Getting my first Apple Watch

I’ve been intrigued by watches my whole life. While I wouldn’t consider myself anywhere close to an actual enthusiast – I know just enough to realize I know almost nothing about the industry – I’m quite interested in watches in relation to their impact on technology as a wearable. I’ve often been curious how they could change my life.

As a kid I was gifted cheap watches for birthdays, and also bought a few at Walmart over the years. However, they always seemed to break within a week or two, requiring me to return to the kitchen stove to check on the time throughout the day.

At 16 I was gifted a nicer watch. I don’t remember the exact brand, but I think it was a Casio, and it wasn’t cheap. It had a few fancy features, and even had a small section to painfully add notes.

The story with all of them was always the same. I’d try one on for a while, play with all of the settings, and appreciate the awesomeness that a watch brought into my life. Watches were a bit of a superpower, enabling me to connect to something more than just my direct environment.

But I could never quite make a watch work longterm. First, I hadn’t found one that felt comfortable to wear. The bands pulled at the hairs on my wrist, they never fit well, and over time most of them wore out.

Finally at 19 I gave away my last watch, and for the most part never looked back. There were been a few times in my 20s and 30s that I tried again, but I was never happy.

I didn’t like the general design of most watches I found.

Analog watches are, to this day, hard for me to read.

Most bands suck. The fit is usually off.

Typing with a watch feels weird since it raises my left wrist off the keyboard; this is probably a bad ergonomic habit on my part, but still I’ll count it.

I often bumped my watch hand against stuff, since I wasn’t used to having it as part of my body.

With those frustrations came another element. I got an iPod Touch in 2010 and it instantly made a watch irrelevant in many ways.

Then the iPhone came along. While I was a late adopter – getting my first model in 2013 – it changed everything for me. A watch just didn’t make sense, and I didn’t like the ones I’d tried.

I bought a jawbone step counter, I tried 3-4 different Fitbit devices. But they never lasted.

Finally, in 2022, I bought my first Apple Watch. I picked the Series 8 in 45 mm, and chose the velcro sport band. I’ve been sitting on this watch for a few months now, trying it and seeing how it fits into my life. In short – and time will tell if I still feel this way in the future – it seems to address all the problems I’ve had with a watch.

The band

Even though it’s velcro, the band is fantastic. It doesn’t pull at the hairs on my wrist, I can adjust it to just the perfect size, and it has a low enough profile to not throw off my wrist while typing.

Time

I mentioned not liking analog watches. I found a digital time that works for me, and I can finally check the time without pulling my phone out.

Disconnecting

I had a worry that a watch would make me more connected to the internet; something I’m actively pushing against these days. Instead the opposite has been true, so far at least. I keep my watch and phone set to do not disturb most of the day, so my watch isn’t constantly buzzing or pinging. Instead I keep the small red dot indicator on, so that I can check if any new notifications have come through. That’s enough for me, and actually means I check my phone less now.

Complications

I’m just starting to learn about the world of watch complications, and so far I’m all in. I’ve chosen the Modular watch face, and picked the following complications:

  • Activity – I like seeing how I’m doing on my steps for the day.
  • Time and date
  • Calendar – I like seeing what events I have coming up at a glance, again reducing my need for checking my phone so often
  • Things 3 – Having my todo list close by at all times is a must, as I’m often adding things to it throughout the day, being able to do this from my wrist now is fantastic; even if the keyboard typing is slow.
  • Timer – I work in 25 minute pomodoros, and having that on my wrist helps separate the timer from the computer or phone. I love it.
  • Weather

That’s a lot, and it’s just perfect for me. Many of the use cases for checking my phone are now gone, and I can see so much of that data right on my wrist at a glance.

None of these are infinity wells (not my original term), where I get sucked into messages, catch up on email, or browse the web. Instead these are all complications that help me move throughout my day and ensure that nothing is lost. I love it.

A note on LTE

I bought the LTE model, hoping to use the watch on my daily runs. So far I haven’t been able to set it up, since I ran into some kind of an infinite connection loop with my phone carrier. Because of that I can’t speak to how well it works away from the phone.

So far I’ve found the watch a useful addition to my life. I like seeing how well I’m doing on my runs, I like checking text messages without opening up my phone, and the audio controls that pop up while listening to books or podcasts are useful.

The area that’s been a disappointment is in using the watch as a primary device. I knew I couldn’t do that going in, but I thought I could do more with the watch. My dream situation is to go into town, or on a run, with just the watch and AirPods, and nothing else. Instead I find I keep needing to bring my phone.

My attempts at loading music, books, or podcasts directly to the watch all failed. I tried Overcast, I tried Apple Books, I tried Audible, I tried Apple Music. In theory all of them should be able to load up audio to sync directly to my AirPods, but nothing just worked. Instead I fiddled with the apps a number of times, rechecked to see if they’d downloaded something, then finally quit and played audio directly from my phone. In this area the watch has been a disappointment, and I hope it’s something that can be solved in the future.

In terms of the size of the watch, I really like the 45mm. It’s big enough to read a lot of text, and it doesn’t feel large on my wrist. I was tempted to get the Apple Watch Ultra, but couldn’t justify the additional cost.

I’ll see how things feel a year from now, but so far I consider this a positive thing to add to my list of daily electronics.

Figma: Designers designing

Adobe announced an intent to acquire Figma for ~$20 billion today. I’ve had mixed feelings thinking about it throughout the day, while also trying to get work done with my projects.

On the one hand I’ve grown to value the tool and all that it allows me to do as a designer. My career started back with much older software. Macromedia Flash 4 was the first application I used to build websites, illustrations, and print graphics. Yup, you heard that right. To this day it still stands as my favorite tool for manipulating bezier curves. But, thanks to my high school ROP teacher, Ms. Jane, I moved on and converted to Illustrator, Photoshop, and InDesign respectively. I also picked up Dreamweaver, and eventually Fireworks.

Sketch came into the picture years later, but my brain couldn’t quite process how to fit it into my workflow. InVision came and went, along with Marvel POP, Balsamiq, and everything else I could get my hands on. So many fantastic tools, so many amazing teams. Adobe XD also floated through for a period of time.

Flash forward to 2022. Figma is one of the core application in my work for building out interfaces and designs.

It is, however, just a tool. The most important thing I’ve learned over the years, as tools have come and gone, is a way of thinking. I still haven’t figured out, in fact I feel like I know less now than years in the past.

Now, when I’m working with a team to build an application or workflow, I approach the project with an absence of tools in mind. That means holding off on Figma for as long as possible, even holding off on wireframes or mockups. Instead, I ask a ton of questions to try and understand what the software accomplishes already, where things need to go with the business, and what users need. This stuff is the heart of building great software, and it’s where I can see pushing myself and continuing to learn for decades to come.

Only after the work of understanding and shaping the software, after sketching out flows and drawings, after going back and forth and writing up How Might We statements, Jobs to Be Done, Acceptance Criteria, etc., after all the other things have been thought through, only then will I crack open Figma.

By the time I have a screen up in this fantastic app I already have an idea of the UX, a high level understanding of the components for UI, along with a million questions that still need to be answered.

Where Figma helps come in is in converging toward shipping something, and getting things out into the world. Even then it’s sometimes not necessary. Some fantastic engineers I’ve worked with will just take sketches and move them directly into code.

Now, I’ve spent some time talking about what I do without Figma. Does that mean the tool isn’t valuable? On the contrary, it’s enabled a way of thinking and working that was near impossible five years ago. I can collaborate live or async with product teams around the world. Like Google Docs, but for designers, it’s helped push the speed at which we can get things shipped. I love it, and I hope this tool is around for years to come.

My point, and the one I try to share whenever possible, is that good UX, good product design, comes with the thinking and asking, not so much with the tool.

Congrats to the Figma team! And, I’m excited to see what other tools appear in the space.

Just around the corner

The last two weeks have been intense since I started looking for new work. I’m used to pushing myself and working hard to get things done. But there’s a certain level of pressure when I am looking for new work to cover the bills for my family, while also wanting to make sure my own personality and experience are a match for the companies I’m talking with.

I’ve applied to some awesome places, and started having interviews with teams of all sizes. I’m a bit tired, but I’m also invigorated. I’ve been able to talk to some fantastic teams, learn about interesting products that are getting built, and hear from passionate folks who want to make an impact in the world.

This is a scary time to be looking for a job as a designer. Layoffs have been announced around the industry, and given that we’ve just entered the technical definition of a recession, there’s now an extra layer of complexity to the whole thing.

I’m getting a little older. This year will my 35th cycle around the sun. When I started my career I was 19 years old, and the world looked bright and rosy. I had a few years of graphic design freelance under my belt by then, and jumped in with my brother to start a web design agency. We teamed up with a few other awesome folks, including my future brother-in-law, and built a little company to make websites and dream up our own SaaS product. This was 2007, bleeding into 2008.

Then a global recession hit.

Times were scary back then, and we worked hard for the next five years to find profitability, to help our clients and customers, and to push ourselves to learn. I’m thankful for those times, and incredibly grateful for the amazing folks that I got to work alongside. It was like two double majoring in design and business. I’d never trade that time and it helped shape who I am today.

So now, in 2022, facing a recession, looking for a job, and with the responsibility of caring for a family, I’m feeling excited and a little nervous. Excited because there’s so much opportunity, so much I can still learn, and some amazing teams that are looking for help. There’s also some things I’m building for myself, and while those my take a few years, they inspire me and allow me to tinker. I’m nervous though, because reality doesn’t always allow things to line up perfectly. Entropy gets in the way, things get messy.

And so I will take a day tomorrow to pause, spend time with my family, and recharge. One thing I learned this week, thanks to a forced 24-hour break with a high grade fever, is that there’s a limit to how much I can get done in a given period of time. I’m excited for the future, and despite my penchant for considering myself a realist, am optimistic about what’s next.

I don’t know the future, but I’m here for it.

Looking for work

TL;DR – I’m looking for a new product design opportunity. 😀

2022 has been a dream year for me in learning and growing in my career. For the past few years I’ve had the opportunity to work with a number of amazing teams on products within enterprise and the small business space. It’s given me the chance to learn and grow, and to continue to push my curiosity as a designer. 

Since December I’ve been supporting the team at Greg as a Senior Product Designer, focused on the mobile experience of the app. I’ve been able to learn about the ins and outs of mobile design in the consumer space, and loved picking up on all the small nuances that make up an amazing iPhone app. The juggling that’s necessary between product, design, engineering, and working runway was such an eye opening experience. 

Monday was my last day at Greg, and now I’m looking for a new opportunity. As sometimes happens, teams need to shift to adjust for the changes in the marketplace, in particular finding product market fit amongst headwinds in the consumer mobile space. 

I have full confidence that the Greg team will solve this, and will be watching from the sidelines, cheering them on. What Alex Ross and team are building is phenomenal, and I’m thankful for getting to work together this year. They’re trying to solve an amazing problem, helping people grow and build plants within a community. We need more apps like this, focused on improving the quality of life of everyone who joins. 

Right now I’m looking for new opportunities. If you’re hiring for a product design role, my background is primarily in enterprise software development, with a recent, and amazing, journey in mobile design. I’d love to chat, and am working on some ideas of my own in the background. Thank you!

SwiftUI Curious

For the past year I’ve been listening to some awesome podcasts and hearing updates from developers as they describe their transition, or in Marco Arment’s case, dipping their into SwiftUI.

I started my career as a web designer and frontend developer. Learning CSS and HTML was a challenge for me at the time, but I figured it out and stuck around long enough to understand the principles of responsive design, media queries, and all the little tinkering that comes with understanding how stuff fits onto the browser. From there I turned my attention to WordPress, customizing sites at a holistic level and helping businesses build enterprise level plugins for the WordPress space. Things got more abstract and I focused on the user experience overall, less on the code.

Focusing on design is important, but there’s tremendous value in understanding the structure of how a thing gets built. I allowed things to get too abstract without realizing the nuances of what my fellow engineers were building. For the last eight months I’ve worked alongside an awesome mobile app team, building out the experience in Greg. As things are starting to shift toward SwiftUI (or at least that’s the statement Apple made, we’ll see what happens in reality) it felt like the right time to give things a try.

So I bought a Udemy course and dove in. I’m shocked. There’s something about how SwiftUI operates that just clicks in my brain. I understand it. This doesn’t mean it will be easy, or even that I’ll really figure it out. But something about the mental model between Swift and SwiftUI appeals to me; perhaps this goes back to my HTML/CSS roots. We’ll see. For the first time in a long time I’m excited about code again, and bringing my designs to reality.