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Elise Pescheret

Generosity: The quality of being willing to share


In an effort towards constant self-improvement, I’ve been reading about what makes a successful design leader.  I know one of my weaknesses as a leader is willingly delegating tasks rather than just ‘doing it all myself’.  In doing it all I protect my sense of control, but as I continue to learn, this approach is not on the road to success.  A common theme in my study on leadership is generosity.  Generosity in ideas, time, and praise (source)

Thinking back to the influential leaders in my career journey, they have always been gracious with their time, present with their listening, and astute with their feedback.  A leader is a mentor.  They set an example in their day-to-day work, and make time to actively check in with their team.  A design leader facilitates communication, allowing the team to feed off of each other, resulting in a sense of a ‘collective effort’.  Team building through constant communication. 

In this talk by Adam Grant, he talks about how success almost always is preceded with failure.  Well sure, this makes sense, because if it is not success then one would assume it is failure, BUT what he emphasized was the rate at which one fails.  Failing is a result of an effort.  Trying.  Being afraid of failure is what keeps us standing still.  The fear of asking for help, or asking for feedback can seem paralyzing. 

It is when we recognize that our fear and desire for control is only holding us back that we can pave the way for ourselves and eventually for others.  Embracing the uncertainty.  Embracing failure in hopes for progress towards something.  Design leaders lead by example, by failing often and learning from their failures.  They communicate that this is part of the process, and encourage their team members to contribute.  


Our Challenge

Elise Pescheret

As we move forward, digital experiences are permeating our lives at a staggering rate.  The separation between the digital realm and human existence is getting smaller and smaller, and in some cases, almost indistinguishable.  Digital products are permeating our homes (Nest), our cars (Tesla), monitoring our health (Fitbit) and hitching a ride in our pockets at all times (hello, smartphone).  Some of us can hardly imagine our lives without some of these technologies, yet the only reason they’ve been so intimately absorbed into our lives is due to their thoughtful design.


Our challenge as interaction designers is to help bring these experiences to life during the early ideation phases, prototyping early and often.  In order to help build a future where we are not run by machines nor bothered by their existence, we need to help build a society that views technology as a facility, enhancing life experiences rather than detracting from them.  Our job is to know our users better than they know themselves, designing experiences that feel natural, grounded in human characteristics.  As Steve Jobs said, “It is not the customers job to know what they want.”  By considering each and every micro-interaction, tested and iterated through the help of prototypes, we can only hope to create products that are invited into our user’s selectively permeable lives.   As designers, it is our responsibility and our biggest challenge.  

Prototyping as Design

Elise Pescheret

I was extremely inspired after a demo from the founders of Framer.js today.  Their vision on the future of prototyping is spot on.  They talked about how what we call “design” is changing and expanding.  No more is it static graphics, but how we interact with the products and services in our lives.  This point of view is extending to the early stages of the design process, where ideating involves tactile mock-ups. 

This shift calls for more attention paid to how users feel about their products, their pain points, their joys, and thoughtfully reacting to them.  Quickly reacting to them.  Reacting as if witnessing a conversation between two people - complete with listening, interpreting, and reacting.  Reading facial cues, showing emotion. 

Visuals are only part of design.  It is exciting that we have tools to help us designers live up to our title.  They help us treat design as an experience, thinking through each tiny detail as we build them.  Design can be a loaded term, but to me it is exciting that the definition is being added to.  Designers are problem solvers, skilled in thinking through difficult challenges, just as other strategists are.  The edge we have is being able to show rather than tell.  

Designing For Flow

Elise Pescheret

I recently have been researching the concept of “flow” and how, when integrated into our lives, the perceived result is a happier, more fulfilled individual.  Flow is defined as the mental state when a person performing a task is fully immersed, focused, and is enjoying the process of the activity at hand.  
*If you are unfamiliar with this concept, I encourage you to watch this enjoyable Ted Talk given by Mihaly Csiksgentmihalyi. 

The state of flow requires a bit of skill in the environment which flow is to exist - for example, a composer experiences flow when creating music due to the fact that he/she is knowledgeable in this field.  While flow occurs most commonly in those with a certain level of skill or understanding, there are tertiary stages of experience which can turn into flow over time.  When one is in a stage of “control”, they are secure but not challenged.  In order to reach a state of flow, they must increase the challenge.  Conversely, in the state of “arousal”, one is challenged but not completely secure.  By accepting the challenge as a vehicle for learning, one can reach a state of flow once they’ve become more adept at the skill at hand.

If we consider the idea of flow when designing user experiences, an experience is not singular but rather the intuitive flow from interaction to interaction, resulting in a harmonious experience.  I feel the defined principles of flow provide a great rubric for designers when considering a user experience from beginning to end.

1. Clarity of goals and immediate feedback:
The rules of success are clear and the user is aware of their actions throughout the experience.  Clarity is key.

2. High level of concentration on limited field:
Ability to maintain focus on the task at hand, taking into account the inevitable chaos of the everyday world

3. Balance between skills an challenge:
If a task is too simple the user will get bored, but on the contrary if it is too challenging, the user will abandon the task all together.  There is a direct correlation between the users skill level and the difficulty of the task

4. Feeling of control: 
Feeling calm & in control, which can be attributed to a sense of security.  A user should never feel stressed or feel that their privacy is at risk.

5. Effortlessness:
This ties along with the task’s level of difficulty - similarly, while the user must be challenged, they also must navigate the task smoothly, guided by inner logic.  The solution must be reached intuitively.  

6. Altered perception of time:
Partnered with the deep concentration of the user, when they are experiencing flow, time is of no matter to them.  They are focused solely on the experience at hand.

7. Melting together of action & consciousness:
In addition to the lack of concern over time passed, the user is also not distracted by any other cerebral concerns.  They are in a state of balance, where their actions are directly tied to the resulting experience.

8. Immediate Return on Investment
Overall, the experience must have an apparent immediate value to the user and must be enjoyable throughout the entirety of the task.

As designers, we can strive to create digital & real life experiences that help put more of the everyday life in the flow channel.

On Memory

Elise Pescheret

I've been thinking about how so many things pulse through our minds every day, yet not everything gets remembered.  Sometimes that is alright, though there are those fleeting ideas or small moments of delight that can get overlooked when looking back on a day.  This falls in line with the fact that I've never the best with the recollection of specific facts but rather excel more in episodic memory, making use of contextual cues to recall events.  Environments, smells, tastes, feelings - these all help in bringing a memory into view.

A key part to memory formation is our presence and attention to the situation.  As more things vie for our attention, less and less gets committed to memory.  Perhaps there is a way to assist in the first part of memory formation so the rest of the process even has a chance.


The beginnings of a game plan...

Elise Pescheret

“Design everything on the assumption that people are not heartless or stupid but marvelously capable, given the chance.” –John Chris Jones

“Artists can have greater access to reality; they can see patterns and details and connections that other people, distracted by the blur of life, might miss. Just sharing that truth can be a very powerful thing.” –Jay-Z

“The most profound technologies are those that disappear. They weave themselves into the fabric of everyday life until they are indistinguishable from it.” –Mark Weiser

“Here is one of the few effective keys to the design problem: the ability of the designer to recognize as many of the constraints as possible; his willingness and enthusiasm for working within these constraints.” –Charles Eames

Personal Challenge:

• Find the constraints

• Work within them

• Look for areas of opportunity

• Can those be modified of eliminated?

• Is this natural?  Is the end-product something with purpose and heart? Does the user leave the experience better than when they started?

Warm & Fuzzy for Good Content

Elise Pescheret

"The people come to read the content.  The content is created by the people.  This doesn't mean it's luck.  Content controls it."
-"The Language of Interfaces" Presentation Deck, Des Traynor

Computers aren't just computers anymore - they are devices that compute for PEOPLE.  In addition, these devices are built by PEOPLE, for PEOPLE.  Thankfully there is greater attention paid to making this more evident at the first interaction between the user and interface.  Content begets content.  Content is the key to making an experience feel like a conversation with a friend.  It makes things less scary, less daunting, and more approachable.

The Inverted-U

Elise Pescheret

"Sometimes we just need to do less, there are limits to the outcomes of what we can design when it builds on what already exists. The number of features, design or content you need to prioritize when building a digital service all depends on where you are on the curve."
-Excerpt from "Doing Less.  The Inverted-U"

The Rule of Thirds

Elise Pescheret

The Rule of Thirds, as so wonderfully described by Smart Design's Tucker Fort, is as follows:

• If we spend all our time just thinking, we are not doing (or designing)
• If we just start making without thinking, we can make the wrong thing, or miss potential
• If we don’t learn from what we have done, we cannot iterate, optimize, and build confidence in the path forward

A reminder that thinking, making, designing, and iterating are all integral parts in innovation.  How they fit within the process for each specific project is variable, but they all must be present.  This serves as an inspiring reminder to quit just thinking about projects, and do something, but do something consciously.  Be aware of the steps you take and learn from mistakes.  This is the beauty of iterative design.    


Elise Pescheret

"When we invest our time and energy in technology — as creators or consumers — we should invest in products that belong in “The Future” and not those that make our lives disappear faster than they already do."

In Jake Knapp's article, "My Year Without a Distraction-Free iPhone (and how to start your own experiment)", he discusses his personal challenge to make his iPhone less of a daily distraction.  His original post regarding this challenge got hundreds of thousands views, confirming that this indeed was something people were interested in trying themselves for THEY TOO were feeling far too distracted by their phones.  Jake goes in to a few easy steps on how to take the challenge for yourself, but my major take away was when he looked at the things he wanted to keep on his phone; the essentials.  The essentials are different for everyone, depending on your passions and interests.  The essentials are driven by daily conveniences.  The essentials make your life better without sacrificing the beauty of human interaction and free-thinking.  

In moving forward to help design products, I keep this thought in the back of my head.  There are enough things that invite further distraction in our already chaotic lives - why add to that.

Specialist vs. Generalist

Elise Pescheret

Ah, the age old debate of specialist vs. generalist.  Which is better?  Which is worse?  Who has it right?  Which one produces better work?  We could go on and on....


I recently read this article posted on Wired, "Why the Best Designers Don’t Specialize in Any One Thing", and had a thought about generalists.  Perhaps, we all are to become a bit of a "generalist" ourselves in our work environment.  On the same note though, that means that we can still be specialists that simply work in more holistic team environments, being empathetic and actively interested in what the rest of the team is doing.  Maybe it is just a matter of redefining how we, as designers, interpret the term "generalist".

Daily Rituals That Inspire Creativity

Elise Pescheret

Learning to establish a routine to make space for creative inspiration while avoiding creative burnout.

I am a self-declared morning person.  I love getting out the door with running shoes on, scaling the hills as the sun rises over the hills in the distance, illuminating the barges on the bay, and trickling up the top of Bernal Hill where I meet it.  Then it’s back down to get moving on my daily to-do’s.  I find that starting early is the best way for me to give my mind a chance to wake up and think freely before committing itself to the day’s tasks. 

Though there are certainly other creative thinkers that prefer to start their days on a different note.  Take for example, Benjamin Franklin who liked to enjoy an “air bath” each morning, in which he sat around naked, whatever the weather.  Or looking to a more recent example at Airbnb’s CMO, Jonathan Mildenhall, who makes it known that he not be disturbed by any form of communication between the hours of 6-8am, as it is his time to focus and build his spirits for the daily grind.  Whatever the case, people are creatures of habit, yet some habits seem to allow room for more creative inspiration, fueling creativity. 

Cooper recently wrote about “The Creative Habit” in their online journal, giving praise to the establishing a predictable pattern to your day.  They wrote that a “deliberate workflow helps eliminate stress, increase focus, and allow your brain to think creatively.”  I agree with this sentiment, though fear a lifestyle that is too structured, resulting in a robotic movement through the motions each day.  As with anything, it appears the best solution is a healthy balance: create a structure for your day, but also commit to trying something new each week.  I’ve often heard the best way to stay inspired is to try something new, anything new, whether that be trying out a new way to work or a experimenting with a new recipe. 

As I move forward in establishing my daily pattern, I’d like to commit to trying at least one new thing a week, challenging my skills and inviting potentially uncomfortable situations.  I’d invite you to take the challenge as well.


Elise Pescheret

I think it’s fair to say almost no one wants disruption. I think that what almost everyone does want is something better. And the art of disruption then is being able to figure out what is the likely path to get you from here to that better place with the least amount of appropriate fallout. So, you know, I spoke to the Newspaper Publishers of America 15 years ago and described in fairly startling detail, how the entire industry was going to fall apart and die. And that’s not a useful form of disruption because I wasn’t able to describe to them which boats they needed and which river they ought to start crossing right now. And if you want to be a leader, part of what you need to do is leverage the tools you’ve got, the people you have and the momentum you have to do something that might not be comfortable and might not be fun, but at least takes you to a new place in a way that’s productive and useful.
— Seth Godin

Thinking about leadership and how the role of leaders and how we define them is changing.  As Seth mentions, no longer are you required to be charismatic or charming. Rather, he suggests, that you become a leader and the charisma follows.  I find this empowering and resonating with the role of a user experience designer; your job is to lead change, or at least provide all the tools and persuasion to get people moving in the right direction, towards an impactful change.  You need not fit the typical mental model of a “leader”, but rather can lead by being informational and committed to honest research.  Leading a non-threatening disruption, driven by well-developed insights rather than hot-headedness.   


Creative Confidence: A Rediscovery

Elise Pescheret

Creative confidence to me is the replacing ego with curiosity and bravery.  It is the return to a childlike state of mind, where self-awareness is low and spontaneous ideation is at an all-time high.  As we move forward in life, there are attempts to make this spontaneous ideation, well, less spontaneous.  Champion creativity as a craft.  Predictable, measurable results.  Give it a grade, give it a round of applause.  However, predictable creativity is a paradox, resulting in ideas built out of already confirmed realities.  Why fix something that isn’t broken?  Because it might actually be broken, yet you’ve been too focused on convincing others that it is indeed working.  I rediscovered my creative confidence when I turned to abstract painting, a creative passion that brought me joy but also was subject to public critique.  Scary?  You bet.  Liberating?  More than I could have possibly imagined.