A conversation with Dave Snowden about SenseMaker and new practices for design in an increasingly complex world

I’ve spent the past month looking for a new job. This has been a little exhausting, but mainly fascinating. I’ve loved having the opportunity to talk with lots of product and leadership teams about their goals, obstacles and ways of working.

I was surprised to realise they’re all dealing with a similar pattern of issues.

The way most companies have been doing design over the past decade or so — Design Thinking — has reached the end of its lifecycle. It’s been helpful but it’s not designed to handle the ever-increasing complexity in the world.

So what’s next for product design?

That question is why I’m…

User Story Mapping, “Smart” Coffee Scales, Bite-sized Motivation, Science of Storytelling, Neil Gaiman

I need to update the drawing. Words about DESIGN.

Someone asked, “what’s ONE book or article I should read this year?”

And I thought, “only ONE? For the whole year? Does not compute.”

Then I thought, “how about one … but every week?”

And then I thought, “you know what, you’re busy and overwhelmed. Maybe you don’t have time for a book. Maybe all you have time for is one short passage, or even just one quote.”

So here you go: a book, a piece, a thread, a passage and a quote. Choose which scale you want to engage with. Then hit reply and let me know what you…

A graph that popped into my head when I couldn’t sleep one night

Originally published at tomkerwin.com

What’s going on here then?

On the left of the graph, we’re doing too little research

We’re trapped by a false sense of certainty. We believe we’ve got The Answer™ … but really that’s because we don’t know any better and we aren’t looking for evidence to the contrary.

This is a common place for teams and companies to end up. I know I’ve been there.

You might recognise: …

… when you’re all totally bought in on all Steve Blank’s Build-Measure-Learn approach, and know you need to Get Out Of the Building … but in practice you’re only really doing the Build part, and you keep…

Introducing a simple intervention that helps you dodge sunk cost bias as you escape from zombie initiatives

IF BS STOP … putting the leadership mechanisms in place to avoid zombie initiatives
A teeny aside before we dive in: I’ve presented Pivot Triggers in the context of digital product teams. But you can apply the idea to any project you’re doing, with others or by yourself.

If you give this a try, or you already do anything similar, hit reply and tell me – I’d love to hear about your experiences as I keep developing this.
Originally published at tomkerwin.com

Imagine. You have to break some news to your team. Picture their little faces all stacked up in the video call software as you say:

“Thanks for all your hard work over…

Detective Socrates shares his method for digging out underlying problems.

A detective’s magnifying glass, a pipe, an an old camera and rolls of film rest on a map, along with a half-drunk coffee
A detective’s magnifying glass, a pipe, an an old camera and rolls of film rest on a map, along with a half-drunk coffee

“We know designers should be solving problems. But my colleagues still keep coming to me with their solutions — even though I’ve asked them to give me problems instead. How can I get them to stop giving me solutions?

Someone asked this in a conference Q&A session and my heart burst out of my chest and bounced right over to that poor, frazzled designer.

More on his question later, but first let’s look at problems and solutions.

If you work in design, copy, product, or any “making” type role — or even as a CEO — you might recognise feeling…

Photo by Aditya Saxena on Unsplash

Designers are always searching for that magic process that will get them the job of their dreams and cause perfect products to spew forth from their fingertips like unicorn sprinkles.

Whether you work in an Agile startup or a Fortune 500 behemoth, here’s the secret killer process in 30 simple steps:

  1. find out why this and why now?
  2. start with user needs
  3. assume that we’re wrong about a bunch of stuff
  4. do things to find out where and how we’re wrong
  5. set up the tightest feedback loop directly with customers/users that we can sustain
  6. get started trying things using conversations…

9 little lessons that made my workshops way better

Workshops … they can be valuable melting pots of ideas and perspectives.

They can also feel slower than pond water, with a purpose and results that are about as clear.

But the more workshops I run, the more I realise how deeply I’ve underestimated their power for building shared understanding across teams and organisations.

In short, you want to run workshops. And you want to run good ones.

I’m still learning, but here are the most important things I’ve gleaned from running some multi-day design sprints and lots of 1-to-4 hour workshops.

1) Less talking, more making

Many people have abandoned writing specification documents, because…

A jolly-looking scarecrow, but don’t put him in charge of your A/B testing programme

I read an article about A/B testing that annoyed the hell out of me. I decided not to link to it because the misconceptions it touts are so common that it doesn’t feel fair to call out this one company. (Although I’m a little concerned because it’s a pretty grown up and well-respected company and should really know better.)

The offending article was called “Let go of the A/B test,” and argued against an over-reliance on A/B testing.

That’s a perfectly valid standpoint. But the article made a straw man argument. It argued against an absolutely crappy version of A/B testing that no competent practitioner would dream of following.

In doing so, it demonstrated that the writer had some A/B testing fundamentals dead wrong.

So I’ve pulled out the bits that hacked me off the most and tackled them one-by-one in a big ol’ jolly ranticle.

Before I begin frothing at the chops, let me be perfectly clear: I…

What’s the smallest step you can take right now towards getting your foot in the door?

“Can I get my foot in the door in UX? All the job openings specify years of experience, but I don’t have that … and I don’t really know where to start.”

Yes, it does seem to be tough to break into UX these days. I might be reading the situation wrong, but what I’ve seen and heard recently is that there are lots of new UXers graduating from bootcamps, which creates a glut of supply at the junior level. Meanwhile, the job market is hungry for seniors.

I’m not saying that to discourage you from trying. I just want to set the stage.

Your mission – should you choose to accept it – is to make it through the dense throng of people applying for every junior role. Your challenge is…

Using A/B Testing to settle your design disagreement is like using a JCB to dig a child’s sandpit.

Decision time in the design meeting. Sally thinks design A is better. Karl thinks design B is better. Both of them know they’re right.

To break the deadlock, some bright spark says, “let’s A/B test it!”


It’s not that it won’t work — it sort of will. It’s just the wrong tool for that job, like using a massive JCB to dig a child’s sandpit.

First, it’s the same problem as when we validate hypotheses. This is coming at testing from the wrong end. When we test Sally’s Idea™ vs.

Tom Kerwin

Be profitably wrong. Join awesome designers and smart business owners and get my weekly letter. Evidence-based design and better A/B testing → www.tomkerwin.com

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