Featured in "Average Joe: Be the Silicon Valley Tech Genius"



POSTED 02.02.24


I had the privilege of being interviewed for inclusion in this book by author, Shawn Livermore. It's an great read, delving into the art of navigating complex challenges with creative solutions.

Average Joe: Be the Silicon Valley Tech Genius

Creativity In Product Design

The book features the designers and product leaders behind Gmail, Dropbox, Ring, Snapchat, Groupon, and more. To be recognized among these trailblazing creatives is truly an honor. Here are some excerpts from our conversation, alongside noteworthy contributions from other sharp creatives.

Excerpt from the book

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Jeff Sherwood is an Internet entrepreneur who led successful digital product design teams for large companies for over 15 years.

Sherwood recalled his early days as a web designer in the dot.com era, working for a major e-commerce brand, buy.com. Sherwood was fiddling around on a design project, which for a variety of reasons, the work was more of an imaginative expansion of scope and did not narrowly address the problem of the user experience.

The design created felt satisfying to Sherwood but was met with surprisingly harsh criticism from his client. The client bluntly told him, "You are not an artist" and that, while the UX was pretty to look at, it did not effectively solve the problem.
This criticism stuck. You are not an artist was imprinted on his brain.

Sherwood pointed to this criticism as a turning point in his career.

Here's Sherwood:
"It hurt at the time because I felt personally connected to my work in a deep, emotional sense. But there's a valuable lesson here. The client was right. I wasn't an artist. In fact, I've never been a great artist. I'm a creator. I'm a storyteller."

Sherwood's word choice of artist versus creator characterized well what we're dealing with here. An artist is synonymous with a gifted and talented person of mystery who wears a long cloak and paints on a large canvas in Renaissance Italy. A creator infers a bit more science and process. A creator alludes to an experienced and methodical practitioner who performs prescribed changes against a known subject matter.

Taking it a step further, the artist versus the creator is pitting the person against the process. The person, of course, is our idea of a unique and special designer who has the magic touch. The person is thought to be the wizard, the sorcerer, the prodigy. The person is the special and revered one-our Great Person with something more-who visualizes and creates in one, sweeping motion. But Sherwood debunked this person-focused idea for digital product designers outright. Sherwood said:

"As a digital product designer, the reality is simply that you're not an artist. Artists create work that people look at, for their viewing pleasure. But creators solve problems. Creators tell stories. Creators figure out the hard and make it easy. They take the complex and they make it drop-dead simple."

Sherwood alludes to one aspect of creative work that deserves a little more attention: obfuscation. Obfuscating complexity is not new.

Apple has been doing this for years, starting with what you see when you reboot your iPhone. There is no boot menu or command line just a white Apple logo over a black background. All of the details—the drivers, Bluetooth, Wi-Fi connection, and any boot sequence steps-all are hidden. The user experience is smooth, seamless, and simple. The user reads only words that are absolutely necessary, and pays attention only to the next task required, like logging in with a passcode.

When drilling into our questions of how creativity is exerted or experienced within the digital product design, Sherwood scratched the itch with some specifics:

"All my career experience is additive. Each role, client, position, project, challenge, and industry-all of these are basically my layers. These layers stack-up and become points of reference for me as I engage in the subject matter. When I sit down to create, I flatten all the layers in that moment. I use all that experience—all of those years of work-in the exact moment I go to create."

Sherwood's idea of flattening the layers makes sense. As with any trade, the decades of work invested will carry forward, bubble up, or conjure to memory. In his digital product design work, the layers flatten and the experience converges with a subtle click of the mouse, dragging an icon just a few pixels to the left.

Buy the book on Amazon

Average Joe: Be the Silicon Valley Tech Genius

The book covers numerous tech entrepreneurial founders and software developers, and the exciting brands or products that they created. It goes deep on a handful of them, narrowly divulging exactly how a few software developers and startup founders created breakthrough tech products like Gmail, Dropbox, Ring, Snapchat, Bitcoin, Groupon, and more.

Buy now on Amazon