The Method to Our Madness

One of the things other product / user experience designers and myself try to push for is sharing progress more early, more frequently, more collaboratively, and more iteratively. (I’ve blogged about The Lean Product Playbook before, which dives deep into this approach to product management). Last week I participated in a Design Thinking Crash Course hosted by The Design Gym, and it really helped summarize some of these core philosophies from a product design perspective. So, I want to share some of the central ideas that may shed some light into why it is that Product/UX Designers might seem OBSESSED with post-it notes and strategy decks and whirling in messes of research…

Before we jump into it, here’s my teaser for you: This Semisonic song is going to become completely relevant by the end of this post:

PhasesAs you could see in this illustration, every phase of product design opens with a starting point – usually a hypothesis that needs validation or an idea/direction that needs feedback. At that starting point, the possibilities are wide open. We use whatever methods and activities are most appropriate and feasible to explore different avenues. We draw patterns and discoveries from that exploration to arrive at some better understandings, narrowing down to an at least semi-conclusive end point of that phase. That end point should evolve from the start point from which it originated, and essentially becomes the start point for the next phase.

PhasesFlow

This is where our checkpoints and design artifacts play their essential role, though. The quality of the close of each phase dictates the success of the next phase. If we don’t take the time and serious thought to formulate our findings in some tangible way – whether it’s a series of personas, a strategy deck, a rough sketch, list of features, user journey map, wireframe, etc. – then we’re not concluding all the effort of that phase in a collaboratively useful way. Just as important, if we don’t take the time and serious thought to regroup on those end points before starting the next phase, then we risk moving forward without alignment. Clear end points help establish a unified vision going forward.

 The quality of the close of each phase dictates the success of the next phase. – Jason Wisdom, Co-Founder of The Design Gym

Now, just because we need tangible artifacts at the end points of each phase does not mean that we need to wait until we have a massive, polished presentation assembled. (And yes, I admit this despite a history of 80-page UX documents…but the era of lean is now here). Sometimes a sloppy sketch might do. We want to receive buy-in and feedback before investing a large effort into a single idea, which is why we’re often hesitant about mocking up early-phase design concepts. What if we spend weeks perfecting the UI of an idea thats premise doesn’t work for the client? While it may feel too abstract to seem productive, strategically aligning early on will save time in the long-run.

Design Thinking Crash Course worksheets

Likewise, just because we’ve reached a new hypothesis or idea to validate and explore does not mean that we need to invest massive amounts of time and money into elaborate design research exercises. In The Design Gym‘s Design Thinking Crash Course, we conducted these little activities within two hours and it still helped provide more clarity, direction and ideas to help move forward less obliviously. Of course, if the time allotted for these is extremely limited, we move forward with much less confidence and security (and sanity) than what feels adequate, but nonetheless there is merit to any effort that involves real research and real feedback.

Again, all these efforts come down to the principle of closing those loops strongly. Just listen to Semisonic…

EVERY NEW BEGINNING COMES FROM SOME OTHER BEGINNING’S END – Semisonic

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#LeanProduct Webinar w/ @DanOlsen: 4 Guiding Principles for Great Product Experiences

Is it just me, or have certain terms in the UX/product world sadly morphed into constantly-abused, empty buzz words? It seems that, somehow, words like “lean” or “user-centered” or “iterative design” too often are likened to nearly any exercises involving colorful post-it notes and whiteboards, without even considering what methods and meaning they’re representing. It’s like pre-conceptualized ideas of what smart product experience methodologies should look like are blurring whether or not certain techniques actually are valuable.

The Lean Product PlaybookThis summer, UserTesting.com hosted an excellent webinar with author of The Lean Product Playbook, Dan Olsen. In this webinar, Olsen does not just advocate for strong product experience leadership, but breaks down specific components of lean product management in substantial ways that can help us differentiate those who truly carry out valuable UX/product methodologies versus those who just carry empty jargon.

Here are four guiding principles I’d like to share his deep dive into:

  1. Explore real problems to generate better solutions.
  2. Address real needs to produce better products.
  3. Pursue real differentiators to create better value.
  4. Prioritize real details to craft better experiences.

1. Explore real problems to generate better solutions.

Dan Olsen talks about the importance of differentiating problem space vs. solution space from the very start of a project. Kick-offs, executive summaries and initial business requirements are so important for communicating the core purpose of the project, identifying important requirements, sharing background information, and aligning strategy and expectations of all the stakeholders involved. But great potential can be lost in these first steps if a solution is already specified.

“By articulating the requirement [with execution specifics], you’ve already dictated and limited the solution space…By not jumping into solution space and by just being really clear in problem space, you can identify better, higher ROI solutions.” -Dan Olsen

Personally, I love having a multidisciplinary team together shortly after a project-kick-off to brainstorm all sorts of solutions. More minds means more ways of thinking, more possible paths, more chance for uncovering a common thread that could lead to a gem.

However, that gem won’t shine unless the problem space is sufficiently examined first. If we first identify all the problems that could be addressed, then we can figure out which ones we should address.

“As you get more detailed in the problem space, they’ll organize into related themes.” -Dan Olsen

From there, possible solutions can strategically be explored and better evaluated based on the user-centric thinking that is grounding the process.

2. Address real needs to produce better products.

“If you’re gonna spend a lot of time and resources and money on going after a new product opportunity, there’s no reason to focus on a low-importance user need.” -Dan Olsen

Olsen discusses the concept of customer value on a scale of importance vs. satisfaction. Where there is a high importance of user need and high satisfaction with a product, then there is an area of opportunity to create customer value.

03 - CreatingCustomerValue

However, this area of opportunity should also be checked across the competitive landscape to determine whether or not it is worth pursuing.

03 - PrioritizingCustomerNeeds

Intercom wrote a post called “Product Strategy Means Saying No,” which delves into a myriad of situations when you need to say “no” to certain features. One of them calls out the common mistake of including features simply because competitors have them. In reality, many of those features may not actually be needed, so you’re just complicated the design and wasting development costs by including them.

3. Pursue real differentiators to create better value.

It’s not only about which features to include, but how to include them. Olsen refers to the Kano Model of User Needs & Satisfaction, claiming:

“Yesterday’s ‘delighters’ become today’s performance feature and become tomorrow’s must-haves.” -Dan Olsen

04 - UserNeedsAndSatisfaction
So, when deciding on feature sets, we need to examine which user benefits we are providing and how we’ll do it better than competitors.

05 - ValueProposition

From here, this is when we start imagining what the minimum viable product (MVP) might look like. Here’s where things tend to go wrong, though. Drawing back to Olsen’s previous point about yesterday’s ‘”delighters” becoming tomorrow’s must-haves, concluding that “it works” no longer makes the cut. Making something simply functional cannot be an excuse for ignoring the other pillars.

06 - MVP

“Yes, you do want to take a limited set of functionality. But you need to make whatever MVP you’re building reliable enough, and usable enough, and delightful enough that there’s gonna be something there that people will react to and like.” -Dan Olsen

Here is a great medium article that talks about shifting the idea of a “minimum viable product” to a “minimum lovable product” instead…

View at Medium.com

4. Prioritize real details to craft better experiences.

“It’s rarely the case that you need to deliver 100% of the feature to deliver most of its value.” -Dan Olsen

So how can the minimum lovable product actually succeed and grow? Olsen nicely demonstrates breaking features down into chunks to help limit scope without killing delight, and to translate into product roadmap placement.

07 - FeatureChunks

08 - ProductRoadmap

This is the kind of planning needed to accomplish a MVP with a well-rounded approach. This approach is illustrated in what Olsen pulled out as the “UX design iceberg”

09 - UXDesignIceberg

“It all starts at the base with conceptual design — this is basically what’s the fundamental concept for how we’re gonna design this product to deliver these benefits…When you use a product that you really enjoy using — it’s easy to use, it’s delightful — it’s because the team has really put in a lot of thought and made a lot of good decisions at these lower levels…Good product teams need to be making good decisions across that whole iceberg to create a good user experience. -Dan Olsen

The webinar continues into the important next steps of testing and iterating based on user feedback. But those steps won’t mean much without grounding the product experience design with these four guiding principles.

The Apple Watch and the human behavioral role of discreetness

Monday’s Apple Live event incited a slew of mixed impressions about the Apple Watch, which will be bringing us even closer to The Era of Robot come this April. While the tech world debates the device’s cost, capabilities and digital interactions, I find myself more curious about the human interactions in the context of using this technology in real life. I’m particularly wondering about the role of discreetness.

The metaphor of people with “phones glued to their hands” is distinctly different from the wearable nature of a smart watch. Have you ever noticed how people tend to demonstrate secretive body language when using their smart phones — especially for personal matters? Interactions generally take place with heads down, phones held close to the body, and screens tilted towards the user. “Hidden” placements of phones is so common it’s a cliche, like “texting under the dinner table.” Unlike a smart watch, a smart phone is frequently placed on a lap, grasped in a fist, turned screen-down, tucked in a pocket, stored away in a purse, or left out of sight completely.

Whether it’s calling an Uber car, checking into your hotel or answering a text, the watch will allow you to interact with the digital world at a glance, in a less outwardly antisocial way than you now do with your phone.

The New York Times

How might the attached, exposed nature of a smart watch — which for the Apple Watch is centralized around personal content and functionality — make users feel about the constant, open presence inherent in what’s essentially our personal cell phones adapted as extensions of our physical selves? Will this elevate self-awareness of what’s broadcasted on one’s wrist? Will this hurt real-life social interactions? Will this open innovative opportunities?

Push notifications at your wrist…

From a healthcare and pharma perspective, I immediately see value in having push notifications delivered to a device attached to the body. Information delivery systems generally don’t fail due to failed transmission of the message, but rather to the recipient’s idle placement of their phone or active choice to ignore it. With a smart watch, I see increased potential in habit-changing and adherence based apps more effectively reaching its users.

At the same time, I wonder how the exposed nature of a smart watch might affect the content design. Habit-changing and adherence goals are often private matters, particularly within medicine. An MS patient might not want an injection reminder overtly popping up on their wrist in front of others — especially when the medication and its app are aimed to help minimize the prevalence of the disease in one’s daily life. Will self-consciousness be worth taking into content strategy consideration? Are there contexts in which being discreet will be a necessary design principle?

Personal communication and cognition….

“Ungluing” our phones from our hands can be a conscious or subconscious decision. It happens all the time because we’re constantly switching our focus to prioritize something more important at hand. (Literally). In social situations, we’re prioritizing people in front of us. How will the constant “glued” state and exposed nature of receiving personal communication affect our social behavior? While any given text message, call or chat bubble does not require an immediate response, it will require an instant reaction. I wonder what cognitively will happen in these moments when the attention is divided between in-person and through-the-wrist social interactions.

AppleWatch-LiveaBetterDay

After reading through the Apple Watch site’s section highlighting personal connections & communication, I found the next “Live a better day” point ironic: is the ongoing connection and constant interruption of data at one’s wrist really something that will help us live better?

More specifically, I wonder how the role of discreetness will impact these moments in social contexts. What will John do when Tinder notifications and texts from Molly and Sue keep outwardly lighting up on his wrist as he holds the menu atop the candlelit table of his dinner date? Will professors ban smart watches from classrooms? What will Jane tell dad when he catches a glance of the sexts that just popped up? How many of the 34 emails Susie received during a work meeting yielded glances down at her wrist? Did people notice? Did they capture her facial expressions briefly revealed at each glance?

Sure, there are gestures to ignore incoming content. But the interruption still intrudes upon the social situation because a reaction is still evoked. A split-second glance will be followed by cognitive information processing. Will the human microinteractions generated by these moments hurt real-world social interactions?

The wearable extension of ourselves…

As a UX designer in healthcare innovation, the ResearchKit is what I see as the most exciting and promising aspect of the Apple Watch. I personally believe that smart watches have very specific and limited functionality that legitimately adds value beyond the health & fitness apps we use on phones and larger devices. It’s why I’m less enthralled with HealthKit for the Apple Watch (as much as I’m probably not supposed to admit that). ResearchKit truly harnesses the wearable power of collecting data that can be significantly informative and progressive in the medical field.

I also envision possibly groundbreaking solutions to emergency situations. A means to immediate help is that much more accessible when attached to ourselves, and that much more informative when powered by great web software. Furthermore, the unique role of discreetness can be capitalized on in a very beneficial way. Imagine defense-based mechanism apps that secretly could be triggered to activate and assist in emergency situations like amber alerts, kidnappings, and sexual assault — situations in which overtly trying to communicate for help could be harmful, insufficient in data, or might not be accessible at all.

Final thoughts…

Releasing software is like releasing experiments on human beings. As the technology sphere critiques the Apple Watch’s cost, features, UI and physical design, I hope the conversation of human behavior is further engaged with as well. When it comes to wearables, we need to expand the schemas we use for evaluating general software and interfaces: we need to put greater emphasis on investigating how human behavioral qualities, like discreetness, might play more substantial roles.

2014 Mankind Moments to Remember

2014 was an ugly year around the world. Genocides ripped across populations. Airplanes peculiarly went missing or went down. Mother Nature unleashed wild fire, volcano, tsunami and Ebola. Beheadings joined school shootings as a norm. Violent protests erupted. Vengeful murders and hopeless suicides ended life where there used to be peace.

To me, the saddest part of these grievances is the amount of harm that was perpetrated by one anotherI’ve put together this video because I’m not sure how else to express it. Recognize that each of us cannot entirely imagine the raw struggles experienced in someone else’s shoes. But what we can all relate to is the common thread that every life is attached to people who love them, the capability to suffer, and potential to be filled. The photojournalism included in this video captures too many terrible stories that did not have to happen: Too many parents burying their children, too many young people being sent to kill or be killed, too many grown consciences inflicting pain and death around them…

…Can we please stop harming each other? While these images of 2014 don’t make the world feel like a very hopeful place, I do hope that we as individuals can use this reflection to take our own steps towards a 2015 where we strive to equip children with happy families, include the otherwise rejected, extend love to the lonely, care for the mentally ill, and treat one another with respect. Chaos that used to feel distant is getting closer and becoming more real: the way we perceive, speak to, and act towards others is going to affect how that tilts.

What’s a UX Designer to you?

I expect the usual “What does a user experience designer do?” question when talking  with people outside of design & technology industries.

What’s scary is the vast discrepancies over the answer to that question  according to people within the most relevant industries to UX.

Part of the problem is simply the large spectrum of various specializations which all fall under UX design. OnwardSearch’s “A Guide to UX Careers” infographic helps examine some of these differences. (Although, I would add a “UI Developer” role to pinpoint UX developers who are more equipped with the technical skills to code foundations of front-end designs).

Part of OnwardSearch's infographic of "A Guide to UX Careers" segments some of the various roles that fall under UX/Interaction Design/Development.

Part of OnwardSearch’s infographic of “A Guide to UX Careers” segments some of the various roles that fall under UX/Interaction Design/Development. http://www.onwardsearch.com/UX-Career-Guide/

While OnwardSearch’s resource does a great job identifying differences between job titles, the titles still don’t quite align with job descriptions posted by HR managers or tasks requested by co-workers. This infographic conveys these roles as separate jobs which fall under the UX umbrella.

Instead, I see a spectrum of UX disciplines which range across four core anchor points:

Spectrum of UX Designer Roles

Of course, this a spectrum. So there are aspects of each point which may overlap or fall between others. And that’s part of what complicates the identity of a UX designer’s capabilities, responsibilities, purpose and title. I think it might help to start associating these titles not only with task-based skills, but goal-based verbs. We need to think about who is strategizing, who  is designing, who is producing, who is executing. (You might even classify the latter two disciplines as separate — Graphic Artists and Front-End Developers, for example. But these skills are often coupled under “UX Designer” today).

For example, a UX designer might be designing the functionality of an interface, and may play an influential part in the strategic, visual and technical decisions — but the responsibility to actually produce the visuals or to execute the product may or may not be part of that person’s job. This is where that gray area exists, and where we need to be more specific about identifying the core purpose of each UX role. After all, as Jakob Nielson and Don Norman define it:

“‘User experience’ encompasses all aspects of the end-user’s interaction with the company, its services, and its products.”

UX Magazine highlights IBM’s balanced approach to fundamentally incorporating content strategy and its related roles in the UX design process.

Another major part of the problem pertains to UX designers in that first of four categories — the one which primrily revolves around the conceptualization, strategy and user-centered design. This problem, which I frequently face, is the misunderstanding of the UX design process. For this role, tasks should never begin with “make a wireframe that shows this” or “put this button here.” UX processes begin with the problem and the users — not with the solution. Instead, assignments should start with “familiarize yourself with this company’s product, audience and needs.”

Similarly, UX designers should not be called upon to immediately provide the “expert” decisions for flows, interfaces, visual designs and technical specs without understanding the context first. Whitney Hess wrote an excellent blog post about this subject matter, emphasizing the importance of intel over instinct and intent over matter. Yes, we are constantly researching and testing usability, and we are knowledgeable of the general best practices. But this usability knowledge can only be as valuable as understanding the context and goal to which it is applied. Good UX designers should be depended upon for their attention to details — but always in the frame of the big picture as a whole.

We need to stop expecting UX designers to always know the answer; we need to focus more on the UX designer’s ability to know how to find the answer and convey it through thoughtful solutions.

Please. Don’t ask a UX designer to blindly make decisions. You will devalue their role and miss out on their positive contributions.

10 Realizations of a 22-yr old adjusting to the real world

I know I haven’t posted in a while…so I thought I’d share some major lessons I’ve learned over the past few months adjusting from college-land to real-person world:

1. You cannot depend on people-watching to uplift your commute.

Whether it’s NJ Transit, PATH trains, subways or the streets of NYC, this is what most people look like during commute hours:

2. For the first time in my life, I really want to buy textbooks.

In college, buying textbooks was like a necessary evil. Every semester I’d rack up a ~$500 credit card bill for a heavy load of miscellaneous books to carry around, in hopes that some of them will actually be useful or interesting. Somehow the largest and most expensive books always were for the required liberal arts classes that you had to complete the core credits of for your degree. Every now and then, a professor would pull through with some really great picks — the kinds of books that you opt to hold onto at the end of the year instead of sell back to the bookstore for an astounding $5.42. For me, those were my Italian textbooks and some Design & UX books like Emotional DesignUnderstanding Digital Games and Grid Systems.

Now that I’m no longer forced to buy textbooks, I’ve already bought myself several. I have to contain myself from eBook shopping sprees when things like today’s O’Reilly sale come around. (So many great Design books; so little time)! I’m not sure why this strong change has occurred — Maybe because I can select the books? Maybe because it’s voluntary reading? Or maybe because now that I’m really experiencing my studies in a work setting, I have a better understanding of what I need to know more about…

3. Cookies will probably motivate co-workers.

No one is too old for cookies. If you need to motivate your co-workers for any given cause, cookies will probably help.

This unkillable fly became my mortal enemy in the office, so I placed a bounty on its head. The fly did not survive long.

This unkillable fly became my mortal enemy in the office, so I placed a bounty on its head. The fly did not survive long.

4. Income taxes has shattered my sense of stability & success.

When I graduated college, I knew that I was fortunate to land my job in this rough economy. I also knew that being financially independent wouldn’t just be about getting the job: I knew I needed to quickly grasp a better understanding of my personal finances for both the short-term and long-term forecast. So for the past few months, I’ve kept a spreadsheet that tracks every single expense I make & and all the income I make. It has helped me become better aware of how much I cost to live & how to develop a savings plan.

Nerdy? Yes. Time-consuming? Somewhat. Worth it? Indeed!

"Yay, all my hard work is paying off!---Ooooh, well, half of it is..."

“Yay, all my hard work is paying off!—Ooooh, well, half of it is…”

Through this spreadsheet, I’ve also found it fascinating to track which categories my expenses fall in. The majority of my profit by far goes towards rent/utilities, grocery shopping and transportation. I was being very careful about my spending beyond basic essentials because I knew I’d soon be looking to relocate. During my apartment-hunting phase, though, I learned a raw lesson about exactly how much of my earnings can actually go towards my goal of moving to a safer & more convenient location.

My realization was very disheartening when I saw the breakdown of my earnings. About 1/4 of my paycheck goes to government taxes, and nearly an additional 25% goes towards social security, medicare, healthcare and the slow-and-steady payoff of student loans. That leaves me with only slightly over half my earnings to use for myself — for things like rent, utilities, food, phone bill, health, household items, and then any leftover for personal expenses, fun and savings plans.

I get it now, Hasbro.

I get it now, Hasbro.

I know, this is old news to most Americans in the real world (well, at least to the 53% of Americans who actually pay taxes). It’s just disheartening to work your ass off in college to get a good job where you’ll work your ass off even harder, and see that the reason you won’t be able to afford your planned living situation is not because of you being irresponsible with your career choices or financial spending, but because so much of your earnings are being paid away to government in conjunction with the rise of living expenses in this weak economy.

I get it, tough love from the gov that we all have to deal with…. But it sure feels dismal attempting to establish a stable start as a young independent woman. I’ve learned that my living options will be very limited for these next several years, and I’ve certainly learned which kinds of policies I’ll be voting for and against 😮

5. The 23rd Street PATH station will sexually harass any females wearing flowy dresses or skirts.

It’s an unfortunate truth. Every day I witness at least one lady struggling to contain her dress as the powerful wind tunnel of the 23rd Street PATH train platform staircase takes force. You see the same boring line of commuters rushing to their destination, and then WHOMP — skirt flying in the air, laptop bag thrashing to the side, arms flailing, cheeks blushing, and poor girl frantically trying to win the Skirt vs. Wind Tunnel Battle.

What Marilyn Monroe effortlessly makes look like this: marilyn-monroe-10_600

Actually looks a lot more like this:

283 It’s quite a thrill if you’re a dress-wearing girl not prepared for it (and probably also if you’re a male bystander). As someone who typically wears dresses 3-4 days of the work week, I HAVE LEARNED TO TAKE THE GRASP OF PREPARATION BEFORE ENTERING THE STAIRWAY. Ladies, be warned.

6. Consistent exercise can revolutionize your life.

One of the best decisions I’ve made for myself in this abrupt transition into real-people world was the decision to join a gym. I know, sounds cliche, but I can’t imagine where my mental or physical health would be if I continued on with week after week of being lethargicized (that’s not a real word btw) by an office job.

KICKING ASS ALL OVER THE PLACE

KICKING ASS ALL OVER THE PLACE

I joined the NY Sports Club, which is great because it has one Hoboken location near my home, another Hoboken location by the PATH station where I commute, 4 locations within walking distance of my office, a bunch more locations throughout Manhattan, and a location near my parents’ house. NYSC has my life-on-the-run COVERED. (Would highly recommend for quality & locations. Just be careful — some close at 10pm instead of 11pm, which can really mess up your plans if you’re a late-night-workouter like me!)

So far I’ve mostly felt intimidated by all the beautiful, fit people being awesome around me while I gradually work on getting back into shape….but I’m doing the most important two things, which are to 1) GO and 2) KEEP GOING. Every day I pack a gym bag with me so that wherever I am — no matter how late I stay in the office or out for networking or friends or a stroll through the park — there is no excuse not to go. In fact, once you get into the swing of it, you’ll start to truly look forward to your daily workout. Sure, sticking to the exercise plans means I might not get home until close to midnight some nights….but it gives me the mental clarity and physical energy to contently get up early in the morning and do all I can that day. And yeah, it’s a large cost to consider in my budget. But a cost that benefits my health & overall well-being this much is worth it. Plus, it’s easy to fit in when I regularly find myself opting to hit the gym as opposed to going out for $11 cocktails in the city!

7. Hummus & Pita Co. is the new crack.

…well, the new healthy crack. The Hummus & Pita Co. is like a Chipotle of Mediterranean food, but way better. Their selection is unique, authentic, fresh and absolutely delicious — also quick & good value! It’s no wonder they can have a line out the door during lunch hour. I will admit to deliberately accidentally forgetting my lunch a couple times due to my addiction to the Hummus & Pita Co.

8. Networking events are always worth exploring.

For years I’ve been involved in the NYC start-up & tech community, mainly through networking events. NYC Games Forum is my favorite group which I’ve been a part of for over two years — it’s a community of indie game developers that has grown in size and talent over the past few years. I recently became a co-organizer of Game-Based Learning NYC too, which focuses on educational games (come check us out)! And last month I attended an IGDA NJ Arcade & Demo Night, which was awesome because we not only got to see indie game demos but also playtest & discuss them with the developers.

Playtesting Slash Dash at IGDA NJ Arcade & Demo Night in August. This game will be demoed at tomorrow night's event!

Here I am playtesting Slash Dash with organizer Brian Chung and some other attendees at IGDA NJ Arcade & Demo Night in August.

Sometimes keeping up with all these networking events can feel tiresome. But it’s definitely worth it. Groups that were once approached as opportunities to stay on top of your industry and exchange business cards has evolved into something so much more fulfilling: a community of inspiring teams & individuals within your industry who probably have some amazing projects & advice to share, and who want to listen to what you can contribute back. After congregating at these events for a while, you continue to meet new awesome people, but you also develop friendships with the recurring members.

9. Terrible, horrible, no-good very bad days may happen on a weekly basis.

This might be you about once a week:

Here are some ways I’ve learned to counter it when sensing such a day coming up:

  • Go to sleep at a decent hour
  • Hang out or talk on the phone with someone who usually makes you happy
  • Do chores or knock off some of the small to-do tasks that might be building up
  • Take a quick walking break if you’re feeling it come on at work
  • Do a good deed for someone

10. No matter how busy you are gracelessly stumbling through your endeavors, there is always time to take in the beautiful sights around you.

hobokenview

My beautiful view from my running route through Hoboken Riverside Park. Just breathe…

Thank you, Macy’s, for helping our country celebrate….Usher?

The man chosen to “represent America” through the iconic Macy’s July 4th fireworks show

Did anyone else watching the Macy’s July 4th fireworks last night think that something felt a little…off?

For those of you who were embracing the fireworks tradition elsewhere, the famous Macy’s July 4th fireworks on the Hudson strayed far from tradition this year when it came to an integral part of the show: the music. Apparently, Usher somehow landed the gig of “curating” the fireworks show to “represent America.”

First of all, how does a playlist dominated by modern-day club and R&B music — Avicii, Rihanna, Swedish House Mafia, Jay-Z, Kanye West, Kid Cudi, and of course, Usher — represent America? It was a relief to finally hear America the Beautiful and God Bless America in the mix of all the fist-bump songs I’d hear blasting in a party cab back at college. In fact, the only time the fireworks really felt right to watch was when those two songs played.

Seriously though, take a look at his playlist:

So let’s look at the breakdown of this. (Note: It’s missing “Change is Gonna Come” by Sam Cooke (I’ll give you props there, Usher), and “New York, New York” by Frank Sinatra):

  • 67% club, r&b and pop music
  • 20% patriotic songs
  • 13% other classics (i.e. “Change is Gonna Come” and “New York, New York”

Even more astounding, 27% of the total selection is made up of Usher songs!

This brings me to the other upsetting part about this: this traditional, iconic fireworks show was not so much focused on America, but instead on Usher. I mean, just read what he himself said in response to an interview question asking him “what went through [his] mind when Macy’s wanted [him] to put together the soundtrack for the fireworks”:

“Me curating, it’s far more than me just showing up and allowing my name to be on a bill. I wanted to represent America. I wanted people to understand something more about me artistically. It’s not just me being a dancer on a stage, but being able to recognize other incredible people and what they’ve done. To highlight incredible things we’ve overcome as people in America. Making an investment and being able to empathize and understand and give credence to some of the things we’ve had to overcome. And that right there is what I think creates a legendary artist, a legendary person, a legendary show.” – Usher

Read more: http://www.nydailynews.com/new-york/usher-brings-sizzle-macy-fireworks-article-1.1385388#ixzz2YBsk2jjU

I actually felt bad for this country’s veterans, service people and their families who were watching the largest US Independence Day celebration play not as a tribute to this country and the values we’ve fought to uphold, but to instead focus on Usher trying to become a “legendary person” in a sea of non-patriotic music selections that are mostly made up of genres specifically not enjoyed by most of the adult viewers. Sure, make the playlist more modern if you must, Macy’s (as if using widely-enjoyed classic songs to celebrate a historic day doesn’t suffice) — but at least keep it patriotic and tasteful for your audience. Maybe I’m too sensitive for feeling offended by what I viewed as ignorant, selfish disrespect…but it just felt wrong. We have all day to enjoy barbecue, bocce and beer: let’s at least preserve the 30 minutes of the patriotic tradition of fireworks to be a powerful reminder about our country — not about partying, and definitely not about Usher.

It seems I'm not the only one who reacted this way.... View more here: http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2013/07/05/usher-4th-of-july-fireworks_n_3549899.html?utm_hp_ref=entertainment

It seems I’m not the only one who reacted this way…. View more here: http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2013/07/05/usher-4th-of-july-fireworks_n_3549899.html?utm_hp_ref=entertainment