Shifting Roles

For the majority of my 20 year career, I’ve been in a design-related role. Graphic design, web design, product design, UX design, UI design, service design, et cetera. I’ve worked my way up the corporate ladder, from a very junior designer out of college all the way to director-level positions at multinational, Fortune 100 corporations. I’ve managed globally distributed teams, large projects, & even bagged a JD Power Award along the way.

Stephen with JD Power Award

I went back to school to get my MBA in my late-30’s. I settled on Syracuse University because of their ranked Entrepreneurship and Emerging Enterprises (EEE) program. Plus, I could do it remotely while working with little impact to my family or professional life. 

I worked my ass off academically while working full time. Won a graduate award for entrepreneurship excellence. Won some pitch competitions with a startup concept (wasn’t really fair putting professionals up against college kids, but, hey – large check!)

Jonathan (L) and Stephen (R) pull down a comically large check for $7,500.

I realized that I was successful because of my UX & Design background. All because I could start with a customer-centric approach to framing problems.

Ask why.

Look for the duct tape.

Discover intent.

Uncover primary and latent needs.

Apply frameworks.

Build, Measure, Learn.

I quickly discovered that I could apply a user & customer focus to solving business problems, quantifying impact of decisions (or inaction!), and measuring change. I was able to leverage, as Del the Funky Homosapien would say, Both Sides of the Brain. 

I’m leaving behind the familiar world of experience design for something new and exciting. On July 16, I’ll be wearing a new hat – Principal Consultant on my company’s Technology Solutions team. This role will allow me to think like an entrepreneur and pull together recommendations for products & services, leveraging new and existing technologies to solve customer and business problems — using, you guessed it, both sides of my brain.

After all, what’s the point of going back to school in your late 30’s to get an MBA if you aren’t going to put it to work?

Security cameras

2020 New Year's Resolution: Taking Control of My Data

New Year’s Resolutions are usually lip service. Take last year’s, for instance – it was simple enough (or, it should have been). All I had to do was start taking a men’s once-a-day multivitamin.

But I failed sometime in late January. I couldn’t even make it 31 days!

This year’s resolutions, though, will be different. I’m going to take proactive steps to take back control of my data from the internet and stop feeding large corporations information about me, my habits, and what I search/do on the internet. Sure, some of it will be impossible (thanks, mobile phone carriers), but I have some choices to make that should go a long way to reducing my dependency on services that use me as a data point to serve advertisements.

So, the following is a list of what I’m pledging to do in 2020.


I’ve been a loyal Gmail user since April 2004. I have my entire adult digital life stored in my address. My first two startups were run from that account and I can leverage the power of their search and summon anything in the 15+ years of use.

While completely amazing, that scares the bejeezus out of me because I have no control over my data or how it’s used. Everything is residing with Google, and likely used to help target advertisements specifically to me. No company should know that much about me.

Let’s be real: Google is not a good company when it comes to privacy and security (see: Exhibit A, Exhibit B). Google – or any company, for that matter – should not be able to cobble together data found in my Gmail inbox that contains recent online purchases, what credit cards I use, my mortgage documents, due dates, et cetera. It’s predatory bullshit, and I don’t have to acquiesce.

Solution: Fastmail

I did a lot of research over the past week or two about email hosting. The new provider had to, at a minimum:

  1. Value user privacy and prioritize security.
  2. Allow for a custom domain to sever dependencies on one service (e.g. I was locked into my address and it isn’t portable – it’s tied to Google forever and ever).
  3. Never, ever rely on advertisements for revenue generation.
  4. Fully integrate with macOS, iPadOS, and iOS, as well as offer a robust webmail interface.
  5. Offer enough storage to last another 15+ years of email.

I found all that and more with Fastmail, who has an operating model based on  “service in exchange for money” — you know, the old fashioned way of running a business.

I made the switch to Fastmail with my domain and couldn’t be happier. The service is $50/year, which I’m more than happy to pay to take back my data and provide a sense of privacy.

Try Fastmail and get 10% off your first year

2-Factor Authentication

A few weeks ago, I received an email from Hulu that someone in the U.K. signed into my account on their iPhone. I thought I had a pretty solid password, but as it turns out, it was reused, and likely found via a breach.

I’ve been using 1Password to manage passwords on macOS and iOS for a long time, but this was truly my wake-up call. While having a memorable, reusable password for multiple services is nice, it’s not as secure as a second-step authentication method (authenticator app, SMS, etc).

What I love about 1Password is the Watchtower feature. It shows, at a glance, the number of compromised passwords from breaches, passwords that may be vulnerable, passwords that you’ve reused, and passwords to unsecured (read: non-https) logins/websites.

My goal for the new year is twofold:

  1. Replace all duplicate and weak passwords with new, unique passwords.
  2. Use a 2-step authentication method on every site that offers one.

An added bonus: I have an Apple Watch and can store my One-Time Passwords (OTP) for frequently visited sites in the 1Password Apple Watch app for easy access. There’s really no excuse to not lock everything down. Plus, it works seamlessly on my iPad Pro, iPhone 11 Pro, and iMac. The ecosystem is strong.

Delete Facebook

Facebook sucks. It’s a pox on our democracy and is truly an evil company who’s quest for growth and engagement trumps (pun intended) your rights to privacy and security.

  1. The Facebook mobile application has access to your microphone (unless you disable it via settings).
  2. The Facebook mobile application destroys your phone battery life.
  3. Facebook, in general, tracks your every move across the internet.

I am not really in a position where I can fully close my Facebook account for myriad reasons, but I can control how I access the platform and how they access me/my usage. To that end, I am proactively:

  • Removing Facebook from all mobile and tablet devices.
  • Only accessing Facebook from a secure Facebook Container in Firefox.
  • Limiting my exposure to Facebook to only a few visits per week.

Besides, who needs to be exposed to casual white supremacy and anti-tax sentiments thanks to their news feed algorithm?

Close-up shot of George Washington imprinted on U.S. Currency

Bright & Early: Consequences of Bad Design

A video of my Bright & Early talk, “The Consequences of Bad Design,” was recently published. You can watch the whole video below.


There is an inherent cost to bad design that cannot be assigned an actual monetary value. In this talk, Stephen will introduce three scenarios where bad design decisions led to the loss of life, mass panic, and a metric crap-ton of your tax dollars — all problems that could have been easily solved by asking a simple question: “How might we?”


Featured Image by Sahand Hoseini on Unsplash

Field Notes Notebook

Lean UX Hypothesis Statement Template

I’m co-facilitating a corporate workshop in a few days around Lean UX Hypothesis building to accelerate the discovery (Gate 0) stage of the Stage-Gate® process.

I broke down Gothelf/Sieden’s hypothesis statement from Lean UX: Designing Great Products with Agile Teams into a three-part framework that should be easy for product managers to fill out:

  1. Hypothesis
  2. Experiments
  3. Validation


Lean UX Hypothesis Template

Blog featured image photo credit: Kari Shea

Airport UX Header

Airport User Research

Airport User Research may not seem like an efficient way to gather primary research. However, I’ve found them to be a great resource in helping to understand product-market fit and quickly gather early learnings, and have tried to incorporate this guerrilla research technique on a lot of my projects.

Emerson’s New Product Development (NPD) group thrives on early user research and feedback to usher projects through our Stage-Gate® process by using a build/measure/learn approach. The ability to quickly locate potential customers and gather qualitative and quantitative research has been instrumental in accelerating our time to market. To gather rapid feedback, we’ve had to get creative in how and where we can execute this research. Fortunately, every major city has an airport with a lot of foot traffic and a highly captive audience.

Cost effective user research

Stephen at DFW
That’s me in the green and blue shirt (but with a lot more hair) informally interviewing someone at DFW.

In a pinch, a marketing agency could go out on your behalf and survey customers matching your profile screen. That won’t square in my group – we vastly prefer primary research over secondary methods. We also highly value getting our team out of the building and face-to-face with people. One of our axioms is we do not pay consultants to know more about our customers and end-users than we do.

The main drawback to hiring a marketing agency to execute the research is, predictably, the cost. I obtained a quote from a local agency to discuss the research project and propose how they would field a study. I was shocked to see the price tag in the tens of thousands of dollars.

No thank you.

We have fielded a few large-scale studies to help profile our target customer. Knowing the demographic clusters for our customer profiles, we opted to fly from St. Louis (STL) to Atlanta (ATL) and walk through Terminal A, B, and C to identify our target users and solicit their opinions and feedback on our proposed product design and features.

A flight from St. Louis to Atlanta – even purchased 12 hours before departure! – was $480. I took a product manager along with me on the trip, doubling the cost (but even with meals and incidentals we still came in under $1,000).

We departed at 6 am and returned at 3:30 pm, and engaged with over 100 people. Money, and time, well-spent.

Pre-screened audience (and not by TSA)

Having built the personas and written screeners for usability participants, I know our target customer’s background, wants and needs. Locating these individuals in the Atlanta Airport – the busiest airport in the world! – was not difficult.

So, why does the airport make so much sense? Well, the people traveling meet certain income thresholds. You are either traveling for work or pleasure, and air travel is not cheap. It’s also reasonably easy to use your powers of observation to spot wedding rings, business professional attire, and technology adoption.

Having a pre-screened audience at our disposal made for an easy and somewhat enjoyable day of research. I was even able to close all of my Apple Watch activity rings!


We brought physical prototypes with us on a powered board and set off to the last gate in Terminal A to set up shop. Arriving early, we connected to the free ATL Wi-Fi and loaded our Surveys on two iPads we brought with us to capture feedback.

It didn’t take long before we had a full gate of users either de-planing or waiting to board. At ATL, there’s also a good chance that passengers will have a lengthy delay, so you’ll (literally!) have a captive audience.

In the end, we captured 107 data points that helped inform a product decision. And, at a hair under $1,000, saved the company a considerable amount of money.

I’d love to hear from you – where is the most out-there place you’ve conducted VOC research?

Tech on Tap: Designing connected products

Hey, I gave a talk at Schlafly Bottleworks on designing connected products.

Designing IoT details the trials and tribulations of designing connected products in a highly-competitive industry. The talk covers the UCD process, as well as the types of research conducted, to bring the Sensi Touch thermostat to market.

The Sensi Touch smart thermostat was one of the large initiatives I was responsible for delivering while employed at Emerson.