Excuse me, your org chart is showing…

In 1967 computer programmer Melvin Conway wrote a paper called “How Do Committees Invent?” The thesis of his paper was later quoted by Fred Brooks in the book The Mythical Man-Month, a tome that has gone on to become a classic in software development circles. Brooks dubbed Melvin’s thesis “Conway’s Law” and it goes something like:

Organizations that design systems are constrained to produce designs which are copies of the communication structures of these organizations.

In other words, the things we make are a reflection of how the people making them talk to one another. Conway was talking about software development, but I’ve found the concept applies to a broad spectrum of disciplines and fields.

Product as Projected Org Chart

Do org charts, job titles, and internal corporate communication structures matter to the end user/customer of a product? On their surface, no. People care about their problems being solved, and they want products, services and experiences that do that well for a price they can live with. But if we buy into Conway’s Law, then yes, those communication structures matter a great deal because the way things are made is woven into their DNA.

Your organization is optimized to get exactly the results you’re currently getting. For good or ill, we optimize our organizations to make the product(s) we have.

Is there a disconnect between the on-boarding experience of a web app and the typical use cases for its logged in users? My guess is the teams or individuals responsible for those features and flows don’t talk enough. Does a guest at a hotel have a vastly different experience talking to the late night concierge versus using the hotel’s app? My guess is the organization doesn’t have a cohesive department whose mission is taking care of customers — they likely have a software team and a front desk team (and never the two shall meet).

In each of those examples there are only two constants: the organization, and the individual interacting with the organization. Everything in between — the teams, departments, personnel, tech, and resources, endless org charts and corporate layers of responsibility — doesn’t ultimately matter to the customer. They just want a great experience. But it matters to the customer because it’s ruining their experience. And it matters to the organization because enough ruined experiences will eventually lose you customers.

If there are disconnects in your product, there are disconnects in your org chart. So fix the internal structures, and incentivize, organize, and optimize around the outcomes you want for your customers. Out of that holistic structure will flow holistic products, services, and experiences.

Healthy people make healthy things. Healthy orgs do, too. 

Frank Chimero on the Monkey Trap

Frank Chimero on the Monkey Trap metaphor and how “[our] preconceptions can blind us from doing things in better ways.” I’m teaching a Graphic Design 101 university class this semester — mostly about how the brain perceives visual stimuli — and I’m fascinated by how our various biases (visual, semantic, cognitive, etc.) shape our behavior.

Koharu Sugawara ft. Yuki Shibuya Dancing to Dog Days

Joy personified, this one made me smile start to finish. And the crowd goes wild! (Do yourself a favor and lose 30 minutes searching Koharu Sugawara videos on YouTube.)

I Miss My Grama

In no particular order, my Grama taught me how to spell and write my last name, work my multiplication tables, ride a bike, shell green beans on the front porch, “visit” and have a conversation, accessorize any outfit or ensemble, use loose tobacco to ease the pain of a wasp sting, tell the difference between milk and buttermilk before you pour it on your cereal, use a toaster and make a pop tart (which she’d cut up into little squares and slather with butter), the just right ratio of tiny marshmallows to hot cocoa, how to have perfect hair at all times, be kind to everyone I meet, love an occasionally difficult spouse, clean my room, pray for my family, enjoy a good soap opera, and leave a legacy marked by kindness, fidelity, faith and love. 

Mildred passed away quietly the week my son Moses was born. Moses turns 2 this week. I miss my Grama.

Five Features of My Ideal TV Remote

  1. Power Button
  2. Brightness Dial
  3. Input 1
  4. Input 2
  5. Input 3

The Highwomen & The Chain

I could take or leave Fallon, but good grief this is an absurd collection of talent. I’m enjoying The Highwomen collaborations.

Finding Brand True North

When a sailor is navigating by the stars they need a celestial constant — a star to reference all the other stars by, a key to unlock and understand the rest of the map.

As the Earth spins, the constellations in the northern hemisphere sky currently revolve around a single star called Polaris. It’s a “Pole Star,” a near foolproof way for sailors to find their bearings on a clear night.

Annapurna Star Trails  Credit & Copyright: Wang Jinglei, Jia Hao

A brand’s mission is no different. Every decision, every nook, cranny, fringe, and faction in the organization should revolve around their mission — spinning ’round the thing the organization exists to make happen. Defining that constant is literally mission critical.

I run a design studio, but our mission isn’t design, brand identity, or websites — those are just tactics. The tactics should never become the mission. When we work with new businesses and established organizations, first we have to understand their version of Polaris, then we can plot a course from where the brand is, over the visible horizon, to where it needs to be.

Design isn’t magic; it’s the disciplined process of changing existing situations to ideal ones. But to do that well, we need a destination beyond the craft. Without a shared destination, we lack shared mission. Arguing about taking a left or a right at the fork doesn’t matter if the designer and the client are operating off of two different maps.

Define what’s true, first. Then you can start your journey.


Amateur Celestial Navigation Tips

If you don’t know how to find Polaris, two constellations will help you see it—Ursa Major and Ursa Minor (aka The Big Dipper and The Little Dipper). Look at the front edge of The Big Dipper’s ladle, follow the path like you’re liquid being poured out, and you’ll run right in to Polaris, the last star in the handle of The Little Dipper.

Five Movies I’m Excited to See in the Rest of 2019

Mrs. Blankenship on 99u

The lovely and talented Mrs. Blankenship was recently interviewed alongside a few other folks on 99u about how life-changing experiences shaped their creative work.

On Changing the Game

I’m creating rules for the game so that I can have my little business support the life I want to live.