Do free work on your own terms

Usually, I tell people not to do free work.

It’s especially important if you’re a programmer, designer, or writer and the value of your work isn’t as obvious as what someone might assign to a pair of new shoes. 

But that’s not entirely accurate. Some of the world’s best and most talented creatives do free work, and quite regularly. Free work can be a good way to stretch, to try something new, to take a risk. 

Often, where the problems arise in free work are with people who don’t understand or care about what matters to a creative. 

This is best summed up in a tongue in cheek price list that graphic designers share every now and then. Basically, if you’re doing free or low pay work, you’d better also have the creative freedom and opportunity to experiment with it. 

Someone that doesn’t understand this balance isn’t likely to appreciate your best work, either. 

In other words: it’s ok to do free work, as long as it’s on your terms. 

Delivering value in design vs. engineering

Ken Norton published something the other day called 10x not 10%.

If you’re not familiar with Ken, he was a long time product manager at Google and is now a partner at Google Ventures where he works directly with their portfolio companies on engineering and product. 

In the piece he talks about Kodak, and the concept of risk in product development and design. It’s worth reading in full (including the references) but it got me thinking about something else: how online platforms weigh design vs. engineering. 

Early stage companies often struggle to balance the two. A good core product that delivers value is worth a lot even if it’s not sexy. But, of course, you’ll eventually need good, clean UI / UX design in order to deliver your product to a larger audience. There’s value in that, too. 

My experience is that the relationship between engineering and design works on a spectrum, but that spectrum is very different based on whether you’re going for 10x or 10%. If you don’t know which you’re aiming for it can really mess with your product. 

More simply, if you are providing 10x value via engineering you can get away with design being clunky, sometimes for a very long period. But if you’re aiming for the 10% increase in value, than design + user experience + on-boarding are most of the battle.