Remote Design Team

CLOS networks and remote teams

I was lucky to see a tweet by Dónal today that made me read more about CLOS networks.

The CLOS network removes the bottlenecks inherent in the main nodes of a classical hierarchical system.

via Network World

Instead, it expands the amount of communication that occurs between leaves and the spine.

via Network World

If there isn’t any oversubscription taking place between the lower-tier switches and their uplinks, then a non-blocking architecture can be achieved.

CLOS architecture allows each leaf to be only two hops away from another one. And if any spine node goes down, communication is still working. Bandwidth is increased by growing the spine and growing the leaves.**

Why is this important to me? It’s super relevant to something I’m working on with respect to scaling design in an all-remote team at Automattic. —JM

Remote Design Team

Scaling design with a 100% remote team

Making a YouTube video takes me roughly five to seven times longer than a blog post. And my production values always vary, but practice makes perfect! —JM

It’s basically a warm-up video … all of my videos tend to be warm-ups. Why? I guess it’s how I stay … comfortably warm.

Leadership Remote Design Team

A simple customer-centric question to ask while remote

This week I’m doing my annual customer support rotation, aka “Happiness Engineering Rotation,” where I get to work alongside our world famous (and all-distributed) support team. 

Matt and me

It’s an extra pleasure to get to work in the same rotation as Automattic CEO, Matt Mullenweg, because of something that Ben Silberman shared with me on the importance of actually talking with your customers. It makes complete sense: if you are going to serve your customers … then you want to talk with them to see how you’re doing. And if the CEO is doing that work, then your company is much less likely to go astray. I wonder why this commonsense is not so common?

Luckily all my sessions are quality controlled and constantly coached. My mentor this week, Mindy, gave me a fabulous point of feedback for how to best end a support chat conversation.

Wisdom from my Happiness Engineering coach Mindy

Ask, “Was there anything else I can help you with right now?

Mindy’s rationale for this phrase is built upon the logic of: 1/ creating urgency with the phrase ‘right now’ so the customer needs to make a decision, and 2/ simply working to serve all the customer’s needs while you’re right there with them. Seems like a good idea to use in all situations in life, to me. —JM

Remote Design Team

2016 Curious Minds podcast on design

I was curious to try out WordPress developer and guru Helen Hou-Sandí’s new Simple Podcasting plugin for Gutenberg. 

CM_062: John_Maeda on Great Design

Wow! That was so easy! —JM

Remote Design Team

Getting on the same page in an all-remote design team

Although the variety of tools available to fully distributed teams is staggering — everything from virtual stand-ups, sit-downs, async, sync, todo, not-todo, audio plus screen, all video, post-it shares, partial video, full video, AR, VR, and so forth — it’s not an easy to thing to connect 1-to-many. 

However connecting 1:1 is easy because there’s no ambiguity with respect to who’s communicating. That goes for all-remote or all-premise the same way. Direct, unfiltered communication is super powerful.

But when you’re in a group larger than two, then all-remote degrades much quicker than all-premise. I believe it’s because of the following reasons:

  1. Spatial cues vanish and it gets hard to coordinate a shared view of everyone in the same space. The left, right, back, front of a room aren’t usable as orienting devices. You can’t use your eyes to look to someone and they know you’re looking at them — so gaze doesn’t matter. In theory VR- and AR-based systems will help to solve this.
  2. Everyone isn’t comfortable with their video on and/or their audio on. When working remotely there may be a background noise so you need to turn the mike on mute; you or the room your in may not look great, so you turn the camera off. It’s hard to gauge the attention level of the room so misunderstanding forms more easily.
  3. Async is the norm, so being in sync mode feels extra constraining and slow. Over time when you are working all-remote, you come to get used to communicating async and get the benefits of being able to manage multiple streams of communication. So being in sync mode can feel slow and cumbersome.

These detractions aside, sync space can be useful for getting on the same page because it’s a significant investment by everyone in being co-present. It’s the closest thing to a handshake in an all-distributed environment to just show up in the same sector of spacetime.

When working in sync-time, the importance of timezone inclusivity comes to the foreground. This was an early suggestion made by my Automattic colleague Paolo Belcastro — that I’m forever grateful he gave me. I tried running in three timezones a while for my all-hands as an experiment, but over time I realized that two worked fine. So whenever I run an all-hands in design, I run it twice with identical content: one in US/EMEA and another in APAC/US.

Looking back to my early days (a year ago 😉 ) I realize that I overdid my sync time asks in the beginning, and so I scaled them back because it didn’t fit the overall culture. But I’ve kept some regular sync time, and I keep experimenting with how to make async 1-to-many exchanges as impactful as sync exchanges can be. How? I try to keep listening to my constituents, and I am iterating as I blog! —JM

Remote Design Team

Data, Inclusion, Craft Principles at Automattic Design

Originally published on

We’ve spent the last half year at Automattic Design finding our design principles. That might sound easy to do when so much has been written out there about design. But we’re the world’s largest all-remote design team, so we felt there was a need to brew our own.

  1. Start from curiosity. Welcome and seek out difference.
  2. Intuition is grounded in interpretation through iteration.
  3. Search for and tell stories about people, not just data.
  4. Consistency builds trust. Speed builds trust. Simplicity builds trust.

The design team has gone through many iterations, and will likely go through many more. In essence, our design principles are all about people. And they’re essentially about our constant need to understand people who are unlike ourselves in order to design better products and services for the entire world. How do we go about serving these people best? We need to listen to them.

So we’re now understanding our customers through “organically-farmed” customer research practices that have been a pleasure to get to watch grow and set root within our design community. In addition, we’re all fans of Rochelle King and her mantra to be “data aware.” And Kat Holmes joined Automattic’s Board of Advisors last year — we’re super proud to have her tutelage on the inclusive design front.

I’ve enjoyed seeing the four principles of Automattic Design emerge because it’s how I’ve tried to serve my own customers: namely, the designers of Automattic. Let me use the principles in the context of explaining how they apply.

Start from curiosity. Welcome and seek out difference.

From day one of my arrival, I’ve espoused the importance of Kim Scott’s radical candor concept. I use it in the context about the feedback I give, but it’s often more about the feedback I look to receive. The designers of Automattic have grown to be super candid with me about their difference in opinions about directions I’ve taken. It’s so much easier to serve one’s constituents when you hear immediate and direct feedback with candor. Because I can take it in and immediately decide how to course correct, if necessary. And it’s often needed (wink) — I’m not at all perfect.

Intuition is grounded in interpretation through iteration.

I’ve often had an idea set in my mind when working with someone on my team, and then it’s been completely changed after actually working with them. It’s a process of learning to work with someone else — and it goes in both directions as they learn me. Being hypersensitive to how it goes well with someone, or how it doesn’t go well, isn’t a matter of trying just one time. You need to try over and over again until the connection forms. Iteration is truly everything — and intuition becomes an end result that is crafted, instead of just something you use on the front end and never bother to correct or reshape. That’s called guessing!

Search for and tell stories about people, not just data.

I find that the more senior that you get, the more you like to throw down numbers. Numbers sound awesome when you’re trying to make a point. And then it happens — you forget that the numbers connect with real people. It’s so easy to get caught in the ego of rationality. I’ve been lucky to have many mentors who’ve always cautioned me to not “go numerical” even when my most mathy-ness tries to take over my brain. It’s always paid dividends for me to focus on the people first; and the numerical data is a great special sauce to add to the overall mix.

Consistency builds trust. Speed builds trust. Simplicity builds trust.

In my book The Laws of Simplicity, my favorite law has always been the Law of Trust.

> Excerpted from Page 1 of my book, The Laws of Simplicity

Imagine an electronic device with only one unlabeled button on its surface. Pressing the button would complete your immediate task. Do you want to write a letter to Aunt Mabel? Go ahead and press the button. Click. A letter has been sent. You know with absolute certainty that it went out and expressed exactly what you needed. That’s simplicity. And we are not far from that reality.

Every day the computer becomes increasingly smarter. It already knows your name, address, and credit card number. Knowing where Aunt Mabel lives and having watched you write a letter to her before, the computer can send a fair approximation of a kindly email to her from you. Just click a button and the deed could be done—finito. Whether the message is coherent and keeps you on dear Aunt Mabel’s Christmas list is another story, but that is the price of not having to think. In simplicity we trust.

Why? Because trust is all that matters when people are involved. And when people use your digital products, you (= your products) need to be trustworthy.

Okay! My blogging break is over. Thanks for reading! —JM

Remote Design Team

Many illustrators design and work remotely

Liz Meyer / Shauna Lynn / Grace Sandford / Alleanna Harris / Megan Piontkowski / Jade Johnson

A few links I clicked on from Dan’s list …

I was happy to see a call by Dan Mall for illustrators out there, and the discussion thread has a bunch of talented folks to impart a heightened sense of humanity to any digital project out there in remotelandia.

Illustration is a field where working remotely is quite common. And many writers do the same as well. So it means there’s an incredible amount of talent to tap into out there for remote design teams with respect to imagery and content — what are you waiting for? —JM

Remote Design Team

Fixing flat tires together is a bonding experience, but …

Next week is my customer support rotation week — it’s a required practice at Automattic since its very first days of operation. So yes, I’ll be the person on the other end of your live chat session or email support question working to help you solve your problems within one of our services at Automattic.

Automattic works super well as a distributed company culture, I believe, because of its annual customer support rotation policy. For a full week, every employee spends a week on the customer support lines.

One of our newer designers, Dezzie Garcia, wrote a fab post about her experience coming into Automattic:

All new hires at Automattic are required to spend three weeks as a Happiness Engineer, solving…basically anything one can create with a site. Plus anything that the phrase “systems thinking” adds to its scope.

Dezzie Garcia

The upside of the practice is that it gets us close to our customers. It’s great that we have a common experience across employees. But let me talk about the one downside of this practice that I’m currently working to correct internally. 

The downside for designers, however, is that it makes us fixate on the problems within the experience versus understanding the overall motive of the customer.

I liken it to fixing someone’s flat tire without asking them where they were originally intending to go as a destination. And why? Because it’s easy to forget that their goal isn’t to be using our service — their goal is to achieve some higher purpose rather than fix a microdetail for how a digital service works/behaves. 

And that’s especially important for designers because the instinct is to make the microdetail work perfectly. Or even making a larger detail work flawlessly.

Yet at the end of the day, it’s the perfect recipe for forgetting that the customer desired to make enough money to pay for rent that month. So making something boldface or having an image appear with a beautiful border isn’t going to be the make-or-break difference with the customer’s larger goals. OMG I forget this all the time because I love to tweak little things because it’s just so satisfying …

So the moral of the story is that distributed cultures that all do the same thing together is a key factor in creating cohesiveness. And it’s also important to add extra lessons around those customs to ensure that a design culture can takeaway the key learnable lessons — otherwise they can quickly get lost in the often disorienting ether of a remote work environment. Note that I haven’t figured this out yet, but that’s why I like to blog — to think aloud. —JM

Remote Design Team

Remote work in the 2018 #DesignInTech Report

42% of designers surveyed work most only on premise. The rest work blended (41%) or all-remote (16%).

2018 Design in Tech Report
Remote Design Team

25+ insights from remote design team members

This is a set of tips we’ve gathered at Automattic Design from less than a year ago. Enjoy! —JM

Getting Started for Remote Designers

Design Processes for Remote Designers

Customer and User Research for Remote Designers

Teamwork and Leadership for Remote Designers

Environment and IRL Hacks for Remote Designers

Addressing Isolation Challenges for Remote Designers

Toolkits and Systems for Remote Designers