Plot 47A

Words on design and life by Cassie McDaniel

February 26, 2015

Prototyping a new Webmaker Tool

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This week the Mozilla Foundation designers gathered in Toronto to both broaden and deepen the realm of possibilities for a new Webmaker tool. We are only little more than halfway through the week and have made exciting strides forward.


We brainstormed ideas around “webby”-ness. We wrote our brief – what was the problem we were trying to solve? We surveyed the landscape of existing ideas including the progress Luke has made on the Tiles prototype, the current Webmaker app, and the gamut of MakerFox ideas. We had several strong brainstorming sessions that tried to break out of our existing ideas. And finally, we spent a good chunk of time surveying a list of 100 benchmark sites and apps.


We narrowed the playing field to two strong prototypes. This took some courage and determination — it’s hard not to fall into the trap of just going with what was had. I was pretty boneheaded about wanting to see one additional concept, and by the end of the day we made great progress toward what a second prototype would look like.


We gathered in the morning to discuss our plan of action, wrote a to-do list, then in pairs divided and conquered the main interactions we would need for a user test later in the day. Then we worked our asses off. After lunch the six of us gathered in a sweltering room to finish our paper prototypes, write testing scripts, and continue to quickly refine and interate to prepare for the tests. Each prototype had 4 participants (big thanks to Adam, Lucy, Andrew, & Becky!), one user tester and a note-taker.

Thursday (tomorrow)

We will review the user testing results and decide whether or not we want to continue with both prototypes or if there was a clear winner. We will finally begin to talk about aesthetics and interactions as they relate to our brand and user interface/s. We will likely break into two groups – one to continue hacking on the prototype, and another to start documenting and implementing the brand attributes.


We plan to rock demos with all our hard work from the week.

So what are the big ideas?


Imagine you have a project that can have both micro and macro views. The basic building block is a tile. You can connect tiles, combine them to form larger tiles, link tiles or content within the tiles, even use specific tiles to house code that affects all the other tiles. This could work to build projects made of many small pieces – recipes in a recipe book, words in a poem, pages in a website, stops on a travel plan, decision points in a choose-your-own-adventure – the list goes on and on. The process of adding tiles and quickly making with them in either a macro or micro view is super fun and oddly satisfying.


Imagine you could record your process of building something and play it back in a video or animation. In this timeline of an artifact’s history, you can note where you added images, text, code (or easier-to-add elements like ‘stickers’). You can capture when collaborators joined or left your project. And the part that appeals most to me – you get to see a creation come alive from its very barest bones to a rich and layered final piece. Making is no longer magic; the process is a part of the artifact.


In both prototypes, you could potentially link to or embed other projects into your own. You could decide what happens when your project ends – perhaps it connects automatically to someone else’s project. You could of course take parts or all of what you see to help build your own creation.

What I like about both ideas is that they seem to successfully navigate the chasm from giving creation on the web an extremely low bar as well as a high ceiling – makes could be as simple or as complex as the imagination dictates. The social and collaborative potential for each prototype is also huge, and it’s true that because both ideas have big and small views, they share many of the same possibilities for simplicity and complexity (and probably constraints as well).

What happens next?

Throughout the rest of the week, we will continue to guage and attempt to answer:

  • Is the making experience fun and compelling?
  • Does the making experience teach meaningful, webby skills?
  • Are the premise and possibilities easily understood & accessible? (can users grok what this is for?)

I’m excited to see what the team comes up with. So grateful to have an amazing group of colleagues around me this week. Go team go!

January 23, 2015

Mozilla plays ball

Today, the Mozilla Foundation debuted the team’s dribbble account. We coordinated our shots so that the team page looked … coordinated.

It is admittedly weird to use Dribbble — a notoriously closed and sometimes otherwise problematic platform — to start showcasing our work, but this particular solution is a HACK. We intentionally subverted dribbble’s usual functionality of posting individual shots one-at-a-time with this communal effort. Something none of us could have accomplished on our own.

That’s pretty Mozilla.


See the dino? That glorious Mozilla dino? The hack-the-profile idea is nothing new, but there are a number of things I love about this.

I love that it’s a throwback to Sheperd Fairey’s original Mozilla logo from 1998. I love that it celebrates a design heritage at Mozilla not many people know we have.


I love how the team got really into each and every shot, creatively reinterpreting their assigned shapes.

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But that’s not what I’m mostly excited about. Mostly, I’m excited about this:


Look at those faces! We’re missing Ricardo (he had to leave early to catch a train). And we’re supplemented by Scott (who joined us from Engineering for the exercise). You see here also Sabrina, Jess, Matthew, Luke and me.

Man am I excited about this team. Finally Mozilla Foundation has a core set of designers, a team that is cohesive, supportive, demanding, leading, inspiring, excellent. I believe we are excellent because we are working together now more than ever.

A happy extra to this story is that If you’re interested in joining this magnificent team we just posted a Senior UI Designer position today. I can’t wait to see who will join us, maybe it’s you!


But you also don’t have to be an employee to work with us. We’re still working out different ways to fold in design contributors to our work, but we are committed to working with anyone who wants to jump in with us and help keep the web open. We’ll soon be doing an open design call, where anyone is welcome to join, and maybe we’ll do another set of these dribbble shots who knows!

Do you have an idea? Jump in with us on IRC #Webmaker, join our design-focused mailing list, or email me, we’ll get you set up. ❤

creative process
January 8, 2015

Prototyping a new tool

Today I sat on my floor with paper, tape and scissors to explore ideas around a what a new, unified Webmaker tool could look like. I had some thoughts.

What user need does a new Webmaker tool address?

If good products solve existing pain — and not the pain people don’t yet know they have — it can sometimes feel like we are retrofitting product ideas with invented problems. At Mozilla, we certainly have a team assembled and a website infrastructure already built (hello — but it often feels like nothing is (or the wrong things are) plugged into that infrastructure, like we are designing in an echo chamber. A hollow tube.

I believe this is a result of not having framed the problem correctly, so I’ve been trying to adjust the way I think about it. The problem IS clear. People are limited by consumptive behavior, by networks that encourage that kind of online interaction, and by the reality that making isn’t easy and accessible enough. People are limited because too often technology presents options, but not possibilities. How do we open that door?

The problem isn’t specific and small. It is vast and deep. So I think the process just feels backwards because it is hard and because we must innovate.

I’m inspired by this post on mapping by Airbnb. They’ve made a case for a problem I’d bet most people didn’t know they had, and yet it is clear to see a compelling reason for pursuing the work. I hope someday soon we’ll be able to write as clear a problem and solution statement as this one.

What is fun about making?

I made a short list of qualities I’d like to see in this new Webmaker tool. Qualities I myself respond to in technology, on the web.


Note the question mark after useful. “Usefulness” is not necessarily what will compel me to use something. I certainly expect it to be usable, but not necessarily useful.

The thought occurred to me that one of my key understandings when it came to my design training (or learning to write better, or learning to make anything really be that with code or a sewing machine) is that artifacts are made of layers. Often people look at something and meet it head on, digesting it as a whole. As they should — that is the creator’s intention.

But when you are making something, or figuring out how to make something, it is necessary to break it down into digestible components. A design online is typically made of type, image, color, code, and movement or interaction. You can never address all those things at once or you will quickly fail by way of becoming overwhelmed. That is the human way. If I can sense something is off in my designs, for example, if it is not quite how I want it to be but I’m not sure why — I go through those ‘layers’ like a checklist: is the type right (and within that, the font itself, the hierarchy, etc)? is it the right image? are my colors appropriate?

layersCould we not teach ‘creating’ by starting with that insight — to demonstrate that everything has parts, and concentrating on one part at a time will bring gradual understanding that overtime results in the ability to build complex and interesting things?

Which brings me to another thought.

Teaching people to create online just through code is useful but it isn’t everything. We’ve said this a lot, but never acted on it decisively. I think too often we look at the methodology of teaching code because it has been done before, perhaps because it is more procedural and objective. Design has always been more of a walled garden. I’m excited to break that down; the opportunities to teach visual creation truly excite me.


Lots of ideas and inspiration from my colleagues appear to be coalescing. Gif maker. MakeDrive. Maker Fox and Maker Tools. Together.js. I am endlessly inspired, especially so because these amazing things are all real possibilities of what we can build. They’re already in progress.

Buiding on these things, and at the same time attempting to evolve and simplify, I follow my wandering thoughts.

Could we have a profile image creator, one that allows easy adaptability and individuality, one that creates an artifact that is at once applicable to the service you are already in (you could use it on your Webmaker profile) or reusable elsewhere (meet people where they are, make it easy to create a Facebook cover image).


We could separate learning components into layers and have guided lessons through each. There would be limited options, though. Creative constraints.


More complex interactions could occur elsewhere on the web, in other tools that already let you do those things. We would be training wheels that bridge the gap between beginners and advanced. Our tool would be a way to look at the details of the layers of things, to understand what those layers are, how to manipulate them, and we could do this because the constraints would be tight.

Or, could a tool like this exist solely on the backs of those layers – or palettes – themselves?


Could this be THE place that collects the things you like and make from around the web, the infrastructure that lets you remix those things in a real way by actually using them to build new content, that makes the reuse of ideas or colors or fonts or code snippets clearly serve as an act of making? Could this be a radical way of reasserting that content is king, that people share on Facebook because we like sharing so-be-it, but let’s reuse what we share to arrange it in interesting ways or comment on it more visually, or comment AS an act of creation?

All very abstract. None of it settling in an orderly fashion yet. Particles of dust falling from the seams of my thoughts. I’m sure it will come together at some point — an act of creative faith.

Check out my colleague Luke’s parallel work, let us know what you think.

holiday illustrations
December 11, 2014

2014 Indy Holiday Gift Guide

Last year I began the tradition of publishing a holiday gift guide for independent artists, designers, publishers and craftspeople from within my network. I got a lot of pleasure knowing those folks got some business through it and that shoppers were putting their money where it could help people pursue what they love. The collection this year is … perhaps a little more motley than last year. But the intention is no different. Every one of these artists or businesses have made something they believe others will love, and I’m sure there is someone out there who is the perfect recipient.

As our holidays become ever more commercialized, I do think this is one of the very little things we can do as individuals that makes a big difference. In that spirit, shop local, shop independent, shop on.

To eat and drink
To wear
To read and look at
To experience
To use

To eat and drink

Cookie sweaters
Sugar & Spice Bakery — from $2.50
Shelby operates Sugar & Spice bakery out of her home just down the road from our new house. She made our daughter’s first birthday cake, and wow-oh-wow what a request that was. She deserves mad props.

Smore to love book
S’more to Love: A S’moregasbord of Mouthwatering ‘Mallow Innovations — $5
Made by my colleague Hannah and some friends. I love finding out people you work with have secret talents, but I also love S’mores — I almost wrote my own S’more book of concoctions last summer!

bitter or bust
Bitter or Bust cocktail bitters — $10 or $18
Honestly didn’t know what bitters were, but now that I know, they sound super fun. Good gift for someone who likes to throw parties. I’d like to try the cardamom, black peppercorns and lemon flavours.

jar of chili okazu
Chili Okazu — $6 – $9
Can we ever have enough chili? For me that answer is yes, but for people who love spicy things, they can never have enough. An excellent gift for people of that ilk.

Sriracha keychain
Sriracha Key Chain — $7 (on backorder ’til Dec 26)
Maybe not Indy but I thought it was clever. Another good gift for spice-heads, for the new year.

To wear

ARCA handmade ties and bowties — $79
One of my oldest friend’s sister-in-law makes these with love. I like the retro underlying fabrics.

hattitude necklace
Hattitude everyday collection of jewellery — $20-$60
One of the craziest things about people in your network making things is that they often have amazing stories of courage and fortitude. This jewelry is made by Hattie Dunstan, a Torontonian who underwent a double lung transplant just a few years ago. She now spends her life making things. Amazing Hattie.

black silver ring
Kovert Cleopatra Ring — £290
This ring eliminates that desire to keep your phone on the table. “Subtle vibrations alert you for predefined text, email, call or whatsapp notifications from certain people or with specific keywords” It’s pricy, but anything to make technology less disruptive to dinner table conversation is a win by me.

leather braided cuff
Fitzy Braided Cuff — $45
Endorsed by my friend Karen King and getting all kinds of press, these simple products are obvious winners. There are several items in the shop at various price points, check it out.

To read and look at

lion and girl screenprint
Lesley Barnes cards & prints — $4-$40
Came across Lesley’s work by searching Etsy for ‘Toronto’. I relate to her sense of color. Many of the illustrations would make especially lovely prints for children’s rooms.

two journeys book
Two Journeys — $18.00
This book was recommended by Alison Livey, who I know through the writing circuit in Toronto. A romantic page-turner written by her mama.

Matt Stevens MAKE print — $15 (on sale)
I saw Matt Stevens speak at Weapons of Mass Creation in Cleveland a couple years ago. Super down-to-earth guy, and I like his sense of meticulous, mechanical illustration.

Commuter Lit
CommuterLit: Arrivals & Departures — $14.45
One of my oldest Toronto friends I met at the High Park Library writer’s group publishes this collection. I have a poem in it called “Since” that I wrote when Amelia was born.

Beto's Burrito picture book
Beto’s Burrito picture book — $10 ($4.99 iBook)
A book project with my dad, who wrote the story. I recently relaunched the website and have a very good idea of the effort it takes for all these makers to sell their stuff online. Happy to inscribe to any special someones! I have a few prints left too, if you are interested in a whole gift package, email me.

To experience

simmons financial planning business card
Financial Planning Session — $50 – $250
Oh how I wish someone would have bought me this when I was younger. Seriously.

Nine lives card game
Nine Lives Card Game — $12.99
I’ve recently come around to games. Maybe it was playing game-after-game-after-game with my four-year-old nephew in Cambridge. This one looks fun, especially for those kidlets like my own who love all the kitties.

pregnant woman
The Calm Birth School home study program — £150
Saw a friend share this on Facebook and thought it would make a nice gift for someone expecting. I practiced a bit of hypnobirthing myself (my mom helped teach me), and I believe it made a world of a difference during the birth.

build it yourself camera
Viddy Build-it-Yourself Pinhole Camera — $64
At university I took a photography class using a pinhole camera. So much fun to distill what appears to be complex technology into something rather simple. Really fun to experiment with, and building your own would be a huge part of that. This store has tons of fun stuff other than this (thanks for the link Maureen!).

To use

holiday reindeer ornaments
Christmas Reindeer Ornaments — $15
So cute, but also, ornaments make great gifts for people in your life who you may not know all that well but want to know better.

tea towels
Veekee Designer Tea Towels — $18-$40
These are lovely and colorful and bright and yes, I’ll have a couple of these please to brighten up my kitchen, thank you.

provence apothecary gift set
Province Apothecary natural beauty products — $25-$70-ish
Recommended by my buddy Cassie Kaiser. I received this set as a gift last year and am still using it! It’s a great set to travel with, or even to use while pregnant, since it’s all natural ingredients.

Toronto pillows
East & West Toronto Pillows — $69
Found these via another Etsy search for ‘Toronto’ and what won me over was the description. Toronto is a city of two sides (truth), and you choose which side of the couch to sit on.

wildcraftcare skincare set
Holiday Gift Packs for skincare — $50.00
As soon as my Apothecary set runs out, I’ll be getting this. Love the photography!

birch tealight holders
Silver birch Tealight Holders — $24.50
Small little gift idea made from reclaimed wood by the son of a woodworker who left banking to follow his maker heart. Lots of larger coffee-table pieces too that look cool.

End table
‘The End’ endtable from Said the King — $375
Holds a bottle of your best & one glass, which you should always have on hand, ready for the end of the world. Made by the lovely Karen King, one of the most conscientious and hard-working makers I know.

That’s it for this year! Big thanks to everyone who submitted an item.

Remember these are just a few selections from my own personal network. There are likely so many other independent makers in your own. Regardless, as you’re doing your shopping this holiday season, remember to look for unique things that are useful, eco-friendly, local and produced with love by hard-working designers, artists and craftspeople. Happy holidays!

It takes time to put this guide together, and time is such a precious commodity. But I love doing this. Please consider making a small donation so I can do it again next year. A couple of bucks would make me so happy. Many thanks!

Mozlandia sketchnotes
December 10, 2014

(or, holy shit, what a year)

Those of you who know me know these things already, but for you new friends, let me tell you.

In the last 14 months I had a baby, emptied all my savings on a house and a car, moved house (to an odd little town), traveled to San Francisco, New York, Michigan, Florida, Chicago, London, Cambridge, Newcastle, Luxembourg and Portland (all but Chicago and Portland with the baby), and most recently I was promoted to Design Director of Webmaker, a position with a job description I’m still writing. I’m still breastfeeding. I’m still not sleeping very much. Having a baby strains all of your relationships. And I’m still very much figuring out what I’m good at, what I suck at, what I want to do with my life and what I can offer to the world. These are all good and lucky things.

I’ve also never been so jazzed about a company’s mission than I am today about Mozilla’s.

But what does that really mean? A global, public resource?

Invariably it will mean different things to different people, but the parts that resonate with me are “global”, “resource” and accessible”. Meaning those that want to use the Internet as a resource should be able to. And that access doesn’t just mean ‘availability’ — also (to steal a few words from Mark Surman, and add one of my own): knowable, imaginable, creative.

Mozilla in PDX

I’ve just returned from #mozlandia in Portland, an all-company, week-long meeting of Mozilla employees from around the world. Darren Herman, Vice President of Content Services at Mozilla, wrote that it has taken him a year to feel like (if not become) a Mozillian. It’s a perfectly honest way to describe a Mozilla induction. This is a world of disorienting contrasts. A big tech company by some standards, a tiny one by others. A global mission, made effective through individuals. A thousand pieces of input, often single decision-makers. An engineering company, hungry for design. A non-profit perceived as a corporation that acts like a start-up. Weirdness abounds.

However, the chaos of the previous year is beginning to make sense. Gaps left in leadership are filling with substance. Opportunities for risk and bravery look promising. I’m proud to be part of this Trojan Horse of the Internet. A browser company with more than browsing in mind. A non-profit that is once again the underdog, eager to change the world.

Big ideas make me consider my own motivations and how I fit: I want to do the best work of my life here. I want to justify the time spent away from my family. I want to have an impact on the cause I signed up for. I want to be a part of the change that sees the Internet as a public resource, as something we have to protect. I don’t ever want it to become the only thing in anyone’s life, and so I want to see it well-designed. Constructed to do the things we need it to do and nothing less. To provide access and connection to experiences, information and people, so that we can use it to live our lives better (not live better lives online).

Sketchnotes from Day 1 of Mozlandia

Sketchnotes from Day 1 of the Mozlandia keynotes

Mozilla: a design company?

Toward the end of my week in Portland with 1200 colleagues I attended a meetup with Mozilla designers. There were about fifty of us in a room, including some of my closest colleagues. Designers of all kinds – UX, UI, researchers, coders, managers. As a company that operates both remotely and lacks a single design department it was strange to see everyone in one room, but even more invigorating.

Throughout the week’s keynotes — messages that traveled from widescreens and loud speakers across audiences of hundreds — to this compact room of fifty designers, it became obvious that the need for design at Mozilla is real. Very real. Needed. And wanted.

Mark Surman spoke about going back to that place where we first discovered the Internet – what inspired us to join this industry?

For me, choosing tech over print or illustration was very much about finding my people. Shared interests, people I could build stuff with, friends with common goals. Working with folks who also wanted to make useful shit, and make shit useful. Being in that room in Portland honestly felt like rediscovering my people. It’s interesting to me that all the tools of the Internet can’t give me that same feeling, and that’s something I’d like to dig into next year.

What do Moz designers need?

For design culture to have a firm foothold in a historically engineering-dominated company, our meeting surfaced a few needs.

  • More sharing and camaraderie amongst designers
  • More sharing and camaraderie amongst not JUST designers (more sharing with everyone)
  • Effective prioritization, to ensure design voices are heard by each other, by engineers, by managers
  • Leadership and champions of design at the top. For instance, where is Mozilla’s Chief Creative Officer?

Design is a rich ecosystem of what appear to be competing principles – visual design vs. ux, design thinking vs. branding. That’s okay. It would not be real without that. We need all of it. They are all layers of an experience, tools to think about how humans traverse different environments.

The other thing that was obvious from this meetup was that no amount of politics or hires can make a company change its ethos. It has to come from within, from people shipping the change they wish to see. That may not be true at every company, but I firmly believe that to be the case within Mozilla.

What’s possible in 2015

I read an essay this morning that mirrors my current frame of mind. Todd Olson argues that it is design thinking that disrupts industries, not technology. He writes:

Apple does not deliver technology to consumers; it designs experiences, then finds the right technologies to deliver those experiences. And sometimes it waits patiently for the necessary technologies and business arrangements to be available to deliver a particular experience. By doing what it does, Apple disrupts. Again, and again, and again.

There is no reason why we cannot accomplish the same disruptive change through design with Webmaker this year and within Mozilla as a whole, starting now. Enough “technologies and business arrangements” have fallen into place that if we wait any longer for design to make a difference it will be because of our own complacence. Not patience.

This is the main message I heard at #Mozlandia: The mission, the drive and the mandate are there, and design has a big role to play in making it possible to succeed.

That means that despite a tough year, despite distributed culture, despite ongoing challenges — we need to work smarter at working together, at bringing others in, and at advocating for good design. These things are possible in 2015, and we can start by ticking off items in that ‘needs’ list.

astronaut forest
December 9, 2014

Re-entering the spectacle

I’m back! And I wanted to write a few words about returning to my blog after a spring/summer/fall of gone emailin’.

Being back here on this blog and writing my thoughts publicly is like randomly running into my brother in a café in Leeds. We shout. We hug. Probably nobody is looking, but we feel like everyone is. We sit down for a full English breakfast and I steal a slice of his toast. It feels so familiar and right, and I’m giddy with recognition of this life and that relationship, how easy our conversation flows, how easy it is to understand his eyebrow shrugs. Yet I’m in this place that feels vaguely foreign and uncomfortable. Like a dream, kind of, because I am pretty sure my brother has never been to Leeds. I can’t help asking myself why I ever thought leaving the public blogosphere would be a good idea?

I believed creating a private space to share my thoughts would make me write more. And that it would make me write more intimately. That it would make my thoughts somehow more valuable, to me and to others. Turns out, removing a pressured social valve just makes my drip less frequent; I have written far fewer words over the last six months than ever before. I’ve also realized there isn’t much personal content I am not willing to put out there — I’ve written about becoming a mom, losing a dad and other family members, and have certainly struggled in public with my values and ambitions. I often find myself wondering: I could write about breastfeeding privately, but why, when writing about it publicly might benefit people more?

For the moment I am opting back in to the public spectacle of blogging, simply because it provides so much value for me. It’ll be clunky, awkward, uncomfortable, but I like the clarity of thought that writing brings me. I like the pressured feeling that I have to write or my blog will get dusty. What a weird anachronism! But it works for me.

That said I’ve enjoyed my exchanges with people by email and I’ll try to keep that going too. So if you would like to find me in your inbox in addition to here, join my list of email buddies.

Now, what’s above isn’t content. It’s the prelude to the content. The content before the content. Or content within content. Content underneath the front porch of real content. Stay tuned for the goods.

April 14, 2014

An Experiment

This spring and summer I am going to try an experiment. Instead of posting writing on my blog, I am going to email it. Instead of blasting it out to noone in particular, I am going to send it to people who have explicitly signed up. Instead of an open letter to the world, I am going to write private letters to a select group of people. I’m curious to see where this leads me.

(Go ahead and subscribe here if you’re interested.)

The first fuzzy strings of this idea have been winding together in my head for awhile now, with inspiration coming from a variety of places – Nick Disabato’s personal newsletter, Frank Chimero’s Borderlands essay, and an idea of intentional community. These influences have led me to the same general place – one where I hope to connect intimately with others and where I hope there is space for others to connect with me.

How online connections could be so so much better

Lately I’ve been feeling dissatisfied with the life I live online. Why? I have a growing awareness that the loved ones I hold near and dear to me feel like outlines of the people I know them to be in real life. Despite feeling like we should be closer because we have more opportunities to connect, I feel that this expectation increases the distance between us.

This feeling is present in new friendships I have made online, too. Who are these people really? So much competes for attention on Facebook, Twitter and blogs that this is difficult to answer. In my online relationships, I miss both giving and receiving the undivided attention two friends demand when they are face-to-face.

I have contemplated blasting away my Twitter and Facebook accounts, but instead of giving into that drama I would like to focus on a medium I do still love: email.

What’s so special about email?

Recently I read the Four Hour Work Week and amongst the extreme advice promising riches and fame was one tip I did like, which was to check email just once a week. I tried this, earnestly, innocently – yet failed spectacularly. After two days, the email siren drew me back in. I hated the reality of unanswered letters sitting in my inbox, but I was also forced to recognize the depth of my email addiction. Why do I refresh my inbox constantly? Why do I break my concentration at work to look at personal letters?

In email I am drawn to the private space between two people. Private space creates an opportunity for a real conversation, a place where you can be free to make mistakes in your lines of reasoning, free to express real emotion and to experience something without distraction or a jittery unease of what other people might think of you.

Sometimes social media is like wandering into a crowded party while looking for a soulmate. Maybe you get lucky and find a quiet corner to sip your lager and chat about mutual interests with a good friend. But more often than not you are drowned out by or swept up in the music, the crowd, the activity. Sometimes that is exactly what you need, but other times it is not at all what you’re looking for.

Maybe you recognize this feeling?

What to expect

In order to make this doable while I work full-time, take care of a baby baby, and devote time to connecting with the rest of my family, I am laying out some constraints for myself and making some commitments to those who subscribe.

  • I’ll keep the meat of the emails 750 words or less.
  • These emails aren’t meant to be pretty. My goal is to clearly express stories and ideas without the use of pictures or design. The content might be about pictures or design, but I don’t want to get swept up in the act of designing here. This experiment is more about thinking, writing, sharing and connecting.
  • I can’t commit to a frequency of letters right now, but I want them to surprise my readers anyway, and I plan to do that partly through timing. Without a doubt I won’t be sending letters more often than once a day, and if I happen to send more than one a week you can be confident the pattern won’t repeat itself. Once a month is the minimum I am aiming for.
  • I’d love for this to be a two-way conversation. I will do my best to respond to everyone, no matter how big or small their letter, unless they’re obviously trolling. Trolls and I are never going to be long-term friends.
  • As with everything I write, I will strive to make my words useful to those reading them, to offer some kind of value. If we find my letters become trite, unrelatable or boring, then I’m not doing something right.
  • I pledge to send my first email out within a week of this posting.

As it stands

Currently I have a list to which 45 people are subscribed (why that is I don’t know because I have never used this list). 14 of you are family, another 14 are new friends or acquaintances, eight of you are irreplaceable old friends. I have no idea who another eight are, and one of you is dead (R.I.P. Daddio).

If you find these letters don’t do anything for you, please feel free to unsubscribe at any time. You may have signed up ages ago, or your interests may have changed, I get it. Life is too short to spend time reading irrelevant emails. You’ll find no judgement from me, and yes, we can still be friends.

What I am after with this experiment is a community of folks who share my interest in forming deeper and longer lasting connections through online mediums. I am after honesty and thoughtfulness. I am after long-lasting friendships that are able to transcend the challenges of asynchronous communication. I am after people who want to join me in this experiment.

I really hope that’s you.

So, are you in? Subscribe here or via the form below.

March 28, 2014

Working at Mozilla

I was re-reading some of my recent posts and came across this thing I wrote a couple months ago about why I love working at Mozilla.

I recognize that a culture that allows so many different perspectives, that is so fiercely dedicated to working in the open, will always have room for me. What a powerful feeling of belonging. Because of this I feel enabled to take risks and I am inspired to work hard. Mozilla is full of people like me.

In light of recent Mozilla news I thought it was worth sharing those thoughts again.

Webmaker on Lifehacker

Webmaker on Lifehacker

There’s also this lovely piece about Webmaker on LifeHacker today. I do love what I do, and the day to day people I do it with. What I know for sure is that there are a ton of good people at Mozilla and we’re going to keep working at making the web open and better for everyone. I’m very grateful to be doing this work.

Oh and–related to that old post–our UI Designer position is still open for the time being. Come work with me and so many other great people.

February 4, 2014

Webmaker Work Week: Web Literacy UX Track

In the spirit of fostering open design, I wanted to share what the User Experience team is working on at the Webmaker work week this week. Dozens of colleagues have flown in from different cities and countries to put our heads together (IRL instead of by Vidyo) and ship some pretty amazing things. Hopefully a better UX for discovering content on is a part of what we deliver.

The track I am wrangling is titled Web Literacy as UX, which proposes to put the Web Literacy Map (or Standard) at the heart of Webmaker’s offering. This is a fuzzy brief, so last week my colleagues Kate Hudson and Matt Thompson helped unpack this, and we realized that what we really wanted was to thread a notion of legitimacy throughout Webmaker, and that contribution would be how we would measure our success.

That insight led to a new focus, which is that every path needs to have an action at the end of it that drives users toward contributing content, teaching kits, events, or design or development to our community.


Today our track was joined by Sabrina Ng and Luke Pacholski from other teams in the Foundation. Kate continued to design jam with me, with helpful insights from Dave Humphrey and Gavin Suntop.

There is a lot to try and get right with this new design, lots of pieces to juggle, but one of the things I have been focused on is really playing to our strengths. Instead of trying to bend Mozilla processes into something it isn’t, how can we emphasize what is great about how fast we ship, how far we reach, and how idealistic we are? How can we bake those qualities into a new design direction? At the same time, how do we use our strengths to differentiate ourselves while not completely losing the straightforward qualities that makes our sister “competitor” sites like, Khan Academy or Code Academy so successful.

While we still have a ways to go for a fully realized prototype this week, we’re off to a running start having explored a few different design directions, including shooting down Luke’s “wheel of fortune” discovery tool (Sorry Luke =) and agreeing to design for change, even if people can’t agree whether or not the Web Literacy Map competencies will in fact change over time. Here are a few of the preliminary directions (do excuse the shoddy image quality – these were taken in a hurry since a squirmy baby was waiting for her dinner).






Lastly, what I did when I got home tonight, was finalize a quick survey of user motivations and their paths through an Explore section. While pretty basic – and while I think we need to start with the emotional side of UX – I am hoping this doc comes in handy throughout the week to serve as gut checks for what we are building.

user paths-01

As ever, feel free to file bugs and feedback! The main bug related to this task is here, bug 965395. You can see the other bugs we’ll be tackling throughout the week on the Mozilla workweek wiki.

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