Product design picks for March

A jar that expands and contracts based on the quantity of food you need it to hold. [Designer: Terence Myers (Botto Design)]

“Just expand the jar, open the lid, and pour your contents in before closing the lid and pressing down on the top. Air releases from the valve on the jar’s lid, packing your food in tightly not only to make the jar more compact but to also remove excess air from inside the container, keeping your food fresher for longer.”

A smart mirror that gives you a weather and calendar preview of the day. [Designers: Hongseok Seo, Minkwan Seo & Jo-Young Choo]

It’s connected to the internet, can play for favorite tunes and helps you get ready for the day.

Bose AR sunglasses. These devices funnel sound towards the wearer’s ears. It could be interesting to combine good graphics with Bose’s sound quality. These look more natural than the AR glasses we usually see. source




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In large organizations, my experience has been that having too many ongoing projects at the same time for the same product leads to a messy outcome. The ideal scenario involves everyone having a single vision and general focus area.

Imagine you’re designing a sushi restaurant. There are 3 different leaders of this sushi restaurant. One of them wants to focus on sashimi, one wants to diversify the palette with western food and one wants to serve regular sushi. While they all have unique strengths that they can bring to the table (no pun intended), the marketing ad and menu for that restaurant will start to get really confusing.

Here’s a real life example. Public transit in the bay area is managed by multiple agencies. CalTrain runs north/south of the peninsula, Muni serves San Francisco and Bart connects the northern half of the peninsula to East Bay. Additionally, VTA serves San Jose and South Bay cities and AC transit serves East Bay towns. I’ve run into more confused tourists in San Francisco than anywhere else, because no one knows which bus/tram/train to take. When I first arrived in the city, I was dumbfounded by how nonsensical the system was. In contrast, Boston’s MBTA is responsible for the commuter rail, subway system and buses.


Above: San Francisco transit systems

I feel that the same applies to tech products as well. Vurb was an app that helped you figure out what to do in your spare time. You could plan an event with friends, whether it was concerts, music or theatre. They had a lot of interesting concepts – especially that of collaborating with other folks on getting together, but it was hard to figure out when exactly I would need this app. They couldn’t gain mass traction and sold to Snapchat for $110 million+. However, apps like Instagram have remained resilient in today’s mature app market because it does one thing really, really well. It allows people to share a moment through a photo and for other people to see that photo. Its simplicity is what allows it to work.


To create a product that people will use, its purpose must be clear and intentional. It seems obvious, but often we try to stack too many features on top of a product, which makes it less desirable in the end.

That’s probably a sign for me to give this blog a focus. Until next time!



Designing Design

My cousin, currently studying product design at Carnegie Mellon University, told me about Designing Design by Kenya Hara. Hara is a design advisor at MUJI, the Japanese product brand. In his book he writes about Japanese design and thoughtful redesigns of everyday objects. The book is available on amazon (#whysoexpensive), and here’s an excerpt:

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Itsuko Zenitani Ceramics


Today, I visited the Arts and Crafts Cooperative in Berkeley, CA. Towards the back, I noticed a set of bowls that had really interesting glaze on it. The top was a glossy blue while the bottom had been textured to look like wood. It was one of those rare moments where I immediately felt that I had to tell the artist how awesome I thought this was. So, Itsuko Zenitani – map props. Your ceramics work is stunning.

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Design leadership


Two weeks ago, I took a Design Leadership course at Cooper. So…what happened next?

  1. A team lunch, because I realized that we’ve never held a team lunch before with everyone (six people, what!)
  2. A calendar on our whiteboard so that everyone could share what they’re working on (easier to read it than remember what people said during standup)
  3. A meeting with engineers so that we could have regular ux and eng syncs (I know, crazy).

I didn’t get better at design and none of these things are uber leadership-y. But what came out of the class was a realization about how much I need to understand my colleagues’ perspectives about their work. I need to understand their problems, their concerns, their thoughts about our process, all of it. It seems obvious, but it’s essential to doing the design stuff.

How to have difficult conversations


I’ve recently been reading Crucial Conversations (Patterson, Grenny, McMillan, Switzler), because I wanted to know how to have hard conversations with people. It’s something that everyone struggles with.

Designers at my company can’t be successful if they can’t communicate their ideas to stakeholders, ask for resources or deal well with conflicts. Whether at work or at home, if you can’t talk about the things that matter to you, you’ll end up in less-than-ideal situations. 

I wanted to outline some things from Crucial Conversations that stuck out for me. 

Understand how you got into this particular conflict or issue:

  1. Notice your behavior. Ask: Am I in some form of silence or violence (flight or fight)
  2. Get in touch with your feelings. What emotions are encouraging me to act this way?
  3. Analyze your stories. What story is creating these emotions?
  4. Get back to the facts. What evidence do I have to support this story that I’m telling myself about the situation?

Watch for clever stories that we tell ourselves. 

  1. Victim stories: you intentionally ignore the role you have played in the problem. You tell your story in a way that judiciously avoids whatever you had done that might have contributed to the problem
  2. Villain stories: automatically assuming the worst possible motives or grossest incompetence while ignoring any possible good or neutral intentions or skills a person have have. 
  3. Helpless stories: Making ourselves to be powerless to do anything healthy or helpful. 

These  stories get us off the hook and keep us from acknowledging our own sellouts. When we feel the need to push our ideas on others, it’s generally because we believe we’re right and everyone else is wrong. We exaggerate, lace our language with inflammatory terms and appeal to authority (“everyone knows this is the case, even my boss thinks so”). The harder we try, the greater resistance we create, the worse the results and the more battered our relationships. 

Focus on what you really want 

Focus your brain on the end goal when conversing so that you are responding in a way that will get you there rather than continuing to fuel a fire or comments that lean away from it. “…as the conversation unfolds and you find yourself starting to, say, defer to the boss or give your spouse the cold shoulder, pay attention to what’s happening to your objectives. Are you starting to change your goal to save face, avoid embarrassment, win, be right, or punish others?…Our motives usually change without any conscious thought on our part.”

Ask yourself these questions when you find yourself slipping out of dialogue:

  • What do I really want for myself?
  • What do I really want for others?
  • What do I really want for the relationship?
  • How would I behave if I really wanted these results?

Make it safe.

“The worst at dialogue …totally ignore the crying need for more safety. They say whatever is on their minds – with no regard for how it will be received. Or…they conclude the topic is completely unsafe and move to silence. The good realize that safety is at risk, but they fix it in exactly the wrong way. They try to make the subject more palatable by sugarcoating their message…. They try to make things safer by watering down or dressing up their content. This strategy, of course, avoids the real problem, and it never gets fixed.”

The best do this:

“Can we change gears for a minute? I’d like to talk about what happens when <insert problem>. It would be good if we could both share what’s working and what isn’t. My goal isn’t to make you feel guilty, and I certainly don’t want to become defensive. What’ I’d really love is for us to come up with a solution that makes us both satisfied in <scenario>.”

^ The person is being upfront about the issue rather than avoid it. They create contrasting statements that help to make the situation safe for the other person. And they stated a goal that they wanted to achieve. 

Remember the ABCS

  1. Agree: point out areas of agreement.
  2. Build: add elements that were left out of the discussion
  3. Compare: rather than suggesting that he/she is wrong, suggest that you differ. Rather than saying “wrong!”, try “I think I see things differently. Let me describe how.”

Document your outcomes. Write down the conclusions and decisions you’ve made. Make sure that there’s a follow-up and that you’re both held accountable. 

Last step: read Crucial Conversations

The design of food 🍔


A few months ago, I blogged about how I have intestinal dysbiosis.

TL;DR: I got a parasite infection & the antibiotics wiped out my entire gut micro-biome. I recovered shortly thereafter. This April, I had another bout of food poisoning. I receive yet another round of antibiotics. This time, there was no recovery. My gut bacteria had been altered one too many times.

Well, I’ve now had dysbiosis for 5 months. It’s led to countless doctor’s visits, lab tests and breakdowns. After months of denial, anger and depression, I’ve finally accepted that my diet will need to change for the long term. No more gluten, lactose or sugar.

That means every single place that is convenient to eat out is no longer an option: cafes, sandwich shops, burger joints, the bread before the meal, the 3-min ravioli at Safeway, the breakfast table near the conference room filled with an assortment of muffins, croissants and danishes.

At first I was devastated. I thought, how could this be? I resigned myself to never eating out to stop thinking about macaroni and cheese and cookie dough ice cream. Slowly, I’ve come to the realization that I didn’t grow up craving these foods. My mother didn’t and doesn’t bake. I hardly ever ate sugar except on vacation. We actually never really ate out. There weren’t actually that many restaurants in our small town.

So I started thinking about why I liked these foods. It wasn’t until college that I start eating sweets. The college cafeteria didn’t have many vegetables, but they had tons and tons of desserts every single day. I switched over into eating these foods, because they were often better than the vegetables they served, which were undercooked, over-steamed and bland. I gained 15 lbs during college. I joined that club.

When I graduated, I found a job in Boston and slowly went back to the diet that I grew up on – rice, vegetables and seafood. As a result, I lost my college weight almost immediately. However, I also ate out more often, as my friends opted for restaurants as the main arena of socialization.

Later, when I moved to San Francisco I started traveling for work, which entailed eating out as much as every single day for a whole week, something I found unnerving. I ate a lot of foods that were deep fried, heavily sweetened and chock-full of salt.

Perhaps, the worst part of this, is that I got used to it. So naturally, when I put myself on a more restricted diet, I started craving these carbs and sugars. I would look for excuses. I would seek out cookies that were gluten-free, instead of cutting out cookies altogether. I would look for cereals and snacks made of brown rice instead of wheat.

But when my symptoms got worse, I realized that I was only fooling myself. I decided to stop eating these processed foods altogether. It was a real turning point for me.

I had to do undo about 6-10 years worth of social influencing, marketing, and lifestyle habits. I had to look at the places we often cling to as forums for conversation – cafes and ice cream shops – differently than I once did and ask myself: why do these places mostly sell sweets and carbs? Because they’re cheap to stock and profitable.

Sugars and grains can last for a very long time and often don’t need refrigeration. Salmon and bell peppers have finite shelf lives and need to be kept cold. So businesses look for cheap options that can be transported and stored easily. 

Dr. William Davis describes in Wheat Belly that we used to only eat seeds of grass in periods when it was hard to find vegetables and meat, because they could be stored during times of famine. We’re not even supposed to be eating them. 

Many food businesses will add extra sugar and salt to their products so that you’ll buy them again and again. They don’t promise a healthy meal. They promise a good time (think about Coca Cola ads). They’re not looking out for me, so I need to look for me. I want to know exactly what I’m eating. 

I wasn’t planning on making a lifestyle change when I became sick, but it’s taught me so much about how we can take care of ourselves. It turns out that the restricted diet I’m on for my dysbiosis might be the one I should be on forever. (I’m on the Whole30 program and paleo diet by default, so I reckon it’s not a bad way to go.)

It’s been 3 months, since I’ve had any processed foods or added sugars. While, I still crave carbs and sugars from time to time, I no longer feel sad about not being about to have them. I feel more okay about sticking to my choices, which are exactly that. I can have all the sugars and grains in the world if I want, but I know that they’ll worsen my dysbiosis.

Even if I recover 100% from dysbiosis, I would still refrain from my former way of eating. This isn’t about getting back to the way I used to be, this is about living better. So it you’ll excuse me, I’m off to make my plate of shrimp, tomatoes and zucchini.