Warm Gun: Designing for Disaster

by Luke Wroblewski December 1, 2011

In his Designing for Disaster presentation at the Warm Gun Design Conference in San Francisco, CA Jeff Veen shared some ideas that can help teams work well together when things go wrong.

  • Equanimity: a state of mental or emotional stability, grace under pressure. It’s difficult to maintain but you can build it into teams. Bad things will happen in start-ups, and you will need to deal with it. Equanimity is how.
  • Typekit wraps up a set of fonts and moves them to a CDN, where it gets pushed out to the rest of the World. Something went wrong and the fonts were not making it to the CDN. Turned out one client was creating a lot of traffic and the team would have to work over the weekend to fix things. They created a framework for how they’ll solve the problem.
  • TypeKit isolated the team that could fix the problem and allowed them to focus without interruptions. The management group took care of roadblocks, clients, and community so the team could get things done.
  • The first day was focused on identifying where the issues laid. The second was building a resolution to the problem.
  • How can you prepare for disasters like this? Safety nets (make people feel secure), build trust between the team, and provide a purpose (be driven by a bigger goal).
  • Security: make the team feel secure by having safety nets in place. We depend on a lot of stuff that will go down. Define clear and immediate roles: repair team (identify & resolve the issue), note taker, communication manager (keep everybody aware of what’s going on).
  • Spend as much time on your application as your customers. Seeing people use your product keeps you aware of the status of everything. Immerse yourself in what’s happening.
  • When things are not ok: be public and open about what is going on. Have the CTO write the message that something is wrong, not marketing or lawyers.
  • Ambient accountability: display what’s happening so everyone owns the problems. Real-time chat services allow you to compress communication. Email is often too long-winded and hard to parse. You can integrate status updates into chat to give people a sense of what’s being done.
  • Product review: includes more than just designs. Everybody comes to the meeting but attendance is optional, participation is not. The review is not a forum for expressing opinions. It is a forum for solving problems.
  • Instead of I don’t like blue, ask “what is the reason this is blue?”. Ask if this is a convergent discussion or a divergent discussion. If you need a decision made, make it. If you need ideas make that clear, and have a divergent conversation.
  • The best way to develop your intuition is to have contact with your customers. The more exposure you have to users, the better decisions you will make.
  • Purpose is why are we doing something. The purpose of Typekit: get better at the transmission of ideas to increase literacy. Sharing fonts is a tiny sliver of that idea but ultimately it is part of a bigger vision.
  • You need a reason to keep going.