Problematic Content

People ask me why I’m still on Twitter, and in 2017, it’s been a difficult question to answer.

Twitter has had an abuse problem for almost its entire life. People have felt empowered to be assholes in 140 characters or less — some because they can do so with few/no consequences, some because they’re just assholes to begin with. It’s a wonder that anyone joins at all, these days.

I joined Twitter in 2008 because my mentor at Vanguard joined, and she joined because a bunch of other UX Designers joined, and ultimately, you go where the conversations are.

I joined to livetweet UI 13. I joined to read the feeds being produced by the likes of Jared SpoolDoc Baty, Donna Spenser, and Luke Wroblewski, but I stayed because I started making friends.

As the years have passed, I’ve continued to follow people like Ethan Marcotte, Mat Marquis, Kristina Halvorson, Jeremy Keith, and Karen McGrane, and I am constantly amazed when the recognize me (either on Twitter or in person). I don’t expect it – they have a combined gazillion people following them.

The reason I stay is only partly because of everything I’ve learned from the wise people in UX Design on twitter. It’s mostly because I’ve met tons of people I consider friends, from former co-workers like Ellen King, Patrick Lowery, Gina Puzo and Richard Dalton, to combined pinball buddies/UXers like Sarah Hopkins, people I’d like to be better friends with like Tom Henrich and Sarah Wachter-Boettcher… the list goes on and on.

(Well, technically it doesn’t, because I have myself on a strict diet of following less than 150 accounts. More than that and I can’t keep up — and I say that as someone who once tried to regularly follow and read 350 accounts a day.)

The point is that this community, no matter how cruel, mysogynistic,  opinionated, and stupid Design Twitter can be, has also been a source of friendship, comfort, education, and laughter for me for going on 10 years. People have comforted me when death and illness have overshadowed my family. They’ve laughed with me when my puppies were lunatics. They’ve taught me much more than User Experience. Dylan Wilbanks and Elaine Nelson have even gone so far as to run this amazing site with me, even when I’m a total asshole.

Like any novel written by Orson Scott Card, Star Wars’ stupidly-white original three movies, Joss Whedon’s work, and the art depicting just about any woman on the backglass of any pinball machine,  Twitter is my problematic fave.

I’ve seen a lot of ugly, stupid shit. Some of it’s small, and some of it makes Teen Vogue magazine and most days I’m just happy if we have more small shit than big.

But when it blows up and dies a fiery mess (and I’m still pretty confident that it’s going to blow up), I’m going to miss Twitter for the friends it has given me and the opportunities it has brought.


The world feels heavy on me right now. White supremacists on the march. An open racist in the White House. Threats of nuclear war. A callous attitude towards the poor, the ill, the poor in spirit.

When your job is about cultivating empathy, doing your work is hard. Even your best days suffer from the tinnitus buzz of a world turning hateful.

And this is as a white Christian cis dude in a liberal city. I can’t imagine how the volume has been turned up for people who aren’t me (tho, admittedly, it was probably already this loud for them.)

How do you do UX in these times? I seriously don’t know. For all the demands that designers step up and be heard, the day-to-day still needs to happen. You wade through the sorrow and push on.

I saw a tweet tonight that brought this sorrow to mind:

I think to even a non-religious person this is true. We cannot attempt to explain this hateful time, or try to rationalize our way through the pain. Our only true response is to love — those we live with, work with, and create experiences for.

And so, I choose love. I choose hope. And I choose to defy the hateful buzz in thought and in action. Because design starts with a love for the people we design experiences for and a hope that we can be better at making those experiences better today and tomorrow. And it ends with defiance — of the status quo, of a world that would rather take shortcuts, of a world that would choose to conveniently stereotype and demean and destroy other people for their own good.

Sometimes it means speaking truth to power. Sometimes it means throwing punches you never thought you’d throw. But true design, full of hope and love, is always an act of defiance.

Staying motivated at work

Someone recently asked a group of us how to stay motivated at work. Here are three things that help me.

Thing the first: get out amongst your peers

Go to industry-related things not related to work. For me the semiannual pilgrimage to An Event Apart is a major motivator – I come home with new ideas and new passion every year.

But it doesn’t have to be a big conference. Go to your local UX meetups, your local CHI groups, whatever works for you. Hear people outside your immediate work bubble voice their concerns, give them ideas, get ideas from them. Even just a bitch session can be good for the soul.

Thing the second: always have something to do in your back pocket

Create your own side projects. If you feel under-utilized or bored, think of something small that you would like to see done. The purpose here isn’t to change the world (and in fact you may not want to tell your boss you’re doing them at all if they will be an ass about your time.) They’re to give you something related to your work that you care about, and that you can dip into when you need that break from the current project to clear your head.

Things I’ve taken on in the past voluntarily:

  • The site’s browser stats in a historical format so we could watch for trends. (Google Analytics sucks at this.)
  • A site map of our top (architectural) pages with page visit statistics we know which bits of the architecture are heavily active
  • A spreadsheet of the colors being used for a specific app and whether they’re accessible when mixed
  • A a wiki page of all the research articles I found useful on topics so I didn’t have to go hunt them down when someone said
  • A content inventory of an existing 2,000 page corporate wiki so I could clean the crap out

All but one of these has been so unimportant to the rest of the company that they failed to take on a life of their own, but they kept me sane either way. (When I left the browser stats one, on the other hand, it had become important enough that it took 6 people across 3 departments to replace me on it. Then again, it took 10 years to get that far.)

Instead, they gave me something arguably-work-related to do when I was too exhausted or frazzled to design well, or when I was letting an idea rattle around in my brain before it was ready to hit paper. Sometimes dead-stupid data entry can let the back of the mind get something done. Because I created them and their goals, I also set their deadlines, and nobody chases after me if I miss the deadlines.

And sometimes these tasks turn out to clean up technical or UX debt that just wouldn’t get done any other way. In that way, they can be both satisfying for me to complete and good for company. (Though I would argue if they keep me sane, they are already good for the company.)

Thing the 3rd: for god’s sake use your vacation

Yes, your project is important, critical even. You are important. You are still not The Guy, though, and the more you push yourself to work on a project without a break, the more mistakes you’ll make.

You know what it’s like to be working on something for hours, stuck and unable to find the problem? Then you take a walk, come back, and know what you did wrong in 5 minutes? That’s the small version of what a vacation can do.

I don’t care if you go home and program a robotic kitty litter tray or go travel the world, binge on a TV show, or spend a week in World of Warcraft. The whole time you’re away from work, the back of your brain is defragging, putting away pieces it just figured out, cleaning up the dirt, and connecting neurons in new was.

All of those are really good things to do.

I try to take a minimum of one day off every other month just so I know I’m taking care of myself. I also get a butt load of vacation and personal time. If you get less than a butt load, try to arrange half days out shopping or walking or golfing or moving your body in a not-work-related way every other month.

It’s also good to take at least one stretch that’s a week long. An article in referenced a study in the Journal of Happiness Studies and said:

Health and well-being rapidly increase when vacation starts, often just two days into the holiday. And, according to the study, health and well-being peak on the eighth day of vacation.

The takeaway from the study? Take shorter, more frequent vacations. Since when and how long you get away from work for vacation often depends on the amount of vacation time you’ve accrued, this approach encourages you to spread out your vacation time throughout the year instead of cashing it all in at once for one long trip.

In other words, if you get away for 3 or 4 days you’re already going to feel better, but if you get away for 8 days, you get the maximum benefits.

Get out, go defrag the brain pan while doing something unrelated to your paycheck.

Those are three tips that work for me. If they work for you, awesome!