you are what you ship

What do we deliver as product designers? Ideas? Wireframes? Prototypes? While these things are certainly critical to a designer’s role, we're ultimately held accountable for really one thing: the end shipped experience.

This principle is obvious in other design disciplines. Wouldn't it be absurd to celebrate Jony Ive for his prototypes rather than computers that people can use? What if car designers were judged by their renderings rather than cars that people drive? Architects celebrated for their blueprints rather than buildings? What you deliver is what matters in these fields, and product design is no different.

On the other hand, we don't always have total control over the end product. Building a product is a complicated process. It requires proper scoping and prioritization; approval from executives and managers; collaboration with developers and product managers. Given these limitations, how do we get close to a good shipped experience with as little compromise?

There are 3 possible approaches:

  1. You rely on persuading other people: If you're good with people and convincing them of your ideas, you can maybe use this skill to tell them what to do. There are many problems with designers telling developers what to do (worth another post), but the biggest downside is that this method is limited by whom you work with... and people come in all shapes and sizes.

  2. You work with skilled front-end developers: If the FE developers you work with have a knack for UX and the finer details, you're in luck! There's minimum requirement on your end. The problem again is that this approach relies on external factors in whom you work with.

  3. You know how to code: The best way to take charge of your own destiny is to learn how to code. Not only will you build rapport with your fellow developers now that you speak their language, you can tweak, iterate, and build whatever you want (within reason), especially the small details that are so often missed. It's the best way to repeatedly ensure a good shipped experience, and it scales well to any team or organization.

With Approach 3, I don't think this means abandoning Sketch (or your design tool of choice). Good shipped experiences still require tinkering and exploration, and design tools are still the best way to do this. Design tools also excel in communicating a vision which is difficult to do in code. But I do think this means spending less time in design tools and more time in code (especially in a world where design systems are becoming more prevalent). This also doesn't mean you stop communicating or collaborating with your team members. Design is futile in isolation.

I'm currently on a long journey to learn front-end development. So far, Free Code Camp has been a helpful resource (they're free!), though the best way has been finding an excuse to code and fix small issues at work.

As always, thank you for reading. If you'd like to read more on this topic, Intercom Design had a few things to say in a recent tweet storm.

Posted from London at 11:21 PM BST, 03/31/2019

Andrew Lee
is good design still long lasting?

Is the longevity of a product still a relevant principle of good design in the digital world? Can digital products still be timeless or is that an outdated principle applicable to only physical goods?

Netscape Navigator 1994 and Google Chrome 2018 (24 years). URL input bar, prominent navigation controls, back/forward linear navigation.

Netscape Navigator 1994 and Google Chrome 2018 (24 years). URL input bar, prominent navigation controls, back/forward linear navigation.

Google 1997 and 2018 (21 years). Big logo (with same color scheme), prominent search bar, I’m Feeling Lucky.

Google 1997 and 2018 (21 years). Big logo (with same color scheme), prominent search bar, I’m Feeling Lucky.

Mac OS 1984 and 2018 (34 years). Grid of icons, layered windows, cursor, desktop metaphor, omnipresent menu bar.

Mac OS 1984 and 2018 (34 years). Grid of icons, layered windows, cursor, desktop metaphor, omnipresent menu bar.


I think the answer is self evident. Thanks for reading.

Posted from London at 11:32 AM GMT, 10/28/2018

Andrew Lee
gehry in paris: a photo essay

"Behind" the Louis Vuitton Foundation.


Frank Gehry is one of architecture's great titans, standing with the likes of Frank Lloyd Wright, Le Corbusier, and Philip Johnson. I also have a personal affinity for Gehry. Not only did he attend my alma mater, the University of Southern California, he was one of the main reasons I first took interest in architecture and the design world in general (many of my architecture models from class were inspired by his deconstructivist style). I've had the chance to experience many of his notable works, like the Walt Disney Concert Hall in Los Angeles, the Guggenheim in Bilbao, and most recently, the Louis Vuitton Foundation in Paris, a behemoth of a museum (modern art and contemporary) located in the northern bit of the Bois de Boulogne.


Walking up to the Foundation in the Bois de Boulogne.


Most Gehrys are eccentric, and the Foundation is no exception. The first thing you'll notice as you walk towards the museum is its sheer size. It’s enormous. Certainly a provocative piece of work and a stark contrast from the cool green fauna of the park.


Up close.


The museum resembles a moving vessel, with "sails" appearing from all sides to depict movement and motion, a nod to Paris's every changing art scene. Gehry in his own words:

To reflect our constantly changing world, we wanted to create a building that would evolve according to the time and the light in order to give the impression of something ephemeral and continually changing.

As you examine the museum closer, you'll begin to realize both the structural and design marvel that's holding everything together in one piece. The primary materials Gehry uses are concrete, wood, glass, and steel.

Behind a sail.


No such thing as a "right" orientation.


For example, in the exterior, each sail is covered in a long sheet of curved glass while the interior is held up by cross-cutting steel and wooden beams (though the wood is only cosmetic and the interior is still steel).

The inside is just as complex as the outside. While most buildings have a central focal or "meeting" point, either in the form of some atrium or lobby, the inside of the LV Foundation lacks such a space, and is rather like a labyrinth.


Up-down perspective.


The basement of the museum contains a large fountain that cascades water from the park. The fountain is soothing and calm, and this is even more the case when you experience it from the basement floor. 


Down-up perspective.


Notice how the concrete obstructs most of the traffic and distracting parts of the park and salvages only the green. This is a great example of Gehry artificially creating a sort of inner sanctuary (many architects do this when designing homes to block out their neighbors). It’s also a contrast between the natural and built world, concrete in the bottom, nature up top. It is one of my favorite parts of the museum.


Felix the Cat hiding in the left.


Following the yellow-lit beams led me to an inflated sculpture of Felix the Cat. I don't recall what the message of the art piece was, but I distinctly remember thinking of the neon Felix sign on Figueroa street (all the way in Los Angeles).


The hall from the other side. Humbling. I was so sure this was going to be a great shot, but it came out blurry. First time using a film camera.


The bulk of the exhibits are displayed throughout the span of three floors. I thought many of the art pieces were good (I could keep up, unlike most contemporary art exhibits). One of the main exhibits focused on the work of Takashi Murakami, a Japanese street artist most notable for his collaborations with Kanye West and Virgil Abloh. His approach is uniquely Japanese, combining a fun, "light" anime style that is modern with more traditional techniques, like calligraphy and ukiyo-e. Vibrant and exciting (many of his pieces were murals and spanned across the entire room).


One of the entrances to the rooftop.


Stairway to heaven.


Once you get to the top, you'll begin to notice there are stairs everywhere.


No one ever complained about stairs looking down.


In the rooftop, Gehry presents you with a sort of urban "jungle", a terrace with a stunning view of Paris and more exaggerated sails in every direction (I particularly like how the sun casts a shadow of the beams through the sails). It's a "jungle" in the sense that there are actually trees and plants, albeit small (similar to the garden atop of the Walt Disney Concert Hall). While the fountain below feels like a complement to the surrounding park, the flora in the rooftop feels like a direct juxtaposition of the angular, aggressive nature of the encompassing steel. I can't wait to re-visit the museum in a few years and see how much the plants have grown. 😊



More views from the rooftop.


All in all, how do I feel about the Foundation? A bit confused if I'm honest. On one hand, it's an absolute engineering marvel, and this is apparent however far or closely you examine the museum. But do I like it? I'm not so sure. To me, the Foundation lacks the consistency and the cohesiveness that the Guggenheim, the Concert Hall, and so many of Gehry’s other buildings possess. The museum in this case feels too random and without purpose. Maybe that was the point? A worthy visit nonetheless.


As always, thanks for reading.

Posted from London at 11:46 PM BST, 08/27/2018

Andrew Lee
things I learned this week: aug 27

Continuing the trend, here are some things I learned this past week:

  • The absolute importance of critique, and why we do it [1]
  • Always ask "why?" to identify the root cause of an issue
  • Be concise and polite when cold emailing; most people are willing to help [2]
  • The bigger your sketchbook, the more room for ideas and iteration [3]
  • Having a good idea is only half the work. Having the charisma and swagger to convince others to work on your idea is really the hard part. [4]

Thanks for reading.

[1] Mitch Goldstein
[2] Michael Seibel
[3] Clare Adrien
[4] Life

Posted from London at 1:57 AM BST, 08/27/2018

cringe often
2009, high school me on the left.

2009, high school me on the left.


Remember what you were like in high school? Immature, awkward, questionable fashion… the list goes on. Looking back, you also probably treat those days with a certain fondness, and realize how far you've come. You can treat personal growth similarly.

When examining your own personal growth, a good intuitive measure of how much you’ve grown is how you react to old work. If you cringe, that’s a good thing! This happened to me a few days ago when I opened an old Sketch file. “Why did you design this? Why is the header so big? This is awkward spacing. Are you a designer, Andrew?” What seemed obvious to me now wasn’t so apparent back then; the gap — and the knowledge gained — becomes noticeable over time.

I sometimes wonder if master artists or designers cringe at their old work, especially in mediums that are more “ingrained” in time. Did Frank Lloyd Wright cringe at Hollyhock after Fallingwater? What did Michael think of Thriller after Invincible?

As creators, we’re always evolving. Isn’t that exciting? And scary…

I’m looking forward to cringing at this post in the near future. Thanks for reading.

Posted from London at 11:37 PM BST, 08/19/2018

Andrew Lee
things I learned this week: aug 13

I could never commit myself to write substantially on a regular basis, so I'm starting out small. Here's what I learned this past week (I hope to be doing this more often):

Thanks for reading.

[1] Matt Bango
[2] Guillaume Ardaud
[3] Emily Maples

Posted from San Francisco at 8:33 AM PDT, 08/13/2018