Why I share Friday design thoughts with my team | by Michael McWatters | May, 2023

I post little thoughts in our design team’s Slack channel every Friday morning. I think of them as either a reflective coda to the week we’re leaving behind, or a bit of inspiration for the week ahead. Or both.

Most are quotes. A few are not. Most are about design. A few are not. Most are short. A few are not. Occasionally I’ll do a little editorializing, add my own framing. I always link to the author or source, in case anyone wants to dig deeper. Some thoughts spark a conversation. Most garner a few emojis. Some colleagues have said they appreciate this little ritual. Many haven’t said anything at all.

Which might beg the question, with such a soft response, why do it? A bit of altruism, a bit of selfishness.

I like to think one thought or another will land with someone, just as it landed with me when I found it. I think of it as an easy way to pay it forward, to share things that are useful, inspiring, provocative, or just generally intriguing.

And I think rituals are important. Ceremonies are important. Even the smallest rituals and ceremonies help build a shared culture, a common experience, a connectedness. This is especially important for distributed teams. (And it’s a lot cheaper and safer than having everyone bond at a rope-climbing course.)

It’s easy to get lazy, to stop learning and growing. It takes work to hunt down interesting, meaningful ideas, and it’s work I might not do if I hadn’t formalized the ritual into a self-assigned weekly task. So every week I hunt for something interesting—to me at least. Something I might incorporate into my creative, professional, or personal life. I can justify the “research” (aka, surfing around the web) by telling myself whatever I find might help someone else.

Basically, it’s an act of indeterminate good with no risk of harm. Sort of like a Vitamin C supplement.

Science tells us we’re more likely to do good stuff like eating healthy or trimming our nails if we make them habitual. I created a weekly reminder in ToDoist for 8 am every Friday. Ping, a little nudge to find and share something. I give myself 30 minutes.

I’m always saving interesting quotes and insights, but I enjoy the hunt, so I usually try to find something new. Fresh meat. If I hit my 30-minute limit and I haven’t found anything, I go to my reserves.

Here are some Friday Design Thoughts I’ve shared over the past couple of months:

  • 🧠 “I’d much rather visit a supermarket than an art gallery, and watch how people interact with the space and the products there.” — Brendan Dawes, Analog In, Digital Out
  • 🧠 “You can optimize everything and still fail, because you have to optimize for the right things. That’s where more reflection and qualitative approaches come in. By asking why, we can see the opportunity for something better beyond the bounds of the current best. Even math has its limits.” — Erika Hall, Just Enough Research
  • 🧠 “We must design for the way people behave, not for how we would wish them to behave.”—Donald Norman, Living with Complexity
  • 🧠 “People often talk about returning to a mythical past state where things were simpler and good. Sometimes people point to a time where men only wore long pants, sometimes they mean ‘before agriculture.’ As if the world has an undo button. But the past is immutable. The only unbreakable thing in the world is the past! Which means you can really only do new things, even if they feel like you’ve done them before. Over and over, new things, for your whole life. It feels strange to put it like that, like I should have changed more, made more of my thoughts, imagined more broadly. But you got to work with what you have.” — Paul Ford, Things Left Undone
  • 🧠 “The pursuit of normality is the ultimate sacrifice of potential.” — Faith Jegede, What I’ve learned from my autistic brothers (TED Talk)
  • 🧠 “To be a good designer, you would need to have deep and far-reaching interests outside of the profession.”—Stefan Sagmeister (This reminds me of something I wrote a while ago.)
  • 🧠 “Don’t make me think.”—Steve Krug, Don’t Make Me Think
  • 🧠 “Always design a thing by considering it in its next larger context—a chair in a room, a room in a house, a house in an environment, an environment in a city plan.”—Eero Saarinen
  • 🧠 “Sometimes when an idea flashes, you distrust it because it seems too easy. You qualify it with all kinds of evasive phrases because you’re timid about it. But often, this turns out to be the best idea of all.”—Saul Bass
  • 🧠 “Design adds value faster than it adds costs.”—Thomas C. Gale
  • 🧠 “Elegance in objects is everybody’s right, and it shouldn’t cost more than ugliness.”—Paola Antonelli
  • 🧠 “When you make something no on hates, no one loves it.”—Tibor Kalman
  • 🧠 “Designers shooting for usable is like a chef shooting for edible.”—Aaron Walter

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