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Learning from Failure: On this week’s episode, Paul Ford and Will Denton sit down with Victor Lombardi to talk about how great experience design often fails. We talk about taking a humanist approach to UX design within a corporate role, designs that fail, and ways to detect early signs of trouble. We also make fun of Google Plus.


Paul Ford Righhhht. What’s the worst bank? [Laughter] You don’t have to answer that, but if you have any ideas? [Laughter] [Music fades in, plays alone for 18 seconds, ramps down]. This is Paul Ford, co-founder of Postlight, I’m joined by one of our designers, as co-interviewer.

Will Denton Hello!

PF Will!

Wd Yes, that’s me.

PF [Chuckles] Tell the people—

WD Hi, Paul!

PF Tell the people your whole name.

WD My name is Will Denton. I’m a product designer here at Postlight.

PF You also did the uh [music fades out] the branding work and the design work on the Postlight website.

WD Yes.

PF So you should take a look at that and Will said, “Throw me in as an interviewer! I wanna see what—how it works.”

WD Mm hmm. That’s exactly it.

PF So I’ve known Victor for a long time and a few years ago he wrote a book called Why We Fail.

WD Yes! Actually, I’m a big fan of that book and when you mentioned he was on the podcast, I took every opportunity to get myself into this room because just the way that he approaches a customer and user centric design process was so influential to me as a growing, budding designer.

PF I mean things fail.

WD Yes.

PF Sometimes it just doesn’t work out. Will, you’re relatively young. Have you tasted significant failure yet, in your professional life?

WD Uh no, Paul, never. Uh—


PF [Crosstalk] We’re gonna get you there. Don’t you worry.

WD [Mock nervous, sing-songy] Hmm huh a hghhh.

PF It’s a hell of a thing! So let’s not about our failures right now. Um let’s talk with Victor about the things that he’s seen fail and why.

WD Sounds great. Let’s do it.

PF Victor, thank you for coming on Track Changes.

Victor Lombardi Thanks for having me, Paul.

PF Where are you coming from right now?

VL Literally?

PF Literally.

VL [Laughing] Or physical? [Laughter] I work two blocks north of you.

PF That’s great.

VL Uh I lead a design team at Capital One.

PF That’s one of the reasons why people should move to New York City.

VL [Laughs] Everyone works within four blocks of you [laughs].

PF What does a design team leader do?

VL I’ll try to stay out of my team’s way. It’s a lot of dealing with all the, you know, the administrative stuff that they shouldn’t have to deal with [mm hmm], trying to keep that outta their way.

PF Right cuz you’re at a big bank. There’s a lot of big bank stuff that has to happen.

VL Yeah.

PF Yup.


VL And we are transforming from a traditional bank to a more digital bank [sure] as all—you know, any bank with a clue is doing. And it’s difficult. It’s a painful cultural transition [mm hmm] and uh a lot of my work is psychology. I’m there to ease the pain. Having a lot of difficult conversations about, “Yeah, you know, you did that the same way for 20 years but we’d like to make it better and we’d like to show you a different way.”

PF So you’re managing, you have this group of people [mm hmm] and you also have to manage up, really, right? You have to go talk to people about like, “Here’s what we’re gonna do. It’s gonna be different than what you thought it would be.”

VL Right.

PF How do you—how do you get them on your side?

VL I am in a very lucky position in that I’m in the commercial side of Capital One. So we’re basically doing business with businesses, and designers and product people are fairly new to that space but we have a long history of success over on the consumer side of the business where—like when you know Capital One you know us from our commercials and our consumer credit cards and that design team has been built over years and has been very successful. They’ve, you know, contributed to the bottom line. So they’ve really paved the path for me.

PF What is your pitch to young designers to come work at a big bank?

VL Well I’ll tell you why I came there. Uh I’ve worked in the New York digital space all my life. And I’ve seen some companies that had really great, hairy problems [mm hmm] but didn’t have enough ambition to actually tackle them [mm hmm]. Or maybe they did have the ambition but they didn’t have the resources to do anything about them.

PF City government is very good [Victor laughs] [inaudible over laughter] right? Like I mean there’s just—

VL I could rattle off the examples!

PF Yeah.

VL Capital One is a place where I felt they had all those things in one place, where they have great, hairy financial service problems that affect people’s lives everyday. Money’s pretty important to us, right? [Mm hmm] They have the ambition to do something about them, without being so much ambition that it’s hubris. You know? They—I think it’s managed pretty well in that they’re—they’re a human company. And then the resources to, you know, that their actually devoting to solve these problems. It’s also just a great place to be a designer. We’ve built up a pretty good reputation in the industry, so it’s not—it’s not too tough of a pitch.


PF I joke and people talk about sort of the “big banks” [Victor chuckles] but they each have their own culture [yeah]. And some of ‘em are very hard, challenging places to work where it’s very like alpha and everybody’s beating their chests and [mm hmm] other ones are like, “Well, you know, we really do provide liquidity and, you know, people need access to their resources and we try to build a culture around that.” [Yeah] They’re all a mix, I mean these are just very large, kind of bureaucratic, government influenced organizations [mm hmm] but as much as it’s easy to point and be like, [in raspy, angry voice] “Oh banks!”

VL Sure.

PF They’re—they’re different.

VL Yeah well there is something in human nature, I think, when your product is money [right] it’s hard not to get greedy.

PF How did you get into this field?

VL I always loved computers. My dad was a software engineer. Kind of typical, you know, nerd up—upbringing of, you know, having a Commodore when I was young and a Timex Sinclair 1000 and learned to program [Paul sighs] BASIC and all that good stuff.

PF That’s sort of—the Timex Sinclair is probably the worst computer [Victor laughs] that was ever mass produced—like—

VL I have a fond place in my heart for that machine.

PF Me too—

VL One k of memory—

PF It was a terrible—

VL And a membrane keyboard.

PF Yeah it—it hurt [Victor laughs] like your little—your little ten year old fingers are like calloused from jamming BASIC programs into it [right, right]. But it’s true—the funny thing about it is it was like—that all the BASIC commands that you could run in the programming language were actually on the keyboard. So it was a self—

VL That’s right! I forgot about that!


PF It was a self documenting computer [mmm right]. Like you didn’t have to actually look at a manual because it was all—you just hit buttons.

VL Mm hmm. So I fell in love with to be able to make software. And—and, you know, over time I took programming classes but it got to a point where we started getting into serious programming—the university and I realized I didn’t really want to do that full-time. And so I was looking for some way, you know, off-setting my—my father’s technical influence was my mother who is very much a liberal arts person and kind of encouraged a lot of creativity and writing in me. I was trying to figure out where I could combine those things and I was actually looking at music technology [sure] where it’s in a lot of places—where, you know, there’s a lot of passion around music [mm hmm] in people in our field. And so that was an actual place. Did an internship when I was in college at a record company but didn’t really like the culture; there was a lot of backstabbing going on, just not a great place. When I was at NYU, a couple of people from—from Apple visited, Joy Mountford and Brenda Laurel gave a lecture. It opened my eyes up to this whole field of people who work with computers but all they do is make them easier to use.

PF Oh so you had a conversion experience.

VL It was totality a conversion experience. I went out to the bookstore, I found Bruce Tognazzini’s book. He was also at Apple.

PF Oh right! AskTog!

VL Yes!

PF Yeah!

VL Tog on Interface.

PF There weren’t that many books either. [Victor laughing] I mean it was like, you know—

VL  There was two of them [laughs].

PF Yeah there were, I mean like probably the entire library of user interface was maybe 30 books in the world at that point.

VL Right, right. And so that blew me away that there were people doing this work that could be technical but their job is really to interface with the humans. Uh and so I totally fell in love with that and this was right around the time the web was kind of moving out of the lab, which was 1992, ‘93. And just decided that’s what I wanna do and went off. Didn’t have any training, didn’t know how to be a designer but ended up getting my foot in the door in IT and then building up my skills from there [music fades in].


PF And then you got interested in failure.

WD [Laughs] Yes [music plays alone for six seconds, ramps down].

PF You know if you don’t wanna fail—

WD Yes, Paul [music fades out].

PF One of the things you can do is give Postlight a call.

WD Oh, really?

PF I’ll tell you why. I’ll tell you why.

WD Please do.

PF It’s because we are very, very risk focused in how we approach software development, platform development, product development problems, and so that—that even includes design.

WD Mm hmm.

PF I mean think about the work that you do, right? Like—give me an example! How do you factor in risk? Like things that can go wrong into the design work that you do.

WD Part of the process that we—that we designers do is imagine the obstacles that are just beyond the horizon that we haven’t figured out yet and [mm hmm]—and once you can start to project and hypothesize about what those problems might be, you can start to solve for them ahead of time.

PF That’s the—this is the thing: I think people think of design and they think of making things look nice which is absolutely part of it [mm hmm]. Making a—a beautiful app that has a lovely user interface, the colors are well chosen, that’s key [mm hmm] but the conversations are much more like, “How could this go wrong? How are we—are we gonna do something that offends or—or communicates incorrectly with people? Or are we gonna send them down a bad path? Did we wanna get them to look at two or three screens? How do we get them on board? How do we keep them from getting bored?

WD Mm hmm.


PF And those are more of the conversations that you have before you even think about what would look beautiful.

WD Yeah! It’s very much about carving out space and figuring out where things live [yeah] and, you know, wayfinding is a metaphor that gets tossed around a lot. It’s—it’s very much about starting to put tent poles around this ambiguous, nebulous thing and then—and then putting that—that final polish on.

PF So let’s—let’s get back to Victor, people are here to listen to him right now but if you like to cut risk. If you wanna work with Postlight to figure out ways to avoid terrible failures, that is actually what we do. We don’t just make it look good. We think of all the things that could go wrong and we plan around them, both from design and product perspective and—and also from [music fades in] engineering perspective. So get in touch at and let’s get back to our interview [music plays alone for six seconds].

WD Yeah so let’s talk about failure—why do products fail?

VL Why do products fail?

PF Let’s point out! Victor wrote a book uh a couple years ago, right?

VL Yup.

PF It’s sort of an unusual book in that it really is about failure.

VL So the—the, I mean the backstory here is that after working in IT for awhile and going into design, I’ve always liked taking on bigger and better problems and so I found myself in a product management role. And this was around the time—I don’t know if you remember

WD I thought it was  wee-sahb-eh, like in Spanish—

VL Oh maybe it is. I don’t know [laughs]. I’ve only seen it—you know, I’ve only seen it—you know I’ve only been reading about it. So this was later, you know, “beaten by” in their words, uh which is probably more familiar. It’s, you know, a system that aggregates your—all your bank and credit card information into one place and visualizes it so you can make sense of your finances. Wasabi was a predecessor of that and for various reasons they were beaten by Mint and the founder had the courage to write a postmortem and explain what happened. And as a product manager to—to be able to see the inside of the company, all the decisions they made and why and have someone talk about what they learned was incredibly helpful. So I sent this off to Lou Rosenfeld, I said, “You really should do a book about this because people like me in this field need this.” You know there’s a lot hype I think about failure—


PF The narrative is, “We crushed it!”

VL Ugh [Laughs]

PF “And we crushed and crushed it and then there was a bad thing that happened so we had to go out of business. We’ll see you—we’ll see you for the next one.”

VL Yeah.

WD “But it wasn’t our fault.”

PF Yeah.

VL It’s just not helpful. And so to answer your question I had narrowed down the scope of what I wanted to look at by trying to see, you know, what are the—what are these stories that really I think help people in the field. And I think of that pretty broadly. It could be product people, designers, technologists, people running businesses. Learn from products that have failed not because the marketing was wrong or the technology didn’t work.

WD Or the designs were bad or anything—

VL The designs were bad cuz on the surface they all looked like great products but the experience of the product was what killed them. That was one of the—the big points I tried to make in the book is that those are really two different things. We often talk about them in the same breath like they’re the same thing, we conflate them. So it’s like, “Hey, check out our new experience!” But you didn’t really create the experience, you created the product and I’m having an experience of it which may—may or may not be the experience that you hoped I would have of it.

PF So experience is the big risk point.

VL Well, you know, there’s a lot of risk points. There’s a million things that can go wrong [Paul sighs].

WD But why focus on the experience?


VL I felt like it hadn’t been done before.

PF See and it’s a tough message, too, because like—like everybody can figure out why the bridge fell apart.

VL Right.

PF It’s like, “Ah, well, we used the wrong metal or the engineers did this instead of this and we know that physics got in the way [right] and the bridge fell down.” This is spongy stuff [yeah]. So you’re—you know, you’re basically saying that like you need a certain amount of talent and focus in order to avoid failure.

VL Yeah. To give you a quick—two quick examples. It’s sort of an entire story here is a success that could’ve been a failure in like the iPhone 4 where they had that whole antenna problem with the iPhone 4. Consumer reports came out against it. They were trying to have a consumer reports moment there and the iPhone 4 ended up, you know, setting sales records. Right? And so people were actually still having a good experience with it even though it had this design flaw, this technology flaw. And on the other hand you have things—[stammers] stories my book is full of like the um—

WD BMW iDrive.

VL The BMW iDrive which is how you control all your, you know, in-car information using a little knob in between the two front seats—

WD I think that was eight or nine years old, seeing that for the first time [yeah]. I mean even then—even then I—[whispers] “God this is awful.”

VL But it looks cool! [Mm hmm] If you go to the auto show and you sit in a brand new BMW and you start playing with it, it’s like, “This is—

WD [Crosstalk] It’s a beautiful, beautiful thing.

VL “Wow! Beautiful screen! It feels really nice—”

PF Alright so the design was right.

VL Well—

WD I would say the industrial design. Like the shape, [mm hmm] the physical thing was beautiful [yes] and it felt good to touch.


PF Well cuz that’s—that’s something BMW really understands.

VL Yeah but if you get out on the road and you try to change the radio station while you’re, you know, driving 75 miles an hour, that’s a big problem. You—you can’t figure out how to work the menus. And suddenly you’re having a bad experience of something that’s—otherwise looks like a good product.

PF Well and you spent a lot of money on this car. Like [right] BMW people are gonna be extra frustrated that they can’t change the radio station. It’s not like they bought something for two dollars off of

VL Right.

WD The—the thing that I found really interesting in your book is that you—you are peeling back the [chuckles] the layers in the onion and you’re getting at the internal politics even within an organization that [mm hmm], you know, sometimes there’s just a lot of biases that come from designers, that come from any stakeholder within that group who’s building the product that are getting in the way of that own product’s success.

VL Yeah! I think it’s a very difficult balance that we try to draw between having enough confidence in ourselves—people have hired and paid a lot of money to make these products—with having the humility to realize we’re not the user. We’re not the customer. Um we’re not the ones having the experience of this and we really need to go out and understand the customer and do that and—and some of that leads to obvious conclusions like well, do more user research. But in reality that’s a very difficult balance to strike when you’re going through, you know, a thousand meetings on the way to the product.

PF You know what else is tricky too is that analytics can be dropped into a product to—to sort of prove almost anything [sure] if you structure the analytics components so that they’re reporting on metrics that you kind of already know the outcome [mm hmm] or where there’s gonna be these relatively tight tolerances, and that can look like success but not actually capture or deal with any of the real failure states that are occuring.

WD It could be product success like just a performance success but—

PF That’s right. It’s loading, it’s fast, looks goo—you know [mm hmm], people—people are clicking here and there and meanwhile the core proposition can be an utter disaster.

VL Yeah. And it’s great that the Lean community, I think, has done a great job there of calling those out as vanity metrics [right], trying to get us to focus on the right things, and that’s a lot of what I talk about in—toward the end of book is, you know, based on all these failures, how can we combine what we’ve learned about the user experience with what uh Lean tells us is a better process. How do we mush all that together into a—to do things better?


PF So let’s—let’s talk about a couple different states for people who are listening. One would be what if you find yourself in the middle of a failure? What should you do?

VL Give me an example [Will chuckles].

PF Uh you are a engineer, let’s say, or a designer or a product manager and you are in the middle of a 12 month project [mm hmm] at your company, and you’re supposed to build something—it’s an app! Let’s say. And about six months in you realize it’s gonna be late [mm hmm] and that all the things that everybody said it would do, the competitors do better, and two key people have quit. And you got six months ahead of you and you—you don’t really know—like you know there’s probably no path out. What’s there to learn? What should you do? Cuz people—when you find yourself in your career, until you learn how to manage and—and really deal with and understand these situations [mm hmm]. You find yourself in that situation from time to time. What’s—what’s the best way to get value out of that?

VL That’s a great question because it’s something I had to face in my career when I was writing the book—

PF Well I think all of us do! [Yeah] Like it’s just you—you get on these projects and you’re like, “Oh my god!” [Mm hmm] And then you’re like, “I think we’re in real trouble.” [Laughs]

VL Yeah. I think it’s—[stammers] it’s one great thing that Agile has given us is the retrospective [mm hmm]. I think just stopping and trying to deliberately understand what happened there is—and working through that pain can be one of the most fruitful things [mm hmm] cuz you don’t wanna repeat that pain in your future. And that’s really the—the benefit that you need to look at is, you know, I don’t want a career where I’m [chuckling] gonna keep repeating this problem over and over again but I’m still learning, even after, you know, writing this book and seeing, you know, subsequent product launches in the world and saying, “Oh I—you know, I now have new perspective on something I wrote about and how that—that decision maybe was better than I thought it was, maybe it was worse than I thought it was.” And so I’m kind of continuing on the blog, on the book site, to um—

PF Yeah, book site. Don’t use the word blog. Nobody knows what that is anymore [boisterous laughter]. Um. Alright—

WD I think we can bring back the blog.

PF What—what bluuug?


WD You and I, Paul, can bring back the blog.

PF Yeah, no more blog.

WD It’s a topic for another time [laughs].

PF Um so uh what are early signs that something’s gonna fall apart? Are there any or is it—is it only in the postmortem that we are able to—

VL If you’re not really in touch with the customer.

PF Ok.

VL Then—

WD That starts at the very beginning?

VL It does. Things are very relative, you know, whether it’s a success or not. You know, I gave the example of the walkman which, you know, in its day you have this porta—portable device which, you know, takes your music with you is, you know, is amazing for the day. These days, of course, it would awful experience. The sound is not as good as what we have in our pockets now. You know—

PF Yeah I get 12 songs—

VL 12 songs, right.

PF And I have to replace my batteries four times a day.

VL Right. So whether something’s great or not is relative to our expectations. Uh in the book the big case study there is, you know, Apple’s Final Cut Pro 10 [mm hmm] where um they came out with something that performance wise was a light year ahead of the competition. It was so amazing. Apple recognized that. The processors have gotten so fast that we can actually make the behav—behavior of the software different [mm hmm]. You can perform an action. We can now start and, you know, rendering images in the background and you can just keep working, rather than tying up the whole computer. And while they’re at it, let’s massage the whole UI to reflect this new power.


PF Dun dun duuuun!!! [Will chuckles]

VL [Chuckles] Right. Incredible piece of software but completely different than everyone was used to and, you know, it was really a product for professional editors, video editors and sound editors, who were used to doing things one way and being very productive when they got a client gig and suddenly Apple changes everything and, yeah, they were really pissed off.

PF Sure, of course. I mean it’s—it’s—that’s—that’s your whole world view [yeah]. And then they’re like, “Actually, you’ve been thinking incorrectly.” [Victor laughs]

WD Yeah and then how do you come in there with the “But wait we—we know better and we’ve designed it better.”

VL Yeah. [Yeah] And so it’s a careful balance because uh Apple does that all the time.

PF They do.

WD Yeah.

VL They’re always kind of like, “Hey, we know better. We’re gonna launch something else.”

PF It’s—it’s worth remembering I mean the Mac held on by a thread. The Mac [mm hmm] could’ve been killed in any minute.

WD Oh several—several times [laughs].

PF Yeah. It was a disaster! Like I mean compared to what they put into it and what the expectations were they, you know, and then the next after it’s just narcissism and some technical superiority really—

VL Mm hmm.

PF—kind of got them over the line.

VL Yeah. I think, you know, if you look at their entire history and all those product launches, I think we forget about their failures.

PF Oh yeah I mean that’s—they—they spend a lot of money so we do.

VL Yeah.

PF Right?

VL Um—


PF That’s part of the—[chuckles] that part’s probably not in the book, right? Like [yeah]—

WD Yeah can we add a little addendum? The—[laughter]

PF Hiding your failures.

WD Lots of money and sheer bravado will get you through.

VL It’s a good lesson though because they—they have such a great history of questioning our expectations and getting away with it that it’s become a pretty good strategy for them to keep cannibalizing themselves—

PF Mm hmm.

VL—messing with our expectations of what we should be doing with their software, and getting away with it 90 percent of the time.

PF Well there’s a strain here too which is that you—you’re kind of a humanist at heart [sure] and so this idea of like, “Let’s openly acknowledge and look at our failures as—as people, as products, like whatever. That’s part of being a, you know, a humanistic [mm hmm]—following a humanistic discipline, thinking about ways things could be better assuming that you are not great or immortal but just a person who’s just doing their best,” and that’s not a corporate mindset. Like the corporate mindset is we are—we have to be basically flawless so you’re a failure and risk oriented thinker and now you’re in a—a large financial institution. How do those parts of the world line up?

VL I think I’ve come to realize that there are parts of any big corporation, especially financial services, that find that humanism challenging and [sure] some are much more open to it.

WD How do you become an advocate for user centered design and to, you know, everyone at the board?

PF And before you talk about selling it, let’s define it for the audience: when you say human centered design, what does that mean?

WD Human centered design is putting the human at the center of all the work that you do. So not everyone’s going to be receptive to this. And they don’t necessarily need to be uh you know some businesses are built on some kind of uh, you know, infrastructure competitive advantage where they just don’t really need to think about the humans per se. Maybe it’s machines interacting with machines or low cost solution. Like when you walk into a Walmart does it need to be—do they devote a lot of human centered at the—how they display things on their shelves? Maybe. I mean I’m sure they put a lot of thought into that but their advantage is low cost and that’s why people go there. You get a lot of stuff and you’re not paying a lot of money, right?


PF Well they have a system, they have a way of thinking about the signage in the store [mm hmm] that may or may not be that, right? But it’s—yes, they have a framework—it’d be hard to sell them a new method [yeah] because they’re like, “Well if you do that and I lose one percent, you ruined my year.”

VL Right. But, you know, to give them some credit, they bought which makes a big investment in human centered design.

PF You know it’s tricky listening to you cuz we’re both—we kinda came up in New York City around the same time and—and there’s a mid-career moment here where there’s no single belief system. There’s—you have a set of things that you know will work, like I know you, I know that if I came to you and I said, “I need to solve these design problems and, you know, these product problems.” You would go, “Ok. Well here’s what—here are the 12 things I would do,” and they’d be pretty good. You’ve shipped a lot of products in your time, and you’d get the risk down unless there was some extremely bad external thing that we couldn’t control [mm hmm] you’d get the risk down basically to zero. We’d get it out in the App Store, we’d get it out into the world. So, like you know that you have stuff that works [mm hmm] but then you go into a room and everyone else is kinda like you and they also have their thing that works [mm hmm] and someone way up in the clouds has said, “You all need to work together. [Mm hmm] And do the thing that works.” And it’s—it’s really tricky and I—I sort of like—I’m calling it out because I know that a lot of the people listening are sort of getting into and starting to understand product and it feels like these are conversations you’re not allowed to have [mm hmm] because you’re supposed to believe one thing so fiercely and have one approach to building product and getting it right and doing the right design and anything that doesn’t hue to that is dangerous and bad and you need to fight it and stand up [mm hmm] but it’s actually so much more complicated.

VL Absolutely.

PF It’s just weird adults with—going a little grey at the temples [laughter] going like, “Aghh well. I like Victor actually, he’s a good guy. We should talk to him about that.” Like that [chuckles] that’s how it works out [yeah], you know, and then like—


VL Not pissing off your—your colleagues [laughing].

PF No, actually when we did this other project and he—he kinda got us out the fire a little bit and then—and Sam goes, “Alright, you know, we should really be thinking more about design here.” And then—and then suddenly progress can be made.

VL That’s part of it definitely.

PF Yeah.

VL I also try to, you know, collectively define what success looks like at the end [mm hmm]. If we succ—say success is getting that app into the App Store or and then consumers do x, y, and z, and this is how the company benefits. We can all agree to those things, then we can start working backwards from that and say, “What do we need to do to achieve that?”

WD Something actually I really appreciate in the book is you do have a method outline but there’s no weekly guide. There’s no ten steps.

VL That’s a big flaw of the book cuz it would’ve sold so many more copies if I had ten steps to [laughing] follow. It would’ve made a better media—[inaudible over crosstalk] [laughing]

WD No, no, no! But—so that’s what I think is so interesting about it [Paul sighs] is—

PF Yeah this is the rough part, right? [Victor laughing]

WD Yeah, obviously that—that probably would sell um but when you mention this book about the scientific method for design—

VL Yeah.

WD—you know I perked up and I was like, “Oh that’s so interesting!” Because the first time I really came across that was with Google Venture Sprints that provide a handy dandy, Monday through Friday, here’s exactly what you’re gonna do for as long as you’re gonna do it [yup] and there’s a lot of overlap but the training wheels always fall off and you can’t quite follow the perfect formula but something about this approach is you’re not condensed to a week [mm hmm]. It—it gives you that sort of—those rough guidelines or that loose framework to start to conceptualize the real value add to this—- to whatever big, ugly challenge you’re taking on.

VL Yeah. That was a—those were a difficult two chapters to write because I was trying to synthesize everything from the book plus everything I had learned in my career and tried to think about—try to find some principles that applied universally across everything I’ve ever experienced, what would they be. But I think they are a nice complement, as you say, to something like Google Sprint where you need to drop those in once in awhile and uh make progress that way.


WD Mmm.

PF I wanna talk about a product that I think about a lot.

VL Alright.

PF And see what you think about it. And, Will, what you think about it.

WD Sure.

PF That product is Google Plus.

VL [Exhales sharply through nose] Hmmm.

PF Have you spent anytime thinking about Google Plus?

VL A little bit.

PF I recently went back in there [mm hmm] cuz I’m like, “I wonder what happened.” And I have never seen a giant company like just give up this profoundly before [hmm]. So it still—I mean Google Plus is supposed to be the Google social network yet you click on—you wanna follow somebody and it takes like five seconds. You follow somebody on Twitter it’s like this, [high pitched:] “Ploomp,” you followed ‘em. [Mm hmm] You follow somebody on Google Plus and it goes [in deeper voice], “Per pah der pah der pah der pah [high pitched] DING!” [Yeah] And um it’s just busted and they just rolled out some sort of weird redesign—

VL Now is Google Plus sitting underneath YouTube?

PF It’s not anymore. So that was [oooh] one of the great atrocities of everything where they—Google Plus failed so badly as a social network, they were like, “We’re gonna have to make you have to login through Google Plus to do YouTube comments,” [mm] and that was such a—it was so—it was badly done. Right? It wasn’t—it never made any sense and you had to login to five things and then they just rolled it back and you had your YouTube account again [mm hmm]. Um so, I look at that thing, that is a vast surface. There’s probably hundreds of people connected to it and working on it [mm hmm]. There’s a—a lot of products around it that are really good like Google Photos. What the hell do you do with it?


VL Yeah. It’s so hard to second guess [laughs] that whole strategy [Paul laughs] my friends at Google will—are about to write me angry emails but! You asked the question though, I’m gonna try to answer it.

PF They can write me the angry email.

VL Yeah [yeah] I would—I would, you know, not surprisingly try to take, try to look at the experience you wanna facilitate first [mm hmm]. So you say it’s working well on Google photos, what did we do well there? And, you know, where else can we have that kind of benefit? There’s gotta be an intersection there of uh Gmail [mm hmm] and Photos and so many people have Gmail accounts.

PF Do you think we have this whole [pause] ecosystem of products and then you have this one sort of social network thing that just isn’t really working [mm hmm], start thinking about ways to bring those worlds together.

WD Or at least to just support the successful products like as opposed to trying to in order to comment on these photos or share these photos you have to sign in through Google Plus or to comment on YouTube but just letting Google Plus be an advocate or to play some sort of supporting role for the thing that people actually care about—

VL Yeah.

WD—which is YouTube or Google Photos or Gmail.

VL Mm hmm.

PF I mean it’s interesting that they have a whole social network just sitting there [yeah] at this moment when Facebook is like—everyone’s like, “Eh.”

VL Yeah.

PF Alright, so you’re—you’re as confused as the rest of us, really.

VL Mm hmm.

PF Ok. [Sighs] I have a lot more questions about failure but we should wind up. Victor Lombardi, what if people wanna get in touch with you? What should—what do they do?

VL You can actually go to [chuckles]—to my website. [Laughing] I have a website.


PF On the world wide web! Http colon forward slash, forward slash—

VL [With Paul] Forward slash. Dub, dub, dub. [Mm hmm] [Laughs]

PF Oh my god!

VL And my contact information is actually on there.

PF Ok. So that’s a good way to get in touch. What sort of feedback, what sort of people are you looking for to—to hear from?

VL You know I um I have just had a revelation recently that I’ve done a terrible job with my alumni networks [mm hmm]. I’ve gone to Rutgers, I went to New York University, um and ignored those for a long time because I was out in the tech world and—but I went to an event last week um for a whole nother school was just so inspired by how they were bonded together and they were supporting each other. Um this was specifically for a Latino audience and they were just so fired up and so passionate um I’m like why an—why aren’t I helping, you know, my kind of fellow alumn or students or—the very next day someone just contacted me out of the blue on LinkedIn um who just graduated from NYU and said, “Hey, can you help me?” And I’m like, “Yes! I can!” [Mm hmm] I can do that now cuz I’m—I’m paying attention. So that’s something that I’m doing that’s new is—is saying, you know—it’s a—it’s a bit of an arbitrary affiliation but somewhere I can help.

PF You’re connected to it.

VL Yeah.

PF Yeah. Help the network.

VL Mm hmm.

PF So if you’ve—if you’ve been in networks with Victor Lombardi—

VL [Laughs] If we’re connected on Google Plus [laughs].

PF Um. [Guffaws] Um don’t be afraid to reach out. Well good [music fades in], thank you for coming on.

WD Thank you.

VL Awesome.


PF Well—well I think I know a lot more about how things fail.

WD Uh, yeah, I would say the same too, Paul. I think I’m ready to fail.

PF We should just [chuckles] let’s—let’s maybe this podcast is our first to—[Will laughs boisterously] [laughing] I think we did great. Um. So look if you’re ready to avoid failure with us—uh, first of all thank you to Victor Lombardi for coming on. His book is available in all kinds of formats. Just look for his name and uh on—on the internet and you will find what you need to know. We’ll put some links when we put up the podcast too. If you need us, if you need us to build you something that really we do a lot to keep things from failing, you can get in touch. You can work with a designer like Will.

WD Yeah, you could. It’s—it’s a very real possibility.

PF It’s an incredibly real possibility. So, Will, do you know how the people should get in touch with us?

WD I think so? It’s on the internets, right?

PF It is.

WD It’s the email?

PF Yeah.

WD Yeah.


WD [With Paul] At postlight dot com.

PF Thank you!

WD Take care [music ramps up, plays alone for seven seconds, fades out to end].