New beginnings

At the end of 2015 personal and professional changes made it clear to us that we would not continue Hubbub in its current form. That realization made me reorient myself in Berlin and refocus on my core skills as an engineer.

I set myself the goal to work on a significant product as part of a larger team. I thought it would be useful to change up my professional life which thusfar had consisted only of freelance and client work. A long story short, as of this week I’m employed as a software engineer at ResearchGate.

Product design focused on user wants

This post was previously published on Medium and is now archived here.

There’s some recent writing about the decomposition of apps into either thin slivers of single purpose functionality per app or even breaking out of the traditional app domain entirely and delivering their functionality through for instance the notifications screen.

I think both of these are onto something but that the trend itself is more fundamental. I think there are three things happening.

1. Apps can be decomposed into high-level user wants.

A want starts with “I want” and is followed by getting or creating something often accompanied by some social intermediation. Such a want could be “I want to send a message” or it could be “I want to read (and reply to) my messages” or it could be “I want to find a place to eat.”

These are not utilities. Most interesting apps these days are lifestyle apps. Focusing on a single want does not mean the app becomes easier to make. Implementing a want with its very specific functionality, appropriate context, user interface and communication may be even more difficult. A want is a summary of what used to be called ‘user stories’ but focused on what people want to do not on what people are supposed to do. At the risk of sounding obvious: people don’t want to do things they don’t want to do. The exception to this is work where people do things they don’t want to do. People want apps that bring them entertainment, social connections or self-actualisation.

2. Apps cannot support more than a couple of wants well.

Any app that tries to cram in more than a couple of wants from different domains starts to creak and feel cluttered. This looks like the main reason why Foursquare unbundled the totally disparate wants of local discovery “I want to find a good restaurant now” and that of social broadcasting “I want to tell my friends where I am.”

Such unbundling is becoming the norm because an app cannot do everything well without containing multiple apps. Just think back of Facebook’s everything-and-the-kitchen-sink app with its own homescreen. The Facebook app itself is becoming more and more bare while wants are increasingly delivered by apps that don’t show they belong to Facebook.

This is a good indicator of what the future holds for these apps. I would for instance be surprised if complicated list management features would be a significant part of the future Foursquare mobile app. Lists do support local discovery but they will never have the mass appeal the app is focusing on.

3. Wants can be fulfilled anywhere you want.

This ties into Naveen’s piece about the notifications becoming the app. I would take this further and say that the app will be wherever people interact with a connected device. Building an app becomes a matter of translating a user want into the interaction affordances of a medium.

You could indeed read and reply to messages in a notification screen if that is where you spend your time. But soon you might do the same thing using the same app but on your connected watch. In a somewhat more distant future you might send a Yo! by slamming two IoT enabled rocks together.

The medium through which a want is fulfilled has become flexible. What matters is the want itself and appropriateness. A talented designer will figure out whether a translation makes sense and how to best implement it.

All in all this is a great development. Digital design is breaking out of screens enabling it to find us where we are and offer us the things we really want.

Loving the Vechtclub XL

A couple of weeks ago by now I finally got to visit our new office in the Vechtclub XL building in Utrecht. This turned out to be a great experience.

Office

One of the best aspects of the ‘club’ is that it offers an alternative to Utrecht’s terribly cramped and overpriced city center. Everybody wants to live and work in the Utrecht within the ‘singels’ but that privilege costs a lot of money and doesn’t give you a lot of quality of life. Only if you manage to strike a suitable property deal with the city you can do whatever the fuck you want.

Canteen

The Vechtclub XL is a fifteen minutes bike ride out of the city on a derelict business park, about here. There’s nearly nothing nearby which means the building needs to be self-sustaining. That necessity is actually causing that to happen. They are setting up a fully functional cafetaria with world class coffee and more facilities. Being there right now is not terrible. People make do with whatever they have already brought in and there are upsides such as somebody training for a barista championship, lunch being brought in once a week and other events being organized.

This is a continuation of a previous non-XL Vechtclub. Most of it has been funded by the people there who run it not as a cooperative —which looks to be vital. Development is autonomous and moves at a fast clip. The space which is already pretty great is improving continuously.

You can imagine that I was a bit envious and loathe to leave. The upside is that it’ll probably be all new again next time I get there.

Going down everywhere

I was looking around a bit to see if something similar is happening in Berlin or other places as well.

Adam Greenfield mentioned the Institut for (X) in Aarhus which looks very similar in its setup and goals. In Berlin there is the Alte Gießerei which is being converted into a similar setup. There are a bunch more spaces that do something in that direction but most of them do not manage to hit the scale or communal vibe that I try to describe above.

New Ways to Work: A Long Overdue Update to the Heist Model

I promised to write an update to the Heist Model a long time ago and never got around to it because of work and other stuff. Then recently conversations with friends moving back into the freelance life prompted this smaller update but it too had been languishing in a draft for far too long.

So now I’m resolving to get this out as a multi blogpost thing over the course of the coming week.

As a disclaimer, we at Hubbub are not working exactly like the model proposed above anymore. This is in part because the focus of our business has shifted towards consulting, but for any serious production work we do still work like that.

We have incorporated and thought up some innovative ways to structure the business within the Dutch/German framework we live in. I’ll come back to that later.

We have also seen too many of our friends change their businesses or suspend their operations to prompt serious reflection on our part. That reflection is ongoing but the way we are organized contributes to our optimistic view of the future.

The Heist Model was meant to be a way for sole proprietors to work together and to think bigger. I think those things are still necessary. During the next days we’ll first treat the standard options that are open to freelancers and why they don’t really fit before we dive into an alternative way of doing things.

We don’t need saddles nor do we need faster horses

We just switched over to Slack and we are quite happy with the tool as a replacement for our previous Hipchat setup. It all feels a bit fresher, it’s easier to integrate with the rest of the web and has more functionality and niceties built in.

I did have this frustrating twitter conversation with them about what I think is an important topic:

The problem is that it is difficult to use these tools if you are part of several organizations. The way people work these days I could be part of a dozen or more companies and non-profits. Slack is a bit more flexible and it allows quick switching between logged in organizations. What it doesn’t give you is an integrated view of your channels across organizations.

The way we use Slack may be different from most others people. We use it both to coordinate intensively around projects in private rooms, but besides that we have a couple dozen friends from all over the world in a couple of open channels who help us create and maintain our company culture. None of these people are ‘part of our organization’ per se but they all belong in our organization.

The hermetically sealed company wall is the anomaly. There are more free agents than ever who work in flexible configurations. This is a trend that does not show any sign of abating. What the twitter exchange above shows is that Slack either does not understand this or they don’t want to understand this. This is fine but also a bit disappointing for a company that wants to be visionary when it comes to new ways of working together.

I criticize because I love Slack. If there is any company that can help us work together in this new world, it is probably them. But for that to happen we need to start having these conversations.

Week 333

This week was a bit more stationary than the last thankfully. I tried out a competitor to Cuppings called Bean Seeker which is a rather terrible app.

That night I attended the IoT Berlin meetup organized by Martin and had dinner with a rather interesting set of people.

IoT Berlin Meetup

Dinner

I also started playing DOTA2 this week for which there is a working Mac client available and which is a deep but somewhat too hardcore experience.

Cuppings was featured on Fontanel and we got a mention from London’s Best Coffee. Both of those are from people we respect which makes it mean the world to us. It also made us hit top 3 in the Food and Drink category of the Dutch store, which is nice to see (and altogether too easy).

Top Ranking in the paid Food and Drink category

Pancakes

I met Will Perkins and Nikos Green both highly capable people who I look forward to work with (again).

Using that fresh cycling infrastructure

I read up about SpriteKit which is in the forthcoming iOS7 release and should make 2D game programming very very easy for developers. Looking forward a lot to iOS becoming an even more capable platform than it is.

On Friday we tried to attend the inaugural Biteclub which turned out to be too busy if you actually want to eat something.

Biteclub

That Saturday I started to work on the AJI prototype in earnest which is coming together nicely as we speak.

Oslo Bar

Dark Matter & Trojan Horses Highlights

Odd that I hadn’t gotten around to blogging these notes from Dan Hill’s brilliant book, but here they are then finally:

This is all underscored by an optimistic belief in progressive change, that the current conditions are changeable for the better, that the present can be transformed into multiple positive futures.

the mental agility to generate ideas — to see design as cultural invention — is directly linked to the craft skills of design practice

As stated earlier, design’s core value is in synthesising disparate views and articulating alternative ways of being.

Yet such temporary interventions are often accompanied by claims as to wider significance; that an installation, say, can suggest a new way of doing, of living.

to understand the pixel and the platform.

The problem is in taking clear design intent — the stage where “smart city” concepts are rife — into development, procurement and commissioning, and emerging from the other side with the intent intact, perhaps even improved by the process, such that further strategic outcomes can be realised

zooming back and forth from matter to meta, and using each scale to refine the other, is core to strategic design.

The collapse of knowledge, of authority, of institution can leave a dizzying sensation, a kind of vertiginous drop into an abyss of uncertainty.

design must make clear that its remit is expanded from simply problem-solving to context-setting.

You simply have to solve within the brief you’ve been set; you can’t challenge its premise.

There are either well-known technical solutions, and the real problem may be a lack of commitment, funding, skill, or motivation, or they are at least clearly defined problem spaces, that process improvement, nuanced analysis, elbow grease and the odd bit of luck could easily solve

And if it was designed in one way, it follows that it can be designed in a different way.

prototyping and heuristics in a space of “unknown-unknowns”

Matter matters, in this respect

All these struggles are about the profound social injustice in our societies — whether in Egypt, Syria or the US and Spain.

Apply your philosophy

I’ve been on something of an applied philosophy binge recently and after almost finishing “Boyd: The Fighter Pilot Who Changed the Art of War” I am now starting to read Aramis which Latour opens with:

I have sought to offer humanists a detailed analysis of a technology sufficiently magnificent and spiritual to convince them that the machines by which they are surrounded are cultural objects worthy of their attention and respect. They’ll find that if they add interpretation of machines to interpretation of texts, their culture will not fall to pieces; instead, it will take on added density. I have sought to show technicians that they cannot even conceive of a technological ohject without taking into account the mass of human beings with all their passions and politics and pitiful calculations, and that by becoming good sociologists and good humanists they can become better engineers and better­ informed decisionmakers.

I read these texts not only because as Latour promises it will turn me into a better engineer (and designer) but because only works of sufficient conceptual depth and denseness contain the force necessary to alter and improve our thinking. Books should never be tedious but they are allowed to be straining.

Week 331

With KANT we were still figuring out mostly what it is we are doing and seeing as we are neither a collective or a coworking space it was up in the air a bit. I wrote up our offering in a more straight-forward and streamlined way where you can very easily find what it is you may be looking for. In other news we are discussing next steps for KANT in the future but anything on that order is off for at least 6-12 months.

That week I attended the Cocoaheads meetup on the Luftgarten at Tempelhofer Airport. This week the plans for the city to build at least two thirds of that field have been revealed. The 100% Tempelhofer Feld initiative is already preparing their campaign in September and it looks like it’s going to be a long winter. The reasoning of policy makers is ‘How can Berlin afford not to build on this piece of land?’ which is a staggeringly stupid way to frame something if ever I heard it.

New gadget. I had no idea they made cameras this small these days.

I got my Canon S100 camera which is proving to be a lot of fun and is getting me photographing at volume again. Judging from the pictures and the f/2.0 lens it has about the same performance as my old EOS camera with its kit lens but now in a much smaller package. What is also interesting is how accustomed people have gotten to larger cameras and phones that a small pocket cam hardly registers anymore.

I also did some experiments with video mounting the camera on my bike:
Steadycam bicycle rig

I could not bother installing Lightroom again (and definitely not with the Creative Cloud hell) and setting up any kind of workflow, so my current editing philosophy is NONE. Pictures are nominally straightened in iPhoto and slapped straight to Flickr.

Torstraße

Our Friday Sheperditchi breakfasts are getting more and more fun with random friends dropping in. If you’re reading this, we usually have breakfast with KANT at Simitdchi on Friday mornings at 09:00 to get an early start into the day.

Selbstbedienung

And also with the summer lots of people are blowing through Berlin among which Peter Rukavina:
Peter Rukavina

And just to close off with a whole grilled fish:
Fish