Book cover. Switch: How to change things when change is hard, by Chip Heath & Dan Heath

Making the “Switch” to running

I recently read the book “Switch” by Chip and Dan Heath. I was inspired to read it by TS Balaji, who mentioned it in his interview with DesignBetter. I expected it to be all about corporate change management, but was happy to see it cover everything from large-scale cultural change to individual change.

Instead of writing a review or summary, as I’ve done in the past for The Visual Display of Quantitative Information, Interviewing Users, and Elon Musk’s Biography, I’m going to use the concepts from Switch to explain the bizarre human phenomenon of running.

What is this ‘running’ thing?

When you actually stop to think about it, running is a strange, strange behavior. Who in their right mind would buy expensive shoes, spend incredible amounts of time and energy, and risk repetitive strain injury just to end up right back where you started?

Ron Burgundy said it best:

Veronica and I trying this new fad called, uh, jogging. I believe it’s ‘jogging’ or ‘yogging.’ it might be a soft j. I’m not sure but apparently you just run for an extended period of time! It’s supposed to be wild.

Running is weird. Becoming a runner is not a very easy change to make.

My story

I used to be a runner. I have spent hundreds or maybe even thousands of hours of my life putting one leg in front of the other for a while then ending up back where I started. I’ve ran to the point of injury, too many times. Shin splints, Achilles tendonitis, plantar fasciitis, and more.

The author running on a road in a small town

Me running an adventure race in 2014 in Cumberland, British Columbia

About four years ago, I started cycling and stopped running. The injuries stopped too! I could cycle ten hours a week and still not get injured, whereas running half that much would land me at the physiotherapist’s.

The switch

Fast-forward to this past weekend. Shane, the ex-runner, sets his alarm for 7:00 on a Saturday 😱, battles 1000 other maniacs to find a parking spot 😱, and runs five kilometers in the April snow 😱. All after six weeks of training 😱, two physio treatments 😱, and countless hours of stretching and strengthening exercises 😱.

So why did I do it?

Back to the book Switch for a moment. This article does a way better job of explaining it than I do, but the analogy that the book sticks to is simple: a rider, an elephant, and a path. The brain is like a person riding an elephant. The elephant is very irrational and emotional but very strong. The rider, on the other hand, is very smart and rational but weak and sometimes indecisive.

Picture this rider and elephant walking along a path. If the path changes, for example if it’s blocked by a fallen tree, then the rider and elephant will be forced to change direction, even if neither of them actually want to.

In order to change someone’s behavior, you should appeal not only to the analytical rider, but also to the emotional elephant. You should also shape the path to make the change easier.

Brown elephant walking through a plain

The elephant is strong and emotional. Photo by elCarito on Unsplash

I resumed the strange habit of running because my rider, my elephant, and the path were all encouraged to make the switch.

Rally the herd

One way to “shape the path” for change is to show the people that you’re looking to change that “everyone else is doing it”. That’s why tip jars at coffee shops are never empty, even at the start of the day. An empty tip jar sends the message that no one tips and is easy to ignore. A tip jar with a few $5 bills and lots of change is much harder for customers to overlook.

Tip jar on counter with money in it

You don’t want to be the only one not to tip, do you? Photo by Kody Gautier on Unsplash

The main reason that I first signed up for this race was that my coworker suggested that we do it as a team. I definitely would not have done this race on my own.

Shrink the change

Heath and Heath explain that one way to motivate the elephant is to make the “ask” as small as possible. They tear apart the U.S. food pyramid, saying that it is hard to understand and completely overwhelming. They then tell the story of a campaign to convince the public to drink 1% milk instead of whole milk. That caused a significant drop in the intake of saturated fat, because it was a much more manageable change than obeying the food pyramid. 


Who cares about the cookies? If you want to be healthy, make sure the milk is 1%. Photo by Elliot Banks on Unsplash

If my coworker had asked me to sign up for a marathon instead of a 5K, I probably would have told him no, even if the rest of the team was doing it. That’s a huge commitment. This helped my stubborn elephant get moving.

Script the critical moves

Switch touched on the phenomenon of decision paralysis. For example, a gourmet shop offered samples of 6 different jams one day and 24 different jams the next day. Customers who saw only 6 jams were 10 times more likely to make a purchase than those who saw 24. This is because the analytical rider doesn’t have the energy to analyze all 24 jams to make the best choice, and thus decided to make no choice at all.


Try our gourmet jams! Just don’t try too many of them or you won’t buy any. Photo by Bernard Tuck on Unsplash

My coworker helped my rider by suggesting a specific race. He didn’t give a vague suggestion that we should all get into running. He gave a simple option of yes or no. Not much analysis required.

I helped my rider by finding a 5K training plan then adding it into my calendar. There was a bit of up-front planning required but after that, I was just following the script.

Point to the destination

The authors cite ambitious, black-and-white goals as a great way to direct the rider. As an example, BP once publicly announced a goal of “no more dry wells”, which was downright impossible, yet it led to significantly reduced exploration costs.

Oil well at sunset

Instead of “lower exploration costs by 80%”, how about “no dry wells”? Photo by Zbynek Burival on Unsplash

Soon after I signed up for the 5K, my coworker asked me what my goal was, and I blurted out “25 minutes”. It was an arbitrary goal but it was black and white: I would either run a sub-25 5k or I wouldn’t. Late in my training, I analyzed my training data and it looked bleak. My goal was to run five kilometers at about 5 minutes each, but in my 70 km of training that I had done so far, I hadn’t even reached that pace once. (See my original tweet)

But somehow, that black-and-white goal stuck in my mind during my race and I’m pleased to say that against all odds, I finished in 24:54.



In other words, I not only took up running again, but I absolutely embraced it. I did this because my rider was directed, my elephant was motivated, and my path was shaped.

More than just for running

I’ve used my return to running as an illustration, but obviously the techniques in this book can be applied to so much more. Whether you want to make a switch with yourself, your family, your company, or the world, Switch contains practical advice for changing riders, elephants, and paths!


Graduating from Duolingo

I recently reached a huge milestone: a 1000-day streak on Duolingo.


Yes, Duolingo has delightful illustrations and animations. It is completely free and doesn’t show TOO many ads. It covers all the bases- Theory, Reading, Writing, Speaking, and Listening. And best of all, it is super motivating.

But for Intermediate language learners, it’s just not worth it.

Duolingo logo

Do you visit Duolingo for a couple minutes a day to mindlessly tap through some exercises with words that you already know? Do you still not have the confidence to strike up a conversation with a French-speaking acquaintance? That was me. But not any more.

I’m now dedicating my daily French practice to these: my favorite resources for intermediate to advanced language learners.

The best free resources for intermediate French learners

Graphic comparing resources:
1) Duolingo. Low difficulty, High convenience. Covers: theory, reading, writing, speaking, listening.
2) Coursera. Medium difficulty, Medium convenience. Covers: theory, reading, writing, speaking, listening.
3) Kwiziq French. All difficulties, Medium convenience. Covers: theory.
4) Meetup. Medium to high difficulty, Low convenience. Covers: speaking, listening.
5) Youtube. All difficulties, High convenience. Covers: theory, speaking, listening.
6) Netflix. All difficulties, High convenience. Covers: reading, listening.
7) Magazines. Medium to high difficulty, High convenience. Covers: reading.
8) Ici Musique Radio. Medium to high difficulty, Medium convenience. Covers: listening.
9) Learn French by Podcast. Medium difficulty, medium convenience. Covers: speaking, listening.
The best free resources for intermediate French learners. Yes, Duolingo is convenient and touches on all skills, but it can be too easy after some time. Here are the icons I’ve stolen:

Brain by Arjun Adamson from the Noun Project; Book by Sergey Demushkin from the Noun Project; Writing by andriwidodo from the Noun Project; speak by Gregor Cresnar from the Noun Project; Listen by Rémy Médard from the Noun Project; magazine by Diego Naive from the Noun Project


I’m currently working through the six-week Coursera course, Étudier en France: French Intermediate course B1-B2. This course terrified me initially. They talk SO fast in the videos and all the other students seem way better than me- but I am working my way through it and I even got 95% on my first assignment!

It’s no Duolingo, meaning you can’t get through this Coursera course solely on 3 distracted minutes a day while waiting in line for a coffee, but the app is decent and the work is quite bite-sized, including short videos, reasonable reading assignments, and 150-word writing assignments.

My only complaint about Coursera is that this is the only French language course on the site, so after these six weeks, I’ll be moving on.

Kwiziq French

Kwiziq French is great. Like Duolingo, it has short, bite-sized online exercises that help you learn little by little. Unlike Duolingo, it requires a bit of reading. Kwiziq gives you ten “topics” at a time to review, then a “Kwiz” to test your understanding of those topics.

It is broken down into the following CEFR levels:

A0: Entry Level, A1: Beginner, A2: Lower Intermediate, B1: Intermediate, B2: Upper Intermediate, and C1: Advanced.

Duolingo is focused on the A level, so Kwiziq can take you a lot further.

So far, Kwiziq’s free plan of 10 kwizzes per month has been more than enough for me, but I’d consider paying for unlimited access because the content is very high quality.


Just search for “French conversation” in your city on Meetup. Chances are, you’ll find a group of friendly, supportive language learners who meet regularly and welcome newcomers. Yes, it’s intimidating and hard, but it’s the quickest way to learn spoken French!


Paul Taylor, Comme une Française , and more. There are a million YouTube channels, ranging from comedy in French to pronunciation for beginners. I won’t say much more than that. Dig around and see what you find!


Yes, Netflix. Most shows and movies on Netflix offer French subtitles, so I am proud to say that my French wouldn’t be where it is today if it weren’t for Black Mirror.

I haven’t watched any French language films or shows on Netflix but those are also great- with or without English subtitles!

I know Netflix isn’t free but if you’re paying for Netflix anyway, then turning on French subtitles IS a convenient and free way to learn.

Bilingual travel magazines

I was lucky enough to take the Eurostar from London to Paris to celebrate my 29th birthday. On the train ride down, I devoted my attention not to the beautiful French countryside, but to the Metropolitan Magazine.

I loved struggling through the French articles with the English right there beside it. I would get the gist of the article in French, then check the English to see if I got it right.

WestJet and Air Canada also have bilingual magazines, so I always look forward to flying within Canada!

Canadian public radio

Speaking of Canada, French learners can benefit from our two-official-languages policy by listening to French-language stations of the CBC, the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation.

Sure, Spotify has lots of good French music, but I find that they have a lot of ads unless you pay for Premium.

CBC’s Ici Musique has the same great French music, but without the ads. And, as an added bonus, they have news updates so you can get used to hearing spoken French.

Learn French by Podcast

Learn French by Podcast is great because there’s LOTS of content. 195 episodes over 12 years. The earlier ones are a bit easier than the later ones, so it’s great to just binge on from the start. What I like about this podcast is that they have a short conversation (which I usually find hard to follow), then break down certain phrases, explaining what was said and why. They also encourage practicing pronunciation with lots of “repeat after me” exercises. Another nice thing about podcasts in general is that if they’re too hard you can slow down playback. Too easy? Speed it up!

Kids’ books

It’s not free, but I’m adding French kids’ books as an honorable mention.

When I was in Thailand a year ago, I stumbled upon a used book store. They had a French section. I looked through some classic novels, longing to be able to read them. Then I found myself being drawn to a brightly colored, pint-sized book entitled Deux filles pour un cheval, or Two girls for one horse.

Book cover for Deux filles pour un cheval
I highly recommend this book, even if you’re not a 10-year old French girl

I loved reading that book. I underlined words that I didn’t know, then looked them up later and wrote the definition in the margins of the pages. It was a great way to learn.


I haven’t tried FluentU yet, but they are one of the seven resources featured in this article: Stuck in the Middle: 7 Resources for Intermediate French Lessons to Get You Unstuck

Any others?

Did I miss any great resources for Intermediate French learners? Leave me a comment!

It takes a village

I was a programmer from 2012 to 2017. I realized during this time that my impact would multiply if I could focus on the design instead of being the one to code it.

Early in 2018, after years of reading, taking courses, and experimenting with UX, my dream came true: I was hired as a UX Designer. I’m almost at the one-year mark of this new career of mine and I’m using this milestone as an excuse for gratitude.

They say it takes a village to raise a child. It also took a village for me to make this career switch. My switch definitely wouldn’t have been possible without these people.

Rob Ursem, manager 2012-2015

Rob was my first manager as a programmer. When I was working for him I’d have endless ideas and suggestions about usability and design. Rob saw this enthusiasm and recommended some books for me to read. Design of Everyday Things. The Inmates are Running the Asylum. Many more. Without him I wouldn’t have even known that User Experience was an actual job. I’m so grateful for Rob for that.

Andrew Wright, meetup coordinator

Soon after I finished reading the book the Inmates are Running the Asylum, the local meetup group Calgary UX featured it in their book club. What an awesome coincidence! So I worked up the courage and went to the meetup.

The whole premise of that book is how programmers have way too much say in how software is designed. I was a programmer when I read the book, so I was one of the inmates who was running the asylum! I was shocked at how welcoming the meetup was, especially the organizer Andrew, even though I felt like such an outsider.

I’ve been in touch with Andrew ever since then and he’s never stopped being that welcoming, knowledgeable, and helpful presence for me.

Meghan Armstrong, unofficial mentor

I also met Meghan through Calgary UX and she has been so kind and helpful through the years. On many occasions, she has taken the time to meet with me, including helping me with my portfolio when I was first thinking of making the move into UX.

She also taught me a great introductory course on UX through Habanero, which gave me a lot of confidence to start trying things out at work.

Jason Grant, UX role model

Jason is a design leader. He works with an impressive list of clients, is active in the London tech community, and even talked shop with me a few times. I interviewed him in 2017 and have been watching his career for years.

He’s now the founder of Integral, striving to “continuously deliver latest Integral and Design Thinking models to 1 billion community worldwide”.

Mark Plant, unofficial mentor

I wrote about Mark in 2017 as we were working through a design side-project together. This project started with me offering to buy a coworker a coffee. It ended with me learning about managing a corporate design system, appreciating marketing and the sales funnel, and gaining confidence in my design skills.

Meaghan Nolan, official mentor

Meaghan was my mentor in the Chic Geek mentorship program in the first half of 2018. She was the perfect guide for me as I researched UX Maturity, having co-authored a book on design maturity. She is currently doing impressive work with her startup Mikata Health.

Stuart Jones, manager 2018 and beyond

While Stuart was thinking of moving from London to Calgary in 2015, I was moving from Calgary to London. We met up a few times in London after I made the move, and he answered all the UK and UX questions I could throw at him.

Fast-forward a couple years to when I returned to Calgary. Stuart and his family had settled in and his employer, Solium, happened to be hiring! A few interviews and a job offer later, and I was finally a UX Designer.

My advice to you

If you are making a career move, go out and meet some people who are already doing your dream job.

If that dream job is User Experience, reach out to me. It’s my turn to return the generosity of these great mentors!

Getting away from it all

As I write this, I’m three hours away from home in the middle of the woods with no electricity, no roof over my head, no running water, and of course no cell reception.

And it’s awesome.


Our beautiful spot right on the river.

Yes, I know I’m contradicting myself. Like an alcoholic trying to shake the last few drops out of the bottle, I’m writing this blog post in offline mode. But it’s definitely not the same without WiFi.

Without an internet connection, I don’t have alerts buzzing every five minutes on my phone. I don’t go to check my email, only to find myself scrolling through Twitter half an hour later with no memory of even opening Twitter.

UX Designers like me are paid good money to grab your attention and hold it. And they’re damn good at their jobs. They are great at making everything seem urgent and important, even if it’s not.

Out here, it’s just me, family, and nature. We eat, drink, laugh, play games, and just relax.

It’s not all fun and games though. We have a luxurious portable toilet that occasionally, you know, fills up and needs emptying…

Image associée

Our luxurious portable toilet is kind of like this. Way better than squatting in the woods!

…Otherwise it starts overflowing.

At least what seems urgent and important out here actually IS urgent and important.

Speaking of urgent, I need to climb a tree to try to find cell reception so that I can keep my Duolingo streak alive. Wish me luck!

Kicking off a UX Research side project with my mentor Meaghan

This post is the first in what will be a series of posts about my UX research about UX Maturity. For all other posts, see my UX Maturity Research page.


I’ve long been obsessed with the concept of UX Maturity. Why do some companies rave about the power of User Experience Research and Design while other companies just don’t seem to get it?

Which is why, for at least the next 2 months, I’ll be conducting research on this topic.

How it began

I’ve had great mentors (and unofficial mentors) in the past, so when a friend tweeted about the Chic Geek mentorship program, I jumped at the opportunity.

The program is incredibly well-run. They match mentors with mentees based on a thorough questionnaire about goals, experience, and interests.

My match is Meaghan Nolan, a co-founder of the digital health company Mikata Health and a former lead designer at New York agency Moment. Needless to say I’m happy with my match!

But what do I want?

After I learned that Meaghan was going to be my mentor, the organizers asked me as the mentee to come up with a SMART goal. I really wasn’t sure what to shoot for, so I set a goal to set a goal. (Huh?!)

goal to set a goal.png

My waffly initial goal: To set a goal

Fast-forward to the first official mentorship meeting: When I sheepishly showed Meaghan my somewhat confusing goal, she immediately jumped into researcher mode. After just a few questions, she proposed a WAY better goal.

If you are interested in tech and UX research, why don’t you do UX-style research on tech?

Yes! Brilliant!

We eventually settled on the following:

  1. In order to learn more about UX maturity and UX research techniques, I will interview at least 5 people from different companies about UX maturity by April 1st, 2018.
  2. At that point, I will decide on a specific direction for future research.
  3. Throughout the process, I will blog at least twice a month about my process and progress.

They aren’t especially specific or measurable, but UX rarely ever is. The April 1st deadline is in place in order for me to get some broad initial research in before drilling down into something interesting or unanswered from that research.

Next steps

After this first meeting, Meaghan sent me some relevant links. One of which was a talk SHE GAVE at the Interaction17 conference on Design at Scale. What!? My mentor not only has worked with everything from startups to Fortune 500 companies, but she’s given a talk on design culture?! Amazing.

After I read through the rest of the materials that Meaghan sent, I’ll put together a rough research plan based on the IDEO Field Guide for Human-Centered Design.

Then of course I’ll actually start talking to people and post about it right here later this month! I can’t wait!

Want to talk?

Care to enlighten me on your personal journey through UX maturity? Let me know!

Duolingo is great, but…

I LOVE Duolingo. I can’t recommend it enough for people who want to start learning a new language.

Ever since I first tweeted about it back in 2015, I’ve been using it pretty much daily. First for a little bit of Spanish, and now for French and even a little bit of Vietnamese!

However, I have a few bones to pick, especially with some of the more recent changes, both as a user and as a UX professional.

Lingots vs. Gems

Back in the day, Duolingo used “lingots” to reward users for things like having a long streak of practicing, allowing them to “buy” things like extra lessons or even costumes for Duolingo’s owl mascot. This was consistent between the web application and the mobile app.

But sometime in 2017, the mobile app switched over from lingots to “gems”. I remember seeing a nice notification after that switch that explained to me why the change was made and what it meant to me. No harm done.

The weird thing: The web app didn’t switch over. I thought this might just be a temporary transition, but several months later and it still hasn’t. So one one device I have gems and on the other I have lingots.

The Shop on mobile: I have 3272 gems and I’ve wagered 50 gems on “Double or Nothing”.

The Shop on web: Even though it’s the same account, I have 2334 lingots and I haven’t made a “Double or Nothing” wager but I can for 5 lingots.

I really have trouble keeping track of the difference between the two. I wish I didn’t care about these fake internet points but when my 650+ day streak is riding on them, I can’t ignore them.

The fix

My suggestion to Duolingo: Follow Jakob Nielsen’s heuristic of “Consistency and standards”.

Users should not have to wonder whether different words, situations, or actions mean the same thing.

Choose one: gems or lingots. Then get rid of the other.

The Double-Tap Bug

It may be because my iPhone 6 is no spring chicken, but I’m regularly frustrated by the following behavior on Duolingo’s iPhone app.

On “listen then type” questions, when I tap the field to start typing, nothing seems to happen. So I tap again. The keyboard then appears (due to my first tap) then immediately disappears (due to my second tap). So I tap once more and all is well.

Confusing? Here’s a gif I made to illustrate it.

duolingo double tap bug.gif

The double-tap bug. Due to a delay in registering the first tap, the first two taps cancel each other out. The third one works though!

The bad thing is that this doesn’t seem to consistently happen. Sometimes when I tap the first time the keyboard immediately appears so there’s no problem. Sometimes I tap, then wait patiently for the keyboard to appear, resisting the urge to tap again, only to be staring at my screen for several seconds like an idiot, apparently because the app didn’t actually notice my first tap.

The fix

The problem seems to be that there’s a delay in registering the first tap, possibly due to the phone working hard to play the audio. I wonder if it’s possible to ignore a tap to close the keyboard if it happens immediately after the keyboard was opened.

Also, perhaps make the tappable area larger on these questions? That would prevent the “staring like an idiot” scenario above.

Condescending Messages

On the iOS app, after my first five questions of the day then again after about ten, I get a message. Instead of letting me continue on in my French flow, that damn owl pops up and gives me an infuriating pat on the head.

Yes, maybe when I start learning Japanese and am getting frustrated with the first few lessons, this might be a welcome ray of light. But not when I’ve devoured all the French content that Duolingo has to offer and I’m just reviewing a few old words. In that case, it’s just annoying.

The fix

As I said in my tweet, maybe these messages should just be for beginners. Or better yet, why not add a “Stop showing these messages” button to allow for opt-out?

But it’s not all bad!

With that being said, I still love Duolingo and will probably continue using it for years to come. And not all of their new stuff is bad.


I love Duolingo’s new stories feature, which seems to only be available on the web app under the “Labs” tab or at

These are short, enjoyable stories with words on screen and voices narrating, these are a great way for intermediate to advanced learners to get comfortable with how a language is spoken. They’re interactive to make sure you’re paying attention.

Duolingo’s story. It’s asking me which word means “to stay on the surface of the water”. It’s “flotte”!

And best of all, they’re entertaining. The stories usually have a nice little twist at the end.

The twist: The man that Rose was speaking to at the art gallery was Captain Black Beard himself!


Keep doing what you’re doing Duolingo!

For the gems vs. lingots, I’m guessing that either I’ve run into an edge-case bug or that there is some kind of constraint that I’m not aware of.

For the messages, I know that I’m now turning into an edge case. There are millions more beginners on your platform than people like me who have consumed all content for a given language, but still, with a couple of small changes, you can keep me preaching about how awesome you are without alienating your new customers at all!

For the stories, please make them mainstream! They’re such a great, entertaining way to learn!

Want to talk Duolingo with me? Find me on LinkedIn!

Talking to Mars

Lately I’ve been bingeing on WaitButWhy. From Artificial Intelligence to the history of everything, Tim Urban is an expert at carefully researching complex topics then crafting entertaining, easy-to-read, and informative posts on them.

The other day I read the article How (and Why) SpaceX Will Colonize Mars. It was a great article about space, Mars, and Elon Musk, but what stuck with me was this little tidbit buried in Part 3 of the post:

Earth people and Mars people will be in close touch, emailing and texting and watching each other’s movies and TV shows (no phone calls or Skype convos though—because data transfer is limited by the speed of light, a message sent from one planet takes between three and 22 minutes to get to the other, depending on the planets’ locations)

As well as this footnote:

For 2–4 weeks of each 26-month planet location cycle, the sun is directly between the two planets, and they can’t communicate at all.

In other words, if Earthlings want to talk with those brave few people who head to Mars starting as early as 2024, there’s going to be some interesting challenges.

So how are we going to talk to Mars?

We won’t be able to FaceTime, but we will be able to do video messaging. Kind of like SnapChat but slower. Let’s call it SlowChat. It should be good at making it clear just how slow each message will be, because there’s a big difference between a 6-minute round-trip, a 44-minute round-trip, and a 2-4 week delay!

Inspired by Tim Urban, I’ll illustrate this with a bit of a story.

It’s the year 2030. I’m floating around in 38% gravity and I want to chat with my mom.


Okay, maybe Mars won’t be terraformed enough to have beaches and retirees by 2030, but we’ll definitely need to figure out ways to improve communication if we’re sending people up there!

What do you think? Tweet me your thoughts or post a comment below!

Two years of blogging- a retrospective

Have you ever heard a piece of advice over and over, yet still ignored it? Something that made sense but you just didn’t manage to get around to, so it felt like a monkey on your shoulder for months or even years?

That was like me and blogging.

Until I moved to London, that is. I wanted a way to show off my passion and skills to potential employers, so I started and put a few posts up.

My routine

Since those early days, I’ve settled into a routine that I find both enjoyable and sustainable. With a little work once a week and a bigger session once a month, I have an outlet for my ideas and a consistent rhythm of publishing.

My Thursday Tens: Rambling Once a Week

Every Thursday, I spend at least ten minutes writing. I call these my Thursday Tens.

Each week, I either create a draft article where I rant about some new idea I’ve had or I elaborate on previous rants. Sometimes I get in the zone and spend a bit longer than ten minutes. The idea is quantity over quality.

To reduce the friction of these Thursday Tens I’ve set up WordPress post by email. This is a custom email address that creates a post every time you send it a message. I always use [status draft] to tell WordPress not to publish my unedited thoughts, and I’ve saved the contact name in gmail as “Post to (don’t forget [status draft]!” so that I don’t forget this.

using post by email in gmail.png

Here’s how it looks when I want to quickly get in my Thursday Ten using gmail

Monthly Polishing and Publishing

Once a month, I take one of those drafts and shine it up. Sometimes I have fun with visuals, like my Match Debt article; other times, I just add a few headings, clean up the wording, and hit “Publish”.

The results

Blogging ended up being more than just something I do so that I have a web presence. It is now a therapeutic exercise. Writing and distilling my thoughts and ideas is really enjoyable. Even if no one were to ever read my posts (and, in reality, not a lot of people do), it would still be worth doing. I love documenting my progress and putting my experiences and ideas into cohesive paragraphs. It exposes flaws in my thinking.

Most popular posts

Looking at the most popular posts (again, I use the term ‘popular’ relative to my other posts. Not relative to sites with actual subscribers.), it’s funny.

In 2016 it was my “connecting Strava to Google Sheets” post, which I wrote because I hacked together something tedious and wanted to document my steps. It ended up helping a lot of other people! Sadly for my viewership stats, but fortunately for Strava users, this post became obsolete when Strava began supporting IFTTT!

So in 2017 to date, my most popular post wasn’t even an actual post. It was more of a “note to self”, a collection of related links, called “Best Practices for Data Tables“. That has supplied one third of my ‘traffic’ this year even though it isn’t really a post!


An unexpected benefit of my blogging habit has been that I’ve connected with my readers.

For example, a man named Ross Fisher commented on my aforementioned Strava/Google sheets post, asking for some help. I emailed him back and we eventually got him sorted. I then checked out his website. Turns out he’s a blogger too, but he’s also a surgeon, a cyclist, and an expert on presentations.

After reading his excellent “how to ‘do’ a presentation” blog post, I’ve become much more confident in my speaking, giving presentations on UX and even presentations on… presentations!

It’s strange, but I doubt that I would be where I am as a speaker today if it weren’t for my blog.

What’s next?

I’ve enjoyed blogging for myself for the last two years, but I am thinking of targeting my writing more. I want articles that are for an audience other than myself.

One thing that I’m passionate about is transforming organizations to be more user-centered, especially technical enterprise software companies. It doesn’t seem to get much press, but while consumer products like Airbnb are revolutionizing design and UX, there are still extremely successful (for now) companies that make niche enterprise software that are still in stage 2 or 3 out of 8 on the Nielsen Norman UX Maturity scale.

Stay tuned, successful but immature companies; you’re in for a treat!

The lorem ipsum bag

I’m currently on the trip of a lifetime. My fiancee Carolyn and I are exploring Southeast Asia with no return ticket and no real timeline other than “Be back in Canada by December”.

Carolyn and I wanted a lightweight way to share and remember our trip, so we are posting daily to using Post by Email.

The posts are mostly just fun pictures and anecdotes, but I recently posted one with a bit of a design spin, so I wanted to re-post it here on my tech blog.

So here it is! Feel free to check out the other posts as well.

Shane and Carolyn's Asian Adventure

Designers who are working on websites sometimes sketch out layouts and put what’s called fake placeholder text to show where the actual web content goes. This is sometimes known as Greeked Text. Here’s what I mean.

The idea is that if you put the buttons and icons and navigation in the right place, that your website will be great and you can worry about the content later. Some say that this is a bad thing– content is king so it should come first- but I think that it depends. Usually it’s not the end of the world.

That is, as long as you ACTUALLY CREATE CONTENT.

Today I was looking for a nice big backpack for me to use during my Asian travels then in the mountains when I get back to Canada. I found a great Jack Wolfskin 60L pack, but let’s just say that the price was…

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Best. Commute. Ever.

Do you ever get to work and think to yourself “Damn. Here already? That 45-minute commute is way too short!”

No? Just me?

I love my commute. Rather, I loved my commute. My time here in London is coming to a close but I think I made the most of it. I’m proud to say I cycled to work almost every day and no two routes were ever the same. Every day I chose at least a few new roads or paths to explore.

updated strava heatmap

All my London rides. There aren’t many roads along the way that I missed.

I got to see so much of London. Well, northwest London at least.

You know how they say diverge before converge? I definitely did that.

And because of that, Today was my best commute ever. I knew almost every road between my home and work, so I was able to choose the absolute perfect route.

I got to roll past Abbey Road Studios. I got to see Buckingham Palace (with no crowds by the way). “Oh, hello there, Big Ben! Good morning, London Eye!” The Shard, Tower Bridge, and of course The Gherkin. I’m so lucky to have enjoyed a year and a half of this.


Buckingham Palace all to myself!

I’m so lucky the cycle infrastructure is in place that I can do it safely.

Cycle lane at the foot of Big Ben

Cycle lane at the foot of Big Ben

I’m so lucky I’ve been able to live in such an amazing city. And that I’ve got to work in such an iconic building (oh, and that I got to park my ride underground!)


One last #GherkinSelfie

London, I’ll miss you! Because of (not in spite of) your notorious commutes!