Tech Life A thin sheen of sweat

Coffee and Design

Mornings are a delicate proposition, but there are two events which, if they occur, guarantee a positive experience.  The first event is coffee acquisition. Currently, there are three different coffee approaches, each has its own consequences. They are:

  1. Crappy mountain swill.  This is coffee from the local store. They try, but it’s a serious B. Even the cup is limp.
  2. Corporate swill. Coffee from work. Again, they try, but they lose quality to volume.
  3. Peet’s Coffee. This is the shit. You can’t beat Peet’s. There’s nothing like driving to work with a thin sheen of caffeine induced sweat all over your body.

In terms of setting the mood for the morning, acquisition policy A and B are sufficient, but lack complexity and inspiration. Yes, I get my coffee high, but I’m cheating because it’s a path of least resistance approach: mountain and corporate swill are on the way or at work whereas Peet’s involves a ten minute detour. Committing to this detour leads to a stellar cup of coffee. 

(Note: There is another coffee acquisition tact and that is “Brew your own”. It’s always an A+, but is a time consuming process reserved for weekend mornings.)

The other morning defining event is email. When I first sit down at the computer and load the morning email, I’m, again, looking for complexity and inspiration. Who on the planet took time to send me a great email? Something I can dig my teeth into and leverage my complex coffee high for an equally inspirational response? This morning the mail read, “What are the pros and cons of having design report into engineering vs. product management?”

Wow. Now that’s a question. That’s an “I should write an article about that” question. The extremely short answer is “Geography matters”. Having design and engineering in the same part of the organizational chart means they teach each other all sorts of stuff, make better decisions, and move faster. There are many cons, but I believe the pros vastly outweigh these cons primarily because of the organizational velocity they create.

On Design

I’m going to be talking a lot more about design of the coming months. This starts next month at the Webmaster Jam in Dallas where I’ll be speak on Managing Web Design which is a presentation in dire need of a new title, but you get the idea. Early next year, I’m headed to New Zealand to speak at the soon-to-be-launched Webstock conference. Ideas for this event are still swirling in my head, but design will be on the menu.

Next up is the South by Southwest Interactive festival for 2008.  I’ve moderated panels at the event the past two years and it remains my favorite conference simply because it attracts of set of people you will see no where else. As I mentioned in my post-game report for SXSW2007, there was much discussion that the panels were adrift this year. There are lots of theories as to why this was the case, but that’s water under the bridge and simply a problem to solve.  

I’ve got a one-two punch solution to SXSW panels this year. The first punch is a two-person presentation which I’m proposing to do alongside John Gruber. Titled Blood, Sweat, and Fear: Great Design Hurts, we’ll be tackling the idea that you’re never going to design something great without pissing someone off, yelling at people you respect, and losing sleep thinking that you’re doing the wrong thing. Piqued your interest? Great, mosey down to the much improved panel picker and say so.

The second punch is more traditional panel I’ve cooked up with co-conspirator, Gina Bianchini.  The panel is entitled Designing for Freedom and will explore the idea of how products can be designed so that people can create and make something their own. The quality of a panel is defined by the panelists and I’d love to tell you who we’ve picked for this, but first you need to head back to the panel picker and weigh in.

Speaking and Design

The intent with both of the SXSW2008 panels as well as the other speaking engagements is the beginning of a intentional theme I’m setting for the next year. I want to talk with as many bright people as possible about the intersection of design and engineering. Like management, engineers are not necessarily trained in this discipline, yet they are often asked to make important decisions that affect design. In my ongoing quest to make sure engineers wear as many hats as possible, the next year is going to be chock full of design ramblings, meaty morning emails, and stellar cups of coffee.

10 Responses

  1. John F. 17 years ago

    ESPRESSO MACHINE – home brewed goodness in less than 1 minute. Can’t beat it.

  2. Ferruccio 17 years ago

    Hmm, Rands, some of us do have a Peet’s on their way to work — there’s a particularly excellent one at Charleston and Middlefield in Palo Alto.

    And once I do get to work, “We proudly brew Peet’s” is emblazoned on not a few of the pots (you do have to know which microkitchen to go to, though; others do “Organic Fair-trade Peruvian Awakening” and other heretically non-Peet’s brands). Brewing at home is anything but difficult, too: as long as things are set up the previous evening, I get woken up by delightful coffee smells (I could do Peet’s, but at home I prefer email-ordered “Coffee Fool” — Peet’s is great, but Fool is even better…).

    Feel free to email me if you want a referral into my employer, btw: after reading your book, I just know you’d really thrive as a senior manager there!


  3. Speaking of coffee and design, I ran across a coffee mug with Pantone colours so you can tell how dark the brew is. There’s also one for tea.

  4. Tom Moffat 17 years ago

    I was standing outside the new Apple Store in Glasgow on Saturday morning, waiting for it to open, and I was delighted when some of the staff came round handing out free, large cups of coffee to the waiting customers. It was a very welcome treat at 7.30am I must say!

  5. Shall we talk shop again soon?

  6. Dylan Salisbury 17 years ago

    Why not use one of those coffee machines that starts via a timer, then grinds and brews? It takes some time daily to clean and load, but that’s evening time: way more affordable than morning time.

    Now that I have one, I enjoy good coffee while getting ready for the day, and then more during my commute. I can start on the e-mail during the commute because I’m already caffeinated at the start of the journey.

  7. Archie 17 years ago

    “We’ll be tackling the idea that you’re never going to design something great without pissing someone off, yelling at people you respect, and losing sleep thinking that you’re doing the wrong thing.”

    What a brilliant idea and so true. Rand you live in a different world to me. I’m a trainer and will be public speaker. What you’ve outlined above gets me thinking – sadly the 8000 mile trip is out of the question so I’ll contemplate it in the morning over a nice cup of home pressed coffee. Worth the time and whilst it’s brewing I make my lunch and feed the cat. Everyone’s a winner that way!

  8. thoglette 17 years ago


    as noted by others – fix the coffee at work!

    The current crop of beans-to-cup (or even pod-to-cup) machines are extremely effective.

    In my experience that is one of the best ‘bang-for-buck’ items you can do for your staff.

  9. Saw this today and thought of Rands: Founder of Peet’s Coffee dies at 87.

  10. I’m of the “get an automatic coffee maker” mind as well.

    One of these:

    will make sure you never have to start your morning without freshly ground and brewed, delicious coffee again. We’ve had one for 6-1/2 years now and it’s by far our favorite appliance (and wedding present).