The Creative MBA #9
The Middle Way, modularity, product-market fit, responsive design, and company-employee fit
“A good traveler has no fixed plans and is not intent on arriving.”
I’m back in Los Angeles for a month. As a creature of habit, traveling knocks me out of my routine in a big way but it’s always well worth it. Consequently, writing this week has been harder than usual. But ya know, that’s just part of the deal I suppose. So as my good friend the Mandalorian would say, “this is the way”. Let’s get to it.
Social & Behavioral Science
The Middle Way
The Middle Way is a concept that originated in Buddhism and suggests finding a balance between two extremes in life. It encourages avoiding both excess and self-denial, instead promoting a path of moderation that leads to inner peace and enlightenment. It’s a practical philosophy that just about anyone could benefit from.
Tim Berners-Lee Principles: Modularity
Who better to look to for guidance on designing for the internet than the man who invented it? I’ll get outta the way and let Sir Tim describe the importance of the principle of ‘Modularity’ in his own words.
When you design a system, or a language, then if the features can be broken into relatively loosely bound groups of relatively closely bound features, then that division is a good thing to be made a part of the design. This is just good engineering. It means that when you want to change the system, you can with luck in the future change only one part, which will only require you to understand (and test) that part. This will allow other people to independently change other parts at the same time. This is just classic good software design and books have been written about it. The corollary, the TOII is less frequently met.
Modular design hinges on the simplicity and abstract nature of the interface definition between the modules. A design in which the insides of each module need to know all about each other is not a modular design but an arbitrary partitioning of the bits. (More ...)
Being part of a Modular Design
Its is not only necessary to make sure your own system is designed to be made of modular parts. It is also necessary to realize that your own system, no matter how big and wonderful it seems now, should always be designed to be a part of another larger system.
This is often much more difficult than modularity.
As a product designer, I spend a lot of time thinking about making the best product. My intention is always to make a product so good that it sells itself.
However, when I was a brand strategist, I spent most of my time thinking about how to take an existing product of any quality, connect it to the zeitgeist and align it with an audience. While it certainly helped if the product was really good, it wasn’t a prerequisite.
The lesson? You can start with either a good product or a good market, but eventually, you need both. You need to find the fit. A good product without a market? Can’t sustain a business on that. A good market without a product? Sooner or later you need to deliver to stay afloat.
As Dan Olsen states in his book “The Lean Product Playbook”:
"Product-market fit means being in a good market with a product that can satisfy that market." … you have built a product that creates significant customer value. This means that your product meets real customer needs and does so in a way that is better than the alternatives.
There’s no shortage of writing on responsive design, so I’ll limit myself to three points. The executive summary, if you will.
Consider the devices customers are using (and/or want to use) to engage with your software. Make sure your design responds well in each case.
The range you need to account for changes based on the context. For instance, in my current role, we cater to a desktop experience but we still need to respond well to the range between “laptop” and “big 4k+ monitor”.
Design for the smallest size first, then work your way up.
It’s always easier to add more detail as you increase the space available than it is to remove it when shrinking a large design. Embrace the constraint!
Media Queries are a primary way we technically implement responsive design to respond to things like browser viewport width and device type.
It’s worth getting familiar with them as a tool for creating designs that respond more naturally across the board.
Consider company size and how you fit
In my decade in the business world, I’ve worked in many different corporate contexts:
Leo Burnett → A gigantic, old-school creative agency
American Express → A behemoth, mega-corporation
Vroozi → A tiny, fin-tech startup
Tenable → A large tech company going through an IPO
Signal Sciences / Fastly → A growth-mode tech company into an acquisition
JupiterOne → A growth-mode startup
None is inherently better or worse than any other, but gradually I’ve learned the kind of environments where I tend to thrive: small-ish companies that are still flexible enough to allow me to flex my hybrid skill set. I’m happier, I do better work, and as a result, I deliver more value for my employer; it’s a win-win.
So consider the following:
What kinds of environments do you tend to flourish in? Do you like the structure of a big company? Or does the flexibility of a small shop work better for you? There are no wrong answers, just your preferences!
If you got a little value from this post, consider subscribing, sharing, or following me on Twitter. If you got a lot of value, consider pledging to support my work with a paid subscription in the future. Either way, I appreciate you!