Don’t Fear the Unknown

Beginning research is an acknowledgement that we don’t know. There are many things that we may not know, and we can try to articulate them by listing hypothesis as assumptions and then testing them with research. We are always better off knowing sooner, because our ability to pivot is improved and our sunk cost will be lower.

Assumption: When a person is booking travel with multiple destinations that the beginning of their next flight could literally be anywhere in the world by default.


Assumption: When a person is booking travel with multiple destinations that the beginning of their flight could be at any time starting from today into the future.


Assumption: People will book travel on their phone.


Every design is filled full of assumptions, test them and advance your design.

The secret is that all of these assumptions can be validated, and you don’t have to write a single line of code to find it out. Draw up a series of sketches, evaluate them within your team against your assumptions, test them with someone, iterate until your iterations are about tweaking pixels more than tweaking interactions, and then add it to the development backlog.


I’m not here to be in a relationship

I went to a happy hour with a friend at a local bar called Hops Scholar. I’ve been to the bar before, and I really like that they have a wide selection of beers (47 taps) and an easy-going atmosphere. They have a chalkboard which typically lists their beers, but this time they told us, “We have our menu on this app, it is called [pause, while the bartender turns a placard around] ‘Untapped'”. We said, “Great!” and ordered a round based on the bartender’s initial suggestion and sat down at a table across the room.

We both started installing the application. Well, first we started downloading it really. It took about 5 minutes.

After it was installed we were both eager to see the menu of beers and make a selection, but then this happened:


I don’t have the Facebook app installed on my phone, because I find it to be distracting. I also don’t know the login, because I use an app for that. Instantly, I find myself in a pickle. Sign up for this app so I can see the menu, or talk with the bartender again about their dozen plus beer selection.

Well, let’s see what that registration looks like… maybe it won’t ask for much.


Wrong! We gave up and went to talk to the bartender…

Jared Spool has a great story about the $300 million button. You can read about it on the UIE website. I think the article makes one thing clear that hits home in this situation.

“I’m Not Here To Be In a Relationship” – Jared Spool

If you want my birthday, gender, country, email, as well as my first and last name you are going to have to woo me at least a little bit. In this case, I wouldn’t even be making a relationship with the establishment “Hops Scholar”, but with this third party company “Untapped”.

This is a great situation where we can ask, “what problem are we solving”? We can also ask, “is this the best solution?” What if forcing customers to install an app is the modern-day, brick and mortar, $300 million button?

Help me, I can’t get out!

My wife, Patricia, and I went to visit my parents for the weekend a while ago. My step dad drove us to breakfast in his Ford Fiesta. When we arrived, Patricia tried to get out, but realized that the door was somehow locked. Upon further investigation, there may be some interesting design safety considerations about the locking mechanisms on the car doors.

The back door of the car. See how there are no manual locks.

Typically, you might say, well the back seat is where kids sit. They shouldn’t be able to unlock the door. Well that may be true, but what do you do in case of an emergency? One should be able to unlock the door!

The locking mechanism is in the dash. It failed to unlock the backdoor too.

There is the lock/unlock door button just about the emergency flashers. 

Additionally, the back seats aren’t the only doors without manual locks. The front passenger-side door is also missing a manual lock mechanism.

Fancy window control, check. Door handle, check. Door lock, nope!

There is another design consideration that we found interesting that isn’t related to safety. There, on the dash, a sirius button.


Upon investigation, the car has the Sirius button on the dash, but the car is not enabled for Sirius Satellite Radio. A button with a label that actually does nothing.

Algorithms to Live By: Bucket Sorting Laundry

I am currently listening (Audibling?) to the book “Algorithms to Live By: The Computer Science of Human Decisions” written by Brian Christian and Tom Griffiths. In the book, they describe how algorithms used in computer science can also be used in the real world.

The next time I followed my usual laundry process, I realized that I had used something similar to the Bucket Sort.

Laundry Bucket Sort

Step 1: Define the buckets.

For numbers, your buckets might be everything between 1 & 10, 11 & 20, 21 & 30, etc. For books, your buckets might be delineated alphabetically by author , e.g. Bucket 1 = Jane Austen, Louisa May Alcott; Bucket 2 = Dave Barry; etc.).

For laundry, I have come up with the following bins:

  1. Hangers
  2. Shirts/Dresses that hang
  3. Pants that hang
  4. Shirts that are folded
  5. Shorts
  6. Under-garments
  7. Miscellaneous

Step 2: Scatter… AKA Bin everything

Self-explanatory, and perhaps the least fun part of the system. Let me know if anyone has an algorithm for improving this 😉

Steps 3 & 4: Sort & Gather

After everything is binned, I systematically go through each bin and perform the necessary operation. Each bin follows the same operation, which allows for a natural flow to be achieved.

As a result of using this algorithm, I’ve made several improvements to our laundry management system.

  1. Under-shirts are a folded shirt, however they don’t need to be in a particular order. Simply grab the shirt on both sides under the arm-pit and lift (result is a half fold). Stack the shirts then place them straight into the dresser as-is. It is very easy to get a dress shirt, just pick up the one on the top.
  2. I only have one type of work sock, and one type of fitness sock. Why pair them when you can just stack them and take the top two to get dressed? This simplifies the folding process and the storage process.

I suppose the next step is to divide these bins into two each, one for me and one for my wife. That way, each stack goes neatly into the closet without having to think about which side of the closet I should face when putting clothes away.

What algorithms do you live by?

Thoughtfully edited by Patricia Lowry

Minimalist Wardrobe FTW!

“You’ll see I wear only gray or blue suits,” [Obama] said. “I’m trying to pare down decisions. I don’t want to make decisions about what I’m eating or wearing. Because I have too many other decisions to make.”

Why do we have all of these options?

  • Blue suit or black suit?
  • Black, Gray, or Blue Pants?
  • Polo or Button-Up?
  • Which color shirt works best?
  • Which of these ties goes with the shirt/pant combo?

The truth is that nobody really notices what you are wearing, but they do notice whether or not you look good in your clothes. To be clear, minimalist doesn’t have to mean boring or unvaried, but minimized to the necessary garments.

Design your minimalist wardrobe to feel and look your best.

Evaluate existing wardrobe

Separate your clothes into two piles. Fits and doesn’t fit. Donate anything that doesn’t fit, because things that don’t fit hide your good qualities and make you feel frumpy. Companies like Men’s Wearhouse will give you an in-store voucher for donating things like suits during promotion periods. This can be handy for future steps. 


Start taking notes as you wear the remaining clothes. Ask yourself, “Do I feel confident when I wear this?” If you have someone who will give you honest feedback ask them, “Do I look good wearing this?” If the answers are anything except for a resounding “YES!”, donate it.

Work to understand the trends in your remaining outfits. For me, blue and gray pants look good, while black did not. Polos looked bad, nice-fitting button-up shirts looked great. What works for me may not work for you; this is about picking a personal strategy.

Build & Replace

By now, you may not have enough clothes to make it through the week. Take what you learned about what makes you look and feel great to purchase some new clothes. You don’t need much more than a week’s worth of clothes. In addition, if you work in an office, you can re-wear clothes a couple of times before they need to be laundered.

Here is what my wardrobe looks like:

  1. One gray suit and a few ties
  2. Four Blank Label tailored shirts
  3. Four tall button-up shirts from Men’s Wearhouse
  4. Two pairs of dress pants from Men’s Wearhouse
  5. Three sweaters
  6. Two pairs of Jeans from Cavender’s
  7. Five T-Shirts from Old Navy
  8. A smattering of generic t-shirts for things like yardwork and painting
  9. One stack of blue Gold Toe socks
  10. One pair of brown dress shoes
  11. One pair of gym shoes
  12. One pair of Tom’s shoes
  13. Fitness clothing
  14. Winter clothing

Now that you have less clothes overall, you can spend a little bit more money to dial in the fit and feel of your clothes. A tailored shirt from Blank Label will look better than a shirt bought off the shelf from Men’s Wearhouse.

As clothes are worn they will wear out. Replace them.

Thoughtfully edited by Patricia Lowry


Unsolicited Redesign #1 – Redbox Email

I have the “Design Bug,” which is a clinical way of saying that I find myself wondering how I could improve experiences that I have. Redesigning things is fun and relaxing, and can also be a good way to demonstrate design process.

Formatting note: Over the first few Unsolicited Redesigns, I will be working on the form and function of these posts. Please feel free to send your feedback.

The User Problem

The Redbox email, before scrolling. (See Full Email)


I ordered Krampus to watch with my wife just before Christmas. I don’t regularly use Redbox, but we were in the mood for a Christmas movie and the kiosk is right next to our local grocery store. We could get the movie with our groceries and return it the next day. Easy, right?

I took a quick glance at the email and confirmed the following things:

  1. The Redbox kiosk is at the correct grocery store.
  2. It is outdoors.

Upon arrival, I saw three machines, and instantly I thought Hmm maybe it doesn’t matter which one I use. I pushed the logical buttons on the screen and inserted my card. Fail. A message popped up saying my movie wasn’t there-no other details. I tried another machine, same message. I finally noticed the last machine was labelled “Kiosk C”:BINGO!

I didn’t notice any of the content or options below the initial screen until I started doing this analysis.

Decomposing the Email

I would classify this email as having two parts. Part one is all of the information that I need to get the rental that I purchased. Part two is for marketing and engagement. This is where Redbox is trying to drive repeat business from me right before I’m about to pick up something I have already purchased.

The most important component of this email is where my rental is housed. I completely missed the KioskC, which appears here as a single word as an afterthought on the location. This feels like a holdover from the days when there may have only been one machine. If I can get this information, I can get my movie from the machine!
Redbox is trying to get many things from me here. Sign up for text messages (three times), download an app, inform me that I can return my rental anywhere, and also tell me about other movies that I could rent.


Any good design (or redesign) is intentional and has goals. Below are some goals for improving the design based on my experience.

Here are my goals:

  1. Changing the way we represent the four-step process will improve our ability to see where we should go, and what we expect to see there.
  2. There are repeated details regarding the order and payment method. Reduce these, as they are unnecessary.
  3. Rearrange the marketing and engagement opportunities to emphasize the things Redbox would like the most. Based on what they have, I think it is clear they want you to use their text messaging service.

Here is the full view of the Redbox email sketch as it would be viewed on a desktop/laptop.

I kept the dog in the email, because Redbox uses dogs in many of their emails and it is a unique/memorable touch. I removed some of the accompanying graphics, because they were getting in the way. Disclosure: I realized I could do more rearranging after making this sketch. It was super cheap to just redraw it below with less detail. 

Goal 1: Improve the four-step process


The most important part of this email is understanding where to get your movie. It is still four steps, but I pulled the kiosk away from the address. This allowed me to create a graphic that would emphasize which kiosk it is and indicate that there would be more than one. The dog now looks like it is retrieving my movie.

Goal 2: Reduce unnecessary transaction information.


The visa card was one of the duplicated items on the screen. It is more important to show it as part of the four-step process because without it, you can’t pick up your movie. The positioning felt like it broke the flow of the screen, and was causing formatting issues on smaller screens, like my phone… See below how the original looks on my phone and a sketched version of how this design would be laid out on the phone.


Goal 3: Rearrange Marketing and Engagement



I left the highest item that Redbox clearly is trying to emphasize. There could be some work around redesigning the actual graphic that could make sense. I think rearranging these things to be more compact and removing duplicated items (such as the text option) will result in a cleaner look that may result in better click-through.

I think emphasizing that there is an iOS and Android version of the app will land better with people. Most businesses with apps appear to be using the official store icons instead of images of phones.

With a little instrumentation, we would easily be able to measure whether these changes have an impact via A/B testing.

Thoughtfully Edited by Patricia Lowry

Who’s Afraid of Clowns?

I’m a big fan of the What to Draw app on Android, which gives random sketch prompts. This one stood out to me as being something that would be fun.

A food, wearing rings/ear-rings/piercings, running away from a clown on the street.

clown-movie-posterClearly, this called for some field research. I decided to watch the movie Clown, a horror film in which a man wants to make his son’s dreams come true by being the clown for his birthday. Little did he know, the suit would never come off and, predictably, his thirst for the blood of children would be hard to quench.

There were some elements of the movie that I initially thought would be neat in the drawing, but turned out to be kind of distracting in my initial sketches. The movie had the clown with a huge horn on the top of his head later in the transformation. I’m not sure if I’m just bad at drawing it, but I decided pretty quickly that it wasn’t going to work. This highlights one of the best parts of sketching: you can always, and easily, change directions. 

Below is a page of initial sketches I drew while watching the movie. I’m not sure why, but I decided instantly that the “food” would be a sandwich.

I decided that both the clown and the food needed to be large and detailed. I also wanted the food to be running while the clown would appear stationary. This would help give the clown a menacing look. An old-school classic horror film villain, who barely moves yet manages to catch his prey.

Below is the final sketch. I think it didn’t come out quite as elaborate as some of my solitary sketches, but I had a lot of fun depicting the two subjects closeup and having the street become more of a backdrop providing a little context. Perspective is something I will have to think more about in future sketches that I can improve.

My final clown may not have looked as crazed as the initial sketches, but I think he looks pretty freaky.



Still here? Feel free to comment.

The Big Three Zero

Today, I’m crossing over a major milestone. I suppose this makes me an adult. The average age of retirement is over sixty years old, which means that I still have all of the life I have lived before I even retire. This is great news, because I have plenty of time to grow and explore!

My family invested in a bunch of gifts for me this year, many of which are going to help me improve my design practice.


These two packages of Copic markers are now mine, ALL MINE! As my friends know, these are my favorite markers, but I never feel like I can buy them for myself. These new tools will bring new life to my traditional black and white sketches. In addition, the primary colors will make my paper prototypes so much more visually appealing.

To start out with these new tools, I took some time to play. I knew that blending grays would be important for me to be able to really work shadows in my sketches. Here are a few pictures I sketched with the gray set.

As you can see, some of my blends are better than others. The two caricatures are from the movie “Central Intelligence”.

In addition, I wanted to try my hand at using some of the colors for an application sketch. I have been slowly building an application to use for playing Pathfinder with my friends virtually. Here is a sketch of how I’m imagining the main application will look.

Quick sketch with some color that represents the tabletop gaming app I’m building. The colors surrounding the “G” token show how far the character can move. In this case, Grognath is very slow. In this sketch, I’m imagining that the left vertical list will contain player characters and the right list will contain enemies of the party.

Thank you to my family, if you are reading this. 🙂

Sketching 2017

Sketching is one of the best tools for rapid communication and iteration. It is a skill that improves with practice, and in 2017 I’m practicing more than ever. Today, I’m sharing some of the tools I use for practice and some of the sketches I have made so far this year.



Here are some of my tools for practice from top to bottom. You’ll notice they’re all Sharpie brand. Sharpies are great pens for practicing sketching. They are fairly inexpensive but produce quality sketches. 

  1. Sharpie Fine Black Pen – For all of my sketches
  2. Sharpie Ultra Fine Black – For bolder lines and writing
  3. Sharpie Ultra Fine Blue – For indicating “clickable” objects in my UI sketches.
  4. Sharpie Ultra Fine Orange – For annotations
  5. Sharpie Fine Gray – For shadows


I’m currently storing my sketches in this Whitelines Squared notebook. The grids are pretty subtle, and are typically not distracting. Here is what it looks like from my phone. The lines are supposed to disappear when scanned as well.

Random Shapes

Areas for Improvement

For my work, I want to continue improving my ability to explain complex concepts through sketches. I’m focusing on the following three skills:

  1. Diagramming
  2. Illustrating
  3. Speed

So far in 2017…

Sometimes I don’t always have a good reason to sketch, and for that I’m looking externally. Below are some sketches that started from the Reddit r/SketchDaily group. Every day, there is a new prompt, and usually an alternate prompt. For example, Spring, Cyborg, and Evil. I don’t typically color these sketches, but I did decide to color the cyborg.

Here are some miscellaneous sketches that made it into the mix.


Thoughtfully Edited by Patricia Lowry

Day One

Hello and welcome,

Today, February 4, 2017, I rebooted my plans to share my ideas more publicly on the internet. Flicking the switch for this site was one of the first steps.

I will post here regularly every Wednesday starting in March.

The following topics are in scope:

  1. Miscellaneous Sketches
  2. Thoughts on Design
  3. Thoughts on Design-related Articles
  4. Unsolicited Redesigns
  5. Maybe more…

You can find out when posts go out by following me on Twitter or LinkedIn.

Opinions posted on this site are my own and not the views of my employer.