Bootstrap: Beauty and The Beast

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This week’s update comes from Portland, Oregon where The Holocene team met this week. In many ways, Team Holocene’s Brooklyn-Portland-Vancouver connection is a perfect allegory for the product we’re creating; and what better place to have our first summit than Portland, where the food is great, the rain never stops, and everyone’s a maker?

Kim, Corey and Brett of The Holocene in Portland, OR.

Kim, Corey and Brett of The Holocene in Portland, OR.

This week, Kim, Corey and myself spent a few solid days hashing out details of almost everything we could talk about. We talked business model, we refined our subscription idea, and we planned for the next phase of the pre-development lining up of ducks, so to speak.

But, ultimately, the big take away this week was the fact that we were able to refine our concept and distill it down into an elegant, executable product completely wireframed, user flowed, and ready for design and development. A huge factor in advancing our product was Corey’s invitation to an amazing friend and interaction designer, Elena Moon, who joined us to refine our idea and determine our interaction model.

As I have said many times before, the differentiator in the digital world, on both a product and business level, is user experience. And Elena help lead us to defining a metaphor of the user experience that best resembled what we wanted the experience of our application to be. The metaphor we agreed upon for The Holocene’s user experience is that of ‘The Retreat’.

There is a process to product ideation and creation that lead us to this point. We began by compiling a list of everything we expect our readers to do within our application. Then, we categorized them in broad categories that grouped like activities and tasks. Once we agreed that the list was complete, we began to talk about what was being accomplished by these activities, and what an appropriate metaphor would be to convey this.

At a retreat, many things are going on simultaneously: hours of organization have been/are being executed in order for your experience, as a participant, to be seamless and relaxing. Details have been attended to; you arrive at a retreat with a place to stay, your meals taken care of and your schedule determined. Someone at the retreat will impart their knowledge to you, but ultimately you work at your own pace. And, finally, while perhaps hard work, there are clear rewards to your participation.

The specific tasks and activities we hope our readers will do and accomplish within The Holocene world are very similar. We want the experience of using The Holocene to be as gratifying, as interesting, and even as indulgent as that of going to a retreat. We want the experience to allow our users, the makers of the world, to slip into their making selves and enjoy the craft for what it is. We want The Holocene, a digital publication, to become part of the physical making experience. And we want it to feel good when you finish making something.

And thus, The Beauty and The Beast. The truth is that making a good digital product is sometimes ugly. It’s confusing and it’s difficult. But, when you hit your stride, and the right metaphor presents itself, a whole world opens up and a new product is truly born. To make something beautiful and elegant involves a fair deal of ugliness to get to that point.

Our team passed a huge milestone this week: we went from having a good concept to designing a good product. We have stepped away from the ideation and discovery phase into the design and development phase with a clear sense of purpose. And a passion for designing a user experience.

Brett Sandusky

About Brett Sandusky

Brett Sandusky is the founder of bdigitl Media Labs, a consultancy providing UX and product development services to companies launching new ventures. He is also a co-founder and Director of Product Development of The Holocene, a digital publishing platform for the DIY and make space. You can find Brett on Twitter @bsandusky.

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