him to actually pick up.” I thought nervously as I rings continued to pound in my ear. I quickly removed my iPhone headphones for this was too important of a call to be so lackadaisical. And then… He picked up.

“This is Jason.”

And after a little tiny freak out, I said hi, introduced myself and ask my question about web design. The end.

But seriously, this is awesome. A really cool example of a company being even more open and available to their community. And a great opportunity to talk with someone I really respect.

Letter Case

Graphic Design & Web Design

Letter Case was my one-man design shop based in Los Angeles, CA.
I ran it for 2 years until I joined Typekit in January 2011.

In my spare time I've been learning to program by building my first web application.
A simple tool called Talkative to help people publish their talks on the web.

My current project is The Briefcase. A blog and podcast.
It's a place for me to create and publish stuff.

If you have any comments, thoughts or questions,
feel free to contact me at: benthomaswelch [at]

Thanks for checking out my blog. Cheers!

Simplicity is harder than it looks.