Recent work: Typographic String Art

One of my goals for the time while I’m between full-time positions is to work on projects for our wedding next May. Until recently, that mostly meant thinking about logistics, contacting vendors, and searching the web for ideas and inspiration. Now that we’ve settled into our place in Cambridge, I can start to fully focus on the part I enjoy most – designing decorations and paper goods.

One decoration that really caught my eye during inspiration searches was this string art wedding invite by Kyle Read:

Wedding Invitation by Kyle Read

Once I saw it, I knew I needed to incorporate something similar into our decorations. This weekend, I completed my string art DIY of ‘J & T’.

Here’s a quick breakdown of how I created this.

Step 1. I played around with a bunch of different font types and sizes until I landed on Market Deco for the letters paired with Marquee for the ampersand.

Step 1: Choosing The Fonts

Step 2. I made a prototype with newspaper and printouts to make sure I liked the wood size, then went to Lowe’s to get some plywood cut. The piece I used measures 14″ x 24″.

Step 2. Paper Prototype

Step 3. I used a few coats of stain (Minwax Polyshades in American Chestnut) on the wood, then added a few coats of varnish.

Step 3: Staining The Base

Step 4. Using printed letters secured with tape as a guide, I hammered nails every 3/4″. For some of the curvy parts in the ampersand I added a few extra nails, but in hindsight they probably were not needed.

Step 4: Placing The Nails (and Hinckley says hello)

Step 5: All that’s left was to string it up! There are a few OK tutorials on the internet (here and here) but really all you need to do is tie the string on with a butcher’s knot, and then wrap it around the nails. I went for a randomized look, similar to what Kyle used in his invite. Once I was done stringing, I secured the loose ends with a few half hitches, and then dabbed some Elmer’s glue on top.

Step 5: Stringing The Letters

And there you have it! One wedding project down, many to go!

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Quantified Self

When I was living and working in San Francisco, I had the chance to do some fascinating research on life loggers, i.e., people who go to extremes tracking data on themselves. In the course of our research, we talked to one person who tracked all of her workouts and food intake on a notes file on her iPhone. We talked to another person who created elaborate excel spreadsheets for budgeting and goals tracking. Another woman we talked to kept ongoing scrapbooks of her life for 18 years, and had all of them together on a massive bookcase in her apartment. We learned that there is a whole movement, called Quantified Self, growing around this life-logging trend.

I’ve always been interested in documenting my experiences and the things I learn, so what these folks were doing totally resonated with me, albeit on a lesser scale.  I’m not necessarily interested in tracking everything about my life, but I have been experimenting with several tools, online and off, that aid with doing self-assessments of all kinds. So, behold, my quantified self.


First off, my working style sheet:
At Jump, every time we joined a new project team, we would create some variation of this mindmap. Basically, we told our teammates what our thinking styles and learning modes were, what strengths we had (from the Strengthfinder 2.0 test), what we were working on during the course of the project, and finally, what we had going on outside of work. We drew it up on sheets of paper so we could hang them in our project space as a visual reminder for each other. This is one of mine from several years ago (pre-Hinckley!).

My flower diagram:
I’ve just finished reading What Color Is Your Parachute?, a great book for helping people figure out what next steps to take in their careers and how to effectively job search. In chapter 13, you go through a rigorous self-assessment to identify what matters to you in a job, on seven different petals. Even though I’m not considering a big career switch at this stage, I found this exercise helpful in reminding me both what I’m best at and what I enjoy most.

My score: is a free service that measures your influence by pulling in data from Facebook, LinkedIn, Twitter, and other social networks. I like to think of it as Google Analytics, but for your personal brand. Klout creates a score between 1 and 100 based on how many people you influence, how much you influence them, and the influence of your network. It’s in beta right now, but seems to be gaining popularity.


Last Week’s Fitbit Stats:
I’ve talked about Fitbit already, but one of the neat features of Fitbit is that it’s not just a pedometer that you look at during the day to see how many more steps you need to take. Fitbit has an online dashboard that shows you step progress over days, weeks, or months, and also can track food intake, sleep habits, etc. It’s a lot like but for health. Conveniently, it sends you weekly updates in email form in case you forget to go to the website.

My Nike+ Stats:
I have loved using nike+ for many years to track my running, and in my opinion, it’s still the easiest service out there for tracking, sharing, and feeling motivated. Another good site for exercise tracking is Daily Mile, which allows you to add all types of workouts, from yoga to running to swimming.


A Visual Bookcase:
A visual of what I’ve been reading lately. I’ve found that Goodreads is also a great place to track reading and share book recommendations with friends.

Blog Breakdown:
I follow about forty blogs in my Google Reader. Here’s how they breakdown.

Weekly TV Lineup:
Breakdown of what we watch – good thing we have Tivo!

Well there you have it. My quantified self. What are your favorite tools for life-logging?

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Eric Ries on The Lean Startup

Harvard’s new Innovation Lab has been hosting a lot of great events this fall, and one of them was a talk given by Eric Ries, author of The Lean Startup. To me, the thesis of his talk was that in order to run a lean startup, you need to test your ideas early and often. He told a story about working as the Chief Technology Officer of IMVU, a software company that was making an avatar-based instant messaging system. They had spent a year developing the technology, fixing bugs, and getting it perfect, but when it came to launch, they had a major problem. In order to sign up for the software, customers would need to click on a pop-up screen within their normal instant messaging window that said something to the effect of, “click to download a new avatar service.” But when it went live, no one downloaded it! After a year of burning the midnight oil to get the product up and running, it all came down to a single pop-up box that couldn’t get the job done. Eric’s point was that they probably could have saved themselves a year of trouble, and learned that customers were not interested in avatar-based instant messaging by testing that pop-up box on day 1.

For his audience of Harvard Business School students and start-up folks, he made the case for testing early as (“How can we figure out what we’re trying to learn with minimum effort?”) and described a feedback loop of Build – Measure – Learn. To me, this struck me as similar to the Express, Test Cycle that I was taught in Product Design classes. There, the point was: express your idea (either by actually building it, or explaining it through a storyboard, video, or demo), test it with your audience, get their feedback, and get back to work.

While it was an effective way to perfect a product or service concept, I came to understand that the Express, Test Cycle only worked if your idea was good in the first place. In other words, with the Express, Test Cycle you could still get pretty far down the rabbit hole of changing form factors or button colors before a consumer might admit to you that actually, they didn’t need/want this product at all.

When I worked at Jump, we commonly talked about the design process as a (not always linear) cycle between four stages.

First, observe how customers live, and find out what issues keep them up at night. For example, for a food client*, you might study busy parents and see how they deal with feeding their kids and negotiating healthy choices vs. convenience. Then, analyze your data to uncover insights about the customers. Maybe parents told you about secret rituals they used to manage food prep, or maybe they were really concerned about how their snacks appeared to others over how it made them feel. Next, translate these insights into directions – if food rituals are really important, what could our food company do strategically to better meet them? Should they shift from making only food products to making products that support these rituals? Finally, come up with actual solutions that the company could use. What would those products actually be – maybe a specialized kitchen tool, an iPhone app that celebrates the ritual, or a system for setting up space in your home to perform that ritual?

Now, as you might imagine, this process of observing, analyzing, and creating a strategy and ideas takes time – we would usually take 4-6 months to do a project like this – and most startups feel they do not have that kind of time to spare. But even a startup can find one busy parent to talk to before they get caught up in design details.  Overall, while I’m hopeful that the success of Eric Ries’ book will help startups and entrepreneurs gain empathy for their consumers earlier in their building process, I worry that getting empathy at that stage is often too little, too late. As I interact more with the startup scene in Boston and the Innovation Lab, I’m hoping to convince them that they can truly differentiate their ideas with customer research that happens before the coding even begins.

*The example I use to explain the cycle is created based on typical Jump projects, but contains no confidential information.

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The Future of Social Media

Not long ago, I had an amazing experience with social media. I had just lamented on Twitter that I’d lost my fitbit, an (expensive) electronic step-tracking device that you wear on your hip. I realized it must have fallen off once we got home from a lunch in Davis Square, and even though we drove back to look for it, it was nowhere to be found. Within twelve hours of my sad tweet, fitbit’s twitter account wrote back, “Bummer Joanna, please contact if you couldn’t find it, we have a replacement program that will be great for you.” So I did. Honestly, I didn’t think I would qualify or this would really work, but I was proven wrong! On Monday I received a brand new, upgraded version of the fitbit, for $0. Wow. Thanks, social media!

Obviously, social media done right can be a powerful thing for brands and businesses. But is it all about customer service? Where is the social media trend going and how will it evolve in the coming years? I have so many thoughts on the future of social media, but to keep this post reasonable, I’ve kept it to a few hypotheses on the short-term future vs. the long term.

In the short term, I think social media will become a primary vehicle for companies to advertise and communicate to their customers. In terms of advertising, social media is clearly starting to replace print and TV ads due to its viral and accessible nature.  We’re already seeing savvy customers request “advertisements” from their social networks to get trusted recommendations about services and products, and I think this trend will continue to spread. As for company-customer communication, I see customers today feeling much more empowered to use social media to support brands, or to give negative feedback to brands they’ve been disappointed by.  Because of this, companies big and small need to treat social media as a real, powerful mode of communication. Some great examples of companies doing this are JetBlue (with promotional campaigns and apologies for flight mishaps) and Pepsi (especially with their Refresh campaign).

In the future, I think social media will become a lot more customized, so that a follower or fan can opt in to some types of communications from a company (e.g. discounts, or recipes), but block others. Additionally, I think social media feedback will switch from being primarily customer service complaints and ‘likes’ on Facebook to include more involved engagement by customers. Soon, customers will provide input to help co-create new offerings. As a result, companies will need to adapt their internal structures. Social media is already influencing customer service and marketing, but soon it will also affect product development and legal compliance policies, so it will be important for social media strategies to be shared across departments.

Lastly, most social media platforms (e.g., Twitter, Foursquare, LinkedIn, and even Facebook) are in their infancy, with many new offerings and use scenarios to come. I suspect that as these platforms roll out new features, they will take a more socially segmented approach – creating services that help you attract targeted groups (e.g. runners in Boston) with targeted messaging (e.g. weather reports for races that weekend). It will be interesting to see if this segmentation takes a traditional demographic approach or follows organic user-created groupings like those on Google+. I, for one, am very excited to see and be a part of the changes to come!

On a related note, I just finished reading a great book about social media by Likeable Media’s CEO Dave Kerpen (@DaveKerpen on Twitter). The book, Likeable Social Media, has a lot of great tools for getting started in crafting a social media strategy for your business. I plan to do a full post on my learnings from the book, but until then, I encourage you to check it out!

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Welcome to my blog!

I’ve decided to start this blog to feature my thoughts on design, strategy, social media, innovation, and entrepreneurship. Why? Well, mainly because all of these subjects are deep passions of mine, and are areas that I’d like to continue to work in throughout my career. I hope to use this blog to share my thoughts on these subjects to a wider audience, and in turn keep up my critical thinking and writing skills while I’m between full-time positions.

What you’ll find here:

  • Explorative thinking about trends in business strategy and innovation
  • Learnings from events, podcasts, articles, and books
  • Sneak peaks into personal design projects I’m working on

What won’t be here:

  • Lifecasting about what I’m up doing – you can follow me on Twitter if you’re interested in that
  • Stories about my wonderful dog, Hinckley – I have a whole (albeit not-frequently updated) blog devoted to him
  • Cataloging of my favorite new diy projects, products, and recipes – Pinterest is my favorite tool for this.

I always welcome feedback, so please feel free to reach out to me if there is anything else you’d like to see from me. For now, I’ll just go with my gut and get started posting!