Mandy Brown: “The Hard Way”

Mandy Brown (Vox Product, Editorially) writes about the challenges facing all teams right now, but especially co-located teams going full-time remote:

The second lesson is harder, I’m afraid. You have no idea how to do this. I’ve managed remote teams for a decade and I have no idea how to do this. None of us has experience leading a team through a global pandemic. You are going to get more things wrong than you get right. You are going to have to hold yourself to a high standard—because your team needs nothing less—while also being patient with yourself, and with everyone around you. You will fuck up. You will also likely get a number of things right—but you may never know it because good feedback is even scarcer than normal under the circumstances. Your job is to learn and adapt as fast as you can and you are going to have to keep your heart and mind open to do so, even when—especially when—doing so hurts like hell.

I love the way that Mandy examines how co-located teams make assumptions about how well communication is going:

It’s this mechanism that permits co-located teams to delude themselves about how well their communication is working: those who sit in offices with doors talk mostly with those who sit just outside those doors, and conclude that there’s a great deal of alignment and understanding around them. They don’t notice the people sitting around the corner who aren’t quite in the loop; they don’t see the information hoarding and trading that happens in the hallways when they aren’t passing by.

A reminder that this is not normal:

The last lesson comes back to the first: you are not leading a remote team. You are leading a team that is scared, stressed, angry, frustrated, worried, and worse. You are leading parents who desperately need a break from their kids and can’t get it, people who rightly fear for their own lives, people in the throes of trauma and grief. Your first job is to make sure they have everything they need to be healthy and safe; only if that’s achieved can you turn to anything else.

The whole post is worth your time, I hope you’ll read it.

Babylon Berlin

I had lost track of Tom Tykwer (Run Lola Run, The Princess and the Warrior) after the early 00s, but it turns out he’s one of the folks behind Netflix’s Babylon Berlin. If you like noir mixed with historical fiction, set in a post-WWI, pre-WWII Germany, check it out. (If you’re already watching, Emily VanDerWerff […]

Ethan Marcotte: “Through a design system, darkly.”

I appreciated this post by Ethan Marcotte, with his observations on the emergence and usage of design systems:

Users of a design system frequently uncover new needs that weren’t originally anticipated. The result is that there’s now a gap: between the standard and the use. The design system falls out of sync with real-world application. And we’re back dealing with a fancier version of the old problem we used to have: our interfaces are no longer consistent.

This is an incomplete thought, but: the work that goes into making artifacts, deliverables — and, yes, patterns — is where the value lies, more than in the artifact itself. In other words, the process-led approach that Ethan advocates for here could be a way to recognize that the design system is less of a fixed entity, and more of an evolving organism:

Rather than starting with design patterns, we need to looking at the ways our teams currently work, and then identifying how a design system would function within that broader organizational context.

The process-led approach strikes me as descriptivist, the pattern-led approach as prescriptivist. That’s too simplistic, perhaps — you need a bit of both — but identifying those two overlapping approaches would serve all of us well.

Laura Kalbag: “How to Read RSS in 2020”

This was a good, short overview of RSS, some RSS clients, and feed services. I like how Laura emphasizes the way that RSS cedes the control to the user:

You get to choose what you subscribe to in your feed reader, and the order in which the posts show up. You might prefer to read the oldest posts first, or the newest. You might group your feeds by topic or another priority. You are not subjected to the “algorithmic feed” of Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, YouTube, where they choose the order for you. You won’t miss your friends’ posts because the algorithm decided to suppress them, and you are not forced to endure ads disguised as content (unless a feed you subscribe to includes ads inside their posts).

This is purely anecdotal but it seems like when Google killed Reader, it ended many folks’ use of RSS (well, that and the dominance of platforms like Twitter and Facebook). The last couple of years I’ve seen people come back to publishing on their own websites, which has been encouraging. I wonder, though, whether the folks doing this are people who were around for blogging’s heyday, or if there’s younger people picking up the indieweb spirit.

As for my own RSS usage: I’m definitely switching to Feedbin (also recommended by my friend Ethan) after using Feedly for years. I like the way it grabs full articles, not just excerpts, and that it’s explicitly committed to users’ privacy. That’s worth the minimal subscription fee to me.