Working at GE Design

November 5th, 2012 | No Comments »

Last week I started a new full-time position as Principal Designer at GE. Without question, this is going to be the biggest challenge of my career. The scale, the responsibility, the challenges easily outweigh everything I’ve ever done before.

And I think you should also consider GE. Here’s why.

The challenge is big

Step back for a minute and look at GE. There is not a single other company on the planet that can match its combination of sheer size, storied history, and breadth of industries that it touches. They make real things. Really big things. Jet engines. Hybrid locomotives. Wind turbines. Power plants. Water treatment. Medical devices. This is the infrastructure of the world. It doesn’t appear magically. Someone has to make it.

Industrial machinery is more than just metal. Machines are run by software, a lot of software. Almost by accident, GE became one of the largest producers of software in the world. But as you may already be guessing, a lot of it is old. It has a long way to go to be modernized with the front-end technologies that have been created over the last several years. Smartly, GE knows that the software experience is a tangible benefit for their hardware.

They recognize the value of design

Furthermore, they know the way upward is through focusing on design and the customer experience. Over a year ago, they formed Design and Experience group, the group I’m in. It’s our job to build a culture of design in the company. Yes, the whole GE company. Slowly but surely, we’ll do it. How?

  • Create design platforms that can be used across multiple GE businesses. There are naturally patterns of similar experiences in the mass of software, no matter if the subject matter is power plants, trains, planes, wind, water and so on. Health care is a bit different from the above, which is to be expected. We are actively seeking out these patterns and building a library for developers to build from. And of course they’re designed well.
  • Create a UX community through connection and education. We’re seeking out all the isolated designers throughout the company and building a community through various tools, education curriculums, and regular calls featuring speakers.
  • Focusing on the brand. This one will likely surprise you. This is how much GE values design. Yes, our Design and Experience group will be working on one of the oldest and most recognized brands in the world. Bam. This will be fascinating to go through.
  • Make things. Of course we’re also working on things I can’t talk about.

So we need designers

There are several current opportunities to join in the fun, including lead designer (visual and interaction) roles in Healthcare and Transportation. This number will increase over the next several months. The Global Software Center in San Ramon has plans to go big and you can be a part of that.

But in particular, I’m looking for somebody to work alongside me. Does the following sound interesting?

My role as Principal Designer is to tackle long programs, about a year at a time, that focus on specific business challenges and span several target projects. Aviation, Transportation (trains) and Energy will be my playground. Themes running across all the programs include:

  • How do we rethink monitoring, servicing, and analyzing performance of heavy machinery now that we have a firehose of available sensor data?
  • How do we create design systems based on the patterns we recognize across businesses?
  • How do we evolve the maker culture of the company from Engineer to Design and Engineer?

Things I’ll be doing include:

  • Reframing business problems from a technology perspective to a people perspective.
  • Guiding research programs by posing the right questions.
  • Mapping experiences to discover the most effective things to evolve or overhaul.
  • Creating prototypes to explore potential approaches to the problem.
  • Thinking through complex systems and making them, not simple, but flexible.
  • Discovering and documenting patterns and then guiding development of components for them.
  • Exploring ways to visualize mountains of data.

I’m not looking for a partner with a specific skill set. If there’s anything I’ve learned in my career, it’s that what you’ve done in the past is not always what you’ll do in the future. Sure you should have a background in the amorphous field of user experience and/or design. But what’s more important to me is a personality of curiosity, compassion, and collaboration.

As a bonus, this is reflected in the group I’m in. They are a key reason why I came on board. Greg Petroff, Samantha Soma, Dave Cronin, Andrew Crow, and Dan Harrelson are a joy to sit with every day. Like most jobs, it’s all about the people.

Sound interesting? If so, find me at You never know what may happen.

Finding words in Letterpress

November 1st, 2012 | No Comments »

Letterpress is my latest game addiction, and I’m not alone. YOU’RE ALL ADDICTS because it’s damn fun. Let’s talk about how to play it.

This is a game about building words and placing them in the best spot possible. While having a great vocabulary is obviously beneficial, building words through combinations is the way.

Here’s what I do. An example from a game with @gretared…

You get 25 letters. Some boards offer a ton of combinations, allowing a lot of fluidity. Some games are brutal.

It’s all about the vowels.


The first thing I do in any game is to compare vowels vs consonants by tapping all the vowels. This shows how rough the board may be.

Only three vowels means this game will be a slug fest and these three letters will be played all the time. So the best strategy is to secure them against your enemy.


And don’t forget Y.

Next I’ll check out the corners to see if I can build an empire there with a single word. Ahh, here NOTE is just screaming to be played.

Recognizing anagrams gives you tremendous flexibility.

NOTE is also TONE.





But the real trick to this game?

Build words backwards.

Start at the end and work your way back.

Suffixes increase combinations. Almost any basic word can become a longer word with suffixes.



Or look for common word endings ATE ARE ITE INE or my favorite TION. Make combinations with the endings above

Look for doubles that commonly appear together.



What typically comes before LLY? ILLY ALLY.

Now that you have a solid ending with some length, what can go in front of it?


So by starting backwards with a common ending and then seeing what can be placed in front of it, we get a ten-letter word which will do just fine.

And keep trying multiple combinations. Suppose you came up with a good ending in ATES.

And notice that you can make it GRATES. Never be satisfied with your first idea.

Because if you try something else, you may notice a better position to play, like the C in CRATES which gives you a corner you may be able to defend later.

So there you go. Don’t rely on just your vocabulary. Think in combinations.

Salsa Never Sleeps

October 17th, 2012 | No Comments »

At the grocery store…

CASHIER, holding up a small bag, to the WOMAN in line in front of me: “If I may make a suggestion, carry this tomato in here so it’s not in the big bag with your milk.”

WOMAN: “Oh ok thanks.”

ME: “Because you don’t want salsa.”

WOMAN leaves.

CASHIER, to ME: “Hi there, how are you doing?”

ME: “Pretty good. And you?”

CASHIER, thinks, and says: “Better than salsa.”

ME: “Well salsa is pretty good, so you must be doing pretty good.”

CASHIER: “Yeah, tomorrow’s my day off. Salsa has to work tomorrow.”

ME: “Salsa never sleeps.”

CASHIER: “Guacamole never sleeps.”


Conversations with strangers.

Do you want 143 back issues of WIRED?

June 19th, 2011 | 4 Comments »

Radically trimming the volume of stuff that I own requires some hard decisions. You may get to be the lucky winner of this hard decision.

Do you want my collection of back issues of WIRED magazine? It’s 143 issues, dating back to 1994. Yes, you read that correctly, back to 1994. They fill three banker’s boxes. (No relation.)

I’d prefer to give them to a friend and know they have a happy home. Somebody in Portland is ideal, because shipping would be expensive and insane.

But I’d like to know they’ll be used for something interesting. So leave me a comment below saying how you’d use them. I’ll give it a few days and then pick my favorite. All I ask for in return is a pound of the finest Stumptown beans.

Here are the issues I have.

1994: 2.02, 08, 09, 10, 12
1995: 3.01, 06-12
1996: 4.01-4.12, except not 4.10
1997: 5.01-06, 09
1998: 6.01, 02, 05, 06, 10
1999: 7.01
2000: 8.01, 05, 07, 08, 12
2001: 9.01, 02, 04, 07, 10, plus Wired Scenarios 1.01
2002: 10.01, 03, 05, 07, 09
2003: 11.04-12
2004: the whole year
2005: the whole year
2006: 14.01, 04-12
2007: the whole year
2008: the whole year
2009: the whole year, except 17.03
2010: the whole year, except 18.03 and 05
2011: 19.01, 02

There are some definite gems in here and I could spend weeks selling them one by one on eBay, but life is too short for that nonsense.

So what say you? Interested?

Interaction History Workshop at IxD11

December 20th, 2010 | No Comments »

Every year, the Interaction conference has been a highlight of my year. Sure I’m biased since I co-chaired Interaction10 (BEST EVAR) but this year it’s a different flavor of excitement, and not just because I’m excused from any conference organization. (More time for friends, beer and actually attending talks is good stuff.)

Karen McGrane and I together are co-running a workshop on the history of interaction design before the web, Interaction History for Interaction Designers. I don’t believe anybody has attempted a workshop like this before, at least I haven’t heard of one. Karen and I have figured out a way to combine our respective complementary dorky technology passions into a workshop that promises offer a unique view onto the field of interaction design. I’m excited.

We are aiming to fill a gap in the education of interaction designers by simply asking, where did our core interaction principles come from? I mean the REALLY core ones. It should be a common understanding by now that interaction design existed long before the web did, even if it wasn’t named as such. People have been combining electricity and technology into products for over a century now. There have been many design decisions along the way, some through expediency and some through smarts. But a lot of the principles in these early products and computers have formed how we think about, interact with, and design technology.

So in this workshop, we’re going to examine key innovations in the history of technology to see how interaction design has evolved, how we’ve layered meaning upon meaning to where we now use advanced technology without thinking about it. We’re bringing in old radios, old products, images of old computers and software and more to dig deep into what “interaction” means.

It’s bound to be a workshop that will really stretch your mind. Interested in attending? Sure you are. Interaction11 is incredibly already sold out, but if you’re attending and have some free time on Wednesday morning, come join our workshop. You can read more about what we’re planning at the Interaction11 site.

See you in Boulder!

Junior designers, education, industry

October 16th, 2010 | No Comments »

On October 7-8, a great conversation unfolded on Twitter about the challenges of hiring junior designers. Who has the responsibility to train them, schools or business? Here’s the transcript.

Note: I removed the bulk of the cc’ing among people for the sake of readability. All times are Pacific.

Designers! I need to hire a UX Lead and a Director of UX. Big clients and big challenges. Interested? andrew.crow (at)
Andrew Crow, 3:51pm

Hands off, @AndrewCrow! I need Sr UXers and Directors of UX, too! sarah.nelson (at)
Sarah Nelson3:58pm

Apparently no one hires Jr. designers anymore…
Dan Saffer4:01pm

@odannyboy That’s not true, I know junior designers working at REI and Starbucks.
J. Eric Townsend4:02pm

@odannyboy That’s all I hire. More fun that way.
Karen McGrane4:09pm

@karenmcgrane Cheaper, too.
— Dan Saffer, 4:12pm

@allartburns It’s a rarity. Look at the listings on IxDA. For every Jr. Designer position, there’s 20 Sr. ones.
— Dan Saffer, 4:13pm

Oh yeah, @odannyboy, I’m looking for Jr. Designers, too!
— Sarah Nelson, 4:37pm

@odannyboy nope. And it’s a big problem.
Andrew Otwell4:43pm

@heyotwell @odannyboy I think we’re suffering thru the valley of fewer people entering the field post crash 2000-04.
Bill DeRouchey4:50pm

@billder @odannyboy I think it’s that companies don’t know how to train (or want to train) junior people.
— Andrew Otwell, 5:14pm

We’ll have a second valley in a few years if no one enters the field in 2008-2011…
— Dan Saffer, 5:15pm

I think it’s that the economics of edu has been corrupted by the unreasonable expectations of industry
Dave Malouf5:19pm

Say more about that.
— Dan Saffer, 5:35pm

corps now expect students to graduate as complete designers & have given up their prev burden in edu
— Dave Malouf, 5:41pm

they no longer have paths of mentorship, training, etc, especially as designers.
— Dave Malouf, 5:42pm

where are the “college scouting” & 1st year training programs?
— Dave Malouf, 5:43pm

it is another example where in the US we have forsaken the economy of edu. It depresses me.
— Dave Malouf, 5:44pm

I think prob is design teams too small to support exp designers & JRs simultaneously.
Jared Spool5:45pm

You need a fair amount of bandwidth to handle 2 tiers of experience.
— Jared Spool, 5:46pm

I agree w/ this too.
— Dave Malouf, 5:46pm

At Ziba, we hired out of school not expecting complete designers. Can contribute, yes, but still a bit raw.
— Bill DeRouchey, 5:47pm

Other pressing challenge is having enough Sr designers with time and desire to teach.
— Bill DeRouchey, 5:48pm

@billder wouldn’t you agree that Ziba is exceptional
— Dave Malouf, 5:49pm

anyone else flash backing to @ixd09 and @kimgoodwin’s talk?
— Dave Malouf, 5:52pm

@daveixd It’s very likely. But we also had a company size that could absorb ramp up time.
— Bill DeRouchey, 5:52pm

where were all these cozy jobs with mentors, support and career paths 15 years ago? Already gone!!
Chris Chandler5:53pm

@odannyboy its not that noone hires Jr., its that when you ask for Jr. you get n00b in a down economy.
Nick Finck5:53pm

@daveixd I seem to remember a panel at IxD09 on this topic. Who was the moderator again?
— Jared Spool, 5:54pm

I’m mentoring about 20 ppl right now. Some more high-touch than others. They exist.
— Nick Finck, 5:55pm

@jmspool I remember that panel, but I felt it totally went in the wrong direction (no fault of moderator)
— Dave Malouf, 5:56pm

@daveixd sounds like a case for a redo.
— Nick Finck, 5:57pm

@nickf I’m confused aren’t Jr ppl by definition noobs?
— Dave Malouf, 5:57pm

@daveixd Well, it was a bit of herding cats.
— Jared Spool, 5:59pm

@daveixd I think there is three basic tiers: n00b, jr, and sr. n00b just switched careers or started learning
— Nick Finck, 6:00pm

Mentorsing exists, and some shops have good career tracking but was it ever the norm??
— Chris Chandler, 6:01pm

@jmspool Your guess of 50,000 missing designers might’ve been low, amazingly.
— Bill DeRouchey, 6:02pm

@chrischandler Your right, never the norm. Only done by ppl who are passionate enough to pursue it
— Nick Finck, 6:02pm

@billder I had said 10k designers, actually. :)
— Jared Spool, 6:05pm

Another factor is the projects today are likely higher stakes than…
— Bill DeRouchey, 6:06pm

@jmspool @billder give me some context you two. What’s that from? :D
— Nick Finck, 6:06pm

@billder higher stakes, or more complex? Food for thought.
— Nick Finck, 6:07pm

… in the 90s bc digital/web/whatever is more core to a company’s business, if not the entire thing.
— Bill DeRouchey, 6:07pm

@jmspool Jared, I take everything you say and 5x it.
— Bill DeRouchey, 6:08pm

@billder not me, I just high-five it ;)
— Nick Finck, 6:09pm

@nickf what about intermediate? Someone who is relatively senior but still an IC?
Katey Deeny6:12pm

@followsprocess IC?
— Nick Finck, 6:13pm

individual contributor
— Katey Deeny, 6:14pm

@nickf @billder and you should always salt as you go, just a few grains /cc @jmspool
— Chris Chandler, 6:16pm

@nickf as opposed to a manager/leader which I think of as “senior.”
— Katey Deeny, 6:16pm

@daveixd @odannyboy (1) ixd has whole sr gen of people who stumbled into it; can’t talk about “no longer” having a mentorship path…
Michele Tepper6:19pm

@followsprocess that’s sorta sad. Management is a skill & perhaps a career path, not a level of experience.
— Nick Finck, 6:46pm

@nickf It’s a really common biz model of leveling though. MS uses it, for instance.
— Katey Deeny, 6:59pm

@michelet re: jr ixds in NYC Heck! It seems all my grads ended up there this summer for either jobs or internships. Keep the opps coming
— Dave Malouf, 8:50pm

@michelet re #2: I like what Apple ID does: 4 ur 1st year there, ur only responsibility is to watch & learn. No expectation to contribute
— Dave Malouf, 8:52pm

@daveixd #2: that’s unrealistic for 99% of companies in all fields and also apprenticeship model is built on jrs doing basic work.
— Michele Tepper, 10:11am

@daveixd #2 what’s more Apple ID can take top .001% based on previous work & portfolios. So they’re not just taking a chance on some kids.
— Michele Tepper, 10:13am

Great convo w/ @billder @chrischandler @daveixd @jmspool @odannyboy @heyotwell & @followsprocess. How do we archive this for others?
— Nick Finck, 12:11pm

Switching jobs!

August 16th, 2010 | 2 Comments »

I’m happy to announce that I am doing a major career switch. I am leaving Ziba Design after an amazing six years and going to work at BankSimple. It’s surreal, awesome, bittersweet, exciting and a dozen other emotions all wrapped up in a big ball of wow.

I am seriously going to miss everybody at Ziba. In that building is a phenomenal group of curious and smart people whose winningness just becomes normal once you’re there every day. It isn’t until now that I’m leaving and reflecting back on the adventure that I really realize how much I will miss everyone there.

My career would not be where it’s at without my time at Ziba. The things I’ve learned, the opportunities I’ve been given, the projects I’ve worked on, gave me a great education in design. In one of the many “omg you’re leaving” chats I had after I announced it, Bruce asked me a brilliant question, “what did you learn?” In the end, I’d say one of the most unexpected things that I learned was how to dissect and frame problems, a skill that will last me throughout my life.

But six years is a long time in this industry. When an interesting opportunity appeared, I got curious. So after talking with Alex Payne for a while, I joined the BankSimple team. You can read more about my initial thoughts about the company over at BankSimple.

It’s an opportunity for me to stretch myself and combine different aspects of my career into a single position. Interaction design, information architecture, writing, branding, coding, product management, etc. Furthermore, I’ve always wanted to try a startup, and here I am, one of the first fulltime hires. Everything is from square one, and that’s exciting.

Perhaps more exciting is the situation, the company, the people, the mission. In the midst of a financial crisis, during a time when everybody hates banks, we’re starting a bank. On the surface, it’s a bit crazy. But it also means that it could be a perfect time to shake things up. What if you start from scratch, with new technology, an API, a focus on mobile, and a mission to treat customers well? That’s what we’re doing.

I also love that I get to practice what I’ve preached. I’ve presented a few times on Designing Humanity into Your Products, the idea that companies need to be more informal in order to really connect with their customers. At BankSimple, that’s my mission. It’s the challenge of making a company that is genuine. And to top it all off, it’s doing this in the banking world, probably the most stodgy institution of them all. That’s the kind of big challenge that doesn’t show up every day, the opportunity to directly apply the user experience principles and methods to an industry that’s severely broken.

Thank you to Sohrab and Sia for providing my last adventure. Thank you to Josh, Shamir and Alex for providing my next one.

So there you go, that’s my news. Onward!

Fresh start

August 15th, 2010 | No Comments »

It’s time for a fresh blog, again. I’ve let Push Click Touch languish in much the same way that I let History of the Button languish: I was spending more time thinking about things outside of the blog’s mission. So then it doesn’t fit there anymore.

In the end, this just needed to be “billder”, and thankfully so. billder is of course my first name plus the beginning of my last name, but I never discovered the “builder” double-entendre until I first had to choose an email address. Needless to say, as a word dork, this pleased me. I had the domain back in 1996-98 or so but mistakenly let it lapse. Some squatter grabbed it and that was that for 12 years. Then a few months ago I asked said squatter how much they wanted for it. A non-evil amount of money later and was back where it should’ve been the whole time.

I can’t predict what will be here, and that is just fine. I won’t be compelled to talk about interaction design or buttons. I can just talk about life. This will take me back to when I was writing a lot more as Fluxion, grabbing any topic that felt interesting and running with it. So, yay.