Divergence and convergence

A few years ago, Leo Postovoit, shared a concept with me. While we were chatting I remember being surprised and not having a mental model for applying the ideas to my work. It’s not that I’d never done it, but I hadn’t consciously thought of it the way he described. The concept was divergence and convergence within design, or really within anything that requires gathering of information. Divergence means going wide, and convergence means coming back to a narrow point.

As a product designer, it’s my job to help solve a lot of problems for my clients, the products, the wonderful teams I work with, and ultimately the folks who get to use what I make. There are quite a few mental models I’ve developed over the years for doing my work, and this one stands as an important pillar.

When I start a project, I try to keep things wide open for divergence. Practically, that means taking in all sources of information about the thing I’m working on. I collect data via scraps of paper, typing things into Bear notes, capturing to-dos in Things 3, Google docs, JIRA tickets, Github issues, screenshots with Droplr, Miro boards, Figma boards, and more. I love this, taking crazy chaos from everywhere and trying to make sense of it all.

This divergent, collective part of the project is messy, and can take a lot of time if I don’t put a constraint on it. Going wide, receiving new ideas, is necessarily an unlimited task. You open up to all the things that could apply to your work, and follow rabbit trails across the digital and analog spaces. This is beautiful, a lot of fun, and often immensely frustrating. Often you’re digging around in areas that don’t even feel tangentially related to the project in front of you, hoping for some kind of parallel example to bring back to the problem at hand.

Sometimes I’ll go on a walk and stew over the problem. Other times I just need to take a break and sleep through it, coming back fresh in the morning.

If that was the only part of a project, I’d likely finish nothing, and it’s caused problems at times in my work. My sense of perfectionism can kick in here and I’ll think that I need more research, more time, more data.

However, and this is where convergence comes in, at some point I have to switch mental modes and start culling the information, sorting the signals from the noise, and pulling out the relevant parts. This part looks a bit less messy from the outside. It’s the part where I cross items off on my digital boards, start checking to-dos in my task managers, and begin striking out text in areas. I take all that data and sort through the pieces in my mind.

After that point, I’m often ready for feedback; whether from my team or from customers in the real world. I’ve now taken in a bunch of stuff, sorted it, and spit out an editorial opinion on that stuff. This is where unique creativity comes in. There’s not really anything new in the world in terms of ideas. I can just hope to bring my own spin to something, taking inspiration from all those who came before. It’s a lot of fun, and it doesn’t require true originality, rather it takes wisdom to sort through what applies to the project and what I can toss.

This convergent phase can, in theory, be the end of a project. However, in reality, it’s often just the middle part. Going back to the client, the rest of the team, or our customers, and showing this convergence of information, often reveals flaws in the thinking. As I’ve grown older, I’ve learned to embrace those flaws. I get excited when someone points out an error in my mental model, or a misstep in where I’ve landed. These are opportunities to correct and improve and continue to editorialize the information.

Sometimes minor tweaks are enough. I can change my direction and iterate a bit and ship to the world. Other times, though, my approach to thinking is off, or the direction we took had a flaw from the beginning. This happened recently with a small project. We planned a specific direction based on the design brief, and I went divergent, thinking up ideas and trying to understand the brief. I went back to the team with my insights in a Google doc and shared some concerns about the design direction. That gave us a quick opportunity to pivot and switch things up, to try something new. From that meeting I dove back out, continued to spread out and look for things, then came back to earth and converged on a new direction.

This continual process of divergence and convergence, when appropriately timed, can help to move a project forward, and often conveys the pulse, or heartbeat, of the team. Anxiety, happiness, concern, euphoria, and a dozen other emotions all get bound up through the rhythm of the work. I love it, and this is a tiny piece of what gets me up each day and inspires me to continue to learn and grow.

Instead of being worried about this process, about being wrong about things, I embrace it, enjoying the natural flow of things, and use this opening and closing as a tool. As with any tool, there are limitations. You can spend too much time going wide, or focus too narrowly on a problem and stay stuck in that rut. With experience comes understanding of when to apply each, and therein lies the rub. That’s a thing I’m still learning and tweaking on every single project; trying to find that balance and understand where I am in the cycle. There’s more than this, of course, to being a great product designer, but it’s a start, and when uncertainty abounds, I can come back to this model and find a reset point.

Thanks Jonathan for inspiring me to write this, and for those following along this counted as my 1,000 words for the day.

My writing goal for the year

From September, 2019 – December 2020 I managed to write four novels. The process was long and messy, and one of the most enjoyable projects I’ve ever undertaken. Those four books may never see the light of day, as they were a process of learning and understanding, and it would be hard to publish them now. One book, my first, is sitting in Ulysses with iteration number 17; meaning I’ve gone over the darn book 17 times. It’s a mess at this point, and I don’t know how to finish it, but that’s oaky.

As 2021 kicked around the corner I set a goal for myself to publish four novels in this calendar year. That was far different than the previous months where I wrote books, rewrote them, and toiled in obscurity. The new goal meant getting something out the door, being vulnerable with my work and letting the world see it.

So many doubts crept in with that goal. Is the quality of my content good? Is the subject matter good? How do I create book covers? What do I do about editing?
Those all remain to this day, and I have spent countless hours trying to learn how to handle these and hundreds of other questions.

Still, as of November 10, 2021, I’ve published three books, and, I’m 19,021 words into my fourth novel for the year. It will top out at about 40,000 words. I’m starting to cut it a little close, but I’ll get it done. That knowledge, knowing I’ll get this fourth book out and meet my goal, is motivating.

Does it mean these four books are great novels? Well, I’ll leave that up to my readers to decide. I’m continuing to learn from each one and striving to improve my writing as I move forward. Pushing my books out into the world is part of that process, and it’s rewarding.

There’s still so much to learn and figure out, and it’s nerve racking at times, but I’m glad for it. I’m also wondering about 2022 and starting to think about goals for the new year.

Growing a voice

Writing has been a thing I’ve done for most of my adult life in one form or another. I’ve tried out a few blogs over the years and attempted ways of putting out regular content. The problem with a lot of my writing was the inability to make anything stick. I don’t mean the amount of people reading, but rather the consistency on my part. The things I put out didn’t really interest me, and were being done as part of an obligation of sorts. That might have been a desire to hit a daily goal of creating posts, or a scheme to monetize my words.

For anyone who has followed along the past two years, you’re well aware of my writing fix. Six days a week, one thousand words a day, starting around September, 2019. It’s been a wonderful habit and brought about many unexpected benefits. I’ve written a few books, journaled more than anytime before in my life, and put out an exponential increase in blog posts.

Another benefit, and I think the one that matters far more than any other, is the start of finding my inner voice. I define that voice as the ability to say things in a way that’s unique to you.

I’ve noticed this voice from other writers over the years; whether in fiction or non-fiction, books or blog posts. I’ll pick Gruber as one example. He’s written for years, put out countless articles and bits of content, and has a comfort level with stating his opinion and building content in a way that invokes interest from his readers. It’s something I notice listening to his podcasts. When he sits down to review a piece of Apple hardware he seeks to find the angle that’s interesting and new. He doesn’t want to write words that will feel like copies of all the other product reviews, and finds joy in discovering a unique take. Does that mean everyone will agree with him, or find his words relevant for them? Not at all. But it does mean that a subset of readers, myself included, enjoy the nuance he brings to a given topic. If something happens in the tech world I want to know what John thinks about it.

Finding a voice in content creation takes time to cultivate, and therein lines a joy for me. I don’t like to pursue something when I perceive it’s too easy to accomplish. There’s an interest that comes in pushing my curiosity and challenging my abilities. Writing is one such activity. No matter how much I write I still see mountains in front of me. I may get better, bit by bit, but a few minutes immersed in words from my favorite authors helps to inspire me to do better. That’s exciting and motivating. I see my own skills increasing over time and, some day and in some specific pieces, matching the quality of what I love to read.

My voice is starting to grow. I’m getting a sense for the things I want to write, and the specific angle that applies to those topics. If this is what two years of solid writing brings, I can’t wait to see what things look like in the future. That, tied with an understanding of why I write – because I have a unique take on something that is often different from others – keeps this whole exercise interesting.

This ties in with a growth mindset on this whole topic. The world is a better place when more people create. I read more than I write, so encouraging others to become writers helps to make the whole pie bigger. In an odd way this is the only pyramid scheme that works. I may put out a thousand words or so a day of content, but I can easily consume far more than that.

If you’re curious about your own voice, and want to cultivate it, I encourage you to find a way of creating that works for you.

MacBook Pro M1 Max battery life

I’m now going on a week of using the new MacBook Pro, and in almost every regard I’m happy with it.

There are some issues on software, but I don’t know if that’s because of Monterrey or the trackback and keyboard. For instance, one app I use for time tracking, Harvest, keeps jumping up into the top left corner of my screen. That could be the connection with my external monitor, or something else. Restarting my computer fixes it, but that’s annoying.

The other issue is the tap to click mechanism. Something about this trackpad is more touch sensitive. Normally when I tap to click I use a soft touch. After a number of failed attempts to open links in new tabs (command+tab+click) or selecting multiple objects in Figma (shift+click), I realized the settings needed to be adjusted. I think I’ve got it figured it out now.

Beyond those small things I’m mostly happy with the new laptop. The keyboard itself feels chunkier in a way, like there’s more travel or I have to press harder. That’s okay, I’ll adjust and get used to it. The large Touch ID button is a joy, going back to the 13″ shows how tiny the function row was.

The biggest gripe I have though, is with the battery. The MacBook Air M1 battery was better, plain and simple. My workflow hasn’t changed, I’m still using the same apps. The Air handled those apps like a champ, battery or no. Now, I’m chewing through the battery much faster. I haven’t done any specific analysis yet, but my sense is that the M1 was about 25% better. I tried to take a guess at hours, but I haven’t timed it yet so don’t have a true idea of what kind of battery I’m getting.

The bummer is how I use the laptop. For the past year I pretty much ignored power on my MacBook Air. I used it plugged in, I used it on battery, and I rarely got a warning to connect to a power source. That’s happened once already in the last week, well after the initial indexing completed, and now I’m checking the battery constantly. Maybe that was a blip in regards to my Mac usage, the one glorious year where battery was king in 2020; the one year where travel didn’t matter. Now I feel like I’m just back to the norm with Apple laptops, where I need to keep an eye on a power source. That one consideration alone has made me consider returning this beast of a laptop and keeping my M1.

MacBook Pro M1 Max initial thoughts

When Apple announced the new MacBook Pros I knew immediately that I was interested. Throughout the year I saved up a budget for the device, and each subsequent announcement during the event increase my certainty of purchasing the new laptop.

My laptop arrived today, and I couldn’t be more excited. The configuration I chose was a 14-inch MacBook Pro M1 Max maxed out, except keeping the storage at 512 GB.

Over the past few weeks I’ve listened to numerous podcasts and read a number of great takes on the device. Following are a few thoughts from holding this new laptop in my hands for the past few hours.

Function keys

The full size function keys are a welcome addition to the keyboard. I must add though, that coming from a MacBook Air for the last year, I am taking a little bit of time to adjust my fingers to touching them. The first time I reached up to press the Touch ID button my finger rested in the wrong area. These changes aren’t a big deal though, and I except I’ll be okay with the changes in the near future.

Keyboard size

Adding to keyboard thoughts. I love the black behind the keys. It’s a change, and looks sharp. The size feels a bit different from my Air, although I can’t place the exact difference. My fingers keep hitting the wrong edges of the keys and my typing accuracy is a bit lower than normal. With that said I except I’ll get used to it soon enough.

Overall fit and form

As a product designer I love how something feels in the hand, how it looks on a desk, and how it fits into a backpack. Thankfully, on that last front, it still fits fine into my GORUCK GR1 laptop slot. Incidentally I might need to write on backpacks again in the near future. Working out a new configuration for how to keep all my electronics safe.

The laptop looks and feels more thick, considerably so relative to my Air. That’s not a bad thing though. I bought this with the intention of it being a Pro device, and it feels that in every way. My wife’s first comment was on the overall shape, saying it reminded her of the a Mac from 10 years ago. I took that as a compliment.

Notch

Only one podcast mentioned a specific problem that I have with the notch. I’m a full screen user. I keep the menu bar and dock hidden at all times, and only access them by reaching my cursor up to that area to grab something. The notch forces a change in one of my habits, and that’s a little bit frustrating. I tried at first to make the menu bar hidden by default, but it looks weird when a window won’t go up all the way. I’m currently keeping the menu bar visible, but finding some challenge with seeing all the items at the top of the screen. I realize this is a very specific thing that few will run into. Over the past five years I’ve lived with the menu hidden so this will take some getting used to.

Speed

I have nothing to comment yet on the performance or speed of this device. My MacBook Air was great for all but the most strenuous of tasks. Only on a few occasions in the past year did I even have a hiccup, where it needed to take a second to load something. I’m very curious to see what this feels like after pushing the device through its paces.

Brightness

I was excited to switch from the MacBook Air to this new laptop for a brighter screen. So far, though, I’m not feeling a great difference. This may be do to eye strain late in the day, and I’m curious how I’ll feel tomorrow; from my perspective a screen can never be bright enough, especially in dark mode. I tried switching to light mode and did notice a difference, but my general use case is a dark screen.

Overall

This is a device that I’m happy to own, and expect to become a utilitarian part of my workflow for years to come.

Update: Warmth

This is going to take some getting used to. My Air does not get warm. The metal stays coolish to the touch no matter what. This device is warming my hands and lap, which is a surprise after holding a cool aluminum device for the past year. So far it’s not a problem; nothing close to the scorching heat I’ve dealt with on MacBook Pros of old, but I wasn’t expecting it.