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The Creative MBA #10
The Social Me, A11y understandability, profit centers v. cost centers, style sheets, body of work
“A man has as many social selves as there are individuals who recognize him and carry an image of him in their mind.”
Welcome back to Better by Design, the only place on the internet where you’ll get wisdom from the "father of American psychology" alongside an intro to internal and external style sheets for web development. If you’re liking these weekly breakdowns, do me a favor and share one with somebody you think might like to join our little multidisciplinary tribe. A recommendation really does go a long way!
Social & Behavioral Science
The Social Me
Prominent psychologist and philosopher William James introduced the concept of the “The Social Me” in his 1890 work “The Principles of Psychology”.
The idea suggests that our self-concept is shaped by our social environment and interactions with others. According to James, the social self is a critical aspect of our identity and influences how we perceive ourselves as individuals as well as our roles in society. The following quote gives a nice overview in James’ own words:
"Properly speaking, a man has as many social selves as there are individuals who recognize him and carry an image of him in their mind. To wound any one of these images is to wound him. But as the individuals who carry the image fall naturally into classes, we may practically say that he has as many different social selves as there are distinct groups of persons about whose opinion he cares. He generally shows a different side of himself to each of these different groups." William James - The Principles of Psychology (Chapter 10, The Consciousness of Self)
When we’re making products for people, we need to go the extra mile to see past the generalities. You’re not just designing for a person, but the specific “Social Me” they’re expressing at the moment they use your product. What role are they trying to play? What jobs are they trying to do? A product could potentially be a good fit but get passed over if it’s misaligned with a person’s role in the critical moment.
How has your “Social Me” evolved throughout your life? Can you identify specific events or relationships that shaped your self-image?
How does "The Social Me" explain the importance of social connections and support networks? How do they contribute to our well-being and personal growth?
A11y Accessibility Principle 2
“Understandability” is a key concept in web accessibility (A11y). As is probably obvious by the name, it ensures that web content and interfaces are easy to comprehend for all users, including those with disabilities.
The principle specifically calls out these three points (in their own words):
The text is readable and understandable
Content appears and operates in predictable ways
Users are helped to avoid and correct mistakes
Actions to practice:
Use plain language
Write content in simple language. Avoid jargon and complicated sentence structures. Use clear typography.
Create consistent navigation
Keep navigation elements and layout consistent across your web app to reduce confusion about how it works.
Validate input, offer guidance, and give helpful error messages
Provide input validation and clear guidance to help users complete forms or interact with your app effectively.
“Profit centers” vs. “Cost centers”
At the risk of oversimplifying, a for-profit business eventually boils down to:
Increasing the amount of money coming in
Reducing the amount of money going out
A “profit center” is a part of the company that focuses more on #1 whereas a “cost center” focuses more on #2.
They’re both important, but depending on the goals of the company one might be temporarily prioritized over the other. In the early days of my career I never thought twice about this distinction (probably a good thing!), but these days when the labor market is tightening I think they’re important to keep in mind.
As a person working on the product (PMs, designers, engineers), a reasonable way to think about the business impact of your work is to simply consider whether the intent is more profit-centric or cost-centric.
Designing a big new feature to land a new customer → highly profit-centric
Improve an existing feature to make current customers more likely to renew → moderately profit-centric
Optimizing performance to control AWS spending → highly cost-centric
Make design systems improvements → moderately cost-centric
Let’s talk about the SS in CSS.
Style sheets are a fundamental concept in web development, as they give you a way to control the appearance and layout of web pages. They let you separate the content (HTML) from the presentation (CSS), making it easier (hopefully 🤞) to manage and maintain a website's design. There are three main ways to add styles, each with specific use cases.
Internal style sheets: Also known as embedded style sheets, these are written within the HTML file itself, inside the
<style>tag located in the
<head>section. Internal style sheets are useful when you want to apply styles to a single web page. However, for larger projects or multiple pages, external style sheets are more efficient.
External style sheets: These are separate CSS files, linked to one or more HTML files using the
<link>tag in the
<head>section. External style sheets are the preferred method for most projects, as they promote reusability and maintainability.
Inline styles: Inline styles are applied directly to individual HTML elements using the
styleattribute. While they offer a quick way to apply styles to specific elements, they can become difficult to manage and maintain, especially in larger projects.
Body of Work
The world of creativity is filled with countless stories of big hits, but what about the value of an artist's "body of work"?
In the last 3 years, artists like Bob Dylan, Stevie Nicks, and Neil Young have sold the rights to their catalogs for hundreds of millions of dollars, putting a spotlight on the immense value of a consistent and impactful body of work in the creative business world.
The fact that entire catalogs can be so valuable just goes to show that while hits play a significant role in creating value, it’s the combination of all the pieces in the body of work that drives massive returns. This is true both in terms of an artist’s creative growth and the potential economic return on their output.
So, my fellow creatives, let's go be prolific and make some remarkable bodies of work that build our skills, create new value, and have an impact on the world. The value you add goes beyond the monetary figures (though that’s obviously nice 🤑); it's about the legacy you leave behind and the lives you touch through your work.
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