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David Sherwin
Oakland, California
Director of User Experience at, frog Fellow, author of "Creative Workshop" and "Success by Design."
Interests: music, yoga, chocolate, anime, art, design, dreaming, cooking, writing, photography, jazz, meditation, rock climbing, novels, typography
Recent Activity
We get asked a lot about problem solving. Not about business problems, per se, but people problems. People seem to understand OKRs, Agile, and MVPs. Acronyms and abbreviations have specific and fixed definitions you can find on Google — and though you can get into long arguments about whether something is a tool or a process or a disruption at work, people are still, well, people. They change and then they don’t change. They’re heroic and then they’re petty. Confusing and clear, sometimes in the same meeting. Yes, the pesky things are problems with people. No matter how sleek and refined our company needs to be, how much faster we have to get to market, or how many more hours we must... Continue reading
Posted Dec 14, 2016 at ChangeOrder
Hello George and Joanna, I’m looking forward to having brunch with you on Sunday and catching up. It’s been so long since we last talked. Can’t wait! Just so you know, there were some sensitive things I wanted to discuss as part of our conversation. Would you be so kind as to print and sign this, and bring it with you? Thanks! And say hi to the kids for me, —Hollis P.S. If you have any questions or want to make changes to the attached document, just let me know. I’ll just need to have my lawyer review them. FrieNDA Revised Template v1.26 This Friend Nondisclosure Agreement (this “Agreement”), effective [month and day], [year] (“Effective Date”), is entered into by... Continue reading
Posted Oct 14, 2016 at ChangeOrder
Product. That’s the single most abused word in Product Design. Products are things that are manufactured for sale, and must be purchasable. The buyer will likely have access to it after they’ve paid for it. It’s that simple, and that complicated for today's designers. The word Product has become a portmanteau for the following: Physical products, Internet-connected things, consumable packaged goods, software applications, digital services and platforms, real-world services and experiences, and anything else that can be made and sold which won’t fit into the previous categories. Applying design to a broader range of things we use in the world—that’s often good for both customers and businesses. However, that’s not so good for those who have decided on a whim... Continue reading
Posted Oct 10, 2016 at ChangeOrder
A few years ago, I saw a presentation from a creative director about how he helped brand an experimental elementary school. Before he shared his work, he said: “We promoted the school through videos on YouTube. My first job was as a filmmaker, so every time I see a problem, I want to solve it with a film.” Since then, I’ve heard hundreds of people make the same kind of statement in everyday conversation: “I’m an engineer, so every problem can be solved with software… I’m an architect, so every problem can be solved with a building… I’m a carpenter, so every problem can be solved with a table.” There’s a bias operating here. Let’s sum it up as: Every... Continue reading
Posted Sep 13, 2016 at ChangeOrder
This week, I published an excerpt from my dialogue with Renuka Kher from the new book LEAP Dialogues: Career Pathways for Design in Social Innovation in frog’s Design Mind magazine. You can read the excerpt here. I’ve collaborated with Renuka on multiple initiatives between Tipping Point Community and global design and strategy firm frog, including T Lab. T Lab is a six-month long program that brings together nine Problem Solvers to design and test new solutions to help with pressing social issues in the Bay Area, such as access to child care, availability of early education, and support for people recently released from prison. In this excerpt from our dialogue, we answer questions such as: What should R&D should look... Continue reading
Posted Aug 27, 2016 at ChangeOrder
For three years, I taught a class at California College of the Arts' BFA in Interaction Design program about the use of story in product design. For the first half of the semester, sophomores created a wide variety of stories as art in physical and digital media. For the second half of the semester, they would then create the same types of stories in the context of design problems. The challenges we used in the class and as homework were in the style of what you’d find in Creative Workshop, but focused on stories as the material output. As an example: Students would get comfortable making sequential art, then use the same tools to generate product scenario storyboards. They would... Continue reading
Posted Aug 15, 2016 at ChangeOrder
Consider this thought experiment: I give you two books. One of them looks like it was produced by selecting photographs on your hard drive and publishing a hardcover book through Apple. If you had created it, you would have spent about ten minutes putting it together in iPhoto. In the other book, it looks like the photographs have been hand-printed on archival paper via a giclee printer and mounted into a hand-stitched hardback book, with a few alignment errors and flaws. Which book would you rather have? Why? Now, imagine that there are 5 copies of the Apple-produced book, and 200,000 copies of the one that appears to be hand-printed. Which one would you rather have? Why? I wonder what... Continue reading
Posted Aug 12, 2016 at ChangeOrder
When reading The Information by James Gleick, the following quote from Charles H. Bennett leapt out at me: “The more subtle something is, the harder it is to discover.” So many ways to read that statement. I am bullish on the Internet, but one of my fears is that decades from now, art forms that trade in subtlety will become like the Cook Islands. Few people will have heard of the place. Very few people will live there. The tourist trade will not be brisk. There have never been so many ways to take an idea and broadcast it to the universe writ large. And yet the more subtle your idea, the higher the risk that it will be disregarded... Continue reading
Posted Aug 11, 2016 at ChangeOrder
Many years ago, I was interviewing a portfolio manager about how he uses financial information. He said something that has resonated with me to this day: “Every number that I include in my quarterly reports to clients has a story behind it. I won’t meet with my clients until I know what that story is—no matter whether it’s good or bad about their portfolio’s performance. Otherwise, they’re going to bring their own story to it.” It’s a common error of judgment for designers to assume they know what stories will be told from data. We create donut charts and graphs and tables and many other sorts of data visualization that are meant to communicate particular meanings. But data doesn’t tell... Continue reading
Posted Aug 10, 2016 at ChangeOrder
I was thinking more of the city papers—like The Stranger in Seattle, where you are—a mix of local voices with just enough craft to elevate it above the hyperlocal hometown newspaper that just reprints press releases. There just isn't a lot of space in between, separate of people creating their own zines and magazines, but then would those qualify as "blogs" anymore? There's something else. I think Medium is driving towards this but the local community angle I haven't seen robustly addressed.
We were having a snack with our friends Penny and Dan before they went to a show in downtown Oakland. Our car was around the corner, and we offered them a ride to the concert. “It’s okay,” Penny said. “We don’t want to be a bother. We’ll just take an Uber.” Mary insisted on giving them a ride, so we walked back to our apartment to get our car. When Penny got in, she said: “Thanks so much for the bespoke Ubering.” I feel this way about the economizing of blogs. I said a while back on The Twitters that blogging had become like the community farmer’s market, while the Mediums and Pulses of the world were the supermarkets. Most... Continue reading
Posted Aug 9, 2016 at ChangeOrder
When I was a baby, I didn’t start speaking until I was over two years old. When I started talking, it was in complete sentences. For me, writing has always been a way of feeling out what’s complex or hard to understand. When writing things down, I often feel like I need to get out a complete thought—even if that means going to a level of systematic depth that the communication may not require. While this habit may be rewarded for the creation of design documentation or books, it doesn’t always lend itself to open dialogue and public discourse. Blaise Pascal once said in one of his letters to a friend: “I have made this longer than usual because I... Continue reading
Posted Aug 8, 2016 at ChangeOrder
Congratulations. You’re now in charge of a project team that’s kicking off in a few days. Your boss sends you an email that ends with: “Let me know if you want some advice when the team starts Storming.” Why the capital “S” in that email for “Storming”? A few Internet searches later, you’re buried in a pile of Wikipedia entries, recent articles from the New York Times, and academic books talking about how groups develop over time. In your reading, you find that way back in 1965, psychologist and professor Bruce Tuckman proposed a theory that shapes how many of today’s businesses approach team building. You’ve heard some of these terms come up before at work, but they didn’t make... Continue reading
Posted Feb 29, 2016 at ChangeOrder
Interested in starting your own design business, but don't know how to do the "business" part? This comprehensive presentation covers how design studios make money, the ways design studios organize themselves to support making money, considerations for managing your studio's finances, and a method for creating your own studio operating model. Many of the tools and perspectives in this presentation were identified in collaboration with Design Commission, a successful design business headquartered in Seattle, Washington. I delivered this presentation with David Conrad, Studio Manager and Co-Owner of Design Commission, as part of AIGA Seattle's "Design Business for Breakfast" series. Much of the information here was then included in my book Success by Design: The Essential Business Reference for Designers. You... Continue reading
Posted Mar 29, 2015 at ChangeOrder
Light knifed across the stark grey ceiling. Pain curled in my gut. Sweaty salty upper lip. Knees pulled to my chest. Slitted curtain. Slipping into and out of lucid dreams: Late summer bright suits and sundresses. Grass blades tickling my back. Fighting for a share of blanket on the hilltop. Birds formed a wheel overhead. When I shut my eyes, my body shook itself awake. * Stepping off the bus after a bracing three hour ride from Barcelona to Cadaqués, I sit on a dirty bench waiting for a woman to meet me with the apartment keys. The afternoon sun hammered down. Behind me, tourists wandered up and down the narrow streets. The dark blue harbor was littered with white... Continue reading
Posted Mar 2, 2015 at ChangeOrder
The toddler in the snowsuit slipped on a rock and slid into the burbling stream. His mother pointed at him, laughing to her two friends standing beside her. I thought: I’ve never seen that happen in an art museum. We were inside the first room of Olafur Eliasson’s Riverbed, which was on display at the Louisiana Museum of Modern Art outside Copenhagen. It was part of a series of situational artworks where natural landscapes were partially recreated within the environment of a gallery space. The year before, Mary and I had seen Lava Rocks at a museum in Aalborg, where we had to don a pair of museum-provided Crocs and gingerly step our way through a giant white room full... Continue reading
Posted Jan 6, 2015 at ChangeOrder
At sunset, the lingering light painted a neon red line above rolling hills. As I drove north on Highway 101 at 70 miles per hour, the landscape scrolled in parallax, the road receding into night. Up ahead, I could see a white car moving much slower than the speed limit, drifting from the righthand lane into mine. In moments, I would either be passing this car, or it would be crashing into me. So what did I do? I honked right before I was about to pass. And as I motored past, I quickly glanced over my shoulder to see why this driver was behaving so erratically. The driver’s face was illuminated by the blue-bright glow of her phone in... Continue reading
Posted Dec 15, 2014 at ChangeOrder
The car saleswoman leaned over the desk, placed a sheet of paper down in front of us. “This is a version of the customer satisfaction survey they’re going to send you next week in the mail.” It was a garden-variety survey about the car purchasing process, with a five-point scale that ranged from Excellent (5) to Poor (1). She plucked a pen from the desk before her, then drew a hard blue line down the page between the 4 and the 5. “If I’m rated anything less than a five,” she said, “then I’m not doing a good job. It’s either a five or I’ve failed.” She continued to describe how even one 3 or 4 in a month could... Continue reading
Posted Oct 14, 2014 at ChangeOrder
How DRY is your design? Does every element in your design have CRUD? Can you narrow the GIGO gap? I find it hard to think about creating UX designs without considering the underlying logic an engineer will use to bring it to life. Successful UX designers are often trained in markup and coding, working within modern web design principles supported by constantly updated libraries housed on Github. However, there are many principles that are used by software engineers that can help new user experience professionals make design decisions that are more likely to be implemented successfully and scale appropriately. Here are three that I use regularly in working with my design teams. Just How DRY Is Your Design? DRY stands... Continue reading
Posted Sep 29, 2014 at ChangeOrder
In the past five years, I have dedicated much of my effort to helping people learn the skills they need to succeed and pursue their passions, both in professional practice at frog, as a teacher at California College of the Arts, and as a writer of design books that encourage learning by doing. That's why I'm excited to announce that today I joined as their Director of User Experience. In my new role at, I am responsible for the design of their product across devices and platforms, leading a team of UX designers that want to help people around the world reach their fullest potential. If you're like me, has been there for you when you needed... Continue reading
Posted Jul 31, 2014 at ChangeOrder
I play drums in an all-frog cover band, the Sticky Notes. We’re playing a free show on Tuesday, June 17th at the frog design studio at 660 3rd Street (3rd and Townsend) in San Francisco. Our studio will be open to guests from 6–9 PM with a DJ, and we’ll be rocking a mix of classic and modern songs from 8-9 PM. This is part of the SF Design Week’s Studio Crawl. I hope to see you out there! And, of course, mad props goes out to Amalia Sieber for the great band poster she created for us. Continue reading
Posted Jun 14, 2014 at ChangeOrder
You know when a team clicks. Designers complete each other’s sentences. Team members engage in critique frequently, and relish the input into their work. People build on each other’s ideas in productive ways. Everyone feels invested in their project outcomes. This doesn’t happen through mere serendipity, especially when working with teams that have multidisciplinary participants working across multiple physical locations. You may be collaborating deeply with stakeholders across corporate silos, as well as involving users as part of the design process. Creating cohesive, high-performing teams requires not just talented people, but also the right structures to support them as they strive to achieve their goals. How can a manager or leader understand where these structures fit as part of their... Continue reading
Posted Jun 14, 2014 at ChangeOrder
We no longer live in a disconnected world. Ubiquitous, flexible communication has become the norm. We are living in huge device ecosystems, whose complexities are increasingly challenging to perceive. At frog, we’re passionate about designing products that are meant to advance the human experience. That’s why we’re excited about helping to shape the future of the Internet of Things (IoT). There are over 200 billion connected devices estimated to be a part of the IoT by 2020. We need to participate in helping to create these next waves of connected devices, bringing our skills as designers to bear on creating meaningful solutions. At this year’s HOW Design Live, I was able share some of the tools we use to create... Continue reading
Posted May 14, 2014 at ChangeOrder
This summer, join me from July 7-11, 2014 at Copenhagen Institute of Interaction Design's Summer School for a week-long workshop that will help you become a stronger storyteller and improve your product and service design efforts. This workshop, entitled "Happily Ever After: Storytelling in Interaction Design," draws from my semester-long storytelling class that I've taught since 2012 in the BFA in Interaction Design program at California College of the Arts (CCA). You'll take part in individual and collaborative storytelling challenges, which will build up to a long-form story project that will stretch your storytelling and design skills to the limit. The workshop will be co-taught with Mary Sherwin, who helped me build the CCA class and brings her perspective and... Continue reading
Posted Apr 21, 2014 at ChangeOrder
This is the final post culled from notes I wrote in preparation for a talk at Kansas City Design Week (KCDW). See the slide deck here. At the start of this talk, I'd defined entrepreneurship as undertaking risk to create customer value by making needed things, receiving feedback on them, and improving business performance iteratively. And I'd said I wanted to answer this question: How might we bring design into businesses to improve their chances of success? Here's my answer to that question. Increasing the chance of success for design-led businesses requires entrepreneurs to define their impact potential, seek out “duh” problems, make desirable solutions at greater and greater fidelity, and work in cycles of learning. If there's anything you... Continue reading
Posted Apr 16, 2014 at ChangeOrder