Meekal Bajaj
@mbe

I write about design, product, and technology. Chronic rambler.

  • Standing wave pattern generator

    Experiments · 1 minute read · Last updated September 08, 2014

  • Building a design culture

    Opinion · 1 minute read · Last updated September 04, 2014

    Design is everyone’s responsibility. Designers may be the practitioners that give an idea it’s first expression, but a well designed product is forged by many critical eyes. A good design culture finds a way to give a voice to everyone—as a critic, a proponent, or a practitioner. It’s our job to build cultures of:

    • Critique
      A culture of critique is one where people can recognize when something feels wrong. They may not have the words to express what it is, but they are able to raise a flag when there is a concern. It’s the first step to becoming sensitive to design.

    • Rhetoric
      A design rhetoric culture is one in which people can not only identify that something is wrong, but can articulate what it is. It’s one where people have a shared vocabulary to describe what’s wrong and value the benefit that design might bring to the process.

    • Literacy
      In a design literate culture individuals have the skills and tools to design solutions. It’s a culture where people know how to use the design process to uncover problems, and the expressiveness to convey their solutions.

  • Design books 2014

    Labs · 1 minute read · Last updated September 01, 2014

    Books that have heavily influenced my design thinking, aesthetics, and understanding of design as a profession. Read more

  • Turning a SVG element to a downloadable file

    Tutorial · 1 minute read · Last updated August 29, 2014

    Using D3 to create visualizations is incredibly powerful, however I occasionally like to export these out so that I can put the final touch in Illustrator.

    Just pass in the SVG element in which the visualization is being rendered and the function appends a preview image and a download link on the page.

  • Hiring your manager

    Opinion · 1 minute read · Last updated August 20, 2014

    I have had 12 managers in the past 5 years, that is to say a little over 2 managers a year. I have built a few archetypes of managers over this period and when I interview, I actively look at which ones my new boss would fit in. These archetypes are not exclusive—the best ones embody some degree of all of them. All of the ones I list capture positive qualities, bad managers are toxic, and I have very little patience with humoring them.

    • The shield
      Makes sure that you have the room to get your job done. They provide you with political cover when you need it, and ensure that you are not frustrated with distractions.

    • The connector
      Always put you in front and make sure you get noticed for your efforts. If you have an idea that you have been dwelling on, they will get you in touch with the right people to move it forward. They tend to be your champions for promotions and stand up for you when you are not around.

    • The mentor
      Helps show you how you can grow. They assist you in figuring out how to turn a job into a career by expanding your knowledge and skill. When I have had good mentors, they have helped me see further, not just on how to do my job better, but which skills should I be building to be better prepared for the future. They have given me the boost to see the world from their vantage point and to give me the critical feedback to sharpen my skills in a sheltered manner.

    • The encourager
      Enourages you to find your best work. They have a way of pushing you to try harder. Their questions are insightful and make you challenge your own assumptions. They help you not be satisfied with settling through a combination of being stubborn in not accepting mediocrity, and providing perspective on what’s missing.

  • Notes for myself

    Opinion · 1 minute read · Last updated August 19, 2014

    An incomplete list of things I have learnt so far. It’s a personal list that has helped me make better decisions.

    • Play to your strengths
      Be known for something, have a clear reason why you should be included in a conversation.
    • Do the obvious thing first
      Planning too far ahead without getting feedback is little more than daydreaming and hoping everything falls in place. Eisenhower nailed it when he said, “…plans are useless, but planning is indispensable”. Start with the most straight forward version of what you are building and learn early.
    • Building something is worth a thousand ideas
      Make a decision and move on. Remove anything that’s getting in the way of you taking action.
    • Package it up and share early
      There are a thousand reasons not to, but putting something with limited functionality that works is better than something with a thousand features that no one can use. Make sure that each step is useful so that if you move on to something else, it’s something that can still help you.
    • Tell better stories
      It’s not enough to be a builder, but to share it with the world you need to capture their imagination. Sometimes, it’s enough to show what you built in action, at other times, highlighting what it can enable others to do is what puts it over the tipping point.
    • Be in the moment
      It teaches you how to ask better questions.
  • Building great tools

    Opinion · 1 minute read · Last updated August 11, 2014

    In the last few months I have seen a whole slew of new tools enter my design process. Sketch, Framer, Macaw, Origami, Pixate, and the countless JavaScript libraries have changed not only how I design but what I design.

    McLuhan once said “We shape our tools and afterwards our tools shape us.” He may have been talking about TV, but its an apt statement to describe the influence that our tools have on what problems we solve. But, what are the traits of a good tool?

    • The best tools build on themselves. They are extensible beyond what they were originally built to do.
    • There is a path to mastery. Every verb can be prefixed with adverbs to extend the actions the tool supports. While the tool may have scaffolding to get you started, the training wheels come off as you move faster.
    • Good tools encourages play and exploration. You learn by doing it yourself. Feedback is immediate and every action you take can be undone.
    • The best tools are the ones that get the job done. The actions you use everyday are front and center. They make every second count.
    • People will go to great lengths to learn a tool which paints the vision of what it can help them achieve. If they know what’s possible, they will push the tool to it’s edge to make it happen. Good tools don’t come with instruction manuals, they come with a story of what you can do with them.
    • A good tool encourages a dialog. It learns from you and adapts to your behavior. A good tool isn’t directly interchangeable with an identical copy someone else has, because it’s been molded to your exact workflow.
    • The best tools build a community. Mastery is collective. We grow because the advances that one person make can be remixed and built upon further by others.
  • The happiness at work equation

    Opinion · 2 minutes read · Last updated August 02, 2014

    Pink describes a wonderful theory on what motivates us in Drive. According to him, people are motivated by having autonomy, mastery, and purpose. And at a macro level, the driving factors he lists reflect my own personal experience pretty accurately.

    And yet, even during the times when I have all three, my levels of happiness oscillate wildly over time. I might be initially pulled in by the vision of what we are trying to build, but this excitement in annealed through the arduousness of the daily grind and reinforced by the skills I develop.

    All together, my rough back of the envelope equation on my motivation level as a function of time is captured by:

    where

    • , is the initial excitement for what we are building. The motivating power of the vision decays over time, captured by the constant k.
    • is the friction of the daily grind. The harder it is to get the simple things done, the higher the coefficient. Meeting overheads, process inefficiencies, ineffective approval process, broken tools all fall in this bucket.
    • is the momentum of the project, and like any project, momentum is somewhat cyclic. Ideally, this would be an exponentially increasing curve.
    • is a step function for responsibility, I feel more motivated when I know that more depends on me.
    • , salary raises, promotions, and shoutouts are impulse functions. They have a strong short term effect but their effect regresses quickly.
    • , skill growth increases over time.
    • , and lastly, the relationships you build, the growth in skills you experience, and quite honestly, the strong disincentive against leaving the familiar, are all constants that round up how motivated I feel.

    What am I missing that impacts your motivation when working on something?

  • Codon translator

    Labs · 1 minute read · Last updated July 31, 2014

    I started learning Genomics recently. I am enthralled by how millions of base pairs define the recipes that make us. As an information process, the translation of nucleobases in a DNA to convey genetic information seems straightforward enough. Each triplet of nucleobases corresponds to an amino acid. The messenger RNA conveys this sequence to the Ribosome which then links the amino acids together.

    An educational style we employ in class is to look up a table of combinations to find the amino acid. My script makes it easier to find the corresponding amino acid for any combination of nucleobases by searching through the sequences. Heads up, works best on the desktop in Chrome, Firefox, and browsers supporting WebGL. Read more

  • Putting my heart online

    Labs · 1 minute read · Last updated June 25, 2014

    For the past three months I have been capturing how fast my heart beats. It’s been fascinating to see how my body responds to the changes in the environment I am in. And while, I don’t have strong conclusions to draw yet, this experiment has allowed me to develop a baseline on what is normal for me. Read more

  • When does design matter most?

    Opinion · 3 minutes read · Last updated April 30, 2014

    Cross shared on Medium

    Well crafted products have a way of standing out. Building them, however, takes time and money—costs that the market isn’t always ready to shoulder, especially at the beginning. Markets mature to value different product attributes over time, and the role design plays evolves with it. Knowing what stage the product is at gives perspective on what to expect coming in. Sometimes this means that the best design isn’t the right solution. And attempting to build the optimal instead of the essential hurts the product’s growth.

    A traditional product lifecycle roughly follows the structure of a three act play, beginning with a raw implementation of technology that then builds up to a comprehensive feature set, before shrinking down through iterative refinement. The stages aren’t always linear, and frequently loop back, but they make for rough guide posts. Read more

  • Cities are built on the dreams they inspire

    Opinion · 1 minute read · Last updated October 10, 2013

    We compare cities on the space they occupy, we rave about how exotic the food is, we lament the outlandishness of the public transportation, and take joy in the activities the city makes possible. All of which remain artefacts of trade and politics. For me, a city is defined by the dream it inspires.

    Visiting New York for the first time is inspiring, for in that moment you are surrounded by a million dreams. Dreams of people who believe they can go higher, do better, and go further than all those who have come before them. Every building is a testament to the outsized ambitions of those who wanted to leave a mark. Every jostling square feet of the city is alive with potential waiting to burst onto stage. Perhaps, its because the opulence of the rich is so intimately on display, perhaps its a last stand against our own larger than life dreams, but in New York impossible only feels like a matter of time.

    San Francisco carries the dream of the valley. A defiant finger to authority and a belief that there is no problem so big, that a solution can’t be built for it. It is a city founded on pursuits worth abandoning the very ships you came on. Everyone is at least a part time entrepreneur, limited only by how big they can think and the smarts they bring to the table. San Francisco is raw, its relation with its surroundings far more personal. It skips pretension for action, and takes a beta over perfection to stay ahead of the curve. There are no demagogues to hold on to, no one so high as to not be brought down. In San Francisco, you come to believe that you can take on empires and come out ahead.

  • Lets try something different

    Opinion · 1 minute read · Last updated July 06, 2013

    Writing is hard. Finding your voice, knowing how to start, and knowing when you are done are all fair challenges. I expect to fumble, I anticipate my first forays at an issue to be naive and misplaced, however well intentioned they may be. But more than all of that, I hope to grow. Instead of trying to write the perfect piece on the first go, I am going to try something different.

    Each post will be somewhat of a work in progress. I will write the last updated date, but the article itself will continue to evolve over time. There is no space for comments, no buttons for kudos, and no recommends. Instead, embedded in each article is a tweet about it. I would love to hear what you think— let’s just use Twitter for it.