My family & I flew back to California after nine months of being in Guam, and boy are our arms tired! OK, our entire bodies are tired, and our brains — we’re suffering from jet lag and feeling tired during the day.
This isn’t necessarily a problem — jet lag is to be expected, after all — but tiredness can affect everything in your life. I find myself less able to do work, more overwhelmed when I’m behind on email and messages, less able to keep up with healthy habits, more likely to eat junk food, and in worse moods.
Being tired can have such huge effects on us. And many people are tired much of the time, from being overworked and underslept.
So what can we do? Well, there are the usual methods of trying to get better sleep, like better sleep hygiene, setting a consistent bedtime and wake time, and so forth. These are highly recommended.
But what do you do today, when you’re still tired? What can you do tomorrow if you’re tired then too?
Here’s how I try to practice in the middle of the tiredness, which is sometimes unavoidable.
Generations of athletes, from youth leagues to professional sports, were taught to stretch before practice and games to improve performance and prevent injury. The routine typically went something like this: Stand on one leg, hold your heel to your hiney, and count to 10.
Then, about 20 years ago, studies began to suggest that stretching could actually worsen performance and increase injury risk, creating widespread confusion that persists today. The problem is that many of those studies looked at stretching in a vacuum, says David Behm, author of The Science and Physiology of Flexibility and Stretching. The kind of stretching that was most often assessed in research was almost always static, and typically not preceded by any warm-up nor followed by any dynamic movements prior to diving into the actual sports.
Behm began playing competitive sports at the age of 6. He was drafted to the Canadian Football League, but was cut after one game for — as he says — not being fast enough. He later became an amateur provincial champion in both tennis and squash, and now he studies exercise science at Memorial University of Newfoundland. He says his own research and experience has convinced him that stretching still has value.
“I am 62 years old and still playing tennis, squash, and hockey against youngsters who are 30 to 40 years younger,” he says. “I am not as fast or strong as I used to be, but I ensure that I do both static and dynamic stretching before I play and I have not had a musculotendinous injury in decades.”
David Behm discusses the intricate biomechanics of stretching, and different approaches for general flexibility vs. a good pregame stretch.
In a review of hundreds of studies, Behm and his colleagues found that static stretching combined with an initial warm-up and some dynamic stretching — which involves actively moving muscles through their range of motion, as in walking lunges or torso twists — followed by sport-specific activities, such as swinging a baseball bat, can improve performance and reduce injury risk. Of the reliable studies in the review that looked specifically at injuries, there was “a 54% risk reduction in acute muscle injuries associated with stretching,” the researchers wrote in 2016 in the journal Applied Physiology, Nutrition, and Metabolism.
Stretching anywhere from about 20 seconds to four minutes softens muscle tissue and temporarily lengthens muscles up to about 5%, says Markus Tilp, a professor in the Institute of Sports Science at Austria’s University of Graz. That allows for greater range of motion in the joints , though the effect is temporary, says Tilp. After six weeks of stretching five times per week, this increased range of motion tends to lock in, but not because the muscles are permanently lengthened, Tilp and colleagues found in a 2014 study. Rather, somewhere in the signaling system from nerve endings to the brain, people adapt to tolerate a stretch that would once have hurt.
“We have receptors in our muscles, tendons, and ligaments that assess the length or position of a tissue and transfer this signal to the brain,” says Tilp. “Stretching seems to alter this sensation.”
It’s unclear if the adaptation occurs in the nerves or in the brain, but the most recent study by Tilp and colleagues, detailed in March in the Journal of Musculoskeletal and Neuronal Interactions, suggests it happens “at the brain level and how the signals are processed,” he says.
Stretching can also be useful for people who might otherwise be inactive. A 2016 study in the International Journal of Health Sciences found that after a 10-week stretching program, a group of 50 inactive people averaging 60 years old experienced improved balance, which the researchers say would reduce the number of falls, which are a leading cause of debilitation among the elderly. Another study, albeit a small one, in the Journal of Exercise, Sports & Orthopedics, showed that after a year on a static stretching program, people in the study ages 67 to 80 were more flexible, and their major muscles were stronger by 10 to 17%.
Even static stretching that was once viewed as questionable is considered okay if done in the right way. Static stretching, in combination with a warm-up routine and followed by sport-specific dynamic stretches, has benefits, some of which are mental and even social, says Anthony Blazevich, who leads the Center for Exercise and Sports Science Research at Edith Cowan University in Australia.
“Stretching time allows for kids and athletes to check their muscles to look for tightness or soreness,” Blazevich says. “It also gives the team time to talk, bond, or listen to coach instructions.”
Research has even suggested that stretching makes athletes feel more prepared to perform, regardless of whether it actually prepares their bodies. “It’s also useful to stretch after sessions,” says Blazevich, who worked with Behm on the large 2016 review of stretching studies. “Research indicates that this stretching is associated with a reduction in future injury.”
There are limits to the power of stretching, however. Blazevich led another study last year to test a variety of stretching routines on serious athletes — young men who played competitive team sports. On different days, the men took different approaches to static and dynamic stretching, as part of long warm-up periods, before testing their abilities to sprint, jump, and change direction.
“Participants felt they were more likely to perform well when stretching was performed as part of the warm-up, irrespective of stretch type,” Blazevich and his colleagues wrote in the journal Medicine & Science in Sports & Exercise. “However, no effect of muscle stretching was observed on flexibility and physical function compared with no stretching.”
What’s the best way to pull the latest science into a routine? Behm suggests thinking of stretching in two ways. First, it should be a daily activity.
“If you want to be the ultimate weekend athletic warrior and participate every week without muscle and tendon injuries, you should stretch on a systematic basis,” Behm says. “Stretching to increase range of motion should be performed as a separate workout and not just before a workout or a sport. So instead of just lying or sitting down passively in the evening to watch the TV news, get down on the floor and static-stretch the major muscle groups for two to three repetitions of 30 seconds each.”
The key is to stretch until you feel tension, not pain or extreme discomfort, he says.
“To get even better results, massage the muscle tendon while you are stretching, as we have found that this tendon massage actually increases your range of motion more than just stretching alone,” Behm says. “If you are really keen you could also use a foam roller or roller massager to roll the muscle first and then stretch it.”
Second, it’s important to stretch immediately before playing sports or doing your workout, but incorporate a warm-up and a mix of static and dynamic stretching. The research is clear on the value of warming up. “You may hurt yourself if you stretch cold muscles,” says the Mayo Clinic’s guide to stretching.
Behm suggests a rough guide to pregame activities:
“This full warm-up will help to prevent muscle and tendon injuries and get your body prepared for action,” Behm says.
For people looking for a less time-consuming approach, Behm recommends that after a light warm-up, people should do short stretches of 10 seconds or less of all major muscle groups to check for tightness or injury, and to help with mental preparations for exercise. “Then continue with the more intense and sport-specific phase of the warm-up,” he says.
At the end of the day, the takeaway is that if it feels good, do it.
We all deal with stress on a daily basis — whether it’s the stress of being busy and overwhelmed at work, having to deal with personal crises, traffic, relationships, health, finances … stress can be a big part of our lives.
And stress has some strong effects: it makes us less happy, less effective, less open-hearted in our relationships, it tires us out, makes us less healthy, and can even create mental health issues if it rises to levels of anxiety.
So let’s look at how to let go of stress, whenever we notice it.
Why do we get stressed out, feel anxiety or feel overwhelmed?
Because we want the world to be calm, orderly, comfortable, and the world isn’t going along with those wishes. Things are out of control, not orderly, not simple, full of interruptions and unplanned events, health problems and accidents, and things never go as we planned or imagined.
But this is the way the world is — the stress comes not because the world is messy and chaotic, but because we desire it to be different than it is.
We have ideals for how other people should be, how we should be, how everything around us should be. These ideals aren’t a problem — the is that we are attached to these ideals. And this attachment causes us stress.
The good news is that we can let go of our attachment, and the world doesn’t need to change one iota. We can let go, and in doing so we let go of our stress.
How to Let Go of the Stress
Let’s say you’re experiencing a moment of stress right now.
Something isn’t going the way you’d like, things are chaotic or overwhelming, someone isn’t acting the way you’d like, you’re worried about something coming up.
The first practice is to drop into your body and notice how the stress feels, physically. Be present with the feeling — it’s not a problem to have stress in your body, it’s just a physical feeling. You can observe the physical sensation, just be with it. This can be your whole practice, and it only has to take a few moments.
The second practice is to notice the ideal, or your narrative about the situation. What’s causing this stress in your body? You have some ideal about how the world should be, how the other person should be, how you should be. And the world, the person, or you are not meeting that ideal. Notice that right now. Notice what you’re saying to yourself about it: “They shouldn’t act like that, I don’t like this, I’m such a screwup and not worthy of love.”
What do you say to yourself? Is this a familiar narrative? Notice that the ideal and the narrative are causing the effect of the stress, anxiety, fear, feeling of overwhelm. They aren’t serving you very well.
Also notice that they are completely fabricated by your mind. You created this ideal and the narrative. They are harming you, and you made up this dream. That’s nothing to beat yourself up about, but just to recognize. The good news: If you created it, you can let it go as well.
The third practice is to let go and just be. What would it be like to be in this moment without the ideal and the narrative? You’d be at peace. You’d be present in this moment. You’d be free. Perhaps more loving (to yourself or others).
Ask yourself what it would be like to not have the ideal and narrative. See if you can feel what it would be like, just for a moment. In that moment, you are free. You can relax, open your mind beyond your self-concern, and just be.
This is a state of openness that you can drop into in any moment. Just notice the sensations of this moment — the sensations of your body, of your surroundings. Notice the other people in your life, and their beautiful hearts. Notice how amazing it is to be alive right now, what a gift it is to have sight, hearing, taste, a body. What a privilege, what a joy!
You don’t have to be grateful and joyous in every moment, but this freedom of dropping ideal and narrative, and being at peace … it’s always available. Even in moments of chaos, you can be free, and even appreciate the beauty of the chaos.
Memories of middle school likely conjure up all sorts of thoughts and emotions. “Productive STEM learning” is probably low on the list. But on Tuesday, Lego is introducing a new coding and robotics set called Spike Prime that it hopes will break through with a notoriously distracted audience.
Lego has already dabbled in this world with its Lego Mindstorms line. But those kits can potentially intimidate at the 11- to 14-year-old level, both in complexity and design. Mindstorms tend toward a black and red color palette, with builds that lean heavily on cyberpunk sci-fi imagery. Think “robots with mohawks.” By contrast, the Spike Prime set aims for accessibility, opting for bright colors, friendly shapes, and drag-and-drop coding tools that gently nudge students towards learning.
“We worked so hard on making it appealing to everybody, because we know that everybody will need this kind of skill in the future,” says Marianne Nytoft Bach, director of Lego’s secondary school team.
Lego envisions students in the classroom working in pairs on creations that range from a break dancing robot to a weather forecaster to a grasshopper-like racing module; there are 33 lesson plans in all, each structured to last 45 minutes. (Because this is Lego, you’re naturally also welcome to go off-book.) The $330 kit contains a whopping 523 pieces—an expansion kit ups the total to 603—that are roughly color-coded to help guide the middle school audience through the process of sorting out which does what. A yellow centralized hub drives the action; all the wheels are blue, the sensors black, and so on. You can preorder today; it ships in August.
“We’re creating a toolkit. It’s not just about that one creation you see on the packaging. It really is about opening up this set to enable you to create inventions or make things,” says Siddarth Muthyala, senior concept lead on Spike Prime. “We’ve found the more colors we have, and the more elements you have in different colors, really tweaks your creativity. It really enables you to think outside the box, and think not just about color but the creation you’re making.”
Lego’s not the only company trying to entice young minds into engineering; if anything, Spike Prime is late to a party that LittleBits and others kicked off years ago. Osmo, Kano, and Sphero have all made huge strides in that space, with a variety of playful builds that give engineering lessons a tangible boost. In that sense, the significance of Spike Prime is adding yet another option to a category of product that has transformed the classroom already.
“There’s a lot of learning theory that says that experiential learning is powerful; it’s going to give kids that concrete experience to connect the more abstract, theoretical concepts to,” says Monica Cardella, director of the INSPIRE Research Institute for Pre-College Engineering at Purdue University. “Any time you’re able to combine the hands-on experience with a discussion that’s a little bit more abstract is going to benefit anybody who’s learning.”
But Lego also offers a well-rounded version of that vision. Its sets are broadly adaptable. It provides lesson plans that cover not just the creation of models but also how to incorporate them into math and language arts studies. Muthyala points to a lesson called “What Is This,” in which students construct a motor that moves a ring around. The goal isn’t just to build something simple and abstract; it’s for the students to use their imaginations to describe what they’ve made.
Other, less obvious benefits come into play as well. The worry with a lesson-driven kit like this isn’t that kids won’t be able to complete the task; it’s that they’ll be able to do so without challenging themselves. Making attempts that don’t work—and figuring out why they didn’t—is a crucial part of the learning process.
“With all the things that kids are learning through testing and troubleshooting, they’re developing a sense of confidence that it’s OK if it doesn’t work the first time,” says Cardella, “and a sense of grit, going through multiple cycles and iterations.”
But as anyone who has misstacked a brick in the past few decades knows, Lego products are forgiving of mistakes. In fact, with Spike Prime, mistakes are encouraged.
“The prototyping that the students can do removes the fear of failure,” says Bach. “They try out something that they created, that they are emotionally attached to, and if it doesn’t work they can try again. They can do that with the Lego bricks, because that’s the way Lego is built.”
Familiarity with the Lego brand itself may also help win over some STEM converts. In the same way that Kano uses a Harry Potter wand to get kids excited about coding, Lego can leverage generations of goodwill toward bricks to get them interested in Spike Prime. Then again, as a classroom product, it’s not like they’ll have much choice.
Most important of all, Lego Spike Prime gives educators yet another resource to win students over to STEM, one that’s adaptable, colorful, and most of all fun. That’s a foundation you can build on.
“I discovered that when I believed my thoughts, I suffered, but that when I didn’t believe them, I didn’t suffer, and that this is true for every human being. Freedom is as simple as that. I found a joy within me that has never disappeared, not for a single moment. That joy is in everyone, always.” ~Byron Katie
A loved one has been going through a hard time, dealing with tiredness, stress, and loneliness, and my heart goes out to them as it does anyone going through such struggles.
They can break your heart, these difficult emotions.
But beyond compassion, what I tried to help her with is a fairly simple method for dealing with these difficulties mindfully. I offer it to you all as well, as something to practice and test out.
Here’s the method, to practice if you’re feeling stress, frustration, loneliness, sadness, tiredness:
Obviously some of these might take some practice. But it’s worth it, because while you might not be able to get rid of tiredness (some rest would help there), you can let go of the thoughts about the tiredness that are causing you to be unhappy. You might not be able to get rid of the loneliness, but you can let go of the downward spiral of thoughts and emotions that make the situation worse.
And just maybe, you can find some incredible love for your experience in this moment. Yes, you feel tired, but you can love the tiredness, and everything else in this moment, without needing anything to change.
Do you want to ruin their careers? This is how you ruin them.
One of the reasons we don't hire teenagers to run businesses is that we want adults. Adults should be independent, but a new survey shows that parents are continuing to parent their adult children way too far into adulthood. USA Today reports that the survey found:
Not to sound like a crabby old lady, but my parents had no clue what my deadlines were in school or in work. Sure, they knew when finals' week was but otherwise, I was 100 percent responsible for my own schedule in college and ever after.
Now, as a parent, I understand the temptation. Seeing your child fail is painful and if you can just prevent that, then all will be well with the world. But, failure is good--and the sooner they fail the better. If your child flunks a class in 9th grade because she forgot she had a test, she'll be able to make it up and go on with life. If she has you hovering over her, reminding her of all deadlines and holding her hand to get things done, when she finally does fail, it will be spectacular.
With the recent college admissions scandal--where parents cheated for their students and sometimes the student had no clue--we're hearing a lot more about Snow Plow Parents rather than Helicopter Parents. These parents don't just hover--they push everything out the way for their little darlings.
The New York Times shared some experience from Psychologist Madeline Levine that include these examples of failure at college due to snow plow parents:
I understand food aversions but ensuring that your child never sees sauce on food will not help her in life. Learning how to handle something you don't like on your plate will. (I'm not even arguing she has to learn to eat sauce--although that would be great--but what on earth is going to happen when this child goes to a business dinner and gets presented with pasta with red sauce?)
The survey also found that 16 percent of parents helped their adult children "write all or part of a job or internship application." This is only going to lead to your child getting a job that they aren't qualified for. Thankfully, 84 percent of parents don't do that. Be in the majority.
This isn't to say that adults don't ever have people proofread or give feedback. Of course, they do! Heck, that's why we have editors. But giving feedback is different than doing the writing for someone.
Businesses want to hire fully functional adults. If you are a snow plow parent, put your plow in park and hand your child a shovel. They need to learn how to be an adult.
This is not to say I'm a perfect example, of course. As part of full disclosure, I had difficulty finding a job after I finished graduate school. (Perhaps, in retrospect, a master's degree in political science wasn't the most marketable of degrees.) Because of this, my parents paid my rent for a few months while I searched for a job. (I had a scholarship and a stipend that paid my way in graduate school.) Finally, my parents said, "this is your last check. You can either get a job or move home." I had a temp job by the end of the week and have not relied on them financially since.
A bit of tough love and an apartment in a somewhat sketchy area of town can be wonders for helping your children reach adulthood. Let them give it a try.
(And Will Keep You From Giving Up on Your Dreams Too Soon)
Jeff Bezos knows how to make smart decisions. He knows how to hire the right people.
And he knows how to stay the course -- and stay true to a vision -- in spite of doubters, naysayers, and critics.
Here's an example: Referring to the Amazon Echo, Apple SVP of Worldwide Marketing Phillip Schiller once said, "There's many moments where a voice assistant is really beneficial, but that doesn't mean you'd never want a screen. So the idea of not having a screen, I don't think suits many situations."
Tens of millions of Echo devices in homes later... yep: Oops.
As Bezos said (as recounted in John Rossman's upcoming book, Think Like Amazon: 50 1/2 Ways to Become a Digital Leader):
To Bezos, critics of online reviews missed the point. Amazon's goal was to help customers make the best purchase decisions they possibly could; deliver that, and customer loyalty would skyrocket.
And as a result... Amazon would sell more things.
Input is Great... Until It's Not
Of course, seeking input is natural. We're taught to actively solicit opinions. We're taught to bounce ideas off others. We're taught to run ideas up proverbial flagpoles and harness the incredible power of a group to make great decisions.
Yet the main power wielded by group thinking is the power of the middle ground: Groups grind away clean edges and sharp corners. After all of the input and feedback and devil's advocacy, what remains is safe, secure...
If you want to be different -- if you want to achieve "different" -- you must be willing to accept criticism. To accept disapproval. To be questioned, to be doubted...
To be, as Bezos says (again from Think Like Amazon), misunderstood:
Of course, it's hard not to worry about what other people think. And much of the time you should worry about what other people think -- but not if it stands in the way of living the lives you really want to live.
That's when you must be willing to be misunderstood. If you decide to start a business (which you can do in less than half a day.) If you decide to adopt the one work/life balance that actually works. If you decide to consistently say the four most important words a leader can say.
Some people will question you. Some will doubt you. Some will think you're crazy.
They're not wrong. They just misunderstand.
And that's okay -- especially if you're living your life the way you want to live it.
No one has to make harder decisions than the president. Here's how Obama dealt with his toughest calls.
You think you have to make stressful, high-stakes decisions for your work? Just imagine what it's like to have to make the call to send young soldiers into harm's way or weigh bailing out bankers who deserve a jail sentence more than a rescue boat against tanking the economy?
How on earth could any mere mortal make such impossibly tough decisions? There are only five Americans in the world who can speak to that, and one of them just opened up.
Speaking at a gathering of tech workers, former President Barack Obama spoke in detail about how he handled the crushing pressure of presidential decision-making. Every call was horrible -- "If it was an easily solvable problem, or even a modestly difficult but solvable problem, it would not reach me, because, by definition, somebody else would have solved it," he recalled -- but he figured out a constructive approach to thinking through some of the world's most intractable problems.
1. Swap certainty for probabilities.
Psychologist David Dunning, of Dunning-Kruger effect fame, is known for studying stupidity, but through the power of contrast his work also illuminates how smart people think. Dumb people, he recently opined, see the world in black and white. Smart people think in probabilities.
"Not 'Will X or Y occur?' but 'What is the chance of X or Y occurring -- 10, 50, 80 percent?'" he said. Obama agrees with him.
The first step to making a truly tough decision, he told the gathering is "being comfortable with the fact that you're not going to get [a] 100 percent solution, and understanding that you're dealing with probabilities, so that you don't get paralyzed trying to think that you're going to actually solve this perfectly," Quartz reports.
2. Get the smartest people in the room.
"I'm old fashioned. I believe in these Enlightenment values like facts and reason and logic," Obama went on, offering a not-so-subtle dig at his fact-challenged successor.
"If I had set up a good process in which I could get all the information, all the data, all perspectives, if I knew that I had around the table all the angles ... then I could feel confident that even if I didn't get a perfect answer, that I was making the best decision that anybody in my situation could make," he continued.
How do you get the best information? From the best people, of course, and that means putting your ego aside and not insisting you know everything or have the biggest brain. Obama insisted that "having the confidence to have people around you who were smarter than you, or disagreed with you," was "critical."
3. Ask dumb questions.
Just humbling yourself to seek out expert advice and actually listen to it isn't enough, however. You also have to understand it. That often means going a step further and asking a lot of seemingly dumb questions.
"I always would say to somebody, if they're talking about a really complicated issue, 'I don't understand what you're saying. Explain it to me in English,'" Obama relates. "I think one of the problems with people who are in big jobs is they start feeling as if they have to project that 'I have every answer' when, in fact, most of the time, you may not."
Looking for more information on how this process played out in regards to some of the most high-profile decisions of his presidency, such as the bin Laden raid and the Deep Water Horizon oil spill disaster? Check out the complete Quartz article for lots more detail.
Ever hear of a brand style guide? That's the very first thing you'll need.
Think of branding as you would meeting someone on a blind date. You dress to make a specific impression. You communicate in a way that makes the other person interested in knowing more. And, if things work out, you may nudge your way toward a second date.
This is also the heart of branding, because with branding, you give someone an experience of your company that establishes a clear picture of who you are and ultimately engages that someone -- now a "customer" -- enough to buy your goods and services.
Many entrepreneurs ignore branding because they consider it too expensive or don’t think they'll need it until they reach a specific growth point. The truth is, however, that the longer you wait to brand, the more confusion you'll create in the marketplace. So, instead, start with the basics and use the many free or inexpensive branding tools that won’t break the bank but will have a drive revenue.
Create a brand style guide.
A brand style guide establishes guidelines that define your brand and how it will be shared with the marketplace. Similar to a marketing plan, a style guide assures a consistent company presence across every engagement so that your brand becomes recognizable to current and potential customers.
A brand style guide can be as complex or limited as you choose, and for most small businesses and startups should cover:
Establishing your brand style guide requires time and effort, but no money unless you choose to hire a consultant. There are also several free examples of brand style guides that can provide inspiration.
Design your logo.
Design your logo using your brand style guide. Your logo will appear on everything from business cards to your website, so it needs to visually encapsulate your brand. For assistance, check out the free or inexpensive logo-making websites, like AI logo designer by Designhill, or Sothink Logo Maker. Both provide quality designs for little to no money.
You can also find independent contractors on sites like Fiverr, to design your logo. Before using any of these options, study competitors' logos and logos from businesses that you admire, even if they are in a different industry. Identify the elements you like, and the ones you don’t, and design the logo that best represents your brand and will appeal to your target audience.
Launch your website.
Every business needs a website. Period. Why? A recent study by Deloitte found that small business with a strong digital presence earned twice as much revenue per employee than those without it. Websites generate sales, increase consumer trust and provide a 24/7 online marketing presence, which supports the company’s growth.
The challenge is that developing a website can be expensive, but resources such as Squarespace and WiseIntro can get you on the digital map cheaply, and you can upgrade or redesign your site as your company grows. If you have the funds to splurge on one piece of your branding, this is the place to spend it.
Leverage social media.
Social media sites are free to use and a great way to build your brand. Yes, you can pay to run ads and access high-level analytics, but you don’t need to start there right out of the box. Effective social media leveraging requires a professional and consistent presence. Start by conducting research to determine which social media channels are most likely to reach your target market and industry influencers.
Next, use free resources, such as Canva, to give your posts the branded look you need for a small-time investment but no financial outlay. Finally, utilize an editorial calendar to remind you to upload fresh information to these sites on a scheduled basis. Think outside the marketing box, and truly enhance your brand by sharing information about your mission and vision in ways that also highlight your personality.
Start a blog.
Blogging is another excellent way to establish your brand and engage your audience. This is where branding your voice is critical. Be intentional and consistent in your tone and communication process. Establish your expertise in your industry, discuss trends or other information relevant to your target audience and share stories about your company and staff to personalize your relationship with customers.
This is also a great opportunity to connect with other experts or influences by offering them opportunities to guest blog or request to curate their content on your site. The key to branding is to deliver fresh content on a consistent basis that will bring your audience back for more. There are several free and inexpensive blogging platforms, such as WordPress, that can get you up and running in minutes.
Your brand is the foundation of your business. but you don’t need to spend thousands of dollars to establish and support it. The brand style guide should inform every aspect of your professional engagements, from your logo to your blog, to clearly and consistently communicate who you are to your target audience. A strong brand will provide financial returns, so get started today.
Don’t Make Me Think by Steve Krug - Eugen Eşanu
The saying that “good design is obvious” is pretty damn old, and I am sure it took different shapes in the previous centuries. It referred to good food, music, architecture, clothes, philosophy and everything else.
We forget that the human mind changes slowly, and the knowledge you have about human behaviour will not go old for at least 50 years or so. To make it easy for you, we need to keep consistent with a couple of principles that will remind us of how to design great products. We should be told at least once a month about these small principles until we live and breathe good design.
The human brain’s capacity doesn’t change from one year to the next, so the insights from studying human behaviour have a very long shelf life. What was difficult for user twenty years ago continues to be difficult today — J. Nielsen
Revisiting: Don’t Make Me Think
Steve Krug laid out some useful principles back in 2000, after the dot-com boom which are still valuable and relevant nowadays. Even after his revised version, nothing changed. Yes, you will tell me that the looks are more modern and the websites are more organised and advanced (no more flash!). But what I mean about that is — nothing has changed in human behaviour. We will always want the principle “don’t make me think” applied to any type of product we interact (whether it is a microwave, tv, smartphone or car).
1. We don’t read, we scan
The reason for that is — we are on a mission, and we only look for the thing that interests us. For example, I rarely remember myself going through all the text on the homepage of a product website. Why? Because most of the web users are trying to get something done, and done quickly. We do not have time to read more than necessary. And we still put a lot of text because we think people need to know that. Or as some designers say: “it adds to the experience”.
2. Create effective visual hierarchies
Another important aspect that will help scanning a page is offering a proper visual hierarchy. We have to make it clear that the appearance on a page portrays the relationship between elements. So there are a couple of principles for that:
3. Don’t reinvent the wheel
We believe that people want something new and more. But we forget that there are so many applications on the market that each demands our time. Each of them has different interactions, and we need to learn each one of them. And our mind blows up when: “Oh man, another app to learn?!”.
It is an important point to know before I am going to say this:
We as designers, when asked to design something new, have a temptation to try and reinvent the wheel. Because doing something like everyone else seems somehow wrong. We have been hired to do something different. Not to mention that the industry rarely offers awards and praises for designing something that has “the best use of conventions”.
Before reinventing the wheel, you have to understand the value (time, effort, knowledge) that went into what you are trying to disrupt and innovate.
4. Product instructions must die
Our job is to make stuff clear and obvious. If obvious is not an option, then at least self-explanatory. The main thing you need to know about instructions is that nobody is going to read them. We should aim for removing the instructions to make everything self-explanatory. But when they are necessary, cut as much as possible. (but, really, nobody is going to read them). We muddle through.
If it is not obvious then we should aim for self-explanatory.
Take IKEA as an example. If you gave an average person to assemble a wardrobe from IKEA, I am sure that he will assemble it right most of the times. Why? It is, most of the cases, apparent on how it should be assembled if we have a clear picture in front of us. But even in instances where they look at the instructions, there are no words — only images.
5. We do not care how your product works
For most of the people, it is not essential to know or understand how your product works. Not because they are not intelligent, but merely because they do not care. So once they nail down the use of your product, they will rarely switch to something else.
Let’s take as an example the Apple AirPods. We can all admit that they are the worst sounding earbuds for the price you pay. But when I look at how people interact with it, I understand the real reason why they buy it. They do not make you think about why it is not working. You even don’t notice they have new technology.
I look at how my mom interacts with them, and she never asked me what technology is behind or how they work. She knows that whenever you open the case near your device, it is going to connect. It is that easy.
6. People don’t look for “subtle cues” — we are in a hurry
My favourite one. We, designers, love giving the users subtle effects and add beautiful delights. Right? Well, what if I told you that your users don’t care about it? No matter how much they tell you they do, they don’t. First time? Yes. Second? Ok. Third? Really, how much do I have to see this until it’s enough?
Why is this happening? Life is a much more stressful and demanding environment than an app’s delights and subtle effects. For example, you are a father, and your kid is screaming because he wants ice cream, the dog is barking because somebody is calling at the front door and you are trying to book a quick train ticket that should leave in 40 minutes. In that specific moment, people will not give a f* about your subtle cues. On the other side, we should use them, but not when it kills the user flow.
7. Focus groups are not usability tests
Focus group is a small group of people that sit around at the table and discuss things. They talk about their opinions about the product, past experiences, their feelings and reactions to new concepts. Focus groups are great for determining what your audience wants.
A usability test is about watching one person at a time trying to use something (your product in this case). In this case, you ask them to perform specific actions to see if you need to fix something in your concepts. So focus groups is about listening and usability tests are about watching.
8. We allow personal feelings take over the process
All of us who design digital products have the moment when they say — “I am a user too, so I know what is good or bad.” And because of that, we tend to have strong feelings about what we like and don’t.
We enjoy using products with ______, or we think that _____ is a big pain. And when we work on a team it tends to be hard to check those feelings at the door. The result is a room full of people with strong personal feelings on what it takes to design a great product. We tend to think that most of the users are like us.
9. You ask the wrong questions
It is not productive and will not add any value if you ask questions such as: “Do people like drop-down menus?”. The right question to ask is: “Does this drop-down menu, with these words, in this context, on this page create a good experience for people who are likely to use the site?”
We should leave aside “do people like it?” and get deeper into the strategic context of design.
The reason for that is if we focus on what people like, we will lose focus and energy. Usability testing will erase any “likes” and show you what needs to be done.
10. When a person uses your product, you forget that she shouldn’t spend time thinking about…
The point is that every question that pops into our head, when using your product, only adds up to the cognitive workload. It distracts our attention from “why I am here” and “what I need to do”. And as a rule, people don’t enjoy solving puzzles when they merely want to know if that button is clickable or not.
And every time you make a user tap on something that does not work, or it looks like a button/link but it’s not, it also adds up to the pile of questions. And this happens because who built the product did not care too much about the product.