The Designer’s Dilemma; Designing in the age of Moral Silos, Dark Patterns, Cognitive Biases, Fake News and Artificial Intelligence

I’m curious to see, in a world where we’ve begun to understand much about human behavior, if there is a methodology and practice that can be offered to designers to enable them to design for the good – for themselves and their communities. I’ve started the process by examining Buddhist ethics – or Sila. Much more to come. Soon.



Old Organizational Models

I’m still surprised to see ad agencies struggle after nearly 20 years but it occurred to me a few weeks back that most ad agencies are having a hard time modernizing and adapting to the needs of the new customer because they are stuck and organized internally in an old cultural model that has a history in the hierarchical models of production for film and television. Not terribly surprising and not terribly wrong. But the cultural struggle within these ad agencies is this friction between a very strict and hierarchical model where “advertising” teams who report to a CD are fundamentally different than that of a “digital” team who, by necessity born out of the complexity of their deliverables, are flat and collaborative. To reduce friction is to focus creative teams on developing work that is informed by customer needs and driven to change customer behaviors – for the better – first. Focussing on real customer needs and understanding real behaviors requires a much more robust and holistic view of the more permeable and fluid nature of marketing and branding today. A hierarchical culture is more brittle and cannot anticipate uncertainty nearly as well as a more collaborative system of working together. I would posit that a move to a more collaborative way of working that is more clearly focussed on discovering and understanding needs and behaviors would lead to agency output that would resonate more clearly with customers. Creative that is insights driven, needs and behavior driven, requires a different kind of process than traditional pyramid models. structure1

The Monkey Mind


Thoughts being those random things that jet around our heads. Attachment being the tension/reaction when becoming aware of the thought. Awareness being the “self” or emotional state that is defined by the attachment to that thought. Letting go is becoming aware of the attachment and reaction to that thought.

Learning Loops

Learning Loops


What data wants – creating learning loops to bring the customer closer. Top diagram represents a typical state – bottom diagram represents an optimal state. The more you learn – the closer you bring your customer – and the more you affect your own business model. And the more you learn.

Cultures of Learning


building a culture of learning


Where the opportunity presents itself and the stakeholders/community/company respond with a whole bunch of ideas in response.  Develop a governance system that begins to build and expand learning while narrowing down to a single solution. The output is not only a solution to the opportunity but also establishing a culture of learning. For it is only with a culture of learning that all can extract more meaningful relationships within organizations and with those solutions that have real resonance and tenure.

The Saw Mill Sasquatch – an intro


This is the story of the Saw Mill Sasquatch. May he rest in peace. He was the last of his kind in these parts. As far as I can tell.

Folks said his constant stomping around and scaring the chickens was a welcome relief from the hard scrabble life we had back in those days. A bit of entertainment at the expense of the chickens. It got us out the door to do some ruminating under the stars as we held our torches over his footprints. He never took any chickens. And we never saw him. Just heard the squawking.

We’d scramble out of our houses expecting a fox or worse. And end up seeing a cloud of feathers in the moonlight. And his footprints of course. They were massive. We could never figure out why he did it. Maybe because he kept testing to see if the birds had learned to fly yet. Birds that don’t fly don’t really make that much sense I guess. So we’d stand there staring at those footprints of his as the feathers settled. And wonder where’d he be off to next.

We live up in the farthest reaches of the Saw Mill river. Jammed between the Saw Mill and the Hudson river about a days travel from the northernmost edges of Yonkers, that godforsaken excuse of a village. A bunch of stick-to-your-gin scrod fishing dutchman if you ask me. I’d prefer to think that we’re just a day away from the least civilized edges of Manhattan – except that Yonkers gets in the way and sticks in my craw when I try to say it like that. And I know the Sasquatch felt the same. It stuck in his craw too. A little too deeply in the end.



Mobile applications sort themselves out into various categories – but nearly all have one desire in common – they’d like to engage you. Please. Preferably in a manner that will have you coming back for more. But most applications fail to achieve this because they lack a concept I call presence. Presence, as I see it,  is the ability to manipulate and present data in such a manner that you feel the application expressing a character – and a clear purpose – as you interact with it. The more presence an app has the closer you feel the intention of the maker.

When an application lacks presence the time on the device is measured in minutes or hours. When an application has presence the time on the device has the potential of relationship. Many developers who focus too much on the expression of a technology can lose sight of this and the experience of the application becomes hollow – a one off, “yeah, that was cool but…”. It’s a bells and whistles app without a soul. It’s an empty shell, a ghost.

Presence can be described and developed in a product road map. A well defined product roadmap is like a story arc. The purpose of any good story arc is to keep the reader engaged along a series of state changes. A good state change keeps you on the edge of your seat. A series of good state changes becomes a page turner. State changes in application design are features that are designed in order to enhance the user experience – over time. These can be subtle or rich. They can be conveyed in a simple reminder email, a new feature or content.

Though unlike the linear construct of a story arc app developers and designers can embed feedback loops which themselves contribute to the arc – beyond the narrative. A responsive product lifecycle increases presence and relationship as the application itself develops a meaningful purpose for the user. We all like apps, and will continue to use apps, that have a well defined (and simple to understand) purpose.

So the next time you develop an app think presence.