Anne Aretz
A theoretical thinker, design lover, brand etc. in a digital product strategy and design studio.

A mix of my random thoughts, interests and opinions.
  • There’s the story. And then there’s the data.

    Data does not tell a story. It states facts to a certain extent. It certainly shows part of a story but not enough to stand on it’s own.

    For compelling insight and understanding (thoughtful and empathetic understanding), there needs to be more than numbers. What is the human side of this data? What are the actions that make this data?

    Data will not reveal frustrations, norms, or quirks. It only shows the outcomes or symptoms of those things. Learning the story helps to understand the cause.

    It’s interesting to see so many product stories start with data. For a product to matter these days, it needs to do more than just react to numbers and meet a bottom line (though that’s not a bad thing). It needs to speak to emotional needs of people and compel them to use it.

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  • You could. But it doesn’t mean you should.

    We can do a lot of things these days. It’s actually a little scary how many things we can do. Fly unmanned drones around a city to deliver tacos, build robotic arms and organs. Heck, some scientists made a hamburger out of a lab. 

    The possibilities really are endless and people are capitalizing on them. However, there are an awful lot of things out there that are there simply because we could. Just because you have the ability to, does not mean you should. It is all about restraint and putting thought into things. 

    Making for the sake of making is dangerous. Dare I say slightly egotistical? If you are making something simply because you can, then who are you helping or serving aside from yourself? 

    It is easy to skip the step where you stop and think and question yourself or product. Oliver Reichenstein summed it up best: 

    "We avoid the pain of thinking like a medical examination. We’d like to believe we’re too smart to think. Thinking is stressful"

    Thinking about stuff is annoying. It takes time and makes you ask somewhat painful questions. Does that mean we should skip it? Well, for a lot of us, yeah. And that is why there are so many bad products and services out there. 

    Research is thinking. Thinking takes time and time costs money and you cannot predict where you will come out on the other end. Skipping thinking and going right to making is easier, faster (in most cases) and gets instant gratification. There is no instant gratification in thinking. 

    While there might not be the instant reward, there is the long term pay off that you actually did something the right way. You stopped and learned something. You were able to see what should be done or what needs to be done, not simply what could be done. 

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  • Everything you know is wrong.

    That is what my 9th grade  history teacher wrote on the chalkboard our first day of class. 

    I don’t know if I would say that everything he knew was right or if he was just going for a dramatic start to the class, but it certainly stuck with me. But really it was the gist of his message that stuck with me. 

    You never really know enough to say you know it all. Not only do you always need to pursue new information (the curious always have more fun), but you also need to constantly question and re-evaluate what you already know. Could you do something you have done for years differently? Would that make it better? 

    In the design world as of late, the disciplines are fragmenting (but overlapping). People are fighting for territory and striving to be THE service design guy, THE lean UX guy. They know it all about those disciplines. Do you? Or could you do them a little bit better by learning from the neighboring one? Or maybe even a completely different one? 

    People want to be experts these days and guard that territory fiercely, but that is the ego-driven way. To further a discipline, like design, you need to constantly explore and question it. Find new ideas and methods to put into it to help it evolve as times change. 

    So maybe everything you know isn’t wrong, but really you just don’t know enough and you probably never will. 

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  • "Michael Beirut: Use curiosity as a route into work" - An interview at AGI Open 2013 in London. 

  • Design, Marketing, be friends. You need to be.

    I hear a lot about the evilness of marketing. It gets a little awkward when people find out that is actually what I do.

    Among the designer crowd, I am like Dr. Claw walking into the room and ruining all their Inspector Gadget adventures.

    The truth is, marketing and design should not have this type of relationship. They cannot moving forward.

    In the past (and even today), marketing and design worked in separate, siloed and blissful ignorance. Neither one really cared what the other was doing and they liked it that way. This cannot work anymore. As products are becoming the main points of interaction and recognition of brands and companies, designer and marketers now need to partner together more than ever.

    Designers are working to make things better for users. Ultimately, that is what any product should do. Marketers need to work with designers to communicate what that value is, honestly, and in a compelling way. In some ways, the product should speak for itself, but it also needs to be bolstered by communication tools, especially at initial release.

    Disruptive products are perhaps the most important place for this partnership to start and to really work. Disruptive products, ones that are going to drastically change the natural order, are not going to speak for themselves. Users will need guidance. They will need convincing. They need support and encouragement to accept and interact with this new thing that they are confronted with. That is where Marketing people can help. The best marketers are not the ones that are driven by numbers and bottom lines, focus groups and aggregate data. The best ones are the ones that get people, on a qualitative and emotional level. Those evil marketers are not really all that evil. Again, not the good ones. 

  • Let’s be real.

    Dieter Rams was right about honesty (as he was about many other things). Not just about honesty in design, but just in general. 

    Honesty is about being direct. Don’t make people work to find out the truth. Leave the detective work to the cops and the Nev and Max from Catfish. As a marketing person (only really by title on LinkedIn) it seems contrary to everything marketing is supposed to be about. But really honesty and comfort with that level of openness is the best marketing you could do.

    Marketing a business or designing a product is not too different from interacting with another person. No one wants to talk to a robot, a spiel, a faker. People want to know right away who and what they are interacting with and how to get what they want out of it.

    Your mom was right, honesty is the best policy. That’s not to say honesty is easy. Honesty is a hell of a lot harder than crafting some tall tale or hiding faults under beautiful aesthetics. You’re exposing yourself but that exposure is what makes me want to to talk to you again. 

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  • "

    Brand is an inoperable asset for the customer. It doesn’t make your product work any better. Although it does makes a potential consumer desire your product more…

    …..

    Perhaps the one sure thing is to realize product improvements combined with a relevant degree of marketing. In essence, the proverbial “do both.”

    "
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  • Writing is a form of design. Sort of.

    I have been thinking about storytelling recently as I get back into writing and try and help others try to write. Stories are a means of expression. A creative way to express an experience, emotion, opinion, written stories (not just the fictional novels) are a way to record and share an experience that you are having. 

    Writing can be a wonderfully private, cathartic experience. Something so personal that the idea of actually letting someone else read it is downright terrifying and a little bit of an affront. But in my profession and others, you need to do more of it. And, yes, you need to share it. It is exposing yourself and your interpretation of something for critique. But isn’t that the good part? 

    At Moment, critique is an everyday occurrence. Whatever you come up with in your notebook, InDesign or Photoshop is eventually going to be picked apart and questioned. That pretty little thing you created is going to be torn apart and you are going to have to start all over again. At least that is what a wise person once told me. 

    Sketches or digital products are expressions of designers opinions of what some experience should be. Written pieces are the same. They are expressions of what the author has deemed to be the best way to tell that story. Their experience. They are each planned, constructed, sketched, critiqued and reworked before they eventually get before the user. 

    Writing and digital product design call for us to take a step back and think about our personal feelings, the feelings of others, what is valuable, what is interesting, what could make people want to ‘use’ this thing? They are simply different medium. 

    Reading a story follows the same arc of interest as the first time you use a new digital product. And if it is really good, you want to look at again and again. 

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  • Bring back the people

    Design is about people. As designers, the responsibility is to create something that makes things better for people. If you really want to do that well, you need to understand people.

    It’s obvious right? Yet, we’re ignoring one of the greatest toolboxes to help us do that: social sciences and the humanities. The qualitative sciences that help us understand the fuzzy side of humans. Sure, neuroscience, physiology and the like will give you scientific answers but we all don’t have research labs at our disposal. The social sciences, like anthropology and sociology, provide pretty “low budget” methods and theories to at least give us a start in the right direction.

    One thing I keep hearing over and over and, I’ll admit, find myself saying over and over is design thinking. That thing that everyone wants now and firms everywhere are clamoring to do. So, let’s break it down. You take the way designers approach a problem and apply it to places outside design. Designers start with a problem that is centered around people. This design thinking thing is typically applied to an organization itself, which is made of, guess what? People. Businesses serve people.

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  • 30 days of writing. Here we go.

    I have always liked to write. But when writing became a big part of my job, it sort of lost its charm.

    I am going to try and get that charm back. For the next 30 days I am going to make myself write (and post) at least once a day. It may be gibberish. It might even be a sentence saying “I have no idea what to write today,” but at least it will be something.

    So here goes.

    Perception and perspective are two things that keep coming up. How can we better understand our past experiences when experiencing new things and creating new ones? And, how do we see, assess, understand and learn from those experiences?

    It is a tricky thing. Both are insanely fuzzy blobs of feelings, emotions, and a whole slew of other things. However, more and more, I see these two coming up again and again in the design creation, doing and the roles we play in that process.

    Perspective is ultimately about self-awareness, stepping outside of yourself. I guess you could call it an out of body experience of sorts. We need to be more aware and accountable for the role that we are playing in the creation of products and services, but also within an organization itself. It is ultimately about taking a moment to step back and question things. Not exactly questioning yourself, but about the role you are playing. If a product isn’t successful, are you simply saying the consumer/user wasn’t ready for it? Or are you stepping back and saying, what could we have done better? Did we miss something? Perspective is valuable when it comes to creating the future. You need it. Respect it. And don’t assume just because something happened you magically gained perspective, it’s an active process.

    Ah, perception. I guess as a marketing person, this is one that I think about the most. Self-awareness is at play here too, but ultimately it is about understanding how we are perceived. I have pretty much learned to stop trying to control this. Things are going to happen. People will think what they think and there is not too much you can do about it. But. That being said, we can learn from how other perceive and react to us. What does that say about who we are?

    I suppose at the end of the day it is about accountability and understanding of ourselves in the process of making. There are no lone geniuses. There is no design for design’s sake. It is ultimately about playing a role in a problem-solving process. One that can benefit from a good does of perspective and perception.

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