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5 Design Tricks to Become a Paper Pro

Paper, by FiftyThree, is one of the best sketching (and note taking) apps available on the market for the iPhone and iPad. It allows artists, doodlers, designers, writers, and just about anyone with a creative itch to quickly jot down, sketch out, and share their ideas with ease.

As a UX Designer, I use Paper nearly every day — especially for generating (countless) low to medium fidelity user interface designs. While Paper has quickly become my go-to (even beating out physical paper!) the app is not without a few shortcomings.

Fortunately, with these five quick tricks, you’ll be able to do more than ever before with Paper! Whether you’re brand new to the app or a seasoned master, these tricks will be sure to up your Paper-game to a whole new level. Let’s jump on in!

Trick 1: Organizing Your Grids

If you’re like me and juggle a seemingly endless number of projects and ideas across a wide range of spaces — work, research, life, general procrasti-sketching — the absence of deep organization and sub-categorization (à la Evernote) in can be a bit frustrating. Grids just seem to be everywhere without much in the way of real navigation. That’s where our first trick comes in: using visual category dividers and textual elements to organize and enhance your grid order!


1. Start by creating a new grid.

2. Give that grid a title related to a subject, such as “Ideas.” This will act as our category header.

I tend to stylize my subjects with brackets and all caps while for any children I use a “plus” as a prefix — feel free to use any kind of stylizing you want in order to differentiate divider grids from regular grids.

3. Now, press and hold on any grid to bring up the Reorder Grids menu. Start clustering (or creating new) related grids under your “[IDEAS]” divider.

Continue doing this for each domain you often work in — such as “School,” “Notes,” “Work,” and so on.

To really make our newly created dividers “pop,” we need one finishing touch: color.

4. Jump into any of your dividing grids and create a new sketch. We’re going to set the entire page to be a single color so that the preview icon next to our category divider has an easily identifiable solid visual indicator.

5. To do this, select a color you like in your color pallet or mixer. Next, press, hold, and drag that color to the canvas to fill the background.

6. Close the sketch and return to the navigator side panel. You’ll notice that your divider now has a bold color icon next to the name, making navigation and visual separation of categories a breeze.

Tweak these stylization ideas to your liking and in no time you’ll have an intuitive layout for all of your grids!

Trick 2: Custom Colors — Monochromatic edition

One of Paper’s great features (which similar notes + sketching apps seem to lack) is the ability to quickly select and store a wide spectrum of colors in the provided color pallet. Always at your fingertips, the default pallet provides a great start with its wide range of bold and appealing colors but for working in greyscale, you’ll need to create your own custom pallet to really speed up your process.


1. Start by scrolling down in your color pallet — accomplished by simply flicking up on the pallet — until you arrive at the first level with all empty color containers.

We’re going to create a pallet that has a range of near-monochromatic colors that mirror and complement the default colors Paper uses, such as the default near-black and the resulting light-grey of shape backgrounds created with that color.

2. Tap the color mixer directly to the left of the pallet. This brings up the color menu.

3. We’ll start with a pure white — set the sliders as follows: 0, 0, 100. To confirm this color, tap anywhere on your canvas. This will close the menu and set the color mixer to pure white.

4. Next, press and hold on the color mixer until you see a circle with your newly-set white appear under your finger — keep holding and drag the color to the first available slot in the empty color pallet.

Just like that, you’ve set a custom color!

5. Continue by repeating the prior steps and creating six more colors (or however many you’d like) to produce a workable greyscale pallet.

I highly recommend the following colors as they do a great job of working with the default Paper colors and allow you to quickly embellish sketches and wireframes with minimal work or extra thinking.

White: 0, 0, 100

Light Grey (background color of shapes created with Paper’s default near-black): 48, 2, 86

Grey: 47, 4, 80

Medium Grey: 42, 7, 72

Dark Grey (Paper’s default near-black): 48, 12, 16

Black: 0, 0, 0

You’ll notice I also have a pale grey-blue as my seventh color. I use this for drafting sketches (such as when starting figure portraits), adding quick notes/interaction elements to wires, and giving my drawings expressive or gestural details.

That color is as follows: 183, 11, 70

With your custom color pallet set, you’re ready to rock. No more hunting around, color matching, or mixing to find the right color! As a UX Designer who works often in monochromatic shades for low fidelity wireframes, this trick has really helped boost my productivity and reduce the amount of time needed for each sketch!

Trick 3: Precise Cuts

When working with complex shapes and UI elements, I often find myself cutting, duplicating, and deleting elements — most of which exist in the precise boundaries of designs I wish to preserve (such as the borderlines of a mobile phone wireframe). Unfortunately, Paper lacks an easy point-and-click cutting tool like the Polygonal Lasso Tool in Photoshop and thus requires a steady hand to get straight, precise cuts.

Fortunately, with this simple trick, you no longer need the hands of a surgeon to get the precise cuts you want! You’ll just need to do a bit of pre-planning!


How it works:

When using the scissor tool, you technically only need to draw out a fragment of a contour — Paper will auto-complete the rest, often by creating a straight border between your starting and ending point. This is great news for the compulsive perfectionists around here as it means you can get straight cuts every single time with a little bit of planning.


1. With the scissor tool selected, start in one corner and trace the shortest attached border line to the opposite corner.

Note: Here, I have a rectangular frame (like that of a mobile device frame) and want to clear the inner elements while preserving the border lines. I’ve added dashed lines and arrows to show you how I’ll be performing the first cut.

2. While still holding down, cut diagonally to the corner parallel to the corner at which you started. By keeping your stylus/finger down, you can fine tune your ending point.

3. Now end your cut by lifting up. Ta-da! Paper automatically completed the cut’s triangular contour for you, creating a straight line from your ending point to your starting point!

4. To remove this element, drag and swipe the highlighted segment off screen.

5. Repeat these steps for the remaining triangular segment of the screen, again starting from one corner, tracing the shortest line, and diagonally finishing the cut at a parallel-to-origin point.

Using this trick to continue cleaning the exterior we get….

Almost perfect! Once you get the hang of this trick, it becomes very easy to instantly create clean cuts with only a tiny bit of precision required. I’m amazed how long it took me to figure out this (admittedly) easy trick but since learning it I find cutting and manipulating elements easier than ever!

Trick 4: Do more than finger paint

This is a quick but powerful trick that is oddly hidden away in the settings menu without much fanfare — but by far one of my favorites in practice.

If you use an Apple Pencil or Pencil by FiftyThree stylus, you can set your fingers to cut, draw, or blend (or do nothing at all) regardless of the tool currently assigned to your stylus. This makes multitasking easier than ever — without the need to continuously switch common tools.


1. Start by navigating to your settings. This is accomplished by opening the grids side panel, clicking on your avatar on the top left, and selecting “Settings.”

2. Select “App Settings” and choose “Apple Pencil” (or whichever supported stylus you’re rocking) from the menu.

3. You’ll see a settings screen with four options: Blend, Cut, Draw, Nothing. Select the option that makes the most sense to your workflow.

Now you can use your fingers for blending — an advance technique that has some beautiful effects, cutting — very powerful especially when used in conjunction with trick 3, drawing — the default, or nothing at all!

After experimenting with each, I’ve found that I most prefer having my finger work as scissors (“cut”) so that I can quickly snip and move/delete/duplicate UI elements and notes without needing to bring up the tool panel to switch tools.

Give each option a try and see which works best for you!

Trick 5: Templates

With the introduction of the “Start a Project” templates, it is now easier than ever to skip blank canvas paralysis and jump right into a new design.

Wouldn’t it be great though if you could quickly access your favorite templates at any time — both those you’ve created and those from FiftyThree? By creating a grid just for storing templates, you can do just this AND have the added benefit of accessing your favorite Project templates offline.


1. Start by creating a new grid and give it a name like “Templates.” (Creative, I know).

2. Add in a few child grids, such as “Web” or “Storyboards.” (Note: See Trick 1 for more info on how to organize and stylize your grids).

You can now start building your library of templates either by crafting your own or adding in some of the beautiful, pre-made templates available through Paper.

3. To do the later, start by selecting “Grid Settings” from grid overview screen — which can be found by clicking the three dot menu button in the top right — and navigating to “Start a Project.”

4. Browse through the many great options and find the templates you like best. Next, select each template and tap “Add to Grid.”

5. You can continue adding more templates to this grid — hand crafted or sourced from the online library — and play around with organization by creating textual dividers as shown here:

Templates are by far one of the best ways to quickly hit the ground running — especially if you often need to use a base framework for your drawings or prefer a bit of creative inspiration when starting. Certainly beats drawing out the same elements again and again!


Paper by FiftyThree is a great tool and does what it is supposed to very well — so well, in fact, that much of its shortcomings and quirks can be justified as smart “design decisions” that help better focus the user on the task at hand: creating.

By not being too robust, Paper stays true to its name. With these five tricks, however, you can not only boost your productivity but truly make Paper work for you — from multitasking to rapid ideating. In no time, you’ll be a true Paper pro!


Thanks so much for reading this fun list of tricks for up’ing your Paper game! I hope you found these tricks useful and learned something new and interesting! 

Have any tips and tricks you use for Paper or similar apps? Be sure to comment and let me know!

The Unintended Effects of Designing with Care

The Unintended Effects of Designing with Care

Let’s start at the start…

Recently, I went through a breakup. It wasn’t fun, it wasn’t easy (let’s be honest – it still isn’t nearly two months later) but it was a decision we made together knowing that our paths were veering off toward very different life goals.

Immediately following our decision to part, I did what almost everyone does: removed the countless photos, notes, and other romantic artifacts from my apartment, updated my devices’ wallpapers, and, to really, really make it “official,” changed my Facebook profile picture. This was all accomplished in the hours following the big decision. Some part of me – probably the one that cares about the mental health of future me – did his best to enjoy the process. A cleansing. A rebirth. Change was in the air. If only it were so easy…

In the days that followed, I quickly realized that a “cleanse” is a complex process in the digital world we currently inhabit.

I also began to appreciate something far deeper and further reaching about the very practice I love, design: even the most well-intentioned, user-centric designs can cause unintended pain.

Designing with Care.

When we as designers create personalized experiences tailored to our users, we do not always have a full awareness of the consequences our decisions may have. For all the research, persona creation, and solution space exploration, it remains difficult to understand and design well for one large, always changing aspect: life.

Change, I’m told, happens. Sometimes gradually over years, other times in what seems like an instant. How a design handles this change – the methods by which it does or does not adapt, its ability to respond appropriately and timely, and so forth – can dramatically transform the relationship a user shares with the product as they themselves change with life.

I’ll take a second to note that, for the purposes of this article, I use the (oversimplified) concept of “designing with care” to embody the broad spectrum of techniques, practices, and philosophies focused on building meaningful user-product relationships through the creation of tailored, personalized user experiences.

Examples of designing with care are everywhere – from cheerful websites that welcome you back by name to online video and music streaming services which provide personalized recommendations based on your interests. The purpose of designing with care is to create hyper-personalized experiences that build a bond between user and product. These bonds, in turn, help establish product loyalty and form habits so as to ensure the product remains well ingrained in the user’s life for years to come. If done very well, a product designed with care can even become integrated by the user into their identity, thus forming a near perfect bond – the holy grail of design outcomes.

Designing with care is an important consideration for any product, especially those which aim to become a regular part of a user’s daily life. And yet, despite its importance, understanding how to account for and respond well to the important life changes of a user is a crucial but not yet fully considered area of most design practices. My hope is that this article will do a small part in contributing to an ongoing dialogue surrounding this problem space as well as help further develop the necessary language and framework for potential solutions. Let’s jump on in.

Design vs. Life

Life changes often and how a user may feel or act in a given moment can significantly change based on circumstance. When a user faces difficult life events such as the loss of a loved one – be it death, divorce, or, yes, even a breakup – portions of the user’s identity, self-image, and outward perceptions can dissolve and/or reconfigure. (Note: there are, of course, a limitless number of important life events designers should absolutely consider – including very happy ones – but for the purposes of this article, I will focus on life events involving loss and sadness.)

As users and not just designers, we should expect that the products we trust and use – especially those seemingly designed with care – change with us. When such is not the case – when a product does not change or does not do so in a timely or appropriate fashion – the user-product relationship begins to endure friction and, given enough friction or enough time, can break apart entirely.

Speaking of breaking apart…

Two weeks had passed since my breakup. There were a few moments of weakness (mostly on my end, to be fair), wavering convictions that we had made the right decision, and a number of “I-don’t-know-how-to-be-friends-yet-but-hey” check-in messages shared between us during this time.

Fractured healing at its finest in the digital age.

Along the way, I found myself thrown off the path of healing by encountering my old Facebook profile picture again and again.  A number of accounts created with or connected to Facebook had not yet received the memo that my life had changed (or, at least, that my Facebook profile photo had) and so a once-loved image featuring my ex and me persisted in my daily life despite my best interest sand best intentions. I continued my cleanse, carefully changing my photo over to a new one for each lagging account I came across – Spotify, Fasten, Meetup, and so on. Just as I thought my cleanse was finally, finally complete, I discovered there was one instance of my old profile photo that I could not easily change – one that I would have to encounter multiple times a day too, just to really make matters worse. Let me introduce you to…

Spotify Discover Weekly

Discover Weekly is a music playlist that Spotify genuinely thinks YOU, the user, will absolutely love.Promoted as a “weekly mixtape of fresh music…chosen just for you,” Spotify’s Discover Weekly is composed of songs that Spotify’s algorithms pick based on a number of factors including your listening history and related tracks you have not yet come across.

Like many popular content-serving services, recommendations create an instant and tangible bond between a user and a product. It’s personal. It’s informed. It gives you, the user, a reason to keep returning and using the service – learning and growing with your tastes every step of the way. By having this list refreshed on a weekly basis, Spotify hooks the user into coming back and seeing what’s new. It simultaneously forms a relationship and a habit. In addition, Spotify purposely uses phrases such as “YOUR weekly mixtape” and “chosen just for YOU” to really sell the idea that this is your personalized space.

Still not personal or “caring” enough? Spotify uses your Spotify account’s profile picture as the designated image for the playlist. They want you to feel like this is truly something that is an extension of your identity so an image you’ve preselected to reflect yourself is a smart and natural choice. Thus on nearly every level, Spotify’s Discover Weekly is a seemingly perfect model of designing with care. It is personal, builds a relationship alongside habit, facilitates one’s passion (music exploration), and delights. And, had my life not changed, I probably would have continued thinking it was a perfect model, never noticing any issues in its design (or being motivated to write this article, for that matter)…

Unintended Effects.

There’s a classic saying about design: when it is done well, no one ever notices. This is, in essence, the very root of the problem for designing with care. When done well, it delights, supports, facilitates, and meets the user on a very personal and thoughtful level. The second it stops being designed well, however, either by not adapting to the user’s life changes responsively or not doing so appropriately, the design’s existence and flaws become blatantly obvious and, in certain cases, painful for the user to experience.

Spotify Discover WeeklyIn the case of Discover Weekly, a small, mostly trivial, flaw in its design transformed it from a feature I loved and enjoyed often to one that I tried my best to avoid even glancing at. So what’s the big deal? Well, the playlist photo will not change and, more concerning, cannot be easily updated. My old profile photo persists.

Yes, believe it or not, that’s the whole issue. The profile photo I used for eleven months as my visual alias across nearly all online platforms – but had since tried to expel from my life – remained as bright and cheerful as ever as the very photo Spotify thought would best represent me on my Discover Weekly playlist. And I have zero ability to easily change or hide it.

In theory, the playlist’s image should switch out to match a user’s newly set Spotify profile photo after three or so weeks. Unfortunately, over five weeks later, this had still not happened. My old profile photo remained, effectively turning what once felt like a personalized space for music discovery to an off-limits territory containing traces of old memories and a seemingly happier past for my formal self. My identity and life has changed, but Discover Weekly hadn’t.

I’ve moved on. Spotify seemingly hasn’t. My strong user-product bond with Spotify is, for this one feature at least, broken. It turns out, however, the slight, momentary pain I experience from this design flaw is not unique to me in the least bit. In fact, I should not even complain…

The Bigger Problem

As I soon as I began investigating online to find some solution that would allow me to change or hide the photo, I discovered a great number of support forum posts by users facing the exact same issue. What surprised me, as I dug deeper, is that some of these users were hoping for a solution due to experiencing a far greater pain as a result: the pain of true loss. Death, a called off engagement, divorce, the list goes on and on. Here they were, a small but important user sub-population all looking for some way to fix a simple design flaw that was causing personal hurt and pain.

User pains in Spotify Comments

Users who created an account with Spotify and then linked it to Facebook have a workaround: unlink and relink their Facebook account in order to force the change to a new profile picture. For those who created their Spotify account directly with a Facebook account, they need to wait until the photo is eventually changed over. Now, that said, Spotify, being awesome, does have their @SpotifyCares Twitter account which, based on the good word of forum users, will happily push an image refresh to your account from server-side upon request.

A few weeks before publishing this article, I put this solution to the test and, sure enough, Spotify was more than happy to help! Unfortunately, it was not all good news. The agent informed me that they can only reset the Discover Weekly picture to a default one which will be “permanent and you will not be able to change it in the future.” Yikes. Nevertheless, I confirmed my identity and accepted these terms.


By the end of the day, an emotionless default photo was in place and I felt…well, empty. Gone was my old profile picture – in its place the default star photo – and gone with it was the feeling of care.

For users, like myself, who would just prefer not to encounter a potentially painful image regularly, the fact that there is a way to induce change is certainly great news. However, this solution strips much of the “care” from the feature’s design and, more worryingly, remains a non-obvious and non-direct workaround for a problem that really should not exist in the first place.

Despite all of Spotify’s best intentions to create a great personal experience – an experience designed with care – the inability for the Discover Weekly playlist photo to 1) appropriately update in response to a user’s changing life 2) do so in an efficient amount of time and 3) provide the user an easily accessible means to manually prompt change all sum to a serious design flaw. I’ll return to these three points in a moment.

So there we have it, a case of unfortunate and quite unintended consequences spawning from designing with care. For me, the unintended effect is a momentary feeling of sadness prompted by seeing an old photo representing a once-great part of my life that is no more. But, on the broad spectrum of emotional battles, mine is hardly considerable – baseline at best. For others, the pain is far more apparent and – in certain cases – disruptive to the user experience. This one small flaw, one small instance of not properly designing with care, is, in effect, hurting the very users that Spotify’s well-intentioned designers set out to design for!

But it is not just Spotify…

Examples of varying degrees can be found scattered all around our digital lives: Amazon’s personalized shopping recommendations suggest great items to compliment that gift you purchased your ex a few months earlier. Netflix surfaces recommended shows to watch based on that series you and your ex binged watched that one, perfect lazy weekend. Even many travel booking sites, as a friend pointed out to me while I was conducting research for this article, will default to “two adults” when users book hotel rooms. All of these small elements are simply features designed with care – aimed to expedite, support, and tailor the service to your interests, your life, and your identity. But when your interests, your life, and your identity change, these elements can quickly become jarring reminders of loss – and the pain that so often accompanies it.

As more and more companies look toward personalized, user-centric designs as a way of forming better bonds with users, the implications and pitfalls of designing with care must be better understood and accounted for. To do that, a design framework and corresponding language is required both for successful dialogue and for improved design practices. Breaking away now from the problem, let’s explore some potential solutions.



How do we design to better accommodate and account for the life changes of users? How do we form a common framework and language so as to better design with care? Let’s explore these questions now by first returning to the three points outlined earlier.

I’ll note here that it is essential to establish a common language before attempting to form any solution or design framework. My hope is that the following principles do much to build the foundation for such a language. These principles are necessary considerations for any end-solution, regardless of design practice, medium, or framework:

Appropriate (heart)

1. Appropriate

The term “appropriate” is ambiguous at best and varies case-by-case but a general understanding might be as follows: The extent of change – both in terms of types and content – must not surpass nor be less than the anticipated level and kinds of change the user would make themselves given the time and ability.

Responsive (Clock)

2. Responsive

Content must adjust dynamically to fit the changing needs/desires of the user. Any lag in this change must be avoided at all costs. Similarly, this change must never occur prematurely. Lastly, all content should update accordingly and in unison whenever possible.

Configurable (Wrench)

3. Configurable

Regardless of the means in place for enabling appropriate and responsive change, the user must be afforded the ability to manually alter content so as to invoke further change and better fit their self-perceived needs.

These three basic concepts cover well the most essential considerations for properly designing with care yet they are, within themselves, not whole solutions but merely components of the language required in order to discuss a potential framework.

With this lingo now in place, let’s start with the most elemental solution for a framework – one which falls back on the beloved CRUD model…


Potential Frameworks.


1. Update and Delete (#CRUD)

Update and Delete

The ability to update (changing your Facebook profile image) or delete(removing those countless modern-day mixtapes you carefully crafted on Spotify) are important and obvious tactics to consider. Given the abilities to update and delete, users can aptly modify a product’s digital space to better fit their changing lives. If Spotify allowed users to manually update their Discover Weekly playlist photo, for instance, users would no longer be forced to come in contact with a potentially painful image when they use the service. At the most rudimental level, the ability to update is a must with delete being a secondary but important consideration for a framework. This plays well into the concept of “Configurable” as it gives the user the ability to responsively modify their experience in whatever way is most appropriate for their needs.

While updating and deleting are important aspects of any possible framework, there now exist a growing number of more interesting solutions that build upon these notions. These solutions – and the combinations of them – can more artfully and discreetly enable designers to appropriately and responsively design with care. For the purposes of clarity, I refer to these solutions as “Reaction,” “Prediction,” and “User-Aided-Mitigation” (although I’m sure better names exist) and do my best to define each below:

2. Reaction


Reaction is a learning-based solution. It takes what is known, when it is known, and “reacts” appropriately and responsively the instant a change occurs. It does not wait for users to manually inform the system that certain content should no longer appear but smartly alters content in response to some initiating factor. This factor might be the user’s modification of their relationship status from “Engaged” to “Single” or more complex factors implying life changes such as changing one’s last name.

Interpreting user actions and attempting to learn and respond appropriately as well as time-effectively (responsively) is key to the process of a Reaction-based framework. More than that, it requires a confident system understanding of what material may prompt unwelcome feelings for a user and how/when to properly conceal – or not conceal – such information so as to improve a user’s experience (appropriate).

The issue with this solution, however, is significant: it can very quickly and very dangerously create an experience that hides more than it reveals. That’s a territory no designer wants to willingly enter in good practice as it can manipulate context and understandings in wholly undesirable ways. This is something that Facebook’s News Feed is often condemned for – especially in terms of creating an echo-chamber for one’s political or religious affiliations. For more information, I highly recommend checking out The Wall Street Journal’s great and highly visual site dedicated to exhibiting this issue: WSJ Blue Feed, Red Feed. But if done correctly, reaction can be a powerful solution which provides a space that smartly updates to meet the needs of a user in response to a mobilizing trigger.

We can, however, push this solution further by adding in the concepts of anticipation and cross-service analytics….

3. Prediction


Prediction is powerful and, when used correctly, can be immensely beneficial as a method of understanding users. It can present powerful marketing insights based on consumer spending habits, utilize patient patterns to detect and prevent potential medical issues, and enable awarenesses of the interplay between user data trends and foreseeable user actions.Trouble quickly arises, however, when a user feels that a service knows too much – that is to say that the service utilizes information in a way that the user does not feel comfortable being known or appropriated.

With enough data about a user and user patterns, so-called “smart” predictions based on trend analysis can be made about a user’s major life changes before they even occur. Of course, if these insights are not employed in a responsive and appropriate manner, chaos ensues. Take for instance the case of one humorous incident involving Target: their predictive marketing tools generated some not-so-subtly directed prenatal coupons for a family which was, apparently, less aware of the daughter’s activities than Target’s pregnancy prediction algorithm. (The full story – and its containing article – is well worth a read!) Needless to say, Target apologized and has since revised the way in which they use the information gathered by their predictive algorithms.

Despite the outcry of privacy concerns, predictive services continue to be the future for much of the technology we enjoy – from airfare systems to advanced cognitive offerings from companies such as IBM (#Watson). So what about prediction as a framework for properly designing with care?

For the majority of online users, it is not difficult for algorithms to interpret factors such as sentiment, emotional state, and, relatedly, potential next actions. Some services today already use such technology, including one creative algorithm which can determine if users are depressed simply based on their Instagram photos. Taken to an extreme, implications of such predictive algorithms are imaginably concerning, but Prediction greatly allows designers to understand and anticipate the impending needs of a user who is on the threshold of a life change – even before that user realizes it – and respond accordingly. The question then becomes how to respond appropriately.

Take for instance the case of users flagged as depressed based on some factor, such as their recent Instagram posts. If Instagram shares this information with Spotify through a mutual connection with a user’s Facebook account, Spotify might start populating that user’s playlist recommendations with gloomy, rainy-day music to match their interpreted mood. After all, Spotify wants to create a strong bond between user and product, so why not recommend music that best reflects how that user currently feels? But, therein lies the danger of this hypothetical situation.

What if instead Spotify were to populate the user’s library with uplifting, mood-boosting music as a way to counter feelings of depression? Playlists such as “It Gets Better” and “Music for a Mood Boost” suddenly rise to the top of that user’s recommended listens. Could Spotify effectively improve the user’s mood? Or would this instead turn the user against Spotify, feeling that the service is disconnected from their current emotions? Could it even make the user feel worse? These are important questions that do not yet have complete answers yet – much more work and reflection is first required.

This hypothetical isn’t so far off from reality: a recent research experiment conducted by Facebook examined how what a user’s newsfeed displays can effect a user’s emotions.I am not here to make a case for either side of this topic, however do wish to again convey the importance of weighing fully the implications of what is and is not “appropriate” when striving to design with care. The potential for unintended effects here is as boundless as it is dangerous, doubly so when combined with a Prediction framework which utilizes user data in ways most users might not easily anticipate.

Thus we find ourselves facing a great deal of potential with Prediction but are only at the very first steps of understanding how to best design using such a framework. For this reason and others, Prediction may be a great framework for the future but it is not, by itself, necessarily the right solution for designing with care today.

If not Prediction and not Reaction, where does that leave us?

4. User-Aided-Mitigation

User Aided Mitigation

When users come across something unpleasant or undesirable, designers often provide the necessary tools to enable manual user configuration. This is strongly tied to the CRUD model presented above, however the important distinction is that, in this framework, user actions teach the system how to act and respond in the future. This enables a proactive avoidance of similar material through system mediation. In essence, this is simply good design etiquette: taking into consideration a user’s action, interpreting why, learning from this action and coupled understanding  and updating the experience to better match the perceived desires of the user moving forward.

Facebook employs this design solution arguably well, particularly with the standard (not research manipulated) News Feed experience. When a user comes across content they’d prefer not to see, they are given the option to hide the post (“I don’t want to see this”). Poof! Content is hidden from the user’s feed and Facebook’s algorithms learn something new about the user’s specific tastes, allowing for a more refined and personalized News Feed experience free of further unpleasant disruptions. The same holds true for Facebook’s “Like” button in that the action of “Liking” prompts more content related to what the user “likes.”

User-Aided-Mitigation (UAM) facilitates the process of content change by building upon the Update and Delete models and incorporating system learning. It may require the user to come into contact with potentially unpleasant content initially, but enables controls which hide or modify the content and teaches the system to present less or more of related content depending on a user’s signaled preference.

In practice, this model works well when done appropriately and continues to be the preferred solution for popular services including Facebook, Spotify, Pandora, Amazon, and Netflix – just about any service that has some sort of aggregated list of personalized elements with the intent of better engaging and tailoring the service for the user. So, if it is such a popular and developed solution…

Is UAM an Ideal Framework?

Yes and no. No one solution can perfectly meet the expectations of every user every time, but a combination of solutions employed tactically and with an aim toward being appropriate, responsive, and configurable allows for a powerful framework for designing with care.

Presently, User-Assisted-Mitigation is a great entry point which leverages well updating and deleting capabilities while building in the “smarts” of Prediction and the responsiveness of Reaction. But User-Assisted-Mitigation does not necessarily ensure a successful design free of unintended effects. The base principles of appropriate, responsive, and configurable must all be first considered and implemented in a framework before User-Aided-Mitigation, Reaction, or Prediction – or any combination of these solutions – can be truly successful. That brings us to one last concept – one which I’ve talked around throughout the article but have not specifically called out until now…

Responsible Design

As a user’s life changes – progressively over time or drastically with a single, impactful event – a product must equally and appropriately change so as to maintain a user-product relationship based on personalized experiences. Designing with care is not an easy practice. It requires something beyond empathy, understanding, or even user research – it requires responsibility. This is to say, considerations such as what is and is not appropriate must take precedent along with considerations of how and when to best respond to a change – be it impending, occurring presently, or in the past.

Responsible design simply requires that every design be measured against both intent and time. Is this appropriate today? Will it be appropriate tomorrow? If not, seek ways to ensure that a potential design can be appropriate across time or at the very least affords the user the ability to make it so through some form of input. Responsible design encapsulates the notions of appropriate, responsive, and configurable. It combats the many hurdles of designing with care by reframing the practice in a better way – a way which goes beyond focusing on static user outcomes (or features, for that matter) and instead investigates dynamic user outcomes. Intent and time. Appropriate. Responsive. Configurable.

Simply aiming to be responsible in one’s design practice – maybe akin to Google’s famed “Don’t Be Evil” slogan – informs and impacts design decisions in a way that many current practices do not quite achieve without great effort. Companies such as Spotify, Amazon, Netflix, Facebook, and countless others who strive to design with care do not want to be evil (as far as I can tell). And yet, without a design practice shaped by considerations of dynamic outcomes weighed over time and intent it can be very difficult for a designer to create solutions that are free of unintended effects. Thus, responsible design does much to start building in the important and essential considerations for creating truly impactful, user-centric designs – regardless of product, framework, or practice.


As designers, we can’t always anticipate when a user’s life will change. Sometimes we can’t even determine when a user’s life has already changed. What we can do, however, is ensure that we give users the ability to alter their experience so as to create the necessary space for whatever their evolving set of needs may be. A failure to provide such an ability or the failure to effect change responsibly (appropriate, responsive, and configurable) can lead directly to negative sentiments and user detachment. To avoid friction and avoid causing pain – to avoid being evil – an effort must be made to encourage and practice responsible design; placing emphasis on dynamic user outcomes and considering all designs in relationship to intent and time.

The process of designing with care is an essential consideration but one which must be made cautiously. It requires a great level of forethought and responsibility to our users – considerations which do not always emerge organically from even the best design practices. By having a common language and framework in place, we can begin to form the dialogue needed to reshape and rethink the gaps in our design practices. But a tremendous effort is first needed to develop the components involved in such a dialogue. With any luck, this article contributes in some regard to that end. In my own practice, I have begun to reconsider how I shape my understandings and reliances on static outcomes. Deliverables which work for a static set of user pain points are, by the very nature of their “static” property, limited to not responsibly changing with the user’s evolving set of needs. Pushing forward a focus on dynamic user outcomes, pushing forward a common framework, and pushing forward responsible design practices in our work are all important next steps to consider.

An unchanging playlist image is a small problem that affects a small subset of users. The unintended effects of designing with care, however, is a problem that is only growing. Small problems add up. Friction adds up. As more and more products and services look toward designing with care to form a necessary bond with users, it becomes increasingly important for designers to understand the potential  for unintended effects and counter them by designing responsibly: weigh designs over time and intent, place emphasis on dynamic user outcomes, and, above all, ensure designs are appropriate, responsive, and configurable.

Users want our designs to give them new powers, build identity, and improve life. Designing with care largely aims to deliver exactly this – it just requires us to do a little bit more work and be a bit more responsible in order to do it well.


Thank you for reading!
This long-form writing has been a passionate side project of mine over the past two months. I have learned a lot along the way and can’t wait to apply that knowledge to my design practice (and writing) in the future.

Please feel free to send me your thoughts, comments, questions, and feedback!


  1. Spotify Community: “How can I change the Discover Weekly picture if I created my using FB directly?”
  2. Spotify Community: “Change Discover weekly playlist image”
  3. Spotify Community: “Discover weekly Facebook profile picture issue”
  4. Spotify Community: “Re: Discover weekly Facebook profile picture issue”
  5. Wikipedia: “Create, read, update and delete”
  6. WSJ: “Blue Feed, Red Feed”
  7. NYT: “How Companies Learn Your Secrets”
  8. Gizmodo: “An Algorithm Can Tell If You’re Depressed Just By Looking At Your Instagram Photos”
  9. NYT: “Facebook Tinkers With Users’ Emotions in News Feed Experiment, Stirring Outcry”
  10. Slate: “What Happens When You Hide Everything On Facebook?”

Project 4: Advanced Drum Kit & Algorithm

Addressing the multitude of interactivity issues that dominated my recent advancements with the Kinect in Processing, I began to write new library classes and algorithms. I started by adapting the skeleton library from Kinect Projector Toolkit which is based on SimpleOpenNI with a number of tweaks to allow for more accurate joint and silhouette tracking. With a more accurate system of tracking joints in place, I began work on adapting an algorithm to allow for button objects to be created, displayed, and tracked with a simple call. One too many sleepless nights later, I had accomplished just that for simple PShapes. Taking the logic a step further, I was able to create an adaptable algorithm which allows for the translation of elements from an SVG file into interactive components on screen.

This algorithm can be seen in action above and, along with the simple shape version, picked apart on GitHub:

GitHub Repository:

Tweetris – A Study of Whole-Body Interaction in Public Space

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While researching artists and works dealing with the kinesthetic performance of the body in public space, I came across a fantastic research project called “Tweetris: A Study of Whole-Body Interaction During a Public Art Event” (Full Article Available Here) by Dustin Freeman et. al.

In the article, an exploration of multiple methods for Whole-Body Interaction (WBI) presents interesting findings on effective practices for utilizing one’s body in space as an interactive controller. Modes of WBI representation such as silhouettes and avatars are compared with the concept of “discretized silhouette” being the selected method as it allows for a “down-sampling of the raw silhouette given by any body-detection sensor” and thus “encourages exploration of whole body interaction strategies” (Freeman, 1) by the user.

The project utilized the Microsoft Kinect V1 and presented a projected overlay of gameboard, kinect’s line of sight, and the interpreted player shapes. Presented as an interactive art exhibit for 2011 Nuit Blanche event in Toronto, the project did much to reveal the user interpretation and interplay as a participant with and without interaction constraints. The willingness of participants to fully explore the space, including using walls and bystanders allows for a deeper understanding of the ways in which participants will use their own kinesthetic abilities within a given public space.

Article and Image:

Project 3: User3d_Dance_DJ

In this project, I continue my experimentation with Kinect, interactivity, and music within Processing.

After weeks of development and struggling to work around the finicky interactivity of Kinect within Processing (including activating buttons and tracking skeletons), I was able to create an interactive DJ set which allows users to control pitch, gain, granulization, and playback position of an audio file as well as add in samples.

Although the final result was one that worked well and was very enjoyable to use, the prevailing interactive issues greatly limited the experience. Moving forward, I intend to address such issues through continued research and, if necessary, coding and recoding my own libraries for Processing.

GitHub Repository:

Twitter in Processing: Part 1

Twitter Project 1: “#Cornell”

For Art Thesis I, I began to intermix my understandings of Processing in order to create a series of projects incorporating a live Twitter feed.

My first project of this nature, demonstrated in the video above, displayed all Twitter posts with “#Cornell” on screen with language coded for negative and positive words. The results were stunning visually and theoretically – allowing for a live “pulse” on Cornell at any given moment.


While only an early concept, this project allowed me to gain a better understanding of the powers of Twitter’s API along with the incredible Twitter4J Library. Moving forward, I wanted to explore increased user interaction and reach beyond the confines of a single queried term. To accomplish this, I explored GUI libraries for Processing and eventually decided on the very capable and well documented controlP5.

GitHub Repository:

Twitter Project 2: “Twitter God”

(Note: Video and image contains explicit language and imagery unsuitable for work and those under 18 years of old. Viewer discretion is advised.)

Using controlP5 and the Twitter4J libraries, I created a unique experience for interacting with Twitter in realtime. Like the first project, the messages, images, posting dates, locations, and user information are all disconnected. Words too are again coded for negative and positive language.
Screen Shot 2015-10-14 at 4.43.29 PMParticipants now have the capability of querying for any given term and combining queries for some interesting results. A “Chaos Mode” (shown in the video with a prior label) allows for the chaotic collection of Tweets in an endless and seemingly pointless fashion, covering the screen and begging for attention.

The result is wonderfully unsettling, especially in consideration of the less-than-innocent results that appear with even the most cursory of queries (such as the word “goo,” shown above).

GitHub Repository: 


After working towards a complete understanding of the capabilities of Twitter within Processing, I found myself greatly enjoying the possibilities but not completely enthused by the resulting projects beyond just experiments. Fortunately, these works and the accompanying research would form the foundation for a project I am truly excited about: my final Thesis I project. More on that soon.



Quick Update: Live Image Manipulation with Processing

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While building a foundation in image manipulation, I began to experiment with more advanced “glitches” using live feeds from the Kinect and webcamera. The results are pretty unique and I absolutely wanted to share two quick shogts in the interim while I prepare for a full blog post.

Screen Shot 2015-10-22 at 4.41.29 PM


GitHub Repository:

Project 2: Kinect Music Dance


Building upon the Processing Music Visualizer created for Project 1, I began my exploration with the Minim library and how it could be used in conjunction with the Microsoft Kinect. As detailed extensively in my prior posts (such as this one), the Kinect has not been an easy hardware to use in terms of compatibility with Processing. Fortunately, through SimpleOpenNI, Processing v2, and the Kinect v1, I have been able to create a dance project that responds to music!

Next step: making an interactive platform with Minm and the Kinect.

GitHub Repository:


Quick Update: Kinect Visualization in 3D Space

Screen Shot 2015-10-16 at 9.13.19 PM

Just a quick update on the amazing ways of visualization and manipulation using Processing with camera feeds.

Direct depth sensor information from the Kinect allows one to achieve results like that seen above. Through SimpleOpenNI, a skeleton is registered for users’ bodies, enabling a great wealth of information for interaction by and with participants.

By sampling the points to get the color information from the Kinect’s camera, one can replace the monotone points with colored ones, allowing for an effect that shows well the great potential and visualization capabilities of the Kinect’s system when used to its fullest ability. Such an effect is seen here:

Screen Shot 2015-10-19 at 12.03.45 AM

Bonus video of me nerding out to this cool technology:




Lovejoy: Video as Time, Space, Motion

Screen Shot 2015-10-10 at 5.21.26 PMReading through Margot Lovejoy’s Digital Currents: Art in the Electronic Age, I came across a particular writing that struck a chord with my current explorations in video and performance art: “Video as time, space, motion.”

In this writing, Lovejoy examines the relationship and history of video artists and the technology/tools that aid and inform their practices. Artists such as Nam June Pak and Wolf Vostell are front and center in this piece, as one would imagine — however, it is the understanding of their practices through the evolution of technology that is of great interest to me.

In 1965, the Portapak video camera was released and with it came a new era of accessible videography. This made large waves in the art world due to the device’s accessibility in terms of financial cost and in terms of portability. Moving images became a form of interactive art – imperative to the formation of new video art and, eventually, telepresence works.

From Rosenbach to Nauman, a very wide spectrum of artists quickly appropriated video as an expressive new art medium. For feminist artists, this tool was particularly invaluable due to what Lovejoy calls the “newness of video.” She argues that this trait afforded it a completely unobjective stance as a medium which could allow it to be appropriated for influential, ungendered works.

Video has progressed in so many ways, becoming increasingly accessible with each year and each innovation. Today, we hardly think of video as “new” or clear of objective history. Understanding and appreciating how exhaustive the relatively short history of videography and video as an artform is incredibly important for this exact reason. Lovejoy’s work is a great start in the right direction with ample support, works, and queries to push the importance of video as a medium to new heights.