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Airbag Industries

Last Build Date: Tue, 09 Jan 2018 20:49:16 -0600

Copyright: Copyright 2018

Twenty Eighteen Preparation: Steal Like An Artist.

Tue, 09 Jan 2018 20:49:16 -0600

Monteiro was in town a few days ago and invited a small group of friends to hang out with him at ABGB. I was happy to see Austin there and to have the chance to chat for a bit. Seeing him inspired me to dust off my copy of Steal Like An Artist when I got home. I received my copy at the very first Creative Mornings Austin, where, "man-Austin" gave a presentation titled "A writer who draws."

So, I pulled the book from the library and brought it upstairs where I tend to keep a pile or four of various reading material. Normally the book would sit there, get a few scans until it was time to de-clutter the area and bring everything back down to the library. But this year I vowed to use books for what they were intended for, reading not staking. Yesterday afternoon I hurried home, grabbed the book and headed for the rooftop to read under a brilliant, blue, cloudless sky.

Steal Like An Artist is a quick read that is deceptively simple. At one hundred and forty pages and eight inches square, it reads just as quickly as scanning Twitter or swiping through Instagram, but that does not have an impact on the potency of ideas and the depth of inspiration. The simplicity is a first-hand example of how constraints produce the best result—the subject of the last chapter: "Creativity is Subtraction."

The deception in the book comes through the many anecdotes and quotes by successful artists, poets, musicians, and creators that support the main books of the book. They are intertwined briefly, almost casually, but not at the cost of the message. Whereas, other books in the same category use these hooks to string out each story to add weight. You won't notice this by simply scanning the pages. I didn't when I first got my copy, and that's my loss.

I did not intend to finish the book as quickly as I did, but I feel more inspired and ready to build on this framework of thinking and making. I'm tempted to go through the book again soon, but take more time to process each chapter and turn those ideas that apply into more actionable items than simply checking off the first book read in 2018. If you're looking for something to help you get off to a great start to the year, then I suggest picking up Austin's book and spending an afternoon with it.

Twenty Seventeen In Review.

Sun, 07 Jan 2018 10:56:21 -0600

Inspired by the Paravel boy's (Dave and Trent) accounts of their 2017, and the themed annual reports of Khoi (movies) and Jeremy (writing), here is a brief overview of my 2017. Worked I accomplished more at work this year than I have in the previous three combined. At IBM, I earned a reputation for getting things done with an outside perspective, and in this year I was given more challenges. Everything from running two more Incubator projects to internally producing the InVision film to...well lets just call it a project to empower the entire sales organization there. In August I was offered a tremendous opportunity to join USAA as an executive director running the design program for the financial advice and solutions group. I inherited six teams of designers, directors, and producers—half of them in Austin, the other half in San Antonio. In addition to our product work, I've also been able to dive into the challenges and needs of standing up a design organization within a large company. My work at USAA is incredibly rewarding, and I can't say enough about the people there and the support and trust they have extended to me. Mentored While I continued to counsel a handful of people throughout the year, I chose to spend most of my extra time in 2017 working with Jen Dary on her work building Plucky. Jen's energy and passion are infectious which makes the time spent more rewarding. Last year I got to put my design skills to use in a way that I haven't done in a while (read: non-digital), and I'm anxious to see the outcome. Played I acquired a few toys this year: 2017 Volkswagen Golf R, Google Home, Nintendo Switch, and a DJI Mavic Pro. — I've always, always wanted a Golf R and this year I happily turned in the Lexus GS F and picked up a white one. Two hundred and ninety-three horsepower with all-wheel drive turns every driving occasion into a GT event. It certainly makes the journey to San Antonio and back a lot of fun. — After testing Google Home, I kicked Alexa out of the house. The conversational user interface is a pleasure to use because it's smarter than both Siri and Alexa combined. I picked up a Google Max, and I have to say it has exceeded all expectations I had for sound quality and volume. — For years now I've been pretty good about only having one game console in the house (I'm Brilliantcrank on PSN if you're there too). That all changed when I saw the early promotional videos for the Nintendo Switch and the new Zelda game and I knew I had to have one. It's nice to see Nintendo get back on top with their innovation in building an entire experience (hardware to software) that is so unique and enjoyable. — While Kitchen Storey and I enjoy our townhome with a fourth-story roof patio, it doesn't provide the same view that we had while living at The Shore in downtown Austin. Now we've got these damned gigantic power lines in the way of our southwest view. Well, not anymore thanks to a drone with a fantastic camera. It's my new favorite activity in the late afternoon, providing the conditions are right. Consumed Like the friends above, I too consumed a lot of media. While I enjoyed a fair amount of movies at the Drafthouse this year, I enjoyed "television" more: Ozarks, The Crown, Westworld, Mindhunter, Glow, Godless, and Ricky and Morty. There were notable documentaries in 2017 including Abstract: Art of Design, Vietnam, Oklahoma City, and LA 92. In 2017 I pulled the cord and canceled packaged cable replacing it with a subscription to HBO, Netflix, and PS Vue. The picture quality is insanely better than anything I ever got from Comcast, AT&T, or Google. And my total spend is less than half of what I used to pay for television. While I'm writing about media consumption, let's cover podcasts: The Daily, The Stack, Design Driven, DesignBetter.Co, Serial, Best Episode Ever, and Slow Burn (my favorite of 2017). Recorded I'm happy to report that primary recording of a new podcast series with Brett Harned wrapped up last month. Everything is now in th[...]

White Christmases Don't Write Themselves.

Sat, 09 Dec 2017 17:23:53 -0600

This evening I caught wind of a young kid in New Jersey who started a toy drive for children in Puerto Rico. If there is ever a "find a need and fill it" story, that's all you need right there. When you come across a need to help others don't wait for someone else to do it—go! This is how to effect positive change in the world. Even if that means you can't conceive of how to pull it off, move forward and ask for help. People wait for a leader to illuminate a path to help others.

At work I was asked to take point on our departments's participation in an annual "Season of Giving" program. Wherein we partner with a non-profit group to help assist their members with their needs during the holidays. An otherwise difficult time emotionally and financially. This year we selected an organization that helps underprivileged children prepare for the public school system so they start out on an equal footing educationally, socially, and confidently.

While we signed up to support more than we did the year before, I pushed our department to give beyond our primary goal. I'm pleased to report my fellow designers, producers, and developers at USAA have given more than 200% of our original ask. The extra funds are going to each family with children in school to help offset costs of groceries during the holiday time. I thought it might be possible to achieve this goal, but to have it actually happen is a tad overwhelming and makes small drops of liquid form around my eyelids (stupid eyelid water). I am sincerely thankful to be a part of a group of people who are so ready to contribute, pitch in, when the need arises.

If you haven't made good on an opportunity to help others during this time, please do. It's a weird time for a lot of folks out there and they can use a bit of recognition, support, and love. And if you can't find a good cause, then

Make it snow.

Come design with me.

Tue, 22 Aug 2017 17:16:36 -0600

Last week was mostly spent going through new employee orientation at USAA. It has to be the best onboarding experience I've been through to date. The company culture is strong, so much so that you can feel it in the hallways. Thousands of people who are genuinely happy to be working at USAA—happy to be working for the betterment of the membership. It reminds me of the level of exuberance at Airbag and Happy Cog, in the early days, but to see it happen at the scale of USAA is simultaneously jaw dropping and infectious.

USAA is a singular place where you don't have to sell user centered design because everyone's primary focus is on the member. And it's been that way since day one. No matter who you talk to, their priorities are the same: Member first, everything else is second. It's incredible.

While the design program at USAA has existed for almost a year, it still has that new MacBook smell. There are opportunities all around to build the design culture, grow awareness about best practices, and drive adoption. While that might sound daunting, it's hard to convey how ready and willing everyone is to interact with the design program in effort to become a better business for our members.

If that sounds interesting to you, then let's talk because I am looking for the best talent that is ready to make meaningful, positive, tangible impacts on people's day-to-day lives. If you know someone who would be a great fit, send them my way.

USAA is hiring for all of the positions: designers, researchers, front-end developers, product managers, directors, and an executive director or two. These positions are located up and down the 35: San Antonio (where I would move to tomorrow if I had the opportunity—it is quickly becoming the old, chill Austin that we lost in 2012), Austin (unchill, since 2012), and Plano (I have no opinions about this place but the studio is brand spanking new). No matter where you work, it's a great company with fantastic benefits, design challenges, and we all work on the side of the angels.

If you would like to know more ping me on LinkedIn.

Now Serving Those Who Served.

Tue, 08 Aug 2017 17:14:23 -0600

Yesterday I had my photo taken. It's horrible, but we were in a bit of a hurry to get enough paperwork signed and submitted so that I can attend an all day workshop this Thursday. On the way back to the visitor's lounge, I squeezed in a quick visit to the logo store to get this sweet new baseball cap with well-stitched logo hotness:

In just a few days I will start the next chapter of my career as an Executive Director of Design at USAA. I'm pretty excited.

Once again I will have designers of many roles and levels, to lead and mentor, full-time. My enthusiasm is not driven by a position on an org-chart, but by the challenge and opportunity to help others become better designers, business persons, and community leaders. And all of it in the service of deserving persons who served their country (and their families), like my father-in-law who served in Vietnam.

USAA was not the only role that I had on the horizon, but after learning more and more about the company and its culture, it wasn't hard to think the universe was trying to tell me something.

Everyone I spoke to about USAA had nothing but praise for the company: Industry titans, peers, family, and friends —across the board, they all had nothing but incredibly positive remarks. It is rare, for me, to have a conversation about a service provider and for every person to not only recognize the brand but also have a positive comment based on their engagement.

More importantly, the member (user) is the center of everything USAA does. It's one thing to talk to fellow designers about the importance of user-centered design, but in my experience, it's another for the leadership to agree. In fact, during the many conversations I had with product and service leadership (read: VPs), they were fervent about the importance of a user-centered focus. How glorious is it to not have to defend the role design plays in creating better experiences for users?

There are challenges ahead and a lot of work to do, but all seemingly within my wheelhouse. It's just a matter of how well we can execute, and I'm ready to give it all I've got.

Thank you to everyone for your positive statements and support, I appreciat'cha.

Goodbye Big Blue.

Fri, 04 Aug 2017 12:41:56 -0600

It is with bittersweet emotion, that I announce I am no longer an International Business Man. I served the company for two years, one month in an array of capacities. The highlights include incubating ten new IBM products and services, producing a short film (to be announced soon), starting a quarterly culture magazine, creating a studio leadership conference, creating a global design news program, starting Design at IBM, and—the best thing of all—leading and mentoring one-hundred designers.

Not too shabby.

My best days at IBM were the ones when I lead teams of designers, researchers, and front-end developers. The worst days were the ones immediately following the end of design bootcamps when my teams disbanded and left for their permanent assignments.

In-between I had the tremendous opportunity to work with designers and studio leaders from all over the world on a daily basis. And the folks in Austin...they are a very special group. It's only been a few days and already I miss seeing you all—Doctor.

To make this more meaningful to those of you outside of the IBM bubble, here are a few things I learned (sometimes the hard way) in the last two years:

  • If you want to earn an MBA, don't go to school. Instead, go work for IBM where you will end up with a better education than you will ever receive reading about business. IBM is an exceptional place to observe where the future of business, technology, and design is heading for some of the world's largest corporations and enterprise-at-large.

  • The old cliché holds true, especially at a company with four hundred thousand employees: Don't seek permission to start or fix something so long as you delivered to your very best. It is my experience that big business loves spirited entrepreneurial individuals that can connect different parts of the business and deliver quality results—org-charts be dammed. You'll know when you're doing the right thing.

  • Being a jack-of-all trades, especially when it comes to knowledge of business, technology, and design practices from multiple industries and business verticals have a lot of value. When you join a large company it's important to dive deep into the culture, but not to the point that you lose touch with the outside world.

  • Tools and process are less important than connecting people from different parts of the business and solving problems together. It's still all about finding and working with the right people.

  • It is possible to take a group of talented strangers who know nothing about an industry and turn them into an effective team who produce a mind blowing product. The secret, find the users and involve them in the process. It's so stupidly simple and yet so many people screw this part up. If you're not working with your users, you're working towards unemployment.

Thank you Fahad Osmani, Nigel Prentice, Doug Powell, and Phil Gilbert for making my time at IBM a worthwhile challenge. I learned a lot in the last two years, and that's mostly due to the trust that you afforded to me from day one. I won't forget it.

Lastly, I'd like to end this with a friendly apology to all of my former co-workers in Austin and around the world. I don't like saying goodbye, so I have to admit to slipping out the back door. As I've stated in the past, I'll always be around for every one of you when you need perspective. Don't hesitate to reach out and let's keep in touch. Meanwhile, keep writing.

C'est la Vie Austin?

Mon, 08 May 2017 07:38:10 -0600

UnderConsideration, the force behind some of the best and longest running digital publications on design, organizers of amazing conferences, and fellow Austin residents have pulled stakes to move to Bloomington, Indiana. That's right, some incredibly creative, entrepreneurial, smart people just left one of the hottest cities in North America for a small town in Indiana, the type that was recently the subject of parody on television.

Armin Vit (co-founder of UnderConsideration) provided some rationale for this seemingly-crazy relocation.

One of the keys to doing what we do, which is an unconventional and highly unlikely way of earning an income—an income that is sufficient for a few extravagances like an HBO subscription (I know, living large!)—for two adults, two kids, and two dogs, is to have a low cost of living. The cost of living in Austin has increased, our property taxes are off the roof, and the traffic has become pretty insane. Even the Austin airport, which was super chill is now nearing JFK levels at peak hours.

As an Austin resident of six years I find myself nodding in agreement, especially at the last bit about the airport. Austin Bergstrom was one of the most chill airports in the country and now it's just as stressful as Oakland on a Monday morning—every day. I knew Austin was going to blow up, but I had no idea it would scale so big, so quickly. And it's still growing like crazy. The city and surrounding area is set to double in size in the next twenty years.

I don't know that Kitchen Storey and I could move to the middle-middle of the country, but we're certainly starting to consider that it's time to move back to the Pacific Time Zone. Airport lines be dammed.

Yellow is the new normal.

Mon, 06 Feb 2017 08:21:17 -0600

Roughly fifteen years to the day, I published the fourth blog post on Airbag. It was a quick reaction to an exciting game Super Bowl between the St. Louis Rams and the New England Patriots. The Rams mounted a last-minute comeback that was surely going to force the game into overtime, but with one minute and thirty seconds on the clock, Tom Brady drove the team within field goal range, and the Patriots added three points to their scorecard and one the game.

The year was 2002, and everyone was still trying to process 9/11 and the aftermath--we were still processing shock. Due to national security concerns, the NFL season was pushed by a week while the country considered what security precautions were necessary for events like football games were potential future attacks could occur. Thus, the Super Bowl XXXVI was the first NFL game to be played in February.

At the time we were collectively looking over our shoulder for another round, the next wave of attacks, all while trying to get back to routines. Before the Super Bowl, there was special news coverage on security--demonstrations of tactics and a showcase of equipment to be used to thwart any attacks. This was especially true for the upcoming Winter Olympics in Salt Lake City. There seemed to be just as many news stories about security as there were stories about athletes and the games themselves. You had to wonder if this was going to be the new normal.

I can't recall the last time I read or watched a story about event security. And I don't remember the last time I heard what security color we're on. It's yellow or "Elevated Condition." Thankfully, I had to look it up.

Holiday Office Hours, the Airbag Way.

Tue, 06 Dec 2016 13:12:06 -0600

Dustin Senos, former Head of Design for Medium, and all around good guy came up with a pretty cool idea after a bit of introspection.

As the year comes to a close, I've been reflecting a lot on my career, the future, the past, and the present (2016, you've been a doozy.) When thinking about companies I've had the chance to work with, and the people I've met, I always come back to how thankful I am for those who took me under their wing. The people who took a risk hiring me when I was young and inexperienced, the people who supported me taking on more responsibility later in my career, and the people who took the time just to chat. My career exists because of those people.

Looking back at my early career I too had a handful of supportive mentors during school and at work (I could use one now come to think of it). More recently, I have enjoyed building up and continuing to mentor nearly one-hundred early career designers, developers, and offering managers at IBM Studios around the world.

Inspired by his career reflection, Dustin came up with Holiday Office Hours—a way to give back by arranging eight hours of time in thirty minute blocks over the holiday break to provide consultation for "people who may be in school, getting into the industry, new to design or engineering, or struggling with their first tech job."

Once I caught what Dustin was up to and why I joined up along with Noah and a growing list of industry professionals.

So, as long as you don't work for IBM (because you all already know how to find and schedule my time), sign up for a time slot and lets talk*. I'm happy to answer any questions you have and give what advice I might have after being in the industry for twenty-plus years.

* I removed the link because all slots have been taken. Given the response I'm going to consider doing this again soon, but after I get through the initial round of sixteen discussions. Follow this account and @brilliantcrank for future

The new MacBook Pro, the one without the "Touchbar," is pretty great.

Tue, 01 Nov 2016 13:06:22 -0600

As I have done many times in the past, I snatched up a new Apple product on the day of its release. This time it's the new MacBook Pro—the thirteen-inch model, the one without the second screen above the keyboard. While I think it's a nifty idea, I prefer my keyboard sans an area that is sure to become a different place to put logos and convenient links to "buy more," because the laptop screen already does a great job with those things.

Before this model, I have been using the MacBook that is so thin you can almost see through it. I really like the smaller form factor, but found that I really missed having a laptop that didn't choke on things like trying to load The Verge (Had I known that the publication was going to release a new version that is 25-50% faster to load prior to my purchase I might have thought otherwise, but now it's out of the box, all the files migrated, and my scent on the keyboard so there's no going back. And Mr. Marcotte, if you're reading this then I know you just made a grimacing face. You're welcome.)

Speaking of the keyboard, as I tweeted earlier, this is by far the best and fastest keyboard I have used to date—Apple or otherwise. It may have helped that I have a lot of hours clocked on the MacBook keyboard (the predecessor to this one), but I feel a lot more spring after each strike which, for me, means I can type faster with fewer mistakes. The keys feel snug and confident which makes a great writing experience.

The screen is nice, and I like that I don't have to touch it because finger prints on screens spread disease and just look super gross under any light source more powerful than a 60-watt bulb. I've never understood why people want to poke and swipe their computer screen so badly. Most people don't poke and swipe their HDTV and then try to Netflix and chill, because there would be no chill while trying to view a crystal clear image through little bits of DNA. That's like watching Netflix through a car windshield after a driving a few miles on a turnpike.


Anyway, back to this amazing device. It's small, powerful, and light just as the old white guys on stage promised. The one thing I still have not been able figure out is how to get a handful of jerks to respond to my direct messages on Twitter, but Apple Support seem pretty sure that's not the product's fault. Not satisfied with that answer, I tried to argue my point of view with Siri, but "she" is still dumb as a post. Maybe I should have waited for a different model, but somehow I don't think a "Touchbar" is going to fix that white hot mess.

A moment for us all to rally and answer the call to help someone who has helped us all.

Sun, 19 Jun 2016 16:31:41 -0600

In an effort to draw more attention to a story that some of you may have already heard, I have spent more time than I should have to try to put together words that will drive a response from you. I have failed to write a successful narrative that begins with a meaningful backstory, relatable to you, so that when I come to a conclusion, you, filled with empathy and emotion, feel absolutely compelled to act and share the story within your sphere of influence, but in an attempt to be clever I have wasted too much time.


So let me get to the point: Carolyn Wood—someone you have likely never heard of before—a quiet, but important member of our community is in dire need of help from all of us.

If you make things for the digital world (World Wide Web, mobile, etc.) then you owe some part of your career to Carolyn. She has worked mostly behind the scenes, helping the community at large express, present, and distribute ideas, strategies, and tactics on building a better world—a better career path for you and I. This may come across as hyperbole but I assure you it is not. Many of the quintessential books and articles that have steered our industry in the right direction.

If you use the Internet directly through a web browser or possibly indirectly through an iPhone app, you have Carolyn Wood to thank. She has worked to support the community that creates compelling arguments and supportive statements that foster curiosity, innovation, and conversation that lead to many of the delightful experiences that you and I enjoy.

There is a hard working, very smart, important, kind woman who has been there for all of us, albeit in a small, maybe obscure but impactful way and she now needs our help and support. I hope I have held your attention enough that you'll click through and help Carolyn Wood—please contribute what you are able either financially or through sharing this story to your network. We have to get this done; we can't fail those who's hard work helped pave the way for us to enjoy better careers and experiences.

A peak behind the gigantic enterprise design kimono.

Tue, 14 Jun 2016 11:55:04 -0600

Tomorrow I will join a panel to talk about "Designing the Enterprise." The event is hosted by Funsize and will take place at 6PM in downtown Austin at TechSpace.

Ryan Rumsey, Anette Priest, and I will share our experiences and point of view on how to "navigate the sometimes tricky waters of enterprise organizations. The discussion will center around Culture, Career Path and Professional Development as well as Hiring."

Funsize has put together an interesting group around an interesting topic and I'm looking forward to sharing what I know--what I feels--and hearing from the experiences of Ryan and Anette. Especially Ryan, because, well, Electronic Arts!

If all goes well the session will be recorded and turned into a future program for Hustle. If you aren't subscribed to the podcast yet, make it happen now.

Jeffrey Zeldman announces a new startup: 1999 2.0.

Mon, 13 Jun 2016 09:53:13 -0600

True fact, I am the only person on the planet who has been a Happy Cog client, contractor, and captain. As many of you know I merged my business with Happy Cog in 2009 and ran one of three studios for five years. When I went out on my own and started Airbag in 2005, I worked on several projects for Happy Cog as a freelance contractor. And long before any of that nonsense, in 2003, I convinced Jeffrey Zeldman (at the time, the sole proprietor and employee of Happy Cog) to work with me on a redesign project for my employer at the time, The Crystal Cathedral Ministries.

Our project kick-off took place in Jeffrey's flat that sat atop Murray Hill. We sat in Jeffrey's living room which featured a gorgeous, white, thick, shag-like carpet. The room was surrounded by a fantastic collection of books, music, and movies (everything classic or destined to be). I took a spot on an amazing orange leather couch and did my best not to lose my shit because I was sitting in Zeldman's living room, and we were working together on a project.

So you can imagine what it was like for me to get to work with Jeffrey for the next eleven years. Though, to be honest, we didn't work together nearly enough. If I have one regret from my time with Happy Cog, it is that I wish we could have worked on more projects together as I have always enjoyed my time with Zeldman, especially when we commiserate as designers and writers.

This morning Jeffrey announced his next endeavor, Studio.Zeldman—now open for business! I presume this means he has said goodbye to Happy Cog, the studio he founded seventeen years ago. I don't think I'm wrong to say that Zeldman is one of a select few pioneers of the digital/interactive/web/device/whatevs industry that is now available for consultation. Anyone who operates a content-based property or business should have Zeldman on retainer.

Meanwhile, I need to convince someone to give me a project and a budget to hire Studio Zeldman and start the cycle over again.

Vive la Happy Cog! Vive la Airbag! Vive la Studio.Zeldman!

Making sense of all the jibba jabba during user research.

Sun, 12 Jun 2016 18:44:52 -0600

Talking to users is paramount to the success of any design project. It's one of the activities I enjoy a lot because I can talk to users until they suffer from discomfort due to hunger and dehydration. The hard part of research, the part that sometimes puts me into a round room is the work that's required after having a nice chat--synthesizing the results into meaningful insights.

One of my former Design Campers, Jessica Zhang, now a UX researcher at IBM, recently shared her thoughts on the topic in an essay called "What Should I Do with My Interview Notes?"

You just interviewed a user. You feel excited about all the insights you obtained from him or her. You upload your notes into your online storage with a click. Now what?

In other words, how do you turn lines and lines of words (and snippets of your memory) into an accurate picture of what the user needs, without needing years of formal training? Moreover, how do you strike a balance between doing this collaboratively and getting it done quickly?

Please click that heart shaped icon at the end of the article. Unlike most of my designers, Jessica is one who actually listened when I said that writing is vital to early career success. More importantly, Jessica is one sharp tack so follow her on Medium and look for more productive thoughts as she navigates the world of user research in enterprise software and cognitive intelligence design.