The Power of Copying, Listening to Users, and Good UX: Highlights from April’s MadeInJLM Happy Hour

Once a month, MadeInJLM hosts a brilliant community event, usually with the help of a strong local sponsor: a happy hour for community mingling, lightning talks by a few companies related to that month’s topic, and an opportunity for anyone who wants to pitch their company, their idea, or themselves in a round of “minute pitches”. And of course, enjoy some of the best micro-brewed beers Israel has to offer.

These meetups have become more and more elaborate, and although they have definitely kept their lowkey, home grown feel, they have been attracting the attention (and attendance) of more and more people.

The last event, held last week and cohosted by Hometalk, was on the topic of design. People from respected, shooting-star companies such as Hometalk and InVision presented in the lightning talks. I want to highlight some of my personal takeaways from these presentations, with the hopes that they’ll be inspirational or useful even to people who were not physically present.

InVision: Don’t forget the users:

Scott Markovits of InVision started off the design talks by telling us about his recent experience mentoring someone who had what they thought was an excellent idea of a product. But when he started digging they found that the potential users of this product were simply not taken into account – not seriously, at least.

Scott gave the example of using many counter-intuitive action icons, stating that there is no need to reinvent the wheel when it comes to these – it’s better to stick to what your users know and recognize.

But going even beyond that, he explained that on the specific prototype he was advising, the founders had made the decision to include two icons that would only serve 5% of that particular product’s potential users. That might seem considerate to those 5%, but in reality what it does is only further confuse the 95% who will be looking at these icons and wondering what the heck they are supposed to be used for.

Scott’s bottom line was to always take a big-picture look at your product as you’re building it – and make sure to include your users in that picture.

Our thoughts: Especially as entrepreneurs and makers, we often get the urge to invent, create, and improve stuff. It’s great when it’s used as a driver for meaningful change, but the most important (and often challenging) thing to do is to understand where we should act on that urge, and where things have already converged to a happy status quo. As a wise designer once told our team, “being unique is great, but design has evolved the way it has for a reason. If you’re unique without a reason, you’re just making bad UX.”

Muzli: Inspiration vs “Inspiration”:

Muzli is a design inspiration platform for designers. Think Foodgawker for designers, except it is your “new tab” browser window and you can manually control what topics appear in your feed. I have personally been using it for months and loving it – though it is sometimes too fun to drift into.
It was acquired by InVision rather quickly after launching, so the happy hour was just another opportunity for these teams to get together.

Ohad Aviv, one of the Muzli founders, talked about the importance of copying – and of knowing what to do with the things that you copy.

Ohad introduced two concepts of inspiration – one of something that just strikes you and prompts you to create something new, and the other which is more like seeing something really cool someone else made – and then going and making exactly that.

Copying is a very natural thing and actually necessary for our survival. As children, we wouldn’t learn to walk, eat, or speak if it wasn’t for the incredible power of copying. Copying stuff we admire can help us become great – but we should make sure to never publish something we copied as our own – because that is called stealing.

His main takeaway was “copy as much as you can, but never publish the stuff you copy.”

Our thoughts: We were reminded of artists and poets who literally copy the works of great role models in their fields, all in the name of practice. Basically, if you paint a replica of the Mona Lisa and hang it in your living room, it’s a hobby that helps you become a better painter. If you try to pass it off to the Louvre as the real thing, you’re a conman.

Hometalk: Embrace the imperfections:

Next up, Tova of Hometalk showed us a real live example of what listening to your users means. She opened her talk by showing us two different images, and asked a simple question: which one of these images would drive more online engagement? The crowd’s choice was unanimously in favor of the pretty, polished, “after” photo.

Tova surprised us. According to data gathered by Hometalk, whose mission is empowering people to DIY, people engage far more heavily with content that includes the broken, dirty “before” image”.

She says when she interviewed users about this, they gave her several reasons:
“I like the challenge of taking something so broken and making something out of it.”
“I enjoy seeing the journey from a beat down old piece of furniture to something new and useful.”
“Seeing this makes me feel like I can do it too.”

People are fed up with the pristine, picture-perfect Pinterest photos they cannot attain, and they are flocking to the stuff that reminds them of what they have lying around in their backyards.

As designers, says Tova, it can be difficult to accept what our users are telling us, because we have dedicated our lives to making sure things are intuitive, beautiful, aesthetically pleasing. But our users can teach us to embrace the imperfections, because that is what this business – and life – is really about.

Our thoughts: We loved this not only because it was so unexpected, but because it was also invigorating to see the importance of listening to users in action. For us, it emphasized the importance of having mechanisms for getting feedback from customers.

Doing something that counts

There were other interesting speakers, too – Tal from Lightricks told us about how cool it was to be a designer working on tools for up and coming designers, which is something most people in the field never really get to do. And Sagi from HackingUI really struck a personal chord with us when he told us he dedicated 2 hours out of every week to anyone who wants personal consulting on turning their side business into a full-time gig.

We hope these small lessons will be helpful to our readers as well, and we look forward to attending many more of these wonderful meetups.

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