Staying Positive When Your Product Causes Pain

Sign with words: We Like You Too :).

I make and think about WordPress themes all day with the WordPress.com Theme Team. They control the appearance of a WordPress website, and it’s a heck of a fun job. Most of the time.

What I often hear from customers who use our products: “I just want to get it to look how I see it in my head.” Or something similar. People have a vision, and unfortunately, some levels of customization in WordPress can be hard without advanced knowledge or coding expertise. So ultimately, I can come away from many of these conversations and support tickets feeling like I’ve failed my customers. That’s true to some degree, of course. But how do you keep moving forward, releasing something better for people, if all you see is the negative?

You can’t. I want to share some tips on how to stay positive when your product can cause customers pain.

Search for wins too: My team spends a lot of time trying to detect challenges customers face and how to fix them. Naturally, this leads to a lot of, “Well, that’s terrible. No wonder the customer quit or became confused.” When you’re finding this stuff, look for the positive too. We have a “Random site” button where I can view a random site with a particular WordPress theme on WordPress.com. Sometimes, I look around until I find a nice-looking site, and explore it a bit.

Share the positive: Finding wins won’t help unless you share them. The support staff on our team drops cheerful notes about customers liking themes or features regularly. It’s a small thing, but it makes you feel good. Real good. Any product team needs those feelings in bunches.

Build a culture around finding and sharing the good: If you do this regularly, you start to feel like you’re winning regularly too. And it balances out that feeling that you’re failing your customers when you create something they struggle with. My team could always be better at this, but a few ways to start:

  • Share one win before every weekly meeting.
  • Start and/or keep product testimonials updated. It forces you to find the gold you know doubt have buried.
  • Have a place to collect the positive, and have it be visible so it’s obvious when it hasn’t been updated in a while.

Good luck in the product trenches, and stay positive out there!

Photo courtesy of Adam Jang.

Originally published on Automattic’s Design Flow blog.

Introducing Theme User Experience Requirements

At Automattic this year, we’ve focused heavily on improving people’s experience using themes on WordPress.com. It’s one reason we introduced the TUX List, a set of theme user experience requirements. Putting these best practices into your themes on WordPress.org and elsewhere means anyone using them will have an easier time getting to what they really want to do: publish their site. Not fiddle with theme setup and options. Making themes easier is a job for everyone, so let’s keep working at it!

Hidden Expectations

Over the years I’ve come to realize that most difficult part of making websites isn’t the code, it’s the “hidden expectations”, the unseen aspects I didn’t know were my responsibility when I started: Accessibility, Security, Performance, and Empathy.

Dave Rupert in Hidden Expectations.

Dave Rupert writes about the responsibilities that come with building websites – the ones that often matter more than you know.

Empathy and Acceptance in Design and Community

Morten Rand-Hendriksen gave an excellent talk at WordCamp Europe 2016 about the role of empathy in the web field. It’s called Empathy and Acceptance in Design and Community, and you should give it a listen. I didn’t catch it in person, but it’s one of the best talks I’ve heard in awhile. I believe practicing empathy in our work could have the same impact on the Web as responsive design. It could be transformative.

The Future Mundane

Nick Foster, a creative director and industrial designer, recently gave a talk at dConstruct called The Future Mundane. You should watch it. He talks about a design approach where you need to think about designing for others besides your ideal user, designing for how your “thing” interacts with other things, and designing for how it might work when broken or misused. It’s great advice for the ever-expanding Web and all the devices that can access it.

An Event Apart DC 2015: Day Two

Day two of An Event Apart DC 2015 kicked off with Brad Frost introducing us to a different way to create the pieces that make up the sites we build. As he went on, and speakers took the stage after him, I started to notice an overarching message forming from these separate presentations.

We need to challenge our assumptions. Whether it was Aaron Gustafson teaching us that we can love forms instead of hate them, Derek Featherstone taking us outside of the device “box” we have lived in or Eric Meyer reminding us that not all users are the ideal user… You get the idea.

We sometimes get caught up in the way we do things because of stale processes, tools we’ve used for too long or forgetting that the simplest approach to getting started works the best. Many of the presenters echoed ideas similar to this. I left the conference having that typical conference overload. So many new ideas floating around, I wasn’t sure where to start. But that’s my old assumption kicking in. It says I should master something before trying it in a project. But that’s not the right approach here. I just need to open the sketch pad or fire up a CodePen and start experimenting.

An Event Apart DC 2015: Day One

Today, I attended An Event Apart DC 2015, and loved how each talk touched on another, but yet little overlapped happened. I’m not one to write detailed posts about each talk because conferences help me expand my thinking, not show me exactly how to do something. They introduce me to topics, and point me in exciting directions. It’s still up to me to go in those directions though.

So what were they for day one? These are just a few of the points that stayed with me.

Jeffrey Zeldman encouraged us to get our ideas out there, newly formed or experimental. In code, sketch or blog post. Sarah Parmenter showed us data that the Web is more social than you think, but not like you think. Yesenia Perez-Cruz talked about how performance makes for good design. Jen Simmons brought us back to the world of funky magazine design layouts, and convinced us it much of it can be done with CSS — now. And Cassie McDaniel and Cameron Moll touched on the details of user experience and how they can serve as the connective tissue in your projects.

None of this is new, per se. But it is new when stacked next to where we’ve been as an industry and where we need to go. Each speaker provided that as a backdrop or touch point, so what is old is new and amplified. I’m excited to process it all a bit more and think about how I can bring it to my everyday work.