365 Days of Random

Random musings about nothing at all

Coffee Shop Office

Today was a day when I really needed to buckle down and get a lot of stuff done. I’ve been working on some strategy projects for the future of the products I work on and I needed to flesh out some designs for a meeting with some of my higher ups next week. With how crazy things have been around the office lately I knew there would be no way I’d get anything done at all if I was in the office. But, I also knew that I would be too easily distracted if I stayed at home.

So, instead I decided to hit up my local coffee shop office. Ok, so it’s not totally local – I live in Shirlington and my favorite coffee shop to work at is in Del Ray… but I’d say a 10 minute drive qualifies as a local office. If you’ve ever been to “St. Elmo’s Coffee Pub” you know exactly what I am talking about. The atmosphere in there is perfect for a quiet focused day of design work. A few months ago I spent a day there with a colleague doing some ‘off site design activities’. We got a ton of work done. As that’s exactly what I was hoping for today I figured it was the best place to go and sit somewhere different where I could basically disappear into my computer and headphones for the day and crank out a bunch of stuff.

And that’s exactly what I did. Today was an incredibly productive day. I got almost ALL of my strategic design work done…. almost. There is definitely still some work to be done, but I got more than enough of a start on it all and I think I am very well prepared for my check in tomorrow with my director. We’re going to spend about an hour or so making sure things are shaping up the way we need them to and that I have all the stuff pulled together we need for our bigger strategy meeting next week. I think really all that’s left is a couple more screens (that I need another brain or two on) and some context around each screen (including assumptions that go into each one). I have some rough notes about that stuff but I need to pull it together into a real Design Brief that can be shared with others.

In addition to all the strategy work I got done today I also completed to Reporting Use Cases that were outstanding for my team. We were getting to a point where not having all of that documented was going to block team members from moving forward with tasks. So it was a good thing to be able to spend an hour or so pulling that together as well. All in all my day at the coffee shop office was a resounding success. I think I did a couple days worth of work in the six hours I spent there.

I am not really sure what it is about working in a coffee shop that is so good and focusing me. Part of me would think that I’d get easily distracted by what was going on in the room… by all the people watching opportunities. But I actually think that what works is that I am in a place where I don’t know anyone… I didn’t go there with anyone so there are no people or questions battling for my attention. Most of the people who are hanging out in a coffee shop are working or studying or having a meeting of some sort. So generally it’s quite quiet and and everyone is hoping for the same thing… the ability to just stay heads down and focused. I don’t think I could work at a coffee shop every day… I get a headache after a day of headphones (and the hunched over the lap top posture)… but I think it’s a fantastic alternative to the ‘work from home’ option now and again. It’s the best way to truly get away from all distractions when you just have a laundry list of tasks to run through.

But, tomorrow it’s back to the REAL office for another day of meetings…. and hopefully a little more work on projects I made such huge progress on today.

June 8, 2011 Posted by | Design, Random | , , , | Leave a comment

Thinking Time

So today (about an hour ago) I truly discovered the value of having time to think when working through design problems. Of course I’ve always KNOWN this, I’ve just never run into the “You don’t have time to think” feeling before now. At least not to this extent.

I am working on this new project and things have been incredibly hectic so I am completely behind schedule in terms of getting my designs finalized and out to the team for this first sprint of work. I’ve always been able to get stuff written up quickly and I am quite good about working stuff out in the background. I am the type of person that is constantly thinking about what I am working on. By the time I sit down to document my designs in a detailed enough format for my development team I have all the details figured out. Half the time I didn’t even realize I’d figured them out.

But today, I’ve been struggling with this last use case for the current sprint of development (which of course started today and I can’t afford to be late with how tight the scope is for this team). I engaged a couple of my coworkers in a quick brainstorming session about this particular feature and they threw a couple of “but why” questions at me that have me now thinking in a COMPLETELY different direction. Not only am I questioning the value of doing a particular series of work (and rightly questioning it) but I am trying to figure out how I’d build something even better in it’s place.

The struggle I am having is that I need this design finalized Yesterday (or more truthfully last week) and now I need more time to really THINK about how this should work. I need the time to figure out what the real problem we are trying to solve is. I need to work out what the best product solution is that is not placing the burden onto the user – or at least in a way that is significantly less painful than they have now.

I normally LOVE these kinds of problems…. and this conversation would have come up no matter when I had the conversation with my colleagues. They are completely right that what we’re doing is simply swapping out one crappy thing for something that may be prettier but is equally as crappy (possibly worse it terms of the ‘barrier to entry’ it would cause). That’s never EVER a good thing when thinking about user experience. My struggle with this is that all of the logistical stuff around this project got in the way of me spending that proper amount of time and energy on this two weeks ago and now I have to scramble to figure it out in 24 hours.

Ideally I would like to wait on this just a bit longer and get some thoughts/ideas in front of my client group later this week. I am just not sure our project manager will go for that. So I am going to try and see what I can come up with tonight (and tomorrow morning) and then ask if waiting another few days for a final decision on this would significantly block my development team. If I can wait to deliver the final designs until Friday I can have a good discussion about it with my clients on Thursday and be sure that we’re truly building the RIGHT thing.

So that’s my design advice for today….. even when you know you typically work stuff out in the back of your mind and have all the details mostly worked out subconsciously you should never get too comfortable with that and you should ALWAYS make sure (no matter what else is going on) that you give yourself enough time to actually THINK about what you’re designing… I guess we all make that mistake on occasion. With this particular feature I definitely did. But, it will be remedied!!

April 18, 2011 Posted by | Design | , , , | Leave a comment