— Nina Mehta




Only in Berlin could  you find so many shirts, shoes, trousers, and black hats. Alles schwarz. The first time my wardrobe went all black was ten years ago when I lived in London. The second time was during my projection art days in San Francisco. And from there it stuck until I moved to Berlin where each article has one specific cut, zipper, or pocket that gives it a special personality.

Have a careful look in the photo above. There are only a handful of people in this massive crowd wearing color. And this is the case when you look around on the streets. I guess the look is inspired by the industrial nature, the creative community, or the simplicity of a casual but effortless chic expression.

So I started playing a game with visitors to Berlin called: find someone wearing a color. If it was a drinking game, we would be sober.

A few weeks ago I made a new friend who read me this quote:


Many would probably find this quote annoying or wrong. But ‘I don’t bother you – you don’t bother me’ fits Berlin quite well.

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A design leader lives in two worlds: product design and the business. It’s your job to mediate when the needs of designers and the needs of the business compete.

Designers want to make great products

These people are probably why you became a manager. You love design, you work with great designers, and you want to use your experiences to help grow their skills and careers. Designing great products can turn into more repeat and new customers: a happy business.

Continue reading on Medium: https://medium.com/the-ligature/advocating-to-the-business-for-your-designers-c3f9f2986893#.575ry4xjh

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Designers at Pivotal Labs have two jobs:

  1. design great products
  2. enable clients to design great products

Yes of course a designer’s work includes user goals, business goals, team collaboration etc, but at the core this is how I see it. And if our team ourselves are struggling, burn out, or don’t deepen their craft doing #1,  then #2 can’t happen.

Designing great products (1) and enabling clients to design great products (2) regularly leads to repeat and extended client engagements. Similarly pivot design pairing leads to pivot happiness which improves retention and reduces recruiting, hiring, and HR costs. We need more pivot design pairing.

2016-04-09 16.05.02

Pivot Pairing

Design and programmers work are both generative and exploratory work. To that end, design the work benefits from pairing for the same reasons it benefits pair programmers: diversity of ideas, driver and navigator, collective ownership, increased discipline, fewer interruptions/working in flow etc.

It’s important for these individuals to have contexts to deepen their craft, which often comes with pairing. Senior designers are more likely to get paired with clients or junior designer since they are likely the best mentors from a technical perspective. Learning at work falls by the wayside when their pairs are not practitioners, but someone who got put into a practitioner role and work time is constrained to 40 hours. In short: designers also need to geek out at work.
Client pairing
We get some of these benefits when pairing with a client. But pairing with a client is doing extra mental consulting gymnastics to achieve #2, leaving less energy #1. Programmers often see relief when they rotate pairs the next day. Designers rotate pairs after a few months, and often go onto another client designer.

Having one designer on a project, or one pivot and one client designer requires that Pivot individual to be an off the charts unicorn with remarkable humility. Why? Because we have three streams of work: research, interaction, and visual plus collaboration with development. Two people makes it possible to distribute the mental and sometimes tactical effort.

Enabling clients is hard because we are defending our work, teaching our process, and designing complex systems all at the same time.We have to start our client mentorship from a strong place so we can help our client designers. A lot goes on the shoulders of one person for the intensity of the work we do. Design is a team sport, not facilitating lots of non-designers.

Sales, Scoping, Hiring, and Staffing

Having more designers in an office would likely change the staffing needs all the way from a sales and scoping perspective. When we have too many engineers on the beach we start research and software development at the same time.  Doing this slows the entire success of a project down anyway, ultimately hurting the success of a project whether it’s measured by client enablement or execution of product. Doing this once and a while is understandable but this solution on repeat burns designers out. The team needs time to think about a problem and approach a solution before it can be built.

Schedule and staffing is an art not a science. If only a few Pivots have experience with the design process, the designers ends up leading a hungry-to-learn team will want to be involved with everything. That gets celebrated as “balanced team”. It’s possible the newcomers to design will want to see all the activities, inflating the process and ultimately unbalancing the project and hurting client success, a good name in the community, and future projects. When pivots are paired more often they can be better consultants when they are paired with client designer. Pairing pivot designers invests in project success by investing in individuals first. I’ve seen this approach regularly lead to repeat client engagements or project extensions.

Hire more designers

The hiring, sales, and staffing plans should start from two pivot designers pairing and deviate for individual circumstances. This will increase the quality of products, projects, pivot happiness, client happiness, transformation success, which ultimately benefits the business goals.

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Here’s my summary of the best talks at the IXDA Conference in Helsinki Finland. My comments and some extra links are in the speaker notes.

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Setting up your new design hire for success

New jobs are exciting, hopeful, and a little nerve-wracking. Set a positive and safe tone in the very first one-on-one with your new designer. You are the guide through their first time user-experience at this new job.

Continue reading on Medium

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Pivotal Labs designers, developers, and product managers pair with clients to make great software. Our founders started it as small engineering company in 1989 in San Francisco. We focused on building software the right way and later introduced design and PM so we could also build the right thing.

We recently opened the Berlin office in Friedrichshain overlooking the Spree near Warschauer Straße. It runs like a Pivotal Labs office with everything from a Director of Happiness to pairing stations. We have a delicious breakfast before our company standup at 8:30 and don’t work past 17:00. Realtalk! We are sharing a space with Volkswagen to help them build new digital products for their customers in a lean, balanced, and agile way.

Continue reading on Medium

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I designed posters for a series about minimalism, making software, and more subtly their relationship to nature. The rest of this post has been moved here: https://bitteschon.com/minimalist-technology-posters


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The beginning of a design career is so hard. You have good taste, huge potential, and you’re even scoring a few exciting interviews where you’re an obvious culture fit. But they say you’re too junior, need more experience, and should get back in touch after you’ve done more work. But how will you get more experience if that’s exactly the thing blocking you from getting hired?

Continue reading on Medium…

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The most evocative, emotional, and intense hue on the spectrum is also the hottest in temperature. It stands out brightest on an interface making this color an attractive option for both logos and error messages. Working with AAA, Macy’s, Toshiba, and Twilio helped me see how users can create anegative association between the brand and making mistakes when both components are red.

I don’t have an easy solution for you. But after dealing with this problem over and over again, I hope this post will help you think more carefully about color, messaging, and placement in a way that fits your brand.

Continue reading on Medium

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Last week I ran a user research session that went sour and felt unsafe. I almost never recruit from Craigslist and now I remember why.

The Craigslist Creeper
My team and I sat by the elevator doors waiting for our participant sourced from Craigslist to show up. Let’s call him James. When James finally arrived we moved to a conference room to begin the session. Also in the room was my research wingman, a developer on the project. The rest of our team was in another room watching the session via Google Hangout.

James and I chatted for awhile about what he uses his three different cellphones for. One a free “Obama phone” the other he shares with his girlfriend and the third an Android. It didn’t really add up. We moved on. I showed him photos our team is considering using for an iPhone welcome screen. I laid out flashcards with different emotional words printed on them. I asked him to pickup the cards that described how he felt about the photos.

Out of nowhere, Craigslist James told my wingman I was sexy. I froze. Did he really just say that outloud? James nearly apologized by saying “I shouldn’t talk about you like you’re not in the room.” I collected myself and reminded him I was in the room. We continued the session with my Spidey Sense on alert. Looking back we should have ended the session right then.

James got weird said the photos reminded him of suicide, murder, rape, gloomy, death, etc. He also kept talking about being sleepy and I eventually figured out he was probably also high. James then locked eyes with my chest and low-hanging jewelry and said he liked my necklace. By then, everyone was independently racing to figure out how to end the session.

At that point a teammate from the observer room texted us to with a fake story about a fake meeting. Time for my Craigslsit Creeper to go home. While walking James out of the office he insisted several times I should call him if I needed anything at all. No thank you.

… continue reading on Medium

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