January 8, 2021No Comments

Why you feel uncertain about everything you make

Ask one person you trust for their opinion and you’ll get qualified feedback you can take into consideration for improvement.

Ask two people for their opinion and you may get conflicting feedback that prompts you to dig deeper and form your own conclusion.

Ask three people for their opinion and you may see a trend that confirms or invalidates a theory, swaying you in one direction or the other.

Ask four people their opinion and you have yourself a focus group, whose feedback can support your decisions or make you doubt them.

Ask five people, ten people, 20 people for their opinion and you will get answers across the board, sending you in every possible direction.

Ask enough people for their opinion and you’ll receive whatever answer you’re looking for – plus plenty more you didn’t want to hear. The feedback cancels itself out.

Getting others’ opinion can be valuable, until it’s not. So we must choose carefully when and how we get it. And realize that ultimately, our own opinion is what makes our work original.

September 15, 2020No Comments

The slow creep of mediocrity

Open the app. Scroll. See a baby photo, a selfie paired with a poem, somebody’s dinner. 

Keep scrolling.

See a meme. Hit like. Type LOL, face muscles unmoving.

Continue to scroll: Past a latte, an ad campaign, a polished photo shoot. Past more stolen memes and recycled jokes and sponsored posts.

Like. Scroll. Comment. Like. Scroll.

As the eyes glaze over, the program runs on autopilot. The thumb persists in its mission, a movement memorized in the muscles, mechanical.

Not long ago, it was the job of human brains. But brains required more: An original idea, a twist, a punchline, a strategy, a journey, a hero. The program humans previously ran on – powered by emotion and imagination and taste and individuality – is now antiquated, rendered obsolete by The Algorithm. 

Corporations have saved billions on advertising. Why produce a high-quality video with a unique idea when a meme will do? Why labor over an ad campaign when they can retweet an influencer? Why spend 150 hours on a project when 15 minutes is plenty? 

Why put effort into the work when it will be buried in an instant?

Like. Scroll. Comment. Like. Scroll.

In the new world, this is all that’s required. No ad campaigns that double as high art. No hours spent kicking ideas around as a team, waiting for that magical aha moment. No late nights editing, putting the finishing touches on a project six months in the making. Hard work and deep thought are unnecessary when “good enough” will do just as well.

Humans adapted quickly, without question, to this new world. The automated program runs smoothly. The Algorithm takes care of the rest.

August 25, 2020No Comments

There’s more than meets the eye

You see the edited Instagram post. Not the countless photos and strained angles it took to get that shot.

You see the launched product. Not the dozens of failed ones that never saw the light of day.

You see a shark attack in the headlines. Not the thousands of people who swam safely in those waters.

A perfect, enviable couple. Not the bitter disputes at home.

An award-winning novel. Not the years of rejected submissions.

A successful competitor. Not the looming debts to investors.

You see what’s presented to you: The final results. The exceptions. The carefully painted pictures. The headlines that get the most clicks. 

There’s usually more than meets the eye.

July 16, 2020No Comments

Keep this to yourself

You know that one time you stumbled upon that ice cream shop, tucked away on a path you'd just happened to take on a whim? It was the smell that lured you in. That intoxicating scent of sugar and butter that transported you to childhood with a single whiff: waffle cones, made from scratch. You wandered inside, the scene warm and inviting.

For once, you knew exactly what flavor you wanted. The nostalgic decor, the kind face behind the counter, the swirls of creamy color beneath the glass, told you anything you choose can't be wrong; this place seemed to exist solely for your pleasure, conjured up from your own imagination. You floated outside in a reverie, one generously-scooped cone in hand, realizing you'd just experienced something rare and special.

Your first thought? Tell everyone you know about it.

Your second thought? Keep it all to yourself.

It is curious that we enjoy being the first to discover something good and share it with others. Perhaps because it further establishes what we'd like to believe: that we have excellent taste, a singular talent for spotting diamonds in the rough, an eye for quality. Yet at the same time, we have a tendency to hoard our treasures. We are greedy, selfish. We know good things are easily "ruined" once they become popular. So we are torn between the desire to proclaim (and thus claim) our find, and the instinct to squirrel it away.

That ice cream shop, the acorn dropped serendipitously at our feet and stashed deep in the hole of a tree, is the product I want to build.

Something a person feels they are the first to discover. Something they appreciate so much they want to keep it to themselves. A product they inevitably recommend to their closest friends, because despite how much they want to, it's just too good to keep to themselves. (Which is imperative here, lest the company quickly go out of business).

There's a beauty to this intimate word-of-mouth growth strategy. People who discover your product hold it so dearly, they'll whisper it only to those they know will value their recommendation (those most likely to use, appreciate and love your product). And those people will, in turn, do the same.

What follows is a beautiful chain of quality recommendations. People who align so deeply with your product, they ensure the value and existence of it.

The growth of your audience might be slower this way, but it will be far more qualitative – and that much better for the next person who discovers for the first time.

May 27, 2020No Comments

The universe of shared brand equity

Look at any tech or direct-to-consumer company today and you will quickly notice a visual trend: Simple, sans-serif logo. Short, punchy tagline. Clean, approachable branding.

Companies like this are popping up left and right, offering different products or services to the same demographic. While our assumption is that a brand wants to stand out, these do the opposite. 

Designers may sneer at the lack of originality, but the creators of these brands and products have discovered a fascinating approach: Why stand out if you can fit in? 

Entering the shared brand universe

There’s the obvious side effect to any trend: Everything starts looking the same. 

It’s become difficult to differentiate between today’s tech brands, they all look so similar. And I don't think it's because the creatives who work on them are unoriginal – perhaps quite the opposite.

One recipe for success is to fit into the existing space. By borrowing values and a visual story from other brands, you’re playing off established associations and perceptions in a consumer’s mind. It’s not a far leap for them to trust your brand if it looks like one they already enjoy buying.

Say a consumer purchases a mattress from Casper. Buffy looks like the same company but sells a comforter. Brooklinen the exact same but it sells bedsheets. Thus, the consumer follows the breadcrumbs between these brands for the complementary products they need. They’re familiar with the visual and messaging style, and it translates easily across a spectrum of commodities.

One consumer can be a customer of all of these brands, and these brands maximize on that potential. It works. 

If you want to be the Casper of razors, just look exactly like Casper. If your comforter company wants to reach the same consumers as Chobani, design your branding to match.

Lookalike companies are borrowing from a trusted, established aesthetic. The brand itself isn't at the center anymore. It's part of a family that’s familiar and comfortable to the consumer. It doesn’t have to work too hard to fit into our lifestyle because visually, it’s already part of it.

The risk of feeling and looking replaceable is real, but it seems to pay off.

The benefit of playing to trends

Compared to 10 years ago, the quality of design (especially UX/UI design) has improved greatly. Today we're able to execute on a simple product within days, because we’ve established conventions for everything we do. We don't have to rethink and redesign everything from scratch. Modern design systems and standards are a practical convenience; they not only save us time, they work.

Conventions are shortcuts for our minds, allowing us to execute faster. Likewise, trends are shortcuts for how we perceive the world around us. By leaning on trends, these modern brands have found a loophole to reach customers. 

We can talk about cheating or cutting corners. We can scoff at the apparent lack of innovation. But what is a visual brand if not a cue for your associations, preconceived notions, culture, upbringing, lifestyle? These brands are doing what brands are meant to do. In that light, they’re doing it well.

The question is whether the benefits outweigh the consequences.

What do we lose?

Creativity and originality are nearly synonymous. But maybe originality is an idealistic value. Maybe homogenization is a practical one. Perhaps we don’t always need to be “different” to achieve our goal. 

I struggle to find an answer to it. On one hand, I'm a creative person who values original ideas. To me, a brand is a personality that should be unique. To me, good design means making something that lasts. Something strong enough to stand on its own. 

But my ideal view of design may not be the right solution for all problems.

As designers, we can play trends and conventions to our advantage. It can be a smart and strategic decision to join the "shared brand space.” If I look at it purely from a commercial perspective, I can as easily see why the sameness is so effective. There are two sides to the coin. It’s a fight between my mind and my soul.

May 13, 2020No Comments

Behind the Carbonmade onboarding UX (a case study)

Designing an effective onboarding experience is a balancing act between solving as many potential questions or roadblocks as possible, while at the same time not overwhelming the user with too much information.

Onboarding flows might be my favorite part of a product. It's one of the most crucial elements of the entire experience.

A great onboarding experience can increase your conversion rate, engagement and brand recognition while lowering the barrier of entry – meaning, how fast someone can start using your product the way it's mean to be used.

Our usual onboarding requirements:

✅ From a technical perspective, we need to collect a minimum amount of data for operational purposes. Usually that's the email address, a username, a password or other information we need to create an account and maintain contact with the user.

✅ From a brand perspective, we can use the onboarding experience to set expectations and help the user understand what our product is all about.

✅ From a UX perspective, onboarding should guide the user through basic functionality, making them familiar with essential features or highlighting important parts of our product. Almost like a little tour – not too long but not too short.

I ultimately like to see the onboarding experience in three parts:

Part 1: Account creation - There is no way around it. It can be right at the beginning or further in the experience, but it has to happen at some point. Account creation is usually boring, but it doesn't have to be if done right.

Part 2: Core onboarding - What preferences do we need from the user to make the experience as personalized as possible from the start? What information does the user need to know upfront to have an optimal experience? The decisions here depend on your product.

Part 3: Extended onboarding - Here we make use of progressive disclosure, meaning we slowly reveal important information where the user needs it the most. The extended onboarding can be time or drip based, or it can be triggered by specific achievements or "experience levels."

While there are best practices for onboarding experiences, every product is different and benefits from different approaches. So as I walk you through our onboarding experience for my portfolio tool, carbonmade.com, keep in mind that all of our decisions here may not apply every product. It just depends on the nature of your product and what you're trying to accomplish or solve.

But before we dive into it, here's the entire onboarding in one single video:

Behind the scenes of the Carbonmade onboarding experience

Step 1️⃣ — Minimize forms and cognitive load

For Carbonmade, we decided to go with a phased approach to minimize forms and cognitive load. Meaning, we keep decisions bite-sized, so you don't have to think too hard.

The majority of people don't enjoy filling out forms. It feels like work seeing a dozen input fields all together on a page. The more forms, the more your user needs to work. And the more work your user needs to do, the higher the risk of dropping out.

So we start light. Just one simple question: What's your name?

Everyone has a name. That's easy.


Step 2️⃣ — Commence hyper-personalization

Following our minimal approach, we're asking another simple question: What do you do?

To make it even easier, we autocomplete up to 130 professions and support the user with placeholder text inside the field and help text below the field. (Whenever possible throughout this experience, we aim to use actionable placeholder content in place of additional UI elements.)

The majority of people will pick one of the most popular suggestions. But those who type in something more specific like "Photo Editor" are pleased to find we thought of them too.


Step 3️⃣ — The effort heuristic & perceived value

After you complete the first two steps (your name and your profession), we take over and start personalizing your experience based on the preferences you entered. This third phase takes you through a journey of "creating your portfolio" on the fly and preparing a couple starting point layouts created for your profession.

Here we very intentionally create suspense to make use of the effort heuristic and increase the perceived value of our product. Our goal here is to communicate that magic that is happening in the background. And we don't want to rush through it:

"When a performed action happens faster than expected, users may not appreciate the effort put into it or believe that the action happened at all." (Great article here that describes how the perceived value and perceived functionalism can be explained through the effort heuristic.)

Ultimately, personalization and custom layouts for each profession is one of our biggest features, and we want to make sure that value is highlighted and understood.

Step 4️⃣ — Unpacking the goodness

This is where the real experience starts. There's a lot to unpack in this screen but every single little detail has its purpose. Let's break it down:

Personalization in copy — We add your first name as a logo to each preset option. It's a little detail that feels special once you notice it. We are specific about the headline copy, emphasizing that this is now all about YOUR profession.

Visual identification — Each layout is personalized for your profession. If you sign up as a 3D artist, you'll see 3D work everywhere. If you sign up as a photographer, all verbiage and layout designs revolve around photography. Another small (but big) detail, and if I didn't point it out here you wouldn't even notice. But subconsciously you feel understood seeing work you can identify with on the screen.

Aspirational identification — Each layout option has a title specifically designed to align with a certain personality type, or at least one we aspire to. Instead of using quirky layout names or generic terms, we use titles you might use to describe your own work. Again, a small detail but subconsciously you'll lean into one direction, based on your personality and aspirations.

Value verbiage — We take care to make every word in this experience relays value. Once again: it's the tiny, seemingly negligible details that add up to a lot. When you hover over layout options, for example, we use the word "Customize" instead of "Select." The word "Customize" implies you have control.

The paradox of choice — To avoid overwhelming you with options, we limit your choices to four layouts. But we know making this foundational decision can still introduce a little bit of panic if you fear being locked into your choice. To avoid drop-off at this point, a friendly note appears in the lower right corner that looks like a personal message. We wait a second or two before it pops up. Our goal? Circumvent this potential barrier by telling you this is not a final decision. You'll be able to customize everything later, so you don't need to worry about making the "wrong" decision. Existential crisis averted.

Everything you see in the above screen is designed to motivate you to pick a layout and feel confident in your choice, which keeps you moving onto the next step toward conversion. It also serves as a primer for what you can expect from the Carbonmade experience moving forward.


Step 5️⃣ — The final step

We made it! All we need is your email address and you have an account. That's right, no password. The "magic link" login is yet another intentional decision to make this experience as effortless for you as possible. But we're not done until we're done. Here's how we get you to the finish line.

Employing the sunk cost fallacy — Here we take advantage of a very human tendency: When we've put in effort and time into something, we feel the need to see it through to the end. Otherwise, all the investment we made was for nothing. It's a nuanced psychological behavior; if we would've made this any longer, you may have dropped out. If we would've made it much shorter, there wouldn't be enough "investment" from your side to justify an account creation.

A progress bar is an example of another UI element that makes use of the sunk cost fallacy. It reminds you of the effort you've made and subconsciously prods you to keep going. "You're almost there," we're trying to say. "Why give up now?"

In Carbonmade's case, we achieve this with a simple headline: "Don't lose your progress." With goal-oriented language, we're telling you that you're almost there. You'll be able to edit your portfolio in just seconds.

Social proof —  Social proof, also known as informational social influence, is a way for us to connect with other humans by gaining insights on what they approve or disapprove of. It's used in advertising, product design or even social situations.

At a critical moment (the final step of onboarding), we use social proof to give you that final nudge to the finish line. It's at this point we choose to feature user reviews. When we see other people we respect are using a product we're about to use, we know we're joining the pack. It might also help us understand that this is not a scam (although, even scams these days know how to use psychological UX principles).


The last act: Extended onboarding

At this point, you already have an account. The first big part has been completed. Now, our extended onboarding comes into play to address any potential roadblocks and introduce essential functions of our product.

We didn't have extended onboarding for Carbonmade at first. We simply dropped users straight into the app. But soon we learned people were experiencing an overwhelming sense of information overload. They completed the initial onboarding, but it was too much information at once after that, so they procrastinated on building their site and ultimately dropped out.

Since then, we've added contextual tips and explicit affordance (visual cues that help you know how or when to use a feature) to progressively lead you along, rather than dumping it on you all at once.

Think of it like a video game. Instead of watching one long tutorial and attempting to memorize everything upfront, a computer game usually gives you small little tasks to complete and accomplish along the way. And before you even notice, you're playing the game and using shortcuts you didn't know before. That's progressive disclosure. It's a way of carefully designing an experience that only gives you the most necessary information at the time you need it the most.

The visual design itself can play a part here too. When you're first hopping into Carbonmade after sign-up, we fade the UI a little bit in the background as we introduce key concepts. You can't interact with the UI just yet, but it gives you a spatial sense of what you're about to see without overwhelming you.

Every product is different, but when it comes to the extended onboarding, you have to decide which two or three things your user actually needs to know, of the hundreds of things you think they need to know. Anything more than 2-3 bits of information will annoy your user and lead to drop-off.

It's important here to focus on communicating holistic concepts – that is, the foundational elements or philosophy behind how your product works – rather than narrow features or functionalities. In our case, we only need you to know this: 1. Everything revolves around blocks and 2. Everything is drag and drop. Just have some fun and try it.


Our onboarding experience is constantly evolving and always changing. It's a never-ending process of improving messaging and making (and changing) decisions based on the data we collect. For Carbonmade, our onboarding decisions so far have served us well – you can try it out for yourself here. I hope it will inspire you for your own designs.

April 22, 2020No Comments

The Kawaiization of product design

Over the last year or two, I’ve noticed a certain style emerge in brand and product design.

Look at the graphic below and you'll see it. The colors are soft and muted, the shapes rounded and the typography unobtrusive. It’s what you could describe as clean. It’s approachable. It’s inoffensive. It’s almost… cute.

Zoom out and you’ll notice this particular aesthetic is everywhere.

As a designer, you can choose your response to it. Some, seeing how it’s proliferated in the tech world, may call it unoriginal. Others deem it "design for designers." There's a hint of truth in all of it. I personally think it may be the most strategic design we’ve seen lately, even at the expense of originality.

The merit of this style is one thing to consider – and there’s no shortage of criticism in our community, if you’re looking for that – but I’m more curious to know: Why is this trend happening? What prompted it? Is it backlash from a previous trend or is there a deeper psychological reason behind it? We could easily dismiss it as the latest design trend, but I think it goes deeper.

The Kawaiization of product design

The word "Kawaii” is a prominent part of Japanese culture. In English, it most closely translates to "cute.” It’s a term used for everything from clothing to food to entertainment to physical mannerisms, to describe something charming, vulnerable, childlike or loveable. As I understand Kawaii, it’s almost more of a feeling than an adjective, a word that defies complete definition.

When a baby’s face makes us smile, or we see a puppy and have an urge to squeeze it, it’s Kawaii. And that positive feeling translates to objects and experiences beyond the classically “cute.” In Japan, the effect is employed to reduce agitation surrounded construction sites. It is capitalized by airlines and Japanese police forces to soften their perception or broaden their appeal.

Kawaii is essentially fulfilling the purpose of design.

Similar to how beauty is a function, Kawaii can be seen as a function. It elicits positive emotions that encourage social interaction. There are countless experimental studies on how the effect of Kawaii promotes calm behavior and narrows your focus. It’s even theorized to have healing power.

Looking at recent trends, it seems that Kawaii has, in some form, reached the West and influenced the way we are designing our digital products. As we move away from the clean yet cold aesthetic of minimalism, we're adopting the psychological power of cuteness.

Our app designs have become soft, sweet, inoffensive. Bank interfaces use pastels, rounded corners and soft drop shadows to make mundane or unpleasant tasks more "fun.” Animojis have taken over our chats, and our productivity tools are starting to look like Animal Crossing.

We are using Kawaii to make our products more palatable and less transactional. Claymation-style 3D hands imply our design tool is our friend. Circles and squiggles say our form-creation app is here to party. The muted colors and lack of sharp corners signal safety. It is approachable. It is charming. It’s Kawaii.

What we’re seeing in product design may be minimalism evolving, or it may be a response to previous trends. Or maybe it's our way of dealing with greater societal issues. Studies have suggested that Kawaii, or fashion sub-cultures off-shooting from it, are a way of coping with social pressures and anxiety. Like putting on a mask to ease the pain of reality.

It could be just a trend, or it could be we are becoming more human, more childlike because we're tired of being grownups. Given the context of the world around us, we are searching for positivity and comfort, and that's why we add emojis to our spreadsheets.

"Havana" landing page image by Tran Mau Tri Tam.
"Specify" landing page image by Romain Briaux.

April 21, 2020No Comments

We’re on the expressway to the future

In the past several weeks, we have been truly *online* for the first time. We haven't experienced anything like this until now. While many of us had access to the internet before, this is the first time we are learning the significance of a new digital world.

We're moving at lightspeed toward the future. A future we predicted for the next 20 years, but not today or tomorrow. The pandemic and the threat of an economic reset has forced us to adapt to new processes, faster.

Businesses that only operated locally are setting up or improving their digital strategy. Restaurants have become remote with kitchens fully focused on delivery, whether they were equipped for it before or not. Yoga studios have discovered live streaming and have been fostering their communities online. Therapists have moved their sessions to Zoom calls instead of in-person appointments. And I wouldn't be surprised if divorce lawyers have adapted to Zoom as well.

Schools and colleges are seeing the biggest disruption. While they scramble to move their classes online, it make me wonder more than ever if we need universities in the first place. Especially in the U.S., students were already asking themselves if a $200,000 degree is worth it, compared to promising online courses and other alternatives becoming more available. We may not be there yet, but we've been questioning our outdated education system for a long time and today, the final test has arrived.

Whatever happens next will define everything for many years to come.

And in some ways, this uncertainty and the disruption of existing systems is what excites me the most. It's a time when decisions are being made, whether we want to make them or not. Old, outdated systems are being abandoned and new possibilities can see the light of day. It's the time where we build and grow, both as a society and individually.

Everything we thought the internet was going to be in the next 20 years, is now accelerated. We're on the expressway – just be sure to get your ticket.

March 12, 2020No Comments

Who am I trying to impress?

I ask myself this question regularly. It's a preventative measure to help me avoid getting side-tracked.

Humans are wired to seek approval from other people. We want to feel accepted. We want to be part of the inner circle. Even if we think we're immune to it, we still fall for it. It's survival instinct.

Unfortunately, this desire to be accepted can take you on the wrong path without you even noticing.

To stay on course, I ask myself this very simple question: "Who am I trying to impress right now?"

If I like the answer, then all good. But if I don't like the answer, I need to change something.

Early in my career (and it still happens), I put so much energy into impressing certain people, for the wrong reasons. Whether it was industry leaders I wanted to accept me, peers I was trying to compete with or my own family and friends, I was always seeking external approval. I spent so much energy just chasing one or two people's acceptance, I eventually forgot why I was doing it.

The desire to impress isn't always negative. It motivates us to get better, to take care of ourselves. But asking this one question, regularly, has helped me stay on my path: Who am I trying to impress, and why?

January 22, 2020No Comments

The quiet evolution of social signaling

Signaling our social status isn’t so much about the brand names we wear anymore. It’s about the content we post and the way we interact on social media.

On the surface, we signal through the articles we share from the New Yorker, the incisive Twitter threads we write about our favorite Oscar-nominated films, the Instagram posts of that immersive art exhibit we visited last weekend. But it has become more nuanced than that.

The design of social media platforms has evolved over the years to maximize engagement. And with each design update, we socially evolve with it.

On Instagram, we see who of our friends liked the post in our feed, presumably because we are more inclined to like it if someone we respect already did. We may reserve our like if we don’t want others to see it, or purposefully like if we want to align ourselves with that content.

On Twitter, a large percentage of our timeline is tweets other people liked from accounts we don’t follow. So we thoughtfully hand out or reserve our little hearts, highly conscious of the fact that our followers will see them. We might have appreciated that stupid meme, but don’t want to broadcast that to our timeline.

Depending on how and when we tag someone in our Tweet, it has different meanings. We might tag a celebrity for a chance to get a like or retweet. We might start our Tweet with a period if we want to publicly shame them.

We have learned to use micro-interactions to our social advantage. A thumbs up carries a multitude of meanings. The lack of one even more.

How do these tiny social signals influence who we are online and offline? How do they shape our conversations, our interests, our taste? If this exchange were happening in private, would it go differently? Are we performing for our audience or being our sincere selves?

As the design of these platforms continues to evolve, so will our social behaviors. Small, seemingly insignificant updates that change how we see ourselves and present ourselves to others. The goal is engagement. The result is a micro-language and social system, one we all silently accept and cement as we tap fingers to phones.

January 24, 2019No Comments

When pride is a good thing

For most of our lives, we’ve been taught pride is a negative trait. Pride is associated with conceit, an over-inflated ego. We’ve all heard “pride comes before a fall.” But without some sense of pride, we would get nothing done and live unhealthy, unproductive lives. So what’s the right balance?

The tagline for Semplice, my portfolio system, is “build with pride.” I believe we should strive to do work that makes us proud, and Semplice is my attempt to help creatives do this. Having pride in our work means doing our best. It means creating something worthwhile, rather than something that just gets the job done. Sharing your work because you are proud of it is not bragging. It’s caring. This form of pride is healthy. It motivates us and keeps us moving forward.

Lately, it seems society has embraced the concept self-love. In our social media obsessed, anxiety-ridden world, we are being reminded to celebrate our accomplishments, take care of ourselves and be unashamed of who we are. That’s all terrific, but this often seems to translate to nothing more than more Instagram selfies. Mantras like “Don’t apologize for who you are. You are perfect.” have, with exceptions, become tired lines meant to sell fast fashion or get another follower. Of course we should love who we are and take care of ourselves, but our current approach seems rather empty.

Pride doesn’t mean you believe you are perfect without flaws. Pride means you are never 100% satisfied with yourself or your work. Because deep down, you know you can be more. You’re proud not because you think you are the best. But because you believe this is just one step on your path toward greatness. In a sense, this is a form of conceit. It’s almost delusional. You set a high bar for yourself without any real proof you are capable of reaching it. But it’s that delusional sense of pride that helps you grow. Pride isn’t just about what you’ve already done. It’s about what you’ll do next.

Being content with what you’ve made, who you are or how far you’ve come is important. Minimizing shame and insecurity is necessary for a happy existence. Loving ourselves makes the world a better place. But if we stop there, we’ll miss out on so much potential.

With a healthy sense of pride comes humility. It's recognizing our flaws and accepting who we are. And at the same time, knowing we can be better.

December 21, 2018No Comments

No regrets

Much of our lives are defined by regret. The one who got away. The job opportunity we missed. The words we never said.

A certain amount of regret can be healthy. It reminds us what’s important. It teaches us to be proactive, assertive, honest, kinder, present. But regret is also toxic. Fixating on the past can cause us to make choices out of fear or obligation. It can destroy the present.

In chaos theory, there’s a concept called the Butterfly Effect. It essentially means one small change can have large effects later. The name comes from Edward Lorenz’s example of a butterfly’s flapping wings influencing the formation and path of a tornado. While the butterfly is just a metaphor, Lorenz’s experimentation methods are still used today for daily weather forecasts.

In a less scientific sense, we’ve experienced the Butterfly Effect in our own lives. If we only hadn’t left our bag at home. If only we hadn’t changed our route on the way to work. If only we hadn’t asked our friend for that favor. Our actions have consequences, which makes it easy to wonder what would have happened if we’d done things differently.

By looking at the events in our lives through the lens of the Butterfly Effect, we can lift some of the burden of regret. If every small decision or action we make can change the course of events forever, there’s no way to make a wrong decision.

If you hadn’t gone out to dinner in the city that night you wouldn’t have been in that car accident. But if you’re considering cause and effect, you can’t stop there. If you hadn’t met that girl at work, you wouldn’t have moved to the city in the first place. And if you hadn’t accepted that job, you never would have met the girl. If every small decision has a non-linear consequence, there’s no one to blame for the result. And there are many decisions along the way (the girl, the new job) that you wouldn’t necessarily want to change. So what’s left to regret?

Of course, there are times we can’t dismiss regret and shouldn’t. Regretting something we’ve done wrong (or failed to do) shapes us into better people. But no matter the situation, regret doesn’t change the decisions we’ve already made. It can only, hopefully, help us make better ones moving forward. Even then, we have little control over many events in our lives. All we can do is try our best right now.

November 5, 2018No Comments

The best work I’ve ever done

What's your favorite project you’ve worked on? What’s the best work you’ve ever done?

I am often asked some form of this question in interviews, and I always struggle with it. I can never think of an answer I won’t cringe about later. Not only do I feel awkward and self-indulgent answering questions like this, but I am also rarely satisfied with my own work.

I’ve worked on plenty of enjoyable projects and I’m proud of the work I do overall. I share a range of my projects and speak positively about them in my portfolio. But narrowing my career down to one “best” or “favorite” project implies that I’m totally happy with it, and I never am. It feels like I’m saying this is the most I am capable of doing. That I’ve already done the best I can do.

It seems many creatives feel dissatisfied with their own work. An overly critical eye and imposter syndrome tend to be part of the job description. But why are we most critical with ourselves?

Early on in our career, it’s the difference between our talent and our taste. Like someone who has a beautiful image in their head and can only draw a stick figure, it can be crushing to see the gap between our ideas or taste and our actual talent.

As Ira Glass puts it, “For the first couple years you make stuff, it’s just not that good. It’s trying to be good, it has potential, but it’s not. But your taste, the thing that got you into the game, is still killer. And your taste is why your work disappoints you.”

As a young designer, you know what good design is, but you can’t seem to create designs that live up to that standard. As you keep working hard and growing in your career, you close that “gap” and your taste and talents start to align.

Yet now that I’m more seasoned in my career, this self-critical nature still comes down to the difference between my vision and the execution. Perhaps it is perfectionism at play, a weird form of pride in itself. I can see everything I intended to do versus what I actually did. I see the things missing that I meant to include. I notice all the parts where the image in my head doesn’t match the final result.

While the viewer may notice these shortcomings, it’s more likely they don’t. After all, they don’t know exactly what I intended to do. They only see the final result. Or maybe they do notice and that’s fine too. That either helps me improve or, at this point in my career, I choose to trust my taste and talent.

Still, I don’t think I will ever be 100% satisfied with my work. To me, that means I’m being complacent. That I’m not challenging myself enough. Despite our world's obsession with it, I’m not striving for the very best. I’m only striving for better.

Instead of letting the self-doubt stifle me, I let dissatisfaction drive me to keep creating. I compete with myself to do better than the last time. I like to think my best project is my next project. This way I am motivated to see what’s ahead, rather than looking behind.

September 17, 2018No Comments

Online vs. offline friendships

Most friends I’ve talked with make the distinction between an online friendship and a “real friendship.” They believe that only an offline friendship qualifies as a legitimate, meaningful relationship.

They recognize online friendships may exist, but assume they ultimately lead to a “true” offline friendship in the physical world. They’re a means to an end.

I disagree. I believe that online and offline friendships are not only inherently different, but should be respected as such. Even if we’re talking about the same person. An online friendship does not always to translate to the same relationship offline, and vice versa. Some friendships are just better offline, some are better online. Some of them are exactly the same offline as they are online. And some wonderful online friendships just don’t need to be forced into the physical realm, even if conventional wisdom may suggest otherwise.

Likewise, a friend with whom you have great chemistry in “real life” may not be so compatible with you online. I have friendships where the vibe in person is amazing – we get along and it’s fun – but as soon as we take a conversation online (text messaging, for example) our relationship is full of misunderstandings and frustrations.

 A couple of my longest and closest friendships are online. In many cases, we’ve never met in person. These friendships function so well that there is just no reason to introduce them into real life, especially if both parties agree on it or even lack the interest in doing so.

Some might argue that intimacy cannot exist in the same way for online friends due to the lack of body language, for example, and that may be true. Online friendships are a different kind of relationship. But that doesn't necessarily make them lower in quality than offline friendships.

Friendships can exist on various levels and in various worlds. An online friendship might not lead to meeting in the “real world,” but that doesn’t make it less real.

November 30, 2017No Comments

10 monthly subscriptions you absolutely need

Your life is about to get a whole lot easier.

1. You need this online dating assistant.

Spend less time swiping and more time meeting your perfect match. For only $15/month, we’ll weed through your potential dates for you, so you can focus on your romantic future. Our monthly service filters out everyone who doesn’t fit your criteria:

– People with car selfies
– Guys with photos of fish they caught
– Everyone looking for their “partner in crime”
– Anyone showing their abs
– And more!

You’ll find love in no time with this valuable monthly subscription.

2. This monthly Apple adapter subscription is a must.

You’re going to need at least 36 adapters by the time the iPhone XI comes out. Stay one step ahead and purchase your adapters now, conveniently shipped three at a time so you’re fully stocked by 2018.

FREE TRIAL: With our 30-day free trial, we’ll send you knock-off adapters from Amazon that work great for approximately 12 hours before your phone tells you they’re not compatible.

3. Get toasters, monthly!

How it Works:
– One month we’ll send you a new toaster.
– Next month we’ll send you another toaster.
– How you use your monthly toaster is completely up to you.

4. Stay current on your cinema.

You know you didn’t watch that new Netflix original everybody seems to have finished in one weekend. We know you didn’t either. Nobody else has to know. We’ll give you the highlights and talking points for each episode, conveniently printed on pocket-sized index cards, so you appear culturally relevant wherever you go. Here’s a sample:


– Fact: Upside Down creatures are now “Demodogs,” not “Demogorgons”
– Say this: “Dustin is my absolute favorite character on this show.”
– Say this: “Hey, remember when Winona Ryder got caught shoplifting?”

Just think of the hours you’ll save with this monthly subscription.

"You know you didn’t watch that new Netflix original. We know you didn’t either. Nobody else has to know."

5. Never be unemployed again.

So, you can’t hold down a job. We’re not here to judge! We’re here to provide you with monthly letters of recommendation so you can get your next gig. We use the latest buzz words and insider language guaranteed* to secure a phone interview, at least. We’ll even mail the letter directly to your potential employer for an additional fee.

LIGHT VERSION: Can’t afford the monthly subscription because you don’t have a job? No problem. With our light version, we’ll send compliments and inspirational quotes to pump you up for your next interview. Examples:

“You have great hair!”
“I’ve failed over and over and that is why I succeed.” - Michael Jordan
“Dustin is my absolute favorite character on this show.” - Michael Jordan

*Guarantee not valid if you tend to sweat too much during interviews.

6. Remember to call your mother.

We know how it goes. Every 30 days or so, Mom sends a passive aggressive text saying she wishes she heard from you more. With our $5.99 monthly reminder, you’ll never forget to check in with your mother again.

PREMIUM VERSION: For $10 more, we’ll automate your calls entirely. Every month like clockwork, we’ll call your mom and play a 30 minute recording (+$1 for every additional minute) that sounds just like you. Choose from the “Engaged Son/Daughter” package, which interjects a variety of affirmative responses when your mom takes a breath, or the “I’m Taking Care of Myself” package, which provides your mother with assurance about your job, health and relationship status.

7. LaCroix. Every month.

20 boxes of LaCroix sparkling water every month, delivered straight to your doorstep. Stay hydrated and en vogue with one easy, $100/month payment deducted automatically from your already overdrawn checking account.

8. Never forget your regrets.

Remember that one time you threw up from sheer anxiety on the first date with that guy on the Upper East Side? Remember how you blamed it on spoiled Pad Thai and your date chivalrously insisted the restaurant provide a refund when both you and the waiter knew you’d just eaten Pad Thai there that very afternoon? Remember that other time you spent your entire paycheck on a monthly subscription for LaCroix?

It looks like these cringeworthy memories resurface roughly every month. We can automate that for you so you’ll never forget your regrets again. For a small monthly fee (ask about our Lifetime Regret discount!), we’ll text your regrets directly to your phone 12 times a year.

We also offer an optional Night Mode, which pings you every night at 3 a.m. with your regret, so you’re sure to toss and turn in misery until one hour before you have to be up for work.

9. Automate your Twitter rants.

These days, social survival requires you to express your personal opinions on Twitter. We’ll help maintain your woke reputation by activating your Twitter account in monthly fits and starts.

Subscriptions are available at three levels:

Level 1 - Engager ($10/month): Every month, we’ll retweet select tweets on your account from the hottest political activists online.

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Level 3 - Keyboard Warrior ($50/month): In addition to providing Level 1 and Level 2 benefits, we’ll find the latest Twitter pile-on and team up with your favorite trolls to completely obliterate a stranger online.

10. Keep up with your monthly subscriptions.

Do you find yourself wasting time signing up for monthly subscriptions? For a low monthly cost, we’ll sign up for your monthly subscriptions for you! Then you can check your bank account at your leisure and be completely bewildered by how many monthly subscriptions you have (or sign up for this monthly subscription which checks it for you, only $9.99/month).



Header Photo by Photo by Alex Knight on Unsplash

November 13, 2017No Comments

The hard truth about soft science

If I’ve learned one thing after working as a designer for almost 15 years, it’s the fact that humans are awesome, but also weird and always surprising. As a designer I’m as fascinated with psychology and social science as I am with design. After all, it’s the mind that shapes our behavior, how we think and interact with the world.

Social science is the study of human society and relationships, encompassing fields like psychology, sociology, anthropology, economics and even political science. As you may already know, the difference between social science and hard science (such as physics) is that hard science is based on concrete laws and rules, while social science is a bit fuzzy around the edges. Some dismiss social science as “soft science” for this reason. Yet social science has an important place in the world and has contributed a tremendous amount to our society.

The challenge with social science is that it can’t studied with complete objectivity since it’s not bound to one simple law, such as the law of gravity. Social science is essentially confined by perception and ethics. Both limit the accuracy with which we can measure human behavior. And while social science can follow scientific methods as closely as possible, outcomes are usually based on averages.

"But if social science publishes deeply disturbing findings about human behavior or society, it’s a dangerous game."

For example, perception makes it almost impossible to conduct multiple experiments across multiple cultures and seek consistent data in human behavior. And consistency is the validation we’re looking for as it is a pillar of the scientific method.

Ethics limits the way we conduct social experiments or even share our findings. Research in a hard science such as physics could potentially reveal a truth we don’t like, but since it is based on natural laws, we sort of have to accept and live with it; nature isn’t going to change to spare our feelings. But if social science publishes deeply disturbing findings about human behavior or society, it’s a dangerous game.

Take this study, titled “The highest form of intelligence: Sarcasm increases creativity for both expressers and recipients.” Upon reading the headline, we might immediately accept or reject the study based on our personal experiences, perceptions and values alone. The study focuses on abstract subjects (sarcasm, intelligence and creativity) and the findings are based on averages, so it’s easy to insert our own bias in there. But averages are powerful when it comes to human behavior. Humans are more alike than we like to admit.

"Everything around us is designed to be manipulative in some way or another, if we like it or not."

Most of what we do as designers revolves around averages and social science. We design products and experiences based on how the majority of humans think and behave. The very studies we might dismiss, assuming they don’t apply to us, we also leverage to make our designs work.

Everything around us is designed to be manipulative in some way or another, whether we like it or not. Everything is designed to evoke emotions, to make us feel or do something in a certain way. Advertising, for example, effectively uses social science to sell goods and services to as many people as possible.

Yet perception and ethics are subject to change, and so are the boundaries and fundamental rules of social science. That’s why we must be honest with ourselves, seek more information, try to prove ourselves wrong, and sometimes, accept that there are some truths we may never fully understand.

Have a great week,


// Header Photo by Asael Peña on Unsplash - Thank you!

November 7, 2017No Comments

When the pendulum swings back

I’m a big believer of what I like to call The Pendulum Dynamic. Simply put, many things around us can be explained by the simple movement of a pendulum that swings back and forth. Being an optimist, I believe the pendulum swings back a little harder in the progressive direction every time it recovers from the last swing. Regardless, I believe it keeps swinging back and forth, whether we like it or not.

Today, I want to look at how the pendulum swings back and forth between large open online communities (Facebook and Twitter) and small, private online communities (which can even exist within these large platforms). But first, I want to point out that I’m not an expert in this field. This article is more of a personal observation based on conversations I had with friends and recent reading that encouraged me to think about it.

The Grand Social Experiment that is the internet has changed rapidly over the years. In its early years there was nothing even remotely similar to the massive open social networks such as Facebook, Twitter and YouTube that would eventually take over. While the Internet has always been about open access to information and knowledge, at the time it mainly consisted of gated and anonymous communities in its very beginning.

I still remember the time of IRC (Internet Relay Chat) and the vast amount of bulletin boards (online forums). What the majority of these online communities had in common was that they were mostly anonymous and invite only. Most IRC channels you wanted to be a part of were only accessible if you knew someone in it and received an invite. The same applied to the majority of bulletin boards which had an open registration but still manually approved your membership, meaning you just couldn’t jump in everywhere and join the conversation. It was hard to get into these gated online communities and I certainly wasn’t a fan of it at the time.

The anonymity had its pros and cons. The positive part was that discrimination based on pre-existing biases just wasn’t there, at least to a certain degree. All people could judge you on was your profile picture and your online handle, both of which you could control yourself.

"The anonymity gave members reason to be their best, most honest version of themselves — or be their worst (trolls)."

If your forum handle was “Eagle10” (fairly generic) and you contributed with smartly written articles on the forum, no one gave a shit about how old you were, where you came from or what your religion was. People in these communities were simply judged based on contributions such as their writing and their ability to have a civil conversation. If you broke the rules, forum moderators would be quick to give you a temporary ban or remove you entirely from the forum (I’m not a big fan of that kind of moderating). Each forum had its own rules, some more casual than others.

The anonymity in these online communities gave members reason to be their best, most honest version of themselves — or be their worst (trolls). Conflict and the sharing of controversial viewpoints was highly encouraged as long as people did not resort to mindless trolling or breaking the basic rules. I’ve seen many heated discussions in these IRC chats or bulletin boards, yet none of them escalated to what you see on Twitter or Facebook today. At that time it all felt kind of unreal, like a game. It was cyberspace, the wild west of the World Wide Web.

One of the many negatives of anonymity was the fact that you had zero credentials before joining a new community. Since your real identity and all your real life accomplishments were not part of your anonymous online persona, it was kind of like starting over, collecting new status points in a new online currency. No one would believe you if you said you were a doctor, until you shared your opinion and slowly built trust in your online persona. But the saddest part of anonymity online is the fact that nobody can hold anyone else accountable. It brings out the worst in people because there is no consequence for our words or actions.

What I’ve described was the time when the pendulum was swinging very far in one direction. The anonymity of the Internet, and specifically of online communities, around the early 2000’s was too extreme.

All of this changed when the masses could finally access the Internet and Facebook came long. Facebook was one of the first social networks that required you to use your real name and strongly recommended using a real picture of yourself. Gone were the days of anonymity. Enter the time of real accountability and human connections.

While Facebook started off as a gated community (invite only) it soon opened its gates and so did many other networks. Online communities significantly changed as the majority of large social networks became accessible to everyone. Millions joined with a fresh internet connection every year, creating billions of profiles on Twitter, Facebook, Youtube and so on. Slowly but surely, the pendulum started swinging in the other direction. Online handles faded away. Real profile pictures and real names became a common sight. These were true open social networks and transparent identities.

"The internet isn’t a parallel world anymore, it’s an extension of our real life."

Most online communities now require you to use your real name. Now, it seems that only trolls use a fake name and fake profile picture; what seemed pretty normal before has become something sketchy today. The internet isn’t a parallel world anymore, it’s an extension of our real life. It has become one of the primary places we do business today, and nothing is more important than trust when doing business with each other. Trust requires us to show the real person behind the avatar.

Our online persona slowly merged with our real self. We became the same person online as we were in real life, or at least we liked to think so. Twitter, Facebook, Instagram and Snapchat taught us to share like we’d never done before. We shared the same thoughts, information and feelings that we previously only shared in closed communities — plus a whole lot more. The Internet became our primary medium for discussing politics, current events and even deeply personal information. We felt as if nothing could happen to us; being vulnerable and showing our true self online was the right thing to do. At least until now.

Now, I believe we’re at the breaking point. The pendulum is swinging back. People are slowly retreating into gated and more private communities. Folks are putting their Twitter profile and Instagram profiles on private. They are joining invite-only Slack communities and only engaging in conversations on Facebook if they’re in a private group. We want safe, meaningful and respectful dialogue that replicates our highly curated offline conversations. Yet even then, we're careful about sharing any controversial opinions, because our real names are now attached to them. The open dialogue that used to define social networks is dead. Welcome to the age of self censorship.

In a way, we failed at managing our own expectations. With the loss of anonymity we were promised an extension of our much valued democracy, where people can safely share their opinion and where public dialogue is encouraged. To our surprise, we found the opposite to be true. We take everything personally and we're easily offended if someone (most likely a stranger) expresses an opinion contrary to ours. We are overly fragile and see conflict and friction as evil. We aim to be fair and democratic, deferential and agreeable at the same time but we fail horribly at it. We’re afraid of saying something that could possibly offend someone around us, so we keep our honest opinion to ourselves. And if we do venture to express our opinion online, we do so in a nicely packaged passive aggressive fashion, which helps no one.

While it seems like it’s people who have changed drastically, I believe people have always been the same. It’s our environment that has changed. The reason we felt less offended back then was because the internet was anonymous and we could hide behind our avatars. We didn’t take words online personally because no one was attacking us personally, but rather our ideas. And even if we felt a strong attachment to our expressed ideas, we were still slightly detached from our online characters. The real us and our online selves were not the same person. Today, they are.

Now we seek safe spaces that mimic our offline, highly curated friendship bubbles. We wish for a respectful place to share our opinion without the backlash of someone attacking us on a personal level. Private and curated communities work so well because they’re usually made up of the same people as you, sharing roughly the same opinion. Everyone is agreeable by default.

It’s a nice temporary fix, but I don’t know that it’s a good one. One of the reasons your Facebook comment sections are fairly civil is because Facebook does a great job at creating artificial, private communities within your friend groups. Friends that are all agreeable because they share interests and political views. Facebook knows that if they’d open it up it would be a shit show — similar to what Twitter is right now, a shit show.

This is our defense mechanism, we take a step back and hang more with like minded people. Sadly, it’s also a step back for diversity of thought or any open dialogue that involves different viewpoints. When the pendulum swings too much in one direction, it is bound to swing the other way. The question is how far back it will swing, or whether we can find a good spot in between.



Header Photo by Kunj Parekh on Unsplash

July 23, 2017No Comments

Missed connection – we met on a street corner

Date of connection: July 7, 2016 - Lower East Side

You were on the corner of Orchard and Rivington, looking down at your phone.

You were in a crowd of other people also looking at their phones but somehow, you stood out. Maybe it was the way you were vigorously swiping your screen and cheering loudly. Maybe it was the way you were hunched over, neck stuck out and spine permanently bent in an upside down U. Maybe it was the way you nearly walked into traffic to catch a Bulbasaur.

I knew it was love at first sight.

I casually made my way to where you were standing, eyes on my own phone. I pretended to be chasing a Charizard, but I wasn’t trying that hard. I just wanted to be near you.

You glanced up and we briefly met eyes.

“I just leveled up,” you announced. It was the sexiest thing I’d ever heard anyone say.

It’d been so long since I’d spoken to anyone but the voices on my video game headset, so I only mumbled in response. You smiled and then shuffled away to stock up on Poké balls.

I stood on that corner every day for three weeks, waiting for your return. The location was actually convenient for me, it being a Pokéstop, so I gathered lots of potions and eggs while I waited. I set a Lure, hoping it’d draw you and wild Pokémon right to me.

Hundreds of players came and went the first week. The next, only dozens. Then just a trickle, one person here and there.

Then, just three weeks later, none.

By that point, you must have already mastered the game. You’d moved on. The whole world had moved on to the next big trend in just three short weeks.

But I didn’t.

I’m still here, at the corner of Orchard and Rivington, more than a year later. It’s hard sometimes like in inclement weather, but love will find a way. A passerby even gave me a fidget spinner to stretch my fingers between Pokemon battles, or maybe because he thought I was a panhandler.

All that to say, I’m here. One trainer, Pokemaster4u, reaching out to another.

Don’t forget me.

May 16, 2017No Comments

Choose your own emotion

We all have our way of responding to anxiety. I tend to let it build, obsessing over whatever is causing me stress, until I have some sort of minor breakdown. After that I will confront the issue, resolve it and forget it ever happened. It’s a pattern my close friends and family have come to know well, a bewildering game of panic and patience.

Tobias has written about his own approach to anxiety, specifically his first experience with panic attacks. His way of dealing is to laugh at himself. He sort of tricks his brain and body by responding to anxiety with an opposite emotion. Compared to my long and exhausting routine, this strategy seems too simple. A study I recently read about, though, suggests it’s an effective way of dealing with stress. The study found that we can actually turn our anxiety into positivity – even excitement – by simply telling our brain how to feel.

Here’s how it went: In 2011, Alison Brooks of the University of Pennsylvania put participants into stressful situations (singing karaoke to strangers, taking a timed IQ test, speaking in public) and asked them to repeat one of three statements to themselves first: “I feel anxious,” “I feel calm,” or “I feel excited.” She then measured their heart rate and performance while they completed the stressful task. The result: People who said “I feel excited” felt more confident and actually performed better than those who said “I feel anxious.” The phrase “I feel calm” had no effect.

Here’s why: Psychologist Ian Robertson explains that, as shown in another, older study, our emotions change based on their context. So in this case, repeating “I feel excited” changed the context of the situation. Saying this phrase made people approach their stressful task as a challenge rather than a threat. And because anxiety shares similar symptoms with excitement (higher pulse, flushed face, unsettled stomach, etc.), it’s not too far a jump from one of these emotions to the other. Feeling calm, however, is more of a stretch.

"We can influence our emotions by choosing a different response."

It’s not quite like laughing at yourself, but the idea relates. We can influence our emotions by choosing a different response. If we look at a daunting task or stressful situation as a challenge instead of a threat, we can potentially change the outcome for the better. We can reroute anxiety to something more productive simply by telling ourselves we feel differently.

I've tried it, admittedly with less intention than exercised in the described study. Countless times I've told bosses, clients or coworkers some version of "I feel excited" because it's what they need or expect to hear. Sometimes I mean it sincerely. Other times it's anything but true. But saying the words aloud seems to seal the deal, at least in the moment. It almost forces me to embrace a mindset I've verbally committed to. Speaking positively about a negative situation stirs up some small bit of confidence or courage that stress might have otherwise stamped out.

Of course, there are stressful situations in which we can’t just flip the switch and decide we’re not anxious. In some cases, anxiety can be a good thing. It can protect us or make us more sensitive when we need to be. It's a natural human emotion, one we can’t always wish away by chanting a magical phrase, however much we'd like to. Or maybe we don't want to — perhaps anxiety is the necessary factor in motivating us to make change.

But in most cases, at least in my experience, we'd serve ourselves better to channel our anxiety into productivity. Maybe that means freaking out real quick first and then getting to work. Maybe it means laughing at ourselves more. Maybe it’s as simple as saying we're excited until we convince ourselves we are. Maybe you should consult a qualified psychologist on the matter since I'm clearly not one.

April 17, 2017No Comments

The game of truth

When I’m certain I’m right about something, I try to prove myself wrong.

Proving myself wrong is the best way I know to form an educated opinion. It gets me out of my little bubble where strong and invisible currents are pulling me in one specific direction, where I hear only what I want to hear. It forces me to acknowledge that there is a much bigger picture than the one right in front of me.

More often, though, it makes me feel more uncertain about what I believe. When I seek all sides of the story, I usually find that issues are more complex than a simple statistic makes them out to be. I find that the world is not so black and white as I pretend, and that the truth may not be as pleasant or clean as I’d hoped. I learn that two truths can coexist, or no clear truth may exist at all.

This conflicts with the order of the world as we know it. As kids we learn quickly about good and bad. The traditional educational system rewards us for making the right decision between two options. Rather than being rewarded for the right questions, we are rewarded for the right answer. Ultimately, there is only one right answer, at least according to the system. So we grow up in a world we see as inherently black and white. We are conditioned to be lazy thinkers who cannot cope with uncertainty. Realizing there isn’t one perfect answer challenges our worldview and leaves us depressed and unhappy.

It only makes sense that we jump to conclusions quickly and settle for either black or white. Few of us have the time nor intentions to dive into the endless sea of the grey zones. Chances are, we might never find the real truth, and already that thought is deeply disturbing.

While it could easily make me feel apathetic, this uncertainty pushes me. Instead of feeling overwhelmed or discouraged, I choose to make it feel like a game: Can I pull a card out of the pile that changes the whole board around? Can I send myself back to “Go?” All the rules in this game are nonsensical, contradictory, maybe even unfair. I may find myself taking three steps back for every one step forward, or getting stuck for a while in the same place. But the point of this game is not to beat someone else to the finish line. There may not even be a finish line. The point is to simply exist as happily as I can on this game board, and help others do the same.

Information vs Time vs Knowledge (Author Unknown)

Proving ourselves wrong goes against human nature (see: “confirmation bias”). It also takes some work. It’s much easier to prove someone else wrong. It’s also easy to hear an alarming statistic or someone else’s opinion, take it as truth and leave it at that. Because who has time to look deeper? Today, where all the information in the world is available to us and new information is available every minute, we tend to take shortcuts. It feels impossible to digest all the information available to us, so we skim instead. We accept what we read or hear at its face, then move on at risk of being left behind. We are in fact the TL;DR generation. But almost nothing remotely complex in this world can be dismissed by TL;DR. There is always more to the story.

One thing is for certain: Everyone has an agenda when presenting information to you. That agenda is usually one of good intent, at least from that person’s perspective. That doesn’t mean it’s correct. Watch any documentary and you will feel fired up about the subject by the end. Search online for the opposite opinion and you’ll discover endless information that supports it. That information may not be right either. And new information may become available that changes everything (for example, recent research suggests that pasta does not make you fat. An easy theory to accept without question). Not only do we have to decide for ourselves, we must welcome the possibility that we might be wrong.

The physicist David Bohm said, “If we are to live in harmony with ourselves and with nature, we need to be able to communicate freely in a creative movement in which no one permanently holds to or otherwise defends his own ideas.”

David doesn’t mean that we shouldn’t have our own ideas or opinions. I think he means that we should be open and eager to listen. He calls it “creative movement,” words that evoke flexibility and color and change and growth. Imagine what this looks like in a conversation with someone else, or in our own internal dialogue. It’s a conversation that builds up and out, rather than shutting the other side down. When we are open to the possibility that we may be wrong, we gain knowledge. We gain empathy. We gain depth. The point is that we gain.

April 10, 2017No Comments

Not knowing is power

It’s 10 PM. Do you know where your children are?

This phrase, coined in the 1960s, reminded parents to look after their children during an especially riotous time in the United States. When the PSA (Public Service Announcement) appeared on parents’ TV screens, they could not text their children to find their whereabouts. They could not check Find My Friends app. They could call around and hope their kids, or someone who knew them, were somewhere near the telephone that rang.

It’s 7 PM. Do you know if your house is locked?

It’s 3:00 PM. Do you know how many calories you’ve burned today?

It’s 1:30 PM. Do you know what your best friend ate for lunch?

It’s 6 AM. Do you know what the president tweeted last night? Do you know how many hours of deep sleep you got? Do you know how much energy your fridge is using? Do you know how many steps you’ve taken this week? Do you know what’s happening in Syria? Do you know what your toothpaste preference says about your sex life?

Just over 50 years after a PSA asked parents if they knew where their own kids were, we can know just about anything we want to know, at any time. About our lives. About the lives of others. About current events or the current location of our children. We have the Internet, Apple Watches, apps. We’ve got data. Loads of it. That data lets us know ourselves so intimately, we can accurately predict what time we will take our next shit.

The implied promise, or one of them, is that data gives us peace of mind. We sacrifice our privacy for it, even pay for it. We are told that the more we know, the better off we will be. Scientia potentia est. That means “knowledge is power” in Latin, a phrase commonly attributed to Francis Bacon. I know because Google gave me the Wikipedia page in less than 20 seconds. Google also told me that our brains process 34 gigabytes of information per day on average. I beg the question, Mr. Bacon: Is there such a thing as too much knowledge?

Others have already posed the same question, yet we shrug and strap devices to our arms all the same. We are an automated species, tapping through Snapchat stories, scrolling through tweets and timelines and news feeds, using our watches to find our phones and our phones to find our keys. We crave information, and we expect that information to be convenient and immediate. When at dinner someone asks who the bachelor chose on season 2 of “The Bachelor,” which aired in 2002, we can instantly know it was Helene Eksterowicz. They broke up weeks later.

"Are we meant to know everything? Do we really need all this information just because it is available to us?"

The value of knowledge is inarguable. Knowledge has advanced civilization age after age, from cave drawings to the printing press, the wheel to combustion engines, the Turing machine to the Fitbit. Our growth, both personally and as a society, is dependent on knowledge. And yet. Our brains are only so big, and our physical capabilities limited. Are we meant to know everything? Do we really need all this information just because it is available to us? As the saying goes: “What gets measured gets managed," and in this case it gets managed by the computing power of our brain. When do we short circuit?

Comic by poorlydrawnlines.com - One of my favorite comic artists.

Information overload means multi-tasking, skimming, shallow interactions with the world in general. This is the more apparent effect, but the less recognized one is anxiety. Check your wearable to see that your heart rate is up, and you’ll make yourself so anxious your heart rate will increase. Install 100 security cameras across your property with 20 TV screens in your living room, and you will soon assume every passerby is a potential criminal. We all know what happens when one Googles their symptoms. And amidst the political angst of the last year, many of us are seeking more information to “stay informed”, much of which feels negative.

It probably wasn’t Francis Bacon who said “what you don’t know can’t hurt you,” but there is some truth to it. Despite efforts of those parents from the 60s, there were still children causing chaos in the streets and still children getting hurt. Despite our ability in the 21st century to track each other’s locations, send texts and make Facetime calls, we still cannot know where our children are and what they are doing at every moment of every day. We can’t know everything our body is doing on all levels at all times. We cannot keep up with every piece of news happening every minute around the world. Do we even want to? At what point does information cease to lessen anxiety and restlessness, and instead increase it? 

"Where is my Mind" by Ctrl Alt Design

Algorithms and search engines try to help. They condense, curate and filter, hoping to present the information most relevant to us. While often presumptuous and always intrusive, this does help us cut down the flood of information (although we are still just skimming it). What Google can’t control, though, is how obsessively we will monitor and analyze our personal data. The stuff blinking by our pillows in the morning, telling us our breathing rate or sleeping positions were all above or below the night before, resulting in a more fitful, worried sleep the night after. Nobody’s counting sheep these days. We’re all counting data.

It’s said more beautifully by Dave Eggers in his novel, “The Circle:”

"We are not meant to know everything, Mae. Did you ever think that perhaps our minds are delicately calibrated between the known and the unknown? That our souls need the mysteries of night and the clarity of day? You people are creating a world of ever-present daylight, and I think it will burn us all alive.

There will be no time to reflect, to sleep, to cool. Did it occur to you Circle people, ever, that we can only contain so much? Look at us. We’re tiny. Our heads are tiny, the size of melons. You want these heads of ours to contain everything the world has ever seen? It will not work."

A world of ever-present daylight sounds like a horror movie. A world of night and day, learning and rest, knowing and not-knowing, sounds like a habitable place for humans. Because as powerful as we think we are, we are really only melon heads wearing fancy watches.

Have a wonderful week,


February 14, 2017No Comments

Could this be my super power?

 I’ve always been fascinated with superheroes for the same reasons kids are: They wear costumes. They beat bad guys. They have awesome powers. The older I get, though, the more I realize how amazing real human beings are.

Our brains are incredibly complex. We can sift through billions of bits of data at any given time. And somehow, so we don’t short circuit, we have to organize that information. The Reticular Activating System helps with that.

The Reticular Activating System (RAS) is a bundle of nerves at our brainstem that filters out unnecessary information so the important stuff gets through.

The RAS is the reason you learn a new word and then start hearing it everywhere. It’s why you can tune out a crowd full of talking people, yet immediately snap to attention when someone says your name or something that at least sounds like it.

Photograph by Sergio Rola

Your RAS takes what you focus on and creates a filter for it. It then sifts through the data and presents only the pieces that are important to you. All of this happens without you noticing, of course. The RAS programs itself to work in your favor without you actively doing anything. Pretty awesome, right?

In the same way, the RAS seeks information that validates your beliefs. It filters the world through the parameters you give it, and your beliefs shape those parameters. If you think you are bad at giving speeches, you probably will be. If you believe you work efficiently, you most likely do. The RAS helps you see what you want to see and in doing so, influences your actions.

Some people suggest that you can train your RAS by taking your subconscious thoughts and marrying them to your conscious thoughts. They call it “setting your intent.” This basically means that if you focus hard on your goals, your RAS will reveal the people, information and opportunities that help you achieve them.

If you care about positivity, for example, you will become more aware of and seek positivity. If you really want a pet turtle and set your intent on getting one, you’ll tune in to the right information that helps you do that.

When you look at it this way, The Law of Attraction doesn’t seem so mystical. Focus on the bad things and you will invite negativity into your life. Focus on the good things and they will come to you, because your brain is seeking them out. It’s not magic, it’s your Reticular Activating System influencing the world you see around you.

Articles and sketchy YouTube videos suggest many ways to train your RAS to get what you want, but I find this method to be the most practical:

  1. First, think of the goal or situation you want to influence.
  2. Now think about the experience or result you want to reach in regards to that goal/situation.
  3. Create a mental movie of how you picture that goal/situation ideally turning out in the future. Notice the sounds, conversations, visuals and details of that mental movie. Replay it often in your head.

Of course, in reality these things aren’t as easy as they sound, but I do believe that our Reticular Activating System (RAS) can be trained. It’s about visualizing what we want, and then letting our subconscious and conscious work together to make it happen.

The idea is: If I can hear my own name in a crowd of thousands, can I also tune my brain to focus and attract the things that matter to me? I’m fairly certain I can. This is why I keep my Big List with me wherever I go, and reread it often. I have to continually refocus and remind my brain what matters and what doesn’t.

We’re only a couple months into our New Year’s Resolutions (or in my case, Anti-Resolutions) and it’s easy to quit on our goals. If we set our intent and refocus, though, our RAS might help us out. Our brains look out for our best interests. Our RAS is filtering through billions of pieces of data so we can see and hear and be what we want to be. Sounds kinda like superpower to me.

Have a fantastic week,

November 12, 2016No Comments

Love your haters

We all know about them. People who hate on you, or the things you do. A hater can be anyone, someone you know or often someone anonymous.

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October 31, 2016No Comments

The dilemma of form follows function

Stefan Sagmeister says we’ll look back on today’s idea of design and we can’t quite believe we did it.

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October 26, 2016No Comments

The power of saying “I don’t know”

It feels good to say that. I used to speak at a lot of conferences, and at most of them there would be a Q&A session at the end. The questions were usually not a problem, but here and there I would get a question I just didn’t know the answer to, at least not at the time. I always struggled with it. Because the real answer was that I didn’t know, but for some reason I feel like I should know.

"I’m a professional," I would tell myself. "I should know the answer." I grew up in a society where admitting that you don’t know was always something bad. Something you got punished for in school. So even if I didn’t know the answer, I always came up with some bullshit that I hoped seemed like I did.

But then I started being more honest at these Q&A sessions. For the first time I answered “I don’t know” in front of hundreds of people. It made me feel like a fraud. It made me vulnerable because I was admitting my ignorance on a particular topic in a large social setting.

The first time I proudly said “I don’t know,” it was followed by an awkward silence that got deep to my bones. But it felt so good and refreshing, I almost enjoyed it.

I don't know. Why do we fear these three simple words so much? What’s wrong with admitting that you don't know everything?

There are many reasons. The fear of feeling stupid, the fear of losing authority, especially in a moment where you’re in front of a large group of people.

Fear is what motivates us to tell lies, to come up with bullshit just to avoid admitting that we really don’t know. I sometimes wonder how many questionable decisions, in our private lives or in politics, have been made simply because someone was too proud or fearful to admit they simply don’t know the answer.

The higher a person's position, the less likely you will hear them say “I don’t know." Not because they know, but because we use little lies and rhetoric to escape the shame that comes with not knowing.

“I am the wisest man alive, for I know one thing, and that is that I know nothing.”

The pressure is high, especially for those in the lead. Not knowing means weakness, it could mean losing our social rank and respect. But we often don’t even know what happens when one prideful lie builds on top of the other. We’re building a complex construct where  everyone is ashamed of admitting they’re the fool.

One of my favorite examples of this is the the story of THE EMPEROR’S NEW CLOTHES. If you haven't heard of the story, make sure to read it real quick before you continue.

→ Read The Emperor's New Clothes

The story of the The Emperor’s New Clothes is the perfect example of a lie becoming so complex because nobody wants to be the fool, that everyone is made the fool.

The irony is, admitting that you don’t know can have so much more impact on you and other people around you. Admitting that you don’t know will set us at peace with ourselves and at the same time level the ground between us all. It makes us all come closer together and create a closer connection rather than distancing us from each other.

It's the smartest people in this world who know that they actually don’t really know anything and there is so much still to learn. Only being able to admit that you don’t know something will open you up to learn something new.

And while it seems awkward and shameful to say “I don’t know," it often opens up a completely new path of the conversation.

For example, now when I say “I don’t know” I usually continue with the following options to end the awkward silence:

  • 1. I don’t know, but I will find out, because this is an interesting question and I’d like to know myself.
  • 2. I don’t know, but what do you think? Let’s talk about it.
  • 3. I don’t know, but I know someone who might know the answer.

Saying “I don’t know” doesn’t have to shut down the conversation, but can open it up to greater potential than before. Today I promise myself to say “I don’t know” more often.

If you enjoyed this article, feel free to share and as always, you can catch me on Twitter @vanschneider if you have feedback or just want to say Hi (:

Have a fantastic week,

June 2, 2016No Comments

Does depression drive creativity?

The myth of the struggling artist & how Stefan Sagmeister stays creative.

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May 30, 2016No Comments

How to get over public speaking

In the last two years (this was written in 2016) I've stood on many stages around the world giving 30+ talks in more than 25 cities. I'm only counting the talks within the last 2-3 years, because those are the only ones I gave in English, my second language. That doesn't make me an expert, but there are a couple things I learned during this time.

I'm often being asked if I enjoy public speaking. My reply usually is: "If you enjoy the feeling of potentially shitting your pants days before an event, then YES."

More people on this planet are afraid of speaking in front of a crowd than they are of death. Well, at least according to formal studies. On the list, we find "Public Speaking" far above the fear of heights, spiders or even financial problems.

“There are only two types of speakers in the world. 1. The nervous and 2. Liars.”
– Mark Twain

I have or have had a huge fear of public speaking. I don't even like to speak up in a meeting room with just over 10 people in it. It makes me cringe, I can feel the silent judgment and my stomach goes all gaga like I'm being chased by an ostrich. And there is nothing that freaks me out more than an ostrich, please never use one against me. We're in the trust tree here!

So when I started being asked to give talks in front of crowds, I began to freak out and soak up all the public speaking advice I could find online. By the end, I was even more nervous.

This article is for those who read countless useless advice on "How to give a perfect talk" only to find out that they're now more nervous than before. Most "How to give a talk" advice is bullshit because they tell you about all the things you should NOT do. Don't do this with your hands, don't stand still, don't look weird. Small things that actually don't matter, but someone who's already nervous enough will obsess over them.

So let's talk about my main take aways from giving talks the last couple years and seeing hundreds of others:

1. Answer this question before you start giving your first talk:

There are two kinds of people. Those who are calmer when there are family and friends in the audience, and those who are more calm and relaxed when there is no one they know in the audience.

I'm one of those people in the second group. It freaks me out when there is someone I know really well in the audience. I don't know why, but nervousness level is up 10000%. I appreciate an audience full of strangers, ideally in a different city. Maybe because I always tell myself that when I fuck up I'm like "whatever, I don't live here anyway lol bye"

But seriously. When speaking publicly for the first time, it's important to understand what group you belong to. If you feel more relaxed with relatives in the audience, try to have them come to your first couple talks. If you're like me, try at least to not have your mother in the audience for the first time. Practice with strangers.

2. Entertainment trumps knowledge

There is one big misunderstanding when giving talks. Most people think they need to be smart, show a lot of data, share knowledge and bore the crap out of the audience. We think that we need something "worth showing". But you know what? If I want to learn something new, I read a book, but I go to a talk to get entertained. (unless it's TED)

If your talk is entertaining, no one gives a bit about what you talked about. You can be the fanciest developer conference where people may expect live coding responsive frameworks (wat?). But even there, if you manage to entertain and make people laugh, no one will even notice what you just did.

I've always been stressed out about showing a lot of complicated stuff in my presentations. Showing how talented I am, look at my grids, look at this list of buzzwords, look at this piece of code. But ultimately, no one really cares. If I want to see your work, I go online and look at your portfolio. But at an event, I want to be entertained, even if that just means you're doing stand up comedy.

My point is: You don't have to appear super smart, you just need to make people have a good time and laugh. Everything else is a bonus.

PS: Most talks are boring, knowing this little thing saved my ass many times. I've been completely "off topic" at a lot of conferences, but I've been told the audience always appreciated my talk because it felt like I gave them a break between the serious stuff. Be that break, be that person that makes the audience relief, because they've been sitting for hours and all they can think of is going to the toilet.

“There are always three speeches, for every one you actually gave. The one you practiced, the one you gave, and the one you wish you gave.”
–Dale Carnegie

3. Keep it short

Do everyone a favor and keep your talk short. As we all know, people nowadays have an attention span of a squirrel. 1h talks are way too long. 40min is stretching it. 30min is optimal. 20min is just perfect.

If you can give a talk, make it short and snappy. You want people to say "Oh no, it's over already? That was awesome! I WANT MORE!" - If you get that, you won.

4. Start with a joke

This is my little secret. When you enter the stage, everyone is staring at you. Everyone is thinking: "DO ME AN ENTERTAINMENT! SLAVE!" And I'm just standing there, blinded by the stage light, looking into the black void of audience.

Then, I start with a joke. Maybe something from my childhood. Maybe something related to the event, maybe just something embarrassing about myself. Then everyone laughs, then I laugh. Now we're on! The audience is warmed up, my stage fright just disappeared by 83% and I'm ready to get started.

The hardest thing about giving a talk is the beginning. It's the long stretch until you get a little bit of response and feedback from the audience. When telling a joke straight from the beginning you're not only setting the mood, but also you get the feedback you need.

5. Pre-talk tips

There are a few things that make me help cut some of my nervousness right before I give a talk.

  • a.) Always know where the bathroom is at the event venue. If you're like me, you need it right before.
  • b.) About 10min before the talk, I usually go somewhere private and do the superhero pose. Yes, I do that kinda shit. Essentially, you just go somewhere, and you pretend you just won an award with your hands high up in the air. This pose helps A LOT. I'm usually cramped up right before a talk, so this pose helps me to loosen up.
  • c. ) Always ask for a headset microphone, not the one you have to hold. There are so many things you can fuck up if you have to worry about holding your microphone, I prefer just not worrying about this at all.
  • d.) Arrive a little earlier at the event and socialize a bit with the people who will end up sitting in the audience. The moment you give your talk, they're not complete strangers anymore and they can serve as your eye contact anchor in the audience once you're on stage.

6. Create value & be useful

I've written about this already a couple weeks ago. When it comes to giving a talk, there are a few things you have to do right, and there are few things you can do wrong. But there is only one thing you need to nail: Create value by either being useful or by giving people a good time. Find this one thing you will leave people with, whatever it might be.

I also let you in on a little secret: If you are standing on stage, you're essentially telling the truth. You will be quoted, photographed and your every word will be taken as if it's the smartest thing you've ever said. You can basically say whatever you want, as long as you do it with confidence and people will clap their hands. Knowing this gives you a lot of advantages, because it might help you with the little boost of confidence you need. But the fact that you're on stage, already says a lot.

I do hope that some of the above tips & tricks will help you give the talk you always wanted to give. This might be in front of a conference audience, or maybe just presenting in front of a client.

And in case you are interested, I can write another future article about how to prepare a talk people actually want to listen to. If that's something you're interested in, send me a gif on Twitter.

PS: Of course, if you know someone in need who is about to give a talk and super nervous about it, forward them this article.

Find me on this picture:


Have a wonderful week,

April 4, 2016No Comments

Victims of the sunk cost fallacy

As I sat down today deciding what to write, I kept refining a specific article I wanted to share with you. It took me most of my evening but I just couldn't get excited about the piece. It just wasn't good.

Still, I kept refining the article because I had already invested so much time in it. I was also emotionally invested in that topic for the last couple days, so I felt like I need to write about it for some reason.

But besides the time and emotional investment, the article wasn't going anywhere. It just sucked.

Without even noticing it, I had fallen for the Sunk Cost Fallacy.

In economics, a sunk cost is a cost that has already been paid and can't be recovered. Which means any future decisions should not be affected by the sunk cost, because it's already gone anyway.

Or let me give you another example:

Let's say you've been waiting at the bus stop for 30 minutes now, but the bus hasn't arrived.

You tell yourself to wait another 30 minutes, just to make sure. After another 30 minutes, you've waited a total of 60 minutes. Now you tell yourself you can easily wait another 15 minutes, because you've already invested 60 minutes of your time and the bus should probably arrive any second.

It's a never-ending story.

The truth is, our decisions are manipulated by our investments. These investments can be time, financial or emotional. The more we invest, the harder it will be to abandon something.

We mistakenly think that the bus must arrive at any second, because we've already waited for more than 60 minutes. But that's flawed logic. The likelihood of the bus arriving does not change based on our prior investment of time waiting for the bus. The 60m minutes waiting time we invested is a sunk cost and does not increase the chance of the bus arriving anytime sooner.

The sunk cost fallacy makes us eat more food than we're actually hungry for. We paid for it so it would be a waste to not eat it, right? Dealing with the fact that we spent money on food that we throw away seems like even more of a loss than eating until we get sick.

The sunk cost fallacy completely blurs our rational decision making.

I remember working on a project called .Mail app several years ago. It was a new idea for an email client.  I worked on it for about 2-3 years before I officially shut it down.

If I'm honest with you, the only reason I kept working on it for more than a year was because of the emotional investment I had in it. I had also spent countless hours of my time, and others' time, trying to make it come alive. I was driven by pride and the fear of publicly giving up. I fell victim to the sunk cost fallacy.

If the only reason you're still working on something is because of pride and "because I invested so much time in it" you're most likely also a victim of the sunk cost fallacy. This can be a side project or a full-time job you've been working at for too long. You've already stuck it out for two years. You can do another year, right? At least that's what you tell yourself.

Essentially it means defending an investment you've made by investing even more. Although you have no specific reasoning for it other than your prior investment. It's a circle.

“Seize the day, then let it go.”
― Marty Rubin

The sunk cost fallacy is often used as a powerful tool that we designers use to make our products more "sticky."

Games such as World Of Warcraft or Farmville are prime examples of the sunk cost fallacy. For many people there is little joy in playing these games anymore, but they still do because they've already invested so much time in it. Simply abandoning these games would make no sense to them, because it would seem as a loss. But then again, the loss has already happened regardless.

The sunk cost fallacy is around us every day. We're emotional creatures and this is why we keep falling for it every single time.

Being aware that the sunk cost fallacy exists is the first step to getting better at it. I try to ask myself this question every day: Why am I'm still working on this? Is it because I think it's great, or is it simply because of the sunk cost fallacy?

February 23, 2016No Comments

Why you should change your mind

How often do you change your mind? Probably a lot when it comes to what you should order for brunch, or get for dinner tonight.

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January 21, 2016No Comments

Every reason to panic

I’ve meant to write about this for a while but just couldn’t put it into words. It’s a sensitive topic and it makes me feel vulnerable, but I wanted to write and publish it because I wish more people would do the same – especially in our industry.

I barely understood anxiety until recently. I have always considered myself a happy and healthy person. I'm sure I have experienced mild anxiety before, but never to the point that I gave it a name. After all, a certain degree of anxiety is part of the human experience.

But then something strange happened. It was a regular day early in the morning, and I was on the train making my way to work from Brooklyn to Manhattan. About halfway in, I started sweating. My vision became blurred, my head started spinning and I had the sudden urge to throw up. I got off the train immediately, three stops before my destination.

Now I was sitting there in the middle of the sidewalk. I had trouble breathing and my heart was beating fast. I didn’t understand what was happening to me. I couldn’t feel my legs and it was as if my mind was separated from my body. I had never experienced these sensations before, especially not at the same time. I’m not easy to freak out, but I was getting there.

My first thought was that I’m probably sick. Maybe something I ate? That must be it. I walked the last 10 blocks to the office that day. I felt better outside breathing fresh air, not locked in a subway train. I left work earlier that day. My stomach was giving me a hard time and having meetings in the office felt like torture. I just wanted to be by myself.

Over the next couple days, events kept repeating. I couldn't take the train anymore. I couldn't go to bars or restaurants. I always felt like I couldn't breathe and I was afraid I would throw up. Being around groups of people only made it worse. When going out for dinner (if I wasn’t able to avoid it) I tried to position myself close to the exit. Eating in front of other people was almost impossible anyway; I had zero appetite and preferred to eat alone at home. But I still assumed I was just sick. Maybe a stomach flu or something. It will be fine, I told myself. Let's wait another week.

After a few weeks, still nothing changed. I went to a few doctors who all confirmed I was fine, that there was nothing wrong with me from a physical perspective.

At that time, I still didn’t know what a panic attack was.

Then I went to Stockholm for a work trip. I love flying and being on planes, but this was the most horrible flight I ever had. My whole week in Stockholm turned out to be exhausting. The fact that it was winter and I never saw the sun once during that week made it even worse.

One day that week, I went back to my hotel room in Stockholm after work. I tried to have dinner at the hotel restaurant, but I couldn’t get down a single bite of my food. I was shaking and had trouble breathing again. I went to my room feeling spent. I had this overwhelming pressure and weight of sadness in my chest, for no particular reason.

That was the first time I started crying in my adult life. I can’t remember when I had last cried. It must have been at least 18 years ago. Not because I feel like I need to resist, but I never felt the urge to do so. I grew up in a society that encourages men to be strong and not cry, but I don't think that's the reason I never do. It's just not part of who I am. I just never had the inclination to do so. But in that moment, it just happened. All my energy faded away and I felt like I just gave up.

It was weird. I was experiencing a new me – someone I didn't like or fully understand. It just didn’t make sense to me. Was I having the infamous" quarter-life crisis" and no one told me that this is how it works?

I’m a designer. I like to analyze and solve problems so I figured, let's solve this one with me as the object. (Yes, this sounds easier than it was.)

I started writing down all the physical symptoms I was experiencing: chest pain, sweating, nausea and the feeling of being removed from my body in a weird way. I knew that everything happening in my body or brain is because of chemicals, and I knew the balance of those chemicals was important. If the balance is off, my body is off.

After some research, it began to make sense. I was experiencing panic attacks which transitioned into a constant feeling of anxiety throughout the day. Dealing with these shitty physical and mental symptoms occupied most of my waking time. My panic attacks were feeding themselves. I ended up getting panic attacks because I was afraid of getting a panic attack again. I was positive that if I entered a subway train, it would happen again. Usually it didn't, but it was enough to keep me anxious and away from the subway.

I still couldn’t believe it. Why the fuck me? I’m smiling all day, I’m always positive, I love my life and I’m a fucking happy person. It’s almost like I didn’t agree with my own diagnosis. I was angry at myself because I hated wasting time on this. I got shit to do! But I took it seriously. I started to learn more about panic attacks and each individual symptom. I broke it down into pieces. I was on a scientific mission to fix this problem.

I learned that when a panic attack happens, your body is preparing you for some sort of fight or flight situation. In pseudo-scientific terms, this is is what's happening:

At the core of your brain, right in the middle, you have your amygdala. The amygdala is also called "reptile brain" because it's the part of your brain responsible for your deepest and most basic intuitions. Pretty much every animal has it, and we still have it too. It's a little bit of an outdated part of your brain, but humans haven't evolved past it just yet. The amygdala tells you when you're in danger and prepares your body to be ready to face the situation.

When the amygdala notices that you're in danger it sends signals to your body to shift resources from the less important parts to the more important parts. So if you're facing a dangerous situation, the amygdala speeds up your heart rate to pump more blood through your body. Your muscles tense up so you can get prepared, and functions like your digestive system will be de-prioritized. Because obviously, you have greater worries than digestion when you're in an emergency.

Now, all of these things your amygdala does to keep you alive when being chased by a lion, or involved in a physical fight, they're important. But how can that be helpful when sitting on your couch at home alone?

Because you’re in a state of fear, your breathing becomes all fucked up. Instead of breathing deeply through the stomach, you do short breaths through your chest. This limits your oxygen intake and makes you feel you might faint. And all other symptoms are just a chain reaction that comes after.

Breaking it down like this helped me the most. I understood the practical reasons of why my body was acting all weird. The next time I got a panic attack for no apparent fucking reason while sitting on the couch, I focused on all the symptoms. I focused on my heartbeat, my sudden change of breath and chest pain. It all went according to plan.

I looked at it as if my body was another person I was trying to analyze. I suddenly started laughing, as if this doesn’t belong to me. I couldn’t help it. It was just so ridiculous and for some reason, I found it funny. This was the start of my self-therapy. Every time a panic attack was coming up, I started laughing at myself. I made fun of it. I wasn't trying to minimize any underlying issues that might be causing it, but simply felt amused by the overreaction of my amygdala.

Something magical happened. Panic attacks occurred much less frequently and when they did, I felt like I could cut them off at the quick. Making fun of my panic attacks took all the pressure and effectiveness out of them.

Whenever a panic attack happened, I was telling myself. BRING IT ON PANIC ATTACK! YES, PUMP THE BLOOD IN MY VEINS, YOU FUCKING IDIOT! GO AHEAD!

Slowly over time, my panic attacks subsided. Not the way they did before at least. There was no one around who took them seriously enough. Sorry amygdala, my little almond-shaped reptile brain.

But still, I knew I had something bigger to deal with. Constant anxiety was still a big part of my day. I also knew that I need to stop overthinking and searching for a reason. Because sometimes there is no particular reason other than the sum of many you can’t recall. That's what years of therapy can often uncover.

It’s like this with drinking water. If you are not thirsty, there is no reason to drink water in that moment, right? But after one or two days you will experience a heavy headache. Still you might say, I was never thirsty, so why do I have a headache now? Shouldn’t I have been thirsty first? The effect of not enough water is something you only experience later on. Drinking water is basically preventive care. We might not be thirsty in the moment but we know that if we don’t drink it, our body will hunt us later.

With my anxiety and panic attacks, I figured it was similar. I wasn’t drinking enough “water” and now I have to deal with it. But again, it would be too simple to nail down a single problem such as “you work too much." Rarely there is just a single reason. I didn’t know what it was, but I knew it was something. I was on a mission of change. My goal was to change many aspects of my life, which ultimately ended up solving my problem – or at least understanding it. I also knew that I didn’t want to take popular medication for treating anxiety. I knew for myself, this wouldn’t fix my problems but only delay them.

Here are some key points that helped me the most:

1. Breaking down a panic attack to its essentials takes away all its power. We’re scared of what we don’t understand. But the moment we understand how they physically work, it makes them less scary.

2. Anxiety gives you the feeling that you are not in control over your body or actions. Regaining control is the most important aspect to alleviate it. Knowledge gives us humans the feeling of control. Reading up on research around anxiety helped me to see myself more as a scientific subject.

We can also trick ourselves and pick other areas of our life to simulate the feeling of control. If you can’t control your anxiety, you can certainly control your diet, your physical activity or other daily activities. All these little steps will help to fight anxiety and it will slowly fade away.

3. Talking to other people about it. A reported 20% or more of all Americans currently suffer from anxiety or panic attacks, and even more have experienced it at least once in their life. That basically just means a lot of people know about it, but few talk about it.

In my case, I knew nothing about it, and I didn’t even know that what I was experiencing was fairly universal. I was thankful that I could talk to a couple friends, and to my surprise most of them have had similar experiences.

In the end…

That particular winter felt one of the worst times in my life. In retrospect, it was also one of the best. I don’t want to repeat it, but I got to know myself better again. That time helped me to grow, reflect and think about what happened the last 3–6 years.

In the end I stopped trying to search for one problem, because that is not how it works. I took some time and cleaned up my life. Quit my job, changed my diet, reflected internally and changed my habits.

I feel great again, and I know I'm emotionally and mentally stronger for having this experience. It challenged me in a way I haven’t been challenged before.

PS: It took me quite some time to hit the publish button on this article, but I think it’s the right thing to do. If you enjoyed this article please let me know on Twitter @vanschneider

Keep on fighting the good fight.

January 17, 2016No Comments

Make more, live more

Today I want to take a different perspective on the human lifespan, specifically a human lifespan in today’s world. Doing this helps me zoom out and evaluate if the things I’m doing right now are really important to me, or if I just got stuck in the flow.

It’s easy to get sucked up into things you didn’t want to do in the first place. This could be binge-watching TV for too long. It could be a toxic relationship that took up more years of your life than anticipated. Or it could be working at a job you should have left years ago.

It doesn’t matter what it is and I’m rarely one who regrets. But there is a thought process that helps me get a little more fire under my ass. It helps me to not only MAKE MORE, but also focus more on the things I value.


Let’s say your average life expectancy is 80 years, just for the sake of this thought experiment. I like to break these 80 years down into basic activities. Let’s keep those activities neutral; you can decide which are positive or negative to you.

Of those 80 years, you spend 25 years sleeping, based on a regular eight-hour sleep schedule.

You spend an average of 20 minutes every day in the bathroom. Over the course of 80 years that would be around one year (13 months and one week to be exact).

Then we spend roughly a year being sick throughout our lifetime. This is average, of course — some less, some more.

Based on a study done in the U.S., we spend about an hour every day eating and drinking (not including drinking as a social activity). This ends up being about 32,000 hours or 3.6 years over the course of one lifetime.

Now let’s look at driving, commuting or waiting for the train to come. Based on another study, we spend an average of 1.5 hours every day driving or commuting. That’s about 40,000 hours, assuming you started driving at age 18 all the way to your 80th birthday. So that’s another 4.3 years of our life.

Next, cleaning and body maintenance. In our lifetime, we spend about 1.5 years cleaning our apartment or house. Brushing our teeth comes down to about one month and showering or taking a bath is about six months, for the average person.

And let’s just say another year for getting ready, changing clothes, getting a haircut and all those things. It’s probably a little more than that, but we’ll keep it simple for now.

But let’s take a quick break. All things above together amount to roughly 37 years. Subtracting that from your 80 years, you have 43 years left to fill your life with other things.

Here again, broken up in detail:

80 Years

- 25y: Sleep
- 1y: Taking a shit
- 1y: Being sick
- 3.6y: Eating and drinking
- 4.3y: Commuting
- 1.5y: Cleaning etc.
- 1y: Getting ready, etc.

= 42.6 years left

I’d categorize all the things above as things you sort of have to do. You could squeeze some hours here and there, but eventually you have to sleep and wash yourself.

So now let’s assume we have a standard 40-hour work week, with two weeks vacation based on the U.S. standard.

For our calculation, we’ll say you work at your full-time job from the age of 20 to age 65. This would mean we spend another roughly 90,000+ hours, or 10.3 years, working in that particular job. A large part of our life.

On top of that, the average American spends about 80,000 hours watching TV, which is roughly 9.1 years. And then another 28,000 hours, or 3.5 years, surfing the Internet. The numbers are probably a little bigger now factoring in Facebook, YouTube and Netflix.

And now let’s say, for the first 10 years of your life you were just figuring it out and didn’t make any decisions for yourself anyway.

42.6 years

- 10.3y: Working
- 9.1y: Watching TV
- 3.5y: Surfing the web
- 10y: Your first 10 years

= 9.7 years left for whatever else there is

So now we’re at 9.7 years left and you’re probably thinking, why the hell is Tobias telling me this?

First of all, all the numbers above are very rough and based on studies I found on the average human being. You can easily go through all this, make the calculations for yourself and end up with fairly similar numbers — maybe off by a few years, but not too much.

“Don’t fear death, fear the un-lived life”
Natalie Babbitt

The things I listed above aren’t bad. Knowing you spend at least 10 years of your life working isn’t something negative. The question is what are you working on, and how does it affect the other activities in your life? I know that I work a lot, so it’s important for me to know the time I spend working is spent on things I truly love and support.

I love looking at the numbers above. I don’t get obsessed with them, but they serve as a personal guideline. They remind me every day that I have a ton of time, but also that time is limited. It motivates me to do more, experience more, make more — make more of the things that make me happy. On top if it, it helps me prioritize the things I do in my life.

January 4, 2016No Comments

The worst case scenario

When I sometimes chat with friends we like to talk about things we dream to do in our lives. Often these things involve us to take risks, personal risks we can’t foresee and in most cases like to avoid.

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November 2, 2015No Comments

Trust your gut

Five principles have guided me through most of my life and career and I always look back to them.

I’ve already written about two of them: ignoring everybody and being a jack of all trades, master of some.  Today I'll share my third principle: trusting my gut.

To follow the advice “Trust Your Gut” in today's world seems almost a bit irresponsible. Some would even say it’s bad advice given the amount of data we now possess.

In a world of big data, where everything gets measured, decisions should be data-driven. You should have numbers and studies to back up every decision. At least that's what people say.

But I still believe in trusting my intuition. Let me tell you a short story from my childhood that explains why.

It was a regular winter deep in the mountains of Austria where I grew up with my mother and four siblings. The village was famous for its harsh winters and snow sometimes up to 2 meters high.

At the time, I was 11 years old and loved living in nature. Every morning I’d get up at 4–5 a.m. and get ready for school. This meant putting on my full ski suit and equipping myself with a flashlight, fighting my way through the snow, down the mountain. The bus stop on the main road was about 500 meters away, and on average it took me 20 minutes to get there in the winter.

You have to understand that we lived in an extremely remote place. The bus was some kind of snowmobile bus that picked up the six kids too far away from the regular bus stops.

Winters came with a high risk of avalanches, but they never happened. Usually after a night of heavy snow fall, my mother would receive a call from the mayor's office confirming that it’s safe to go down the mountain. The mountain most at risk was just on the opposite of the valley, and the valley was narrow with just one road in the middle (our main road). If the mayor's office confirmed there was a danger of avalanches that day, I had to take a significant detour and avoid the main road where I'd get picked up by the bus.

On that particular morning, I was getting ready to head into the darkness. My mother got the call that confirmed that there was no danger of avalanches today. I remember asking her three times to really make sure there is no risk. She said no. It was pitch black with a blizzard raging outside that morning. I was nervous but I did it so many times already – I had never seen anything coming down that mountain anyway. What are the chances it'd happen today?

I kissed my mother goodbye, flipped on my flashlight and went down the mountain. I don’t remember much, but halfway through I decided to ignore the mayor's (and my mother's) advice and take the detour. I had no particular reason, but my gut was telling me something.

I arrived at school without incident. Three hours later, I received a call from my mother in the principal's office. She was in tears and said she was relieved to hear my voice. Apparently, that morning, at exactly at the time I went down the road, an avalanche came down the mountain. The first one in many years.

My usual bus stop was covered in a meter of snow, rocks & ripped-out trees. If I hadn't taken the detour that morning, I don’t know if I would be alive today. Because it was pitch black with a blizzard raging outside, I didn’t even notice the avalanche coming down just meters away while taking my detour. Only in retrospect, I remember hearing something, but I thought nothing of it in that moment.


I won't forget that experience. In particular, I will remember how my mother responded to it. She had always supported and believed in me, but after that day, she told me how happy she was that I ignored her advice. I followed my gut, and she told me I should do it for the rest of my life.

Oftentimes, an experience like this is all you need to establish one of your life principles. I’ve read many books that tried to explain how our gut feeling works from a scientific viewpoint. There are many theories, but we still can’t put our finger on it.

“I believe in intuitions and inspirations…I sometimes FEEL that I am right. I do not KNOW that I am.”
- Albert Einstein

I choose to believe in gut feeling, wherever it's coming from. I believe it has a place in our decision-making process, the same way collecting data does. Sometimes data is the way to go, sometimes it’s your gut.

Our gut decisions are highly personal. They are the sum of our intuitions, instincts and our life experiences. Knowing this also includes our emotional & cultural biases is important, because our gut feeling isn’t always right. But we often believe it is, mostly because our gut decisions define who we are as a person.

Right or wrong, we learn and adjust along the way.

September 7, 2015No Comments

Curiosity vs. judgment

(this article was written in September 2015 as a response to the Google re-design)

In September 2015 Google introduced us to their new digital identity. As you can imagine, the design community was furious and outraged as ever. Of course, the loudest voices filled with criticism far from being productive or constructive.

It happens every time a big company launches a rebrand. The outrage is intense, but rarely lasts longer than two or three weeks.

But every time these things happen, there is one thing I think about: No one has ever designed & implemented a digital identity on such a massive scale. There are few who understand the implications or what it takes to get it done. Even other companies that are close to Google, still not reach the diversity of products Google has to offer.

The challenges of redesigning Google are without question, unique.

I don’t even need to go into the specifics here. But chances are high that 99% of designers out there have never worked on a project like this. Still, a lot of designers think to know better. Design is a spectator sport, after all.

“Dogs bark at things they don’t understand.”

But this article isn't so much about Googles re-brand. Big projects like these are unique and offer fantastic learning opportunities for all of us. We should be curious and not judgmental. Especially if it’s something that is not in our field of expertise.

The moment the new Google identity launched I was both curious & proud. Proud because I know the struggle myself from the Spotify I worked on a few years ago. Proud because every designer, regardless in what company, is my buddy. Proud because I can only imagine the politics & technical difficulties to overcome in a company of 60.000 employees, serving billions of people.

I was curious because I felt that this is a unique situation where we can learn. Not because the Google design team is smarter than anyone else, but because they just launched something into the wild that takes huge effort and involves tons of risks. Now we can all watch it unfold & learn from it. Risk free at least for us, the spectator.

I’m curious to learn about why things look & work the way they do. Understand what the Google team struggled with, and how they plan to improve the identity in the future.

Sure, I might personally disagree with some things Google did, but my quest is to find out why, so someone can prove me wrong.

Curiosity means that we are open to the possibility that we may not know everything about a certain situation. It’s the willingness to remain open to the unknown, regardless of how smart we think we are.

Especially for complex projects or situations, I can promise you that chances are high that you or me know less than 10% about what’s actually going on.

When Google introduced the new identity, I was filled with questions because I was curious to hear more about it. This isn’t about if you like or dislike the logo. No one cares about it, we’re not on Dribbble here.

Google isn’t trying to be a life style brand, asking you to wear their logo on your leather jacket. They’re not aiming to feel luxurious, quite the opposite. Google aims to be approachable, friendly & even tries to appear smaller than they actually are. A prestigious brand is exactly what Google does not want to be.

If their current identity will help them succeed? Maybe, but neither you or I have the ability or data to decide that just yet. Even if Google is completely wrong with everything they do, so what? Who can qualify that other than the Google team?

When we stumble upon a project like this, we can take it as a unique opportunity to grow as a curious spectator. We can not only master our emotions, but we can turn all judgments into curiosity. Even if the redesign sucks, how we respond is still our choice. There is no contribution made by stating your opinion as truth — Which is essentially what judgment is.

I got reminded of this quote by Viktor E. Frankl.

“Between stimulus and response, there is a space. In that space is our power to choose our response. In our response lies our growth and our freedom.”

What happens when we just react and complain about something? Nothing, we shut down our ability to learn something new and close our eyes. We are no smarter than before, and on top of that, we just offended someone.

As designers, we grow from new experiences and especially from those of our peers. Kindness goes a long way, but it also fosters more kindness. It takes strength & patience to be kind, I understand that.

Being an ass online is easy. Public shaming is easy while lecturing someone in front of hundreds or thousands is also easy. But showing compassion & empathy instead is where we grow as a person. Even if we might disagree, those who ask questions will always be more powerful than those who don’t.

We can also show compassion by providing valuable & constructive feedback. Sharing our voice is important, it just comes down to how we do it.

And never forget:

The best way to complain, is to make something.

Thank you for reading,

August 10, 2015No Comments

The inspiration lie

Probably one of the most asked questions I get is “How do you get inspired?”.

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